Introduction by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland.
Two monks in conversation about the meaning of life and the nature of solitude.
Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk who wrote The Seven Storey Mountain, spent his entire literary career (1948- 68) in a cloistered monastery in Kentucky. His great counterpart, the French Benedictine monk Jean Leclercq, spent those years traveling relentlessly to and from monasteries worldwide, trying to bring about a long-needed reform and renewal of Catholic religious life.
Their correspondence over twenty years is a fascinating record of the common yearnings of two ambitious, holy men. "What is a monk?" is the question at the center of their correspondence, and in these 120 letters they answer it with great aplomb, touching on the role of ancient texts and modern conveniences; the advantages of hermit life and community life; the fierce Catholicism of the monastic past and the new openness to the approaches of other traditions; the monastery's impulse toward survival and the monk's calling to prophecy. Full of learning, human insight, and self-deprecating wit, these letters capture the excitement of the Catholic Church during the run-up to the Second Vatican Council, full of wisdom, full of promise.
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Excerpt from Survival or Prophecy? by Thomas Merton
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
This first extant letter from Dom Jean Leclercq to Father Louis (Thomas Merton) opens with a reference to a letter from Merton dated January 15, 1950. Apparently, the lost letter to Leclercq from Merton was in regard to what current research was being done on the Cistercian Fathers. Dom Leclercq was interested in the Gethsemani manuscripts that were kept in a vault until they were transferred to the Institute of Cistercian Studies Library at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo a decade later.
January 28, 1950
I am happy that you are doing a study on a collection of texts by St. Bernard. Never enough can be done to make him known, and it answers a real need of our contemporaries: a Swiss editor has also just asked me for a collection in German.
I am also in contact with the Reverend Bruno Scott James.
I will be happy to look over your Collectanea [Cisterciensia ] articles when I get a copy of the issue. I think that the only important book about St. Bernard these last years was the one by [William] Watkins, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which I mention in the bibliographical note in S. Bernard mystique. There is also a fine chapter in Aufgang des Abendlandes by Heer, ed. Europa, Wien [Vienna] and Zurich.
I studied Baldwin of Ford some time ago, especially his doctrine on the Eucharist, for a collection which did not appear, but I do not think that anyone has done any work on Baldwin since then.
So there is still a great deal to do, and I think that the Lord is expecting a great deal from a true monastic life in our own days and that the world stands in need of it. So you have a beautiful mission. I would be happy to receive your books; I have heard them spoken about. If I can help you in anything, I am at your service, and I ask you to believe, my Reverend Father, in my devoted respect in Our Lord.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
[Undated--before Easter, 1950]
I did receive the films of your manuscripts of St. Bernard, and I thank you. The film of the Sermones in Cantica [Sermons on the Song of Songs] will be used very soon. Unfortunately, the film of the Sermones is unreadable; the photo is blurred.
I have not yet returned to Clervaux, where your books are waiting for me. I know that they arrived there, but I have not yet had a chance to read them. I have only seen your articles in Collectanea Cisterciensia on the mystical doctrine of St. Bernard. I will read them when I can do so. I am sure, according to what I have heard, that you have gone much deeper than I have into the mystical life and doctrine of St. Bernard. This I have done only very superficially. But perhaps later on, when I have finished the edition, I will be able to do something more mature, after having spent a long time with the texts.
For the moment I am leading a life completely contrary to my vocation and to my ideal, and the cause of it is St. Bernard. I am traveling all over Europe looking for manuscripts. They are everywhere. But this documentation has to be assembled once for all, and it can be hoped that St. Bernard will come out of it better known. It is an extremely difficult job. It is a major scientific responsibility, especially at certain times. For example, soon I am going to have to decide which manuscripts are to be retained to establish the text of the Sermones in Cantica: all the work that follows will depend on this decision. Please pray that this work be done well and that it be worthy of St. Bernard.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
A decade before Vatican II, Thomas Merton was already returning to the sources of monasticism with his conferences on Benedict, Cassian, Pachomius,Evagrius, and other writers of the earliest tradition. He was also moving into the twelfth-century Cistercian "evangelists": Bernard of Clairvaux, William of Saint-Thierry, Guerric of Igny, and Aelred of Rievaulx.
April 22, 1950
Another film of the St. Bernard Sermons is now on the way to you. This time I looked it over to see if it was all right and it was legible on our machine. I am sorry the first attempt was not too good: you must forgive our young students who are just trying their hand at this kind of work for the first time. Pray that they may learn, because in the future many demands will be made on their talents--if any.
I might wish that your travels would bring you to this side of the Atlantic and that we might have the pleasure of receiving you at Gethsemani. We have just remodeled the vault where our rare books are kept and have extended its capacities to include a good little library on Scripture and the Fathers and the Liturgy--or at least the nucleus of one. Here I hope to form a group of competent students not merely of history or of the texts but rather--in line with the tradition which you so admirably represent--men competent in all-round spiritual theology, as well as scholarship, using their time and talents to develop the seed of the Word of God in their souls, not to choke it under an overgrowth of useless research as is the tradition in the universities of this country at the moment. I fervently hope that somehow we shall see in America men who are able to produce something like Dieu Vivant [a French journal]. Cistercianswill never be able to do quite that, I suppose, but we can at least give a good example along those lines. Our studies and writing should by their very nature contribute to our contemplation, at least remotely, and contemplation in turn should be able to find expression in channels laid open for it and deepened by familiarity with the Fathers of the Church. This is an age that calls for St. Augustines and Leos, Gregorys and Cyrils!
That is why I feel that your works are so tremendously helpful, dear Father. Your St. Bernard mystique is altogether admirable because, while being simple and fluent, it communicates to the reader a real appreciation of St. Bernard's spirituality. You are wrong to consider your treatment of St. Bernard superficial. It is indeed addressed to the general reader, but for all that it is profound and all-embracing and far more valuable than the rather technical study which I undertook for Collectanea [Cisterciensia] and which, as you will see on reading it, was beyond my capacities as a theologian. The earlier sections especially, in my study, contain many glaring and silly errors--or at least things are often very badly expressed there.4 If I write a book on the saint I shall try to redeem myself, without entering into the technical discussions that occupy M. Gilson in his rather brilliant study.5 But there again, a book of your type is far more helpful.
Be sure that we are praying for the work you now have in hand, which is so important and which implies such a great responsibility for you.
I had heard that you were helping to prepare for the press Dom Wilmart's edition of Ailred's De institutione inclusarum [Institution for recluses] but perhaps you have put this on the shelf for the time being. Are the Cistercians of the Common Observance editing the works of Ailred? Where are they doing so and when is the work expected to be finished? By the way, about the spelling of Ailred: the most prominent English scholars seem to be spelling him as I have just done, with an "i." I wish there could be some unity on this point. My work on him is in abeyance at the moment, but when I get on with it I suppose I had better go on using this spelling. What do you think about that?
Rest assured, dear Father, that I am praying for you and that our students are doing the same. Please pray for us too. I have too much activity on my shoulders, teaching and writing.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
Both Leclercq and Merton stressed the essential contemplative nature of monasticism and were interested in getting back to the original charism of the founders of monasticism, which made the contemplative life the monastic ideal. The Cistercian tradition, beginning with the foundation of C�teaux in 1098, had its roots inprevious Benedictine reforms, such as those of St. Benedict of Aniane, and actually could be traced back to the earlier tradition with Athanasius, Cassian, and Pachomius.
May 5, 1950
I was just going to write to you when I received, yesterday, your last letter. Thank you for the new film, which has already arrived.
Thank you also for your prayers and encouragement. I know that some scholars and professors criticize my books because they are too "human," not sufficiently, not purely "scientific," objective: but I do not care about having a good reputation as a scholar among scholars, although I could also do pure scholarly work, and I sometimes do, just to show that I know what it is. But I also know that many monks, and they are the more monastic monks, in several Orders--Camaldolese, Cistercians, Trappists, Benedictines of the strictest observances--find my books nourishing, and find in them an answer to their own aspirations. I thank God for that. My only merit--if any--is to accept not to be a pure scholar; otherwise I never invent ideas: I just bring to light ideas and experiences which are to be found in old monastic books that nobody, even in monasteries, ever reads today.
Since you seem to want me to do so, I am sending you today some offprints, just about "monastica." As you will see, I always say and write the same thing, becauseonly one is necessary, and it is the only thing you would find in old monastic texts ...
I think you have an important job to do at Gethsemani, first for America, and then for the whole Cistercian Order: to come back to the Cistercian idea. But there are two difficulties. The first is to keep the just measure in work, either manual or intellectual. Both forms of work, especially the second, entail a danger of activism (mental activism): that is a personal question which each monk has to solve for himself if he wants to work and stay a monk; some are unable to do both and have to choose to remain monks. The second difficulty is more of the historical order, if we want to study the Cistercian tradition. I am alluding to the illusion of believing that the Cistercian tradition began with C�teaux. I am becoming more and more convinced that the Cistercian tradition cannot be understood without its roots in pre-existing and contemporary Benedictine--and generally monastic--tradition. That is why in my studies I never separate the different forms and expressions of the unique monastic thought and experience. For instance, if one begins to study the Mariology of the Cistercian school without taking into consideration previous and contemporary monastic thought at the same time about the Virgin, then one tends to think that the Cistercians were at the origin of all true and fervent Mariology. Yet if one recalls what St. Anselm and the monks of the Anglo-Norman eleventh century wrote, then possibly one might come to the conclusion that in this field Cistercians, far from making progress,may even have retrograded (I think, for example, of the Conception of Our Lady). The only way to avoid such pitfalls is to be quite free from any order-emphasis, any "order-politics," and to search solely for the truth in the life of the Church of God.
Since you ask me what I think about your books, then I tell you, even though I am no special authority on the matter. I suppose that the condition of our relations resides in perfect sincerity and loyalty.
I arrived back at Clervaux a few days ago, and have just had time to read the Prologue and the first two chapters of The Waters of Siloe. I shall read the rest and then tell you my impressions. So far, I must say that I thoroughly enjoy your pages: both what you say and the way you say it. I think that one immediately feels that you "believe" in the contemplative life, and this faith of yours is more forceful for convincing your readers than would be the most scientific treatment of the subject.
In my opinion, you point out the very essence of monastic life when you say that it is a contemplative life. The Benedictine tradition is certainly a contemplative tradition: the doctrine of Benedictine medieval writers (and almost always up to our own days--the twentieth century is an exception, alas!) is a doctrine of contemplation and contemplative life. But we must confess that Benedictine history is not entirely--and in certain periods not at all--contemplative. Nevertheless, even when Benedictines were busy about many things, they never made this business circa plurima [aboutmany things] an ideal, and they never spoke about it; their doctrine was always that of the unum necessarium [the one thing necessary].
I think you are quite right when you say that we fall short of this ideal for want of simplicity. There have always been--and there still are today--attempts to get back to this simplicity. And one such attempt has always been writing. But the danger is always there, and even today Cistercians do not always succeed in avoiding it. For instance, from the Cistercian--and even simple monastic--point of view, Orval (the new Orval)6 has been and remains a scandal. It is a sin against simplicity: first because it is luxurious, and then because, on pretext of observing the Statutes forbidding gold and certain other materials, they have used precious and exotic materials which give the same impression as would gold, without being gold, and so on. And the festival held in honor of the consecration of Orval was also scandalous and has been felt as such even by Cistercians and Trappists. In the same way, the noise and publicity made over Gethsemani on the occasion of its centenary, and the write-up in magazines that had, in the same issue, pictures of pin-up girls, were also scandalous and have been felt as such (but perhaps that was in keeping with the "American style"). You see, dear Reverend Father, that I do not spare you. But it is in order to show how great is the temptation.
I find your pages about Rome perfectly sincere andjust. I am glad that you were allowed to write so freely. Others, I know, have not had that same liberty, nor do they even now. But I hope that the love of truth will make people surrender all "order-orthodoxy" and "order-politics."
I know the Procurator General of the S.O.C. [Sacred Order of Cistercians, or Cistercians of the Common Observance], Abbot [Matthaeus] Quatember, very well. He has, in my opinion, a good idea of what Cistercian life is and should be. He tries to promote this life in Hauterive [in Switzerland], and I think he succeeds. Fortunately, till now, Hauterive has continued to be a small monastery. The danger for spiritual enterprises is always prosperity. Is the union of O.C.R. [Order of Reformed Cistercians, or Trappists] and S.O.C. a utopian dream? I would like to think not. But this re-union of Brothers, who have sometimes been and sometimes remain fence-Brothers, must be prepared by prayer and study in an atmosphere of search for Cistercian truth, and in an atmosphere of peace.
I pray for you, your monastery, and the whole Cistercian Order (I cannot break the unity, so strong in the Carta Caritatis; psychologically I have never accepted the schism of the beginning of the nineteenth century ... ). Pardon me the liberty of speech I take with you, and be sure that I am very faithfully yours in Our Lord and Our Lady.
Excuse too my awful English, but my writing is so bad that it is easier for you to read me in English than in French.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
The opening lines indicate a missing letter of Merton to Leclercq, which dealt with the monastic approach to reading and meditating on the sacred Scriptures. Lectio divina (or sacred reading) for the monk was the preamble to contemplative meditation on the Word of God, something which both Leclercq and Merton stressed in their writings. It should be noted that now Merton begins to confide in Leclercq his yearnings for a more eremitical life.
July 29, 1950
Returned in Brussels by the strike, I at last find time to answer your long and interesting letter of June 17.
I am glad you approve what I wrote about lectio divina. I do not think that we must try to settle an opposition between the spiritual and the scientific reading of the Scriptures: we must try to reconcile these two methods as was the case in the Middle Ages, when the same doctors explained the Bible using both methods. I tried to explain this in a paper to be published in the collection Recontres (Ed. du Cerf) about L'Ex�g�se de l'Ancien Testament:
1. In the Middle Ages there were two sorts of exegetics: scientific and spiritual;
2. But there were not two sorts of Scripture scholars: all used the two methods;
3. And these two methods of Scripture study supposed a same conception of Holy Scripture,and especially the relations between the Old and New Testaments.
I think that the way of teaching the Bible now common in our theological colleges is merely apologetic, which was probably very useful forty years ago. Now, thanks to a reaction against this apologetic reaction, we are finding the media via [middle way], the via conciliationis non oppositionis [way of reconciling what is not opposed]. One of the tasks of the monastic world today is to give a practical demonstration that this reconciliation is possible: we should not reject the results of modern biblical sciences, but nor should we be satisfied with them.
Probably by now you have seen that Gilbert of Stanford is not Gilbert of Hoyland: he is one of the many unknown spiritual writers who, though not all very original, show the intensity of the spiritual life in the monastic circles of the twelfth century ...
I quite agree that the time is not ripe for a union (I avoid the word "fusion"; I prefer "union," which supposes distinction and differences: Distinguish in order to unite) between the S.O.C. and the O.C.R.7 Some members of the S.O.C. are not sufficiently monks tounderstand the O.C.R.; but I think that this union would be good for both Orders and should be prepared. Both parties should prepare an atmosphere of comprehension and sympathy, and the monastic element of the S.O.C. should come to have more influence. Dom [Matthaeus] Quatember is quite favorable to this monastic element. The next General Chapter of the S.O.C. in September will be of very great importance from this point of view. I think that some members of the S.O.C. have values of the spiritual and intellectual life which are quite in the Cistercian tradition.
Since I am preparing the edition of St. Bernard (and to start with, the Sermones in Cantica), I shall have to study his sources. If you have any information about his dependence on Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and so on, you would be very kind to share it with me to help me in at least some orientations of my research. I feel the full weight of the difficulty of my work! And I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged. Everybody finds it natural to criticize, but there is no one who is willing to help.
I am not sufficiently acquainted with oriental mysticism to have an opinion of yoga and St. Bernard. But since all mystical experiences are fundamentally the same, there is surely some connection; and this not only in the experience itself, but also in the expression of it. From this point of view I think that depth psychology will shed some light on these profound and universal themes of the religious representation.
I do not know your Spirit of Simplicity, but I would be pleased to read it if ever I get the opportunity. I read recently the Vie de Ranc� by Chateaubriand. It increased my desire to read Ranc�.8 I fear our judgments about him have been influenced by Chateaubriand and the romanticism of the monastic restorers of the last century. Whatever we may find excessive in Ranc� is part of his times and is to be found also in Benedictines of the same generation; too much so for our liking. I fear that what we reprove in Ranc� is dependent more on [Augustin] de Lestrange and other romantics.
I quite understand your aspiration to a solitary life. I think there has always been an eremitical tradition in the Cistercian and Benedictine Orders. In my opinion we are not to discuss personal vocations according to principles of community life, nor according to universal laws. We must always be very respectful of these vocations, provided they are real vocations and not illusions. Personally, though I am quite inapt for the eremitical life, I have always encouraged my confr�res who aspire to such a life. Now, in France, there are some Benedictine monks who live as hermits in the mountains. Nobody knows it except God. The tradition of hermitages near monasteries or inclusi in monasteries seems very difficult to revive today. So we must find some new solutions to this problem. It is apermanent problem and one which is a very good sign of the monastic fervor of the times: whenever cenobia are what they ought to be, they produce inevitably some eremitical vocations. The eremitical vocations disappear in times and countries where monasticism has ceased to be monastic.
Practically, now, the solution for such vocations is nearly always to move to an eremus, a charterhouse, or the eremi of the Camaldoli, that I know for sure.9 Last year when I was in the eremus of Camaldoli, the master of novices was expecting an American Trappist. (I shall probably have to go again this year to the eremus at Frascati in order to study the writings of the founder.) The revival of the eremitical tendency in France has led to the inquiry being made by CHOC [Commission on the History of the Cistercian Order] about eremitical life. I can quite understand that your Abbot would like you to find a solution within the Cistercian life. Perhaps it is a providential occasion to restore reclusion. This is still practiced in Camaldoli. I saw that last year.
I would like to consult the book G. B. Burch, The Steps of Humility by Bernard, second ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1940. I cannot find it in Europe. Could you find it for me and either sell or lend it to me?
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
October 9, 1950
It is a long time since I received your July letter, which I read and pondered on with deep satisfaction. It is a privilege for which I am deeply grateful, to be able to seek nourishment and inspiration directly from those who keep themselves so close to the sources of monastic spirituality.
Your remarks on St. Bernard's ideas of Scripture are extremely important to me. I have been meditating on your Appendix to Saint Bernard mystique, and also I have been talking on this very subject to the students here. I agree with your conclusions about St. Bernard and yet I wonder if it would not be possible to say that he did consider himself in a very definite sense an exegete. My own subjective feeling is that the full seriousness of St. Bernard's attitude to Scripture is not brought out entirely unless we can in some sense treat him as an exegete and as a theologian, in his exposition of the Canticle. Naturally, he is not either of these things in a purely modern sense. But I think he is acting as a theologian according to the Greek Fathers' conception at least to some extent (see end of [Vladimir] Lossky's first chapter: Theol. myst. de l'�glise orientale10). I think that is essentially what you were saying when you brought out the fact that he was seeking less to nourish his inte-riorlife than to exercise it. As if new meanings in his own life and Scripture spontaneously grew up to confirm each other as soon as Bernard immersed himself in the Sacred Text. Still, there is the evident desire of the saint to penetrate the Text with a certain mystical understanding and this means to arrive at a living contact with the Word hidden in the word. This would be tantamount to saying that for Bernard, both exegesis and theology found their fullest expression in a concrete mystical experience of God in His revelation. This positive hunger for "theology" in its very highest sense would be expressed in such a text as Can't. lxxiii, 2: "Ego ... in profundo sacri eloquii gremio spiritum mihi scrutabor et vitam" [Deep in the bosom of the sacred word I shall search my spirit and my life]. He is seeking "intellectum" and "Spiritus est qui vivificat: dat quippe intellectum. An non vita intellectus" [The Spirit gives life: indeed he gives understanding. And is not understanding life?]. As you have so rightly said (p. 488), "Sa lecture de l'E. Ste pr�pare et occasionne son exp�rience du divin" [His reading of Scripture prepares and occasions his experience of the divine]. But I wonder if he did not think of Scripture as a kind of cause of that experience, and in some sense, "servata proportione" [keeping due proportion], as a Sacrament is a cause of grace? Scripture puts him in direct contact with the Holy Spirit who infuses mystical grace, rather than awakening in his soul the awareness that the Holy Spirit who infuses mystical grace has already infused a grace to that spoken of in Scripture. Or am I wrong? Inany case, words like "scrutabor" [I shall search] and "intellectus" [understanding] tempt me to say (while agreeing in substance with all your conclusions) that there must have been a sense in which St. Bernard looked upon himself both as an exegete and as a theologian in his exposition of the Canticle. Although I readily admit there can be no question of his attempting as a modern author might to "make the text clear" or to "explain its meaning." That hardly concerned him, as you have shown. But do you not think that in giving the fruit of his own contacts with the Word through Scripture he was in a sense introducing his monks to a certain mystical "attitude" toward the Scriptures--not a method, but an "atmosphere" in which Scripture could become the meeting place of the Soul and the Word through the action of the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps these are useless subtleties: but you guess that I am simply exercising my own thought in order to confront it with the reactions of an expert and this will be the greatest service to me in the work that has been planned for me by Providence. I am also very much interested in the question of St. Bernard's attitude toward "learning," and feel that a distinction has not yet been sufficiently clearly made between his explicit reproofs of "scientia" in the sense of philosophia and his implicit support of "scientia" in the sense of theologia, in his tracts on Grace, Baptism, and his attacks on Abelard, not to mention (with all due respect to your conclusions) his attitude to the Canticle which makesthat commentary also "scientia" [knowledge] as well as "sapientia" [wisdom]. Have you any particular lights on this distinction between science and wisdom in the Cistercians, or do you know of anything published in their regard? It seems to me to be an interesting point, especially to those of us who, like yourself and me, are monks engaged in a sort of "scientia" along with their contemplation! (It is very interesting in William of Saint-Thierry.)
I wish I could give you some information on St. Bernard in his relation to the Greek Fathers. I have none of my own; the topic interests me but I have barely begun to do anything about it, since I know the Greek Fathers so poorly. However, I can tell you this much: in [Jean] Danielou's Platonisme et T. M. on pages 7 and 211 there are references to St. Bernard's dependence (?) on St. Gregory of Nyssa. The opening of St. Bernard's series of Sermons so obviously reflects the idea of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa that the Canticle of Canticles was for the formation of mystics while Proverbs and Ecclesiastes applied to the beginners and progressives. I find Bernard's echo of this point an interesting piece of evidence that he considered the monastic vocation a remote call to mystical union--if not a proximate one. Then, too, Gregory's homilies on the Canticle of Canticles are full of a tripartite division of souls into slaves, mercenaries, and spouses. Gregory's apophatism is not found in St. Bernard, but in his positive treatment of theology Bernard follows Origen. I think Fr. Danielou also told me that Bernard's attitudetoward the incarnate Word is founded on Origen--I mean his thoughts on amor carnalis [carnal love of Christ] in relation to mystical experience. I may be wrong.
A copy of The Spirit of Simplicity was mailed to you, but my own contribution to that work is confused and weak, I believe. I refer to the second part.
I agree with what you say about Abb� de Ranc� and feel that my own treatment of him in Waters of Siloe had something in it of caricature. It is certainly true that Abb� de Lestrange was much more austere than Ranc�.11 To my mind the most regrettable thing about both of them was their exaggeration of externals, their ponderous emphasis on "exercises" and things to be done. Nevertheless, perhaps that is a sign of my own tepidity. It is true that the monastic life does demand faithful observance of many little exterior points of the Rule. These can certainly not be neglected en masse without spiritual harm. But one sometimes feels that for the old Trappists they were absolutely everything.
The Desert Fathers interest me much. They seem to have summed up almost everything that is good and bad in subsequent monastic history (except for the abuses of decadent monasticism), I mean everything that is good or bad in various monastic ideals.
Your news of the De institutione inclusarum [Instruction for recluses]--which you tell me with such detachment--is sad indeed. Do not think that manuscripts are only lost in Italy. A volume of our poems was printed by a man whose shop was in the country. Goats used to wander in to the press and eat the author's copy. This fortunately did not happen to our poems. Perhaps the goats were wise. They sensed the possibility of poisoning.
I am extremely eager to get Fr. [Louis] Bouyer's new book on monasticism, but have not yet been able to do so. I liked his Saint Antoine. Still, I wonder if he does not overdo his interest in the fact that in the early ages of the Church people were so clearly aware that the fall had put the devil in charge of material things. Fr. Danielou's Signe du temple, in its first chapter, gives a good counterpoise to that view--for heaven still shone through creation and God was very familiar with men in Genesis!
The other day we mailed Burch's Steps of Humility to you and it should be in your hands shortly. If you wish to send us something in return we would like to get [Andr�] Wilmart's Pens�es du B. Guigue, if this is Guigo the Carthusian. I have never yet gone into him. His lapidary style fascinates me. He is better than Pascal. Yet I love Pascal.
Your page on the eremitical vocation was very welcome. Someone told me the Carthusians were at last coming to America. I know the Trappist who has gone to Camaldoli. He was with me in the novitiate here. I wonder if he is happy there. His departure surprised meand I think his arrival surprised some of the Camaldolese.
Cistercian monasticism in America is of a genus all its own. Imagine that we now have one hundred and fifty novices at Gethsemani. This is fantastic. Many of them are sleeping in a tent in the quadrangle. The nucleus of seniors is a small, bewildered group of men who remember the iron rule of Dom Edmond Obrecht and have given up trying to comprehend what has happened to Gethsemani. The house has a very vital and enthusiastic (in the good sense) and youthful air like the camp of an army preparing for an easy and victorious war. Those of us who have been sobered by a few years of the life find ourselves in turns comforted and depressed by the multitude of our young companions of two and three months' standing: comforted by their fervor and joy and simplicity, and depressed by the sheer weight of numbers. The cloister is as crowded as a Paris street.
On the whole, when the house is completely full of men who are happy because they have not yet had a chance to suffer anything (although they believe themselves willing), the effect is a little disquieting. One feels more solidly rooted in God in a community of veterans, even though many of them may be morose. However, I do not waste my time seeking consolation in the community or avoiding its opposite. There is too little time for these accidentals.
I close this long letter thanking you again for yours, which are always so full of interest and profit.
Pray for me in my turn to be more and more a childof St. Benedict--and if it be God's will, that I may someday find a way to be something of an eremitical son of St. Benedict! What of these Benedictines in the mountains of France? Have you more information about them? I am not inquiring in a spirit of restlessness! Their project is something I admire on its own merits.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
October 26, 1950
Of course, I agree that St. Bernard was a theologian in the traditional sense of the word: loqui Deo de Deo [to speak to God about God]. This meaning has been preserved in the monastic tradition, and I explained that in my Jean de F�camp [Joannes, Abbot of F�camp, 995-1078/9]. I am coming to notice more and more how much not only St. Bernard but the whole monastic world of the twelfth century, Cistercian and Benedictine, is full of Origen. I gave a lecture on this subject three weeks ago at Chevetogne [French Benedictine abbey], and I have been asked to publish it in Irenikon. In it I pointed out this relation between the Greek Fathers and medieval monasticism. I had already dealt with the question in a very general way in 1945. Now I see things better. Maybe I shall collect everything I find on the matter and write a little article. The works of Origen which have been the most read by monks arehis commentaries on Holy Scripture. And it is his exegesis, more than his doctrine, which influenced monks and Bernard.
Your distinction between scientia and sapientia is quite exact. It is a very traditional distinction, which obliged Thomas [Aquinas] in the In quaestio also to treat theologia as sapientia, although in another meaning of sapientia. For him
sapientia is cognitio per altissimas causas [knowledge through the highest causes];
scientia is cogniti per causas immediatias [a more certain knowledge achieved through immediate causes].
For tradition, poets, and monks, and in the Franciscan school,
scientia is cognitio per intellectum [knowledge through the intellect];
sapientia is "scientia sapida": recta sapere [wisdom is science rightly tasted].
It is this savor, gustus, which we find so frequently in Bernard, William of Saint-Thierry, and all other monks.
Another distinction which we often find in monastic literature is that between scientia: cognitio intellectualis [and] conscientia: cognitio ad vitam [science: an intellectual knowing (and) conscience: an awareness of the knowledge of life].
After further information, I now think that Ranc� was no Cistercian at all. So you were quite right in what you said in Waters of Siloe.
I am now working on the unprinted writings of Gaufridus Antissiodorensis (=Altacomba=Claravallensis): a very good witness of the second generation of Cistercians and of St. Bernard. He insists constantly on discretion. I shall publish the more significant texts.
Fr. Bouyer's new book has not come out yet. It will surely interest you.
I hope I shall find Burch in Clervaux next week. I will send you the Pens�es of Guigue, who is really Guigo the Carthusian. A nice book.
About the eremitical vocation: it is clear that the Cistercian vocation and life are, in themselves, eremitical. So a Cistercian normally should not have to seek this anywhere else than in his enclosure. The Cistercian's solitude depends on his silence. But it may happen that for accidental and psychological reasons--for example, if there are too many monks in the same monastery or if a monk has too much to do--he longs for more silence. Then I think that the solution for him is to change his monastery and seek silence and quiet elsewhere, in another Cistercian monastery.
My confr�res in the mountains of Vercors are not making any noise. So I think all is well with them.
All best wishes, Father. Please pray for me. Next week I am going to Germany in search of Bernard's manuscripts.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
Under obedience to his Abbot, Merton wrote a book on St. Bernard that was actually an introduction and commentary on the encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII called Doctor Mellifluus and was appropriately titled The Last of the Fathers. It was translated into French and appeared in a series on monastic tradition that Leclercq and his Abbot, Jacques Winandy, were directing.
June 17, 1952
Thank you very much indeed for your last letter and for The Last of the Fathers. Dom [Jacques] Winandy accepts it for his collection Tradition Monastique. I am glad also to have it. The publisher of the collection is pleased, too. I sent the volume to be translated, and we hope that it will be published toward autumn. I told the publisher, Mr. Wittmann, that you had instructed your agent to let us have the book on a "poor" basis.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
March 17, 1953
It was very kind of you indeed to send your Sign of Jonas; thank you sincerely. I will try to answer you in my bad English, but most of us Frenchmen still writewith a pen, as in the Middle Ages, and it takes me longer to write, even in French, with the typewriter. And I am not in the excellent condition [Antonin Gilbert] Sertillanges requires for intellectual life: about every five minutes the bell rings and I have to go to choir--with joy--or to wash dishes--also with joy--or something else.
As you are accustomed to receiving praise, I shall not send you one more letter of that sort. I will just say that I surveyed your book and I liked it. I think that I shall read it when I find time. It is written with this kind of freshness, a little "primitive," that we like in Americans (I suppose you permit me to speak to you simply, as a monk to another monk). I think this book, with Seeds of Contemplation, is exactly the kind of book you are made to write.
I've got an idea. Maybe you have heard of the little collection Tradition Monastique in which appeared the wonderful book by Bouyer, Le Sens de la vie monastique? I am one of the directors. Maybe it would be possible to publish a translation of your Journal or parts of it. Would you agree (since I see that your abbey keeps the copyright) to reserve for us the possibility of publishing a French translation in this collection? It does not depend only on me. But if you give me your agreement on principle, I will get in touch with the publisher, etc.
I am ashamed to say but I must confess that I did not read The Seven Storey Mountain. I didn't find time. But I know that my confr�res like the book, and Seeds as well. I suppose that you are aware of the criticismmade in Europe, especially in England, of your Ascent to Truth, and even in France, coming from the pen of Fr. [Louis] Bouyer in Vie Spirituelle. But these are the sorts of criticisms that Europeans are prepared to make. And the Church is everywhere, in the Old and the New World. In Europe we are so complicated: textual criticism has come to have such importance. We cannot even quote the Pater noster without putting a reference in the footnotes.
Let me tell you this: I am charged with organizing a congress on the theology of St. Bernard, and I invited a Cistercian of the Common Observance, whom I know to be a Doctor of Theology and, nevertheless, a very good monk. But recently, after many months, he wrote to say that he could not accept to come because, being in charge of the monastery hens and other things as well, in addition to choir, chapter, and so on, he had not found time to prepare a communication. On the other hand, I know several Trappists who are in pretty good condition for intellectual work. It is a sin against the motto of your Order: Una caritate. There seem to be two charities: one for the Trappists and another for the Common Observance. I think that the fault lies not only (maybe not chiefly) with you, but with your censors. And since your books, even in English, are expected to be read in Europe, I would suggest that one of the censors be European. There are some points of view that a European would feel. You remember the difficulties with the French translation of The Waters of Siloe, and the trouble this gave P. [Anselme] Dimier.
Of course, I understand that you are quite persuadedthat the Trappist life is a very high state of perfection, and you are doing good apologetic work for it; but you must not forget that it is not the only form of contemplative life, at least in Europe.
Excuse me for all this. I give you an occasion for "go�ter les humiliations" [tasting humiliations]. But you know that I do so because I esteem you and your life, and because I am very sincerely yours in the charity of Christ ...
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
May 18, 1953
Forgive me for my delay in answering your good letter. Jonas is already being translated for Albin Michel, so I regretfully decline your kind offer. It would have been an honor to appear in Tradition Monastique, in which series I already know your volume and that of P�re Bouyer. By the way, has the promised [Odo] Casel volume appeared in this series yet? I am anxious to see it.
The remark about the monks of the Common Observance understanding the truth of a statement of Sertillanges on the intellectual life which Trappists are incapable of understanding does not seem to me to be an injustice. The statement of Sertillanges is true, and there is no injustice in saying that someone agrees with the truth. Nor was it intended to be disparaging. However, if it appears so to you, perhaps they will themselves be even more sensitive about it, so I will delete it from the Frenchedition, along with a lot of other things which will be of no interest in France. One of the censors of Jonas was a European. Then, too, I think the book shows clearly that I do not consider the Trappist life the highest form of contemplative life, because I believe such a theory to be plainly false. The Trappist life is a solidly austere form of the monastic life, which has its limitations, which offers opportunities for a man to become a contemplative, provided the opportunities are not ruined by excessive activity within the monastery. We have something of the spirit of St. Bernard but we have no monopoly on it. From the little I know of Hauterive, I am certain they are just as good a monastery and just as proper for the contemplative life as Gethsemani--with perhaps certain advantages over Gethsemani. I do not despise the Common Observance at all, nor do I despise the Benedictines (as Dom Aelred Graham12 seems to think).
The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that all the monastic ways to God are most worthy of praise, and that, in the end, there is no point in asking who has the most perfect interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict.In the end, however, what I most personally and intimately feel about at least my own place in the framework of things is echoed by the remarkable articles of a certain "S" in La Vie Spirituelle of last October and again more recently. Do you happen to know who this "S" may be, and would there be some chance of finding him and writing him a letter? I also, by the way, enjoyed your article in Rythmes du Monde now reproduced in T�moignages. I hope more and more to withdraw from the field of professional writing--or at least to appear in it only as an occasional author of disjointed meditations. But I do earnestly beg your prayers that I may seek God with greater love, and that He may deign to open to us here in America the ways of solitude, within the framework of our monasticism. This, I think, is much more important than any books.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
May 29, 1953
I am sending you my little book La dottrina del Beato Paolo Giustiniani, which is about the eremitical life of the Camaldolese.13 I recently went again to the hermitageof Frascati while I was in Rome, from which I have just got back. There is a real contemplative life there. It is not prosperity and numbers, but peace and prayer.
I appreciated your Preface to St. Bernard of CHOC.
I am glad that you are suppressing the allusion to Common Observance in the French translation of Jonas, and even I would like it to be deleted in the other translations and re-editions. I am not the only one who finds it regrettable, in spite of your good intention.
The author of the two beautiful articles on the eremitical life who signs "S" is Abb� J. Sainsaulieu. Of course you can write to him. The first article of Vie Spirituelle, October, is by my Abbot.
Yes, I pray for you because now, on account of your books, you have a responsibility which you must keep up. The news that you will no longer be a "professional writer" will please several people. You have done much good by your books, but you can also do so by the silence which you speak about. It is said that you can talk on the radio. But you have your vocation, of which no one is judge. Follow it.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
August 21, 1953
You must think me a very churlish and ungrateful person to leave your letter so long unanswered. We have had a busy summer, with much harvesting and otherfarm work. In addition to that our cow barn burned down and we have also bought a new farm, so that everyone has been exceptionally busy and I am two months behind with practically all correspondence.
Above all I want to thank you for your Dottrina del B. P. Giustiniani. I find it most useful and am glad to have it, particularly because it would otherwise be quite impossible for me to make the acquaintance of his personality and ideas. You have given us a valuable source. I hope books will appear on all the great Camaldolese figures. Dom [Anselmo] Giabbani sent me some pictures of Camaldoli and it is both beautiful and inspiring to me. I can well believe what you say about their having the true contemplative life at Frascati. I know nothing of that particular eremo. I would be interested in having some pictures of it, as I may perhaps do an article on the Camaldolese--by way of exception, since I do not write for magazines anymore. This would be in the hope of helping them make a foundation in this country. They are needed.
I find that in some monastic Orders there is a kind of selfish and dog-in-the-manger attitude toward other Orders and other forms of the contemplative life. One illusion that is very strong in this country still is the idea that the eremitical life is essentially "dangerous" and "impossible," etc. Some monks who claim to have a high contemplative ideal will actually run down the solitary life, and show a preference for the rather intense activity which is inevitable in a big, busy monastery of cenobites. It is all very well to have abig, busy monastery, but why claim that this is the highest possible ideal of contemplation! The French have a good word for that: fumisterie [a joke].
I am amused to think that I am supposed to be speaking on the radio. It is a great ordeal simply to speak to the monks in chapter. What would I do if I had to speak on the radio? I have not been out of the monastery for over a year, and then it was only for one day's journey. The only talk I have given outside the monastery was through the grille of the Louisville Carmel. I do not imagine that perfection consists merely in staying inside the enclosure, but the fact remains that I hate to go out and am very glad that I never have to do so. The last thing I would ever desire would be to speak on the radio.
Thank you for your prayers. I need them. And I hope they will obtain for me more and more solitude and obscurity and the humility proper to a true monk.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
In via pacis
September 23, 1953
I received your very good letter of August 21 just before leaving Clervaux for Dijon, where I had to play on the theatrum mundi, being the secretary of the theological congress on St. Bernard. This congress has been wonderfully interesting, much more than anyone ever expected. The lectures were all of a very high standard,from the double point of view of theology and spirituality (our chief trial is to reconcile them), and above all the atmosphere was always full of charity. Everybody was pleased and peaceful: discussion never became controversial; everything finished on Saturday afternoon with a very contemplative trip to Fontenay [a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery], where we all admired the style inspired by twelfth-century Cistercian life and "monastic theology." We had Fr. Jean Danielou, [Henri] de Lubac, [Jean] Mouroux, [Jean] D�chanet, [Fran�ois] Rousseau, [Yves] Congar, Pacifique Delagaauw of Tilburg, Claude Botard of Orval, and others, all agreeing on the same themes of what they called "monastic theology," all coming to the conclusion that its characteristic is fidelity to patristic sources. They all said, too, that there is no opposition at all between "monastic" and "scholastic" theology, but the former could be useful to the latter. Professor A. Forest, a layman, but very contemplative, gave a very deep and beautiful lecture on St. Bernard and contemporary thought, in the style of his book, which I suppose you know, La Vocation de l'esprit (Paris, Aubier, 1953), each page of which could be illustrated with texts of St. Bernard. I will not tell you more about this congress: in a few months' time you will read, I hope, the text of all these lectures. Many of the Reverend Fathers at the General Chapter came from Citeaux for two of the sessions. One Sunday morning, at Fontaines, in the rain, I had a very short talk with your Reverend Father, whom I am very, very glad to have met. And now I amon my way back to Clervaux, where I shall be tonight.
I tell you confidentially that your Reverend Father asked me if I could go and preach a retreat at Gethsemani. Of course, I just made objections--and I think they were sincere--and especially I pointed out that I really do not think that I speak English fluently enough. Let's wait and see if God gives further signs of His will. But of course, if Providence arranges for me to be in the States for some time, I would be pleased not only of the opportunity of seeing Cistercian manuscripts over there, and of searching for others, but also of seeing you and your community.
I have no more postcards of the eremo of Frascati. But I wrote to my friend Dom Maurizio, who is master of novices there, and I asked him to send you some. I hope you will get them. It would be a great charity if you could do something to make the Camaldolese of Monte Corona better known in America. It is not a question of propaganda; the point is rather that people who have an eremitical vocation may have the chance of living it and of knowing about this religious Order.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
October 13, 1953
I am writing to ask you a service. But of course you are quite free to refuse and I shall well understand.
This is what it is about: the publication of theFrench text of my little book about the doctrine of Blessed P. Giustiniani has been decided. The title will be something like this: Seul avec Dieu: La Vie �r�mitique selon le B. P. Giustiniani [Alone with God: The Hermit Life According to the Blessed Paul Giustiniani]. The book will appear in the collection Tradition Monastique. But the publisher is a little afraid because he thinks that the book will interest only the Camaldolese. What has persuaded him to publish the book is that it is written by a Benedictine who he knows has nothing of the Camaldolese vocation.
You were good enough to write that you appreciated the book. Could you write a few pages to preface it? I think that if both a Cistercian and a Benedictine agree in presenting a book of this sort, any hesitation on the part of the publisher and the public will disappear. It should be made clear that though such a doctrine, such a life, and in particular this form of contemplative life, is an ideal not to be aimed at by all, it is a good thing that it should not be forgotten by anyone: it must remain a sign, a witness in the Church of God and in the monastic Order as a whole. So I thought you could further our common ideal.
If you and your Reverend Father agree to my proposition, you could write these few (or many) pages in English and I would translate them into French.
Everything is going peacefully here and, as far as I hear, in all our monasteries. Our Father Abbot has just come back from the blessing of the Abbot of Font-gombault, a new foundation made by Solesmes. In thelast century it was occupied by Trappists. The church, pure twelfth-century style, is wonderfully clear, beautiful, and peaceful. It is just the style for our life. Here also we have one such monastery, modern but very pure.
By way of a sort of compensation I am sending you a few pages I have written on St. Bernard in the review Camaldoli. I think that all religious Orders, chiefly monastic Orders, have a great deal to learn from one another.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
November 5, 1953
It was a satisfaction for me when Father Abbot gave me permission to write the Preface for your volume on Paul Giustiniani. The Preface is completed and is on the way to you by surface mail.14 I was happy to write it, and happy to go over your book again. I feel that it is especially important that the true place of the solitary in the Church should be brought out at this time, when there are so many who despise contemplation and when even in the monastic Orders there is a tendency to go off the right road precisely because the values for which the solitary exists are not appreciated.
Regarding the material side of the question: may Idepend on you to get this Preface censored by the two censors of our Order for the French language? I do not know who they are, but Chimay could tell you. All other material questions in regard to what I write are dealt with by an agent and he will be in touch with Plon in due course.
I have been reading with great satisfaction Cardinal Schuster's little volume.15 It has a very fine tone, and its simplicity and solidity make it attractive as well as useful. I like it very much and feel that it is doing me good. It makes me wonder if I might not ask Cardinal Schuster to write a Preface to the translation of a forthcoming book of mine on the Psalms. Does he know English? Could you let me know, and I will send him a copy if he does.
It would indeed be a great pleasure to receive you at Gethsemani and have you preach our retreat. I sincerely hope that Divine Providence will bring you to America and that we will have this satisfaction. I was glad to hear of the theological conferences at Dijon and look forward to seeing them in print.
Returning to Giustiniani--could the Camaldolese at Frascati perhaps send me a picture or a relic of him?Even some pictures of their eremo. I am still hoping to write a little something on the Camaldolese, to make them known in America. Any information or books they send will be useful to me and to their own cause.
I certainly agree wholeheartedly that the monastic Orders have much to learn from one another, and we in America have much to learn from you in Europe. We are very isolated and provincial, I am afraid, and our undue sense of our own importance may perhaps delude us that we are the only monks in the world. It may not be possible for me to satisfy the desires of my own heart, but at least I can continue to have zeal for God's truth and for the monastic ideal. Pray for me, and may we remain united in Christ and St. Benedict.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
November 23, 1953
I have received your letter, and then the Preface. I have read it and shall translate it. I think it is just what was necessary, and that will be useful for the book. May we be unanimous in the esteem for the contemplative life, even of the solitary life, even if we are unable to live according to this ideal. As regards the easier life of activity, it will never be necessary to speak of it to monks. The natural tendency, with very good reasons, is always going to the active life. But it is necessary to recall that solitude and contemplation are also legitimate in the Church of God.
The Prior of Scourmont tells me that the censors are now anonymous. So I shall send the translated Introduction to the Rev. Fr. General in Rome.
My friend Dom Maurizio, novice master of the eremo at Frascati, writes me that he has been delighted to see your Reverend Father at the eremo and that he gave him some pictures of the eremo. As regards relics of Blessed Giustiniani, I wonder if they have anything but the autographs. And there is no great literature on the subject. But I shall write to Dom Maurizio about that.
Yes, on the whole, the book of Cardinal Schuster is really a fine book. Some details seem to be nonsense, but the general impression, surely, is authentically Benedictine.
I suppose Cardinal Schuster would accept to write for you a Preface. He is very attached to everything which is monastic. I am going to Milan for a lecture at the Catholic University on St. Bernard, Theologian. He will speak the last day. I shall pay him a visit and ask him about your Preface. And I will answer you. I suppose he does read English.
Don't think at all that you Americans are monks of secondary quality. On the contrary, I think that you are, and for some time, in better condition than we are as regards sancta simplicitas [holy simplicity]. Here, in this old, too old, Europe, we all are sophisticated, intellectual, complicated; we are dying of erudition. We have no spontaneity anymore, nothing of the spiritus liberatis [liberty of spirit] which is necessary to any creation or renovation. There is in your monasticismsomething of ingenuousness that we are tempted to despise; but you are right. We know all the constitutions, statutes, texts, and so on, but we are quite unable to invent anything adapted to new times. That is why I hope so much from you in America, especially as regards intercommunion; if some revival is to come, it will come from you. You have more liberty of mind, and more courage. We may have more austerity, more science, more culture. But the sources of life are with you. I have not been alone; in Dijon last August, when we saw all the Trappists, one got the impression that the Americans reminded us of the first Citeaux. In the first Citeaux there was also this kind of freshness, of liberty, of initiative, of courage in the life, of which you have something. You are probably not very conscious of it, but I expect that your Abbots must feel it when they come over here. And even this "unawareness of your importance" of which you speak is a sign of vitality: you still believe in monastic life, you have the impression of having discovered it, it is a new reality for you. For us, it is an old, venerable institution which we try to preserve, like archaeologists do for museum pieces. Of course, we also believe in monastic life, but in more of an intellectual way. Also, the first Cistercians believed that they were the only monks. The old, too old, Benedictines protested. But it was true that the life had passed to the Cistercians. I, for instance, noticed from experience that you are more free from prejudices, more ready to accept history as it has been, than here in Europe. We always fear dangers for the uniformity, orfor the reputation of the Order, or for our sentimental piety. You don't fear. You look forward to the future. Fear is proper to old people. And when we are too old, we die ... We are not yet dying. But I am sure that we have at least as much to learn from you as you have from us. That's why everything that helps us to know your ways and methods is useful to us.
Excuse this long digression.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
December 7, 1953
What you say about our American monks having a true monastic spirit is gratifying. I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit is truly at work here. And there is much spontaneity. But I do not think we have any of the solidity of European monasticism, and in our fervor there is much that is merely human enthusiasm. Also much provincialism.
I believe it is good for me to work for the monastic ideal as a whole, and not be a "propagandist" for any one Order. Indeed, I think the more we work for unity among ourselves, the better it will be.
[P.S.] Are you doing anything special at Clervaux for the Marian Year?
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
Leclercq saw Cardinal Schuster and asked him about doing a Preface to Merton's volume Bread in the Wilderness. The Cardinal, who had recently been appointed to a high Vatican position, said he was not at liberty to write one, because he was extremely busy with one of the Congregations in Rome.
January 8, 1954
Many thanks for your translation of the Preface. I have read it with pleasure and satisfaction and am returning it to you with a few minor corrections. In one place I suppressed a couple of lines. I discovered since writing them that they are not in accord with the conception of the eremitical life favored by the Camaldolese of Monte Corona, who have no coenobium [community life]. I had not realized that. They are certainly in possession of the authentic tradition of St. Romuald on this point.
Thanks also for asking Cardinal Schuster for the Preface. I expected he would probably refuse. A copy of Bread in the Wilderness went to Dom Winandy from here. I asked the publishers to send you a review copy, but this will be delayed. The sale of the first edition was exceptionally large and they had not made provision for the immediate printing of a second. The book is printed on special paper.
Is the Gallia eremitica worth having? Do you know about how much it would cost?
I am teaching a course on the theology of St. Paul--and I have [Lucien] Cerfaux, [Ernest Bernard] Allo, etc. Do you know of anything especially good in the way of new work on St. Paul? (I also have Gnosis by Jacques Dupont.)
[P.S.] Our good Giustiniani calls the solitary life a life "with Christ": What reading for solitaries is found in St. Paul? Solitude then becomes a life in the fullest sense in Xto, possessed by the Spirit of the Lord!
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
April 7, 1954
I have just received your fine book Bread in the Wilderness. I thank you very much for having had the idea of getting it sent to me by the editor. I am going to see where I can review it; it is perhaps a bit late. Truth to tell, I had already admired and glanced through this book at Fr. Bruno Scott James's place and then here, where I saw a copy you sent to my Father Abbot.
The editor of Tradition Monastique has just written to us yesterday to say that the collection is not a good commercial venture. Dom Winandy and I are not surprised. We did not aggressively publicize the series, so it was not a success either. The volume on the doctrine of Giustiniani will soon be in press and will come out in the autumn. Then it is possible that the collection will not be able to go on ... The editor adds that it wouldbe good to have a best-seller title to get the collection on its feet. If ever one day you write something the "agent" would leave you free to publish in a poor collection, think of us ... I do not know whether, there in America, you grasp what sort of books are usually published by Albin Michel; certainly it is not encumbered with piety. That is probably one of the reasons why it is successful and brings in money. But it would be a good thing if at least once you could write just for the glory of God, with no money involved. And that would have the advantage of reacting to a fairly widespread idea in Europe: T. Merton brings in money, so his Superiors exploit him as much as possible, because of the income. I think that is a wrong idea, and I say so every time I have a chance: but it would be a good thing for the practical demonstration to come for once from you and your Superiors.
Forgive me for saying frankly things that so many people think. Take it as a proof of friendship. And go on writing books which do good, since you have found a style which our contemporaries like.
As for me, I go on working. Erudition does not bring success, certainly; especially not commercial success. But the Benedictine life such as we have it in Europe still allows some of us to devote ourselves to it for the Church. Moreover, the more chances I have of seeing other forms of monastic life, the more I think that our European Benedictine life realizes a good balance, a real life of prayer ...
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
April 27, 1954
I have just written to the agent. I suspect that Plon is unjustly penalizing you because the agent sought some kind of material settlement for the Preface. I had not stopped to think that this might happen. The only reason why I use an agent is quite obvious--it saves me an immense amount of correspondence, contract work, and business worries. If I did otherwise, I would never have any time for anything except business. I simply leave all cares to the middle-man. This of course has its hard-boiled aspects, since the agent is bent on making a living out of his percentage. I do not think it is altogether fair of Plon to retaliate by threatening the future of your series, although in a way I see where that is logical--with the logic of the jungle.
However, if it will help your series at all to publish a book by me, I have a small volume on St. Bernard about to appear. It is very slight, not a formal life, simply a brief introduction to the saint and to the recent Encyclical. It has three parts--a sketch of his life and character, an outline of his works and teaching, and a commentary on the Encyclical--followed by the text of the papal document itself. I had not even thought of allowing this book to be published in France. When you see it, you will probably agree that it adds nothing to the number of excellent studies of St. Bernard, including your own. I do not think it will help your series except accidentally. If the appearance of the author'sname is of any use to you, I will consent to let this book appear in France--without worrying about what may happen to my reputation.
I can agree with what you say about the Benedictine life. The more I come into indirect contact with the Benedictine houses of Europe, like yours and La Pierre-qui-Vire, the more I appreciate the depth and solidity of the monastic spirit, and profit by contact with it. It is indeed a paradox that you do now in fact have much more real silence and peace than many a Trappist monastery. I never felt any sympathy with Ranc�'s ideas about erudition, and I am sure that the work done by Benedictines today in this field is perfectly monastic and truly fruitful in the line of monastic spirituality.
The last thing in the world a monk should seek or care about is material success. That which I see in my own labors is as much a surprise to me as it is to anybody else. Nor can I find in myself the power to get very interested in that success. I do not claim this to be a virtue, because I never really understood money anyway. I do not know how much our books have acquired. The figures are not communicated to me, and if they were I would probably not understand them anyway.
In any case I have instructed the agent to take some kind of cognizance of the problem you mention in your letter. It is of course inevitable that such things should be said about me, and I do not see what there is to be done about it. Thank you for defending the truth. Meanwhile, I have also told the agent that if you wantthe St. Bernard book, The Last of the Fathers, I would like you to have it on a "poor" basis.16 That will at least give me satisfaction of cooperating in a work which I admire, for I have derived great pleasure and profit from reading the volumes that have reached me so far. It is quite certain that if the monastic life is to fulfil its important role in our world today, there must be books that reflect the peace and sanity and depth of the true monastic tradition. Not all monastic books fulfil that function, for in every part of the Church cockle can be intermixed with the good wheat.
Please do not feel yourself obliged to write a review of Bread in the Wilderness. My only way of getting a copy to you was to have the publisher send you a review copy. If, however, you do write a review, I shall feel very pleased and honored.
Please commend me to the prayers of your dear Lord Abbot and ask his blessing for me. Let us continue in union of prayers and in solitude, in limine aeternitatis [on the threshold of eternity].
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
July 13, 1954
I understand your worries. I also understand the point of view of your Superiors. There is probably some rea-sonfor them tightening up the censorship. There are things which Europeans do not yet easily understand ... I remember last year when I was in Rome I heard some speak with displeasure about your Journal. Be this justified or not, it is understandable that Superiors should take this into consideration. For us, everything is all right, and it is so simple just to let people do as they like with us. But I realize that relations with a publisher are not for all that made more simple.
The prohibition of The Last of the Fathers would probably be the death sentence of our collection, and with the same blow Giustiniani will not be able to come out, as they were to be published together. So I hope the translation will be allowed. It is true that your book makes no very new contribution to history or to theology, but what you write is never insignificant. And then we have had a lot of big books about St. Bernard, but we still need a sketch giving an all-over view and a readable text of the Encyclical (there is a French translation of this, but only in reviews not read by the general public). So I still hope. About the translation, in fact it is almost finished, and by the time you receive this letter it will probably be entirely finished. We could of course give it to your translator, but is it reasonable to do again work which has been well done by one of our novices who did all his schooling at Downside and knows English as well as he does French? Furthermore, the text is short, not counting the Encyclical (of which we shall give the Vatican's official French translation) and the extracts from St. Bernard; it comes to about sixty pages. There is not much to be earned from thistranslation. We did it quickly because the editor wants the manuscript by the beginning of August so that it can come out in the autumn. Now I am in a bit of a fix. Moreover, the reason why we got one of us to translate it is to avoid paying a translator royalties, which would be a burden for this poor collection we are trying to save. Well, tell me what you think about all that.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
July 28, 1954
Yesterday I heard from our Reverendissime P�re Abbot General and I hasten to let you know that he raises no objection to the publication of The Last of the Fathers. So you may proceed with it as fast as you like. Also, about the translation, that too is settled. It seems that Albin Michel had already advertised or announced The Sign of Jonas and it was not possible for the work to be stopped altogether. Consequently we have no need of any other work for Marie Tadi�.17 It is therefore to be published, but will be censored and abridged by our Abbot General himself and two censors. I don't expect that very much will remain after they get through withit--the two covers, the Prologue, and the Epilogue, no doubt: with a few pages in between.
It is true that religious in Europe are not yet used to journals, but the secular reader in France certainly has begun to acquire a taste for them. Witness the success of the journals of Gide, Green, and Du Bos. I am glad my own journals will be expurgated, but in the long run it would seem to be not a bad idea that, for once, by way of exception, such a production should come from a monastery. I would give anything for a journal, even the most trivial, written in twelfth-century Clairvaux. But then, indeed, they did not keep journals.
There is just one thing about The Last of the Fathers. If I get time in the next ten days, I would like to write an extra page or two on the spirit of St. Bernard, perhaps also on his youth and early formation (which ought not to be completely passed over in silence even in a sketch), and perhaps on one other point. Please bear with me for a few days and leave space for the inclusion of these pages.
The thought that the publication of this book in your series will aid the appearance of the Giustiniani volume is one which gives me great satisfaction. I feel much more gratified about being a writer now that I see that I can help other authentic testimonies of the monastic spirit appear. I shall do everything I can to let you have another book, in order to help your series. Please tell your good Father Abbot that I feel that I am really doing the work of God in collaborating as much as I can with your series, and will feel that my ownwriting is thereby inserted in a truly monastic context. There is a special satisfaction in collaborating with one's brothers in Christ, and I do not like the idea of an isolated, and spectacular, apostolate. No doubt I must have the courage to face the enemies that this isolation makes for me--even among priests and religious. But for my own part I prefer to be a member of a team, at least to some extent, than to be a soloist exclusively. However, since God has singled me out for a kind of isolation I will certainly accept it, together with its consequences. That is certainly nothing new in the Church.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
Many thanks indeed for your new pages, which I enjoyed translating. I appreciated your mention of France: I dislike Frenchmen praising France, but I like it when it comes from abroad. That will make up for some words you have on France in The Seven Storey Mountain. I shall send these pages off today, and they will be inserted, so everything will be all right once more.
We have another American book which I hope we may be able to publish in French. It is Holy Work by Dom Rembert Sorg, O.S.B. Our novice-translator has found a very nice title: La Pri�re des mains; it deals with monks' manual labor. The book has its defects,but we would present it as an "essay" and add a selection of traditional monastic texts. Coming from an American Benedictine, this witness might find some echo in European Benedictine circles. On the other hand, the fact of being published in France will give it a little bit of prestige--so the author thinks--in some American Benedictine circles. So, once more we shall have helped one another. Let's not wait until the Russians oblige us to discover again that manual labor is compatible with monastic life. Let's begin before monasteries are transformed into kolkhozy. Did you hear about the recent monastic reform issued by the government itself in Bulgaria (I think)? It is a very interesting reform, based mainly on the Rule of St. Benedict, even though they are Orthodox, with the obligation of working as many hours a day as ordinary people do.
We are correcting the proofs of . S. Bernard th�ologien. I think last year's Dijon lectures will be a very valuable contribution to the knowledge of St. Bernard's theology.
And in the meantime let's pray and live in peace; let's always be ready and free.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
November 4, 1954
It was good to receive the good news in your last letter. I will look forward to seeing the St. Bernard book. No copy has as yet arrived. However, will you ask Plon tosend me another dozen copies of it? And what about your Giustiniani? That was supposed to appear at the same time. Is it out yet? I am almost more interested in it than in The Last of the Fathers. A book about solitude is closer to my heart.
I am glad the new edition of St. Bernard is finally under way. I shall pray for you and your co-workers. It is a great and important task, even though it may not attract much public attention. And it is a most monastic enterprise. God will surely bless it, and you. And the rest of us will benefit greatly. When do you think the complete edition will be ready? I will probably make this an excuse for delaying work in my book on St. Bernard, which, incidentally, I have never even begun. There are so many other things to be done--and beyond all that is the monastic life itself, which does not consist in "doing" anything, but in being a perfect son of God, and tasting the joy of the paradisus claustralis [paradise of the cloister]. I am asking my agent to see that all other foreign translations of The Last of the Fathers are made from the French edition.
JEAN LECLERCQ TO THOMAS MERTON
November 17, 1954
Feast of St. Gertrude
Dom Gabriel [Sortais] paid us a short visit last week. We were very glad.
I am correcting the galley proofs of Giustiniani, which, I think, will come out in about a fortnight. Copies will be sent to you immediately. Reading it again in proofs, I realize that it contains many very nice texts. It is a pity, in a way, that it deals with "hermits"; this single word will make some people think that it is for solitaries only. Whereas, actually, they are suitable for many cenobites. Your Preface will help to show that up.
I think the complete edition of St. Bernard will be finished in nine years ... if everything goes well ... But what a job! How anxious I am sometimes, often, about the authentic recension and so on ... But that's my job in the Church of God. I must accept it.
The annual retreat is now on. A Carmelite Father is talking to us about holy hope. Very beautiful doctrine, not at all pessimistic. I like that.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
April 27, 1955
Our Regular Visitation was finished just a few days ago, during which the Visiting Abbot concentrated his attention on what he called "a hermit mentality" in the monastery. He strongly disapproved of it, although recognizing in a private conversation that on my side I had a particular spirit, that I did not enter into "the pattern," and that he did not really expect to see much change in me. But altogether, we have reached a point at which I think that I cannot, or even should, remainat Gethsemani, or in the Cistercian Order. There is truly no place for me here, and altogether I am very glad that the Regular Visitation has swept away the little ineffectual compromises which my Father Abbot had thought up in order to "arrange matters."
They are willing to receive me at Camaldoli d'Arezzo. I have a friend who is willing to pay my steamer fare. I have even made a vow myself to pass to a "solitary and contemplative" life (something about which I have thought for a long time). Well, there remains an enormous obstacle: my own Superiors. I believe that my Father Abbot will try to hold me back at all costs. I am going to ask him not only permission to go to Camaldoli (which he will refuse peremptorily). I will tell him again of my intention to write to the Congregation [of Religious] to ask for a transitus,18 provided that he does not oppose this in advance so as to block everything. But it really seems to me that because they more or less recognize in the Order that I have an eremitical spirit, it would be unreasonable to insist that I stay here after this spirit has been officially disapproved. I do not know what is going to happen. Only I ask you this: could you answer the following questions for me:
1. Is it true that they do not truly live a contemplative life at Camaldoli, that "silence ispoorly observed," that the Prior entirely disposes of the hermits' vocations, that he can send them back to the cenobium against their will, at his own pleasure? (These are the things they tell me to make me give up my idea of going there.)
2. Can the vow to pass to a more solitary and contemplative life be made by a Benedictine monk, or is this incompatible with our vow of stability?
3. Do you think it would be better to go to Camaldoli or to Frascati? I am thinking of Camaldoli because Dom Giabbani wants soon to make a foundation in America, and I am in touch with him.
4. If I cannot go to Camaldoli or Frascati, could you tell me where I could find an analogous eremitical life, apart from the Charterhouse?
5. If I go to Camaldoli I am a little afraid of being exploited as a celebrity. Do you think that there is a real danger of that? If so, how can I escape it?
6. Is there a way of submitting an application for transfer in such a way that it would be accepted even if the Superior of the house is against it?
In fine, I do all this believing that God wants it of me. I really believe that the time has come for me to have to do something for myself, for nobody here is going to do it for me. It is evident that my Superiors are themselves not going to do anything to smooth the wayfor me to become a hermit. I am doing everything with a good deal of peace, with the same feelings that accompanied my entry into the Church--with the sensation of having my hand in the hands of God. I do not know where this is going to end, but I ask you above all to pray for me.
I have written this in French so that your dear Rev. Father Abbot also may read it. He may have a word of advice to give me because he is in favor of eremitical vocations. He doubtless knows how much must be suffered in order to open the way to the desert. I ask him and you also to bless me. Above all, pray. I shall be very happy to receive your advice. If you want to talk this over with Dom Maurizio, I would be pleased. Let them at Frascati also pray for me. I would like to join our ex-Brother Brendan there. If one could believe that they will make an American foundation, I would rather go there than to Camaldoli. But having spoken of this to Dom Maurizio, I ask you not to tell any others.
So there, my dear Father. I am glad at having friends who can help me. Here I have a director who is favorable to this change, but he is leaving soon to make a foundation.
Believe me ever united to all of you in the silence of God. And your Giustiniani, when will he appear?19
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ
The missing letter referred to in the first sentence dealt with Merton's vocational crisis. Having consulted Dom Verner Moore of Sky Farm (Carthusian foundation in Vermont), he decided to try entering the Camaldolese in Italy. His Abbot, Dom James, was opposed to this plan as well as to a move in the direction of the Carthusians.
June 3, 1955
Many thanks for your letter of May 26. I wish I had received it sooner. Early in May, having consulted the Carthusian Father Dom Verner Moore at Sky Farm, I received from him a very positive encouragement to transfer to Camaldoli and my director here thought I should follow this suggestion, so I applied for a transitus. So far nothing has been heard from Italy, however, and Father Abbot is very much opposed to my going to Camaldoli, and I suppose his objections may lead to the refusal of the transitus, although the Abbot General says he feels that if it is the will of God he sees no reason for my not going. Things are still in a fluid state, however, and with Father Abbot I am earnestly trying to reach the final solution. One thing is certain, everyone more and more seems to agree that I should not stay in the precise situation in which I find myself at the moment. I honestly believe, and so do my directors, that being a cenobite is no longer the thing I need. However, I have no desire to become a preacher ofretreats at Camaldoli either, still less an exploited celebrity, although I do feel that even then I would have far more solitude and silence there than I have here. I may be wrong.
However, Dom James is very interested in the question, and he has even proposed to place before higher Superiors the possibility of my becoming a hermit in the forest here. If this permission were ever granted it would solve all my problems, I think. The forest here is very lonely and quiet and covers about a thousand acres, and there is much woodland adjoining it. It is as wild as any country that would be found in the Ardennes or the Vosges, perhaps wilder. I could be a hermit without leaving the land of the monastery. One could begin the project gradually and imperceptibly, for the government is putting up a fire-observation tower on one of our hills and the future hermitage could be in connection with this--one could begin simply by being the watchman on the tower and gradually take up permanent residence there. Unfortunately, the higher Superiors, as far as I can see, are absolutely closed to any such suggestion and even refuse to permit a monk to work alone on the observation tower. Dom James is placing the matter before the Abbot General.
Apart from this the best suggestion seems to be that I should secretly enter a hermitage of Monte Corona, and live there unknown without writing or publication, as a true solitary. Dom James is not fully in favor of this, but he has given me permission to write and inquireabout it. I have written to Dom Maurizio. Dom James does not want me to leave the Order, mainly because of the comment that would be excited among souls. I think, however, that I could leave secretly enough to keep that comment at a minimum. It would never be more than a rumor, and there have been so many rumors before that people would not pay much attention, until it was all forgotten.
I am waiting still to hear from your Father Abbot. I will value his suggestions. Meanwhile, the main purpose of this letter is to ask about the hermit who lives fifty miles from Clairvaux. How does he live? Does he entirely support himself? Does he receive any aid from the monastery? Does he have any contact with seculars? How does he say Mass, if he is a priest? Tentatively we are planning here a life in which food could be brought to me from the monastery in the seasons in which I could not grow enough for myself--bread, rice, and so forth. It would not be necessary to go to the Bishop, would it, since I would be living on the monastery's land?
I was interested to hear there was a hermit at La Trappe under Ranc�. I value your prayers in this time of mystery and searching. It is more and more evident to me that someone must go through this kind of thing. By the mercy of God, I am one of those who must pass through the cloud and the sea. May I be one of those who also reach the Promised Land. Whatever happens, I shall certainly write much less as I have no desire to become a "literary hermit." I feel that God wills thissolitude in American monasticism, even if someone has to leave America temporarily to find it.
THOMAS MERTON TO JEAN LECLERCQ