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Living in the Third Degree

From the January 2013 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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Christian Science teaches that divine Mind, God, is the infinite, all-knowing, ever-conscious cause and creator of all being. Since God is one, All, and infinite, there can logically be only one Mind, and this Mind is actually our real and only Mind right now. In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy writes, “In Science, Mind is one, including noumenon and phenomena, God and His thoughts” (p. 114).

But it’s obvious that in our daily life, one also has to deal with a supposed “opposite” to this real and only Mind. To explain this anomaly, Mrs. Eddy uses the term mortal mind—a term for something that simply doesn’t exist. She explains this clearly where she writes: “Mortal mind is a solecism in language, and involves an improper use of the word mind. As Mind is immortal, the phrase mortal mind implies something untrue and therefore unreal; and as the phrase is used in teaching Christian Science, it is meant to designate that which has no real existence” (Science and Health, p. 114).

The Apostle Paul referred to this suppositional mentality as the “carnal mind,” and told the Romans that this mind was “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). The truth is, we are required to abandon the false concept of a mind apart from God—and all the traits of character that would identify us with this so-called mind—in order to experience the “new birth” that demonstrates our original spiritual identity as the offspring of God, Spirit, as Jesus explained (see John 3:3).

A practical guide to examining thought

As an aid to accomplishing this end, I have found a wealth of inspiration by studying the “Scientific Translation of Immortal Mind” and the “Scientific Translation of Mortal Mind” as presented in Science and Health (see pp. 115–116). Over the years, this study has been a logical and practical guide to examining my thoughts, helping to weed out whatever is unlike the nature of God, and measuring my spiritual progress. The “scientific translation” of these terms probes human consciousness to its depth, and uncovers its fallacies and weaknesses. At the same time, it points to the spiritual fact of the allness and onlyness of God, and our unity with Him.

Mrs. Eddy presents the translation of mortal mind in three degrees, and it is important to note that the Third Degree—where process has disappeared and perfect God and perfect man appear as the spiritual fact—corresponds to the reality revealed in the translation of “Immortal Mind.”

The First Degree, “Depravity,” is titled “Physical,” and is defined as “Evil beliefs, passions and appetites, fear, depraved will, self-justification, pride, envy, deceit, hatred, revenge, sin, sickness, disease, death.” Its marginal heading is, significantly, “Unreality.”

The Second Degree, “Evil beliefs disappearing,” is titled “Moral,” and is explained as “Humanity, honesty, affection, compassion, hope, faith, meekness, temperance.” Its marginal heading is “Transitional qualities.” 

The Third Degree, “Understanding,” is titled “Spiritual” and is unfolded as “Wisdom, purity, spiritual understanding, spiritual power, love, health, holiness.” Its comforting marginal heading is “Reality.”

Never consigned to the First and Second Degrees

With the exception of the Third Degree “Reality,” the First and Second Degrees, when expanded in application, include various levels of density. For instance, “First Degree thinking”—negative thinking and acting—could include uncertainty, fretfulness, or apathy, which one might consider relatively innocuous, though they certainly need to be overcome. But the depraved thinking that includes hatred, revenge, and envy drops one far deeper into the mire. In other words, there’s bad and there’s terrible. There’s dust and there’s sludge. 

But even so, because the spiritual fact is that we are already the sons and daughters of God right now, living in our Father’s heavenly kingdom—living in the Third Degree—no one is forever consigned to the First Degree, or “Unreality.” The Christ, the pure, true idea of God, good, speaks to human consciousness to free it from its self-imposed downward tendencies. 

If one’s thinking has been sojourning or languishing in the First Degree for one reason or another—like the prodigal son in Jesus’ great parable (see Luke 15)—and is beginning to look upward, wanting to do better; when one is beginning to struggle with oneself or begins to feel uncomfortable with the chains and limitations of the flesh, then, even though one might still be immersed in the mud of the First Degree, that one is on what I like to call the escalator that’s beginning to move upward spiritually. Contrariwise, if one is going along in a rather bland way, possibly doing some things that are not too bad, but beginning to justify one’s wrong conduct and increase in wrongdoing, then that one is on what I like to call the “descalator” that’s starting to go downward. This only leads to more discomfort, more suffering, more materiality, less light, more darkness.

Likewise, in the Second Degree (“Transitional qualities”) there are different levels of density. For instance, there’s humanity, honesty, and meekness—but going up the escalator, we find self-sacrifice, self-immolation, unselfed love, and so on. All the qualities in the Second Degree, being good, have their source in the Third Degree (“Reality”), since true goodness has no other source than God. They come from the Third Degree, and point to it. They appear in our lives proportionately as we yield our thinking to the Third Degree, to the reality of our being. 

Yielding to the Third Degree

The Third Degree, “Understanding,” by virtue of its allness, is destined to prove that allness here and now by destroying the depravity of the First Degree. So an individual evidencing characteristics of the First Degree can, with much humility, be renovated, uplifted, improved, redeemed, restored, because that individual’s consciousness can be touched by the Christ, Truth. The First Degree characteristics are like lead weights dropped into the ocean. They must go down. If one were to hold on to the weights, he would go down with them. But Christ, the truth of everyone’s spiritual being, can enable him to let go of these weights so that only the weights need go down. Progress for the individual demands that the traits of the First Degree be consciously let go—eliminated, destroyed—in order for the qualities of the Second Degree—the transitional moral qualities—to surface.

The Third Degree—where process has disappeared and perfect God and perfect man appear as the spiritual fact—corresponds to the reality revealed in the translation of "Immortal Mind."

The problem is that many people stop at that broad, open field of the Second Degree that stretches almost as far as the eye can see in every direction. One might call this the “Second Degree plateau,” and it’s important to recall that this degree is a transitional state, not the end of the journey. It involves those qualities of humanity that can be so helpful and progressive when seen as yielding to the divine Mind—or that can be so deadening and restrictive when seen as mere humanism, a product of the so-called human mind, a stagnant condition that isn’t yielding to the divine Mind, the belief that just being a “really good person” is the end of the road. This belief in a personal mind and personal good is inadequate to save from sin. But when we, with meekness, acknowledge this fact, we are ready to yield to the power of the Christ, the divine idea of good, moving us Spiritward to see that the “end of the journey” goes beyond amelioration of suffering to healing and the demonstration of our spiritual selfhood. 

If thought isn’t rising on the “up escalator” and being stirred to move beyond dead-end humanism, it can’t heal, because it’s resting on the acceptance of both good and evil, right and wrong, Spirit and matter. And here is where it takes the greatest measure of spiritual wisdom and true spiritual growth in order to discern which way we’re moving in the Second Degree. To advance spiritually takes self-examination, the honest self-searching that Mrs. Eddy requires in the textbook. It also takes a great deal of humility, and a tremendous amount of love.

So as we’ve seen, the Third Degree is “Spiritual”—the reality. Here, mortal mind (the illusion of a mind apart from God) disappears, because in reality there is only infinite Mind, God, and His infinite self-expression. The helpful characteristics of the Second Degree are not destroyed, but elevated. They’re melted and purified as they yield to their pure natural classification. Science and Health puts it this way: “When mortal man blends his thoughts of existence with the spiritual and works only as God works, he will no longer grope in the dark and cling to earth because he has not tasted heaven” (p. 263).

The beginning—and the end—of our journey

The transitional stage, the Second Degree, doesn’t provide the protection, safety, and healing of the Third Degree. And it’s so very important to reason from the standpoint of the Third Degree, begin our metaphysical work in the Third Degree, abide mentally in the Third Degree, because that degree alone embraces the human consciousness and lifts it higher. Look at the beginning of the loved 91st Psalm: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High [Third Degree] shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” [Second Degree]. This is so important to understand for our well-being in today’s challenging world! We would never volunteer to be limited or subject to accidents. We wouldn’t voluntarily open our mental door to contagion or to any of the myriad diseases that float along in the atmosphere of thought. We wouldn’t ask for nervous conditions or aging symptoms. But when we don’t close the door on the First Degree, we are liable to invite any of its “gross neighbors” to pop in at any time unannounced! 

When one allows one’s thought to lodge in any level of the First Degree, one is actually yielding to a phase of hypnotism, that is, one is not in possession of his natural, normal, conscious thinking. Most people consider hypnotism as a type of deep sleep imposed on one’s thought. That’s true, but there are many types of hypnotism. For instance, there’s clinical hypnosis, self-hypnosis, hypnosis due to fatigue, fear, shock, focus on the body. One can even become hypnotized by hearing or reading a medical diagnosis, or by looking at a disturbing condition on the body. One might become hypnotized by male or female domination, by assertive personal will, and even by directed mental suggestion. In other words, one becomes hypnotized when one yields one’s independent thought to a harmful influence or suggestion. The Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey” (Romans 6:16). When we think we see something that isn’t really there, we’re hypnotized. 

Actually, as we begin to understand that we live, and move, and have our being in the Third Degree, we realize that we have always been there. We never “began” in a First Degree, or even in a Second Degree, condition or experience. The fruits of such conscious abiding are made clear where Mrs. Eddy explains: “Mortals will lose their sense of mortality—disease, sickness, sin, and death—in the proportion that they gain the sense of man’s spiritual preexistence as God’s child; as the offspring of good, and not of God’s opposite,—evil, or a fallen man” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 181). The acknowledgment of our preexistence (or our forever and only existence) is the acknowledgment of our forever living in the Third Degree. The fact is that in reality we have always been there, have never left it, can never leave it. This understanding brings the expression of God’s goodness into our present experience.

Recently, a practitioner was praying long and earnestly for an individual who had been suffering for some time with internal pain. For several days there were ups and downs. He would get better, and then he’d get worse again. The practitioner continued to recognize spiritual truths, such as the patient’s real being as a creation of divine Mind, living in Mind, not made up of bodily organs, but of ideas of that Mind. This was helpful and brought relief—but not healing. Then, as he was praying, a mental shift gently took over. The present reality of those declarations became evident to him. It’s the shift that Mrs. Eddy describes when she says: “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual,—neither in nor of matter,—and the body will then utter no complaints” (Science and Health, p. 14). That’s the consciousness that God’s children, actually all of us, are always living in the Third and only Degree. It was divine Mind revealing itself to the practitioner. It was as much for the practitioner’s healing as for the patient’s healing. At that moment he could see something of the patient’s true being. That being was inorganic, uninfected, uninflamed, uncongested. In that instant, the patient was well. No more relapses, just healing. And the practitioner advanced spiritually. 

The Third Degree is both the beginning and the end of our journey, for it’s where we always are and always have been living.

James Spencer replies to a comment and explains how 'the shadow of the Almighty' is like the second degree.

James Spencer is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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