Arthur Middleton on Mark Frank and Our Lady
The Anglican concern for sober piety and ordered loveliness is seen perhaps more clearly in the works of a less well-known divine, Mark Frank (1613–1664). His works consist of two books of sermons in which he can be seen as more representative of the ordinary Anglican divine of his day, although his prose style sets him in a place apart.
There is in Frank’s sermons a rich vein of Mariology, so that he has been described as a mariological preacher. His Second Sermon for Christmas is on Luke 2.7: “She”, to take back and lose the floating. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger…”.
I shall not need to tell you who is this “she”, or who is this “Him”… The Virgin Mother, the Eternal Son. The most blessed among women, the fairest of the sons of men. The woman clothed with the sun: the Son compassed with a woman. She the gate of heaven: He the King of Glory that came forth. She the mother of the everlasting God: He God without a mother; God blessed for evermore. Great persons as ever met upon a day.
Yet as great as the persons, and as great as the day, the great lesson of them both is to be little, to think, and make little of ourselves; seeing the infinite greatness in this day become so little, Eternity a child, the rays of glory wrapt in rags, Heaven crowded into the corner of a stable, and He that is everywhere want a room.
It is a natural development of this sermon to reflect that every Christian, like Mary, has to “bring forth” Christ:
[U]nless now we take up the Virgin Mary’s part, which is behind, bring forth this First born to ourselves; suffer Him to be born in us, who was born for us; and bring forth Christ in our lives, wrap Him and lay Him up with all the tenderness of a mother. The pure virgin pious soul is this “she” that brings forth Christ; the nourishing and cherishing of Him and all His gifts and graces, is this wrapping Him in swaddling clothes; the laying up His word, His promise and precepts in our hearts, is the laying Him in the manger.
It is in his sermon on the Annunciation, however, that Frank’s Marian theology reaches its greatest height.
The day will tell you who this “blessed among women” is; we call it our Lady-day; and the text will tell you why she comes into the day, because the Angel today came in to her. And the Angel will tell you why he today came in to her; she was “highly favoured”, and “the Lord was with her”… This makes it Annunciation-day, the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, as the Church calls it, and the annunciation to her, as we may call it.
So it is for Frank as it has become for us the Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
So the Incarnation of Christ, and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin – His being incarnate of her, and her blessedness by Him, and all our blessednesses in Him with her – make it as well our Lord’s as our Lady’s day. More His, because His being Lord made her a Lady, else a poor carpenter’s wife, God knows; all her worthiness and honour, as all ours, is from Him; and we to take heed today, or any day, of parting them; or so remembering her, as to forget Him; or so blessing her, as to take away any of our blessing Him, any of His worship, to give to her.
Note here his balanced theology of not giving to Our Lady more than is her due:
Let her blessedness, the respect we give her, be inter mulieres, “among women” still; such as is fit and proportionate to weak creatures, not due and proper only to the Creator, that Dominus tecum, Christ in her be the business; we take pattern by the Angel, to give her no more than is her due, yet to be sure to give her that though, and that particularly upon the day.
Frank was conscious of medieval extravagance in devotion to Our Lady by emphasizing, as recent Marian corrections have done, that all Mary’s glory comes from the Lord, whom she needs as much as a Saviour as we do. He continues to stress that she has a Lord as we and her honour is “among women” among creatures. She is no goddess, nor partner with the Godhead either in title or worship. Only in this way will we vindicate the Blessed Virgin’s honour and save ourselves from all superstitions and profane abuses, while at the same time save us from neglecting her and from giving her no more than either the Lord or Angel gave her. So he admits that the Venerable Bede’s title for her, “star of the sea”, is a fit name for the bright Morning Star that rises out of the vast sea of God’s infinite and endless love. “Maria, the Syriac interprets domina, a lady, a name yet retained, and given to her by all Christians; Our Lady, the Lady Mother of the Lord.”