Thomas Merton vs. Aelred

The photograph vs. the icon points to the 800 years standing between these two giants of monasticism, Thomas Merton and Aelred of Rivaulx. And by “standing” we mean amid the blue grass of Kentucky for the one and among the moors of North Yorkshire, England for the other.

While we generally try to keep any Celebrity Blogger bias out of the contests, it should be noted that Laurie Brock hails from Kentucky and Robert Hendrickson is, well, an Anglophile. He also cleverly used a Merton quote in support of Aelred. So subplots abound!

In yesterday’s Lent Madness action, Thomas Gallaudet trounced Louis of France 78% to 22%. King Louis was last seen muttering something about “eating cake.” And, as we highlighted late in the day, Lent Madness also received some more media attention.

If you’re still looking for some ways to use Lent Madness as a series for adults, the Rev. Anne Emry has some very helpful ideas on her blog Sacred Story. Since she serves as the Assistant Rector at St. John’s in Hingham, Massachusetts (where Tim’s the rector), she has an inside track on all the latest Lent Madness “gossip.”

primary-mertonThomas Merton

Outside Bardstown, Kentucky, on acres of land, sits the Trappist Monastery that would likely be obscure except for one man. Thomas Merton entered the monastic life there in 1941, after a long, wandering, and sometimes turbulent life.

Born in France, Merton experienced frequent moves, the death of his mother, and the absence of his father. After his father died in 1930, Merton rejected the nominal Anglicanism into which he’d been baptized and became an agnostic. His later writings recall Merton being drawn to observe Mass, but he made no formal excursion into religion until 1937, when Étienne Gilson’s explanation of God in The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy resonated with him, and he was introduced to mysticism in Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means. A year later, Merton joined the Roman Catholic church; two years later, he began the process to become a Franciscan monk. Later, Merton was told he was not a suitable fit for the Franciscans. After a retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, Merton found his spiritual home—and became known as Brother Louis.

Merton’s superior at Gethsemani encouraged Merton’s writing. He first published poetry. His spiritual autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain was published in 1948 and immediately became a spiritual classic. A prolific writer, Merton became increasingly well-known outside the walls of the monastery, which created some tension within his monastic community.

Merton’s writings and correspondence with global figures show a man whose spirituality became connected to issues of social justice, nonviolence, racial equality, and a deep life of contemplation. As his fame grew, he moved into a hermitage on the grounds of Gethsemani, which is still available for monastic solitude. Merton died on December 10, 1968 by accidental electrocution in Thailand while on pilgrimage in the Far East.

One of Merton’s epiphanies is commemorated by a plaque at the corner of Fourth and Walnut streets in Louisville, Kentucky. Noted in his private journal and included in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton writes:

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream.”

Merton’s vision of the unity of all continues in his writings, treasured by people of many faiths, and even people of no professed faith, across the world, bound together by these mystical experiences of Brother Louis.

Collect for Thomas Merton
Gracious God, you called your monk Thomas Merton to proclaim your justice out of silence, and moved him in his contemplative writings to perceive and value Christ at work in the faiths of others: Keep us, like him, steadfast in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Laurie Brock


lm aelredAelred

Aelred of Rievaulx was a learned monk of manifold gifts and spiritual depth. He was born in 1110 and was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of priests (born in Scotland, which had resisted papal insistence on celibacy for clerics). Aelred served the court of King David I of Scotland and developed a close bond with the king.

After about a decade working in the court, Aelred left for England and a monastery at Rievaulx. There are competing historical narratives about Aelred’s decision to join the Cistercians monks. In some narratives, the decision was literally overnight, and in other accounts, he spent long years yearning for a monastic life. In any case, his connections and friendships enabled him to become not only a gifted monk and abbot but also an influential advocate for the monasteries and the faith.

Lent Madness 2014 rival saint Thomas Merton wrote of the order, “The Cistercians of Saint Bernard’s generation had become one of the most important influences in the active life of the Church and even in European politics of their time. . . Anyone who had any talent or, worse still, any powerful connections, was likely to find himself in danger of leading an increasingly active life.” With Aelred’s gift for languages and knowledge of courtly diplomacy, he became integral to the order’s influence in both the Church and the Kingdom.

Aelred was not only skilled in the worldly affairs of his community. He was also a gifted writer and pastor. He wrote extensively and learnedly but also with directness and simplicity on matters historical, ascetical, and spiritual. He had an able mind and a pastoral heart. Aelred’s writings convey the depth of his friendships as well as his longing for closer and richer community. He wrote in Spiritual Friendship, “…the friend will rejoice with my soul rejoicing, grieve with it grieving, and feel that everything that belongs to a friend belongs to himself.”

Aelred was elected as abbot and his true legacy is in creating a community famed for its welcome of all. One historian wrote, “It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion for others in their necessities.” Upon his death, Aelred was buried in a shrine, which became a renowned pilgrimage site. The shrine survived until the violence of the dissolution of the monasteries under Protestant rule.

The Collect for Aelred
Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of your eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Robert Hendrickson


Thomas Merton vs. Aelred

  • Thomas Merton (60%, 3,332 Votes)
  • Aelred (40%, 2,193 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,524

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137 Comments to "Thomas Merton vs. Aelred"

  1. Molly Reingruber's Gravatar Molly Reingruber
    March 20, 2014 - 8:03 am | Permalink

    The long-dreaded day has arrived. I cast my vote for Merton because he taught me how to pray, and I wish to see him make it beyond the first round. However, this is with deep respect to Aelred, and all the people he has influenced throughout history. A thoroughly personal choice.

    • Anna Dee Lastick's Gravatar Anna Dee Lastick
      March 20, 2014 - 8:50 am | Permalink

      I was prepared to vote for Merton without hesitation. Then I read about Aelred and changed my mind.

    • JoAnn Lumley's Gravatar JoAnn Lumley
      March 20, 2014 - 9:51 am | Permalink

      What you said.

    • Molly Reingruber's Gravatar Molly Reingruber
      March 20, 2014 - 10:24 am | Permalink

      There are no losers today.

  2. Karis's Gravatar Karis
    March 20, 2014 - 8:16 am | Permalink

    Aelred, in honor of one of my spiritual friends–

    • Debbie Sercely's Gravatar Debbie Sercely
      March 20, 2014 - 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Aelred, in honor of my friend’s child Aelred, who was called to Heaven before his earthly life began.

      • Sara's Gravatar Sara
        March 20, 2014 - 11:33 pm | Permalink

        Good for you! Children called to Heaven before they live on Earth need to have their names remembered! I will vote for him, too in honor of this child.

  3. Molly Reingruber's Gravatar Molly Reingruber
    March 20, 2014 - 8:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the link to Anne’s adult ed curriculum using Lent Madness, it’s wonderful. If someone has developed a version for older children or teens, I’d be interested in a copy (

  4. March 20, 2014 - 8:21 am | Permalink

    Aelred, in honor of many spiritual friends . . .

  5. Beverly Dame's Gravatar Beverly Dame
    March 20, 2014 - 8:24 am | Permalink

    Was ready to vote for Thomas Merton until I read the material about Aelred “It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion for others in their necessities.” May that be said of all houses.
    Being sure that Brother Louis will win I voted for Aelred. Tough choice.

  6. Madeleine Baier's Gravatar Madeleine Baier
    March 20, 2014 - 8:26 am | Permalink

    Ouch. How does one choose between these two such amazingly spiritual men? ! In the end, I vote for Aelred.

  7. Mary Lysbeth Andrews's Gravatar Mary Lysbeth Andrews
    March 20, 2014 - 8:31 am | Permalink

    And I honor Sister Mary Winifred and also vote for Aelred for many spiritual friends.

  8. Peg's Gravatar Peg
    March 20, 2014 - 8:32 am | Permalink

    Admirable and influential as Brother Louis was, I doubt he will be singing anything like St. Louis’ blues today. Aelred’s gentle friendship is so appealing this morning, and I’m sure he’ll need a friend, so even if I can’t rejoice with his soul, I’m rejoicing about it. One click for the icon.

  9. Madeleine Baier's Gravatar Madeleine Baier
    March 20, 2014 - 8:35 am | Permalink

    On an entirely unrelated subject, I would be remiss in my nagging if I didn’t point out that on this date in 1928, the Rev. Fred Rogers was born. Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers, this world is a poorer place without you. I will wear a sweater in your memory.

    • Molly Reingruber's Gravatar Molly Reingruber
      March 20, 2014 - 8:54 am | Permalink

      Amen! “You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say, “It’s you I like,” I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch…that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive:
      love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.
      So in all that you do in your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.” Fred Rogers

      • Dawn's Gravatar Dawn
        March 20, 2014 - 9:14 am | Permalink

        Amen indeed!

      • JenniferThomasina's Gravatar JenniferThomasina
        March 20, 2014 - 9:53 am | Permalink

        *love*! : )

      • Carey's Gravatar Carey
        March 20, 2014 - 10:08 am | Permalink


      • Linda DelaCruz's Gravatar Linda DelaCruz
        March 20, 2014 - 11:40 am | Permalink

        Maybe Mr. Rogers will be part of a future Lent Madness bracket. We could hope.

        • Chari Avolio's Gravatar Chari Avolio
          March 20, 2014 - 6:29 pm | Permalink

          A good idea. He certainly was influential in many young children’s lives.
          Chari Avolio

    • Katrina Soto's Gravatar Katrina Soto
      March 20, 2014 - 10:33 am | Permalink

      And Mr. Rogers embodied the soul of Aelred in his valuing of friendship. Go, Aelred.

    • Marylee Lannan's Gravatar Marylee Lannan
      March 20, 2014 - 11:09 am | Permalink

      I’d click the “like” button if there were one. SEC, pay attention 😉

      • Janice Dean's Gravatar Janice Dean
        March 20, 2014 - 11:10 am | Permalink

        Amen! I was also wishing we could bump posts….

    • rellingrw's Gravatar rellingrw
      March 20, 2014 - 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for remembering Fred Rogers. And I vote for Aelred. When I read his work on friendship as a graduate student in English, I was awakened by its beauty and spirituality. In an age known for religion, Aelred stood out as a fresh breath despite the hundreds of years betweeen when it was written and when I read it. Pretty amazing. Go Aelred!

    • Sandy's Gravatar Sandy
      March 20, 2014 - 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for mentioning Mr Rogers birthday! I believe that the special kindness he spread is still growing and rippling outward.

  10. Alexandra's Gravatar Alexandra
    March 20, 2014 - 8:36 am | Permalink

    This was such a difficult decision, as an Anglophile and one who loves the dark hills of Kentucky where my family is. Both men had amazing spiritual lives and did great things. In the end I had to go with Aelred as the love for the ancient ways and wish that his shrine still existed so I might simply see it.

  11. Mary Smith's Gravatar Mary Smith
    March 20, 2014 - 8:42 am | Permalink

    Merton shows us our connectedness. And he’s from KY!! He gets my vote.

  12. Beth's Gravatar Beth
    March 20, 2014 - 8:44 am | Permalink

    Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s first vows. That’s enough for me to vote Merton.

  13. Betsey's Gravatar Betsey
    March 20, 2014 - 8:45 am | Permalink

    He’s behind in the vote already (I oftentimes go with the underdog), and I think I’m using this as a protest against celibacy for priests, so Aelred for me, today.

    • kew's Gravatar kew
      March 20, 2014 - 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I noticed that part about celibacy, too! 🙂

      • Holly S.'s Gravatar Holly S.
        March 20, 2014 - 10:46 pm | Permalink

        I get the idea Thomas Merton would be a vote against celibacy in priests/clergy as well.

  14. Heidi Shott's Gravatar Heidi Shott
    March 20, 2014 - 8:47 am | Permalink

    Aelred. Sometimes the likable factor wins out.

  15. Edmund Pickup Jr's Gravatar Edmund Pickup Jr
    March 20, 2014 - 8:50 am | Permalink

    Some years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Rievaulx and found the ruins of the monastery even after eight centuries to still have the fragrance of holiness. It was, in many ways, a more holy place than any of the cathedrals or other abbeys I visited. I have no logical explanation for this impression, but it was as real as any experience I have ever had. Obviously I voted for Aelred

    • Mollie Douglas Turner's Gravatar Mollie Douglas Turner
      March 20, 2014 - 9:41 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Ed; you nailed it for me. I had a similar privileged experience in Rievaulx’ beautiful valley, and have loved Aelred (however illogically) for it ever since. Only Durham cathedral (on this, Cuthbert’s feast day) has appeal as strong for me, and it’s of an entirely different flavor, being as earthy in its holiness as Rievaulx is ethereal.

      It occurs to me, as one who often rises late and gets to this site much later in the day, that perhaps the mystics among us seem to rise and express themselves early! I haven’t checked the vote yet, but Aelred gets mine today. Sorry, Brother Louis; you’re great, too.

  16. Nancy Strong's Gravatar Nancy Strong
    March 20, 2014 - 8:51 am | Permalink

    Much as I love Aelred, Merton, it is for me. The Seven Storey Mountain and Merton’s writing on monasticism, prayer and silence were significant milestones in my spiritual journey, and I am thankful for all of that.

  17. Mary UK's Gravatar Mary UK
    March 20, 2014 - 8:52 am | Permalink

    Merton’s “Contemplative Prayer” transformed my prayer life. It’s probably the only book I’ve ever read that felt as if it was written just to me.

    • Bruce K's Gravatar Bruce K
      March 20, 2014 - 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Love this commenter! Merton for me because his “vision of the unity of all continues in his writings, treasured by people of many faiths, and even people of no professed faith, across the world, bound together by these mystical experiences of Brother Louis.”

  18. Carol's Gravatar Carol
    March 20, 2014 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    Hardest choice yet. Merton is my Spiritual Friend, but went with Aelred, deciding without him there might not have been a Brother Louis.

    • Pat's Gravatar Pat
      March 20, 2014 - 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Aelred probably inspired Merton, my vote is for A.

  19. Mark D.'s Gravatar Mark D.
    March 20, 2014 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    I am frequently disappointed in the results of these matchups. It seems to me that voters way too often privilege the newer members of the Church Triumphant, finding their causes, concerns and emphases more to their own contemporary taste.

    But with that said, it has to be Merton for me today. Book after book after poem after letter….all delightful. The Ascent to Truth played a huge role, but all the rest have as well – not that I have read them all, of course!

    • Bowman's Gravatar Bowman
      March 20, 2014 - 11:07 am | Permalink

      The results are not quite as silly as they look. They just show that, when they can, most people vote for other people like themselves out of the ‘healthy everyday narcissism’ that enables movers and shakers to get on with their own lives. That has no spiritual content, but there are worse things than a little moral uplift.

      But have you ever laughed at the same joke 40 times? What really is sad are the pairings– over and over again– in which people are choosing between a saint treated as exotic and someone earnest treated as consequential.

      • kew's Gravatar kew
        March 20, 2014 - 2:08 pm | Permalink

        To your last point: the exotic (ancient) vs the earnest consequential (modern). I’ve noticed that, too. For me, it’s been a real blessing of this exercise/game to try to resonate — for lack of a better word — with the very different Christianities of long-ago centuries.

      • Mark D.'s Gravatar Mark D.
        March 20, 2014 - 3:27 pm | Permalink

        Well said! And kinder, probably, than me. Thanks.

  20. Marie's Gravatar Marie
    March 20, 2014 - 8:57 am | Permalink

    Aelred not only taught me to pray, but to understand friendship as a way experiencing the Presence of God. Something truly revolutionary for a shy introvert!

  21. Kathy's Gravatar Kathy
    March 20, 2014 - 8:58 am | Permalink

    Had to vote for Thomas because entering the monastic life as the son, grandson, and great-grandson of priests must have been an easier decision for Aelred than entering the monastic life of Thomas in Kentucky at the Trappist Monastery in 1941.

  22. aleathia (dolores)nicholson's Gravatar aleathia (dolores)nicholson
    March 20, 2014 - 9:00 am | Permalink

    I had the good fortune to make a side-trip visit to Gethsemani some years ago. While on a day outing, our group had some unexpected free time thus enabling us to visit there and go to the gift shop and learn a little about Merton. I simply feel more of a kinship with one who struggled mightily with his vocational choice and acceptance of a final decision about his calling, all to the Glory of God.

  23. Joy Segal's Gravatar Joy Segal
    March 20, 2014 - 9:00 am | Permalink

    Thomas Merton for me today. So long a companion on my journey that though moved by Aelred’s heart I must vote for the one who has made a difference in my life and my journey.

  24. Lynne's Gravatar Lynne
    March 20, 2014 - 9:01 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but the choice today comes down to eeny-meeny-miny-moe….

  25. Duane Larson's Gravatar Duane Larson
    March 20, 2014 - 9:01 am | Permalink

    Thomas Merton recognized his love for all people in the midst of what now is a shopping area. That is strong vision and compassion. I’m challenged to like anybody in a shopping mall. I like Aelred, but gotta go with Br. Louis.

  26. Diane Amison-Loring's Gravatar Diane Amison-Loring
    March 20, 2014 - 9:02 am | Permalink

    It would be nice if the saints were listed in alphabetical order in each match up. Just a thought….

  27. March 20, 2014 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    Nothing against Aelred, but Merton’s Seven Story Mountain was a huge influence in my spiritual formation, and I continue to go back to his writing 30+ years later. He is a contemplative for the ages, with his commitment to interfaith dialog and social justice. I’m hoping for Merton to go all the way this year! Golden halo, baby!

  28. stephen wickman's Gravatar stephen wickman
    March 20, 2014 - 9:09 am | Permalink

    One votes for Merton noting the inequity in pity an ancient — whose biography is shrouded by history and myth — with a modern — whose every twist and turn of life is available in a plethora of print. Still, who had the harder task standing up to the cultural mores of his age?

    • stephen wickman's Gravatar stephen wickman
      March 20, 2014 - 9:10 am | Permalink

      Oops, Mircrosoft (or Freudian) slip: ” pity” should read “pitting.”

  29. Joe's Gravatar Joe
    March 20, 2014 - 9:10 am | Permalink

    Merton’s impact on the revival of the contemplative tradition, as well as how his writings have touched me personally, win my vote.

  30. Adam's Gravatar Adam
    March 20, 2014 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    Aelred for me. Thomas Merton seems to have influenced a lot of people with his writings, but from what little I read he seems more like a deist than a Christian.

  31. March 20, 2014 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    Aelred, patron saint of Integrity.

  32. Elaine Hood Culver's Gravatar Elaine Hood Culver
    March 20, 2014 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    Another tough decision. It came down to voting for Aelred because of the Cistercian Order’s influence no the lives of Merton as well as Aelred in particular and history in general. Thanks be to God for both men.

  33. March 20, 2014 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    Here again a very difficult choice. Thomas Merton gets my vote because the issues he wrote about are still with us and his thoughts validate my thoughts. We are all brothers.

  34. Barbara Mays-Stock's Gravatar Barbara Mays-Stock
    March 20, 2014 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    “The shrine survived until the violence of the dissolution of the monasteries under Protestant rule.”
    Although I voted for Merton, it struck me that this quote ends the section on Aelred. Both these men’s lives stand for the all inclusive love, acceptance and mercy of God. What a mess we mortals make of things sometimes in the name of a God who weeps for such destruction in the name of faith.

  35. Marty Garwood's Gravatar Marty Garwood
    March 20, 2014 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    As I read the stories of both men, I had the strongest feeling that, despite the 800 years separating their lives, they are spiritual friends.

  36. Marty Garwood's Gravatar Marty Garwood
    March 20, 2014 - 9:24 am | Permalink

    I had to laugh when I saw how Tim managed to work his name into the bracket today. This is how the link appeared on my facebook page. AelredTim Schenckon
    I suppose that could have been Aelred’s full name.

  37. Madeleine Baier's Gravatar Madeleine Baier
    March 20, 2014 - 9:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you Molly 🙂

  38. March 20, 2014 - 9:25 am | Permalink

    I had to go with Merton because of his connectedness with social justice, nonviolence and racial equality.

  39. Donna Wessel Walker's Gravatar Donna Wessel Walker
    March 20, 2014 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    One of the toughest choices we’ve faced! At this level of spiritual leadership, comparisons are odious. Voting even more so. The tally should be closer than it is.

  40. Catherine Broatman's Gravatar Catherine Broatman
    March 20, 2014 - 9:26 am | Permalink

    Aelred of Rievaulx is one of my guides in prayer, strength, and reflection. It’s very fitting that I can vote for him today — St Cuthbert’s Day — as St Cuthbert is another of the great Northern Saints who mean so much to me.

  41. Lindsey McLennan's Gravatar Lindsey McLennan
    March 20, 2014 - 9:36 am | Permalink

    I was looking forward to today because it’s Merton day. Reading Seven Storey Mountain, then getting into his other works, has been a transformative experience for me. However, I was a bit disappointed to read nothing about how he ended up back in the U.S. (scandal!), how reading, studying, and analyzing William Blake, Gerald Manley Hopkins and other Catholic poets during his bachelor’s and master’s studies in English at Columbia U drew him to the idea of religious life (and his later prolific writing even though he was a member of a silent order), how his shady past affected his qualifications for being a Franciscan (and how that disappointment changed his life), or how he was deeply involved with peace and environmental movements, not only here but abroad, and why he was in Thailand on a pilgrimage in the first place when he died.

    There have been a few days where my curiosity (read: ridiculous near-obsession with information) outweighs the bio here, so I go and do a bit more research. In fact, I may do that with Aelred today! I encourage anyone who’s intrigued by Merton to do a bit of extra reading. His words and his life hit home for me–even though I don’t struggle in the same way he did, I still struggle and sin. Grace is a resounding truth that chases after us even when we’re not ready to accept it.

    Peace to all!

    • Jamie Glock's Gravatar Jamie Glock
      March 20, 2014 - 10:20 am | Permalink

      I find that I almost always seek more info before I make my choice – additional facts, or just the way another source presents the facts has changed my initial vote more than once. — But I have the gift of time this year.

    • Mark D.'s Gravatar Mark D.
      March 20, 2014 - 1:12 pm | Permalink

      L- it can be a long way through the bracket, especially for a top seed like Merton. The CBs need to hold back in the early rounds to leave something to write about later.

    • Laurie's Gravatar Laurie
      March 20, 2014 - 1:35 pm | Permalink

      For all the saints, there is far more to write about than our word limit allows. Our hope is that for all the saints, we hit the high points and offer the readers an opportunity to explore more. Perhaps we can add a page to the website that offers “for further reading.” And, yes, we do hold back because we *might* have to write more entries as saints advance.

      • Glenis Elliott's Gravatar Glenis Elliott
        March 20, 2014 - 1:53 pm | Permalink

        A website with further references would be a great addition to Lent Madness 2015.

      • Lindsey McLennan's Gravatar Lindsey McLennan
        March 21, 2014 - 11:24 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the replies! I didn’t mean to sound combative. This is my first year (but not my last!) to do Lent Madness, and I didn’t even think about how future rounds were handled. The further reading links sound great–I’ll make a note of some I find useful just in case there’s an open call for ideas later.

        Have a blessed weekend!

  42. madamesenora's Gravatar madamesenora
    March 20, 2014 - 9:42 am | Permalink

    Six days after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Thomas Merton was accepted as a postulant. Other young people of his generation summarily abandoned their personal plans in favor of serving their countries in a time of war. Having spent a good part of his youth in Europe it is hard to imagine Thomas not jumping on the bandwagon. There are countless tales of those in religious life saving lives, hiding the vulnerable, ministering to the dying on the battlefield, many martyred along the way. I find this troubling enough to seal my vote in favor of Aelred.

    • Mary Jane's Gravatar Mary Jane
      March 20, 2014 - 11:22 am | Permalink

      I share Madamesenora’s misgivings concerning Thomas Merton’s choice during WWII. My father served in Passau, Germany at a Displaced Persons Camp a month after Mathausen Gusen was liberated by the American Army. Multitudes of gentle and thoughtful young men dutifully responded to a world in agony. My bias diminishes my affection for Thomas Merton, swaying my vote to Aelred of Rievaulx.

    • Regina Christianson's Gravatar Regina Christianson
      March 20, 2014 - 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Merton was a pacifist; there was no reason for him to enlist, even as a medical corpsman, since according to his understanding, any belonging to the military machinery was an assent to war-making. This may not be your understanding, but it was authentically his. In WWI, US citizens (Hutterites, especially) had been tortured and killed by US Army MPs when they refused to serve as conscientious objectors (CO). The outcry in response to those legal murders, CO designation became legal. Their heroic deaths made it possible for others who flat out see war itself as an abomination to be COs. Since Merton was already a CO and already following a path (to be a monk) that canonically does not allow the shedding of blood, for him to enlist would have been, at the least, hypocrisy. He responded to the “world in agony” with integrity. Do read his writings on pacifism, non-violence, and the history of the church as normatively and authentically pacifist, and how the church has fallen far from that understanding of Jesus’ own teachings. BTW, I voted for Aelred for other reasons.

    • Martha Frances's Gravatar Martha Frances
      March 21, 2014 - 12:14 am | Permalink

      Merton’s maintaining his focus on prayer in the midst of the horror of WII would have caused me to vote for him had I not already voted for him.

  43. Robert Allen's Gravatar Robert Allen
    March 20, 2014 - 9:46 am | Permalink

    Agree with the point concerning how poorly those in the early church fare in these votes against more modern Christians. If we judge the social views of those in another time against our own, rather than the prevailing views of their times, I doubt that many will do well. For example, Paul . . .

    • Mark D.'s Gravatar Mark D.
      March 20, 2014 - 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Paul has never and will never stand a chance in this melee.

  44. Glenis Elliott's Gravatar Glenis Elliott
    March 20, 2014 - 9:53 am | Permalink

    I have bumper sticker that says “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”. Our Sunday bulletin invites all to come to the table and share. Both of these saints accomplished some great things, but for me Thomas Merton wins out. He had faith, gave it up, got it back and that is it for me!!! Thank you SEC for continuing to make us think and read and pray on our choices.

  45. March 20, 2014 - 9:53 am | Permalink

    Tough choice today. I’ve read more Merton than Aelred. But I suppose it’s Aelred’s understanding of spiritual friendship that sways me the most. Plus, this Anglophile simply cannot go against an English brother!

  46. March 20, 2014 - 9:54 am | Permalink

    Vote for Aelred – can’t vote for Merton as he abandoned his lover and child.

    • Mary Jane's Gravatar Mary Jane
      March 20, 2014 - 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Dear Ann:

      Breathtaking behavior by Merton in the abandonment others in the service of self: Sadly, very modern, indeed.

  47. Susan Fiore's Gravatar Susan Fiore
    March 20, 2014 - 9:54 am | Permalink

    Re television coverage: What do you mean, Tim, “Who cares who wins?” If Bach doesn’t get the Golden Halo, I may have to go live on a deserted island in a a beehive hut. With a good sound system.

    • Susan Fiore's Gravatar Susan Fiore
      March 20, 2014 - 10:09 am | Permalink

      P.S. It’s interesting to note that if the Scottish hadn’t resisted priestly celibacy, there would have been no St. Aelred.

      • Martha Frances's Gravatar Martha Frances
        March 21, 2014 - 12:20 am | Permalink

        A couple of years ago I was privileged to visit the Scottish Presbyterian Cathedral of St. Giles in Edinbrough—what a crossover of categories! They wouldn’t be kosher, but glad for the stubbornness of the Presbies!

  48. Kristine's Gravatar Kristine
    March 20, 2014 - 10:09 am | Permalink

    Merton is one of my desert island authors. He has been the calm, modulated voice in my head when everything gets too crazy. I found his essays when I was going through one of the most awful times in my life and still return to my tattered copy of “Thoughts in Solitude”, even though it’s a pocket book held together with a rubber band and splattered by life with children.

  49. Carey's Gravatar Carey
    March 20, 2014 - 10:10 am | Permalink

    This is a most difficult decison between two outstanding men of God but in the end I voted for Thomas Merton

  50. Paula Nightengale's Gravatar Paula Nightengale
    March 20, 2014 - 10:10 am | Permalink

    Even Merton would have voted for Aelred. So I did, too.

  51. Anne E.B.'s Gravatar Anne E.B.
    March 20, 2014 - 10:16 am | Permalink

    Aelred for me today. Integrity and spirituality. I LIKE him!

  52. Christianne McKee's Gravatar Christianne McKee
    March 20, 2014 - 10:19 am | Permalink

    How totally cruel to set Cistercian Aelred against Thomas Mwrton, a Cistercian of the Strict a Observance! Merton’s books has a profound impact on the shaping of my spirituality. But my theological formation, as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, came from Cistercian monks at the University of Dallas. So Aelred it is!

  53. Will Bergmann's Gravatar Will Bergmann
    March 20, 2014 - 10:21 am | Permalink

    Tough decision but in the end, I had to vote for Merton.

  54. Helen Klaviter's Gravatar Helen Klaviter
    March 20, 2014 - 10:25 am | Permalink

    One of my “rules” for myself: Make your choice on the saints themselves — not the way the vote is trending. Today I broke it. I decided to look at the tally and vote for the underdog. There was no other way to choose between these two great contemplatives.

  55. Margaret Moran's Gravatar Margaret Moran
    March 20, 2014 - 10:25 am | Permalink

    “an able mind and a pastoral heart” was what directed my vote for Aelred.

  56. Katrina Soto's Gravatar Katrina Soto
    March 20, 2014 - 10:30 am | Permalink

    Well, today’s the day I go down to defeat, I guess. I knew Thomas Merton would be a “no-brainer” as the saying goes. But, I had done research on my own on all the saints in order to prepare my bracket, and was so moved by Aelred’s emphasis on friendship that I put him through all the way to the Golden Halo. I knew I was to be doomed at some point along the way, but to get shot down at his first appearance – – – ah, well. It’s just that the concept of friendship implies the concept of hospitality and that was a big part of Jesus’s teaching. I guess there will be no halo and no mug for Aelred. May his teachings resound in our hearts.

    • Peg's Gravatar Peg
      March 20, 2014 - 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Katrina. [toasting you with a non-Aelred mug and a smile of appreciation]

  57. Diane's Gravatar Diane
    March 20, 2014 - 10:31 am | Permalink

    Seems like I am often in the minority and today is not different. Aelred resounded with me because of his ability to think clearly about Christ’s message by welcoming all in need. I appreciated that because so many turn people away for not being “the right kind of person.”

  58. Grace Matthews's Gravatar Grace Matthews
    March 20, 2014 - 10:34 am | Permalink

    Loved the study…YIKES….it’s into the 3rd week of Lent! Is there any way the study could be published AHEAD of Lent Madness 2015? I might be able to sell the idea of using it to our rector if it’s available earlier than the 3rd week. Just asking.

  59. CathyB's Gravatar CathyB
    March 20, 2014 - 10:36 am | Permalink

    My vote goes to Aelred and Mr. Rogers. They both taught the same values. Thank you to commenters who added this dimension to the conversation.

  60. George Bergen's Gravatar George Bergen
    March 20, 2014 - 10:41 am | Permalink

    Merton touched the lives of so many people, including my own. In the spirit of fraternity and humility he argues compellingly that I cast my vote for his Cistercian forefather. Aelred wins my vote, in spite of (and because of) my admiration for the Trappist Titan of the twentieth century. I write this as one who has been a follower of Thomas Merton for forty-some years, fully aware that Frater Maria Ludovicus would want it to be so!

  61. Bowman's Gravatar Bowman
    March 20, 2014 - 10:47 am | Permalink

    An easy choice; better, a rational one– same sex, same vocation, same countercultural orientation. Merton is a generational figure, the patron saint of baby boomer ‘contemplatives,’ but as he is known precisely for his contemplative qualities, experienced Aelred might slyly have voted for Merton to make those better known. I myself vote for Aelred’s two rare gifts– intensive spiritual direction, and cultivation of spiritual community. Aelred.

  62. Mary Lou Creamer's Gravatar Mary Lou Creamer
    March 20, 2014 - 10:56 am | Permalink

    Both of these men stand for all that is good for all people, but alas, my heart still remains with Merton and the impact that he continues to have today with both believers and non believer. Whatever the outcome, there will be no losers today.

  63. Susan's Gravatar Susan
    March 20, 2014 - 10:58 am | Permalink

    “Here we are, we two, and I trust, a Third…” –may not be verbatim, but it’s how I remember the beginning of Spiritual Friendship– is like a great yet gentle stepping-stone into the spiritual life. What a gift Aelred gave us!

  64. Dr. DIx's Gravatar Dr. DIx
    March 20, 2014 - 10:59 am | Permalink

    I have to vote for Merton who lived a few miles down the road from my hometown of Springfield, KY. The location of hIs Epiphany is also dear to my heart. I must have been at 4th and Walnut hundreds of times. My mom shopped at lot at Stewart’s (a department store there) and we kids were dragged along. My uncle had a tailor shop just down Walnut St. And I passed there every morning while I was going to Med school at U of L. I had my own epiphany of the value of working in public health not far from there.

  65. Janice Dean's Gravatar Janice Dean
    March 20, 2014 - 10:59 am | Permalink

    As an active member and Secretary of Integrity/Charlottesville, I am thrilled to vote for St. Aelred today. Merton is a great figure, but Aelred and his life and message of welcome resonate with me on a personal level.

    When my husband and I graduated from college and tried to integrate into the “adult” church, the group that offered us the most extravagant, open-armed, and enduring welcome was the Gay Straight Concerns Group, out of which grew our Integrity chapter. They demonstrated Christian love and care, and treated me with the dignity and respect that we the church have denied many of them. If their commitment to the Christian friendship modeled by our patron saint, Aelred, does not reflect the extravagant love of Christ, then I don’t know what does!

  66. March 20, 2014 - 11:03 am | Permalink

    A thouroughly frustrating bracket – a most difficult choice.. Aelred is one of my patrons and Merton a mentor.. to whom shall I give a single vote….

  67. March 20, 2014 - 11:07 am | Permalink

    For me to vote against Merton would be like me voting against a close friend. In thanksgiving for his writings, he has my vote.

  68. Ann Fleming's Gravatar Ann Fleming
    March 20, 2014 - 11:26 am | Permalink

    Today was much more difficult than yesterday. I agree, Aelred and Thomas Merton May be separated by centuries, but they are soul brothers. I had to go with Merton for his influence in bringing contemplation back into the modern Western faith journey.

  69. March 20, 2014 - 11:45 am | Permalink

    I love Merton. There`s no other way to put it.

  70. J's Gravatar J
    March 20, 2014 - 11:57 am | Permalink

    “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”
    Thomas Merton

  71. Rev. Lucy Porter's Gravatar Rev. Lucy Porter
    March 20, 2014 - 12:08 pm | Permalink

    One of my many spiritual directors, a Wesley Foundation director at VA Tech in my college days at Madison College (now James Madison University), recommended that I read Merton’s “Seeds of Contemplation”. Merton has been a valued tutor ever since, so he gets my vote today.

  72. March 20, 2014 - 12:36 pm | Permalink

    The most difficult decision today as I love the works of Thomas Merton, but I ended up voting for Aelred. I was struck by how he influenced the Church in significant ways for many generations.

  73. Alice's Gravatar Alice
    March 20, 2014 - 12:54 pm | Permalink

    It’s Merton for me today! So influential in so many realms – spirituality, peace movement, justice issues. So honest about his own struggles.

  74. March 20, 2014 - 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Merton did not have kind or appreciative things to say about Anglicanism ever, and I’m happy to think poorly of him in return and rally for Aelred!

    • Adam's Gravatar Adam
      March 20, 2014 - 4:37 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t know that, but the fact that Merton left the Anglican Church helped tip the scales to Aelred.

  75. Louise's Gravatar Louise
    March 20, 2014 - 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Gotta be Aelred with my NYKS heritage!

  76. dr.primrose's Gravatar dr.primrose
    March 20, 2014 - 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Some more thoughts from Aelred’s “Spiritual Friendship”:

    “My friend must be the guardian of our mutual love, or even of my very soul, so that he will preserve in faithful silence all its secrets, and whatever he sees in it that is flawed he will correct or endure with all his strength. When I rejoice, he will rejoice; when I grieve, he will grieve with me.”

    “‘He who abides in’ friendship ‘abides in God, and God in him.’”

    “Friendship is a path that leads very close to the perfection which consists of the enjoyment and knowledge of God.”

    “For a friend is the sharer of your soul, to your friend’s spirit you join and attach your own, and you so mingle the two that you would like for your two spirits to become one.”

    “Without friends there is absolutely no pleasure in life.”

    “A faithful friend is the medicine of life, and the grace of immortality.”

  77. Gillian B's Gravatar Gillian B
    March 20, 2014 - 1:39 pm | Permalink

    My dad was from Yorkshire; we lived there in 1972 for 6 months and my mom took us on a tour of as many cathedrals and abbeys as possible, including Rievaulx. I have to go with Aelred. His message of inclusion still rings true.

  78. MaurineRuby's Gravatar MaurineRuby
    March 20, 2014 - 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Aelred–for the beauty and ministry of Rievaulx, for his unofficial patronage of the gay community, and for his official patronage of those of us with kidney stones and arthritis!

  79. mary w's Gravatar mary w
    March 20, 2014 - 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I went into this one with a pretty open mind, considering that I knew something about Merton and nothing about Aelred. So my vote goes to Merton purely on the quality of the writeup. There was a lot of ‘Aelred was known for this or that’ but without the specific examples seen for other 2014 contestants from this general time period. If those had been included, I might have been more inclined to vote for Aelred.

  80. Ray G's Gravatar Ray G
    March 20, 2014 - 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Have to go with Aelred. Having lived in North Yorkshire and visited what remains of Rivaulx Abbey this is a vote for the “home team” and for the often unappreciated influence of the North England abbeys and their abbots. I suspect that he is going to have a rough go of it due to his being largely unknown on this side of the pond. Pity, that.

  81. Rayelenn Sparks Casey's Gravatar Rayelenn Sparks Casey
    March 20, 2014 - 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Anam Cara vs 7 Pillars. I’m going with Aelred. Gotta love those Northern Saints…

  82. Mark's Gravatar Mark
    March 20, 2014 - 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure that Merton has had much more of a direct influence on the lives of most of the Lent Madness voters. I had to vote, however, for the PK who survived that life and went on to his own successful ministry. “Aelred was not only skilled in the worldly affairs of his community. He was also a gifted writer and pastor.” Sounds like some of my favorite clergy who were challenged and, at the same time, nurtured by being brought up in a rectory.

  83. Carol Justice's Gravatar Carol Justice
    March 20, 2014 - 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Hard decision but have to go with Aelred. Merton was zipped out of trouble with the young lady and baby he sired with no responsibility and seemed to be gravitating towards Buddhism at the time of his death. Aelred seems the more saintly of the two.

    Alred seems like the more saintly to me. Was Merton Christian or Buhdist

    • Adam's Gravatar Adam
      March 20, 2014 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

      I brought up basically the same point. What little I have read of his work makes me think he was more of a deist than a Christian.

  84. Bob Mayer's Gravatar Bob Mayer
    March 20, 2014 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Merton, although notable, is a newbie by comparison.

  85. Christine's Gravatar Christine
    March 20, 2014 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Aelred foundation builder

  86. Ann Willis Scott's Gravatar Ann Willis Scott
    March 20, 2014 - 5:46 pm | Permalink

    As many have said, what a choice! As a PK and a believer that we all must be friends if we are to survive I chose the greater of the two greats. Can you guess which one?

  87. Paul Kelley's Gravatar Paul Kelley
    March 20, 2014 - 6:10 pm | Permalink

    As a Catholic who has read and enjoyed much of Merton some years ago I feel a need to vote for him and also because he has had, I believe a great influence upon Christians in all walks of life in recent times. I had never heard of Aelred but was most impressed by his story and will have to learn more in the future.

  88. Anne C's Gravatar Anne C
    March 20, 2014 - 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Already voted for Aelred because he seemed to be the more caring in a pastoral sense.
    Didn’t know about Merton’s child…hmmm….not so saintly of him to assume no responsibility.

  89. Tim Murray's Gravatar Tim Murray
    March 20, 2014 - 8:05 pm | Permalink

    I find myself drawn to the Cistercian Aelred because of a profound morning spent at Tintern Abbey, which was the Cistercian abbey in Wales. I had thought I would vote for Thomas. Curiously, now that doesn’t feel apt.

  90. Gail's Gravatar Gail
    March 20, 2014 - 9:38 pm | Permalink

    He wrote in Spiritual Friendship, “…the friend will rejoice with my soul rejoicing, grieve with it grieving, and feel that everything that belongs to a friend belongs to himself.”
    As much as I enjoy Merton….

  91. Verdery's Gravatar Verdery
    March 20, 2014 - 9:40 pm | Permalink

    After a long flight, reading the “Saintly Scorecard” on the way and meditating (OK, napping) on which great man should get my vote, I went for Aelred. Not angry Merton’s ahead, though.

  92. Martha Frances's Gravatar Martha Frances
    March 20, 2014 - 11:59 pm | Permalink

    I admire Aelred’s gifts regarding friendship, & Godde knows we need all the friendship we can develop. However, just as I don’t leave a worship service whistling many of the modern tunes which pass for music these days, nor do I quote Aelred in my daily life tho I quote or at least cite Merton often. It’s just so encouraging that someone wrote as clearly as Merton in the mid-20th C.

  93. Sandi Lanzarotta's Gravatar Sandi Lanzarotta
    March 21, 2014 - 1:20 am | Permalink

    Aelred laid the foundation for those who followed like Thomas. Let’s not forget those who came before and opened the way for us who follow.

  94. Ginny Rodriguez's Gravatar Ginny Rodriguez
    March 21, 2014 - 1:20 am | Permalink

    Merton seems more a philosopher than a christian. There’s something about him that is vaguely troubling. Some other comments mentioned similar, uncomfortable points. On the other hand, many people commented that Merton’s writings helped their journey. Aelred, though less well know in our country and in our time, seems more loving and Christ centered. I vote for Aelred.

  95. Robert Kent's Gravatar Robert Kent
    March 21, 2014 - 12:38 pm | Permalink

    And don’t forget the world’s best fruit cake from Merton’s abbey!

Comments are closed.