The Seven Storey Mountain: Wikis


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The Seven Storey Mountain is the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk and a noted author of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Merton finished the book in 1946 at the age of 31, five years after entering the Gethsemani Abbey near Bardstown, Kentucky. The title refers to the mountain of Purgatory in Dante's Divine Comedy. Seven Storey Mountain was published in 1948 and was met with surprising levels of public attention. The first printing was planned for 7,500 copies, but pre-publication sales exceeded 20,000. By May, 1949, 100,000 copies were in print. The original hardcover edition eventually sold over 600,000 copies[1], and paperback sales exceed one million. The book has remained continuously in print, and has been translated into more than fifteen languages.



Seven Storey Mountain" is a autobiography that reflects on the life of Thomas Merton and his quest for his faith in God.

Comparison with St. Augustine

In The Seven Storey Mountain Merton seems to be struggling to answer a spiritual call; the worldly influences of his earlier years have been compared with the story of St. Augustine's conversion as described in his Confessions. Merton’s Augustinian candor regarding his previous indulgence in the worldly practices of drinking alcohol and casual sexuality caused a censor from the Cistercian Order to delay publication in 1947, until the controversial passages were toned down.

Social reaction

Seven Storey Mountain is said to have struck a nerve amidst a society longing for renewed personal meaning and direction in the aftermath of a long, bloody war (World War II), and at a time when global annihilation was increasingly imaginable due to the development of atomic bombs and even more powerful thermonuclear weapons. The book has served as a powerful recruitment tool for the priestly life in general, and for the monastic orders specifically. In the 1950s, Gethsemani Abbey and the other Trappist monasteries experienced a surge in young men presenting themselves for the cenobitic life. It is a well-known bit of Catholic lore that many priests after the book's publication entered monasteries or seminaries with a copy in their suitcase.

Many readers were surprised to read that a young man with such a promising future of secular success would choose a solitary life. However, Merton put his undeniably brilliant mind to good use, becoming one of the most famous and revered spiritual authors in the world. One printing bears this accolade on the cover, from Graham Greene: "It is a rare pleasure to read an autobiography with a pattern and meaning valid for us all. The Seven Storey Mountain is a book one reads with a pencil so as to make it one's own." Evelyn Waugh also greatly (although not uncritically) admired the book and its author.

Later life and criticism

The more activist and ecumenical thinkers within the Roman Catholic Church were dismayed by the pietistic, condescending tones used in Seven Storey Mountain to refer to non-Trappist religious communities within the Catholic faith, and to non-Catholic forms of Christianity in general. The Roman Church later stepped away from these attitudes during the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. Thomas Merton, however, had been continuously expanding and maturing his spiritual perspectives, and soon realized the irony of the public's continuing interest in the figure that he presented in Seven Storey Mountain. In The Sign of Jonas, published in 1953, Merton says that “The Seven Storey Mountain is the work of a man I have never even heard of”. More reflectively, Merton penned an introduction to a 1966 Japanese edition of Seven Storey Mountain saying "Perhaps if I were to attempt this book today, it would be written differently. Who knows? But it was written when I was still quite young, and that is the way it remains. The story no longer belongs to me...."

Thomas Merton died in 1968 of accidental electrocution while attending an international monasticism conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Various writers have noted the irony of his life’s tragic conclusion, given that Seven Storey Mountain closes by admonishing the reader to “learn to know the Christ of the burnt men” (see, e.g., Edward Rice, The Man in The Sycamore Tree, 1979; Rice was a close friend of Merton from his college years). The Seven Storey Mountain propelled Thomas Merton into a life of ironic contradictions: a man who left an urban intellectual career for a labor-oriented rural existence, only to be led back into the realm of international opinion and debate; a man who spurned the literary world for the anonymity of cenobitic life in a Trappist monastery, only to become a world-famous author; and a man who professed his devotion to remain fixed in the confines of a monastic cell, only to fulfill an urge to travel throughout Asia.

Merton’s complexities manifested themselves in other ways following Seven Storey Mountain’s publication, e.g. in his various attempts to leave the Trappist Order for the Carthusian and Camaldolese eremitical orders, in his support for the peace movement during the 1960s. It has been concluded that although one cannot fully understand Thomas Merton by reading The Seven Storey Mountain, one cannot know him without it.

"Best Books" lists

The Seven Storey Mountain has been extensively praised in lists of the best books of the twentieth century. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has it on their list of the 50 Best Books of the Twentieth Century and it was at #75 on National Review's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century.

See also

Publication data

  • The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1998 50th anniversary edition: ISBN 0-15-100413-7 (hardcover), ISBN 0-15-601086-0 (paperback), ISBN 0-8027-2497-3 (large print), ISBN 1-59777-114-7 (audio CD, abridged), ISBN 5-553-67284-8 (audio cassette tape) (All Libraries)


  1. ^ Columbia Magazine [1]
  • Forest, James H. Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991
  • Furlong, Monica. Merton: A Biography, Liguori, MO: Ligouri Publications, New Edition 1995.
  • Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1948.
  • Merton, Thomas. The Sign of Jonas, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1953.
  • Mott, Michael. The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.
  • Rice, Edward. The Man In The Sycamore Tree, San Diego: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1985.
  • Hart, Patrick, Montaldo Jonathan (editors). The Intimate Merton. His Life from His Journals, San Francisco: Harper Collins 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

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