What is the background on Manual Article XXVII Section 4?

June 21, 2022

Manual bylaw

 

The Library has received questions about the history of this By-Law, titled “Church Membership,” in the Manual of The Mother Church by Mary Baker Eddy:

Neither the Pastor Emeritus nor a member of this Church shall teach Roman Catholics Christian Science, except it be with the written consent of the authority of their Church.  Choice of patients is left to the wisdom of the practitioner, and Mrs. Eddy is not to be consulted on this subject.1

We don’t have a statement from Eddy as to why she wrote this By-Law in 1904. But perhaps its genesis is best understood against the backdrop of the growth of the young Christian Science movement.

During the 1880s Eddy trained a number of teachers at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston. When they returned to their hometowns and began teaching Christian Science, many of their students were members of other denominations. In addition to teaching, Christian Science healers accepted members of other churches as patients, too. As might be expected, some in the clergy were not happy that their members were interested in what they regarded as a heretical teaching. This was often the case in the Roman Catholic church.

An example of clerical opposition to the investigation of Christian Science by Catholics is found in the book The Question-Box Answers, written in 1903 by a priest of the Paulist Fathers religious order. It contained a series of inquiries by Catholics. One asked, “Can a Catholic be treated by Christian Scientists merely for health, provided he or she do not believe in their teachings?” The reply was a negative discussion of Christian Science that included this: 

No Catholic is warranted in having recourse to Christian Science healers for the cure of bodily disease, because it is grievous sin to encourage charlatanism or superstition in any form; …. It is not allowed to do evil that good may come.2

Although we have no evidence that Eddy wrote the Manual By-Law in response to The Question-Box Answers, we do know that she was aware of such sentiments. In a 1906 letter, her secretary Lewis C. Strang mentioned the book, and also wrote, “[Eddy’s] ruling against teaching Roman Catholics Christian Science is strictly in accord with the Golden Rule, for it is no secret that the Roman Catholic Church does not approve of its adherents investigating the subject of Christian Science.”3  At the same time, she was hoping for increasingly respectful and tolerant relations between her church and all other denominations.

Eddy first penned the By-Law in 1904. The Christian Science Board of Directors adopted it, and then published it in the April 30, 1904, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel (page 552). The By-Law then read: “Neither the Pastor Emeritus of the Mother Church nor its members shall teach Roman Catholics Christian Science, except they receive the written consent from the churches of which these applicants are members.”

The By-Law went through several revisions. There was some confusion among Christian Scientists about whether it was appropriate for Christian Science practitioners to accept Catholics as patients. The June 2, 1906, Sentinel printed correspondence between one practitioner and Eddy’s secretary Calvin A. Frye, who spoke on her behalf:

De Funiak Springs, Fla., April 19, 1906

Mr. Calvin A. Frye, Concord, N. H.

Dear Friend:—Has Mrs. Eddy given out any orders recently—or at any time—that Christian Science practitioners are not to take Roman Catholic patients or give them any of her writings? As I am sometimes called to treat in a community where there are many Catholics (Pensacola), and as this rumor has recently caused some mischief among my patients, I am anxious to know if such an order has any foundation in fact, before giving up some cases now in my charge. I doubt the truth of any such report, as it is not consistent with Christian Science teaching, but for the satisfaction of others I think it my duty to inquire at headquarters about the matter. I shall continue the treatment of the cases on hand until I hear from you. Thanking you for any help you can give me in this matter, I am

Very sincerely yours,

Mrs. Clara Dreyer.

 

Pleasant View, Concord, N. H., May 4, 1906.

Mrs. Clara Dreyer, C. S., De Funiak Springs, Fla.

Dear Sister in Christian Science:—In reply to your question, “Has Mrs. Eddy given out any order recently—or at any time—that Christian Science practitioners are not to take Roman Catholic patients or give them any of her writings?” will say: Mrs. Eddy has issued no such orders. She takes no patients, but through her writings gladly helps all those who will receive her help.

Yours fraternally,

Calvin A. Frye 4

 A revision of the By-Law, approved on June 27, 1906, and published in the Sentinel three days later, stated that “teaching and healing are separate departments.” It advised healers that “if you cannot heal without teaching said patients, abstain from doing either.”5

Eddy drafted another revision of the By-Law on July 22. It broadened the prohibition on teaching to include “members of another church…until said member resigns his or her relations from the church”—but it was not adopted. Interestingly, it included as a reason that “this will tend to promote harmony between churches.”6  

Finally, the By-Law’s current wording was adopted on July 26, and published in the Sentinel on July 28.7

This history suggests that Eddy’s motivation in writing the Article XXVII, Section 4, By-Law was to foster among Christian Scientists the practice of the Golden Rule in their relationships with Roman Catholics, as well as with “the authority of their Church.”

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  1. Mary Baker Eddy, Manual of The Mother Church (Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors), 87.
  2. Rev. Bertrand L Conway, The Question-Box Answers: Replies to Questions Received on Missions to Non-Catholics (New York: The Catholic Book Exchange, 1903), 209, 216.
  3. Lewis C. Strang to William M. Fuller, 22 November 1906, L14017.
  4. “A Question Answered,” Christian Science Sentinel, 2 June 1906, 632.
  5. “Amendment to By-law,” Sentinel, 30 June 1906, 700.
  6. Mary Baker Eddy to the Christian Science Board of Directors, 22 July 1906, L09497.
  7. “Amendment to By-law,” Sentinel, 28 July 1906, 764.