Contemplation and Inner Experience

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Class on contemplative prayer using Thomas Merton's The Inner Experience.

Class XI    (Class X not recorded)

Contemplative Prayer Set 2 of 2

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#class-series; #monastic-class-series


And this is the last section of Martin's The Inner Experience, and as I mentioned last
time, it continues actually with, continues with the last couple of points of Part 7,
because he's talking about the contemplative life in the world today, and what's different
about that.
So we, however, didn't have time last time to cover these first two sections, which I
would have liked to do, to leave us free to talk about the last part.
Before we begin to go through this, I wanted to make a couple of broader observations,
just in case they get squeezed out at the end.
It would be nice to have an overview of what we've been talking about, and put it into
a context, two kinds of context.
One of them we've already tried to do, that's the theological context.
How do we look at contemplation in the light of our whole Christian vision?
And that means not just a vision of Christianity, but a vision of humanity, a vision of the
cosmos of creation.
So we've been helped to do that by Martin, and also by Rana and a couple of other people.
But the other context that we would like to look at in our study is the historical context,
and Merton begins to do that in this last section.
It's very significant that he does.
It's very significant that his last issue here, his last point, and he leaves it sort
of open-ended, I think, is the relationship between contemplation and history.
Has anything changed?
Has anything changed in the contemplative experience, actually, let us say, of Christians
in our tradition?
I think it has, and we need to be able to ask ourselves what that is, and whether it's
an essential change, or to what degree it's intrinsic to the contemplative experience.
Is it just a difference in interpretation, or is it an actual difference in the experience?
I think there's also a difference in the experience.
Another one who has studied this question is Karl Rahner.
In fact, he's written quite a bit about the experience of God today.
And he comes towards it with a very strong theological, even philosophical, perspective.
So he's not talking so much about empirical evidence that is of experience, even though
he is talking about that, but what he's really doing is making a thesis, a proposal, that
there is a simple, a very simple experience of God, which is the essential and universal
experience of God.
There's one article of Rahner's which is especially precious in that regard.
It's called, The Experience of God Today.
It's in Theological Investigations, No. 11.
I couldn't find that yesterday.
It's probably because I already have it out.
I couldn't find it in the library.
But I have a copy of it, and if there's time, I'll talk about that a little bit.
But this is in the line of what we've heard from Rahner before, that this basic experience
of God is the presence of mystery, the mystery which is God, which is infinitely close to
us and yet infinitely ungraspable, and which we experience as our own transcendence, our
own movement into transcendence, and which we experience more in its purity and in its
power when we arrive at our own limits, when we arrive at moments of limitation, when we're
brought sharply up against our own boundary lines, whether it be in the shadow of death
or some very searching decision that we have to make, or some loss, or in the experience
of love, and a number of other examples.
So that's one approach to this question, which I think is a valid approach.
But it seems to me also that if you read the writings of the Spanish mystics of the 16th
century, of Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, you get a very different picture
of the mystical life or the contemplative life than what is experienced today.
I think there's a lot more extraordinary experience, I think it's much more vertical than is our
experience of today.
And how is that possible?
First of all, is it possible that we've been thinking of contemplation in a too individualistic
way, and that actually we're participating in something like a communal experience on
an invisible level?
What I mean is that our experience of God is our experience of God in the whole of humanity
and in the Church, and in a body which itself is on a journey.
In other words, there's a collective factor, a communal factor in our experience of God.
People have written about, for instance, a collective dark night of the soul in our time.
And you remember, Merton, I think it was in section six, says that, well, our contemplative
experience today can't be the same as that of the Fathers, because we live in the time
of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and things like that.
There's going to be a dark shadow in our contemplation.
In another place, maybe the end of the same section, he said that we can't expect wonderful
things in our interior life, because man has lost the capacity for wondering at God
and at the things of God, because man is full of wonder and is addicted to wonder at the,
as it were, the wonders of the beast.
At that point, he gets a little bit apocalyptic-sounding.
But the idea that something has happened in human consciousness, at least in the West,
which has radically changed our relationship to contemplative experience, that, and the
fact, look at it from another angle, that the Church and the Western humanity is going
through a particular experience, which may be described in this sense as an experience
of darkness.
Now, what I'm insisting on is not the darkness, but the communal character of it.
The fact is that our individual contemplative experience is not an absolute standing by
itself, but is, from one perspective, part of something else, which is experienced by
a larger body.
And therefore, it doesn't respond to abstract structures that are erected at a certain time,
because the Holy Spirit is acting differently at another time, and the whole Church, or
the whole of humanity, is experiencing something different at another point in history.
Is it possible that we can say that?
One thing that is concerned here is the movement from a relative state of passivity of the
human person with regard to nature, with regard to the cosmos, to the world, to creation, let
us say, to an active position of the human person with respect to creation, so that the
human person becomes, or humanity at least, becomes co-creator in some way.
Now, we see this in science and technology.
In other words, humanity begins to transform the world, at least the surface of the world.
We may be very ambivalent about the value of that, the depth of that, but the fact of
it can't be denied.
Now, does that have anything to do with our experience, our contemplative experience,
our experience of God?
At least, I believe it does in this respect, that as we become more rational, more analytical,
more critical, the experience of God has to become, in some sense, more subtle, more crafty,
more invisible, more of an unknowing, as our knowing becomes more aggressive, more bold,
more imperialistic in a sense, more dominating.
So that's, I think, Ronald talks about that, too.
And, as it were, the landscape of mysticism itself changes as this process happens.
Now, not everybody's participating to the same extent in that process, obviously.
But I think it has an effect, and it has an effect through this communal dimension we
were talking about.
Interestingly, the points last week, I've heard, on the other hand, about the whole television
and media culture, which kind of pulls us down into a passivity.
It's simply being there, instead of the critical, reflective capacity that one sees in an evil
theologian or...
That's right.
It's a curious thing.
Either one of us is probably going to change the situation, change our receptivity.
And either one of them can change it in, apparently, a negative way.
The TV addiction thing, certainly in a negative way.
As he says, it's a pseudo-contemplation, which can effectively totally block, probably, actual
contemplation, except for some great intervention of God.
The other dimension is this, that if there's a change in the, what would you call it?
I hate that word, phenomenology, because it's got too many syllables.
But if there's a change in the profile of mystical experience, of contemplative experience,
so that the profile is lower, so that the experience is more ordinary, so that it sort
of disappears into the ground, this is related to the communion in another way.
It's related in the sense that as we become poorer with respect to even our interior experience,
notice we become less exalted, we become less, what would you say, less, in a sense, confident
of our own, even, what would you say, our own identity, in a certain sense.
A certain level of identity begins to be chewed away.
For instance, the sense of superiority of the Catholic, of the Christian.
And what's happening there is that we're beginning to experience solidarity with all of humanity
through impoverishment, which has its, what would you call it, anticipation in the Old Testament, doesn't it?
In the exile of the Jewish people, for instance.
When they had the temple, when they had Jerusalem, when they had all that glory,
they were the chosen people of God.
Then the temple is destroyed and they're in captivity in another land where they see
the glory actually is of another imperial power.
And they're just nobody there. That's another experience, isn't it?
And remember the wisdom tradition tends to grow up at about that time, about the time of exile and later.
So part of this change in the experience of contemplation, I think,
is a movement into solidarity with all of humanity,
so that our experience has no higher profile than the rest of the experience of human people.
Now this is not an absolute, obviously, but this is what it seems to me Rahner is saying.
In fact, I'm sure that's what he's saying.
And also what Merton seems to be indicating sometimes.
Notice that in the first two sections of Section 8 here, the first two parts,
he's talking about the little brothers of Jesus in Charles' day were called,
who just go out into, they go out into the world,
but Foucault went out into a non-Christian people, into a pagan people, and a poor people,
and just lived there, just that presence among humanity,
and among the outsiders in a diaspora situation,
the presence of those who are utterly unwashed in some sense,
to be present among them.
Now that's expressing a sense of solidarity,
which from the other side, I think, becomes an experience
in the change of our profile, as I say, of contemplative experience.
And then he talks about Fr. Manchanada, and actually Shantibana, the ashram,
which is also a diaspora experience among others,
who in a sense have a more highly developed contemplative life than we do,
at least at this time.
It's another experience of solidarity and of a real change
in the relationship between inside and outside,
between, let us say, Christian or Catholic contemplatives,
and other religions, and other humanity in general,
even non-contemplative, ordinary people and poor people.
So there's a very strong lowering of the vertical,
because if you read St. Teresa of Avila and John of Troy,
you get the feeling this is it.
I mean, this, here at the heart of Catholicism,
is the ultimate, the supreme experience of union with God,
of all of humanity.
This is the place to be.
And one is attracted to that by, as it were,
the magnetism of the center, and wants nothing but that,
and considers everything outside to be inferior.
Well, we're in a radically different position today,
and I think there's a reason for that.
The vertical is coming down, and the horizontal is moving up.
And it's important for us to realize that,
because somehow it's got a lot to do with vocation,
with what God wants from the Church at this particular time.
Is there any benefit, then, to knowledge of Christ?
Oh, yes. Yeah, definitely.
I'm trying to understand what you're saying.
If our experience has gone deeper than anybody else's that we're sharing, then...
Yeah, when we talk about experience,
the question you raise is important.
When we talk about experience,
first of all, I'm talking about the exalted experiences,
let us say, of contemplation.
Now, in the end, are those what connect us to God?
Are those what constitute salvation or fulfillment,
or realization in the ultimate sense?
And I think the answer is largely no.
It's not our experience that is the end.
It's something else, which for us is connected with faith,
which for us is faith, and ultimately is love.
So there's a very sharp knife that cuts between the essence,
which is faith and love, and any kind of experience,
even the highest and apparently deepest mystical experience.
But it's not necessarily...
In a sense, the contemplative experience, the unitive experience,
is that which is our bridge to eternal life and salvation? Yes or no?
No. No, I don't think so.
I think you can say the basic unitive experience,
which is like that ground of consciousness,
and the faith which is rooted in that,
and which is our voluntary, or we say, picking up of that,
our voluntary relationship to that ground of consciousness
through the act of faith and love.
That's it.
But not the unitive experience itself,
in the sense of the conductive experience.
That's a help, but...
I mean the unitive experience in the broadest sense.
Like a sacramental experience can be a unitive experience,
like an experience of transcended love can be a unitive experience.
I'm making all those as equivalent to the contemplative experience.
Otherwise, why the priority of the contemplative life?
Yeah, is it because those things help?
Because those things are building something
which is deeper than those things themselves.
The essential distinction is between experience and between reality.
Between ultimately reality, let us say.
So what Rahner would say is that those things are still accidental.
But the ultimate reality is deeper than those things.
Valuable as they are, and they're valuable largely because they build faith,
because they give us a push,
because they help us to intensify what is actually at the center,
which is a union with God which is deeper than experience.
Which doesn't mean that those things are to be dismissed at all.
They're precious and we nearly make them a goal of life.
It's just that between those things,
between absolutizing those experiences,
and what we can absolutize,
there's a gulf.
There's a discontinuity.
There's a transcendence.
We have to be able to see the real thing
somehow transcending any experience of our own.
But let me...
And then, you know,
there's a self-verifying experience, just the same,
which doesn't need to be dismissed.
And when that's happened, it's almost like it goes beyond the...
out of the theology classroom, in a sense.
It's just self-verifying.
It's a kiss or an embrace,
or it's a kind of self-authenticating experience
which puts a permanent stamp in you
which nothing can contradict.
So there's always an exception to what we're saying,
and that's the exception.
Another exception is this relationship with Christ.
Now, when we talk about the experiences being the same
as that of somebody outside, that's not quite true.
Because the experience of Christ, the faith in Christ,
has something distinctive about it,
which is not just an act, but is also an experience.
Yeah, but I don't mean experience,
and I'm going to be waving my head here,
but I don't mean experience so much as a subjective phenomenon
as the unit to...
somehow unity with the objective reality.
That love, prayer, death,
at that point when they're all equivalent.
Do you know what I mean?
So like Beat said once,
the only thing akin to the contemplative life
is falling in love,
because you've come out of yourself.
So I'm not making that equivalent.
I mean, isn't the priority of the contemplative life
for us because we're hoping for that
objective, unitive experience?
I'm afraid to use the word experience now
because you take that subjective phenomenon.
Well, now there is an experience
which has an experience of something objective.
I don't like the word objective
because we split it into these two possibilities
and it's really deeper than that, and fuller than that.
But the thing I'm pushing now
is this difference between experience,
and especially any kind of extraordinary experience,
and the essence.
And the essence being
that which is accessible to everybody.
Okay, so I'm sort of
barking from Rauner's side of the street at this point.
We could go over to the other side of the street
and talk about the self-authenticating experience
and the fact that it's possible to experience union,
a kind of metaphysical union.
At some point, isn't it necessary to say as Christians
that we have access to death,
but we only have access to Christ?
Be it the anonymous Christian or not.
Okay, I didn't quite follow.
Be it the anonymous Christian or not.
I mean, that's...
Where does Christ get into this whole pattern?
Yeah, well, that's what I say.
We have to be careful about making our experience inside
exactly the same as the experience outside.
There's a difference.
We're saying that there's no experience that matters inside
that's not also outside.
Because there is, and that, for instance,
is the experience of Christ.
So whenever you take a theological principle like that
and make an absolute out of it,
you're going to have to add something,
a corrective afterwards,
because you've amputated part of the truth.
And that's true in this case too.
In other words, there's something unique
about the recognition of Christ
and the connection that's made with Christ through faith,
which is also experiential.
And yet every particular experience of that
can go into the ground and disappear from you.
It's something that's in you
and which may sometimes be in the world of experience
and sometimes disappear right out of the world of experience.
So you have nothing but that faith.
But faith itself, in a sense, is partly experiential.
Yeah, these are difficult things.
I'm waiting for Joseph to jump in with the anonymous Christians.
Well, we've been talking about the anonymous Christian
anonymously, you know, without mentioning it.
Because he's the one that has the same essential experience,
which for Rahner is the acceptance of your life
and the acceptance of your death, basically,
which is faith, okay?
Which is faith.
But it's not faith mediated directly and explicitly through Christ.
Yeah, but I'm saying it's the same tack.
Doesn't somebody like, for example,
Panikkar take that way?
Yeah, Panikkar goes off the edge.
Panikkar goes off the edge.
Well, I'm kind of asking you, you know,
where's the edge?
Have you seen it?
Yeah, the edge is in the role that you give to Christ
and your relationship with Christ.
And if you read that Rahner article,
you'll see how that, for him,
builds into this vision, okay?
But it's difficult territory
because you can't build one mental structure
that holds it all together so you can look at it at once.
You've got to look at this side over here
and then you go over on the other side
and you say, this is also true.
You kind of move back and forth.
But no, there is an experience of Christ,
a commitment to Christ,
a living relationship with Christ,
all of which can somehow be centered in faith,
which is, what would you say,
different in a quantum way from anything outside,
and which is of very great significance,
very great importance.
And we'd have to talk about that for a long while
to bring out exactly how that's true, I think.
But it's obvious to us.
It's obvious to us.
And yet it's hard to sum it up in a few words.
There's a particular presence, I believe,
a qualified presence of the Holy Spirit, too,
connected with Christian faith.
Remember what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman,
you worship what you do not know,
we worship what we know,
because salvation is from the Jews.
The first part of that statement is what I would underline.
There's a particular knowledge there,
which is central, which is final.
I think a very balanced presentation
can be found also in people
on one hand appreciating the Hindu tradition,
and at the same time is so founded on Christianity.
And sometimes I think it's a question
just of the limitation of our understanding.
We don't know yet how to get those two things together,
but we know they're both true.
So we may seem to pretend that we understand
how all of this is structured, but we don't.
We're working from two sides,
and we know both of them are true.
So what we have to do is say this,
and then come over and make sure we conserve this,
and then go back over here and so on,
go back and forth.
Okay, any other questions
before we descend into our Martin section?
So he starts out talking about
small communities in the world,
and particularly, concretely,
about the little brothers of Jesus.
And note that this is, first of all,
there's a form of life, which is a diaspora.
Both Rahner and Martin write about the diaspora church.
Martin writes somewhere about the monk and the diaspora.
But the idea was Rahner's.
This is a diaspora situation
where the monastic community has
sacrificed all of its structures
and its image, as it were,
and it's almost like
Christ among the alien in some way.
Not preaching, not communicating the word,
not attempting to convert, but just being there.
And Martin says down at the bottom of 102,
this, of course, is a strictly contemplative view
of the Christian life.
In other words, whatever is happening
is happening at a deeper level
than the visible level.
And with this goes a particular kind of experience,
according to Foyam,
that quote is from him,
who is what, the general of the little brothers.
That is, together with the disappearance
of the external image,
there appears in this kind of prayer,
and note Martin has selected this quote,
a disappearance of the interior image.
That is, a disappearance of anything special
in the contemplative life.
So you're sharing the external life of poverty
and ordinariness,
and utter, what would you call it,
outsiderness, in a sense.
And you're also sharing the interior experience
of that largely,
although that's not all of it, obviously.
And note that a lot of this
didn't come from theory,
it came from a kind of interior inspiration,
an intuition,
an invitation of the spirit, for instance,
that St. Charles would call out into the desert.
You can see how Martin is continually
restless within the structure
of the large monastery,
the highly institutionalized monastery,
which gets so many books.
And of course there were a lot of small community
efforts that also fizzled
that started in the 60s.
And then he talks about
Eastern Christian monasticism,
the ashram,
about Fr. Manchanam,
especially about Shantivanam.
Sister Pasqueline,
in her profile of Fr. B,
has a little section
on the beginning of that.
Shantivanam, the ashram in Tamil Nadu
dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity,
had been founded in 1950
by two French priests,
Fr. Jules Manchanam, a diocesan missionary,
and Fr. Henri Le Sault,
Abhishekta Nanda, that is,
from the Abbey of Kerganan.
Fr. Manchanam arrived in India in 1939,
first lived with a bishop
and then in a rectory in Kalidula,
which is only a few miles from Shantivanam.
You can ride there on a bicycle.
It's the closest to anything like this.
I suppose you'd call it a town.
And then right across the street
from Shantivanam, there's a little village.
If you want to find a bank
or a barber shop,
you have to go to Kalidula.
Only in 1948
did a donor offer a few acres
in Trichy. That's the city.
Well, that's the province there.
The city in Lacau.
Near the Cauvery River,
where he and Abhishekta Nanda began
worshiping in a tiny chapel that they had built
with their own hands in Indian style.
That must have been a...
not the chapel they have now.
They used English, Sanskrit,
and Tamil in their liturgies,
meeting three times daily for a common prayer,
using scriptures of the different religions,
using the Roman rite themselves.
They lived in thatched huts,
the real poverty of the poor in India.
In 1957,
Fr. Manchanand died in France,
where he had gone for surgery.
Abhishekta stayed on at Shantivanam,
but traveled up to the caves in the Himalayas,
off and on, until he asked in 1968
that someone from Kuri Sumala come,
and he retired to the north,
where he died in Rishikesh
in 1973.
So Fr. Bede Griffiths
arrived at Shantivanam in 1968
from Kuri Sumala,
with two other monks.
And from then on,
the community revolved around him,
and he developed it.
Keeping pretty much that same orientation,
trying to stay right on the earth.
So Merton finds two things
in the ashram development.
One is another movement out from
the highly institutional,
big, structured monastery.
And the second one is the,
would you call it dialogue,
or coexistence with
an Asian tradition,
and specifically here with the Hindu tradition,
of course, in the south of India,
which he's written extensively
about elsewhere.
And that ends that
discussion of
contemplative communities
in the world.
Have you visited the new Jerusalem community
in Paris?
No. Paris, France.
Not Paris, Texas.
Not Paris, Texas.
Now, Pierre Delfus
wrote a rule,
a community rule
of Jerusalem, and he spent time in the desert
with the little brothers, and then
after being there with
decided to come back and
establish what he called
the desert of a city.
So that there is this monastic
community that there's
a women's and a men's.
They pray in the same big Gothic church
together three times a day,
and the public just churns out droves of this.
Then all morning
they work at secular jobs.
Afternoon and evening
are contemplative study times.
It seems to me like
that's another effort to
move this way
and get centeredness
of the monastic institution.
That's right. There they seem
to be not quite as concerned
about, what would you say, leaving behind
the image as Merton is.
It's a different, what do you call,
integration of the two sides, because
they keep the big church and so on.
Part of the liturgical part
of their life sounds like it remains
within the traditional
sort of image, but the rest of their life
is out there. And the fact of being in the
city, of course, is a real
One of their
sisters who had lived there for quite a while
was with our sisters in New York, so I did talk to her
and learned something about it.
I was there for about three weeks a couple
of years ago. Their liturgy is
absolutely gorgeous.
Some can also live
as hermits in apartments.
They're concerned about it.
That's a very important
model, you know, for
the urban experiment.
Now we get
back to his
attempt to save what
has to do with the world
and how it exists in the world
and what its value is in the world.
He's going to end up, to talk about the world
is to talk about history as well,
because the world is a very
dynamic, kinetic thing in our time.
So on the middle of page
105, or his 340,
he shifts
to that.
Contemplative life is primarily a life of
Now he goes back to the beginning of the book
where that was his
thesis. I think it's a
very strong and valid
axis for the book.
Now here, the two
choices, one choice is simply
to withdraw and leave the world behind,
and that's what he seems to have done in
the Seven Story Mountain at the beginning.
And now he's
very, let's say,
rigorous in his judgment
of simple withdrawal
from the world, and he contends that
the contemplative is the person who somehow is more engaged
with the world, or engaged with it
at a deeper level,
even in being physically detached
from it.
And then,
well, what's this about? What does the
contemplative have to offer?
And the rest of his final
section here is about that.
And a lot of it has to do
somehow with insight.
And here he's a bit
of a battle
with himself, because he's going to say that the
contemplative should have a particular
depth of understanding,
and then he's going to come back and say,
well, it's by his very poverty and unknowing
and lack of any special wisdom
that's what's essential to him.
So he goes back and forth between those two, and that has
something to do with the tension
within Merton,
and between his
special gifts, and
his vocation, or his way of life,
and the monastic ideal in its essence,
you know,
which is concerned with,
as Banachar says, that bliss and simplicity,
simple interiority, and the poverty
that goes with that.
I say simple interiority.
Merton does insist that that's not enough,
that there has to be
some kind of openness towards the world.
The book where he wrestles
with this at greatest length, I think,
is Contemplation in a World of Action.
It's a very good book, a very valuable
book written. This was published
posthumously, it seems to me, in 71,
something like that, as an
introduction by Jean Leclerc.
It's after Merton's
death, and so he looks back upon
Merton's contribution.
And it's got
articles on
the main
aspects of this whole issue
of monasticism and the world of monasticism
and history,
which are a very important reading,
I think, for a monk at a certain point in his life,
not right at the beginning,
but after some years, when
some of these problems have begun to
impinge upon him,
or maybe when he begins to
become aware that he's forgotten
these issues too much, and needs to
become a little more conscious of them,
and the relationship of
his monastic life to the world.
Now here he
starts talking about a fascinating issue that
I mentioned last time, this
thing about the wisdom of
history, the logos
of man's present situation,
as he puts it here, in the middle of 106.
And he
speaks of Marxism
and a kind of Marxist mystique
of history,
which he says
presents a challenge to the Christian.
And so
I went and ferreted out a couple
of other things that Martin wrote,
that Merton wrote about Marxism.
of them is that last talk that he ever
gave in Bangkok, and I raised the question
why in heaven's name did he talk about
Marxism to a bunch of
people who are interested in
an Eastern Christian monasticism?
What's it got to do with Marxism?
And another one is
the article in Contemplation
in a World of Action called
Is the World a Problem?
He gets into Marxism there.
He says, first of all, he was
confronted, just before he went to Asia,
he was confronted, they had a meeting at that, what did they
call it? Center for
do you remember what that is? Center for Democracy
or something like that, in Santa Barbara.
A friend of his, I forget the fellow's
name, but was one of the officers in that.
So he gave a talk down there and he was
confronted by a young man who
identified himself as a Marxist and said, well, we're
monks too.
The implication being that we're more monks than
you are. So
Merton accepted
the challenge and then had to reflect on
what monasticism and
Marxism have in common.
And the first thing that he comes up with,
of course, he hates
Stalinism, he
hates the Soviet monster
of communism and so on,
but he also hates the
anti-communist, what would you call it,
ideology which
conceals and covers so many sins in the
United States. In other words, that whole use
of communism
as a kind of antichrist
in order to achieve other ends,
whether by somebody like
Senator McCarthy or by any number of politicians
would justify anything
by an anti-communist
position, and often calling
innocent people communists, and in some way
them unjustly.
He finds, first of all, that both
monasticism and
Christian monasticism
and Marxism
are counter-cultural. In some way
they react against the establishment.
It's kind of a slim beginning, but
there he starts.
But then
he says they have in common
that they both want change, they both
are discontented with the world as it is,
especially the social world,
the political world, the economic world, they want to
see it change. He says, here the
difference comes up, because the Marxist wants to
change the structures out in the world,
and the monk wants to change himself,
wants to change his own heart,
wants to arrive at purity of heart.
So he puts the interior transformation
first, and whatever
external transformation second,
and maybe doesn't even think about it.
And of course, Merton says
that this is the only way to do it. If you try
to do it the other way, it won't work,
the pot's trying to
wash itself in some way.
I looked around to try
to find where this wonderful mystique of
history was in Marxism, and I couldn't find
any. I don't think it's in Karl
Marx, it's in the idea of the dialectic.
Yeah, it's in Hegel, and it gets into
Marxism, okay, but not all the Marxists
follow it, especially the orthodox Marxists.
There's a particular breed of
existentialist Marxists.
Evidently, Mark Hughes is one of them,
who follow this line.
And I tried to read a bit of that book,
The One-Dimensional Man, but I find it
completely unreadable. It's so abstract.
So, that
particular research project was not
very successful.
Isn't it obvious that
history is the idea of
knowledge of itself?
Well, that's in Hegel, yeah.
I think that that's the sort of mystique
that you can
bring yourself into knowledge of that,
put yourself up with it.
Actually, I think there is something
that Christianity
can... there's something exciting
in that. There's something exciting in a
certain interpretation of that, or a certain
offspring of that. I'm looking for a
a Merton quote
which says that a little better.
Yeah, I think he's got
Vogelin behind him.
When he starts talking about the American technocrat
as a Gnostic and so on, I think he's got
Vogelin behind him.
Okay, this is from that
Contemplation in a World of Action article.
He's been talking about the
kind of
Carolingian structure, as he
calls it, of medieval
West medieval Christianity and society.
The suggestion that
has now most obviously replaced that of the
Carolingians is that of Karl Marx.
In this view, history is not
finished. It has just reached
the point where it may, if we are smart,
begin. There is no
predetermined divine plan, although frankly
the messianism in Marx is basically
biblical and eschatological.
After a long, precarious evolution,
matter has reached the point in
man where it can become fully aware of
Take itself in hand and control its own
destiny. And now
at last, that great seething mass of
material forces, the world will enter upon
its true destiny by being raised to a human
The instruments by which this can be accomplished,
technology, cybernetics, are now in our power.
But are we
in our own power?
I can see where he found the
excitement in Marxism,
in that particular idea, which
resonates with Teilhard's
idea of moving from cosmos to
cosmogenesis. Remember,
when evolution takes off
from within itself,
no longer just predetermined,
but evolution proceeds
after the human person comes on
the scene as sort of co-creator
from within itself
through the human mind
and will, through human creativity.
Some of the Christian
theologians who are working as much
as possible on the whole challenge of history
and see this coffin that teaches at Harvard
and so on, they also
wrestle with the kind of
Marxist humanist school,
Frankfurt, and what kind of hierarchies.
But they say, you see, just at the heart
of the scripture, when you get into the salvation
history thing,
where Moses
doesn't just go up and live in a cave
and contemplate through the
mantra or something, but
gets into the history of the oppression
and through a whole
series of... leads
his people out and changes
history and changes them and they're
going to... so that
it's an interesting thing that it doesn't begin
with Marx, but it begins with this whole
Judeo-Christian insight
that history is radically important, where
salvation is happening through
not just if we're
wise enough, but if we're working
with this God who's radically in
history, moving through history.
So it's a kind of an exciting kind of
thing that, as you say, T.R.,
brings it even to the cosmic side
of all the cosmos. It's not just
that, that things are happening and we have a responsibility
So that's where, when Martin comes out
of this, he comes out with Verdea,
who is
precisely in that direction.
Verdea was saying that we've
misinterpreted Christianity
in terms of
a kind of gloomy
religion of
only salvation and only individual
salvation. He's talking about the modern
West and medieval West too,
although he sees a great
deal of virtue in the Middle Ages,
the conserving of, as he says,
creative energies and so on. He doesn't really have
a lot of respect for the contemplative
thing itself, but the
conserving, as he says, and disciplining
of creative forces in the Middle Ages.
But he says that's
a misinterpretation of
Christianity, which largely comes from
partly from Neoplatonism,
the kind of verticality of it.
But the real
Christianity is
creativity emerging in history.
That is, the gift of...
the gift to be the image of God by being
free and being creator in the world.
So that's what Martin picks up
there when he quotes Verdea.
So if you're interested in that kind of thing,
he's just a treasure of Verdea,
because he's done more of it than anybody else
I know.
In contrast with Teilhard, he doesn't talk
about the cosmic picture. The focus
is smaller. The focus is on the human
scene, and specifically on history.
He's always analyzing history.
The Russians, as he points out,
seem to have a great,
what would you call it, gift
and attraction
to a theology of history,
partly because they're between East
and West. They've still got this,
what would you call it, this
totality of
the mystery of the Eastern
Christianity inside them, and they're confronted
with this accelerated history
of the West, especially in the past couple of centuries.
So between those two,
something really happens.
But evidently that eschatological thing has always
been in the Russians.
Also, it isn't
possible to be unfair to our
Western medieval...
Let's take a figure like Gregory the Great
who's sometimes called the father of the Middle Ages.
He's a man who's truly
contemplative, and he's also right in the
middle of history, negotiating how to
get the corn and the wheat to Sicily
and keep the...
And then figures like Benedict who
rendered democratic the community
in the sense of bringing in the barbarians
and the slaves, and they're absolutely equal to
the aristocrats. And a figure
like Monroe, an incredible figure like
Francis, etc. But you could almost
turn the challenge around
and say, if anyone lost the vote
it was the Eastern Orthodox
who just weren't able to
meet the challenge of change
and renaissance of history,
etc., and so they could get the...
I think Berthier is equally
critical of Orthodoxy.
In fact, he's
looking largely at Orthodoxy when he
makes these accusations
of Christianity.
He says the patristic Christianity is simply not enough.
And so he really
a Christianity
of freedom
and creativity.
And that's why Matthew Fox, of course,
picks him up and quotes him
from time to time, even though there's a lot in him
that Fox probably wouldn't.
Do you have any awareness
of why the present
Pope is so interested in this reunion
with Orthodoxy? Does it relate
to some of the things that Robert was just
talking about? I'm not sure.
What great passion he has.
Well, partly
maybe from his own experience being on
the boundary line, you know, of
Eastern Europe being brought
up there, but partly also probably he sees a great
stabilizing influence, the weight of
tradition, and of theological
solidity, which is in the Orthodox tradition.
It's got a marvelous
And the stability is so important for him
that he probably finds maybe
a bottomless
foundation of theological
stability over there.
Which is true, but there's also
obviously something missing there.
It doesn't seem to connect
with the history, with
as much as the West.
Is that true? Well, I don't know.
When it comes to a place like Latin America, you really see
That's the other side.
I think that
I don't know, it's difficult
even to talk about that in this context.
It's a big issue.
I think sometimes...
So difficult because
so much of it is not doctrinal, but
cultural, we just
presuppose biblical scholarship,
for instance, no criticism.
For them, it's word of God.
We presuppose the influence of
origin, even though he was condemned.
For them, origin
and theologians, they're condemned,
so there's no truth to them.
It can be, at its worst,
very rigid
and fixist and triumphalistic
At its best, it has a comprehension of the mystery, you know, the luminous contemplative
understanding and experience of the mystery.
At its worst, it's simply pre-critical and a kind of fundamentalism all its own.
I remember when Innocenzo went to the United States, he encountered that virginity at Mount
Some told him, you're worse than the atheists because you're pretending to be Christian.
Others would kneel down and ask for his priestly blessing.
So there is that incredible spread of monotheism.
Okay, back from the big picture.
So he spent some time talking about this contemplative vision of history, and first of all getting
this little spark, this stimulation from outside Christianity and Marxism, and then coming
back and finding its roots in Christianity, and finding an expression of it in Berdeyev.
He was a very powerful, rich writer.
He was a Marxist himself, as a matter of fact, in the beginning, Berdeyev.
In this way the Marxist is able to steal from Christianity one of its most potent and characteristic
claims, that it has come to divinize the freedom and the spirit of man, of humanity.
Christians hearing this for the first time, forgetting that their baptism has a new birth
as children of God with a vocation to the highest creative responsibilities, have not understood
the hidden implications of this claim made blasphemous only by its separation from its
true context.
It's interesting, you know, that the psychological doctrine of the shadow, that often when you
have a particular antipathy for somebody, it's because you see in that person not only
your dark side, but also your unrealized potential.
And I think communism has been such a shadow figure, such a, what would you call it, a
nemesis, a shadow figure, an ultimate black beast for the Christian West in our time,
largely because communism was pushing the buttons of those unrealized potentialities
right in Christianity, especially to transcend the static, cultural, social, political, economic
structures and become itself.
So it stole this light and this fire from Christianity, went off with it, comes back and confronts
us with it, and is tremendously, deeply disturbing.
So that Christians find that they have to absolutely demonize everything that has any taint of
Marxism or communism in it.
It wasn't the whole idea of community, equality, which according to Erwin, these great
yearnings of the apostolic community, and they take that over, and we're appalled at
the beginning of free markets.
Because that's where the change goes, of course, is towards unity, is towards a kind of communion.
And then of course, communism itself becomes a travesty, wherever it comes into power.
And then finally, on the last couple of pages, he attempts to sum up what he believes monasticism
has to give to the world, or its value for the world and in the world.
First of all, he speaks of energy, clarity and peace over on 109, but then at the end,
the value that he stresses is freedom, that's where he comes down, human freedom, and distinguishes
two levels of freedom, as Paul does, the freedom of the flesh and the freedom of the spirit,
and says that the monk is supposed to be the witness of this true freedom, freedom of the
deep or true self, freedom of the spirit in the world.
It is the contemplative who keeps this liberty alive in the world, and who shows others obscurely
and without realizing it what real freedom means.
It's interesting that there should be a vocation to be free, you know, a vocation.
And this is, he seems to, in the end, give more importance to this, doesn't he, than
to the knowledge, the penetration of reality, the understanding of history and so on.
In the end, the fundamental value is freedom.
Now freedom for him, remember, equates with that unity of the human person that he was
talking about in the beginning.
It's not as if those are two different things.
Freedom is the quality, is the sphere, is the movement of that true self or unified
person, a person who is one.
Okay, any questions?
I find this really interesting, coming late in his life, that he would be saying this
about freedom because in the beginning he had so much freedom, but it was not freedom
You mean before he entered the monastery?
Yeah, his first twenty-seven years.
A secular merchant.
Yeah, a secular merchant.
And then he sought these constraints of the Trappist order to contain his freedom, to
focus it.
And then he wanted to move out into the hermitage, out more into the world.
It's just a wonderful journey, kind of a myth of the journey, deeper and deeper into
the freedom that needs to be framed before it can be given.
That's right.
That sort of thing.
And he really had a frame at Gethsemane for all those years.
When you think that he didn't even go out of the monastery for all those years except
for a couple of trips, one or two trips to New York and a trip to the East.
And I think a lot of the value of Merton is that he was true to his own inner sense, that
is, which identifies with that freedom.
And he himself is a witness to freedom, and a freedom which has found God and Christ in
faith, but doesn't let go of either one of those and insists that the two somehow have
to be one, that the faith and the freedom ultimately are one thing.
Thank you very much.
Thank you.
Thank you.