Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Pranke, Patrick

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Allen, Annette

Committee Member

Allen, Annette

Committee Member

Thompson, J. Milburn

Committee Member

Maloney, Thomas

Author's Keywords

Thomas Merton; evil; suffering; zen; theodicy


Thomas Merton was one of the most important Catholic writers of the 20th century. Hundreds of scholarly books and articles have been written about various facets of his life and work. However, one area of personal interest that has not been adequately addressed in Merton’s work is the theodicy question. Merton never wrote a book or even an article dedicated to the problem of evil. In this project, I examine Thomas Merton’s work to determine if he espoused any kind of theodicy. More specifically, I review Merton’s entire canon, i.e., books, journals, correspondence, articles and talks he gave to novice monks in order to identify Merton’s own theodicy. In four chapters, bracketed by a brief introduction and conclusion, I first argue that the subjects of Thomas Merton and theodicy remain important areas of study today. Next, I posit that a careful examination of Merton’s work, stretching over three decades, reveals he did indeed espouse a particular theodicy for most of his adult life. Specifically, I demonstrate that for over twenty-five years, Merton consistently showed a belief that, while God did not create evil, God allowed and at times caused suffering in order to purify the human soul. Finally, I explore how his response to the problem of evil changed during the last years of his life. In particular, I argue that Merton’s increased immersion in Zen during this time, as gleaned through the writings of D.T. Suzuki, was a significant factor in causing this change, leading him to abandon the task of theodicy.