A Search for Wisdom and Spirit: Thomas Merton's Theology of the Self

By Anne E. Carr | Go to book overview

6
THE STORY OF THE SELF

The question of the real, or true, or authentic self engaged Merton throughout his life as a monk and writer. He found in the notion of the hidden self known only to God an important focal point and symbol that could integrate the active elements of the search for the realized experience of union with God in prayer with its purely gratuitous character as a gift of God.

Merton's successive reformulations of the issue make evident his dissatisfaction with merely technical or abstract theological categories to describe the complexities of the false and true selves; he is always seeking more immediate, compelling, experiential, and symbolic terms in which to explore his theme. True, Merton consistently seeks out the theological underpinnings for his own experience in prayer and for his various formulations of the problem of the self in the writings of the church and monastic fathers and in the descriptive statements on contemplative prayer recorded by the Christian mystics. But he typically transposes theological categories to the plane of spiritual experience, as when he connects the doctrine of original sin with the patristic idea of a fall from an original contemplative union with God, or translates the mystical "dark night" into the contemporary experience of "existential anxiety," which he then calls "existential dread" or "monastic dread."

Indeed, Merton's interest in the question of the self is radically experiential. In his autobiographical reflections he sees his own religious pilgrimage as a quest for the selflessness of "non-

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A Search for Wisdom and Spirit: Thomas Merton's Theology of the Self
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Seeds of the Self 10
  • 2 - Seeking the Spirit: the Christian Inheritance 34
  • 3 - Conjectures at a Turning Point 54
  • 4 - The Wisdom of the Self: Learning from the East 75
  • 5 - I Live Now Not I . . . " 96
  • 6 - The Story of the Self 121
  • Epilogue 141
  • Notes 149
  • Selected Bibliography of Books by Thomas Merton 165
  • Index 167
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