Book Review

The Grace of Nothingness: Navigating the Spiritual Life with Blessed Columba Marmion

by Fr Cassian Koenmann, OSB
Angelico Press

Book CoverBlessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) was a Benedictine Irish monk and Abbot of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium. He became one of the most influential Catholic writers of the twentieth century. When I asked an old priest who had read and re-read Marmion for decades to sum up Marmion's spirituality, he immediately replied "spiritual adoption."

And that is what this wonderful book by Fr Koenmann does so well. Nothingness does not mean the annihilation of the self, a heresy that has been around for centuries. Nothingness refers to our own nothingness before God. It is God who always reaches out to us. We have the story of the Prodigal Son once again. It is by God's grace that we come to realise our dependence on God and it is grace that sustains us in our interior lives.

How different all this is from the many self-help books we find in our bookstores. The author reminds us that any version of Pelagiainism is destructive of our spiritual lives.

The grace of being adopted as sons and daughters of God reminds us that Christianity is not just one religion among many. It is God's unique revelation to us. God has no other words than the Word made Flesh. Without Christ, there can be no spiritual adoption, no divine intimacy. Without Christ, we cannot say "Our Father."

The author notes that the foundation of Benedictine spirituality is humility. We have been formed from the dust of the earth. And yet, we know why Saint Teresa of Avila kept repeating that she was a daughter of the Church. We begin in humility and we reach for the skies. We are sons and daughters of God. Our nothingness has nothing to do with the destructive loss of self-esteem. 

Like all great spiritual books, this work is difficult to summarise. But it is an excellent work and it introduces us to Columba Marmion, one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century. 

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan