Mary Baker Eddy suffered from poor health since childhood. Growing up in New Hampshire, she was nearly an invalid.
But she experienced a dramatic turnaround after reading a Bible passage — an experience that drove her to a period of intense Biblical study. She became a popular healer and pastor who preached that illness was an illusion best treated through prayer.
Her natural healing methods attracted thousands of followers and launched a popular religious movement. In 1779, she founded a new church, the Church of Christ, Scientist.
But the establishment clergy were not pleased, not surprisingly at a time when women preachers were not welcome on the mainstream pulpits. They saw her as a threat to their spiritual authority.
The temple was packed with nearly 3,000 people who came to see this small, frail woman take on the religious establishment.
Among them was the famed Reverend Joseph Cook, who held regular Monday noon prayer meetings in the magnificent Tremont Temple in Boston. His gatherings were hugely popular, attracting the city’s cultural elite.
On Feb. 26, 1885, Cook read out loud from the pulpit a letter written by his colleague, the Reverend Adoniram Judson Gordon. It was an unvarnished strike against Eddy, attacking her as “a mesmerist, a medium, a pantheist, and prayerless.”
But Eddy pushed back with ferocity. She insisted on the right to defend herself in person — in her own voice. The newspapers reported the standoff with glee.
On March 16, in 1885, Eddy was given the lectern at the same venue, Tremont Temple. But she was allotted only ten minutes.
The temple was packed with nearly 3,000 people who came to see this small, frail woman take on the religious establishment. Also in the audience were hundreds of clergymen who were hostile to her views.
Before starting, Eddy turning to Cook and said: “’I can hardly explain Christian Science in 10 minutes. May I have a few moments more?” To which he replied: “No, Madam, and if you take one moment longer you will be forcibly stopped.”
“No, Madam, and if you take one moment longer you will be forcibly stopped.”
And so, speaking without notes, Eddy delivered a brief but poised and powerful verbal defense. She structured her remarks as a series of questions and answers in which she laid out her beliefs.
By far, the most controversial aspect was her promotion of physical healing through mental and spiritual teaching. Eddy taught that physical matter was not real, and that human ailments and maladies were irrelevant. All human activity and experience, she believed, took place in the spiritual realm.
“I understand that God is an ever-present help in all times of trouble – have found Him so; and would have no other gods, no remedies in drugs, no material medicine,” she explained to the audience. Christian Science “is not of the flesh, but of the Spirit.”
Her appearance that day caused a sensation. Her words were printed in newspapers and shared. She also demonstrated that a woman’s words carried weight and authority.
The event spurred a turning point for Christian Science, which gained thousands of new adherents.
And two years later, Eddy returned to the pulpit of the Tremont Temple. But this time the space was hers to use as she pleased. It was rented by her Christian Science Church as the venue for its annual meeting, with no limits on how long she was allowed to speak.
Today Christian Science has hundreds of thousands of adherents, and Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to Scriptures remains on bestseller lists around the world.
(Photo: The Mary Baker Eddy Library Collection)
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