On the cliche of the contemplative life

Here, Merton declares again that the follower of Christ CAN be a sort of renaissance man. Both skilled and hardworking at a trade, but also a scholar of the holy word:

The scholar-farmer.
The welder-theologian.
The programmer-pastor.
The accountant-psalmist.
The warrior-poet.

It often happens that an old brother who has spent his life making cheese or baking bread or repairing shoes or driving a team of mules is a greater contemplative and more of a saint than a priest who has absorbed all Scripture and Theology and knows the writings of great saints and mystics and has had more time for meditation and contemplation and prayer.

But, although this may be quite true-and indeed it is so familiar that it has become a cliche-it must not make us forget that learning has an important part to play in the contemplative life. Nor should it make us forget that the work of the intellect, properly carried out, is itself a school of humility. The cliche about the “old brother making cheese” in contrast to the “proud intellectual priest” has often been used as an excuse to condemn and to evade the necessary effort of theological study. It is all very well to have many men in monasteries who are humbly dedicated to manual labor: but if they are also and at the same time learned men and theologians, this very fact may make their humility and their participation in manual work all the more significant.

-Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, Ch. 35 “Renunciation”