by Thomas Merton (1961)
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the writings of Thomas Merton, who is considered in some more traditional circles as controversial, is that he invariably sought and received the Nihil obstat and Imprimatur. In addition, his references to the Eucharist in his other writings convey such reverence–and all this as a pre-Vatican II author (meaning that he–as a monk known first as Brother Louis, then soon after as Father Louis–was referring to the now oftentimes controversial traditional Latin Mass). He also displays great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. While I have read very little of his post-conciliar material, I can say without reservation that his pre-conciliar writing is soundly orthodox, while at the same time it hints at some of the best post-Vatican II developments in doctrine. I suspect he may have influenced some of the council fathers, and not the ones who rushed headlong into taking liberties in its aftermath.
New Seeds of Contemplation, as the reader will learn in the Preface, is an updated re-release of Seeds of Contemplation released 12 years earlier (just one year after The Seven Storey Mountain put him on the literary map in 1948). In 1955, Merton would publish No Man is an Island, in which he explains that Island (which is no small challenge to read) covers ground that Seeds took for granted. New Seeds of Contemplation, while nominally more advanced in topic than Island, is not inaccessible by any means. It is quite possibly the one book I have revisited the most over the last two and a half years since I first read it. What I notice when rereading it, is that the first two to three chapters open up more and more each time. That said, the second half of the book is the best part.
I first became aware of this book when I read a lengthy excerpt in an anthology of mystical writings. The chapter that was excerpted is the 37th of the 39 in this volume: “Sharing the Fruits of Contemplation”. That was enough for me. I quickly acquired a copy.
Rather than continuing to talk around this excellent spiritual work, I will let you see some of its finest offerings for yourself: