Mary Baker Eddy’s Challenge to Materiality


James Spencer, C.S.B., of Birmingham, Michigan

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts


Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy's discovery, "challenges materialism in all its phases," lecturer James Spencer, C.S.B. of Birmingham, Mich., declared in Boston Sunday.

"This discovery," he pointed out, "is a radical departure from the concept that matter is the source and substance of all being." The title of his lecture was "Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materiality."

Mr. Spencer was introduced by Jane O. Robbins, C.S.B., Second Reader of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a former United States marine and United States Army chaplain. He is a Christian Science practitioner and a teacher of Christian Science and a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship. An abridged text of his lecture follows:


Assassin visited by Mrs. Eddy

President Garfield was shot while in office. This happened in 1881. The assassin, Charles Guiteau, was caught and taken to jail. He felt no remorse, not even guilt. Pride, egotism, self-justification, fanatical hate had made him immune to the gross immorality of his crime. Many people went to see him in his cell. But only one was able to penetrate his mental hardness – a woman. After she had spoken just a few words, he sank back in his chair limp and pale. The magnitude of his act had broken in on him. That woman was Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. (See "Miscellaneous Writings," p. 112.)

I don't know what she said to him. But I do know she had a remarkable spiritual perception of human nature. It could pinpoint wrong thinking so clearly as to expose it and correct it. The purpose was always to bring to light a clearer view of man's true nature as the expression of God.

This deep spiritual insight brought profound changes to individual character. It also brought about physical healings.

One time Mrs. Eddy and a friend went to a furniture store to buy some chairs. They were waited on by a man wearing a bandage over one eye. Mrs. Eddy seemed preoccupied and not interested in the details of selecting a particular chair. Her friend pressed her for a decision and she said, "Any that we can sit on."

When they left the store the friend asked why she wasn't more interested in the chairs. "Could I think of chairs when the man was suffering?" she answered. She felt his need, and her heart reached out to God with an overflowing love that touched everyone around her. The next day her friend returned to the store to place the final order for the chairs. The salesman asked, "Who was that lady with you yesterday? I had an abscess on my eye and when she went out, I took the bandage off, and there was not a sign of it left" ("Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy," Tomlinson, p.53).


What was her discovery?

We might ask the same question, Who was that woman? What is her place in history? What effect does her discovery have on the world today? Was she just an inspired individual with a vision way beyond her time? Or is there more to who she was and what she discovered? Let's get at this by looking first at just what her discovery is.

Mrs. Eddy's discovery provides an answer to the basic evil of today – the churning upheaval of materialism in all its phases. She perceived life as totally in and of Spirit, God. This discovery is a radical departure from the concept that matter is the source and substance of all being.

In her discovery Mrs. Eddy touched the central fact by which spiritual healing, spiritual renewal, is brought about – the totality of Spirit, Spirit not sharing its authority in any degree with matter. She uncovered the divine Principle behind Christ Jesus' marvelous works. She discovered that the way to heal the sick and overcome evil in its various forms is to put more and more weight on the side of Spirit. Meaning, to see Spirit as God, as infinite good, the very substance of man and the universe.

Jesus identified God as Spirit (John 4:24). This name indicates the immortal, immaterial, universal nature of God. It's not something that comes from God. It's actually God Himself. It's the exact opposite of matter. It's the substance and eternal source of all true being.

Ever-active Spirit causes man to be. It's divine Mind, the intelligent Mind-force that protects, supports, sustains, and maintains its creation. It fills all space, infinity without edges, ever-presence without walls. It's the one Ego, or source of all identity. It's purposeful self-conscious Being. God knowing Himself, expressing Himself, revealing Himself.

Since this ever-present, all-knowing Spirit is God, divine Love, it must be completely good, supremely compassionate. Then there can't be an evil spirit, a creator of an evil spirit, or an evil spirit in man. Spirit is God and has made man in His, Spirit's, likeness.

Then man must in reality be spiritual, not material. He must be caused by Spirit, not matter. The true man of Spirit's creating is never formed from matter, in matter, by matter, or because of matter. He's not dependent on matter, stereotyped by matter, driven or frightened by matter, decaying in matter, or dying out of matter. He's recognized by spiritual sense, spiritual receptivity, not by the physical senses.


Spiritual reality in action

The method of Christian Science is for us to realize these spiritual facts, to accept them as the basis of our thought. And Christian healing is welded to this realization. It flows spontaneously from it. Christian Science is the understanding of spiritual reality and the scientific or precise and reliable application of spiritual power. Let's look at Mrs. Eddy's discovery in action.

Some years ago I was serving as a chaplain in the Army. Whenever a chaplain first came to this particular post it was the custom for him to be introduced to the commander and his staff. After the introduction a high-ranking officer came over and said, "Chaplain, I'm not a Christian Scientist. But my wife is interested in it, and we'd both appreciate it if you'd come over and talk with us as soon as you can."

About two days later I went by his home to meet him and his wife. They had twin sons a little over a year old – just the most handsome children you'd want to see. One was toddling about the room. The other couldn't walk. He was hunched over, his back was bent, and he couldn't lift his head from his shoulder. The birth of the child had been very difficult, and it was said that instruments used during the birth had caused the defect. The Army doctors told the family that the child probably never would walk and that he'd always be stooped over. The parents asked if I'd give the child Christian Science treatment – meaning specific prayer for the correction of this disorder.


A child restored to soundness

I asked the mother to read portions of the Bible and Mrs. Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." These readings showed God clearly as Spirit, the one Parent or cause of His own creation. My reason for this was to lift her thought from the false concept of man as a biological mortal locked into a straitjacket of physical limitations. To help her see man's perfect uprightness as Spirit's self-expression. Then I also earnestly turned my own thought prayerfully to God to see this.

I began to glimpse God more clearly as the one eternal Father-Mother. The warm, compassionate, gentle sense of God's parenthood began to flood my thought – this dear Father-Mother God was the only true cause and creator; the real man of God's creating was never encased in matter (sick matter or well matter); he could never be a deformed mortal struggling to be a better formed mortal; he wasn't a biological organism at all.

I remembered Jesus' prayer at the closing hours of his ministry when he stated his true selfhood so clearly, "Now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5). Certainly that glory could only be the radiance of spiritual reality. It had to be Jesus' true selfhood as the expression of God. It had to be the Christ. This selfhood had always existed, would always exist, has to be perfect and safe. And the knowledge of this true selfhood, which had always existed "before the world was," cared for the human Jesus. This Christ, Truth, is what healed, protected, sustained, and supported him.

This same Truth now became very relevant to the child I was treating. I could glimpse in some degree the great Father-Mother Love that created man out of the substance of its own perfect being. Such a loving creator could never deform, cause deformities, or allow deformity in its own pure and loved offspring. A helpless, limited infant could only be the poor counterfeit of the upright, perfect man created and sustained by divine Spirit.

I found inspiration from this statement by Mrs. Eddy, "The crude creations of mortal thought must finally give place to the glorious forms which we sometimes behold in the camera of divine Mind, when the mental picture is spiritual and eternal" (Science and Health, p. 264).

I'd been gaining a much clearer understanding of God's perfectly formed ideas, His wholly spiritual image and likeness. And I sensed intuitively that the mortal picture of deformity and limitation would just have to fade. They must give place to a much freer expression of vitality and strength, to a better sense of normalcy.

And you know, I lost all sense of anxiety. I felt a satisfying glow of comfort and encouragement. It lifted me above the illusion of what the physical senses were trying to make me believe about Spirit's perfect creation. And I knew this false sense couldn't have conscious identity anywhere. It couldn't outline itself or sustain itself. I knew it would have to give place at the very point it was being objectified.

In two weeks the child was well. His back straight, his head up, and he was learning to walk. Now he's six feet four and only stoops to get through a doorway!

Behind my realization of God's perfection and of man's relation to Him was the Christ. This ever-available Christ is the power and presence of God Himself. It's working in you and me to change our thought and to change our experience. It works in us today just as it did in Jesus' time. Paul referred to it as the effectual working of God's power (Eph. 3:7). Mrs. Eddy has brought the Science of this power to light today. And she has shown its basis to be the totality of Spirit and the unreal illusive nature of matter. This is her discovery.

Now let's look at the effect of her discovery. Let's look specifically at its effect in meeting and combating the materialism of today.

Christian Science is the purest form of spirituality because it recognizes Spirit as the only reality. The corollary to this is that matter, materiality, and materialism have no entity, no being, no reality. These are the supposed self-expression of an ignorant false sense of mind which we call mortal mind. Mortal mind, or the carnal or fleshly mind as the Bible calls it, is only a term to indicate the supposed opposite of divine Mind, God. It's not a thing, a person, or a power. It's merely a term to indicate something that only seems to be.


False sense of matter penetrated

All claims of materiality stem from this false sense of mind – from just the general concept of life originating in matter and dependent on matter all the way to the most blatant expressions of malice, greed, and hatred. What's pictured in mortal mind is etched on the body, unless we prevent its action through spiritual understanding.

I'll illustrate this facet of Mrs. Eddy's discovery with an analogy. There's a type of photography that's being developed called holography. Images can be projected and pictured in three dimensions right in space, not on a two-dimensional screen we've been used to seeing. For instance, if this table right here were a holographic reproduction, we'd see it just as it is right now. We could walk around it and see it from all different sides. It would appear just as real as this table. But it wouldn't have any more real substance than a table we might see in a dream.

Holography has many practical and useful applications, but it also illustrates the way mortal mind pictures its thoughts on the body and as the body. Whether these thoughts are conscious or unconscious isn't the point. Whether they're held by an individual or by mankind in general isn't the point. The important thing is to see that mortal mind, that false, lying sense of mind, projects these images on and as itself.

The evil to be cast out always contains some form of materiality, some claim of an opposite to divine Spirit, taken in consciously or unconsciously. It may take the outward form of sickness, or lack, or loneliness, or fear, and so on. But it's always just like the holographic picture; a projection or image that seems to be real, but has no substance of its own.

It's no more than the false shadow of ignorant, lying mortal mind. And it's always dispelled by divine Mind, by the light of the tender, loving, healing Christ, declaring and demonstrating the allness of Spirit. This Christ, Truth, animated Jesus' life and enabled him to heal. This perception of spiritual power is at the center of Mary Baker Eddy's discovery and enables us to heal today.


An alternate to suicide

Here's an example of how this Christ, Truth, blazes away the shadow of sickness. A woman I know had been very ill. She didn't know anything about Christian Science or Mrs. Eddy. The sickness had been diagnosed as a toxic thyroid condition that had progressed so far she was told she was beyond help. Her suffering became unbearable, and she'd stay in her bed for weeks at a time – praying only that she'd soon get well or die very quickly. Finally she decided she'd end it herself and commit suicide, and she began accumulating sleeping pills for that purpose.

She loved God and really didn't want to kill herself because she felt down deep that it was wrong. But she just didn't know what else to do. So on a particular day she somehow got the strength to get up, dress, and go to a little church about a block away to pray – she felt for the last time. It was empty, and she went in. She was alone and just reached out with all her heart for divine help.

After her prayers and many tears, she left and wondered how she could manage to get back home again. She stopped in the first open door. It was a Christian Science Reading Room. The librarian looked at her and said, "My girl, whatever's the matter?" And she broke into tears and said, "Oh, I want to die, but I don't want to die!"

The librarian comforted her, calmed her, and told her something about God and her true relation to Him. That was the beginning of a whole new road to life. Although she didn't come out of the darkness right away, she glimpsed that there was light up ahead. And she gained the courage to take her steps toward the light.


Foundation of materiality cracking

There was a great deal of fear to be overcome. The medical prediction had been so very final. Discouragement and self-pity had to be put down. But she was walking toward the light and she knew it. And she was willing to struggle to overcome the aggressive images mortal mind had projected on her body.

She spent many hours reading Science and Health and making its precepts her own. She started to gain a whole new concept of who she really was. She began to find herself as God's dear child. She began to see that God is Love, all good, and that He doesn't and couldn't create sickness which is the very opposite of His goodness.

Actually for her the foundation of materiality was cracking. The whole concept of mortal man constructed of cellular building blocks was falling like the house built on sand. She was gaining some sense of what it means to build the house on the rock, spiritual understanding. This bedrock understanding is expressed in these remarkable words from Science and Health: “Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual" (Science and Health, p. 468).

Then one day she felt a great flood of God's love. She never felt so loved before in her life. Fear, loneliness, grief, bitterness, all melted in the warmth of that love. The hard and harsh images created by mortal mind – images of suffering, pain, deterioration, and all the rest – these images yielded to a completely different pattern.

She had glimpsed something of the Christ, God's true nature. She began to see that the true man of God's creating had to express that same nature. In other words, the effect had to be like the cause. The creation had to be like the creator. The idea had to be like the divine Mind. It couldn't be mortal or material.

The results showed clearly on her body. She was healed. She was strong and well. She regained normal weight and activity. She took on a full-time job and is living a rewarding and useful life. Spirit had proved itself the master of matter. Mrs. Eddy's great spiritual discovery had proved itself fully practical in subduing the illusion of matter with the spiritual facts.

So now let's ask again the key question put by the man who was healed in the furniture shop, "Who was that woman?"

If Science and Health were merely the product of an inspired New England woman way ahead of her time, it would be a helpful book. But if the discovery it sets forth fulfills a prophesied role in Christian development, it deserves a far more penetrating investigation.

Prophecy is something that many people think is pretty far out – something like looking into a crystal ball and trying to read the future. Far from it! It's right here and now. It's the most exciting and stimulating thing I can think of! It's the sacred discernment of God's present reality and the inevitable fulfillment of this reality in human affairs. It's the very basis of spiritual healing. It's discerning of spiritual fact. This fact is timeless. And according to irresistible spiritual law it's fulfilled in human affairs. Prophecy is actually God's own self-revealing and self-enforcing word.

Throughout history prophets have stood out like mountain peaks that catch the first beams of sunlight. These peaks are higher than those around them so they're the first to receive the light. This was true of the great prophets of Israel, such as Elijah, Isaiah, and others.

Biblical prophecy came more and more to a focus on promises about a Messiah, a saviour that would change the world. This was directly fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.

Then in due time this fulfilled prophecy burst on human thought with his three years of the most startling, barrier-breaking ministry the world has ever known. A mental, moral, and spiritual revolution began which is destined to encompass everyone. The central purpose of this spiritual revolution is the progressive conquest of materiality through the perception of infinite spiritual reality.

Had Jesus just happened along and been an inspired man way ahead of his time, he might have presented a helpful philosophy which would eventually take its place among the other philosophies of our changing world. He might even have been accepted by his people as one more prophet.


Meaning of Jesus’ career revealed

But among the most revealing aspects of Jesus' remarkable career was his own recognition of his unique place in human history and in the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It meant the difference between helpful philosophy and fundamental spiritual law. It welded his mission to divine authority. It protected him throughout his life work. It gave eternality to his words and works.

As a boy of twelve he knew he was under divine orders, that he was to fulfill a God-ordained plan: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). When he began his public ministry he read from Isaiah a prophecy about the Messiah, and then he said: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21).

This wasn't for prestige. It was a fundamental fact of being which set his work apart from all others. When he fed the hungry, stilled the storm, and raised the dead, it was all because he stood as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

Even after his crucifixion and resurrection, when his disciples were shocked and confused and discouraged; even then he brought them back to a firmer and clearer understanding than ever by explaining the scriptural prophecies of the Messiah.

No one understood more clearly than Jesus did that the Christ, the true spirit of God, the vital presence of divine Love, always was and always will be. His mission was to show what this meant to humanity. How mankind could be set free from the bonds of materiality and claim the liberty of God's children. He gave the most complete presentation of the Christ possible in a single human life span. But even Jesus' unparalleled example wasn't the final fulfillment of Bible prophecy. He, himself, said: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12, 13). And he prophesied another Comforter would come and abide forever.

The disciple John had a tender sense of God as divine Love itself, as the warm, caring, nourishing, creating Principle of all true being. Later John the Revelator saw the coming of God's kingdom and government and reign on earth as a woman clothed with the sun (or spiritual illumination) and giving birth to a child who was to rule all nations. These beautiful words of prophetic symbolism from the book of Revelation also carry the finality of spiritual law.


Totality of man’s spiritual origin

And so it was, in the process of time, that spiritual law, revealed in Christian Science, would fulfill that prophecy. Its Discoverer clearly discerned the totality of man's spiritual origin and the motherhood as well as the fatherhood of divine Spirit.

Never before had there been such a statement of the fullness and completeness of God, Spirit, as Father-Mother, as the divine Parent of all good, of all that really exists! The very first line of the Lord's Prayer is interpreted in Science and Health in this way, "Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious" (p. 16). And that doesn't mean two gods – a Father God and a Mother God. It means one whole complete, all-inclusive deific Being, divine Spirit. Science and Health which reveals the very Science of Life fulfills the mission prophesied for that other Comforter promised by Jesus.

Who was the author of this book? If Christian Science were merely the creation of Mary Baker Eddy, it would be a helpful philosophy taking its place among other philosophies. But if the Comforter, as revealed through scientific Christianity, is seen to be the natural culmination of prophetic law, this Science appears as a timeless rock of strength and inspiration.

The perception of this has nothing to do with personality. But it has everything to do with recognizing the source of this prophetic fulfillment. For instance, in a room lighted by the sun we're able to see. We know the sunlight enters the room through the window, but we don't believe the window is the source of light. If we want to remain in the light, we stay close to the window, because we recognize it as a clear transparency for the light.

In much the same manner, you might say, if we wish to remain in the light of Truth, we recognize the revelation of divine Science, or the promised Comforter, is revealed in Science and Health, as given through the clear transparency of its author, Mary Baker Eddy. She didn't originate the revelation any more than the window originated the light. The revelation of divine Science is God's self-revealing Word. And it sought out its own transparency to this age.

The reason I'm emphasizing this point is to show how important it is to recognize the authority of the spiritual precepts discovered by Mrs. Eddy and set out in Science and Health. They unlock the treasures of the Bible and do for us the kind of thing they did for my friend who in desperation wanted to kill herself. Once we recognize the source of the Science, or divine law, as God, Spirit, we gain a secure sense of trust in it and an increased ability to apply it.

Many years ago a friend of mine was suffering from a painful internal growth. She knew nothing of Christian Science at that time or of its Discoverer. She hadn't found any relief through the medicines that had been prescribed for her. A friend of hers told her about Christian Science. She said that God could heal her. That He's divine Love and doesn't afflict His children.

She gave my friend a copy of Science and Health. She was healed before reading it through. She didn't know how. But she knew the healing had to come through spiritually scientific law. She felt such a sense of joy and gratitude that she prayed to be able to help and heal others as she had been healed. Science and Health became her instructor. She learned how to treat disease from this book and healed her husband of rheumatic fever, heart disease, a broken wrist, and many other things. With her strong desire to share this good with others she has devoted herself to the full-time healing ministry for over thirty years.


Healing: prophecy fulfilled

What healed my friend? What enabled her to heal others? The understanding gained from Science and Health. The understanding of present spiritual perfection, as discovered by the one in our age who was spiritually minded enough to respond to the prophetic demand and give to humanity the message of the eternal Christ.

This is prophecy in action – materiality with its harshness and self-deceptive discords disappearing before the understanding of the totality of Spirit and the nothingness of matter. Mrs. Eddy's discovery marks a new era in prophetic and historical fulfillment – an era in which the fullness of Christianity, as promised by Jesus, is scientifically perceived and demonstrated.

One of Mrs. Eddy's own pupils said this: "What she gave us in that class was wonderful, as were all her teachings. And to be with her and personally taught by her was a greater privilege than words can express. But I have heard her say repeatedly, 'They who know (understand) my book, know me' " (reminiscences of Julia S. Bartlett In "We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Fourth Series," p. 79).

So now, we come back to our central question, "Who was that woman?" You've heard something of the answer in the time we've been together. To learn more you can't do better than read her book Science and Health and experience its healing and renewing power in your own life. Then you will have your answer to the question.


[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 27, 1975.]