From the Papers: Eddy’s “Questions and Answers” column
People sometimes wrote to Mary Baker Eddy asking for clarification of her teachings on Christian Science.
In 1885 Elizabeth P. Babcock and Amy V. Williams, from Albion, Dane County, Wisconsin, asked Eddy to “Explain one point in ‘Metaphysics’ which the readers of ‘Science’ in this place do not all get the same understanding.”1 While we don’t have Eddy’s response to Babcock and Williams, their inquiry exemplifies some of the letters she received, asking for elucidation of her teachings. She would sometimes mark these letters with notations such as “Ans. in Feb no.” and answer them in upcoming issues of The Christian Science Journal. Some responses were later republished in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, a book Eddy considered helpful for readers in better understanding Science and Health.
Elisha Dayton wrote directly to Eddy in November 1883:
If as you state all that is mortal is a dream an error & not God-made, I wish to inquire if our capacity for formulating a dream is not back of all of this & is not the capacity real? If real it is God-made & if God-made can it be error?2
Eddy provided an answer in the February 1884 issue of The Christian Science Journal:
The spirit of Truth will lead into all truth and enable man to discern between the real and the unreal. Entertaining a belief in the opposite of goodness opposes the leadings of the divine Spirit helping man God-ward, and prevents a recognition of the nothingness of the dream, or belief that Spirit is in matter—Intelligence in non-intelligence, sin and death. Any capacity for error never proceeded from Truth. Jesus said “I am the Truth and Life,” hence, God never created such a capacity, and He made all that was made. Your answer is that error is an illusion, therefore God is not its author. 3
Dayton’s question and Eddy’s answer were also reprinted in Miscellaneous Writings (see pp. 49–50).
Another inquirer, William T. Carpenter, wrote to Eddy in August 1887, asking her to elaborate on her writings in Science and Health:
In your book, Science and Health, page 181, you say: ‘Every sin is the author of itself, and every invalid the cause of his own suffering.’ On page 182 you say: ‘Sickness is a growth of illusion, springing from a seed of thought, —either your own thought or another’s.’ Will you please explain this seeming contradiction?4
Eddy’s answer was printed in the October 1887 issue of the Journal:
No persons can accept another’s belief, except it be with the consent of their own belief. If the error which knocks at the door of your own thought originated in another’s mind, you are a free moral agent, to reject or to accept this error; hence, you are the arbiter of your own fate, and sin is the author of sin.5
These columns—titled “Questions and Answers,” “Questions Answered,” or “Answers to Questions”—became an outlet for the public to interact with Eddy, and vice versa. “[I]f you cannot reply to a letter, perhaps my question will be worth answering in the column of Questions and Answers in the Journal” wrote Celia F. Osgood in 1885.6 “I am very much interested in “The questions & answers”,” wrote Mary L. Poore in 1884, noting the column in the Journal and adding “I enjoy – all of it.”7
Not only were people enjoying Eddy’s column but they were also finding it useful. “[T]wo peices[sic] in it, from your pen, ‘page 76, 77,’ made we wish for more of your writings,” wrote Julia A. Webster in September 1885, referencing the columns “Bible Lessons” and “Questions and Answers” from the July 1885 issue.8
Throughout her time as a teacher and religious leader, Eddy was constantly challenged by other people appropriating her terminology and offering their own versions of the religion she founded. By publicly answering questions that clarified Christian Science, she was taking action to remain the authority of her teachings and to help lead those committed to practicing them.
- Elizabeth P. Babcock and Amy V. Williams to Mary Baker Eddy, 22 June 1885, https://mbepapers.org/?load=624.63.001.
- Elisha Dayton to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 November 1883, https://mbepapers.org/?load=661B.71.042.
- “Answers to Questions,” The Christian Science Journal, February 1884, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/uqb2jeu9i6?s=e.
- William T. Carpenter to Mary Baker Eddy, 20 August 1887, https://mbepapers.org/?load=528.57.024.
- ”Questions Answered.” The Christian Science Journal, October 1887, https://journal.christianscience.com/shared/view/2ht4mndz5gy?s=e.
- Celia F. Osgood to Mary Baker Eddy, 16 November 1885, https://mbepapers.org/?load=699B.82.026.
- Mary L. Poore to Mary Baker Eddy, 14 April 1884, https://mbepapers.org/?load=703A.83.016.
- Julia A. Webster to Mary Baker Eddy, 7 September 1885, https://mbepapers.org/?load=722A.89.023.