Final Examination of Kyle T. Arcement
For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Thursday, October 11, 2012 1:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125
Raymond Studzinski, OSB, Ph.D.
“In the School of Prophets: The Formation of Thomas Merton’s Prophetic Spirituality”
While the spirituality of Thomas Merton has widely been acknowledged as bearing a distinctive prophetic quality, little research has examined the underlying formative influences which shaped the contours of the prophetic element of his spirituality. By identifying the various figures Merton describes as prophetic and analyzing why he does so, the particular values he bestows on the prophetic dimension of Christian life can be discerned. William Blake and Latin American poets like Pablo Antonio Cuadra, Alfonso Cortés, and César Vallejo taught Merton the value of perceiving reality with a certain prophetic vision. From them, Merton learned the merit and power of poetic language and symbol to cut through the muddle of modern consciousness. Novelists such as Boris Pasternak, Albert Camus, and William Faulkner helped Merton recognize the distinctive ability of literature to express the imagination’s prophetic, sapiential insights into the human predicament. Existentialists like Søren Kierkegaard and Gabriel Marcel helped Merton clarify the prophetic role of fidelity, authenticity, passion, and obedience in Christian life. The Desert Fathers and other monastics, especially Bernard of Clairvaux, offered to Merton a paradigm of monasticism that was simultaneously contemplative and prophetic in nature. As a whole, these sources helped form a number of identifiable contours to Merton’s prophetic spirituality. First, Merton’s spirituality is characterized by a certain way of viewing reality that can be called prophetic. Through the use of the prophetic imagination, expressed especially in poetry and literature, transcendent values are apprehended and proclaimed in a manner that effectively exposes misplaced values and structures of evil. Secondly, Merton’s prophetic spirituality insists upon transcendent values like simplicity, solitude and authenticity to expose a one-dimensional society’s addictive lifestyle and unmask illusions which keep people trapped in them. Thirdly, Merton’s prophetic spirituality is fundamentally charismatic in nature. Discerning God’s voice, openness, availability, passion and experience are all necessary elements for protecting the prophetic dimension of the spiritual life from being dissipated by the institutional. Fourthly, humble fidelity to God is foundational and often leads to one becoming a sign of contradiction to the values of the world and the misplaced values of the Church.