Chapter One Hundred Twenty-one
From Mary Baker Eddy, Her Spiritual Footsteps by Gilbert Carpenter
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Spiritually Understanding ‘Christ and Christmas’
Recently, books have appeared, in which Mrs. Eddy’s book, Christ and Christmas, has been held up to ridicule, criticizing her for incorporating in it crude pictures in the name of art, and extolling them as approximating the masterpieces of such men as Botticelli and Fra Angelico. The very year this book appeared, there were those who called the pictures, caricatures. Nevertheless, Mrs. Eddy declared, “I am delighted to find Christ and Christmas in accord with the ancient and most distinguished artists.” Miscellaneous Writings, page 372.
It must be remembered, that the teaching of Christian Science is, that mind is cause, whether one is dealing with the realm of the divine or human. Hence, everything in the visible universe is the expression of thought, and every painting expresses the thought of the painter, whether it be spiritual or material.
Mrs. Eddy’s entire teachings are to enable one to trace from human effect back to human cause, substitute for that human cause the divine cause, and continue this work, until the whole universe is transformed into the expression of the divine Mind.
Mrs. Eddy’s poem, Christ and Christmas, was an endeavor on her part to offer the world a practical illustration of this spiritual process, and to prove man’s ability, when instructed spiritually, to produce art and poetry that would express spiritual thought. She was the first one who ever attempted to depict this ideal, according to an understandable and teachable process; and the fact that he succeeded, marks her first effort with the same significance in the metaphysical realm, as does the first flight of the Wright brothers in the physical realm.
There is a vast difference between the effort to have a painting embody some fine human thought or a spiritual idea. There have been painters who have permeated their work with inspiration, without knowing the scientific process, but Mrs. Eddy was the first one to do it through understanding. Therefore, her triumph will remain for all time, no matter how crude it may seem to the human mind. She overcame all obstacles, rose above all temptation to failure, thus causing her victory to stand unique and alone. There is little to compare it to. In the material realm, it most resembles the Wrights’ first airplane, which was a crude creation. Yet it flew, and flew successfully; and anyone wanting to fly today, must conform to the primitive principles which the Wright brothers demonstrated successfully.
Mrs. Eddy did not actually paint the pictures, but she found an artist with whom she could work; one who was a Christian Scientist, and who was able to capture some of her inspiration in his brushmarks. She established a spiritual standard that started a new era for the world.
When the Wright brothers developed the principles of flying, to the point where they made them practical, they had no intention of keeping the airplane in the primitive form with which they started. It was simply the skeleton, that contained the germ of the idea which they gave to the world. Today, that same idea is embodied in every airplane that is constructed and flown successfully.
Mrs. Eddy did not intend that her endeavor to illustrate the teachings of Christian Science, by putting forth illustrations that were the outcome of spiritualized thought, was to be the only effort ever attempted in that field. She proved a truth; namely, that it is possible to express spiritual thought through the delineations of human forms and figures. She confidently expected students of Christian Science to adopt this discovery, broaden and enlarge it, until it became a universal ideal, which would continue to embrace the same spiritual healing thought that was present at its inception. Ultimately, when man had replaced a mortal source with a divine origin, she expected everything to carry this healing atmosphere. She revealed this as the task of the Christian Scientist, by offering Christ and Christmas as a practical illustration. This instruction corresponded with what she demanded of the students in her home; namely, that they put inspiration, instead of mortal thought, back of everything. For example, she expected that her followers would not stop eating, but see a divine origin back of food, and let it represent God, thus transforming into manna from heaven the food of which man partakes three times a day, which error claims to use as a means to greater bondage.
Mrs. Eddy’s demonstration in Christ and Christmas was similar to Moses’ demonstration of the manna. Whereas his was the first successful attempt to see God back of food, Mrs. Eddy’s was the first successful attempt to see God back of art. If manna typifies for mortals the divine feeding, the illustrations in Christ and Christmas become human symbols of the divine healing.
With certainty it can be stated, that only individuals long on art and short on spirituality, those who were instilled with a human conception of artistic standards, with but slight appreciation of inspiration, would criticize Christ and Christmas. It is a fact, that Mrs. Eddy’s home contained many objets d’art which did not approximate the accepted standards of art. On the other hand, they were imbued with love and appreciation for Mrs. Eddy and her great discovery; and it was for that reason Mrs. Eddy treasured them. They might be short on art, but they were long on gratitude unspeakable.
Mrs. Eddy inaugurated a new standard for music and art, unfolding that if there is any lack in a composition or picture, it would be preferable to have that lack a material rather than a spiritual one. This is a rebuke to those who demand human perfection, even if the quality of the thought back of it, does not approach the spiritual standard.
This point can be illustrated by the Wednesday evening testimonial meetings in the Christian Science churches. How far reaching is the good done by a humble testimony, which perhaps betrays a lack of human education and poise and yet, overflows with love and appreciation for the great gift of Christian Science! Its very sincerity carries conviction to the stranger, which one couched in perfect English, but without that candor and consciousness of heart-felt gratitude, does not. Such a testimony is short on that which is unimportant, and long on that which is vital. As Shakespeare says in A Midsummer Night’s Dream “Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity, in least speak most . . .”
This idea is further illustrated by the parable of the widow’s mite, which is narrated in the Gospel of Mark. The widow’s offering was long on faith in God and true appreciation, although short on the human expression. Yet, the Master said, “That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury.”
As far as its artistic expression is concerned, Christ and Christmas might be reckoned as being no more than a mite. Yet, there is present within it, to an unusual degree, that rare quality of inspiration, which is so seldom found and which, when it is present, elevates all art to a standard that makes it priceless.
On page 448 of volume II of History of the Christian Science Movement, by William Lyman Johnson, there is the following which Mrs. Eddy wrote to Carol Norton: “Christ and Christmas was an inspiration from beginning to end. The power of God and the wisdom of God was even more manifest in it and guided me more perceptibly, as those of my household can attest, than when I wrote Science and Health. If ever God sends you to me again, I will name some of the marvelous guidance that He gave me. He taught me that the art of Christian Science has come through inspiration, the same as its Science has. Hence the great error of human opinions passing judgment on it.”
There can be no understanding of Christ and Christmas from a human standpoint. Those to whom the true inward value is not discernible, may say what they like. The fact remains, however, that in this poem with its illustrations, Mrs. Eddy exemplified the very process which, if adopted by man, and applied to every phase of his human existence, will bring him his salvation. The students who understand and, to some degree, are taking advantage of the practical Christian Science disclosed in this work, rejoice in Mrs. Eddy’s grand pioneering. They are not troubled at critics who label the pictures in this book crude, for they recognize in it an illustration of a law which means the salvation of the whole world from sin, sickness and death. Thus, they are placed above the criticism of mortal man. In corroboration Mrs. Eddy writes in Miscellaneous Writings, page 374, “Above the fogs of sense and storms of passion, Christian Science and its art will rise triumphant; ignorance, envy, and hatred, earth’s harmless thunder, pluck not their heaven-born wings. Angels, with overtures, hold charge over both, and announce their Principle and idea.”