Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Reading Blessed Columba Marmion

Abbot Columba Marmion was the third Abbot of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium. He originally wanted to be a missionary in Australia but as a young man was won over by the liturgy of the recently founded Abbey of Maredsous where he was solemnly professed in 1891. When he became Abbot in 1909, he had care of over 100 monks. His spiritual conferences were thought worthy of a wider audience and thanks to his secretary, Dom Raymond Thibaut, they were prepared for publication.

These were originally translated by a nun of Tyburn Convent but recently, Gracewing have published new translations by Alan Bancroft. The recently published "Christ in His Mysteries" has a Foreword by Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR and an Introduction by Fr Aidan Nichols OP. Concerning the project of translation, Alan Bancroft remarks:
[...] it is extraordinary, is it not, that the words of this Dubliner, who became the abbot of a Benedictine community in Belgium and spoke and wrote in French, have to be translated back into his native language (or one of them, alongside his Irish). But there it is.
One convenience of this edition is that the scriptural quotations are all given in English, usually in the Douai-Rheims version. Marmion often quoted in Latin, knowing that the monks who were listening to him would be familiar with the texts from their daily celebration of the Liturgy. Sadly, many modern readers will not have this familiarity and frequent untranslated texts in Latin would be an obstacle to the flow of the text.

Christ in His Mysteries is available from Gracewing priced £17.99

Currently, I am reading the first collection of conferences, "Christ the Life of the Soul" in the older edition which was given to me by a friend when I was about 18. I didn't get on very well with it then but now find it absorbing and tremendously rich. I am using the book for my daily meditation in the morning, taking one chapter section each day, so I am reading the book very slowly. It is a great consolation at the start of each day to ponder the insights of this holy man.

Blessed Columba Marmion's writing has been described as true "biblical theology" but I would suggest that this description does not quite convey the depth of the work. Certainly, Marmion is steeped in scripture, especially through the texts he sang daily in the Sacred Liturgy. He skilfully peppers his conferences with quotations from St Paul that open up many facets of the Apostle's wisdom. In this sense, his "biblical theology" is a refreshing change from the sterile technical approach that characterises much biblical study of recent times.

In addition, however, he obviously had a close familiarity with the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas which he often quotes in footnotes. (One significant improvement in the new editions is that the footnotes are laid out more clearly.) Bl Columba was undoubtedly a competent theologian and manages to explain theological theses in a way that is directly applicable to the spiritual life. He was speaking to monks but his conferences have a universal appeal, transcending the modern debilitating fashion for selecting "schools" of "spirituality".

If you are looking for some good, wholesome spiritual reading, I recommend going over to Gracewing and getting "Christ the Life of the Soul" and "Christ in His Mysteries."

At the Vatican website there is a short biography of Blessed Columba and the homily given by Pope John Paul II at his beatification on 3 September 2000, at which the Pope also beatified Blessed Pius IX and Blessed John XXIII.

The picture above shows Blessed Columba properly attired in his habit with pectoral cross. The one here shows him in lay clothes. He was in fact passing himself off as a cattle dealer in order to get some of his young novices to Ireland during the first world war in case they were called up for military service. He travelled without any papers and when he got to England, the authorities refused him entry. He told them:
"I am Irish, and the Irish never have a passport... except for hell, and... it isn't there I am wanting to go."
Apparently this caused them to burst out laughing and let him pass. I can't imagine the UK Border Agency letting that happen today.
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