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Getting to know Mary Baker Eddy

From the December 2021 issue of The Christian Science Journal

My first serious encounter with the writings of Mary Baker Eddy was when I was in my teens. I was full of fear—so much so that I couldn’t sleep, get myself to attend my college classes, or do the homework. Looking for help, I started reading Mrs. Eddy’s primary work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, more earnestly. I still remember saying to myself while reading: “Finally someone understands me!” Or at another point, “Yes—that’s exactly what’s been bothering me.” Or “Why didn’t I ever notice that?” Or “OK, I can do that.” I read all the way through Science and Health in a week, and it brought me peace. The fear disappeared with a better understanding of God, and I was able to go forward with my studies. 

Others I know who have had a wide variety of healings while reading Mrs. Eddy’s writings along with the Bible also say that these books feel like friends. We take our questions to them. We turn to them for help if we aren’t feeling well. We find healing and answers there, and the answers come with such compassion and acknowledgment of who we really are as God’s loved children, that even corrections and demands feel like support. 

So it’s not surprising if we become interested in the author of Science and Health herself and look for articles about her or biographies of her life.

As with any major public figure, there are a number of biographies of Mrs. Eddy available—some sold in Christian Science Reading Rooms and some not. Not all of them agree. Some are filled with the recollections of her students or those in her household. Some have extensive historical information. Some are very spiritually perceptive. Others are frankly personal attacks. During her lifetime Mrs. Eddy expressed gratitude for accurate accounts. She also corrected false accounts, and some of these corrections are included in her published collection of Prose Works.

How can we tell what’s accurate or not? From its beginning, Mrs. Eddy’s Church has cared deeply about the accuracy of the historical account of her life. It has collected, preserved, and catalogued her correspondence and papers, as well as secondary materials from those who knew her. These are not kept secret, but are open for research. Several biographers have researched this archive, and referenced the valuable information found there. In addition, anyone can send a specific inquiry for research and clarification to The Mary Baker Eddy Library. And some biographies are available on 

These resources provide a valuable record of the self-sacrifice and persistence and courage of her life, as well as giving perspectives on the culture of her times. They also point to the need for something more than personal history to understand her as the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 

This deeper understanding is referred to in a reply to a letter from a clergyman that is included in her published Prose Works. The clergyman had written to her to ask for a personal interview. He wanted to learn from her firsthand. She explained to him that learning from her writings was what she most recommended. She included in her letter, “St. John found Christ, Truth, in the Word which is God. We look for the sainted Revelator in his writings, and there we find him. Those who look for me in person, or elsewhere than in my writings, lose me instead of find me” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 119–120). (That said, both before and after this letter, she did grant some interviews, apparently when she felt it was appropriate or necessary.)  

The value of looking for someone in their teachings is apparent in a biblical account of Christ Jesus and his disciples on their way to Jerusalem. Messengers were sent ahead to prepare for Jesus and his disciples to stay in a village of the Samaritans, who didn’t get along with the Jews. The Samaritans, hearing that Jesus was going to Jerusalem, didn’t welcome him. The Bible account says: “When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village” (Luke 9:54–56).

The disciples thought that they knew Jesus. After all, they’d been living with him. They thought they were defending his name and position. But they were actually proposing to do something very contrary to his teachings and mission. To understand and truly help him, they needed to grasp more of his teachings. 

Then there’s Paul—a remarkable follower of Christ Jesus who was tireless and eloquent in his discipleship. He spread the message of Christianity widely, practiced Christian healing, helped to establish churches, and wrote extensively. He was also frequently misunderstood and persecuted, and Mrs. Eddy comments on this: “Abuse of the motives and religion of St. Paul hid from view the apostle’s character, which made him equal to his great mission. . . . To misunderstand Paul, was to be ignorant of the divine idea he taught” (Science and Health, p. 560). Getting to know Paul accurately and getting to know the divine idea he taught, were intertwined.  

Getting to know Mary Baker Eddy is intertwined with getting to know Christian Science itself. In her book Retrospection and Introspection, which contains extensive autobiographical material, Mrs. Eddy mentions that “mere historic incidents” are only meaningful if “they illustrate the ethics of Truth.” And that “. . . if spiritual conclusions are separated from their premises, the nexus is lost, and the argument, with its rightful conclusions, becomes correspondingly obscure” (pp. 21–22).  

Mrs. Eddy’s teachings are the nexus that provides the spiritual context and spiritual connections needed to understand her. It’s her teachings of the Science of Christianity that explain why a 19th-century woman from rural New England didn’t need extensive theological training to understand the deep things of God in the Bible and practice (as well as teach others to practice) Christian healing, which had mostly been lost since early Christianity. 

It’s interesting that, in the Manual of The Mother Church, Mrs. Eddy asks that each of the public lectures on Christian Science sponsored by branch churches include “testimony to the facts” about her life (p. 93). Why are these facts so important?

Maybe one reason is found in some of the testimonies of healing in the Christian Science periodicals that mention an initial reluctance to investigate Christian Science after hearing personal attacks on and misunderstandings of Mrs. Eddy. These testifiers were very glad to have those views corrected, and the correction felt to them like part of the healing they experienced.

The outsized venom and hatred expressed in some of the attacks on Mrs. Eddy may be surprising at times. But in his Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus addressed persecution of his followers, saying, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12). 

In Mrs. Eddy’s case, given her inseparability from her teachings, attacks not only have been personal, but also have appeared to be aimed at discrediting Christian Science. Some attacks have attempted to profile Christian Science as coming from an aberrant human personality, in order to deny that Christian Science is divine revelation. Various critics seem to understand the essential point that it would take divine origin and authority for Christian Science to heal as it does. But they miss the corresponding point—a point that Mrs. Eddy consistently and strongly speaks of—that this divine origin isn’t her, but God.

Although many naturally have a deep love and gratitude for Mrs. Eddy because of her profound discovery and the sacrifices she made to share it with humanity, Christian Scientists do not deify her or identify her as a Christ figure. Misunderstandings about Mrs. Eddy in relation to Christ, in her time, were a concern to her. And she corrected misunderstandings several times. 

For example, when the New York Herald asked her whether she considered herself a second Christ, she sent a written response, which says in part: “Even the question shocks me. . . . 

“. . . to think or speak of me in any manner as a Christ, is sacrilegious. Such a statement would not only be false, but the absolute antipode of Christian Science, and would savor more of heathenism than of my doctrines” (Pulpit and Press, pp. 74, 75). She thought of herself as a follower of Christ Jesus, and instructed Christian Scientists to “follow your Leader only so far as she follows Christ” (Message to The Mother Church for 1901, p. 34).

Responding to a critic, she once explained: “I stand in relation to this century as a Christian Discoverer, Founder, and Leader” (Miscellany, p. 302). These terms are still used by Christian Scientists: She is the Discoverer of Christian Science, the Founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Leader of the Christian Science movement. But what may at first sound merely organizational or obvious, is deep and substantial. For example, here’s how the writing of her books felt for Mrs. Eddy: “The works I have written on Christian Science contain absolute Truth, and my necessity was to tell it; . . . I was a scribe under orders; and who can refrain from transcribing what God indites. . . ?” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 311).

A full understanding of Mrs. Eddy and her unique place in Christian Science and Christianity may come gradually. Still, each time we sit down again to read one of her books, we discern a little more clearly who the author is, and begin to see the divine authority that impelled her message. The revelatory truth there feels familiar. And in that light we may find ourselves nodding our heads and saying to ourselves: “That changes everything!” Or “Hmm . . . Love again.” Or “So I’m not alone.” Or “Now I see what to do.”

More in this issue / December 2021


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