Short Biographies

Blessed Dom Joseph Columba Marmion, O.S.B.
by Fr. Andre Lemieux

Few people have rivaled the zealous monastic life of Joseph Columba Marmion (1858-1923).  Marmion was born in Dublin of an Irish Father and a French mother.  Joseph, his secondary studies finished was received at the seminary of Clonliffe.  He completed his preparation for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1881.  Appointed professor of philosophy at Clonliffe Seminary, he was struck by a visit to Maredsous Abbey on returning from Italy, which marked his entry to the Benedictines as a novice in Belgium and after fourteen years as Abbot, he died at Maredsous.

His life was phenomenally apostolic.  Besides guiding the monastery, he preached retreats, kept up an immense correspondence, and wrote books that promise to remain standards of Catholic spirituality for generations to come.

The spirituality he wrote about is very simple.  In his own words, all he wanted to do was "to fix the eyes and the hearts of my readers on Jesus Christ and on His word.  He is the Alpha and the Omega of all sanctity and His word is the divine seed from which all sanctity springs."

His best-known books are Christ, the Life of the Soul, Christ in His Mysteries, and Union with God.  

Implicit in Marmion's teachings is the conviction that what people most need is to hear the words of Christ, directly as recorded in the Gospels, and see Him as described by the Evangelists.  Marmion believed that such an overlay of speculation and interpretation obscures the New Testament that for too many, even sincere believers, there is a barrier between them and the Master.  However, the greatest obstacle to following Christ is people's own preconception and self-will.  He describes such people in Christ, the Life of the Soul:

"They make holiness consist in such or such a conception formed by their own intelligence; attached to those purely human ideas they have formed, they go astray; if they make great strides, it is outside the true way marked out by God; they are victims of those illusions against which St. Paul warned the first Christians.

In so grave a matter, in so vital a questions, we must look at and weigh things as God looks and weighs them.  God judges all things in the light, and His judgment is the test of all truth.   "We must not judge according to our own liking," says St. Francis de Sales, "but according to God's will."

Divine Wisdom is infinitely above human wisdom; God's thoughts contain possibilities of fruitfulness such as no created thought possesses.  That is why God's plan is o wise that it cannot fail to reach its end because of any intrinsic insufficiency, but only through our own fault.  If we leave the Divine idea full freedom to operate in us, if we adapt ourselves t it with Love and fidelity, it becomes extremely fruitful and may lead us to the most sublime sanctity."

Marmion never tires of repeating that Christ's plan for our sanctification is simplicity personified.  The results of ignoring this fact can be disastrous.  Ingenious and complicated "souls that have not understood the mystery of Christ lose themselves in a multiplicity of details and often weary themselves in a joyless labour.  Why is this?  Because all that our human ingenuity is able to create for our inner life serves for nothing if we do not base our edifice on Christ."  With this end in view he has constant recourse to the Holy Scriptures or rather it is the Bible itself which is the source whence springs the harmonious development and fruitful applications of his teachings.

This stress on taking Christ and His teaching literally is the secret of the remarkable influence of Marmion's books.  Basic, however, to following Christ literally is the faith conviction that the one we are following is God Himself in human form.  He is at once the Author of our Redemption and the infinite Treasury of grace, the Model of our perfection and the Goal of our destiny - but only because He is the all-perfect God Who became man to die for our salvation and to teach us how we are to reach heaven.

Specially recommended:

Christ, the Life of the Soul

Christ in His Mysteries.

Extracts from  Christ in His Mysteries

"When we study attentively the Epistles of St. Paul, it is evident that for him all is summed up in the practical knowledge of the mystery of Christ.

He writes to the Ephesians: "According to revelation, the mystery has been made known to me, as I have written above in a few words; as you are reading you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ ... to me the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God."

To raise the fallen world, St. Paul brings only one means: - Christ, and Christ crucified.  It is true that this mystery is a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness for the Grecian sages, but it contains the virtue of the Divine Spirit, Who alone can renew the face of the earth."

In Christ alone can be found all the "wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" of which souls have need in all ages.  And this is why St. Paul makes the whole formation of the inward man consist in the practical knowledge of the mystery of Jesus.

You will at once say that we do not see God: Deum nemo vidit unquam. That is true.  We shall know God perfectly only when we see Him face to face in eternal beatitude.

But here below, God manifests Himself to our faith through His Son Jesus.  Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the great revelation of God to the world: Ipse illuxit in cordibus nostris ... in facie Christi Jesu.  Christ is God appearing amongst men, in order that man may know how they ought to live so as to be pleasing to God.

It is, then, upon Christ that all our gaze ought to be concentrated.  Open the Gospel: you will there see that three times only does the Eternal Father cause His Voice to be heard by the world.  And what does this Divine Voice say to us?  Each time the Eternal Father tells us to contemplate His Son, to listen to Him, that He way be thereby glorified: "This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.  Hear ye Him": Hic est Filius meus delictus ... Ipsum audite.  All that the Father asks of us is to contemplate Jesus, His Son, to listen to Him, so as to love and imitate Him, because Jesus, Being His Son, is equally God.

Why, then, did God take care to prepare for the coming of His Son so long in advance?  Why did Christ leave us so many divine teachings?  Why did the Holy Ghost inspire the sacred writers to note so many details of seeming insignificance?  Why did the Apostles write such long and urgent epistles to their churches?

Was it in order that these teachings should remain buried, like a dead letter, in the depths of the Holy Scriptures?  Certainly not, but so that we should search out, as St. Paul desires, the mystery of Christ; that we should contemplate His Person, and study His actions; His actions reveal to us His virtues and His will.  we ought to contemplate Him, not by means of a merely intellectual study - such study is often dry and sterile - but in omni sapientia et intellectu spirituali, in a spirit full of heavenly wisdom, which will cause us to seek in the Divine Gift for the truth that will enlighten our lives.  We ought to contemplate Him so as to conform our lives to this Model Who renders God accessible to us, to draw divine life from Him in order that our thirst may be fully quenched: Haec est autem vita aeterna.

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