The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton

by Hugh Turley and David Martin

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.Profiles in Catholicism


I’ve read books by Thomas Merton or about him since I was 16 my sons in their mid-thirties have read him also. This book is no disappointment. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton might well have been the most significant Roman Catholic thinker and writer of the 20th century. His 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, sold over 600,000 copies in its original hardcover edition and, in one version or another, has remained continuously in print. Its Kindle edition, as of now has 64.4cistomer reviews with an average customer rating of four and one half out of five stars. Altogether Merton authored more than 70 books and almost as many books have been written about him.


The Thai authorities produced three official documents on Merton’s death that we have been able to see, a cause-of-death doctor’s certificate, death certificate (with a hand written police note on the reverse side), and a summary police report. Thai officials concluded that cardiac failure was the primary cause of Merton’s death


The book is replete with theories about his death and what led up to it. The authors in reflection upon Thomas Merton’s life and especially upon his death, now that the authors penetrated the dense smoke screen around it, they saw a man who was truly chosen by God for his task. The authors conjured that if you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; the reason it hates the person is that the person does not belong to the world, because the choice one makes has drawn the person out of the world. Merton chose to live apart from the world in a monastery. His love of his neighbor brought him back into the world to testify to the truth about our reality. At a time when virtually everyone in the country was accepting the solemn assurances of journalists like Walter Cronkite as the gospel truth, one week after the assassination of President Kennedy, Merton was already questioning. The widespread acceptance of the official version of events he saw as more of a psychological matter than anything else. People simply wanted things put to rest so they could get on with their lives and were willing to accept whatever they were told; regardless of how poorly the explanation addressed the many complexities of the matter.


The book has maps, letters, drawings that tell about Merton and his final days on earth. There are testimonies about what happened, perhaps his assassination and other ways of understanding what Merton was sensing/thinking/believing. It is certainly a book worth reading and passing on to another person especially those deeply entrenched in Merton’s work.