Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism

Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism

by Stephen Gottschalk


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This richly detailed study highlights the last two decades of the life of Mary Baker Eddy, a prominent religious thinker whose character and achievement are just beginning to be understood. It is the first book-length discussion of Eddy to make full use of the resources of the Mary Baker Eddy Collection in Boston. Rolling Away the Stone focuses on her long-reaching legacy as a Christian thinker, specifically her challenge to the materialism that threatens religious belief and practice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253223234
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 02/23/2011
Series: Religion in North America
Pages: 504
Sales rank: 546,166
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Stephen Gottschalk (1940–2005) was an independent scholar, an authority on Christian Science thought, and a former member of the Church’s Committee on Publication. His works include The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life.

Read an Excerpt

Rolling Away the Stone

Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism

By Stephen Gottschalk

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2006 Stephen Gottschalk
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34673-5


"O God, is it all!"

From Glory unto Glory

The Next Friends Suit was the culminating ordeal of Mary Baker Eddy's life and in some ways the most threatening. She was ultimately vindicated and even rose in public esteem. Yet if the Next Friends had prevailed, the "insanity" imputed to her would inevitably have colored public perceptions of the religion she had founded. She would have lost control over her own person and property, and the movement she led would have suffered a severe and perhaps insurmountable setback.

Yet in Eddy's view there was a kind of glory to this experience—not the glory the world gives, but the glory that comes from enduring the malice that she saw as always threatening to extinguish spiritual light. This is the glory of the sacrificial love that Eddy felt made possible Jesus' triumph over hatred and death. In the chapter "Atonement and Eucharist" in Science and Health, she spoke of his "treading alone his loving pathway up to the throne of glory," of "the great glory of an everlasting victory" that overshadowed the Last Supper, of "his night of gloom and glory in the garden" of Gethsemane, and of his meeting with his disciples by the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection, when "his gloom had passed into glory." All Christians must share his suffering to some degree, she felt, in order to follow their Master and partake in some measure of that glory.

If the summer of 1907 proved to be Eddy's time of glory in this Christian sense, it was a summer of a different kind of glory for another notable American, Mark Twain. Accurately, if immodestly, he declared in a passage in his autobiography that for a generation he had been "as widely celebrated a literary person as America has ever produced." He was both flattered and gratified when in early May he was invited to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University, to be bestowed thenext month. Until then, as he noted with some pique, he had received no academic honors commensurate with his popularity and fame.

Yet it would have been hard even for Twain to imagine how an old lion such as he could have been better lionized. When he disembarked in London, stevedores stopped their labor to applaud him. Old friends, photographers, and miscellaneous admirers queued up to greet him at Brown's Hotel in London. He made the social rounds, marched about London in his trademark white suit, spoke with King Edward VII at a garden party at Windsor Castle, and was given special leave by the queen to wear his hat in the royal presence. At the Oxford degree ceremony, he received louder cheers than fellow honorees Rudyard Kipling, General William Booth, Auguste Rodin, and Camille Saint-Saëns.

Twain was now at the apex of his public career, his long-standing thirst for honors temporarily satiated. When he arrived back in the United States in late July, New York newspapers ran headlines announcing that Mark Twain had come home.

By mid-August, the front pages of the same newspapers were crowded with news of the Next Friends Suit. Twain remained publicly silent on the controversy. In early May, he had made a passing reference to Eddy when he was misreported as having been lost at sea in a yachting accident off the coast of Virginia. As he told the New York Times with his usual aplomb, he was investigating the report of his demise himself, adding that he was definitely not absent from New York because he was "dodging Mrs. Eddy." Later, when he docked in London and reporters asked him about the Next Friends Suit, he told them that he had nothing further to say about Eddy, that he had "said it all" before.

By that time, Twain had said quite a lot about Christian Science and its founder. His first public comment on the subject was an article in the October 1899 issue of Cosmopolitan, later reprinted in his book Christian Science, with Notes Containing Corrections to Date. The piece was a burlesque of Christian Science, written in 1898 while he was living in Vienna. It purported to be the memoirs of a traveler in the Swiss Alps who fell over "a cliff seventy-five feet high," bounced off and broke a series of boulders, was so badly injured that he looked "like a hat-rack," and was cured through the ministrations of a Christian Science practitioner summering in a nearby village. His portrait of the frumpy and officious practitioner is wickedly effective, although neither here nor in his later writings did he deny that spiritual healing does occur.

Once Twain began writing about Christian Science, he could not let the subject rest. In the words of Twain scholar Hamlin Hill, "Twain was obsessed with Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy." In 1901 and 1902 he vented his fears that the fast-growing movement was becoming hugely powerful in an unpublished fantasy called "The Secret History of Eddypus, the World-Empire." In the "Eddypus" manuscript, the voice of a chronicler in the future bewails the fact that Christian Science had grown to such mammoth proportions as to become, in combination with Roman Catholicism, the dominant force on the planet. In this vast new dark age to come, "the World-Empire of Holy Eddypus covers and governs all the globe" except China, and humanity regresses to a kind of supermedieval authoritarianism. The new religion of this empire is called "Eddymania"; the word religion itself has been replaced by "Eddygush," Christmas has given way to "Eddymas," religious rituals now consist of formulas from Science and Health called "Eddymush," the dollar becomes "Eddyplunk," and so on.

Work on the manuscript lapsed, but in 1903 Twain was back writing about Christian Science, planning a book for Harper and Brothers to consist of the Cosmopolitan material along with additional chapters, including some of the "Eddypus" manuscript. Although the book was set in type, proofread, and advertised, Harper's abruptly withdrew it—according to Twain, because "the Xn Scientist cult ... had scared the biggest publisher in the Union!" In February 1907, Harper's did publish the book, probably because the growing stir over Eddy made doing so irresistible. In the meantime, most of its contents had been published in four articles he wrote for the North American Review between December 1902 and April 1903. By this time, Twain's focus had shifted from Christian Science as a healing method to Eddy herself. The picture he drew of her in the North American Review articles and the "Eddypus" manuscript was at the very least overwrought. Measured in terms of her achievement, he wrote, "it is thirteen hundred years since the world has produced anyone who could reach up to Mrs. Eddy's waistbelt." She is "the most daring and masculine and masterful woman that has appeared in the earth in centuries."

Yet there is nothing admiring in Twain's listing of the qualities that led to her rise to prominence, among which he included "extraordinary daring," "indestructible persistency," "devouring ambition," "limitless selfishness," and "a never-wavering confidence in herself"—traits usually associated with men. He depicts her as the ultimate control freak, whose entire motivation can be reduced to vanity, ambition, and the naked will to power. The bylaws in the Church Manual (Twain had borrowed a copy from Frederick Peabody) showed that "the master-passion in Mrs. Eddy's heart is a hunger for power and glory."

Replying in the New York Herald in January 1903 to the first of Twain's North American Review articles, Eddy wrote that his "wit was not wasted in certain directions." For one thing, it afforded her an occasion to disavow the personal self-exaltation Twain had attributed to her, declaring that she regarded "self-deification as blasphemous." In response to the merry romp he had with the fact that her students often referred to her endearingly as "Mother," she maintained that this was not of her doing and she had asked them to stop. She specifically rejected the view that she was any kind of latter-day Virgin Mary, then set forth unequivocally and in the broadest terms the status she felt she had earned: "I stand in relation to this century as a Christian Discoverer, Founder, and Leader."

Twain, like many other men of his time, would have preferred that women, including Eddy, remain on their domestic pedestals, as his own wife, Olivia ("Livy"), had done and so many other women were forced to do. Although Eddy was not primarily concerned with feminist issues, her life was a textbook case on how to live outside of conventional feminine roles. Her words in reply to Twain underscore the point: she not only discovered Christian Science, but insisted on implementing her discovery by founding a church, then leading it with decisive authority.

In her reply to Twain, she also affirmed that she was "less lauded, pampered, provided for, and cheered" than others. Years before, she had written to the editor of the Christian Science Journal that, rather than being some kind of pope, "I have always been for this cause, the household drudge, the servant of servants." There was much work that needed attending to: finding better ways to communicate Christian Science to the public, honing the church structure, correcting and counseling the church's board of directors, encouraging and supporting students through private letters, sending messages to her followers, and putting Science and Health through its final major revisions.

Indeed, the final major revision of Science and Health appeared in 1907, the very year in which Twain proclaimed in his work Christian Science that Eddy was so lacking in cultivation and intelligence that she could not possibly have written the book, precisely because the book was so well written. By commenting positively on the literary merit of the work, he in effect retracted his earlier caustic comments on Science and Health in his 1899 article for the Cosmopolitan as the most "strange, and frantic, and incomprehensible, and uninterpretable" of books. Its language, he said, was at first unfamiliar to him, but upon further examination he no longer found it hard to grasp. He now spoke of Science and Health as "a compact, grammatical, dignified, and workman-like body of literature" and, of an extended passage he quoted from the opening chapter on "Prayer," as "wise and sane and elevated and lucid and compact"—no small tribute from a writer of Twain's stature.

Here, as elsewhere, Twain finds a good deal to praise in Christian Science, although he continued to damn its founder. In her published response to Twain's criticisms, Eddy said simply, "What I am remains to be proved by the good I do," and Twain conceded that she had done much good. Eddy noted this herself, commenting to Alfred Farlow, her spokesperson, that she detected an "undertone" in the article "which is very complimentary to Christian Science." So did Frederick Peabody, Chandler's junior counsel in the Next Friends Suit, who wrote Twain candidly that he found Twain's first article in the Review "somewhat disappointing," while the Philadelphia Medical Journal said scathingly, "Mr. Clemens himself comes so near to being a follower of Mrs. Eddy that he has not critical insight enough left to see that her claim to be able to abolish disease is the gist of the whole humbug.... Clearly, Mark Twain is already four-fifths Eddyite, and of all the blatherskite he has ever written his latest is a little the most senile."

While Twain's comments about Eddy were almost all negative and mocking, when he takes up the effects of her teaching in people's lives, he often speaks of Christian Science with warm eloquence and poetic feeling. In his book Christian Science, for example, he remarks on the distinctive spirituality that permeates her teaching:

The Christian Scientist believes that the Spirit of God (life and love) pervades the universe like an atmosphere; that whoso will study Science and Health can get from it the secret of how to inhale that transforming air; that to breathe it is to be made new; that from the new man all sorrow, all care, all miseries of the mind vanish away ...; that it purifies the body from disease, which is a vicious creation of the gross human mind, and cannot continue to exist in the presence of the Immortal Mind, the renewing Spirit of God.

A Shared Moral Passion

What impelled the man who was then the best-loved writer in the English language to speak so warmly of a religious teaching, when almost all his other comments on Christianity are shot through with mocking negativity? Why should he have returned almost obsessively to the subject of Christian Science and its founder for nearly a decade? Why, after telling reporters in the summer of 1907 that he had "said it all" before about Eddy, could he not resist taking another whack at her the very next year in a satirical passage of several pages in the final version of The Mysterious Stranger? How, having spoken repeatedly of Eddy as a hypocrite and a fraud, could he praise the spirituality he saw in Christian Science and its effects on people's lives?

As deeply as Twain distrusted Eddy, as vehemently as he railed against her, he agreed with her that Christianity must be an active healing presence that could heal the ills of the flesh as well as regenerate the sins of the soul. "Any Christian," he said in Christian Science, "who was in earnest and not a make-believe, not a policy-Christian, not a Christian for revenue only, had that healing power." Despite their vast differences otherwise, Twain and Eddy were most alike in their shared passion for separating what they believed to be authentic from sham religion. Beneath his showmanship burned a genuine moral passion that took savage joy in winnowing truth from falsehood, authenticity from pretense.

The child of a rough-hewn religious culture in the mid-continental heartland of America, Twain had a brash, boyish impudence that prevented him from taking formal pieties too seriously. What he said in his autobiography about a friend during his youth, a giant of a fellow named Wales McCormick, applies equally to himself: "Among his shining characteristics was the most limitless and adorable irreverence."

For the sake of his wife, Livy, whom he married in 1870 when he was thirty-four, Twain made spasmodic efforts to conform himself to the conventional Christianity in which she found comfort. Twain ended up not only abandoning such efforts, but helping to subvert Livy's faith as well. When he traveled through Illinois the year after his marriage, he wrote her about a church service he had attended with the evident intention of affording reassurance of his own regularity in religious matters. But his description was saturated with a faint sense of the absurd. He described "the stiff pews; the black velvet contribution-purses ...; the wheezy melodeon in the gallery-front; the old maid behind it in severe simplicity of dress." When he spoke of "the gallery, with ascending seats ...; six boys scattered through it, with secret spit-ball designs on the baldheaded man dozing below," he obviously identified with the boys.

It has often been observed that Twain's personal acquaintance with tragedy and suffering, as well as his moral passion, gave a special edge to his humor. There was certainly a serious moral undertone to the often withering wit that came into play when Twain touched upon conventional religiosity. Professing Christians in both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are portrayed as almost unrelievedly complacent and smug. But Huck and Jim express the native compassion and generosity of spirit that Twain saw as truly Christian. When these qualities were living and real—as they were to him, at least imaginatively, as embodied in these characters—there was no need for the language of Christianity to explain or justify them. They were simply and convincingly there. And when Twain was working at his height as an artist, he could render their presence naturally and movingly.

He was at least as adept in exposing the absence of natural and unaffected Christianity when he believed it should have been present. Twain felt with deeply committed moral passion that it was his vocation as an artist to expose the hypocrisies of a nominally Christian civilization. In 1866, he wrote to a friend entering the ministry: "I wanted to be a minister myself—it was the only genuine ambition I ever had—but somehow I never had any qualification for it but the ambition." The year before, discussing this ambition in a letter to his brother, he explained that he never felt the call to realize his ambition to become a preacher "because I could not supply myself with the necessary stock in trade—i.e. religion." His aspirations in that direction were, therefore, "the very ecstasy of presumption." But, he went on, he did feel the "'call' to literature, of a low order—i.e. humorous. It is nothing to be proud of, but it is my strongest suit."


Excerpted from Rolling Away the Stone by Stephen Gottschalk. Copyright © 2006 Stephen Gottschalk. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Acknowledgments xi

Note on Textual Usages xiii

Introduction 1

Prelude: The World's "Leaden Weight" 9

1 "O God, is it all!" 43

2 Becoming "Mrs. Eddy" 88

3 By What Authority? On Christian Ground 123

4 By What Authority? Listening and Leading 146

5 Woman Goes Forth 168

6 "The Visible Unity of Spirit" 194

7 "The Preparation of the Heart" 223

8 "Ayont Hate's Thrall" 257

9 A Power, Not a Place 287

10 "The Outflowing Life of Christianity" 320

11 "The Kingdoms of this World" 355

12 Elijah's Mantle 393

Coda: The Prophetic Voice 415

Chronology 421

Notes 427

Bibliography 459

Index 469

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Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stephen Gottschalk has done a wonderful service for those who are interested in a balanced portrait of Mary Baker Eddy including her numerous revisions of Science and Health and the church she was led to establish. It also provides enlightening reading for Christian Scientists for a more comprehensive understanding or as a reminder of Eddy's priorities, struggles, and accomplishments.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago