Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Merton’s religious themes are centered in pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic spirituality and theology, but much of his writing concerns universal Christian ideas. A chief theme is the importance of grace. Life is empty without God and offers only empty pleasures and inescapable woes. Modern society enslaves its members with distractions and material goods; self-sacrifice can help people distance themselves from the false promises of the world. According to Merton, only through the sanctifying grace of God, which is the full participation in God’s life that supports us to good actions, can peace and happiness be found. Natural goodness is transformed by grace to bring us and others closer to God. Grace thus saves us and allows us to become our best selves.

As Merton experienced it, conversion was preceded by grace-filled moments provided by good people, reading and contemplation, and the inspiration of an “inner voice” that directed him to carry out his thoughts. However, even baptism was not sufficient for true conversion. After his baptism, Merton continued acting as he had previously. Only after a while did he realize that conversion means conversion of every moment of each day, of turning toward God in thought and action constantly. Conversion means disregarding the concerns of the world, even denying pleasures to one’s self. Conversion means abandoning the self to the will of God; understanding this led Merton to decide to join a monastery and...

(The entire section is 406 words.)