In Covert Praise of Socrates

Merton recounts an influential teacher and mentor, Mark Van Doren, and in doing so, sketches what I still aspire to (though often failing) in terms of pedagogy--the great tradition of the Socratic method:

"Mark would come into the room and, without any fuss, would start talking about whatever was to be talked about. Most of the time he asked questions. His questions were very good, and if you tried to answer them intelligently, you found yourself saying excellent things that you did not know you knew, and that you had not, in fact, known before. He had 'educed' them from you by his question. His classes were literally 'education'--they brought things out of you, they made your mind produce its own explicit ideas."

~Merton, Seven Storey Mountain, p. 154


Beware of Metaphysics!

"Fortunately, this was one of the matters in which I decided to ignore his advice. Anyway, I went ahead and tried to read some philosophy. I never got very far with it. It was too difficult for me to master all by myself. People who are immersed in sensual appetites and desires are not very well prepared to handle abstract ideas. Even in the purely natural order, a certain amount of purity of heart is required before an intellect can get sufficiently detached and clear to work out the problems of metaphysics. I say a certain amount, however, because I am sure that no one needs to be a saint to be a clever metaphysician. I dare say there are plenty of metaphysicians in hell."

~Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 104


The Psychology of Comfort

[Resuming a series on Merton's Seven Storey Mountain after a hiatus over Lent.]

Merton offers a concise but insightful take on on a feature of our collective psychology which has only increased since he made the observation:

"Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture."

~Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 91