Mary Baker Eddy Critical Essays

Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Mary Baker Eddy 1821-1910

(Full name Mary Ann Morse Baker dover Patterson Eddy) American nonfiction writer, autobiographer, editor, poet, and songwriter.

Eddy was the founder and controversial figurehead of Christian Science, a religion based on spiritual healing. Through her writings and public promotion of Christian Science, as well as careful management of the church that evolved from her teachings, Eddy established the basis for an international religious organization that would remain viable after her death.

Biographical Information

Born in Bow, New Hampshire, Eddy never attended school but read extensively on her own. At the age of sixteen she began contributing prose and poems, usually of a religious nature, to various publications. Widowed shortly after her first marriage and abandoned by her second husband, she lived for many years in genteel poverty and obscurity. She became interested in mental healing as an alternative to conventional medicine in 1862 after a consultation with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a specialist in animal magnetism. In 1866 she injured her spine in a slip-and-fall accident, but recovered within a few days without medical help. She experienced this cure as a revelation that spiritual power was the only true way to alleviate human suffering. As she formulated this insight into a new system of religious belief, she began to attract followers with her teachings and worked on the book that would prove to be the primary text in Christian Science theology, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875). The Church of Christ, Scientist, was chartered in 1879, with Eddy later ordained as its pastor, and the Massachusetts Metaphysical College was established in 1881 to train Christian Science practitioners. Eddy also founded and edited the Christian Science Journal, one of several periodicals that would be instrumental in publicizing the new religion. When Eddy died in 1910, there were over 600 Christian Science places of worship, with central authority resting in the Mother Church in Boston. As a result of Eddy's sustained efforts to promote her ideas through books and periodicals, the church has maintained a lasting influence through such venues as the Christian Science Reading Rooms, which make writings by Eddy and other church-issued publications available to the general public, and the highly respected newspaper The Christian Science Monitor.

Major Works

Eddy established Science and Health and the Bible as the key texts of Christian Science, and readings from both books are central to the Christian Science religious ceremony. Science and Health underwent several revisions during Eddy's lifetime, once reportedly under the editorship of the Unitarian minister James Henry Wiggin. The principles of Christian Science set forth in Science and Health were inspired by the descriptions of Christ's restoration of the sick and dead in the Bible, which Eddy believed demonstrated that divine healing power is available to ordinary human beings. The material world is an illusion, and so sin, physical infirmity, and mortality can be conquered by methodically focusing on the reality of God's spiritual realm. Eddy published a number of inspirational books under the auspices of the Christian Science Church, including The People's Idea of God (1883), Christian Science: No and Yes (1887), and Christian Science versus Pantheism (1898). She also wrote an autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection (1891), as well as hymns, poems, and articles for Christian Science newspapers and magazines.

Critical Reception

As a powerful religious leader who advocated faith healing over conventional medical treatment, Eddy became a target of intense media attention, much of it negative. Since Eddy relied on her publications to promote Christian Science and to shape her own public image, these were closely scrutinized by her critics. She was accused of falsifying aspects of her life in her autobiographical writings and plagiarizing her ideas about mental healing from Quimby and other sources. In 1907 and 1908, the magazine McClure's published a series of articles profiling Eddy, written by Georgine Milmine and edited by Willa Cather, that revealed unflattering facts about her life and dealings with the church. Concerned that Christian Science might become a dominant American religion, Mark Twain published Christian Science (1907), which used Eddy's writings as the basis for a rationalist argument against her teachings.