Merton’s Approach to Spiritual Development: A Hermeneutic Reappraisal of Thomas Merton’s Approach to Spiritual Development -- Carter J. Haynes
Carter J. Haynes is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at William Jessup University
This dissertation is about the tenets of spiritual development outlined in Thomas Merton’s writings. Merton (1915 – 1968) was a monk, scholar, author, spiritual practitioner, and mystical theologian. Beginning with the research question: “What is Thomas Merton’s contribution to the theory and practice of spiritual development as found in some of his selected writings on community vs. solitude, contemplative vs. “mental” prayer, and knowledge of self vs. knowledge of God?” I interrogate several veins of literature. These include previous scholarly investigation of Merton and his writings, spiritual development, spiritual direction; Merton’s intellectual, philosophical, and theological heritage; and his monastic and spiritual heritage. Using three selections from Merton’s corpus as data, I employ hermeneutic phenomenology, including Gadamer’s three levels of hermeneutic understanding, and analytical commentary to study objectively and react subjectively to three passages, one each from Merton’s books, letters, and journals. I ascertained Merton’s contribution to the theory and practice of spiritual development in sufficient detail to produce several findings and a model of spiritual development that describes the relationships between the themes of the study (from the research question), some of Merton’s other concepts, and the contributions of other theorists who have studied Merton or spiritual development. Previous Merton scholarship has failed to offer any coherent and comprehensive description of Merton’s views on spiritual development that is both methodologically sound and psychologically informed. The current study successfully fills a gap in the literature by examining Merton’s writings using accepted methodological tools, considering Merton’s thought in the light of other theories of spiritual and psychological development, and offering both a narrative description and model of the major elements of Merton’s approach to spiritual and psychological development.
Key Words: Thomas Merton, Spiritual Development, Contemplation, Spiritual Direction