Title

Fighting Without Hatred: Ernesto Cardenal, US Catholic Radicals, and the Question of Violence in Nicaragua, 1957-1979

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

In 1957, a young Nicaraguan poet named Ernesto Cardenal, recently graduated from Columbia University, entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, located outside Louisville, Kentucky. There he met a prominent Catholic thinker and pacifist, Thomas Merton, who soon mentored young Cardenal. Though Cardenal departed Gethsemani in 1959, Merton continued to counsel him in spirituality, poetry, and social activism until Merton’s death in 1968. While Cardenal during these earlier years was a committed pacifist, his experiences after returning to Nicaragua in 1965 radically altered his view of social action. Cardenal established a semi-monastic community in the Solentiname islands in southern Nicaragua, and in a series of bible studies with the people who came to stay there, found himself increasingly committed to the social vision of the Marxist Sandinista movement. In the early 1970s, Cardenal formally declared his support for the FSLN, the military wing of the Sandinista revolution. By 1977, another student of Merton’s, Daniel Berrigan, began openly criticizing Cardenal for his assertion that violent revolution could, when necessary, serve a just cause of social transformation. This thesis will address the formative influence of Thomas Merton on both Ernesto Cardenal and Daniel Berrigan, and how they came to accept or reject the use of violence in the pursuit of social justice. In particular, analysis will concentrate on Ernesto Cardenal and the ideological transformations that led to his ultimate support for and involvement in the Sandinista revolution. My research draws from the written correspondence between Merton, Cardenal, and Berrigan, and from interviews, major publications, and a few key government documents. This thesis will argue that while Cardenal never fully supported violence, he nonetheless joined the revolution both out of devotion to Merton’s teaching and out of necessary solidarity with his countrymen.

Category

Humanities

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Fighting Without Hatred: Ernesto Cardenal, US Catholic Radicals, and the Question of Violence in Nicaragua, 1957-1979

UC 331

In 1957, a young Nicaraguan poet named Ernesto Cardenal, recently graduated from Columbia University, entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, located outside Louisville, Kentucky. There he met a prominent Catholic thinker and pacifist, Thomas Merton, who soon mentored young Cardenal. Though Cardenal departed Gethsemani in 1959, Merton continued to counsel him in spirituality, poetry, and social activism until Merton’s death in 1968. While Cardenal during these earlier years was a committed pacifist, his experiences after returning to Nicaragua in 1965 radically altered his view of social action. Cardenal established a semi-monastic community in the Solentiname islands in southern Nicaragua, and in a series of bible studies with the people who came to stay there, found himself increasingly committed to the social vision of the Marxist Sandinista movement. In the early 1970s, Cardenal formally declared his support for the FSLN, the military wing of the Sandinista revolution. By 1977, another student of Merton’s, Daniel Berrigan, began openly criticizing Cardenal for his assertion that violent revolution could, when necessary, serve a just cause of social transformation. This thesis will address the formative influence of Thomas Merton on both Ernesto Cardenal and Daniel Berrigan, and how they came to accept or reject the use of violence in the pursuit of social justice. In particular, analysis will concentrate on Ernesto Cardenal and the ideological transformations that led to his ultimate support for and involvement in the Sandinista revolution. My research draws from the written correspondence between Merton, Cardenal, and Berrigan, and from interviews, major publications, and a few key government documents. This thesis will argue that while Cardenal never fully supported violence, he nonetheless joined the revolution both out of devotion to Merton’s teaching and out of necessary solidarity with his countrymen.