Remembering Thomas Merton
December 10th, just over fifty years ago, Thomas Merton was found dead in his room near Bangkok, where he had been the main speaker at an international monastic conference. At the time he was the best known Catholic monk in the world. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (Elected Silence in the English edition), was an unlikely best seller, telling the story of his religious conversion. He was also an outspoken critic of war and nuclear proliferation and a passionate advocate for civil rights.
His views on these issues were not popular with the establishment and as he wrote in A Signed Confession of Crimes against the State, “The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state. All I have to do is think, and immediately I become guilty.” So when he died there was controversy over whether he might have been assassinated. The cause of his death at the time was given as a heart attack, but there was no autopsy and the presence of a bleeding wound at the back of Merton’s head was not investigated.
However his prophetic spirit lives on, says Soline Humbert, a spiritual guide and advocate for women’s rights. She discovered his books after he died and says they still have plenty to offer anyone searching for truth today.