Septimus J. Hanna

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A gentleman with whom I recently conversed, took serious exception to the word idea, as used to explain God’s creations, and especially man. He somewhat contemptuously remarked, “I hope I am more than an idea! Do you consider yourself only an idea?”

I endeavored to explain the sense in which this term was used in the Christian Science text-book. He, of course, supposed the word was used in its popular sense, and as thus used, it conveyed to him only a passing thought or vague and fleeting suggestion of some intangible thing.

Many persons think of the word only in that sense, and jump hastily to the conclusion that it can properly be used in no other. This is a peculiarity of human nature which often leads to unfair criticism as to the use of words.

In view of this it may be well to consider briefly the larger and more legitimate, if less common, meaning of the word idea. In its popular sense it stands for opinion, belief, purpose, or intention. It has also the sense of mental powers, as in the sentence, “To teach the young idea how to shoot.” But it has a much deeper and wider meaning, especially as philosophically used. Indeed, as a standard lexicographer says, “The word has been taken in very many and very different senses, the history of which would be a history of philosophy.”

The Platonic use of the word as indicating the “true archetypal essence of things” was a hint to Philo, who flourished about the middle of the first century, to transform this archetypal essence into “divine thoughts,” having their seat in the Logos. And he said, “This is the doctrine of Moses, not mine.”

“If we conceive of God as creative Principle and man as His universal idea, we get a much clearer understanding of both God and man”

According to Plutarch, the ideas were between God and the world. They were the pattern, and God the efficient Cause. St. Thomas Aquinas recognized ideas as in the divine Mind.

These definitions from so respectable a source are sufficient to vindicate the use of the word “Idea” in the sense of an emanation or creation of God; and this is the sense in which it is used in Christian Science terminology, and there is a well-grounded philosophical basis for such use. A careful study of the best meaning of the word shows that its use in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is corroborative evidence of the finely discriminating selection of words which characterizes Mrs. Eddy’s writings. One is often surprised to find that the unusual use of a word by her brings out its original meaning with an aptness little dreamed of by those who have only the popular sense of the word in thought.

If we conceive of God as creative Principle and man as His universal idea, we get a much clearer understanding of both God and man, than if we undertake to think of God as a personal creator, in the anthropomorphic sense, and of men as His personal creatures. In the light of Christian Science the fatherhood of God and the sonship of man take on an infinitely broader and deeper meaning.

A deep, careful, and analytical consideration of the use of the word “Idea” prepares one for the definition of man as given in the Christian Science text-book; viz., “The compound idea of infinite Spirit; the spiritual image and likeness of God; the full representation of Mind” (p. 591).

(Originally published in the May, 1904 Christian Science Journal)

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