The New Divinity. “The New Divinity Movement and Its Impact on New Hampshire’s Town Churches,” sheds new light on Mrs. Eddy’s earliest ministers. One Christian Science historian has characterised her childhood pastors as “ministers in the New Light tradition of Jonathan Edwards” but it would be more precise to say they were in Jonathan Edwards’ New Divinity tradition (Gottschalk 2010).

Prior to the American Revolution, Harvard trained ministers occupied almost all of the New Hampshire town pulpits. The few who historians call “New Light” responded to pre-Revolutionary revivals by adding an emotional component to their otherwise bookish and liberal approach to Christianity. Uniformly, however, the New Hampshire churches rejected this innovation and, by the time Mrs. Eddy was born, these New Light ministers and their followers had long since left the New Hampshire town churches to join with or to form Calvinist Baptist churches.

As a result, the pre-Revolutionary revivals left the New Hampshire town churches with more competition for members but otherwise unchanged. By contrast, a series of post-Revolutionary revivals changed the town churches dramatically. Surrounded after the Revolution by rapidly growing Baptist, Methodist, Christian Connection and other such, revivalist churches, the town churches steadily traded their bookish and liberal Harvard ministers for what historians call the New Divinity disciples of Jonathan Edwards.

These New Divinity ministers reversed the long-term liberal trend fostered by Harvard, returned the town churches to the strict Calvinism of the Puritans (as interpreted by Edwards), and replaced the bookish approach of their Harvard predecessors with a warm, heartfelt religious service. Many of these new ministers graduated from Dartmouth which was at first a New Divinity college, most of them were further trained by Edwards’ own private students (or students of his students) and a few studied at the Andover Theological Seminary which was at first a New Divinity training center.

Thus, by the time Mrs. Eddy was born, the town churches near her home had almost all traded their Harvard ministers for New Divinity pastors, many of them trained by Nathanael Emmons, town minister in Franklin Massachusetts. One important exception was the Concord town church which continued to employ Harvard ministers for a while and then hired an Andover graduate. In other parts of New Hampshire, mostly near the Masschusetts border, town churches, or parts of churches held on to their bookish, Harvard trained ministers and quickly followed Harvard into Unitarianism.

That Mrs. Eddy’s earliest ministers were specifically New Divinity makes a difference because, while all New Light ministers favored a heartfelt religious experience, the New Divinity party reversed the drift of the New Hampshire churches towards Unitarianism and reasserted the harsh Calvinism of the seventeenth-century Puritans. This was her father’s stern religion – the New Divinity of Jonathan Edwards’ followers. This was also the religion her mother rejected and, like many other wives of the time, aligned herself with the gentler theology of methodism.

Dartmouth. In addition to hearing many sermons by New Divinity preachers, Eddy was exposed at a young age to the ideas her brother Albert brought home from Dartmouth. Peel identified Albert’s education with the Enlightenment thought of John Locke. More precisely, however, Albert’s era at Dartmouth was part of what Henry May called the fourth or Scottish phase of the Enlightenment in America. In fact, as “Locke—Stewart—Mill: Philosophy of Science at Dartmouth College” shows, Albert’s curriculum was dominated, not by Locke, but by a text by Scottish professor Dugald Stewart.

For this reason, Eddy’s earliest encounter with ideas of science and philosophy would have included those of Stewart as well as those of her own school books, some of which Peel identifies as Whately’s
Logic, a companion to Stewart’s text, and Watts on the Mind, a Stewart predecessor (Peel 56-57). The distinction is important because Locke allowed scientists to explain nature’s visible workings in terms of invisible mechanisms that could only be guessed. For the Scottish philosophers, however, such mechanisms threatened to take too much away from their Calvinist idea of a Creator who remained in day-to-day control of every operation of Creation.

Thus, Stewart’s immediate precessesor Thomas Reid rejected both conjecture and invisibile entities as no part of legitimate science. Stewart split the difference between Reid and Locke and allowed for some conjecture and some invisible mechanisms as long as all conjectures were supported by observation and all mechanisms were identified with the visible and invisible operations of the Deity. Reid and Stewart both insisted with Calvin that God’s visible and invisible actions were unconstrained by any kind of universal plan of creation.

This latter was exactly the teaching that revolted Dartmouth graduate James Marsh and turned him to Coleridge for relief. Like Marsh, the college eventually rejected Stewart’s text, although not for the same reason. Instead, at mid-century, when the faculty read the first edition of J. S. Mill’s
Logic they found that Mill was separating Stewart’s philosophy from his religious tenets to build the kind of secular science anticipated by August Comte’s positivism.

Agassiz and Harvard Philosophy of Science. “Louis Agassiz and the Platonist Story of Creation at Harvard” shows that there was also a revolt against Stewart at Harvard, fueled in part by Marsh’s edition of Coleridge and leading to the brief but important rise of Louis Agassiz’s alternate view of science in America. “How the Philosophy of Science changed Religion at Nineteenth-Century Harvard” goes on to show where this revolt fits in the evolution of nineteenth-century American ideas of science and a rational religion.

When Mrs. Eddy was born, science was still popularly defined in Reid’s terms, as the unbiased collection of data. At college, in Stewart’s text, however, this older “Baconian” idea of science was already evolving into the hypothetico-deductive idea of science with which the century ended. From beginning to end, this nineteenth-century development was allied with the nominalist view of nature that had been gaining ground since the late middle ages, that was mandated by the Calvinism of Reid and Stewart and that, by mid-century, J. S. Mill had lifted from Stewart’s text and joined to the positivism of Comte.

The Agassiz article shows that religious objection to this nominalist world-view was endemic at second quarter Harvard and that it broke into the open at mid-century, just in time to welcome Agassiz from Europe with his anti-nominalist view of science and to sponsor a brief resurgence of an older idea of science, under Agassiz’s leadership. The “Religion at Harvard” article then shows how this brief revolt came to an abrupt end with the triumph of Darwin’s new, nominalist and positivist biology over Agassiz’s traditional, idealist biology.

Brief as the Agassiz-led resurgence of a idealist, anti-nominalist view of science was, Mrs. Eddy responded enthusiastically to it (Peel 131). In Agassiz’ view of science, the world we observe is the flawed projection of generic ideas in the mind of God. True science is the apprehension of these divine ideas either by studying particularly good examples of the kinds of things in the world (Aristotle) or by direct apprehension of God’s divine ideas (Plato al la Philo Judaeus).

Popular literature, read by Eddy, Marsh, and the Harvard protesters, kept the older, idealist view alive in New England (Peel 46-47) during the Reid-Stewart era, prepared the ground for the enthusiastic reception that Agassiz received in America, and may have led Eddy to question the existence of matter in an 1847 publication (Gill 74). Remarkably, Jonathan Edwards’ own religious philosophy was thoroughly idealistic but his New Divinity followers conveyed none of this to their New Hampshire congregations and it play no role in the brief triumph of religious and scientific idealism at mid-nineteenth century.

Homeopathy. “How Homeopathy Came to New Hampshire” illustrates the context in which Mrs. Eddy encountered her first non-conventional healing method –- just about the time that Agassiz’s idea of science was most popular. As the study shows, homeopathy itself was undergoing rapid change, from the original spiritual system that first came to America in 1825 to either a materialistic or mentalistic system with relaxed rules of practice. What counted for Eddy was that homeopathy healed with medicines so dilute that an explanation other than that of conventional medicine was required.

She first encountered Homeopathy in the 1850s when she consulted Dr. Alpheus Morrill about her own ill health. Peel calls Morrill the “pioneer homeopathist” in New Hampshire but, as the article shows, homeopathy came to New Hampshire seven years before Morrill moved his practice from Ohio to Concord and the first homeopathist in Concord preceeded Morrrill there by three years.

Both Eddy and her dentist husband practiced homeopathy for several years after they married in 1853 (Gill 97, 109). During this period, Hull’s Jahr was her chief reading matter, after the Bible, and curing patients with unmedicated sugar pills was her “falling apple” (Peel 135-136).

Spiritualism. About the time she first encountered homeopathy, Peel explains that Eddy also showed a brief interest in Spiritualism (Peel 133). “The Rise of 19th-century American Spiritualism in Time and Space” further shows that Spiritualist activity continued to increase from mid-century until 1877 and that, starting with her visits to Quimby in Portland Maine in 1862, Eddy spent twenty years in a series of towns (Portland, Lynn, Stoughton, Taunton, Amesbury) with the highest levels of Spiritualist activity in America. As a result, Eddy had plenty of interaction with spiritualists (Gill 173, 178).

Even though she rejected the spiritualist practice of talking with the dead (Gill 180), Eddy was not uninterested in the spiritualists and their ideas. She addressed a Spiritualist meeting in Lynn in 1865 (Banner of Light, July 1, 1865 p. 4), and advertised for students in a Spiritualist newspaper, the
Banner of Light, in mid-1868 (Peel 221). She would later recall that she made “many of her early converts and friends from among the Spiritualists” (Gill 179).

Many Spiritualist leaders and writers were former Universalist ministers and among spiritualists and in the
Banner of Light newspaper she would have encountered Universalist ideas such as continuity and probation after death. This would no doubt have recalled the conversations she overheard as a child when her father argued with a cousin who had become a Universalist minister (Gill 11-12) – conversations she echoed in a 1847 essay (Gill 73). She may have also encountered among the Spiritualists additional ideas with which she agreed -- such as heaven as a place like earth where families reunite (Gill 220; Albanese 297).

Unitarianism. Eddy’s encounter with nineteenth-century liberal Christianity included not only the Universalist ideas in Spiritualism but a significant encounter with American Unitarianism when she attended the Lynn church pastored by Samuel Barrett Stewart (c1870-1875, Peel 287). The article, “Samuel Barrett Stewart, the Essex Conference, and the Remaking of American Unitarianism, 1865-1892” details the view of Christianity that Stewart offered her.

Peel points out that many of Eddy’s childhood schoolbooks looked for an agreement of reason with revelation (Peel 56-57). Nineteenth-century liberal Christians put the whole emphasis on reason and, like Locke, accepted only what revelation they could accommodate to reason. As the paper “How the Philosophy of Science changed Religion at Nineteenth-Century Harvard” shows, Unitarians looked to the natural sciences as a model of reason and that model went through three phases during the century.

Rev. S. B. Stewart (not to be confused with philosopher Dugald Stewart) represented the middle phase of this Unitarian development in which the idealist biology of Agassiz was the model of reason. Thus, Stewart preached an absolute religion –- the idea of religion in the mind of God –- of which Christianity was simply the best human example. In Stewart’s church she would have also become aware of his good friend, pastor Samuel Johnson whose hymns are still in use in the Christian Science church.

The second time Bronson Alcott came to Lynn to see Eddy, she took him to meet Stewart but a terse letter from Stewart in the Mary Baker Eddy Library collection recalls only that she was in his congregation and told him once after a service that something he preached had been helpful to her. By the time this letter was written, however, Unitarian publications were vigorously attacking Christian Science and Stewart may have been cautious in what he wrote, not knowing how the Church might use his letter.

On her part, in 1902 Eddy summarized the net effect of Stewart’s leadership within his demonination. “Within the last decade religion in the United States has passed from stern Protestantism to doubtful liberalism. (Eddy 1902, 2)”


References

Albanese, Catherine L. (2007). A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Eddy, Mary Baker (1902). Message to The First Church of Christ, Scientist or The Mother Church Boston June 15, 1902. Boston: The Christian Science Board of Directors.

Gill, Gillian. (1998). Mary Baker Eddy. Reading, Mass.: Perseus Books.

Gottschalk, Stephen. (2010). Mary Baker Eddy. Encyclopaedia Britannica Profiles: 300 Women Who Changed the World. Accessed 5/2/10 on line at http://www.britannica.com/women/article-249131.

Peel, Robert. (1966). Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.