Paper: Merton’s Monastic Wisdom: The Role of the Affections

This paper was presented in June by Elizabeth A. Dreyer at the Thirteen General Meeting of the International Thomas Merton Society, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT.  Elizabeth provides the following precis:

Based on an understanding of wisdom as knowledge wedded to love (affections), this paper examines evidence of the presence/absence of the affections in the work of Thomas Merton. While Merton was an outspoken advocate of a holistic, inclusive, and “worldly” spirituality, he did not escape aspects of dualism in the monastic tradition that view emotion, bodies, sexuality and busyness as suspect or even destructive of the spiritual life.  I conclude that Merton’s monastic writings do not serve as the best paradigm for the wider church whose majority membership is made up of laity who are immersed in the world of intellectual and affective engagement in the world of sexuality, family and society. Concepts of busyness, noise, distraction, solitude, and silence need to be re-examined in a new key different from Merton’s monastic viewpoint.

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