Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The River of Merton Literature Continues to Flow

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The River of Merton Literature Continues to Flow

Article excerpt

Twenty-five years after his death, Thomas Merton is still a phenomenon in the publishing world.

At the time of his accidental death in Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 10, 1968, Merton left behind an enormous amount of unpublished material. He had previously set up the Merton Trust, and the trustees arranged for the publication of a number of significant volumes beginning with The Climate of Monastic Prayer (Cistercian Publications, 1969). There followed several collections of Merton's writings, including Contemplation in a World of Action (Doubleday, 1971), The Asian Journal (New Directions, 1973), The Collected Poems (New Directions, 1977), The Monastic Journey (Sheed & Ward, 1977), Love and Living (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), The Literary Essays (New Directions, 1981), and The Springs of Contemplation (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992).

A more ambitious publishing venture was undertaken in 1985 when Farrar, Straus & Giroux decided to publish five volumes of Merton's letters. For the present, since there was such a vast number of Merton letters, it was imperative to publish only the Merton side of the correspondence. Under the general editorship of William H. Shannon, other editors, including Christine Bochen, Robert E. Daggy and Patrick Hart, were asked to share the work. Thus far, four volumes have been published: The Hidden Ground of Love (Shannon, 1985), The Road to Joy (Daggy, 1989), The School of Charity (Hart, 1990) and The Courage for Truth (Bochen, 1993). The fifth and final volume of letters will appear under the title The Witness to Freedom (Shannon, 1994).

As part of its Merton 25th anniversary celebration, Harvest Books has published the first three volumes of Merton letters in a quality paperback edition (1993), and is planning to reissue in paperback the official biography by Michael Mott: The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton.

With the completion of the letters, the plan is to begin publishing the Merton journals. Br. Patrick Hart was appointed general editor by the trust in 1990. It is projected that there will be seven volumes beginning with the premonastic journals from 1939 to 1941. A number of Merton scholars, including Christine Bochen, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Robert E. Daggy, Victor A. Kramer and Jonathan Montaldo, are assisting in the editing. It is hoped that the first volume will appear by 1995, although a publisher has not yet been chosen.

Credence Cassettes began publishing Merton's spoken word in 1989: taped recordings of lectures and conferences given at the abbey of Gethsemani while he was master of novices from the early 1960s until his departure for Asia. At last count, Credence Cassettes has brought out 80 cassettes, talks that range from basic Christian values to monastic tradition, Sufi mysticism as compared to Christian mysticism, as well as reflections on Christian literature, especially his commentaries on Blake, Faulkner, Rilke, Eliot, Muir, Hopkins and Auden.

Since Merton's death in 1968, there have been more than 100 master's and doctoral dissertations written on aspects of his life and thought. In addition, there have been innumerable articles and books written about Merton. Space does not permit a total listing here, so I will mention only those books published this year, beginning with John Howard Griffin's Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton (Orbis Press), which is part of the unfinished biography Griffin was working on at the time of his death

Based on a doctoral dissertation on Merton's evolving Christology, George Kilcourse's Ace of Freedoms: Merton's Christ was published by the University of Notre Dame Press. …

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