Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith by Thomas Merton
“By the gift of faith you touch God.”
Thoughtful and thought-provoking.
“The only law we (student Communists) had to obey was our own ineffable little wills. And if, afterwards, we changed our minds–well, were we not our own gods?”
Hard to believe this book was so popular when published in 1948. Merton sounds like a man from a different century, if not a different planet. His generation may have been the last to routinely learn Latin. He touched all the best his world had to offer in Cambridge, Columbia and the fleshpots of New York City and, while still relatively young, he left it–converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist monk.
“I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence. I had to be led by a way that I could not understand and I had to follow a path that was beyond my choosing.”
Many parallels with C. S. Lewis’ conversion at about the same time, as reported in Surprised by Joy. Many converted to Catholicism in mid-twentieth century. That the converts had good and sufficient reason to swim against the rising tide of atheism and nihilism must not be doubted, and Merton minutely chronicles his experience. To a non-communicant it may be nonsense, but to him it was life changing.
“… Our Lady, who should indeed be loved and revered, as a Queen of great power and a Lady of immense goodness and mercy, mighty in her inter cession for us before the throne of God, tremendous in the glory of her sanctity and her fullness of grace as Mother of God.”
Merton wholeheartedly embraced Roman Catholic doctrine, even that which gives many Roman Catholics pause. Later in his life he may have had second thoughts, but Mountain is full of youthful honesty and enthusiasm for a life beyond what can be touched or measured.
“… the willingness to accept life in a community in which everybody is more or less imperfect. The imperfections are much smaller and more trivial than the defects and vices of people outside in the world.”
Despite later struggles, Merton stayed true to his vocation. Many of his contemporaries–in the church and out–did not. His fellows and his church failed, at the just time Merton believed they offered a war- and modernity weary world an alternative. One can only imagine what he would think/does think of recent revelations of abuse and concealment.
“No matter how simple a man may be, the obvious can’t go on astounding him forever.”
The book proper ends with Merton learning of his brother’s death in combat. The following are the last lines of the poem upon that occasion:
For the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.
“The monk in hiding himself from the world becomes not less himself, not less of a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself for his personality and individuality are perfected in their true order, the spiritual, divine order, of union with God, the principle of all perfection.”