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The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers

Merton, Thomas; Christine M. Bochen, selected and ed. by

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ISBN 10: 0374130558 / ISBN 13: 9780374130558
Published by Farrar, Straus Giroux, New York, 1993
Condition: Near Fine Hardcover
From Abstract Books (Indianapolis, IN, U.S.A.)

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(xiv) 314 pages, index, 8vo, tan/purple cloth. Black back endpaper creased, rest fine; dust jacket near fine. Bookseller Inventory # 019680

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers

Publisher: Farrar, Straus Giroux, New York

Publication Date: 1993

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: Near Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine

Edition: Stated First Edition.

About this title


From 1948 (when he first wrote to Evelyn Waugh, who was editing The Seven Storey Mountain for publication in England) until his death in 1968, Thomas Merton corresponded with writers around the world, developing an ever-widening circle of friends in Europe, the Soviet Union, South and North America. Merton wrote, and heard from, many prominent writers of the stature of Waugh, Jacques Maritain, Czeslaw Milosz, Boris Pasternak, James Baldwin, Walker Percy, Henry Miller, and Victoria Ocampo. He also corresponded with and encouraged newer writers in Latin America, like Ernesto Cardenal.
Merton sensed in these writers a hope for the future of humanity and believed that the courage for truth was their special gift. Writing to Jose Coronel Urtecho, Merton asserted that poets "remain almost the only ones who have anything to say . . . They have the courage to disbelieve what is shouted with the greatest amount of noise from every loudspeaker."
Courage rooted in true freedom is evident in Merton's own life. He shared with his literary friends his concerns about war, violence and repression, racism and injustice, and all forms of human aggression. Forbidden to publish on the subject of war by his superiors, he obeyed but continued to circulate his famous "Cold War Letters." He did not hesitate to criticize his church when he saw there was more concern for the institutional structure than there was for people. Merton especially admired those who had the courage to write under oppression, like Pasternak, Milosz, and Cardenal.


Though he lived in an enclosed order, Thomas Merton was the most sociable of monks by mail. His first letter in this ever-surprising volume is to Evelyn Waugh, who in 1948 was editing The Seven Storey Mountain for English publication. Recounting how his work runs a gantlet of religious censors before being further altered by his publishers, Merton adds, "And after about four years a book appears in print." Hence, he pleads, "I need criticism the way a man dying of thirst needs water." The paradoxes of his life are all here: his great faith, his frustration with earthly authority, his obligation to honesty, and his essential sophistication. This is the man who "read Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies over more than any other book except for Ulysses: I mean before coming here."

The Courage for Truth includes 20 years of Merton's correspondence with fellow writers, among them Czeslaw Milosz, Boris Pasternak, James Baldwin, and even Henry Miller. Over time Merton's order gave him increasing intellectual and political leeway--though never quite enough. In one letter, he assures Milosz: "You can say nothing about the Church that can shock me. If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my 'happiness' does not depend on any institution or establishment. As for you, you are part of my 'Church' of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution."

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