8 September is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, but to many Anglicans the rich vein of thought and devotion about Mary’s place in the history of Anglican devotion is unknown. Anglican writers set her in the wider Christian scheme of redemption as the daughter of Abraham who stands in solidarity with the whole people of God through two thousand years of Christian history. Her place is in the centre of Christianity, not on the edge, because of her role in the mystery of the incarnation. Her personal response was vital if God was to enter physically into human life and demonstrate the God-bearing capacity of the whole of creation. While the nature of the Christian gospel is full of mystery it has a particularity that is concerned with space and time, heaven in the ordinary and in the meeting of heaven and earth. Mary, a person blessed among women, has an important part to play in this.
If, as Christian faith has always affirmed, it is in the man Jesus of Nazareth that we find the supreme disclosure, assertion, stepping forward of him who alone sustains our life, our thought, our love, then the person of the woman who was his mother—and out of whom, bodily, he came—cannot but be a central theme of Christian reflection.
Mark Frank, the seventeenth century Anglican preacher, speaks of the Annunciation: ‘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 worship to give to her.’
Now 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 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 on the day.’
He was conscious of medieval extravagances 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 in worship. Only in this way will we vindicate the blessed Virgin’s honour, at the same time save ourselves from neglecting her and from giving her no more than either the Lord or angels gave her. So he admits that the Venerable Bede’s title for her, the ‘star of the sea,’ is a fit name for the bright morning star that rises out of God’s infinite and endless love. Maria the Syriac interprets domina as ‘lady,’ a name retained and given to her by all Christians.