Book Review: “Christ in His Mysteries” by Dom Columba Marmion

“The Mysteries of Christ are our Mysteries.”

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As mentioned in the review of Benson’s Christ in the Church, we are very happy to present readers with some pictures of books published by The Cenacle Press, which is a project of Silverstream Monastery in Ireland.

The Cenacle Press was only launched in the last couple of years, and while there are many reviews online, there are not many photos of the books themselves. Pictures like this are important in this day and age, when independent publishers, newly-typeset books and print-on-demand titles can be quite low quality.

I’m pleased to be able to confirm that the array of classic titles are high-quality editions. As you can see, we are not dealing with smyth-sewn bindings, but the design, crystal-clear fonts, and overall aesthetic are all very good.

With that in order, let’s look at another of their titles. Here is Dom Columba Marmion’s classic, Christ in His Mysteries:

But what’s so special about the author and this book?

About Dom Columba Marmion

Marmion was born in Ireland in 1858. He became the Abbot of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium, and gave his conferences in French. His works were translated into English in the early twentieth century by “A Nun of Tyburn Convent” – and The Cenacle Press have reproduced this translation in their edition of Christ in His Mysteries.

Marmion is well-known today for his sublime and very ecclesial spiritual writing. By “ecclesial”, I mean that Marmion shows a particular focus on the relationship between the Christian and the Church, which is Christ’s mystical body – outside of which there is no salvation. In this, we can see similarities with writers such as Dom Eugene Boylan and some of the works of Mgr Robert Hugh Benson, albeit with different emphases.

The first chapter of the book is entitled “The Mysteries of Christ are our Mysteries” – and this sets the theme for the work as a whole. Marmion teaches us that the grace which we receive flows to us from Christ, because he is the head of the Church – he is our head, and we are the members of his body. In the work, Marmion writes:

“The mysteries of the God-Man are not only models which we must consider: they contain moreover within themselves treasures of merit and grace. By His almighty virtue, Christ Jesus, ever-living, produces the inward and supernatural perfection of His states in those who are moved by the desire of imitating Him and placing themselves in contact with Him by faith and love.”

Another work of Marmion’s, Christ the Life of the Soul, might be said to deal directly with our sanctification, and our putting on and abiding in Christ, Christ in His Mysteries considers this topic through the mysteries of his life and the liturgical year. In this respect, it is an excellent companion for the liturgical cycle, along with texts like Guéranger’s The Liturgical Year.

The Ruthenian seminary professor Dr Matthew K. Minerd recently lectured on this topic (with reference to this very book) on Mr Michael Lofton’s YouTube channel Reason & Theology – and while we have elsewhere raised serious concerns about Mr Lofton’s ideas and his refusal to engage with these concerns, we are happy to recommend Dr Minerd’s lecture.

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Papal approval

Editions of Marmion’s works normally contain a 1919 letter from Pope Benedict XV, in which he thanked the author for sending him his works, and praised them in the following terms:

“We readily appreciate their praiseworthiness as being singu­larly conducive to excite and maintain the flame of Divine love in the soul.

“For although these pages do not contain the whole of the discourses you have made to your spiritual sons concerning Jesus Christ, the Exemplar and Cause of all sanctity, nevertheless these commentaries, so to speak, on the matter of your teaching, show clearly how this doctrine is capable of fostering the desire to imitate Christ and to live by Him ‘Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption.’”

Although a reference is rarely given, Pope Pius XII is often quoted – included on The Cenacle Press website – as saying the following:

“[The works of Marmion] are outstanding in the accuracy of their doctrine, the clarity of their style, and the depth and richness of their thought.”

This edition

It is very good news that The Cenacle Press are publishing this work in particular. As mentioned, the text is that of the original 1920 translation, and the whole work has been re-typeset, with translations of the many scriptural texts given in English in the footnotes. It’s available in paperback and hardback – both of which come out looking very nice.

Hitherto, those who wish to read it have been limited to expensive second-hand copies of the original English translation, or an abridged version published by Angelico Press, or the version published by Gracewing.

This latter version, translated following Vatican II, unfortunately contains many intrusive footnotes from the translator. My recollection of reading this version several years ago is that several of these footnotes are concerned to mitigate or explain Marmion’s evident adoption of the so-called Thomistic view of predestination. Predestination is a topic about which there has been debate for centuries, and great writers like Marmion should be entitled to express their ideas on it freely, without the interjection of twentieth-century translators.

Luckily there is no such editorialising in The Cenacle Press’s version – nor have the translated scriptural texts been given in various modern translations.

Conclusion

As the world around us grows darker and darker, and as each possible worldly solution fails before us, it becomes clearer that there is no solution but Our Lord Jesus Christ. To this end, it is necessary to put away all false hope, and realise that the only hope we have of persevering is with God’s grace – of ourselves, we will fail under persecution.

Our Lord himself warns us of the danger of falling away, and tells us what we must do if we want to avoid this fate:

“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: for without me you can do nothing.

“If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch and shall wither: and they shall gather him up and cast him into the fire: and he burneth. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will: and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15.4-7)

To this end, works such as Marmion’s (as well as those by Boylan) are of great encouragement and help in our day. But Marmion points out that we should not just aim to survive persecution and trials. On the contrary, we should seek to conquer – and he tells us how:

“To raise this 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.” (p 4)

All in all, we can be very grateful that The Cenacle Press has made this text available in such a nice edition – and I urge readers to take a look.

Further Reading

Dom Columba Marmion – Christ in His Mysteries

Marmion also has other books entitled Christ the Ideal of the Monk and Christ the Ideal of the Priest. For laymen, the main other title will be Christ the Life of the Soul. Regarding this latter, I would recommend a second hand edition of the original, which has also been re-published by Angelico Press.

Dom Eugene Boylan – This Tremendous Lover

The Cenacle Press


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