A chronicle of 20 eventful years in the life of Mary Baker Eddy

Stephen Gottschalk: another look at a significant era.

In 1973 a fresh voice was added to the field of Christian Science scholarship. The book, called "The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life," was written by Stephen Gottschalk. Gottschalk was a Christian Scientist but brought a scholar's eye and standards to his work.

"Emergence" illustrated that rather than being a variant of the various forms of mind-cure popular in the 19th century, Christian Science is deeply and irreversibly Christian in nature. Mrs. Eddy had more in common with the followers of the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards than practitioners of mind-cure such as Warren Felt Evans or P.P. Quimby.

But Gottschalk also pointed out that Christian Science departed from the crumbling orthodoxy of 19th-century Protestantism and was built on a new foundation of Christian revelation and pragmatism.

"Emergence" had the virtue of attempting an honest, scholarly examination of the theology of Christian Science and the social and religious influences that were part of Mrs. Eddy's life. This book, along with the work of Robert Peel, initiated an attempt to bring more scholarly rigor to the study of Christian Science and its Founder.

Now, almost 30 years later, Gottschalk has written a second book, Rolling Away the Stone. Like his first book, "Rolling Away the Stone" proposes to examine the last two decades of Mrs. Eddy's life (1890-1910) and the evolution of her teaching and practice during this period.

In 1890 no one would have been faulted for concluding that Mrs. Eddy's efforts to establish a church had failed. Although she had a small group of loyal followers, in the fall of 1889 she dismantled the church she had founded.

Mrs. Eddy left Boston for the farming community of Concord, N.H. Few could have foreseen that Mrs. Eddy was entering into the most productive phase of her establishment of her church.

These two decades were covered extensively by Robert Peel in the late 1970s and again recently in the important work done by Gillian Gill.

Mrs. Eddy's life during this period was extraordinarily eventful: From total obscurity she evolved into a world-renowned figure whose every move was chronicled by the press. Yet despite her renown during this period and the large number of books that chronicle it, significant aspects of this history have never been covered.

The towering personalities of the time, Joseph Pulitzer, Josephine Woodbury, Mark Twain, William Chandler, and Augusta Stetson and their interaction with Mrs. Eddy cannot be ignored, but the parade of characters and events tends to hide the essential story of the emergence of Christian Science as a religious movement.

The allure of these striking personalities and their attempts to bring down Mrs. Eddy obscure the fact that, undeterred by all this, she was successfully rebuilding her church, and overseeing its spread across the world.

Churches were being built, hundreds and then thousands of her followers were committing themselves to the work of Christian healing, a publishing society was established, and the governance of her church and its activities were formulated. Throughout this this time she wrote extensively, and in 1908 she founded this paper, The Christian Science Monitor.

Regretfully, Gottschalk feels compelled to tell the more familiar story yet again, leaving a examination of what Mrs. Eddy achieved during this period and how it was accomplished still largely unexplored. Peel's notable shadow falls persistently over the pages of this book and Gottschalk was unable to shake himself free and break new ground.

Yet, Gottschalk's account is well told and enriched by fresh material now available from the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. Its tone, however, is often uncomfortably dogmatic.

Gottschalk is deeply intrigued by the response of Mark Twain and Mrs. Eddy to each other and to the religious influences of their time. As in the closing pages of "Emergence" he remains outspoken about secular influences which he fears could weaken the soul of Christian Science. His viewpoint will trigger a variety of responses.

Though significant gaps remain to be filled, for those interested in Mrs. Eddy's work during her last two decades, the final volume of Peel's trilogy, Gill's biography, and Gottschalk's work are all good starting points.

Richard Bergenheim is the Monitor's editor.

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