Cassian and the Fathers is the initial volume in the series of Novitiate Conferences of Thomas Merton, the classes he presented to young men beginning their monastic life at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky They contain Merton s insights on important Patristic and monastic figures preceding the time of St Benedict, above all John Cassian, the most significant bridge between the early desert fathers and the development of monastic life in the West, and they reveal the continuing relevance of their teachings for contemporary monastics and other ChristiansMuch of the value and interest of Cassian and the Fathers, as of the novitiate conferences in general, lies in the light it casts on Merton himself as teacher, novice master and monk These notes provide a privileged standpoint for observing Merton functioning as an integral and important member of his monastic community The public Merton has long been visible in his works written for publication, and has recently been complemented by the interpersonal Merton disclosed in his correspondence and the intimate Merton revealed in his complete journalsWhile the novitiate conferences may not equal in significance these other sources, they do allow access to yet another stratum of Merton s wide ranging and immensely productive engagement with his world from the distinctive standpoint he had chosen within a tradition dating back than sixteen centuries While these lectures need to be used critically and carefully in evaluating Merton s own perspectives and commitments, nevertheless they do need to be usedThe dialectical relationship between Merton s private and public statements, including those made to his novice classes, makes possible a complex and thus a richer picture of his monastic identity and so of his personal identity In learning aboutCassian and the Fathers from Merton, one learns as well about Merton as monk, as heir to the great monastic teachers, and as teacher of a new generation of monks, an easily overlooked and undervalued, yet integral, even central component of his vocation for than half his monastic life Thus the publication of the novitiate conferences will fill a significant lacuna in Merton studies and contribute to a balanced, holistic comprehension and appreciation of Thomas Merton s life and workThis edition includes an extensive introduction situating these conferences and Merton s years as novice master in the context of his broader life as monk and writer, an extensively annotated edition of the text of the conferences based on Merton s own typescript, and helpful appendices indicating changes Merton made to his text, correlating the written text with taped versions of the actual classes, and providing suggestions for further reading both in Merton s other works and in recent studies of the figures he discusses here


10 thoughts on “Cassian and the Fathers: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition

  1. Dustin Wright Dustin Wright says:

    Great intro to Cassian.


  2. Phil Phil says:

    This is one of those posthumous publications of Thomas Merton which come out from time to time as work continues on his papers In this work, we find Thomas Merton s notes for his novice conference at his monastery As novice master at his monastery, Merton offered several courses on the Church Fathers, especially those important for the monastic tradition Of course, Cassian had the pride of place after St Benedict himself, given that this was a Trappist monastery and, thus, kind of a reforme This is one of those posthumous publications of Thomas Merton which come out from time to time as work continues on his papers In this work, we find Thomas Merton s notes for his novice conference at his monastery As novice master at his monastery, Merton offered several courses on the Church Fathers, especially those important for the monastic tradition Of course, Cassian had the pride of place after St Benedict himself, given that this was a Trappist monastery and, thus, kind of a reformed Benedictine order , that order of precedence makes sense Of course, St Benedict mentions Cassian s Institutes and Conferences as the next step after his Rule of beginners So, it makes sense that Merton s lectures would attract so much attention on this subject The book is really just Merton s lecture notes on Cassian It breaks into two sections a very useful prologue which goes through monastic history from the Desert Fathers to Cassian himself That is useful as a review of monastic practice and is worth reading by itself Then, there are Merton s detailed lectures on Cassian s Institutes and Conferences themselves The discussion is both learned and enlightening, although familiarity with the texts is helpful Some Latin knowledge is also helpful as Merton will throw in the odd Latin quotation because he could legitimately expect his audience to know it A general warning these are lecture notes, so don t expect the literary polish of Merton s other works They re still good and still useful, but they weren t really intended for publication They are both an interesting indication of Merton s teaching as well as his thinking in his monastic setting