Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John Eudes Bamberger,

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - How Thomas Merton thought of himself / How other people thought of Merton

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Partial Transcript: I was reading back through, uh, Mott's biography of Merton.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about whether Thomas Merton thought of himself as exceptional. He describes how Merton felt that God was speaking through him. He also mentions how Merton's editor felt about his ability to learn quickly.

Keywords: Divine; Divine intervention; Divinity; Opinion of oneself; Other people's opinions; Other people's perceptions; Perception of oneself; Self concept; Self-concept

Subjects: Authors; Autobiographies; Editors; God.; Humility; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Prophets; Self-esteem; Self-perception.; Writers

00:06:23 - Thomas Merton's suffering before his conversion

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Partial Transcript: Uh, last time we spoke, you said he suffered a great deal before we he was converted.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how Thomas Merton suffered before his conversion. He describes how Merton felt he was wasting his education. He also talks about the reason behind his inability to join an order of priests before he became a monk.

Keywords: Catholicism; Conversions; Franciscan priests; Having a child out of wedlock; Higher education; Pregnancies; Unexpected pregnancies

Subjects: Catholic Church; Conversion.; Education.; Franciscans; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monks; Pregnancy; Priests; Suffering

00:11:51 - Thomas Merton's desire for penance / Penance in its relation to Jesus Christ / The evolving mood of Thomas Merton's writings

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Partial Transcript: And he, he, when he enters the monastery, um, you get the impression over and over again how he feels he has a real need for penance or a real need for, for a life of penance.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about why Thomas Merton felt a need for penance. He also discusses the relation between penance and the life of Jesus Christ. He then explains the difference between the mood of Thomas Merton's earlier writings and later works.

Keywords: Activism; Confessing; Forgiveness; New Seeds of Contemplation; Social activism; The Seven Storey Mountain (Thomas Merton); The Sign of Jonas

Subjects: Authors; Confessions; God; Jesus Christ.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Penance; Sins; Suffering; Vices.; Virtues; Writing.

00:15:41 - Why Catholicism was a good fit for Thomas Merton

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Partial Transcript: Um, he converted in thirty-seven or thirty-eight.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about what made Catholicism a good fit for Thomas Merton. He talks about the intellectual tradition in the church. He also mentions a young woman who served as an example for how Thomas Merton lived his life in faith.

Keywords: Catholicism; Faithful life; Praying; Religious practice

Subjects: Catholic Church.; Faith; Intellectualism; Intellectuals; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Prayer; Religious life

00:19:54 - The role of Confession for Thomas Merton

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Partial Transcript: And how big of a role do you think, uh, confe-confession played for him?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the role Confession played in Thomas Merton's life. He talks about the concept of renewal and rebirth in relation to Confession and Merton's writings.

Keywords: Becoming new; Beginning anew; Being reborn; Rebirth; Renewal; Second chances; Starting anew; Starting over

Subjects: Authors; Baptism.; Confession; Guilt; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Priests; Writing

00:22:01 - The different sides of Thomas Merton

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Partial Transcript: You've told me of and, and other people have told me that there were different Mertons.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the different sides to Thomas Merton. He talks about Merton's resilience and sense of humor. He also describes the way Merton could contradict himself.

Keywords: Complexity; Extroversion; Outgoing; Quiet; Quietness; Resilience; Sense of humor

Subjects: Contradictions; Extraversion; Humor; Introversion; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Paradoxes; Solitude.

00:25:54 - The influence of Thomas Merton on Bamberger's early life as a monk

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Partial Transcript: I was reading the interview you did with Victor Kramer-Victor Kram-uh, Kramer back in the eighties.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how Thomas Merton influenced him as a young monk. He describes the qualities of Merton's lectures. He also describes the way Merton would prepare for his lectures.

Keywords: Analysis; Analytical thinking; Lectures; Preparation; Viktor Kramer

Subjects: Education.; Enthusiasm; Humility; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Monks.; Sermons; Teachers; Teaching.

00:30:29 - Whether Thomas Merton struggled with guilt

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Partial Transcript: Was Merton unusually guilt-ridden?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the extent to which Thomas Merton felt guilt. He talks about how Merton was able to deal with his guilt in a responsible way. He talks about how guilt is rooted in biblical stories such as in Apostle Peter's denials of Jesus Christ. He then explains how Merton's book, The Sign of Jonas, relates to his understanding of guilt and mercy.

Keywords: Denial; Denials; Guilty; Mercies; Saint Peter; The Bible; The Sign of Jonas

Subjects: Bible; Guilt; Jesus Christ; Mercy; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Peter, the Apostle, Saint.; Popes; Regret; Shame

00:33:39 - The way Thomas Merton changed from the early 1940s to the early 1960s

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Partial Transcript: Provide a contrast of the way the Merton of the early forties would have seen the world and the way that the Merton of the late fifties and early sixties would have described the world.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how Thomas Merton changed from the early forties to the early sixties. He talks about how Merton's views on other religions evolved over time. He then mentions Merton's study of Augustine of Hippo and its influence on him. He then mentions Merton's book, No Man Is an Island, and how it represents Merton's views.

Keywords: Augustine of Hippo; City of God; Interreligious conversations; Interreligious dialogue; No Man Is an Island; Random House; Religious studies; Saint Augustine

Subjects: Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Religions--Relations.; Religions.

00:39:07 - The purpose of monastic life / How monastic life helped Thomas Merton

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Partial Transcript: Um, you spoke of monastic life as a means of transforming a person and giving a new form to that person.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the purpose of monastic life. He gives an example of the way twelfth century Benedictine monks operated and compares it to how modern Trappist monks live. He clears up misunderstandings of monastic life. He also talks about how Merton's parents were not able to deliver him from the world, but monastic life could.

Keywords: Benedictine monks; Catholicism; Cistercian monks; Deliverance; Exterior life; Inside world; Interior life; Modern day; Modern times; Monastic life; Monasticism; Outside world; Seven Storey Mountain (Thomas Merton); Transcendence

Subjects: Benedictines; Cistercians; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Penance; Trappists

00:46:21 - What it is like to enter a monastery

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Partial Transcript: And so, when a young person or, as is more often the case today, an ol-an older person comes to the mona-to, to the monastery, what are you trying to shape in them?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about what he expects from people who decide to join the monastery. He talks about the two stages that people go through when they join a monastery. He describes how stage one involves confusion about who one is and discomfort with the nature of monastic life. He then describes how stage two involves prayer and forming an idea of God.

Keywords: Affirmations; Attachments; Detaching; Ego-dystonic complex; Monasticism; Obediance; Repressed id; Shadow; Shadow archetype; Shadow aspect; Shadow self; Subconscious mind; Subconsciousness; Temptations; Unconscious minds

Subjects: Anxiety; God.; Jung, Carl; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Prayer; Salvation

00:57:13 - The level of intensity in Thomas Merton's search for God

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Partial Transcript: Was Merton's search for God unusually intense or intent by monastic standards or was it sort of your standard monastic desire to search for God?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about whether Thomas Merton's search for God was unusually intense for a monk. He talks about the intensity of Merton's writing life. He then talks about the level of intensity expected from a monk.

Keywords: Monastic life; Searching for God

Subjects: Authors; Books; Manuscripts; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Writers; Writing

01:00:17 - The meaning of a call from God

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Partial Transcript: When you say a call from God, I hear that in one way and I-and-and-and I-think it's the way which Merton would hear it.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about what a call from God means from Thomas Merton's perspective. He talks about people's responses to interview questions he has asked about happiness and love and what it says about them. He then talks about the conviction in people's answers and how it resembles a call from God.

Keywords: Call from God; Callings; Happiness; Metaphysical; Metaphysical experiences; Spiritual; Spiritual experiences

Subjects: God.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Vocations

01:03:48 - What secular people would think about a calling from God / The Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton's transcendence beyond religions / Why faith is the basis of Christianity

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Partial Transcript: But what would a secular psychiatrist say?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger comments on what secular people would think about the idea of a calling from God. He discusses how His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama called Thomas Merton an expert and how that is indicative of the transcendence of God above religions. He then talks about why faith is the basis of salvation in Christianity.

Keywords: 14th Dalai Lama; Call from God; Callings; Consciousness; Dalai Lama; Secular people; Seculars; Tenzin Gyatso

Subjects: Bstan-╩╝dzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV, 1935-; Buddhism.; Buddhists; Catholic Church; Catholics; Christianity.; Christians; Faith; God.; Jesus Christ; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Religions.; Salvation; Secularism; Tenzin Gyatso, Dalai Lama XIV, 1935-; Vocations

01:07:39 - How Dom James and Thomas Merton were able to understand each other

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Partial Transcript: Um, you told me that Dom James understood Merton better than Merton understood himself in many ways.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the differences between Dom James and Thomas Merton. He talks about how Dom James was able to understand Merton's needs despite their differences. He gives examples of insights Dom James had into Thomas Merton.

Keywords: Dom James; Dom James Fox; Human connections; Studiousness

Subjects: Abbots.; Intellectuals; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Monks; Understanding

01:11:23 - The way people have misinterpreted Dom James and his relationship with Thomas Merton

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Partial Transcript: And so the people that characterize Dom James as being sort of, uh, proprietary and selfish and sort of wanting to hoard Merton, uh, keep him under the coop, they're not seeing the whole picture.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how people who criticize Dom James do not fully understand him. He talks about the way his own intentions and actions may be interpreted and misinterpreted by others.

Keywords: Dom James; Dom James Fox; Interpretations; Misinterpretations; Motivations

Subjects: Abbots; Hermitages; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Monks

01:13:31 - The relationship between Thomas Merton and Dom James as confessor and confessee

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Partial Transcript: Am I right in thinking it's very significant that through his time as the abbot, Dom James is the superior to Merton and orders Merton's life?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about whether Dom James was Thomas Merton's superior. He talks about the relationship between Dom James and Thomas Merton as confessee and confessor, respectively. He also mentions how Merton's students influenced him.

Keywords: Confessees; Confessor-confessee relationships; Dom James; Dom James Fox; Juniors; Student-teacher relationships; Students; Subordinates; Superiors

Subjects: Confessors.; Interpersonal relations.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Nonbiological fathers; Teachers

01:16:27 - Whether Dom James manipulated Thomas Merton / How Dom James helped Bamberger's sister / The father-son relationship between Merton and Dom James

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Partial Transcript: Evil of me to think that this was one more way of Dom James manipulating Merton?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about whether Dom James ever manipulated Thomas Merton. He describes how Dom James helped Bamberger's sister while she was in a state of grief. He then talks about the father-son relationship between Merton and Dom James.

Keywords: Abandonment; Dom James; Dom James Fox; Father-son; Father-son relations; Father-son relationships; Influence; Manipulation

Subjects: Fathers and sons.; Grief.; Honesty; Loss; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Paris (France); Tours; Widows

GPS: Paris (France)
Map Coordinates: 48.856613, 2.352222
01:19:55 - The courage in monastic life / Thomas Merton's courage and his writing

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Partial Transcript: You said, um, there is no substitute for courage in a monastic life.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger discusses his own opinion that there is not a substitute for courage in monastic life. He talks about how Thomas Merton showed courage. He talks about his writings and the way he used spiritual warfare.

Keywords: Monastic life; Speaking out

Subjects: Authors; Courage.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Spiritual warfare

01:24:19 - Thomas Merton's desire to join the Order of the Carthusians / Merton's restless energy / How Merton's view of Margie changed

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Partial Transcript: Merton already in his, uh, earliest years says that he-if-if there was a Carthusian foundation in America, he would have joined them.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how Thomas Merton originally wanted to join the Carthusian Order. He also describes how Merton was restless in his quest for new solutions. He then talks about how his view of his relationship with Margie changed over time. He also explains how Merton found solutions when faced with crises.

Keywords: Discernment; Eremitical life; Intellectualism; Margie Smith; Monastic life; Monasticism; Order of Carthusians; Relationships; Religious orders; Romantic relationships

Subjects: Carthusians; Discernment (Christian theology); Hermitages; Hermits; Intimacy (Psychology); Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasticism and religious orders.; Monks; Prophets; Romances; Social justice

01:31:01 - The enclosure of Gethsemane / The expansion of what monks could do in the outside world

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Partial Transcript: If you can tell me about the significance of the enclosure at Gethsemane, what those walls were doing?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how the enclosure at the monastery affected Thomas Merton as well as how the relaxing of protocol made an impact on him. He talks about how the monastic world balances withdrawal from the world and staying aware of what is going on.

Keywords: Breaking tradition; Changing traditions; Cloistered life; Cloisters; Distractions; Gethsemane; Hindu monks; Isolation; Seclusion; Separation; St. Anthony the Great; Traditions; Worldliness

Subjects: Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.); Anthony, of Egypt, Saint, approximately 250-355 or 356; Anthony, of Egypt, Saint, approximately 250-355 or 356.; Asceticism; Catholic Church; Cloisters (Architecture); Hermitages; Hinduism; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries.; Monks.; Pius XII, Pope, 1876-1958.; Solitude.

01:39:16 - How Thomas Merton recorded his writings

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Partial Transcript: I may have asked you this: was Merton right-handed or left-handed?

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about how Thomas Merton recorded his writing. He says that Merton was right-handed. He also talks about how much Merton would write by hand and how much he would type.

Keywords: Catholicism; Journaling; Journals; Recording

Subjects: Authors; Books; Diaries; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Records.; Typewriting; Writing.

01:40:30 - Dom James's opinion of Thomas Merton's writing

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Partial Transcript: One or two more questions.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger remarks on the extent to which Dom James approved or disapproved of Thomas Merton's writing. He describes Dom James's background and how it influenced his opinion of Merton.

Keywords: Dom James; Dom James Fox; Taking up the cross

Subjects: Authors; Businessmen; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Psychiatry; Wall Street (New York, N.Y.); Writing

01:42:49 - The search for the meaning of life

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Partial Transcript: Let's close with, uh, something you explained to me before and maybe you need to say it again about how Merton was very attracted to Gregory of Nice.

Segment Synopsis: Bamberger talks about the concept of going forward, which Gregory of Nice discussed and Thomas Merton exemplified. He talks about the varied views of the meaning of life and how Merton thought about the meaning of life.

Keywords: Apectasis; Going forward; Gregory of Nice; Meaning of life

Subjects: Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.; Monasteries; Monks