Thomas Merton and the Towers of Babel


O'Sullivan, Colleen Ann. (2006). Thomas Merton and the Towers of Babel [Thesis].
AuthorsO'Sullivan, Colleen Ann
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This thesis will examine intensively 'The Tower of Babel: A Morality' a significant work of Thomas Merton, a major spiritual writer of the 20th Century, entitled. In order to explore this play three other works which impacted significantly on the development of the drama will also be examined. These three works are: A poem also called 'Tower of Babel'; a second poem entitled 'A Responsory' and a musical work titled 'The Tower of Babel: An Oratorio'. Even though Victor Kramer, a Merton scholar, noted the significance of the Morality, the existing literature has all but ignored the impact of 'The Oratorio' and the drama. Until this author requested a copy of 'The Oratorio' from the Merton Centre in Louisville, Kentucky the work had been known by name only and had never been analysed. Yet this work was a major development from the poem 'A Responsory' and led to the creation of the Morality Play. This work argues that 'A Morality' was pivotal in contributing to personal and spiritual change in Merton as well as developing a greater depth of social understanding in him. It will also argue that the work contained the seeds of future Merton writings. Writing the drama moved Merton towards a contemplative maturity based on communion not simply community. While many studies have alluded to the play none of them have studied it with this particular focus. This new focus is the discovery of the ways Merton attempted to resolve the dilemma he experienced between the paths of monk and poet and how, in doing so, he created for spiritual seekers a fresh inner significance for the Babel story. This work is opening up new ground for an understanding of the importance of Merton's insights in the contemporary world. The methods used in this thesis are: 1. Contextualising, that is establishing the historical, social, spiritual and literary framework in which the poems and plays were written, and 2. Literary analysis.;Part A of the thesis examines the monastic, spiritual, social, literary and academic contexts which brought Merton to the moment of writing the Morality. Part B is organised chronologically and is an intensive analysis of the poems, the Oratorio and the Morality Play. Part C identifies the seeds of future growth contained within the Morality play and points to some of the directions in which these seeds developed in later Merton works.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Arts
Final version
Publication dates16 Feb 2006
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