- Paperback: 308 pages
- Publisher: Stoddart Pub (Sept. 1 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0773761535
- ISBN-13: 978-0773761537
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
- Shipping Weight: 386 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,235,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton Paperback – Sep 1 2000
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Thirty years after his death, we are finally catching up to Thomas Merton as one of the greatest spiritual figures of the twentieth century. The genius and spirituality of this unusual man could not be contained in his life as a monk but spilled over richly into his life and work as a poet, critic, rebel, sage, and even artist and photographer. Merton was aware that he had heretic blood within him, and it soon became apparent to the world. The balding French-English intellectual living as a Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky took a vow of silence, yet corresponded with and befriended such luminaries as Joan Baez, Jacques Maritain, John Howard Griffin, Martin Luther King Jr., Erich Fromm, and Boris Pasternak. His famous autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, captured the imagination of a generation, selling more than six hundred thousand copies in its first year. Merton also took a vow of obedience, yet feuded constantly with his second abbot. As a monk he promised to remain celibate, yet he found himself passionately in love with a nurse he met while in hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. And at the end of his life, Merton, a monk within the western Roman Catholic tradition, was moving closer and closer to Eastern spirituality. This brilliant new book is the first to use recently released diary entries and correspondence by Merton and includes new insights about the recently published diary of his episode of the heart. Higgins compares Merton with William Blake, the monk's intellectual and spiritual hero, and comes to startling conclusions about the emotional and intellectual passions that drove Thomas Merton, a man and thinker for all seasons.
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The comparison with William Blake's life was also a uniquely covered topic and I was glad to see the similarities in their lives.
Also the clear deliniation of Merton as a heretic was interesting and helped to explain how becoming a Catholic saved Merton from destructive behaviors, how he needed the protection of the monestary's structure as an orphan and also from living in so many places in Europe and in the United States... he needed a physical "center"....
Well worth the read!
Higgins is an advocate of Merton even as he exposes Merton's failings and flaws. Higgins refers to 50-something Merton's affair with the 25-year-old student nurse as "an honest erotic encounter" (p. 231) a few pages after he has quoted Merton's declaration of the contrary: "I suppose really what my nature, in its hunger, really secretly planned was to have her as a kind of mistress while I continued to live as a hermit.
Could anything be more dishonest?" (p. 227, footnote omitted).
Higgins recognizes the often overlooked extremism of Merton, who tended to dramatize his own situation. For example, "Merton drew more than a few extravagant comparisons between his life and the plight of America's blacks. [He declared that as a monk he was deprived 'of human and civil rights.'] Even allowing for Merton's penchant for hyperbole and righteous indignation, the comparison of the American black's plight with that of a Trappist is a bit much" (pp. 179-180). This extremism is also evidenced in "The Seven Storey Mountain" where he wrote, "the culture of the white men is not worth the dirt in Harlem's gutters" (p. 175. footnote omitted).
Also useful is the examination of Merton as "anti-poet" and "anti-monk," as well as excerpts from Merton's correspondence with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who passed as a practicing Catholic while she attended a more with-it Episcopalian congregation with Merton's blessing.
This reviewer disagrees with Higgins about the "heretic" Merton's "personal holiness," but highly recommends Higgins's compilation of information so helpful in understanding Merton.