- Historic Sites
Mary Baker Eddy
Unschooled and uncompromising, she founded her own faith
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
The history of the Church itself is an excellent example of Mrs. Eddy’s ability to mold circumstances to fit her personal needs. In the first edition of Science and Health she specifically disavowed an interest in “creeds and church organizations.” Later in that same year of 1875, however, a small group of her followers pledged themselves to pay her a modest weekly salary and to hire a hall so that she could preach every Sunday. The meetings did not at first prosper, because Mrs. Eddy did not respond well to people who came to question her about her theories. By 1879 though, as the circle around her grew, she set about to organize a definitive church and obtained the first charter of the Church of Christ (Scientist), of which she was president. Two years later, in response to the revolt and resignation of half the membership, including several of her most devoted followers, she had herself ordained the first official pastor of the church, solidifying her position with the remaining members. It was Mrs. Eddy’s way to respond to every misadventure by moving to conquer new territory.
In 1886 the congregation, through its officers, purchased a lot on which to construct their own building. Unbeknown to them, Mrs. Eddy bought up the mortgage on that land and foreclosed, obtaining, through a series of intermediaries, possession in her own right, thus neatly side-stepping this potential threat to her control.
In 1889, when another large group of followers defected, Mrs. Eddy realized that her own position required further strengthening. She invited the remaining members to dissolve the existing church organization, saying that such a structure brought about an unseemly preoccupation with material concerns. When they complied, she reconstituted the organization of the church. It would be governed now not by its congregation but by a self-perpetuating board of directors, who served at Mrs. Eddy’s convenience, and could accept or reject any individual member. The members of the congregation now had no vested rights—either in their continuing membership or in the governance of their church.
By 1892 then, Mrs. Eddy’s control was assured and she was ready to solicit funds for a church building. She made a personal request of fifty members that each contribute a thousand dollars. With this money and other contributions, the cornerstone for the first Christian Science Church was laid on May 21,1894. By early January of 1895 the building was finished and dedicated, completely paid for in advance.
Mrs. Eddy’s need to have sole control of her church, dependent on no one and beholden to no one, raised other problems, too, which she dealt with in particularly ingenious ways. First, of course, was her debt to Quimby, which she began by acknowledging but gradually backed away from, ending finally by repudiating him completely and characterizing his efforts as well-meaning errors dominated by mesmerism, with all that was of value in them having come originally from herself.
Actually, Quimby had repudiated mesmerism—even though as a practical healer he had been loath to abandon the laying on of hands—and it was this vigorous denial that provided Mrs. Eddy with the example on which to model her own creed. But she went even further. Mesmerism in time came to represent the erroneous activity of mortal mind, which set itself in opposition to the good of Christian Science. As such it became an explanation for every conceivable failure of Christian Science healing. Under the official name of Malicious Animal Magnetism, it became a major topic both in Mrs. Eddy’s lectures and in the pages of the Christian Science Journal .
When her first church edifice was built, she vowed never to be supplanted and abolished the institution of the pastorate, at least as that pastorate was vested in human beings. Her book was to be the pastor, she ruled, and she specified in a minutely and inflexibly determined way the order and content of the church services. Changes in the bylaws of the church could be made only with her acquiescence, and no changes have been possible since the last revision of the Manual of The Mother Church , which she completed two years before her death. No sermon was to be permitted in her church, no commentary and no discussion.
Her greatest fear was that one or another of the attractive and dominant women who did so much to win her church new converts in other cities would take her place or become her successor.