Mary Baker Eddy Criticism - Essay

Arthur James Todd (essay date 1948)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Christian Science," in Religion in the Twentieth Century, edited by Vergillius Ferm, The Philosophical Library, 1948, pp. 357-78.

[In the following essay, Todd provides an overview of Christian Science and of the principal tenets of Eddy's writings.]

Christian Science is the system of religious thought and the denomination founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 as the outcome of her discovery of this religious truth at Swampscott, Massachusetts, in 1866, and her publication of the first edition of its basic textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, in 1875. From childhood Mrs. Eddy had been deeply religious and a profound student of the Bible, and had long been inclined to attribute all causation to God, and to regard Him as infinitely good, and the Soul and source of all reality. But in 1866 a lifetime of ill-health was climaxed by what was regarded as a fatal injury from which she recovered almost instantaneously after reading an account of healing in Matthew's Gospel. That seeming miracle set her mind to work. It appeared to her as a divine revelation, the prophecy of a revolution in human thinking, and an inspired call to action. She describes (in her brief autobiography Retrospection and Introspection) how she withdrew from society for about three years "to ponder [her] mission, to search the Scriptures, to find the Science of Mind that should take the things of God and show them to the creature, and reveal the great curative Principle,—Deity." In this process of seeking for a solution of the problem of Mind-healing she readily grasped (as recorded in her textbook) "the Principle of all harmonious Mind-action to be God, and that cures were produced in primitive Christian healing by holy, uplifting faith." But that was not enough. She insisted on knowing the process, the method, the rationale, the Science of such healing, and finally reached absolute conclusions. But again mere theory, however well-founded and consistent, did not satisfy her. Hence for several years she put her discovery and conclusions to practical test by healing many sorts of disease and human disorders, both organic and functional, and by teaching students to heal. This experience led her to write and publish her basic book. It had been her earnest expectation that her discovery would be welcomed as a fresh spiritual dynamic by all religious denominations of those who professed belief in the Bible and in the word and works of Jesus the Christ. But it soon became evident that her discovery was ahead of the general frontage of contemporary Christianity; therefore it appeared necessary to found a separate church to preserve the purity of the teachings and practice of Christian Science and to more effectively present it to the world. Accordingly in 1879 she and her small band of followers organized the Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston for the avowed purpose, as expressed by her, "to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing." Ten years later this Church was dissolved, and in 1892 the present Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, known as The Mother Church, was organized. At present there are approximately 3,000 authorized branches of this Church established throughout the world. It is contrary to the basic governing Manual of The Mother Church, written by Mrs. Eddy, to give out statistics of membership, but authoritative newspaper accounts of the dedication of the Extension of the Original Mother Church in 1906 expressed astonishment at a movement which in thirty years had grown from a "mere handful of members" to a body of adherents numbering probably a million. Mrs. Eddy in a Message to her Church in 1901 answering a critic of her work, challenged him to match a record which "could start thirty years ago without a Christian Scientist on earth, and in this interval number one million." It may be asserted with confidence that the number of adherents has rapidly increased in the forty-five years since that challenge was issued.

Such in brief is the outline of the first eighty years of Christian Science history. Against this background certain significant details may now be presented. First, how does the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science define it?

In her little volume Rudimental Divine Science, she defines Christian Science as "the law of God, the law of good, interpreting and demonstrating the divine Principle and rule of universal harmony." Any work of scholarship is primarily an extended definition of its primary concept or theme; hence it is not surprising to find on nearly every page of Mrs. Eddy's writings some new turn of thought, some phrase or term which adds a new flash of meaning to the expression Christian Science. Perhaps the most compact summary of her revelation opens the chapter on Science, Theology, and Medicine in her textbook: "In the year 1866, I discovered the Christ Science or divine laws of Life, Truth, and Love, and named my discovery Christian Science." But elsewhere occur such revealing synonyms as Science of Mind, Mental Science, Science of Mind-healing, Science of mental healing, Divine Science, Science of Christianity, Science of God, Science of good, Science of Life, Science of being, Science of man and the universe, etc. The purpose of Christian Science is to correct wrong human thinking and to replace it with Godlike understanding. Indeed on the very first page of the Preface to Science and Health Mrs. Eddy sounds the trumpet call: "The time for thinkers has come." In so far as clarifying terms or phrases will wing their way to the target of human consciousness she utilizes them to the utmost.

Through Christian Science the redoubtable term "metaphysics" takes on new significance. In the correction of false human thinking Christian metaphysics is the essential tool. Mrs. Eddy posits mental causation as primary by saying, "Christian Science explains all cause and effect as mental, not physical," and at once relates causation to divinity by declaring that "God is the Principle of divine metaphysics."

At this point it should be stressed that Christian Science is not, as many have supposed, just a recrudescence of deistic philosophy, nor primarily a method of healing. It is a philosophy of God, man, the inter-relationship of God to man, and man to man, and of the universe of which God is the sole creator and man His indispensable expression. It is a system of healing, but as its Discoverer clearly pointed out, "the mission of Christian Science now, as in the time of its earlier demonstration, is not primarily one of physical healing. Now, as then, signs and wonders are wrought in the metaphysical healing of physical disease; but these signs are only to demonstrate its divine origin,—to attest the reality of the higher mission of the Christ-power to take away the sins of the world."

Hence Christian Science is a religion based upon a specific content of spiritual truth. It has a literature, an organization, a basic Manual and a varied pattern of activities. But have Christian Scientists any religious "creed"? Mrs. Eddy squarely anticipated this question and answered it in her text book: "They have not, if by that term is meant doctrinal beliefs. The following is a brief exposition of the important points, or religious tenets, of Christian Science:—

  1. As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life.
  2. We acknowledge and adore one supreme and infinite God. We acknowledge His Son, one Christ; the Holy Ghost or divine Comforter; and man in God's image and likeness.
  3. We acknowledge God's forgiveness of sin in the destruction of sin and the spiritual understanding that casts out evil as unreal. But the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts.
  4. We acknowledge Jesus' atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man's unity with God through Christ Jesus the Wayshower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by the Galilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death.
  5. We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter.
  6. And we solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just and pure."

Christian Science is in the line of Christian tradition, indeed of Protestant tradition, but is not to be considered as merely another Protestant sect or denomination. Current practice in radio circles and elsewhere is to set up four major religious classifications in the United States, namely, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Christian Scientist. The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science was brought up in the atmosphere of New England Protestantism, and was for nearly forty years a member of the Congregational church, taught in Sunday School, and participated actively in current theological discussions. Only when it became necessary to establish her own church did she sever the link to the church which had nourished her. But her own church in no wise disavowed historic Christianity. Mrs. Eddy never claimed to have invented any new doctrine, invoked any new powers, nor introduced any new healing methods. She did claim that Christian Science is the Comforter promised by the Master in John's Gospel. She did claim that her discovery is the answer to prophecy as recorded in both the Old and the New Testament. She did claim that her method of healing was that of Jesus and his students, disciples, apostles. Thus she traces Christian Science practice directly to Christ Jesus.

Christian Science is not new: it is as ancient as God-like thinking and spiritual perception. Why then did it need to be "discovered"? Mrs. Eddy replies: "Our Master healed the sick, practised Christian healing, and taught the generalities of its divine Principle to his students; but he left no definite rule for demonstrating this Principle of healing and preventing disease. This rule remained to be discovered in Christian Science."

Hence the ideal set forth by Mrs. Eddy is to make every Christian Scientist his own practitioner. Is not that the significance of her prophecy: "When the Science of being is universally understood, every man will be his own physician, and Truth will be the universal panacea"?

Let it be reiterated that Christian Science does not actually claim nor enjoy a monopoly on spiritual healing. Some two score religious denominations listed by the United States Census indicate that "divine healing" occupies some place more or less significant in their systems of belief. It remained, however, for Christian Science to bring out into the foreground what the other sectors of Christendom had allowed to lapse, become obsolescent, or be relegated to back stage as peculiar to some remote "apostolic age."

Enough has been said now to warrant turning to answer certain inevitable questions. For example, how can Christian Science reject the idea and the fact of evil, since it is so obvious, so universal, so persistent, so powerful? First, let it be clear that to deny the reality or power of evil is not to ignore it. Hundreds of references to evil in Mrs. Eddy's writings prove keen awareness of the problem. In both the teaching and practice of Christian Science students are warned to detect, recognize, uncover, handle and destroy the claim of any particular form of error or evil to existence, reality, or power to injure. This rejection of evil is fundamental to Science: to admit it would nullify spiritual healing from the outset.

It is obvious that, as Mrs. Eddy declares, the "foundation of evil is laid on a belief in something besides God." That something is matter. Reject that belief, and error disappears with its suppositional origin, history, and effects. After such heroic surgery the world is welcome to whatever seems to remain of evil's claim to be. Thus Christian Science offers not merely an authoritative religion and a demonstrable system of healing, but also a sound and coherent philosophy of life. Indeed on this account many have accepted it who had no immediate need of its healing ministry.

But what of the demand of Christian Science to be rated as not only a Science but the Science? Certainly Christian Science claims not only to have searched for truth, but to have found Truth, to have reduced this basic knowledge of Truth to a system which is eminently communicable; to have brought to light general or fundamental laws, and to have made this organized system of knowledge available in work, life and the search for truth.

It declares that this Truth includes all known or knowable fact, phenomenon, or action. What other knowledge remains to be apprehended or organized? What becomes of physical science, so-called? How does Christian Science regard the apparent sweeping domination of contemporary thought by the physical sciences? To the extent that they base themselves upon a concept of elementary material substance or force, it rejects them as a valid statement of ultimate truth. In short, Science rejects matter as without existence, reality, actuality, substance, or power. As put in the Scientific Statement of Being, quoted from Science and Health, which climaxes every Christian Science Sunday church service, "There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all."

In this rejection of matter as a reality and the basis for true knowledge, Mrs. Eddy anticipated by half a century such philosophers as Whitehead, who complain that for three hundred years human science has limited itself by its assumption of basic materiality. She puts the whole trouble in a nutshell: "Matter is an error of statement. This error in the premise leads to errors in the conclusion in every statement into which it enters."

When Mrs. Eddy wrote, "We tread on forces … Divine Science, rising above physical theories, excludes matter, resolves things into thoughts, and replaces the objects of material sense with spiritual ideas … Material so-called gases and forces are counterfeits of the spiritual forces of divine Mind," such bold challenges shocked and even amused the academic world and scientific orthodoxy. But the past quarter century witnesses a steady albeit cautious approach of many of the world's leading physical scientists to a not dissimilar ideology.

For example, Sir James Jeans speaks of annihilating matter, and frankly confesses that "the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine." Professor Eddington also speaks of matter as "an imaginary something," and concludes that "the physical world is entirely abstract and without 'actuality' apart from its linkage to consciousness." Dampier in the 3rd edition of his History of Science devotes a whole section to the "Evanescence of Matter," and likewise speaks of annihilating matter.

Christian Science does not, however, derive its validity from such corroborative testimony of physical scientists. It maintains hold on its status as Science by its utilization of accepted scientific methods and procedures, notably revelation (spiritual enlightenment); reason (gathering of factual data and utilization of inductive logic); demonstration (practical proofs).

Christian Science is an eminently practical way of life. Its Founder and Leader had an enormous fund of common sense and a lively wit along with the deepest grasp of spiritual truth since the days of Christ Jesus the Way-shower. Hence her constant urging to beware of running ahead of one's power to demonstrate one's spiritual attainments, and her insistent injunction not to ignore evil or erroneous material beliefs. For contrary to common apprehension, as we have already pointed out, Christian Science does not ignore what it regards as unreal. This religion teaches its adherents to forsake and overcome every form of error or evil on the basis of its unreality; that is, by demonstrating the true idea and fact of reality. This it teaches them to do by means of spiritual law and spiritual power. Thus the practice of Christian Science is not merely mental; it must be also spiritual. Indeed, it is truly mental only as it is absolutely spiritual.

Christian Scientists on this present plane of existence do not claim to have realized or manifested fully the spiritual perfection which the Bible teaches from the first chapter of Genesis, through the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic doctrine, to the final scene of St. John's apocalyptic revelation. Their more modest claim derives from their Leader's teaching that perfection must be won, and that "earth's preparatory school" becomes an instrument to this end. Human experience is the arena for the regeneration of the fleshly mind through Truth and for the substitution of better for poorer beliefs until absolute Truth is reached.

We have now set forth the justification of the term Christian Science as both Christian and scientific. Moreover it ascribes to itself nothing short of being the only true and valid science, Mind-science, the revelation of the infinite divinity in all His "nature, essence, and wholeness"; and it posits the unity, indeed the identity of Science and Christianity. Hence it cannot be classified as merely a Christian sect or another denomination, for it permeates and must eventually transform every other statement of the Christian message to mankind.

Such declarations will continue to provoke in the serious inquirer's mind a flock of questions, just as they did when the Discoverer of Christian Science first issued her challenge. Topping the list would probably stand this one: Do Christian Scientists believe in God? In her Message to The Mother Church for 1901, Mrs. Eddy gave a full and direct answer: "We hear it said the Christian Scientists have no God because their God is not a person.… The loyal Christian Scientists absolutely adopt Webster's definition of God, 'A Supreme Being,' and the Standard dictionary's definition of God, 'The one Supreme Being, self-existent and eternal.'"

Is Christian Science, then, a rather thin modern broth of Deism? When Mrs. Eddy was asked directly, Do you believe in God?, she replied: "I believe more in Him than do most Christians, for I have no faith in any other thing or being.… To me God is All. He is best understood as Supreme Being, as infinite and conscious Life, as the affectionate Father and Mother of all He creates."

The concordances to Mrs. Eddy's writings reveal how the allness of God permeates Christian Science, and how it derives not from Platonic, Hegelian, or any other philosophy, but directly from the Scriptures. And yet it does not indulge in mere Bible-worship. As noted in the Tenets already quoted, it accepts the "inspired Word of the Bible." Thus the Bible is a source, a guide, but not a fetish. God alone is to be adored, worshiped, and...

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Gail Parker (essay date 1970)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mary Baker Eddy and Sentimental Womanhood," in The New England Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, March, 1970, pp. 3-18.

[In the following essay, Parker discusses Mary Baker Eddy and the Victorian notion of women as purely moral beings.]

As Mark Twain described her, Mary Baker Eddy was the very type of the American businessman, with a mouth full of moral phrases, and a totally unscrupulous head for profit. "She was always in the front seat when there was business to be done; in the front seat, with both eyes open, and looking out for Number One; in the front seat, working Mortal Mind with fine effectiveness and giving Immortal Mind a rest for Sunday." For Twain,...

(The entire section is 5392 words.)

Robert B. Downs (essay date 1971)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mental Healer," in Famous American Books, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971, pp. 147-54.

[In the following essay, Downs discusses Science and Health and Eddy's career.]

America has given the world two major religions—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormonism, and the Church of Christ, Scientist, or Christian Science. The latter has the distinction of being the only religion founded by a woman.

Throughout the nineteenth century, during which both the Mormon and Christian Science churches were established, occult philosophies nourished. Nonconformist and Utopian movements attracted numerous adherents. Particularly...

(The entire section is 2970 words.)

Mason Olds (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mary Baker Eddy: A Sesquicentennial Acknowledgement," in Contemporary Review, Vol. 220, No. 1277, June, 1972, pp. 294-300.

[In the following essay, Olds discusses Eddy's life and religious beliefs.]

Today, most moderns view the real world as the world of sense experience. In this world there is flesh which we enjoy both seeing and touching. In this world there is also war, poverty, sickness, suffering and death. Because the world of the five senses has such a strong hold on us, many are driven to doubt the existence of a Supreme Being and the possibilities of immortality. Many feel that they have been cast into a world they did not create, and so they must...

(The entire section is 3310 words.)

David Sowd (essay date 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Dusky Genius of Mary Baker Eddy," in Ball State University Forum, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Summer, 1973, pp. 38-43.

[In the following essay, Sowd examines the culture and theoretical background from which Christian Science came.]

For Mark Twain, Mary Baker Eddy was "the most daring and masculine and masterful woman that has appeared on the earth in centuries," and he wrote of her: "Closely examined, painstakingly studied, she is easily the most interesting person on the planet, and in several ways as easily the most extraordinary woman that was ever born upon it."

But, contrary to what is most often asserted by her biographers, Mrs. Eddy did not...

(The entire section is 3032 words.)

Stephen Gottschalk (essay date 1973)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Conclusion: Christian Science and the American Pragmatic Orientation," in The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life, University of California Press, 1973, pp. 275-93.

[In the following essay, Gottschalk examines the continuing influence of Christian Science.]

Christian Science can be best understood as a pragmatic interpretation of Christian revelation. It is the pragmatic character of Christian Science which most adequately conveys its distinctiveness as a religious teaching, most clearly illumines its relations with the patterns of American culture, and most fully explains the source of its appeal. To have used the term...

(The entire section is 7701 words.)

Margery Fox (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Protest in Piety: Christian Science Revisited," in International Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4, July/August, 1978, pp. 401-16.

[In the following essay, Fox offers an interdisciplinary interpretation of Christian Science, concluding that many Victorian women found social and intellectual freedom in the religion.]


This paper reexamines Christian Science, a 19th century American religious sect, in its sociohistorical setting using interdisciplinary sources and methods to develop a new interpretation of the movement's original social function. In giving historiography an anthropological reading, this work...

(The entire section is 6150 words.)

Stephen J. Stein (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Retrospection and Introspection: The Gospel According to Mary Baker Eddy," in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 75, No. 1, January, 1982, pp. 97-116.

[In the following essay, Stein explores Eddy's autobiography Retrospection and Introspection.]

In 1891 Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) opened her auto-biography, Retrospection and Introspection, with a romanticized account of her family tree entitled "Ancestral Shadows." Little more than one hundred pages later she closed her presentation with a confident prediction that in future centuries the "Tree of Life" would "blossom" under the influence of "Divine Science," benefiting all the nations. Between...

(The entire section is 6881 words.)

L. Brent Bohlke (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Willa Cather and The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy," in American Literature, Vol. 54, No. 2, May, 1982, pp. 288-94.

[In the following essay, Bohlke explores Willa Cather's connection to Eddy and Christian Science.]

As with many other writers of fiction whose foundations were laid in journalism, the total number of words which came from the pen of Willa Cather will never be known. Besides the great number of unsigned articles which appeared in numerous newspapers and other publications, Cather also published several stories, articles and reviews under pseudonyms. John P. Hinz, Bernice Slote, Mildred R. Bennett, Virginia Faulkner, William M. Curtin and others...

(The entire section is 2216 words.)

R. Laurence Moore (essay date 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mormonism, Christian Science, and Spiritualism," in The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives, edited by Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow, University of Illinois Press, 1983, pp. 135-61.

[In the following essay, Moore examines the connection between Christian Science and the occult.]

Mary Baker Eddy's first husband happened to be a Mason. Briefly but happily married to George Glover, she remained forever grateful for the help she received from his brother Masons when Glover died. Later, membership in a Masonic lodge was the single organizational affiliation that was not ruled incompatible with membership in the Christian Science mother church. However,...

(The entire section is 2371 words.)

Susan Hill Lindley (essay date 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Ambiguous Feminism of Mary Baker Eddy," in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 64, No. 3, July, 1984, pp. 318-31.

[In the following essay, Lindley discusses Eddy's feminist principles.]

Among women who have achieved recognition in the field of religion, Mary Baker Eddy frequently appears as a pioneer, a woman who founded and led a major religious movement and who used feminine imagery for the divine. During and since her lifetime, biographers and historians have presented portraits of the founder of Christian Science of an almost dizzying variety, from unadulterated adulation to devastating attack.

More recently, Mary Baker Eddy as woman has...

(The entire section is 4422 words.)

David L. Weddle (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Christian Science Textbook: An Analysis of the Religious Authority of Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy," in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 84, No. 3, July, 1991, pp. 273-97.

[In the following essay, Weddle argues that Christian Science is based on a "mythic vision of Christian history."]

A holy book arouses the greatest respect even among those (indeed, most of all among those) who do not read it … and the most sophistical reasoning avails nothing in the face of the decisive assertion, which beats down every objection: Thus it is written. It is for this reason that the passages in it which are to lay down an article of...

(The entire section is 8350 words.)

Stephen Gottschalk (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Honesty, Blasphemy and The Destiny of the Mother Church," in The Christian Century, Vol. 108, No. 32, 1991, pp. 1028-1031.

[In the following essay, Gottschalk explores the controversial reception of Bliss Knapp's biography of Mary Baker Eddy.]

A book and an endowment have thrown the Church of Christ, Scientist, into its most significant controversy of the past 70 years. The dispute erupted after the church announced it would publish a book it had rejected over four decades ago, Bliss Knapp's The Destiny of the Mother Church, as part of a new biography series on church founder Mary Baker Eddy. Then in early September former church archivist Lee Z....

(The entire section is 2958 words.)

Glen W. Gadberry (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Lost American Opportunity: Two 1931 German Plays about Mary Baker Eddy," in Comparative Drama, Vol. 28, No. 4, Winter, 1994/1995, pp. 486-509.

[In the following essay, Gadberry discusses two little-known German dramas about Eddy.]

My personal interpretation is that Germany has such a wealth of love, mercy, and other virtues found in the Christian faiths that we do not need an American sect, which in my opinion, does not teach humility, but strives for business success in addition to religious goals.—Ilse Langner (1931)

In 1930 and 1931, a critical biography and two plays about Mary Baker Glover Patterson...

(The entire section is 7440 words.)

Robert David Thomas (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "With Banners Still Flying: Christian Science and American Culture," in With Bleeding Footsteps: Mary Baker Eddy's Path to Religious Leadership, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, pp. 291-310.

[In the following essay, Thomas surveys Eddy's impact on modern American social and religious thought]

Mary Baker Eddy's death in 1910 was not the passing of an ordinary woman. Obituaries appeared in big-city tabloids and small-town weeklies across the country. Thumbing through a sample of these editorial comments today, one is struck by their lack of neutrality. Even when progressive America admired her accomplishments, it was uncomfortable with her, not knowing where to fit her...

(The entire section is 7993 words.)