By Ronald L. Musselman, CS
Mary Baker Eddy had quite a challenge in writing about Christian Science in a way that the reader would understand. She said, “The chief difficulty in conveying the teachings of divine Science accurately to human thought lies in this, that like all other languages, English is inadequate to the expression of spiritual conceptions and propositions, because one is obliged to use material terms in dealing with spiritual ideas.”(1) A translator of her work said, “Her style is unique, fresh, and one-of-a-kind. She coins new metaphors and analogies, her word order is deliberately unusual, and her use of grammar is often unconventional. Her writings combine several different styles, including Biblical, poetic, journalistic, legal, and medical.”(2)
To this we can add that she uses examples from various arenas to illustrate specific points. Here, we will look specifically at her introduction and use of the term ”chemicalization,” which she coined in a spiritual context in the first edition of Science and Health.(3) In describing the spiritual phenomenon, she uses reactions well-known to chemists and chemistry students but not as well-known to the general public, although it seems she expected the reader to be, as she was, familiar with chemistry. I will present some background and two of these reactions hopefully to give a fuller context to Eddy’s analogy.
Eddy was well-educated in the physical and biological sciences (her Dartmouth-educated older brother Albert was among her teachers) (4) and said, “My favorite studies were natural philosophy, logic, and moral science.”(5) The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines “natural philosophy” as physical science, including physics, chemistry, and astronomy,(6,7) and the Oxford University Dictionary defines “moral science” as social sciences and/or philosophy.(8) She was very supportive of the results of the physical sciences, saying, “Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause.”(9)
An interesting interview with Eddy by a reporter for the New York Herald which appeared in May, 1901 was reprinted in full in The Christian Science Journal(10) and in part in The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany.(11) Several questions dealt with the sciences and engineering: “What is your attitude to science in general? Do you oppose it?” MBE: “Not,” with a smile, “if it is really science.” “Well, electricity, engineering, the telephone, the steam engine — are these too material for Christian Science?” MBE: “No; only false science — healing by drugs. “But the pursuit of modern material inventions?” MBE: “Oh, we cannot oppose them. They all tend to newer, finer, more etherealized ways of living. They seek the finer essences. They light the way to the Church of Christ. We use them, we make them our figures of speech. They are preparing the way for us.”
“Figures of speech” indeed, to wit: chemicalization. Before Eddy’s use of it in a spiritual sense, this term was only used in a traditional way, as in the “chemicalization of agriculture.”(12) The first apparent use of the word in a spiritual context was, as noted earlier, in the first edition of Science and Health, in which she said, “Truth in contact with error produced chemicalization.”(3) Later in a chapter titled, “Healing the sick,” she said, “One mind, partly rid of the errors of personal sense, touches another with the science of being that reproduces harmony, causing what we term a chemical change in the body that goes on to form a new basis of being; even as when an acid and alkali meet that form a neutral salt.”(13) By the 50th edition of Science and Health, she had developed the final definition(14) of the term that she uses in the current edition: “By chemicalization I mean the process which mortal mind and body undergo in the change of belief from a material to a spiritual basis.”(15) Eddy again relates this new term to known chemical processes, as in “... causes chemicalization (as when an alkali is destroying an acid), ...”(16) and, “As when an acid and alkali meet and bring out a third quality,..”(17) Do many of us really know what happens when an acid and alkali meet, and do we know what the ”neutral salt” or “third quality” is?
Before we answer that question, it is important to heed Eddy’s advice to use the term, chemicalization, properly. George H. Kinter, CSB, who was a secretary to Eddy for over 15 months in 1903 and beyond, cautioned against being flippant about or afraid of the term. In 1911 he wrote, “Rightly applied, it is a valued addition to one's vocabulary in Christian Science, though an incorrect use of it may do some harm, temporarily…. Students have been known to fear ‘a chemicalization’ and to speak of it somewhat lightly, describing undesired conditions as ‘a chemical.’ The exact language of our text-book on the subject under consideration is emphatic and explicit; there is no room for conjecture, for a but, if, or perhaps.”(18)
We know that Eddy placed value in Christian Scientists’ familiarity with chemistry since she included in the current edition of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures a testimony which includes the following statement: “In Mrs. Eddy's book I came across a great deal of thought that was not readily understood at the first reading, but by continued and careful study, and a good deal of help from my knowledge of chemistry and natural philosophy, I soon shook off the belief of sensation in matter, — the so-called elementary substance.”(19) So, in the spirit of better understanding Eddy’s references to chemicalization, here’s a brief description of acid-alkali, or as we more commonly call it, acid-base, chemistry.
A common acid is hydrochloric acid, HCl and a common alkali or base is sodium hydroxide, NaOH. When concentrated aqueous solutions of these are added together, a vigorous, almost explosive, reaction takes place: hydrochloric acid plus sodium hydroxide yield water (H2O) plus sodium chloride (NaCl) plus heat. A large amount of heat is released, sometimes causing a vigorous boiling of the solution. Both the acid and base are destroyed, but the result is neutral water and table salt, sodium chloride.
In her science education from her brother, Mary Baker likely saw the kitchen-chemistry version of this: combining a small amount of baking soda and vinegar in a glass results in an immediate vigorous frothing of carbon dioxide. Again, the result is a neutral salt, harmless sodium acetate. This is an impressive reaction that would have remained vividly in her recollection of her science education.
Taking, then, these concepts and transforming them from things into thoughts, we can see that chemicalization is the action of opposites, of immortal Mind on mortal mind. While the analogy can’t be applied fully here – while mortal mind’s belief is destroyed by the action of inmmortal Mind, the latter is not, of course, destroyed. The turmoil, the resistance, of mortal mind to spiritual truth, appears to be distressing, but, as with the acid-base reactions, the end result of the turmoil is harmless and peaceful. Another valid aspect of the analogy is that acid-base reactions are very quick: they are complete within seconds. Eddy was presumably aware of this rapidity since she was clearly impressed with the turmoil of the reaction. This analogy is thus good because both the spiritual and physical processes need not take a long time. In fact, once the acid is introduced to the alkali, or immortal Mind is introduced to mortal mind, the reaction cannot be stopped. If distress is noticed at the beginning of a healing, it means 1) that the truth of being has been successfully introduced and 2) nothing can stop the process as it proceeds to a final, harmonious, peaceful condition.
Of course, not all healing involves chemicalization. Many, if not most, healings are effective without turmoil. Eddy’s references to chemicalization frequently are associated with erroneous behaviors and conditions such as “conjugal infidelity,”(20) “famine and pestilence, want and woe,”(21) and diametric belief changes such as “change of belief from a material to a spiritual basis(22) and “when immortal Truth is destroying erroneous mortal belief.”(23) Some of the behaviors and conditions seem related to the negative qualities listed in the first degree (depravity) of Eddy’s scientific translation of mortal mind,(24) and may be deeply-seated in the mind of the patient. A patient expressing more of the second degree (evil beliefs disappearing) qualities such as humanity, honesty and affection(25) may be more easily receptive to Truth and not experience the turmoil of the destruction of beliefs opposite to Love and Truth. An extreme example of chemicalization is found in the book of Mark,(26) where a man possessed with devils was healed by Jesus while the evil thoughts were transferred to a herd of swine which then stampeded and were destroyed in the sea, with only the salt water remaining, and the possessed man free of his torment.
Eddy’s reference to acid-base chemical reactions as a teaching tool is an application of her observation: “Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”(27) So, the take-away on Eddy’s use of acid-base reactions as an illustration of chemicalization is that the reaction is vigorous and rapid, and the end result is a new quality, totally harmless and peaceful.
1. SH 349:13–18
2. “Translating Mary Baker Eddy's writings Part II: The 'Language of Spirit'”, The Christian Science Journal, June 2011
3. SH 1st Ed. (1875), p.129.
4. S.J. Hanna, “Rev. Mary Baker Eddy,” The Granite Monthly, 21, 199 (1896).
5. Ret. 10:7–8
9. SH 195:15
10. The Christian Science Journal, June 1, 1901
11. My 345:7–12, 25-30
13. SH 1st Ed. (1875), p,387
14. SH 50th Ed. (1891), p.61.
15. SH 168:32
16. SH 401:8–9 causes (to ,)
17. SH 422:14–15 to,
18. G. H. Kinter, Christian Science Sentinel, Oct. 28, 1911, p. 166
19. SH 674:1–6
20. SH 65:29
21. SH 96:15
22. SH 168:30
23. SH 401:16
24. SH 115:19-24
25. SH 115:25-26
26. Mark 5:1-13
27. SH 195:19