How did Mary Baker Eddy employ the term physics?

January 23, 2023

Page out of one of Mrs. Eddy's writings

We are often asked about the meaning of the word physics as used during Mary Baker Eddy’s lifetime. 

Eddy referred to the term physics 13 times, and in precise ways, in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which she called the textbook of Christian Science. She used the word 20 times in her other writings. 

Often she contrasted physics with the term metaphysics, which she employed considerably more frequently and linked to the practice of Christian Science. “Metaphysics is above physics,” she wrote, “and matter does not enter into metaphysical premises or conclusions.”1 Also, “The universal belief in physics weighs against the high and mighty truths of Christian metaphysics.”2

The first use of the term physics in Science and Health appears on page viii: “Theology and physics teach that both Spirit and matter are real and good, whereas the fact is that Spirit is good and real, and matter is Spirit’s opposite.”3 And elsewhere, she wrote this:

If the Bible and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” had in our schools the time or attention that human hypotheses consume, they would advance the world. True, it requires more study to understand and demonstrate what they teach than to learn the doctrine of theology, philosophy, or physics, because they contain and offer Science, with fixed Principle, given rule, and unmistakable proof.4

What can we learn about Eddy’s use of this word, taking into account how definitions of the term physics may have shifted over the past century or more? Today, provides this definition:

A science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions, the physical processes and phenomena of a particular system, the physical properties and composition of something.5 

Eddy and her contemporaries may have defined physics somewhat differently, as evidenced by examining dictionaries of the nineteenth century. According to the 1886 Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language, published by G. & C. Merriam & Co., physics is defined this way:

The science of nature or of natural objects, comprehending the study or knowledge of the material world; especially, that department of natural science which treats of the general properties of bodies, and the causes (as gravitation, heat, light, magnetism, electricity, &c.) that modify those properties; natural philosophy.6 

A second definition included in this dictionary described  “physic,” or physics, as “the art of healing diseases; the theory or practice of medicine.”7 

While we are unable to determine Eddy’s personal definition of the word physics, the dictionaries she owned provide a possible hint. Our collection contains a copy of the 1887 American Dictionary of the English Language, which was included in Eddy’s personal library in her Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, home. As a result, it is possible that her definition was similar to the one included in the 1886 edition of Webster’s Complete Dictionary.

More information on reference books Eddy used during her lifetime can be found in our website article “What dictionaries did Mary Baker Eddy own?

It is important to emphasize that Eddy embraced advances in science and physics during her life. As biographer Robert Peel noted in his 1977 book Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority, the pace of new scientific discoveries was exponential in the nineteenth century:

….every year brought forth dazzling new discoveries and developments in physical science, among them X rays, wireless telegraphy, radioactivity, the electron, radium, quantum theory, the special theory of relativity, along with ultimately related developments in mathematical logic, aeronautics, mutation theory, psychopathology. The whole classical concept of matter, of atomic action, of space and time, of causation itself, seemed to be rushing toward a state of total Heraclitean flux [constant change]….8

For Eddy, this new understanding of the physical world also meant a better comprehension of the spiritual. As these novel theories changed people’s perception of the world, Eddy felt they could also alter their idea of matter. For example Peel explained that, after Albert Einstein expanded his idea on the relationship of energy and mass in 1905, Eddy elaborated on his concept in her new edition of Science and Health:

At the end of 1905 and early part of 1906 Mrs. Eddy had been working on her last major revision of Science and Health. One small change she made during that time was to add two words to a sentence which in its final form refers to the “warfare between the idea of divine power, which Jesus presented, and mythological material intelligence called energy and opposed to Spirit.” The two words added in 1905–6 were “called energy” (her own italics) and they point to her evident conviction that to identify matter and its claim to intelligence as energy was a useful step toward the further recognition that “Physical force and mortal mind are one”-a false mode of consciousness or misapprehension of being, to be reduced in the last analysis to an impossible limit on Spirit’s infinitude.”9

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 269.
  2. Eddy, Science and Health, 155.
  3. Eddy, Science and Health, viii.
  4. Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896 (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors),  366.
  5. “physics,”
  6. Noah Webster, Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language, eds. Chauncey A. Goodrich and Noah Porter (London: George Bell and Sons, 1886), 983.
  7. Webster, Webster’s Complete Dictionary of the English Language, 983.
  8. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977), 302.
  9. Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority, 303.