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The Joy of All Creation – A. M. Allchin

February 22, 2016

TJOACEdward Yarnold’s foreward lists the various Anglicans who have written in praise of Our Lady down the ages.

The author points out that the Reformation and Enlightenment stressed abstract thinking yet thinking is a function of the brain and, thus, a bodily function. Mary embodies the senses because it was through her that a seemingly abstract God was embodied.

Jeremy Taylor (who died in 1667 as Bishop of Down and Connor) defended both the appellation‘Mother of God’ and Mary’s perpetual virginity in his Ductor Dubitantium (1660). Of the latter he wrote: ‘The scripture nowhere says that the blessed Virgin was a virgin perpetually to the day of her death: but as therefore it cannot be obtruded as an article of faith, yet there are a great many decencies and probabilities of the thing, besides the great consent of almost all the church of God, which makes it very fit to be entertained.’

He draws attention to ‘the theological quality of much seventeenth-century poetry and… the poetic quality of much of the Anglican preaching of the period’. He includes some quotations from the sermons of Mark Frank, in which he speaks of Our Lady with warm devotion, will bear that out. Frank was born in 1613 and became a fellow of his Cambridge college, Pembroke, in 1634 but he was deprived of his fellowship

in 1644. Re-instated in 1660, he became Master in 1662 but died in 1664. Though his sermons were published in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology in 1849, little attention was paid to them until Allchin quoted them extensively in this a book.

It is not in a dogmatic work but in the poetry of Thomas Ken that we at last find the immaculate conception. Ken was born in 1637 and became Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1685. In 169 he was deprived of his see at the age of 53 because, as Roger Greenacre put it, ‘he paid the Cost of Conscience and refused to accept the received wisdom of the day and the pressure to conform to the politic and the expedient’. Thereafter he lived in retirement, mainly at Longleat as the guest of Thomas Thynne, the first Viscount Weymouth. He died in 1711. His works, published in 1721, include an extended poem entitled ‘Sion: or, Philothea’, some lines from which were included in the English Hymnal as the hymn ‘Her Virgin Eyes saw God incarnate born’ The relevant part of the poem begins by making it clear that Mary was predestined to become the Mother of Our Lord. Of Joachim and Anna, Ken writes:

Great God, to a religious married Pair,

United by chaste Love and mutual Pray’r,

When on the Womb he lays a long Restraint

Oft gives the blessing of an Infant Saint…

‘The Favour God on other Saints bestow’d,

In Joachim and Anna overflow’d,

God with a Daughter their devotion bless’d,

In whose pure Womb Incarnate

God should rest.’

 

Here is what the poem says about Mary’s sinlessness:

‘The Holy Ghost his Temple in her built,

Cleans’d from congenial, kept from mortal Guilt;

And from the Moment that her Blood was fired

Into her Heart celestial Love inspir’d.’

 

This is poetry, not prose, but surely we have here the doctrine that at the moment of her conception – ‘the Moment that her Blood was fired’ – Mary was cleansed from original sin in order that she might become the mother of Our Lord. In lines we know from the familiar hymn, Mary is contrasted with Eve:

‘As Eve, when she her fontal Sin review’d,

Wept for herself and all she should include;

Bless’d Mary, with Man’s Saviour in Embrace,

Joy’d for Herself, and for all Human Race.’

The poem does not enter into the question of whether Mary was assumed bodily into heaven, but it does make clear that on earth ‘She liv’d as if already glorify’d’ and on her death she entered immediately into heaven:

‘Hast’ning to her Restorative above’.

Then comes the climax, which celebrates Mary as Queen of Heaven:

‘Heav’n with transcendent Joys her Entrance grac’d,

Next to his Throne her Son his Mother placed;

And here below, now she’s of Heav’n possess’d,

All Generations are to call her bless’d

Quotations:

For Mark Frank ‘the glorious Virgin’s lap’ is ‘the shrine and altar. . . where the Saviour of the world is laid to be adored and worshipped’

The Tractarians did not introduce into the Church of England a body of catholic doctrine and practice that was wholly alien to it. Rather, they built on the existing high-church tradition. Indeed John Keble’s friend and first biographer Sir John Taylor Coleridge tells us, ‘When he meant to accord strongly with some statement of doctrine, he would say, “That seems to me just what my father taught me.”

Andrewes goes on to work out what is involved in this act of conception. This we are to hold; to conceive is more than to receive. It is so to receive as to yield somewhat of our own also. A vessel is not said to conceive the liquor that is put into it. Why? Because it yieldeth nothing from itself. The Blessed Virgin is, and therefore is because she did. She did both give and take. Give of her own substance whereof his body was framed; and take or receive power from the Holy Ghost, whereby was supplied the office and the efficacy of the masculine seed. This is concipiet

We know more clearly than Andrewes did, the links which bind human conception to animal conception; the immensely long processes of evolution which in some way the human embryo recapitulates in the first stages of its development. All this was part of God’s patience, all this was in some way assumed. For us, the womb will speak not only of the first and pre-conscious period of the individual’s life, but also of all those mysterious areas which lie below and around the centre of our consciousness, areas which are still so little explored, and which still hold for us so much of terror, as well as of amazement. ‘Thither he went.’ When we look out from the island of consciousness into the surrounding sea of the unconscious, we find, as a twentieth-century poet puts it, swimming among ‘the sea-beasts and archetypal monsters . . . the Easter-fish’; and as the sun of righteousness arises over the land, ‘shedding his true, saving healthful and fruitful light’, it penetrates even ‘into the depths of the intractable sea, transfiguring the sea-monsters into servants for himself ‘. It was an adage of the early Christian thinkers that what had not been assumed by God, could not be healed. But, as they argued, our whole nature has been healed, therefore there is nothing in it that was not assumed. The argument holds good today; the only difference is that we have a different, and in some respects larger, understanding of that which was assumed.

And, what is more, all that was done and all that is seen in this initial moment of incarnation is of universal import. It sheds its healing light back into the past. As Andrewes says in another sermon, quoting Pope Leo, `the joy of it went back up to the ages past, even to Abraham’s time, two thousand years and more before ever it came’.

It is to be at work throughout the centuries of the future. All people are touched by it. All people are called to be reborn, to find themselves and so to grow as children of a divine and heavenly Father.

Thomas Traherne was ordained as a minister during the Commonwealth, ordained priest in 1660, and died, in his later thirties, in 1674. From ‘The Church’s Year Book’, the meditation for All Saints begins by honouring Our Lady:

‘And first O Lord I praise and magnify thy Name

For the Most Holy Virgin

Mother of God, who is the Highest of thy Saints.

The most Glorious of all thy Creatures.

The most Perfect of all thy Works.

The nearest unto Thee, in the Throne of God.

Whom Thou didst please to make

Daughter of the Eternal Father.

Mother of the Eternal Son.

Spouse of the Eternal Spirit.

Tabernacle of the most Glorious Trinity.’

Traherne praises Mary as a model of Christian virtues:

‘Mirror of Humility and Obedience.

Mirror of Wisdom and Devotion.

Mirror of Modesty and Chastity.

Mirror of Sweetness and Resignation.

Mirror of Sanctity.

Mirror of all virtues.

The most Illustrious Light in the Church, Wearing over all her

Beauties the veil of Humility to shine the more resplendently in thy Eternal Glory.

(There is then a discussion about whether this is a litany, each phrase to be followed by ‘pray for us’ – the concensus is that it isn’t.)

Thomas MacFarland, in his immensely erudite study of the religious element in Coleridge’s thought, deals at some length with the importance for Coleridge of transcending a purely linear view of growth. He comments, ‘We too often think of “development” as a kind of progress up a series of steps, the improvement of one’s position by the abandonment of a previous position. Actually the word implies an unwrapping of something already there. Its sister words in German and French suggest the same psychological truth; Entwicklung implies an unwrapping, epanouissement, a flowering from a bud . . . Though the data of the world change for us, and their connexions with our understanding, the eyes looking out from our -eroded bodies are the lights of a soul that does not change.’ this way of understanding how the past is recapitulated in the present, to which reference was made at the very beginning of this book, the Tractarians would have found something which touched them very nearly, a principle vital for their understanding both of human personality and of church tradition, a way of seeing how through time, time may be transcended into eternity.

She it is who, by her vocation to be the place of God, and by her fulfilment of that vocation, reveals the true destiny of all places, indeed of all humankind and all creation, which shares in that high calling to become the place of God’s inhabitation.

The lives of all of us begin in the body of our mother. We are related to that place, that piece of the material world, in a way in which we are related to no other place. For most of us our first experience of food comes in relation to that body. It is there that we learn to eat and are initiated into the community of eating and drinking, which provides so many of the basic structures of all human community. For most of us our first experience of speech is no less intimately, and only slightly less physically, connected with the body of our mother. This is where our insertion into the community of language, of shared speaking and singing, listening and attending has its origins.

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