Anguish in the Contemplative – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – The Ascent to Truth

by Mark Votava

41Jrcg8DdxL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_1. The souls of those who believe in God

“The big problem that confronts Christianity is not Christ’s enemies.  Persecution has never done much harm to the inner life of the Church as such.  The real… problem exists in the souls of those who in their hearts believe in God, and who recognize their obligation to love… yet do not.”

2. A strange paradox

“It is a strange paradox indeed that modern man should know so much and still know practically nothing.  The paradox is most strange because men in other times, who have known less than we know, have in fact known more.”

3. A moment that is eternal

“For contemplation is a work of grace. The Truth to which it unites us is not an abstraction but Reality and Life itself.  The love by which it unites us to this Truth is a gift of God and can only be produced within us by the direct action of God.  The activity which is its final and most perfect fruit is a charity so supreme that it gathers itself into a timeless self-oblation in which there is no motion, for all its perfection is held within the boundless radius of a moment that is eternal.”

4. We seem to be absent from ourselves

“Our ordinary waking life is a bare existence in which, most of the time, we seem to be absent from ourselves and from reality because we are involved in the vain preoccupations which dog the steps of every living man.  But there are times when we seem suddenly to awake and discover the full meaning of our own present reality.  Such discoveries are not capable of being contained in formulas or definitions.  They are a matter of personal experience, of uncommunicable intuition.  In the light of such an experience it is easy to see the futility of all the trifles that occupy our minds.  We recapture something of the calm and the balance that ought always to be ours, and we understand that life is far too great to be squandered on anything less…”

5. We act, then see

“We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love.  We do not first see, then act: we act, then see.  It is only by the free submission of our judgment in dark faith that we can advance to the light of understanding…”

6. Mystical union is a gift of God

“Mystical union is a gift of God.  It cannot be acquired by any ascetic technique.  It cannot be merited… in the strict sense by any man…  No system of meditations, of interior discipline, of self-emptying, of recollection and absorption can bring a man to union with God, without a free gift on the part of God…  Still less can a man arrive at mystical union with God by an effort of the intellect on his own natural level.  Mystical vision cannot be produced by study.  The knowledge of God in mystical contemplation is so different in its essence from the knowledge of God gained by theological study…”

7. Not knowledge but love

“…the most important element in the contemplative life is not knowledge but love…”

8. Anguish in the contemplative

“Yet it is those who love God who must suffer the greatest anguish on earth.  This is absolutely necessary.  For just as conceptual knowledge creates anguish in the contemplative by reminding him how little he can know of God, so the possession of God by love, on earth, fills him with still greater agony because it tells him, even more clearly, that he can only rest in vision.”

Which quote do you like the best?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.