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Survival or Prophecy?

Survival or Prophecy?

The Letters of Thomas Merton and Jean LeClercq

Thomas Merton and Jean Leclercq; Edited by Brother Patrick Hart; Foreword by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland

Farrar, Straus and Giroux




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.


Survival or Prophecy?


This first extant letter from Dom Jean Leclercq to Father Louis (Thomas Merton) opens with a reference to a letter from Merton dated January...


Praise for Survival or Prophecy?

“The prophetic stance was one of the enduring and most attractive aspects of the monastic renewal in the last half of the twentieth century; and both Merton and Leclercq, cognizant that the Christian monastic tradition has first emerged as a form of prophetic witness against the ever more worldly Church, brought it to bear on the Church of their own day. They knew that the early monks had felt a need to witness to the Church first of all, especially against its tendency to compromise with the demands of the Empire and against its desire to seek power and prestige; and they sought to make such a witness with their own lives.” —From the Forward by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland

“The right book for Merton devotees seeking greater insight into Merton's thoughts about monastic life.” —The National Catholic

“Early on in his monastic life Thomas Merton began to research early monasticism. A number of experts from Europe pointed him in the right direction. Among those who helped was the highly regarded monastic historian Jean Leclercq who supported Merton in his struggle to get permission to live as a hermit. He was also, like Merton, committed to monastic renewal especially in the light of the Second Vatican Council. This book is a collection of letters exchanged between Merton and Leclercq from 1950 through July 1968. It is described as a fascinating account of the 'common yearning of two holy men.' It is a record of a growing friendship between two very erudite and prophetic figures. Due to their efforts we have a monastic expression today that is able to meet the observable increased interest in the riches of a monastic spirituality.” —Monos

“The publication of this exchange of letters is important . . . [We as readers are able to] see how these two men centrally concerned themselves with the labor of getting back to the more nourishing sources of the Catholic tradition (the process of ressourcement) in general and the monastic tradition in particular . . . Their dialogue hoped to encourage new thinking about how to get back to authentic forms of monasticism in the contemporary world. There is something almost prescient about their interest in the ways in which Christian monasticism could act as a dialogical force with Islam, especially in those places where Christians were tiny minorities . . . Who would benefit from a reading of this work? Certainly those who are concerned with the history of modern spirituality in its monastic manifestation.” —Lawrence S. Cunningham, Spiritus 2.2

“This exchange of letters between Merton, the well-known American Trappist, and Leclercq, a French Benedictine, offers an intriguing glimpse into the minds of the two monks and their efforts to nudge monastic life toward reform in the 1950s and 1960s . . . [The letters] shed light in particular on Merton's struggle to find solitude and a hermit's life within the confines of his Kentucky monastery. Forty years after the convening of the Second Vatican Council, which revolutionized many Catholic religious communities, Merton's simple request to live as a hermit seems reasonable and in fact appropriate given the history of monasticism. But his letters make clear that his desires were viewed then as radical and even dangerous. Leclercq emerges in the correspondence as a reassuring advocate who fully understands the tensions of the monastic vocation and urges Merton to follow what he believes to be God's will. 'Let us all hope we can manage to be at the same time obedient and free,' he writes in one letter to his American counterpart . . . Merton buffs will welcome [this book] as another window into the life of the man whose popularity endures more than 30 years after his untimely death in 1968.” —Publishers Weekly

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About the author

Thomas Merton and Jean Leclercq; Edited by Brother Patrick Hart; Foreword by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland

Thomas Merton (1915-68) is the most admired of all American Catholic writers. His journals have recently been published to wide acclaim.

Jean LeClercq (1910-93) wrote The Love of Learning and the Desire for God and other books.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Patrick Hart

Learn more about Thomas Merton

From the Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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