Blessed Columba Marmion: a Life in the Trinity

Beato+Colomba+José+Marmion+(2)Here is the text of the lecture I gave last evening for the Saint John Paul II Theological Society at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth:

Adoration

I am grateful to Fergal Cummins, president of the Saint John Paul II Theological Society of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, for graciously inviting me to speak to you this evening on « Blessed Columba Marmion: a Life in the Trinity ». Blessed Columba Marmion, the Church’s most illustrious and influential Irish Benedictine, did not sit down one fine day and decide to write something edifying and uplifting about the Most Holy Trinity. His extraordinary contribution to the life of the Church did not begin in anything he wrote about the Most Holy Trinity. Nor did it begin in anything he preached about the Most Holy Trinity. Nor did it begin in anything he taught about the Most Holy Trinity, or in anything he thought about It. Extraordinary contributions to the life of the Church —those that make a real difference, those that perdure, those that bear fruit— begin not in writing, nor in preaching, nor in teaching, nor in thinking, but in adoring. I am talking here about flat–on–the ground, face–in–the dust, wordless adoration. Tacere et adorare.

And the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. And Moses said: I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: Moses, Moses. And he answered: Here I am. And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God. (Exodus 3:2–6)

Books on the Trinity, not conceived in adoration, will be short–lived and quickly forgotten, like the trendy theological paperbacks of thirty and forty years ago, tossed into the skip or consigned to landfill. Preaching not conceived in adoration, will sound hollow; it will be singularly forgettable. Teaching — O ye glib theologians! — not conceived in adoration will be dry, brittle, and unrelated to life.

Saint John Paul II and Blessed Abbot Marmion

Allow me, if you will, to flash forward from Joseph Aloysius Columba Marmion, born 1 April 1858 — Dublin priest ordained 16 June 1881, Benedictine Monk professed 10 February 1888, blessed as Lord Abbot of Maredsous 3 October 1909, Spiritual Father to Multitudes, and potential Doctor of the Church — to Saint John Paul II. In 1985 Pope John Paul II visited Belgium. When the papal helicopter flew over the Abbey of Maredsous on the way from Brussels to Beauraing, the Holy Father confided to one of his aides: “I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer.” The saints, you see, engender saints, and this in every age.

Writing precisely of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, in the Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, Saint John Paul II says this — and I propose that you relate it to his spiritual mentor, Blessed Columba Marmion:

Christians of the East turn to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, living persons tenderly present, to whom they utter a solemn and humble, majestic and simple liturgical doxology. But they perceive that one draws close to this presence above all by letting oneself be taught an adoring silence, for at the culmination of the knowledge and experience of God is his absolute transcendence. This is reached through the prayerful assimilation of scripture and the liturgy more than by systematic meditation.

We  . . . all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Exodus 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God’s presence and avoid self – celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God.

From Diocesan Priest to Monk

Joseph Aloysius Marmion, later Dom Columba, was led, over time, to live every moment, inwardly prostrate, in silence and in adoration, before the thrice–holy God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This was the secret wellspring of all that Columba Marmion thought, and spoke, and wrote concerning the Most Holy Trinity. How and when was Columba Marmion led into this adoring stillness? How did he come to discover what Dominican Father Jean Corbon calls « the wellspring of worship »?

 It would seem that, as a newly–ordained priest, Father Joe Marmion, experienced a certain loneliness, a painful emptiness. It may have been a case of the classic post–ordination let–down. He was ordained in Rome on 16 June 1881 at 23 years of age. The following September he was appointed curate at Dundrum (Dublin). Less than one year after his first appointment, a disconsolate Marmion wrote this to Vincent Dwyer, an Australian classmate of his and a dear friend:

Oh, I am more convinced now than ever that a student can’t set too high a standard of holiness for himself in College; and take my word for it, for I have seen it that those students who are considered « good », but don’t go in for an unreserved service of God, would shudder if they knew what they would be after about one year on the mission. The life of a priest is very much more lonely than we anticipate. I have often been for days without opening my lips to a mortal. This may seem very strange but it is true, and if we can’t find our pleasure before Gesù sacramentato, we will, inevitably, go for consolation into society and then . . . .

Marmion does not complete his sentence. He and Father Dwyer knew one another well enough not to have to finish certain sentences. 

Six years later, the popular young Father Marmion, having known a certain success and enjoyed pleasant notoriety as a professor at Clonliffe, left his priestly ministry in Dublin and entered the Abbey of Maredsous as a nobody novice. As a Benedictine, he was given an Irish name: Columba. He made monastic profession on 10 February 1888. Shortly thereafter, he wrote again to his friend, Father Dwyer:

My dear Vincy . . . I think I asked permission to write to you and was refused. In any case our faculties for letter–writing, usually limited, are almost suspended during novitiate. I won’t waste any more time or paper on excuses. I will only say that my affection for you has undergone no change; and no day passes without a special prayer for you — according to promise — and the rosary every Saturday for the four.

To begin from myself. I am convinced that I am where God wills me to be. I have found great peace, and am extremely happy: to use a euphemism, I wasn’t success on the secular mission; and it is a singular mercy of God that I am here . . . .

But you will ask me, what do you do? Well, we are up about 3:30 every morning. Matins commence at 4, and from that, till bedtime — about 8:30 — in choir, in study, and in teaching and in manual work. The chief object of our congregation is to carry out the Sacred Liturgy and the Chant of the Church with the greatest exactitude and splendour possible. We have therefore the conventual Masses, Masses of Vigils and, in fact, everything prescribed. I had no idea that such riches and beauty were contained in the Divine Office, etc.

Plunged into an Abyss of Light

The discovery of the sacred liturgy of the Church, the liturgy in all its richness, the liturgy in all its fulness and, in particular, the Divine Office, radically changed the theological world–view of Columba Marmion. It plunged him into an abyss of light, into the Church’s theologia prima. It was in the choir–stall to which he returned eight times a day that Dom Columba Marmion began to experience the Trinitarian dynamic of the Church’s liturgy, i.e. all things descending a Patre, per Filium, in Spiritu, and all things redeemed, recapitulated, and redirected ad Patrem, per Filium, in Spiritu. This is the great circular design of the divine economy of salvation articulated by Dom Cipriano Vagaggini in his classic work, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy.

In the perfect plan as it was in the beginning, all things created received being from the Father, through the Son, and for the Son, and this by the quickening action of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. Original sin wrenched creation askew, thwarting the Divine Plan; but the Father sent the Son and poured out the Holy Spirit « to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in Him » (Ephesians 1:10).

Knowing God as Trinity

Although Joseph Aloysius Marmion was baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; although he was plunged into the life of the Three Divine Persons, becoming by grace what Jesus is by nature, that is, a well–beloved Son; although he was raised in a pious, God–fearing, Catholic family, and even dressed in black from the time he was a small boy to get him used to the soutane for which, in his parents’ eyes, he was pre–destined; although he studied philosophy, and then theology, at Clonliffe and in Rome; although he read his breviary faithfully, offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each morning, never failed to make his daily Way of the Cross, and never omitted his daily rosary; it was not until he experienced total immersion in the liturgy of the Church as a Benedictine monk that the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity came alive for him. In the sacred liturgy — and principally in the Divine Office with its daily round of psalmody punctuated by the ever–recurring Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto — Columba Marmion passed from a speculative, notional knowledge of the Most Holy Trinity to an experiential, sapiential, cordial knowledge of what it means to be « a son in the Son ».

Thus does Blessed Marmion write in Christ in His Mysteries:

Nowhere else, as in the liturgy, can we become so well acquainted with the the gestures of Jesus Christ, the words which fell from His lips, the feelings of His Divine Heart; it is the Gospel relived at each stage of the earthly life of Christ, Man–God, Saviour of the World, head of His mystical body, and bringing with Him the virtue and grace of all His mysteries for our souls’ benefit.

Nowhere, as in the liturgy, does there exist such a complete, simple, orderly, and deep exposition of all the marvels which God has performed for our our sanctification and salvation; it is the most perfect expression of Revelation and that most adapted to our souls’ needs, it is an exposition which appeals both to the eyes of the body and of the imagination and which moves the attentive souls to its depths.

The liturgical cycle is an incomparable source of supernatural light. Moreover — and this is an essential truth for our sanctification — we may derive from it the special fruit which Our Lord willed to attach to each of His mysteries when, as our head, He lived with them here below.

Total Immersion

If you want to learn Irish, or French, or Italian, or German, or Chinese, all the specialists recommend a program of total immersion. The occasional dip into a native–speaking environment is insufficient. The language will never get inside you. It will never become the idiom of your dreams, your desires, your passions, and your prayers. Nothing but total immersion, on a day–to–day basis, and this over the better part of a lifetime, will root a language in a man’s soul. The same thing may be said of the sacred liturgy. It is not one pious option among many on an à la carte menu of spiritualities. The liturgy, ever ancient and ever new, is the authentic, pure, piety of the Church, the Bride of Christ, the Mother of the faithful. 

As a seminarian and, then, as a young Dublin priest, Joseph Aloysius Marmion knew his way about the missal, the breviary, the Roman Ritual, and even the Pontifical, but the riches they contained were to him, in some way, like the treasures of a museum locked behind plate glass. At the Abbey of Maredsous, the young Dom Columba found himself immersed in the liturgy, plunged into the prayer of Christ and the Church. It became for him a spring of living water, daily bread in abundance, an inebriating new wine, honey in the mouth, healing oil. Even more, the liturgy became the very oxygen of his soul.

The Primacy of the Liturgy

Years later, as a spiritual father to countless souls in all walks of life, Blessed Columba Marmion came to insist on the primacy of the liturgy. Father Aidan Nichols, O.P., in his delightful little book, A Spirituality for the Twenty–First Century, has a brilliant chapter entitled, « Columba Marmion and the Love of the Liturgy ».  The secret of Marmion’s success, he writes, was that « in the Liturgy wise theology and sound doctrine had become prayer ». For Marmion, concludes Father Nichols, « the Liturgy is grounded in the Holy Trinity, and more specifically in the Son’s own being as praise of the Father ».

Over sixty years before the Second Vatican Council promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Abbot Marmion preached the liturgy as “source and summit” of the life of the Church. He quenched his thirst for God in drinking directly from the liturgy’s pure wellsprings. Blessed Marmion lived —one can say, prophetically— what the Second Vatican Council, in organic continuity with Saint Pius X’s teachings on the liturgy and with Pius XII’s Mediator Dei, solemnly affirmed:

Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.

Through his writings —notably through his trilogy, Christ the Life of the Soul, Christ in His Mysteries, and Christ the Ideal of the Monk— Blessed Marmion would lead multitudes, all over the world, to do the same. In 1921, Abbot Columba was able to write to his old friend from seminary, Vincent Dwyer, become Bishop of Maitland in Australia:

The pope [Benedict XV] said to me at my last audience, Vous avez écrit un très beau livre; and I know from one of the Cardinals that he uses it for his daily meditation. This is a consolation, a guarantee of orthodoxy. The volumes have been translated into English, German, Italian, Polish, Dutch, and have passed through 12 editions.

Dom Lambert Beauduin, a spiritual son of Abbot Marmion, and himself a father of the modern classic Liturgical Movement, wrote concerning Blessed Columba: « He revealed to us the soul of the liturgy; by this I mean all the elements of doctrine and of life, that the liturgy reserves for us beneath the visible veil of its rites and symbols ». What is the soul of the liturgy if not the mystery of the Three Divine Persons revealed, present, and efficaciously operative in the Church?

 Blessed Columba Marmion approached the liturgy as the primary and indispensable wellspring of the true Christian spirit, which is the spirit of our divine adoption as filii in Filio, « sons in the Son », exactly as Pope Saint Pius X directed the entire Church to do, in his ground–breaking Motu Proprio of 22 November 1903:

Filled as We are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi

Blessed Columba Marmion’s habitual and familiar reference and source was the sacred liturgy, the lex orandi. From his total immersion in the lex orandi, there rose before the eyes of his mind a luminous perception of Trinitarian doctrine, the lex credendi.  And it was this lex credendi that grounded, and shaped, and nurtured His holiness of life, the lex vivendi. In the liturgy of the Church, the lex orandi, Blessed Columba Marmion, experienced an ineffable communication of Trinitarian life; in the doctrine of the Church, the lex credendi, he found that ineffable communication clearly articulated; and in the practice of the virtues, the lex vivendi, he radiated the splendour of Christ in him, « the hope of glory » (Colossians 1:27). 

From this threefold principle — lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi — we can begin to grasp the source, the perception, and the expression of Columba Marmion’s life in the Trinity. Here is the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity adored [lex orandi]; the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity confessed [lex credendi]; the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity irradiated in holiness of life [lex vivendi] or, as the Apostle says, « Now thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Christ Jesus, and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish » (2 Corinthians 2:14–15).

In a letter that he wrote from Maredsous to one of his spiritual children on 9 May 1917, Abbot Marmion expressed what the liturgy of the Church meant to him, and what he wanted it to mean for the souls entrusted to him. He writes:

My very dear daughter, As Our Lord has given you to me to form you and guide you, I am going to set forth for you the true principles concerning the liturgy.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. During His mortal life, He was all of that for us by His immediate action. Since his Ascension, the Church replaces Him and exercises the same functions of way, truth, and life. She is the way by means of her Sacraments especially. By Baptism, she grafts us into the vine, she associates us to His Person as members, she unites us to Him as Head. The Holy Eucharist accentuates and perfects this union. The sacramental liturgy presides, under the guard of the Holy Spirit, over this sacramental action of the Church, and her rites and her ceremonies explain and interpret the true doctrine on this capital point in a way that is authentic and adapted to the intelligence of the faithful. This is why the Council of Trent wishes that pastors explain often these rites to their sheep. She (the Church) is truth because lex orandi lex credendi: liturgical prayer is also the law of our faith.

During the Ages of Faith, although the vast majority of the faithful were uneducated, neither knowing how to read nor possessing books, they were, nonetheless, much more instructed in the mysteries of our faith, in the mystery of Christ, than are the men and women of our days. They had explained to them the prayers and ceremonies of the Mass, the lessons of the Office; in a word, the Church, our mother herself instructed her children in an authentic manner. Erunt docibiles Dei (John 6:45; Isaias 54:13).

The liturgy, under the breath of the Holy Ghost, draws from the Holy Scriptures, the tradition: the symbolism of the Church, a doctrine that is pure and perfectly adapted to the soul of the faithful. It was in the liturgy that I learned to know Saint Paul and the Gospels. The liturgical texts, for example the Masses de tempore, are masterpieces of doctrinal composition. There the New Testament is explained by the Old, the soul’s attitudes towards God are indicated in the orations. Little by little the soul becomes penetrated with these things and finds her mental prayer prepared by our mother, the Church, as Jacob found the repast prepared by his mother for his father Isaac.

In the 16th century, under the influence of a certain school of the Society of Jesus, the prayer of the faithful came to be divorced from the prayer of the Church. The soul, left alone, withdrawn into herself, sought the meaning of the Scriptures by reasonings and no longer went to Our Lord through the Church; from this stems the great difficulty that souls experience in prayer. To my knowledge, thousands of priests who learned, in seminary, to practice this laborious and dry mental prayer, abandoned it after their ordination, to the great detriment of their souls. The liturgy, understood as the authentic organ by means of which the Church prays and teaches her children to pray, belongs to the whole Church, and Pius X strongly engaged all the priests, the bishops, and the religious Orders to cooperate with him in putting in back into vigour. This was part of his instaurare omnia in Christo, “restoring all things in Christ”. So well did Saint Teresa understand this that she said she would give her life for the smallest liturgical rubric. Understood in this way, it [the liturgy] is not the prerogative or the specialisation of any given religious Order; it belongs to the Church!

If, by the liturgy, you mean the splendour of the offices, or liturgical scholarship, then I do believe that the Order of Saint Benedict is especially called to its study and its exercise, serving, in this way, as a source and model of liturgical knowledge. The good that I have been able to do souls — men, women, children, rich, poor, all —in revealing to them the treasures of spiritual life, of light, of facility in their relations with God that are contained in the liturgy, demonstrates to me the very great importance for every priest, parish priest, curate, for all, to work at spreading abroad this wellspring of spiritual life [that is] so secure and so ecclesial.

A Perpetual Gloria Patri

It was against this rich liturgical background, and in the context of the ceaseless round of the Divine Office chanted in choir, that Dom Marmion wrote on 20 January 1906:

I have received a strong interior light on the manner of honouring the Blessed Trinity and of acting in such a way that all our life may consist of a perpetual Gloria Patri.

Blessed Columba Marmion’s piety is essentially doxological. In a time when the stock–in–trade religious discourse was concerned with a morbid self–examination and with the stilted sentimentality of conventional devotionalism, Blessed Marmion entered whole–heartedly into the infinite horizons opened by the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Te Deum Laudamus, and the Gloria Patri. I am amazed, for example, at the number of times in his writings that Blessed Columba Marmion quotes the Te Deum. He was steeped in the Theocentric, Christological, Trinitarian religion of the Fathers of the Church. He drank deeply of the grand theological poetry of the ancient liturgies, remarkable as much for their poetic beauty as for their doctrinal rigour.

In 1914, he wrote:

I am firmly convinced that the more one advances in life, the more one has relations with God, the better one understands the grandeur of the divine praise in the Office. There is no other work which approaches even remotely this praise. Built up around the holy sacrifice which is its centre, it constitutes the purest form of glory which man can give to God, because it is the most intimate association of the soul with the canticle which the Word Incarnate renders to the adorable Trinity.

The Quicumque Vult

Every Sunday at Prime, Blessed Columba Marmion chanted the dazzling Quicumque Vult, the so–called Athanasian Creed. When was the last time you prayed it? It is still part of the monastic Office at Prime on Trinity Sunday but has, alas, fallen through the cracks of the latest reforms of the Office of the Roman Rite. A great pity. It is the very substance of a sound theological Trinitarian piety. Dom Marmion would have known the text by heart: the purest doctrine of the Church articulated in waves of rhythmed prose, and turning to undiluted praise in the silence of the receptive heart.

Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis Spiritus Sanctus. Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus Spiritus Sanctus.
Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus Spiritus Sanctus.
Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus.
Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.
Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens.
Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus.
Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.

Addressing diocesan priests, Abbot Marmion said this:

Believe me, if you recite the breviary without rushing it, the phrases of Holy Scripture which you pronounce will finally become, as it were, a part of yourself. You will find that the ensemble of the texts of the Old and New Testaments in their setting in the Temporale and the Sanctorale form a Promptuarium, a treasure–chamber filled with graces and light. These illuminations will enlighten your faith in the mysteries of Christ, of the Church, and even in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

A Great Trinitarian Revival

Blessed Columba Marmion ranks first among the four luminous figures raised up by the Holy Ghost at the dawn of the last century to point to God the Father. Who were the other three? The twenty–four year old Doctor of the Church, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (1873–1897); a twenty–six year old Carmelite dazzled by her personal discovery of the Epistles of Saint Paul, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity (1880–1906); and a pleasure–loving French adventurer who died a martyred hermit in the Sahara, Blessed Charles of Jesus (1858–1916). I should like to say something about the re–discovery of God the Father launched by Saint Thérèse, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, but that, alas, will have to be the subject of another conversation.

Conventional devotionalism had collapsed the Three Divine Persons into an indistinct « Bon Dieu ». Most Catholics addressed their prayers to God the Son, but the image of the Son was fuzzy and out of focus because the Father and the Holy Ghost had, in effect, been marginalised. There was little reference to God the Father; the paternity of God remained for many something vague and unreal. Blessed Marmion writes, « In practice, there are souls that do not act as the adopted children of the Eternal Father. It would seem as if their condition of children of God had only a nominal value for them ».

As for the Holy Ghost, where He was known, He was sometimes called « The Forgotten Paraclete ». Abbot Marmion often preached on the Holy Ghost, quoting in his introductory remarks, the saying of certain disciples at Ephesus: « We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost » (Acts 19:2). The Irish Holy Ghost Father, Edward Leen (1885–1944), author of what was, at the time, a ground–breaking book on the Holy Ghost, was deeply indebted to Abbot Marmion, having been among the first readers of Christ the Life of the Soul, Christ in His Mysteries, and Christ the Ideal of the Monk.

Nineteenth century Catholic piety had, at the popular grass–roots level, suffered a kind of Trinitarian eclipse. People of faith looked, of course, to the Sacred Heart, to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the Mother of God, the Saints, and the Angels but, in some way, the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity had faded from focus. There was, in fact, at the beginning of the last century, urgent need of a great Trinitarian revival.

You will ask the question, « How did such a state of things come to be? » It was the result of a long disaffection from the liturgy, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Fathers of the Church. The sorely needed great Trinitarian revival could only come about by a return to the liturgy, or better, in the words of Pope Pius X, to « active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church ».

Dom Marmion himself wrote in May 1917:

The divorce between the soul and the prayer of the Church that happened in the 16th century had for result not only the isolation of the soul in her relations with God (as with the Protestants who intend on treating with God without the Pope, without the Church), but it also produced a great ignorance of the ecclesiastical cycle, of the feasts, of the spirit of the mysteries of Jesus Christ and, finally, isolation and separation from this life of the Church that is the channel established by Christ to communicate His life and His grace to His spouse.

A Man of the Liturgy

Joseph Aloysius Marmion became, as a Benedictine monk of Maredsous, a man of the liturgy and, because he became a man of the liturgy; through the liturgy he became a man steeped in the Word of God, particularly in the Psalms, the Gospels, and Saint Paul. Through the liturgy he became conversant with the Fathers of the Church, speaking their language and savouring their penetrating intelligence of the Scriptures. 

Almost imperceptibly, Dom Columba Marmion’s daily experience of the liturgy began to illumine the mysteries of the faith, drawing him into the life of the Three Divine Persons, not as a mere spectator contemplating from without, but as a participant standing with the Son, in the place of the Son, under the gaze of the Father and in the embrace of the Holy Spirit. For Blessed Marmion, the liturgy led souls directly into the bosom of the Father, mystically fulfilling the priestly prayer of Christ on the night before He suffered: « Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me » (John 17:24).

Doctor of Divine Adoption

There is not a page of Blessed Columba’s writings — shot through as they are with the words of the Fourth Gospel and of Saint Paul — that does not shine with his personal experience of the Most Holy Trinity. What is the essence of his doctrine? I think he sums it up in these words from Christ the Life of the Soul: « Grace here below, glory above; but it is the same God who gives us both and, as I have said, glory is only the unfolding of grace: the Divine Adoption, on earth, is hidden and imperfect, in heaven it is revealed and consummated ». If, as I hope and pray, Blessed Columba Marmion is one day declared a Doctor of the Church — Ireland’s first Doctor of the Church — it will be, I think, as the Doctor of Divine Adoption. He sees in every baptized soul another « beloved son »; one in whom the Father recognizes, and delights in, the features of the face of His Only–Begotten Son reproduced by the Holy Ghost; one become by grace what Jesus is by nature; one who can address the Father with filial confidence, with boldness, with the full assurance of being heard.

A Strong Interior Light

On 2o January 1906, Dom Columba Marmion received what he calls « a strong interior light » on the Three Divine Persons. This interior illumination on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity —I have already alluded to it— changed his life. Dom Raymund Thibaut gives Blessed Marmion’s complete text in the chapter on « Graces of Union » in his exhaustive spiritual biography. Allow me to recapitulate it for you somewhat schematically:

A Patre: All things come from the Father. We honour the Father by laying all things, and our very selves before Him in adoration and filial abandonment to His good pleasure. In doing this we become our true selves, our best selves « to the praise of His glory of His grace » (Ephesians 1:6).
Per Filium: The Son is the perfect Image of the Father, the « the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance » (Hebrews 1:3). We honour the Son by entering into His filial and priestly obedience to the Father in such wise that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (cf. Galatians 2:2). Thus does the Father recognize His First–Born Son in us, and us in His First–Born Son, saying of Christ and of each of His members, « This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased » (Matthew 17:5).
In Spiritu: The Holy Ghost, quickens in all whom He has united to Christ, and who belong to Christ as members to their Head, the return ad Patrem. The same Spirit by whom we can say « Jesus is Lord » (1 Corinthians 12:3) so unites us to Him that, through Him, and with Him, and in Him, we can say « Father » and this with the unique filial accents of Jesus’ own prayer to the Father. Such a prayer is always heard because it is uttered in what Blessed Marmion calls the sanctuarium exauditionis, the sanctuary wherein all our requests are heard, that is, the bosom of the Father.

Consecration to the Blessed Trinity

Two years after receiving this « strong interior light » on the Most Holy Trinity,  on Christmas Day 1908, Dom Columba Marmion wrote out a personal Consecration to the Blessed Trinity. He was 50 years old at the time. In a letter to his friend, Bishop Vincent Dwyer, he says: « Since I doubled the cape of 50, I often think of eternity ». Blessed Columba would live another fifteen years. His Consecration to the Blessed Trinity marked a great passage in his life: it was as if he passed through a door opening onto greater intimacy with the Three Divine Persons.

Every line of his prayer is densely rich with biblical resonances. It is at once a personal prayer coming out of real life with its struggles, its dark hours, and its losses; an affective prayer coming out of an exquisitely sensitive heart;  and a profoundly theological prayer revealing its author’s love for doctrinal clarity. 

Blessed Columba’s Consecration to the Blessed Trinity was the mature fruit of the light received in January 1906. It took two years for the light shed abroad in his heart to come to flower on his lips or, rather, find expression as, pen in hand, he poured out his soul in the presence of God. If I were to attempt a line–by–line commentary on the text of Columba Marmion’s Consecration to the Blessed Trinity, I would find myself speaking until midnight or later and, even then left with more than enough material for a week–long preached retreat. I should like, nonetheless, to give you some indication of the sources of his prayer, and of its underlying richness.

Consecration to the Blessed Trinity

Eternal Father, prostrate in humble adoration at Thy feet, we consecrate our whole being to the glory of Thy Son Jesus, the Word Incarnate. Thou hast established Him King of our souls; submit to Him our souls, our hearts, our bodies, and may nothing within us move without His orders, without His inspirations. Grant that, united to Him, we may be borne to Thy bosom and consumed in the unity of love.

Blessed Marmion addresses the Father; he has learned from the Son how to call God « Father », and the Holy Ghost, at work in his heart, has made the fatherhood of God something real for him. His first impulse is to prostrate himself in adoration. He enters immediately into the priestly prayer of the Son on the night before His passion. Marmion’s whole text must be read in the light of the 17th Chapter of Saint John. He wants, more than anything else, to contribute something —to contribute himself— to the Father’s glorification of the Son. He wants to fulfill, in his own person, and by freely offering himself to the Father, the promise made to Christ in Psalm 2: « The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.  Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance » (Psalm 2:7). He wants the Father to give him to the Son, so that the Son, in turn, might give him back to the Father. Thus does he say, « Grant that, united to Him, we may be borne to Thy bosom and consumed in the unity of love ». It is another way of saying, « Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee » (John 17:1).

O Jesus, unite us to Thee, in Thy life all holy, entirely consecrated to the Father and to souls. Be Thou our justice, our holiness, our redemption, our all. Sanctify us in truth!

The first image that emerges from the second part of the text is the one used by Our Lord in John 15: « Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit » (John 15:4–5). Blessed Marmion makes a bold petition for holiness of life, authorized by the priestly prayer of the Son: « For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth » (John 17:19). He draws the rest of his petition from Saint Paul: « But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption » (1 Corinthians 1:30).

O Holy Ghost, love of the Father and the Son, dwell like a burning furnace of love in the centre of our hearts. Bear our thoughts, affections, and actions, like ardent flame, continually heavenwards into the bosom of the Father. May our whole life be a Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.

The third part of Blessed Marmion’s prayer is positively incendiary; it is incandescent. He implores the Holy Ghost to make him another John the Baptist —Ille erat lucerna ardens et lucens (John 5:35)— a burning and shining light. He prays to be a man inhabited by the Fire of Love. The flames of the Divine Fire leap upward, bearing his holocaust into the heavenly places, into the heavenly sanctuary « where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech » (Hebrews 6:20), even into the bosom of the Father. The work of the Holy Ghost, according to Blessed Columba, is to quicken the soul’s return to the bosom of the Father. Ad Patrem, in Spiritu.

He concludes by asking what, in the course of his priestly and monastic life, has become his single desire: to become a living doxology singing, with every fibre of his being what he repeated over a hundred times a day, in choir, at the altar, in the refectory, in Chapter: Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Blessed Columba Marmion had, by this time in his life, no breath left to spend on himself, no eyes for self–scrutiny, no energy for self–absorption. For Blessed Marmion the Christian life is doxological or, as Father Aidan Nichols puts it, « For Marmion, everything in that life must be interpreted from the standpoint of giving God praise ».

O Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of holy love, fashion us yourself according to the Heart of your Son.

Blessed Columba concludes his Consecration to the Blessed Trinity with a little petition to the Mother of Christ. He uses three forms of address, first calling her by her given name, Mary. Then he honours her role in the grand divine economy of salvation by calling her Mother of Christ. Finally, he uses a tender title of hers drawn from the liturgy of the Blessed Virgin Mary and from the book of Ecclesiasticus: Ego mater pulchrae dilectionis, « I am the mother of fair love » (Ecclesiasticus 24:24).

Of Mary, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of Fair Love, Blessed Columba asks but one thing: that she fashion him according to the Heart of her Son. The underlying reference is to the words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: « Learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls » (Matthew 11:29). It is fitting that Blessed Columba Marmion’s prayer should end on a note of profound humility, the quintessential Benedictine virtue, and in the Heart of Jesus.

Fashioned by Mary according to the Heart of Jesus, having entered deeply into the grace of Divine Adoption, Joseph Aloysius Columba Marmion became, in truth, what he had always sought and desired to become: a man over whom the Father could say, and still says, Hic est filius meus dilectus in quo mihi bene complacui, « This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased » (Matthew 17:5).

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B.
23 September 2014

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