From the Papers: Expanding on “A Timely Issue”

October 12, 2021

-

Article: Page 3 of the April 1883 Journal of Christian Science. Letter: Julia B. Spencer to Mary Baker Eddy, March 31, 1884, 713A.86.064. P00250. Image: Studio portrait of Mary Baker Eddy, c. 1884. W. Shaw Warren.

The first issue of The Christian Science Journal, then called the Journal of Christian Science, was published in April 1883. It contained Mary Baker Eddy’s article “A Timely Issue,” which gives insights into the need for a new publication on Christian Science healing.1

But looking at this article through the lens of Eddy’s correspondence provides a much richer understanding. Recently the Mary Baker Eddy Papers staff re-read “A Timely Issue”—in the context of letters Eddy wrote and received in that time period. And we noted the remarkable alignment between her goals for the Journal and what was unfolding in those communications.

“A Timely Issue” begins with this background:

An organ from the Christian Scientists has become a necessity. Many questions come to the [Massachusetts Metaphysical] College and to the practising students, yet but little time has been devoted to their answer. Further enlightenment is necessary for the age, and a paper devoted to this work seems alone adequate to meet the requirement.

Indeed, through the Journal Eddy was able to reach a wider audience with responses to common questions and necessary clarifications about Christian Science healing. Many inquiries  from this time regarding her teachings bear the notation “Sent paper” at the top, indicating that a copy of the Journal was included in response—see, for example, 658B.70.002. When Eddy received questions that she felt might interest a wider audience, she was then able to respond directly in the Journal’s “Questions and Answers” column. Read more about this on the Library’s website, in the “From the Papers” article Eddy’s “Questions and Answers” column.

“A Timely Issue” continues:

It is often said, “You must have a very strong will-power to heal,” or “It must require a great deal of faith to make your demonstrations;” and when it is answered that there is no will-power required, and something more than faith is necessary, we meet with an expression of incredulity.

The Journal provided a ready way for Eddy to dispel the idea that healing through Christian Science was a matter of exercising willpower, or something available only to certain special people. A number of letters concur, showing how the Journal’s explanations of Christian Science and its healing practice inspired interest in purchasing her textbook Science and Health and in taking her classes. The Journal was providing readers with evidence that Christian Science held something significant for them. One woman wrote that she saw an ad for Science and Health while reading “a copy of your excellent paper” and wanted to buy multiple copies, for herself and to sell to friends. She added, “Your beautiful Science is beginning to awaken attention and interest here” (see 713A.86.064). Another reader wrote: “I have just rec’d one of your Journals (an old one of Christian Science. & as I have been thinking of your way of Healing the sick so much of late. I would like to obtain all the information possible for a poor woman to get” (see 673AP2.74.026).

Placing the Journal within the context of other publications of the time, Eddy made this observation in “A Timely Issue”:

After looking over the newspapers of the day, very naturally comes the reflection that it is dangerous to live, so loaded seems the very air with disease. These descriptions carry fears to many minds, to be depicted in some future time upon the body. This error we shall be able in a great measure to counteract, for at the price we issue our paper we shall be able to reach many homes.

In 1883 a subscription to the Journal cost $1.00 a year (about $25.00 in 2021). One could even request a free sample copy before subscribing. On the other hand, a copy of Science and Health, which was then issued in two volumes, cost $3.00 (about $80.00 in 2021).  In other words, while purchasing Science and Health was out of reach for some, and its size did not permit easy sharing, the Journal was both comparatively inexpensive and portable. One student wrote, “I generally carry [a Journal] in my pocket for anyone which I may meet” (see 528.57.005). Another promised, “I shall take a good number of the circulars and papers with me and speak a good word for the Science quite often as I move along in my travels” (see 548.58.005).

The correspondence Eddy received at this time also confirmed that the Journal was reaching a wide range of people, just as she had hoped. Dio Lewis, a doctor, author, and physical education advocate, wrote that “it gives me great pleasure to see so beautiful and ably edited a paper as I find before me, the ‘Journal of Christian Science,’ and devoted both to ‘the healing of the sick and the reforming of the sinner’ ” (see 688A.78.040). Another person who was interested in the Journal also mentioned that she’d shared it with Mary Haggart, an activist in the women’s rights movement of the time, who had taken an interest in the Journal as well (see 593A.61.038). Delia Manley, one of Eddy’s students, wrote to Eddy about staying up late just to read it: “I must tell you how much I like the paper it is splendid it ought to do all the work it is so nice. I had to sit up until one o’clock at night to get a chance to read it. I could have waited until the next day but that was too long” (see 560.58.007). Another student, R. J. Robinson, wrote, “I have just finished reading the Journal of C.S. and have been deeply interested and felt to exclaim in the language of the Psalmist ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God’” (see 505.56.014).

In the context of letters such as these, Eddy’s article from that first Journal issue reveals her urgent efforts at responding to the many questions and concerns she was receiving. And it’s clear that publishing the Journal wasn’t simply about making a Christian Science magazine for its own sake; it was intended to meet the public’s specific needs—and to do so at a price point that made Christian Science accessible to as many people as possible.

You can read “A Timely Issue” and all other issues of The Christian Science Journal by subscribing to jsh-online.com. More correspondence related to the Journal can be found at mbepapers.org.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. See Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 4–8.