The virtue of detachment in the Christian tradition : a study of St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Religious Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Matthew Levering


In popular reflection on vocation, expectations for the holiness of the laity are often set quite low. Many reserve high holiness to those who take vows or are ordained, or banish mystic union with God from the realm of ordinary experience which everyday Christians could hope to enjoy. There remains a significant and irreducible difference between the vocations in the role that each vocation plays in the Church, yet each vocation's fundamental orientation is towards union with God and remains unfulfilled if it does not accomplish uniting the disciple to God. An important obstacle to the actual accomplishment of union in this life by many disciples is a misunderstanding of the detachment. Detachment is relevant to every Christian disciple because it is an irreplaceable element on the way to union. Detachment allows for the authentic formation of the disciple's identity in Christ, is necessary for the perfection of the theological virtues, and is the image of the mystical marriage with God. In the growth of the soul's union with God, the disciple learns how to truly love both God and others, so detachment properly understood is learning to love with one's whole self.


John of the Cross, Saint, 1542-1591, Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968, Asceticism Catholic Church, Theology; St. John of the Cross; Thomas Merton; detachment; vocation

Rights Statement

Copyright 2012, author