An Example of Absolutism

         . . . Various cliques sprang into being, each dominated more or less by some strong-minded leader, and these few leaders were apparently running the Church. After one important meeting, Mrs. Eddy required each First Member to write her a letter giving the exact reason for voting as he did at that meeting. Some frankly admitted that their votes were influenced by some member whose judgment they respected. These answers, together with other considerations, caused Mrs. Eddy to change the By-laws so as to remove all business from the control of the First Members, and place it in the hands of the Board of Directors.

         One of these strong-minded First Members was Mrs. Augusta E. Stetson of New York City. Well knowing that the Directors must be alert to such a subtle influence, Mrs. Eddy sounded a note of warning in a letter to Mr. [Ira] Knapp which read in part as follows: "Mrs. Stetson has a church of her own to care for, and must not and shall not control my church and treat my students in it as she does and has in New York. . . . But I can bear, 'and open not my mouth,' much and yet I shall hope this disloyalty will stop soon, for God will not suffer it beyond a 'hither and no farther'. " In a later communication she said, "You will sometime learn Mrs. Stetson's motives." One of her motives was to succeed Mrs. Eddy as the Leader of the Christian Science movement, and she let it be known that so long as Mrs. Eddy continued to live, she was depriving Mrs. Stetson of her destiny.

         In March, 1898, Mrs. Knapp passed on quite suddenly, and Mrs. Stetson tried to get control of her most promising students. As a warning to one such student, Rev. Irving C. Tomlinson, Mrs. Eddy said, "Doing as I would be done by, I write you, seeing as I do the attempt of error on all who have lost their class instructor.

         "You named a word that opened your thought wherein I read what you do not know, even the means used to ensnare or get you into her ranks, and use you as a despot only so long as you subserve her personal purpose to rule, then cast you off and herself string the fish you have caught. Beware! never come under her influence. She is as far from your former teacher as the sky from dust."

         Mrs. Eddy said further to Mr. Tomlinson, "Your dear teacher, Mrs. Knapp, was one of my best students, and had she remained with us, it was my intention to make her the teacher of the Massachusetts Metaphysical College."

         While Mrs. Eddy was safeguarding others, she was at the same time doing all in her power to heal Mrs. Stetson. Knowing that nothing but the highest expression of love and compassion could save her, Mrs. Eddy probably poured out more love on that student than on any one else. Mrs. Stetson was given every consideration. The wheat and the tares were allowed to grow side by side until the harvest. This continued for thirteen years after the first warning to Mr. Knapp. Then Mrs. Stetson's pupils sent a letter to Mrs. Eddy in July, 1909, deifying their teacher's personality, and giving the letter their unqualified approval. That was enough to convince Mrs. Eddy that there was little hope of a healing (Miscellany, p. 359), and she requested the Directors to act upon the case.

         One phase of Mrs. Stetson's error was to speak in the absolute, and answer people's questions by statements of absolute Science which she could not possibly demonstrate. This reminds us how Mrs. Eddy once rebuked another student by saying, "Come down. Your head is way up there in the stars, while the enemy is filling your body with bullets." It was rather difficult to know whether Mrs. Stetson was honest in what she said, but her students were intrigued by her pretensions, and placed her on a pedestal. During her trial, the newspapers treated her absolutism in a jocular manner, and described it by the story of "Johnnie and the Jam." Johnnie's weakness for jam caused him to visit the pantry frequently, until his mother told him to keep out of the pantry. One day she caught Johnnie in the very act of eating jam, and the evidence of it was smeared over his face. When she accused him of disobeying her orders, Johnnie, speaking in the absolute, denied that he had been eating jam. But when mamma spanked Johnnie, he did not cry in the absolute.

         Christian Science teaches that there must be some acknowledgment of sin before it can be healed. Mrs. Stetson at her trial made no such acknowledgment, but denied every allegation against her. She brought a lawyer, who was one of her students, to safeguard her rights; and although he greatly admired her, the evidence presented at that trial caused him to repudiate his teacher, when his eyes had been opened to her crafty methods. Needless to say, Mrs. Stetson was dismissed from the Church.


An Example of Absolutism
Excerpted from
The Destiny of The Mother Church
by Bliss Knapp, CSB, pp. 123-126

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