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These conferences, presented by Thomas Merton to the novices at the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1963-1964, focus mainly on the life and writings of his great Cistercian predecessor, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). Guiding his students through Bernard's Marian sermons, his treatise On the Love of God, his controversy with Peter Abelard, and above all his great series of sermons on the Song of Songs, Merton reveals why Bernard was the major religious and cultural figure in Europe during the first half of the twelfth century and why he has remained one of the most influential spiritual theologians of Western Christianity from his own day until the present. As James Finley writes in his preface to this volume, "Merton is teaching us in these notes how to be grateful and amazed that the ancient wisdom that shimmers and shines in the eloquent and beautiful things that mystics say is now flowing in our sincere desire to learn from God how to find our way to God."
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Catholic convert, Cistercian monk and hermit, poet, contemplative, social critic, and pioneer of interreligious dialogue, was a seminal figure of twentieth-century American Christianity. The one hundredth anniversary of his birth was celebrated in 2015.
Patrick F. O'Connell is professor of English and theology at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. A founding member and former president of the International Thomas Merton Society, he edits The Merton Seasonal and he is coauthor of The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia. He has edited seven previous volumes of Thomas Merton's monastic conferences for the Monastic Wisdom Series, most recently Charter, Customs, and Constitutions of the Cistercians (2015), and he is also editor of Merton's Selected Essays (2013) and Early Essays: 1947-1952 (2015).