This post covers a lesser-known topic, the idea of Mary Baker Eddy as the Woman in Revelation. Until I started researching Christian Science, MBE and the colorful, often forgotten history of CS, I had never heard of this theory, neither had anyone else on the ExCS Admin Team. The theological debate is less interesting than the drama and intrigue that surrounded some of these decisions and official statements. For those interested in further reading on the issue, there are extensive links — all of them work as of the time of publication.
This post previously appeared on kindism.org, and has been reprinted with slight modifications and updates to external sources.
In April, 1938, a six-member committee of editors and former editors of CS periodicals was assembled “to discover just what Mrs. Eddy believed concerning herself with respect to Scriptural prophecy.” The committee was given access to Mrs. Eddy’s private correspondence, and published writings. After five years and 57 typewritten pages, the Board of Directors published a statement Mrs. Eddy regarded herself as having fulfilled Bible prophecy in the July 1943 issue of the Christian Science Journal. (1)
I am not an expert on the Book of Revelation, Ms. Eddy’s views, or the finer points of the controversy that followed the Board’s 1943 decision to announce to the world Ms. Eddy’s place in Scriptural prophecy. I was never taught about Ms. Eddy’s views on the topic, and the book of Revelation was not mentioned much in my Sunday School classes. I was only vaguely aware of any controversy in the 1990s over TMC’s media empire and the Bliss Knapp book, and had only read little bits here and there in very unauthorized literature.
Did Ms. Eddy consider herself to be the woman in Revelation? In Science & Health she has an entire chapter dedicated to the Apocalypse, and she tells the reader,
Mortals, obey the heavenly evangel. Take divine Science. Read this book from beginning to end. Study it, ponder it. (emphasis mine)
I don’t think it is too much of a leap to read “divine Science” and “this book” as referring to Science & Health. As for any blatant statement that she is the woman in Revelation, to the best of my knowledge she never makes such a statement in S&H (2).
Bliss Knapp is one of the better known perpetrators of this idea. His foundation has made extended documentation available to substantiate these views. The main one, titled Historical Facts Regarding Mary Baker Eddy’s Student, Bliss Knapp, has extensive citations from Miscellaneous Writings. On page 15 of these Historical Facts the heading of Fulfillment of Prophecy is discussed:
- The Destiny of The Mother Church places on record our Leader’s spiritual life story and how she fulfills Bible prophecy. It has also brought out into the open the division in teaching about our Leader which began at the time of the Woodbury trial. After the trial, one group of teachers took Mrs. Eddy’s statement quite literally that ” … a little white-haired, old lady couldn’t be the woman in the Apocalypse.” (3) In this line of teaching, she was just Mark Baker’s daughter who had an unusual spiritual gift. However, her own faithful students accepted her as God’s chosen Messenger bringing the promised Comforter, — the woman with the leaven foretold by Jesus and spiritually identified with his prophecy to John. (Mrs. Eddy refers to 15 Jesus’ parable of the leaven in Science and Health page 117:29 and also in Miscellaneous Writings page 174:30.)
So where does that leave us today? Official Church Doctrine – at least as I was taught it, does not mention Ms. Eddy as the woman in Revelation. A few of my Sunday School teachers mentioned that the second coming of Christ had occurred, and was embodied in Christian Science, but they never really elaborated on these ideas.
I don’t really have an opinion on Ms. Eddy’s place as the woman in Revelation but the intrigue and infighting among the church makes for interesting reading.
Bible Resources on Revelation
- Bible Gateway: Revelation 12 NIV – the Woman & the Dragon
Books & News paper articles which deal with the issue on some level
- The Revelation of St. John an Open Book, By Irving Clinton Tomlinson, Mary Baker Eddy
- Monitoring the News: The Brilliant Launch and Sudden Collapse of the Monitor … By Susan Bridge
- Mary Baker Eddy’s Place – Chapter 5, The Ark of Truth
- Mary Baker Eddy, Spiritual History
- Mary Baker Eddy & Bible Prophecy
- Predictions by Mary Baker Eddy
- What did Mrs. Eddy Say?
Destiny of the Mother Church Controversy & Financial Crisis
- Destiny of The Mother Church
- Destiny of The Mother Church via wikipedia
- Court rejects Christian Science motion on bequests
- Financial Crisis Rocks First Church of Christ Scientist
- Book is source of controversy within Christian Science Church
- http://www.endtime.org/2ndcoming/2ndcoming.html, I am still looking for the actual CSJournal article
- I may be wrong about this, please let me know if I am and send the citation!
- On p. 8 of Historical Facts “Ira Knapp had explained to his family, that he could not say in court that she was the woman in the Apocalypse, because he knew of Mrs. Woodbury’s intent to bring Mrs. Eddy into court to make her publicly declare she was “the Woman”. This would not have been acceptable to other Christians at that time.” No kidding.
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5 Replies to “Esoteric Christian Science: MBE as the Woman in Revelation”
I will come up with better words as time marches on. I don’t always have adequate words right away. But: suffice it to say: it was made quite “clear” to me that , was very very very possible that …. MBE, according to Bliss Knapp and my SS teachers & my parents, was basically the woman in Revelation. “Take this book and eat it up. In thy mouth, it will be sweet as honey, but in thy belly bitter.”
I can’t separate the two. That woman in Revelation & Eddy. Ugh!
Also, in addition, when I took a Revelation Bible Study class at a Christian Science Reading Room, I remember proclaiming strongly one day: “Oh my gosh! I see where Mary Baker Eddy got the idea of Christian Science!” It was suddenly “clear to me.”
This confirmed to me that she was definitely foretold in that book. Yuck.
My Sunday School teachers never really talked about Revelation, or the Knapp book — I do remember a bit of controversy as my mother worked in the Reading Room at the time, and there was some discussion about the Church’s decree to carry Knapp’s book, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it . I’m a bit younger than you, not sure if that makes a difference on this issue or not.
I remember the discussions at church too, among the board members. The solution at that branch church (and many others) was to buy the book (to comply), but then keep it in a drawer. People would need to come in and specifically ASK for the book in order to be able to see it and/or purchase a copy.
The original article you’re looking for is titled “Mrs. Eddy’s Place,” which was issued by the CS Board of Directors in 1943. It’s most easily found by Googling that phrase, and you’ll end up in the “endtime.org” website that you referenced in your first footnote. That site is full of obscure stuff and is not easy to navigate. From what I can tell, and I’m not an expert, the issue of whether MBE was literally and personally the woman foretold in Revelation went back even before her death. The alternative is that she embodied or represented the woman in Revelation through her discovery of CS. (That’s my interpretation, anyway.) The Church seemed to try to walk a very fine line, and the 1943 statement arguably raised more questions than it answered, even though it was supposed to be definitive. Apparently the Church stopped circulating the statement around 1960 and no doubt preferred to stifle the debate. However, it came up again when they decided to publish the Knapp book, even though they had rejected it previously on the grounds that Knapp’s view of Mrs. Eddy (that she was literally the woman in Revelation) was incorrect.
Growing up in CS in the 60s, this topic didn’t come up very often, but when it did, I never felt that I heard a clear answer. Maybe it doesn’t matter, except that there have always been CSers who have been more inclined toward what you might call a mystical or supernatural or ultra purist approach, including putting a lot of stock in such things as Biblical prophecy, as opposed to those who seemed more practical and grounded in the here-and-now, relatively speaking. I was raised with the latter approach, and even though I’ve not been an active CS for decades, I don’t share the bitterness and trauma of a CS upbringing with others who post here (but I don’t discount their experience).
The woman-in-Revelation controversy is the most inane tempest in a teapot in living Christian Science memory. I’ve heard anecdotes of the Mother Church excommunicating CSB’s over it and branch churches breaking apart over it.
My parents — one of whom was a practitioner — raised me to believe that God literally dictated Science and Health to Mrs. Eddy and that the book was infallible. I’m sure Bliss Knapp believed that too. Thus, the whole Eddy-was-the-woman-in-Revelation idea is nonsense, because Eddy says so in S&H. It’s on page 567. “The woman in the Apocalypse symbolizes generic man, the spiritual idea of God.” Eddy would not have written that if she considered herself to be the woman in Revelation. Knapp, however, idolized Mrs. Eddy and told her (in front of other people) that he thought she WAS the woman in Revelation. It’s mind-boggling that Knapp thought the infallible Mrs. Eddy and her book were predicted in the Bible and at the same time thought Eddy was *wrong* when she said she wasn’t!
There’s no way Eddy could have been a Biblical figure, of course. The woman John of Patmos wrote about clearly symbolizes the Virgin Mary. John wrote Revelation around 100 AD. He says exactly who he’s writing to: “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia.” (Rev. 1:11.) His intended audience was other 1st Century Christians living in what is today Turkey. John’s point in writing Revelation was to reassure his fellow Christians that their persecution would end, that Jesus would return in a second coming, and that the Roman Empire would fall — and that it would happen “soon.”
I read Knapp’s book years ago. Knapp believed John’s prophecies were accurate and that the publication of S&H and the founding of the CS church were the second coming that John had predicted. However, Knapp must have thought all the times the Book of Revelation says the second coming would happen “soon” really meant “1800 years from now.” John of Patmos would be bewildered by this belief, because it’s not what he wrote!
Knapp worshiped Eddy, S&H, CS, and the book of Revelation — but also held beliefs that directly contradict S&H and the book of Revelation! It’s amazing the kinds of mental gymnastics people go through to hold onto religious beliefs that contradict each other.
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