Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Virgin Mary and her role in Anglicanism.

Anglicans, but also other fellow Christians, may often wonder what is the role of Mary within the Anglican Communion. The role of Mary, the Virgin and Mother of our God as most Christians define her, could in fact not find a vaguer position than in the Anglican tradition - this is what we're drawn to think, because of the breath and width of our churchmanship or because Anglicans never really had a definite theology besides the 39 Articles of Religion (blinking an eye there), finalised in 1571.
Although the articles ban any sort of devotion or invocation to the Virgin as the famous Article XXII states: The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. However, what we find about Our Lady in the articles, especially Article II, about Christ's Incarnation, is in fact completely different and it ratifies traditional Christian Marian theology: The Son, which is the Word of the Father [...] took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance. 
Statue of the Virgin commissioned by Archbishop William Laud
in the mid 1600s for the University Church in Oxford
Whereas this article may seem obvious nowadays, it really shows how the figure of Mary never changed her purpose or form, even in early Reformation theology, this was basically the view of the Church of the first centuries. In truth, we Anglicans definitely have a Marian theology, but how has it evolved so much? Indeed, the Marian question in Anglicanism goes much deeper than the low, high church divide between those who only hear her name at Christmas and Easter and those who continue Mary's Dowry and go to Walsingham for pilgrimages and pray the Hail Mary - which thankfully both survive in our splendid tradition in which, as we have just seen, we all regard her as the Virgin Mother of God just as the first Christians or just as the first disciples!
But how has her figure evolved through the Reformation? Did she just remain there, in the Scriptures? Or did she somehow touch the hearts and minds of Anglicans to come? Did the restoration of Walsingham truly come out of the blue? Or just because the Tractarians thought it good to restore it because it felt "Roman"?
As we read in the great Anglican-Roman Catholic joint document Mary: Hope and Grace in Christ: as early as 1561 the Calendar of the Church of England (ratified in 1662) retained five feasts associated with Mary: Conception of Mary, Nativity of Mary, Annunciation, Visitation and Purification. Therefore, the Virgin also had a rather massive liturgical presence in the Anglican calendar, this is not to say, that there were high masses and long processions, but simply that the Mother of God was remembered on those days, every Book of Common Prayer edition until the latest 1662 refers to Mary as "pure Virgin", the main office of the day, Evensong has at its centre the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, she had a presence in the liturgical life of the Church, a way in which she could keep having a role in the theology of Revelation as part of God's manifestation and salvation among us, which really is what the joint document signed by both Anglicans and Catholics also proves.
14th century wall painting representing the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lichfield Cathedral

However, what we might call a turn would be the 17th century with the great Caroline Divines, such as Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor and Thomas Ken who even more so had a fuller appreciation of Mary in the prayers of the Church and in her very place within it and the eyes and hearts of the believer.
In the 20th century with the Anglo-Catholic revival the figure of a devotional Mary, in the form of the reinstitution of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, for example, will be once more reintroduced within the life of the Church in England founded by Saint Augustine, and in the last decade our Church ratified a document regarding the figure of Mary with the Church of Rome. However, Mary has always been in the hearts of the English, the people of Mary's Dowry, as it was known in the late Middle Ages. Still, today the people of the English Church regard Mary either in the pure way the first Christians did or in the way in which thousands of years and the Tradition of the Church combined with God's Revelation unto humanity has created, the last two being strictly intertwined. She is indeed remembered and placed high in our tradition and therefore she does have a place in our fragile and undefined Anglican theology, the place of the pure material and substance that gave birth to God:

Neither are we unmindful to bless Thee, for the most holy, pure, 
highly blessed, the Mother of God, Mary the eternal Virgin, with all the Saints:
Recommending ourselves and our whole life to Thee,
O Lord, our Christ and God:
For to Thee belongeth glory, honour, and worship. Amen.

Lancelot Andrewes


  1. Thanks oncw again Edoardo! A very precise summary of the place of Mary in the Anglican tradition. As an Anglican, I pray the rosary daily.

  2. Also the abundance of "Lady" Chapels, not the misguided Ladies Chapel, the art, stained glass (especially modern glass in some ancient buildings such as St Mary Merton, St Mary, Fordwich Canterbury, and many many more. Also the generally accepted "Anglican" hymnals see to continue having Ye who own the Faith as in the new A&M. Without Mary there would be no Jesus, yes? Jesus loves his mother and so do I. When we reach that distant shore and Jesus starts to introduce his Mother to us, she will assuredly say, ah, I already know him/her. Ave!

    1. Absolutely! You might be interested in reading our previous article about Mary: