[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
The issue of who authored A Course in Miracles has been a sticky one from the beginning. The claim that Jesus authored it through a human scribe has inspired a broad spectrum of responses, ranging from lifelong devotion and commitment to outright disgust and dismissal. It has helped make the Course popular as well as controversial and even offensive. And, to one degree or another, this claim has been problematic for everyone, for it is completely impossible to physically verify. How can one ever prove that a historical figure who died 2,000 years ago has written a book through a contemporary New York psychologist?
This long-standing issue has taken a surprising and dramatic new form. It has gone to the courts, where, quite possibly, the Course’s copyright will stand or fall based on it. A legal suit has been filed by Penguin, the new publishers of the Course, against Endeavor Academy in Wisconsin. While this suit is about copyright infringement, Endeavor is seeking to make the central issue the authorship of A Course in Miracles. It claims that since Jesus of Nazareth authored the Course, it is not copyrightable.
Penguin has come back with a startling response: Helen Schucman, not Jesus, is the author of the Course. It claims that Helen merely reconnected with the same Love of God that Jesus did 2,000 years ago, and having witnessed that Love, reflected it to the world in forms she was familiar with–English language, Christian symbology, psychodynamics, curricular format, and Shakespearean blank verse. The Course is thus “Schucman’s expression of the idea or concept of the eternal Love of God as she understood it.” And what of Jesus? “…Schucman often employed the most recognized Christian symbol of the Love of God, Jesus.” Helen merely used Jesus as a symbol. The actual Jesus had nothing to do with it.
I personally don’t think that what Penguin’s lawyers say while trying to defend the Course’s copyright has a great deal of relevance to Course students. If the Foundation for Inner Peace were saying this through Penguin, that to me would be a different matter. But the Foundation is not part of the lawsuit and has assured me that they have not at all guided Penguin in the stance it has taken. So while I wish that Penguin, as the current publisher of the Course, was not saying this, I see this lawsuit primarily as a stimulus for addressing the whole question of authorship.
Penguin and Endeavor are actually embodying two poles that have been in tension ever since the Course came out. On the one side are those who take a more literal approach and really believe that the historical Jesus of Nazareth dictated the actual words of the Course through Helen Schucman. On the other side are those who find it implausible that Jesus of Nazareth would magically reappear off the pages of the Bible and whisper an entire book into the ear of a human “scribe.” This side contends that Helen must be the one responsible for the Course, that she must have made contact with some formless, diffuse spiritual inspiration, which her mind then shaped into the words, paragraphs and volumes of A Course in Miracles.
Some very intelligent people have held this latter view. I recall reading Ken Wilber, the great transpersonal theorist, flatly state that Jesus did not author the Course. He basically chalked the Course up to Helen’s “genius.” I also recall reading John White (author in the fields of consciousness research and higher development), who had initially offered to publish the Course, say that it was impossible for Jesus to author a book since he no longer existed as a personal entity. And then there is Ken Wapnick, the most respected interpreter of the Course, whose published works have apparently been consulted by Penguin’s lawyers in forming their statement. Ken’s stance is that Helen’s mind made contact with the formless, transcendental mind of Jesus, and that his abstract love then took the shape of Helen’s familiar forms, as water takes the shape of a glass. As a result, Jesus was responsible for the content, Helen for the form.
Yet, honestly, what real relevance does this have to practicing Course students? I believe it has great relevance. Every Course student goes through a process of coming to terms with this issue of authorship. For many of us this process took, or is still taking, quite a long time. Although some students end up deciding that they do not care where the Course came from, for others the idea that it came from Jesus is central to their whole relationship with it–and with him. I believe that how we end up seeing the authorship of the Course affects how we see the Course itself and how we see spirit’s ability to reach us in this world. There are three ways in which I see the question of authorship affecting our picture of things.
The authority of the Course
If Jesus of Nazareth dictated the actual words of the Course, it takes on a very powerful authority. If instead we think the Course was distilled by Helen’s mind from some formless inspiration, it will carry less weight. The reason is simple: We as a race do not trust Helen Schucman as much as we trust Jesus Christ. You may think it should not matter to us where the Course came from, that it should carry weight based strictly on the merit of its words. Yet even so I suspect that if you truly imagine that its specific words came from Jesus, you will find yourself feeling differently about the Course. In evaluating words and ideas, we humans always consider the source.
Our ability to contact Jesus through the Course
For many students, a personal relationship with Jesus is a central aspect of the Course. And the Course itself values this relationship, saying at one point that accepting him into our lives will allow him to help us more (C-5.6:6-7). Now, this relationship can occur whether or not Jesus wrote the Course. Yet how much the Course itself can facilitate this relationship is affected by how directly and specifically we think he wrote it. If he wrote its words, then by simply reading those words we are contacting him, we are touching him. If he didn’t write its words then we are that much more removed from him, and will have to find some other way to bridge the gap between us and him.
How actively and specifically can spirit help us in this world?
How we view the authorship of the Course makes broader statements about life in this world. If Jesus can author the exact words of the Course, this implies that spirit can reach all the way down to our level, helping us very actively, specifically and personally. If Jesus cannot author a book in this way, then the opposite is implied: Spirit will not translate itself down to our level and so we will have to do what Helen supposedly did. We will have to hike ourselves up to its level and make contact with it. And then we ourselves will have to translate its abstract light into specific forms that suit our needs. This may in fact be the case, but to me this is a cold and comfortless picture. It amounts to nothing less than the idea that we have been left alone and have to get back home on our own.
WHERE DO THE WORDS THEMSELVES SAY THEY CAME FROM?
I would like to contribute something on this question of authorship. In my opinion, an ideal starting place in approaching it is finding out what the Course itself says. If we are wondering where those words came from, perhaps we should first find out where they claim they come from. Once we know that, we can decide whether we accept or reject their claim. This article will therefore seek to answer the question: Where do the words that Helen Schucman heard and wrote down say they came from?
The great thing about this question is that it is not so hard to answer. Clear answers are communicated in the Course itself. And extremely clear answers are communicated in the personal guidance to Helen and Bill which did not make it into the Course. Much of this guidance, as many Course students know, was published in Ken Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity.
In part I of this article I will examine Jesus’ role. Then, in part II I will move on to Helen’s to Bill’s roles. My initial points will draw from the Course itself. However, as we move into Helen’s role and finally Bill’s, I will be drawing on the personal guidance in Absence from Felicity. Along the way I will explore a series of twelve questions or issues. After exploring each one I will formulate a conclusion. And at the end of part II I will put all twelve conclusions together into a total picture and discuss the implications of that picture.
THE ROLE OF JESUS
- Who do the Course’s words claim that the author is?
No one debates this one. Ken and Gloria Wapnick express the obvious fact in their book, The Most Commonly Asked Questions About ACIM:
Almost the entire text of A Course in Miracles is written in the first person, where the “I” is clearly identified throughout as Jesus (p. 97).
In other words, the voice that speaks in the Course clearly identifies itself as that of Jesus of Nazareth, the very Jesus whose story is told in the Bible. Whoever wrote the Course is either totally convinced he is Jesus–which seems to be the case–or is deceptively passing himself off as Jesus. This, then, will provide us with our first conclusion:
- The words of the Course claim that they in some sense come from the individual known as Jesus of Nazareth.
From here on, I will call the author “Jesus,” not in the assumption that he truly is Jesus of Nazareth (which I believe, but not everyone does), but simply because that is what he calls himself.
2. How can a disembodied, fully awakened being author a book?
Many believe that if Jesus has truly awakened, then he no longer exists as an entity that can act within time and space. When his body and his ego vanished, the individual character we knew as Jesus disappeared as well. Now “he” is merely a seamless part of the transcendental whole, a whole which is void of any trace of personal identity, including that of Jesus.
This is a very reasonable perspective, yet one which has literally no support in what the Course itself says. Throughout the Course, the author speaks as if the same person that appeared bodily 2,000 years ago as Jesus is still somehow acting within time and space. He says that he is still helping, teaching, healing, giving assignments, guiding, working and planning. He says specifically that time and space are under his control (T-2.VII.7:9).
What is especially important are several passages in which he specifically says that he has remained with us. Most of the passages below are from the Manual, where Jesus speaks about himself in the third person. In them I have bolded variations of the word “remain.”
I take the journey with you. For I share your doubts and fears a little while, that you may come to me who recognize the road by which all fears and doubts are overcome. We walk together. I must understand uncertainty and pain, although I know they have no meaning. Yet a savior must remain with those he teaches, seeing what they see, but still retaining in his mind the way that led him out, and now will lead you out with him (W‑pI.rV.IN.6:1‑5).
Is he still available for help? What did he say about this? Remember his promises, and ask yourself honestly whether it is likely that he will fail to keep them….Would the greatest teacher be unavailable to those who follow him? (M‑23.3:5‑11).
He has remained with you (M‑23.5:9).
Arise with him who showed you this because you owe him this who shared your dreams that they might be dispelled. And shares them still, to be at one with you.
Is he the Christ? O yes, along with you. His little life on earth was not enough to teach the mighty lesson that he learned for all of you. He will remain with you to lead you from the hell you made to God (C‑5.4:3‑5:4).
These passages weave a highly consistent picture. Let’s summarize it. In these passages the author claims that his bodily life as Jesus was simply not enough to accomplish his mission. Therefore, he has not completely disappeared into formless infinity of Heaven, leaving us here alone. He has remained with us, walking with us, journeying with us, so that he can keep helping us, keep teaching us his one lesson, keep leading us to God. He is still available for help, just as he promised us in the gospels. On this journey he shares our dreams, our fears and doubts. He sees everything we see and understands our inmost uncertainty and pain. In short, he has remained with us, very intentionally and very personally.
Think of that word “remained.” It implies that he is still with us in a form or capacity not so utterly unlike how he was with us before. He was with us personally before and, even though his body is gone, he is with us personally now. This, it seems, is how he can author a book even though fully awakened. And this leads to our second conclusion:
- The words claim that Jesus, though awakened, has remained with us in a personal way and thus is able to do things within time and space, such as author a book.
3. How can Jesus be distinct from other awakened helpers?
A related assumption is that Jesus, being awakened, must be absolutely indistinguishable from other non-physical helpers. After all, they all are one, aren’t they? How, then, can a book be authored by Jesus as distinct from the rest of them? The Course sketches a subtle position here. It consistently gives two sides of the same issue, saying that all helpers are one, yet that there is still some kind of distinction between them, because this is appropriate to the realm of form.
Helpers are given you in many forms, although upon the altar they are one (C-5.1:3).
In the world of separation each [savior] is appointed separately, though they are all the same. Yet those who know that they are all the same need not salvation (T-20.IV.5:4-5).
This oneness-yet-distinction has a particular result in the case of Jesus. Of all the saviors in the world–both in the body and out of it–Jesus is actually the leader in the plan for salvation because he was the first to complete his part in that plan (C-6.2:2). He is one with all the world’s saviors, yet he is their leader. This gives us our third conclusion:
- The words claim that Jesus has remained with us as some kind of distinct identity, who is one with all other (physical and non-physical) saviors yet is still in some way distinct from them and is their leader.
4. Did Jesus formulate and dictate the specific English words of the Course?
The above conclusions still leave open a tiny remaining crack for the possibility that Helen was responsible for the words of the Course. I remember reading, for instance, a similar thing about Dorothy Maclean, of Findhorn fame. She would receive inner guidance from the “nature spirits” as a flow of wordless impressions, and she says that she herself would put the words to this flow. Ken Wapnick takes a somewhat related position in Absence from Felicity:
Therefore, again, Helen was responsible for the Course’s specific form; the abstract love of Jesus–the source–for its content (p. 481).
Thus what Helen heard was the content of his love in the shape of her forms, including her English words. According to this theory, Jesus did not select particular English words and speak them into Helen’s mind.
What does the Course say about this? Whose words are they? Did Jesus actually select the words, or did Helen? I will treat this question in several parts. I will begin by pointing out that Jesus several times calls the words of the Course his words. I have bolded the phrases that indicate this below:
My brothers in salvation, do not fail to hear my voice and listen to my words (T‑31.VIII.8:1).
For this alone I need; that you will hear the words I speak, and give them to the world (W‑pI.rV.IN.9:2).
It is possible to read his words [meaning, Jesus’ words in the Course] and benefit from them without accepting him into your life (C‑5.6:6).
So Jesus claims they are his words. But just what does that mean? Couldn’t he mean “my words” in a very loose sense? Couldn’t “my words” really mean “the expression of my ideas (whether in my words or someone else’s)”? The following passage answers this question decisively and unequivocally.
I have made every effort to use words that are almost impossible to distort, but it is always possible to twist symbols around if you wish (T‑3.I.3:11).
This passage is so significant because Jesus depicts himself as making “every effort” to carefully choose his words. “Words” here clearly does not mean ideas or thoughts. It specifically refers to symbols of ideas or thought, symbols that can potentially be twisted or distorted and seen as symbolizing the wrong ideas and thoughts. So here Jesus does not portray himself as providing the content with Helen providing the form, the words. He claims that he provided both, and for a very good reason: He chose forms that were particularly suited to his content, words into which it would be particularly hard to read the wrong ideas. In other words, his choosing of the words was essential to the proper communication of his content.
This idea is borne out by the rest of the Course, in which Jesus displays an acute awareness of the words being used, and often comments on them. He will comment on the appropriateness of a certain term, saying, “The word ‘within’ is unnecessary,” (T‑4.III.1:3), or, “The word ‘know’ is proper in this context…” (T‑5.I.4:8), or “The word ‘create’ is appropriate here…” (T‑5.V.2:2).
He is also acutely aware of the normal usage of a word. At one point he says, “There has been much confusion about what perception means, because the word is used both for awareness and for the interpretation of awareness” (T‑11.VI.2:5). If you think about it, this is true. The English word “perception” stands both for your awareness–your raw sense experience–and for your interpretation of that sense experience. You both perceive a tree in front of you with your eyes, and you also perceive it–interpret it–in a certain way, you read a certain meaning into it.
He also comments on the difference between the conventional usage of a term and his usage. He has this to say about the word “generosity”:
The term generosity has special meaning to the teacher of God. It is not the usual meaning of the word; in fact, it is a meaning that must be learned and learned very carefully…..In the clearest way possible, and at the simplest of levels, the word means the exact opposite to the teachers of God and to the world (M‑4.VII.1:1,2,8).
And he is aware of the impressions that his readers might receive from his words. After saying, “You can “see reason” he clarifies this, saying, “This is not a play on words…” (T‑22.III. 1:4‑5). About the term “the real world,” he says, “And yet there is a contradiction here, in that the words imply a limited reality, a partial truth…” (T‑26.III.3:). In other words, the combination of “real” (which implies reality, eternity) and “world” (the illusory realm of time and space) seems to be a contradiction.
He even lays out a sophisticated analysis of the effect of words upon the mind. In the Manual he says that words call to mind a specific referent, some concrete thing that we can picture. Then he says that the significance of these specific things is that they are seen as “bringers of the desired experience in the opinion of the asker” (M-21.2:5). For example, the word “apple” brings to mind an actual apple (the specific referent), and this apple stands for some desired experience that an apple can bring us (for instance, that of eating one). “The words, then, are symbols for the things asked for, but the things themselves but stand for the experiences that are hoped for” (M‑21.2:6). He says that unless a word brings to mind a specific thing that in turn stands for a desired experience, “the word has little or no practical meaning, and thus cannot help the healing process” (M-21.2:3). The author, then, has a deep understanding of which words are apt to have psychological impact and why. One can only assume that he has used this understanding in choosing his words in the Course.
Altogether, Jesus claims that these are his words and that he has chosen them very carefully to convey his meaning. Furthermore, he displays an acute awareness of words and their psychological effect: where certain words are appropriate, what they conventionally mean, what he means by them, and what meanings they might arouse in the minds of his readers. All of this is completely incompatible with the idea that he only supplied pure content, which was left up to Helen to put into words. Let’s condense this into our fourth conclusion:
- Jesus claims that he carefully chose the specific English words of the Course, which is reflected in the acute awareness of words that he displays in the Course.
5. Jesus’ puns
I want to take the previous point one step further. Ken Wapnick, in Absence from Felicity, has pointed out that the Course uses a veritable “plethora of puns” (p. 239). My Webster’s Dictionary defines a pun as “the humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest different meanings or applications….” A pun is made possible by the same word having more than one meaning. Quite often these meanings bear no conceptual relationship to each other. That they are both found in the same word is often a complete accident of language, an accident that may occur in only one language.
Here, for instance, is an example from the Course:
Remember that “yoke” means “join together,” and “burden” means “message.” Let us restate “My yoke is easy and my burden light” in this way; “Let us join together, for my message is Light” (T‑5.II.11:3‑4).
Here he switches “yoke” from a noun to a verb, transforming it from something that goes around the neck of a draft animal to an act of joining together. He switches “light” from “not heavy” to “spiritual illumination.” And he changes burden from “a load that one carries” to the archaic usage (which comes from a different root word) of “message” or “central theme.”
I especially want to focus on the following pun, recorded in Absence from Felicity, which was a personal communication to Helen and Bill:
By the way, it is not true that you are both “just scribes.” You might remember that the Scribes were very wise and holy men and are even spelled sometimes with a capital S. If you want to go further, you could even shift “just” from “merely” to “honest,” a term used in the Bible in association with “might.” Tell Bill you couldn’t make the pun if the original phrasing had been singular (p. 228).
This pun depends entirely on three specific details of language. First, it depends on the word “scribe” being able to signify either a mere “penman or copyist” or “one of the group of [ancient] Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition” (both from Webster’s Dictionary).
Second, it depends on the fact that two unrelated meanings–“mere” and “righteous”–both happen to converge on the word “just.”
Third, it depends, as Jesus notes, on the small detail of the phrase being plural. The singular version, “just a scribe,” would not have allowed the pun.
These three details allow Jesus to turn the phrase “just scribes” from meaning “mere penmen or copyists” to meaning “honest, mighty, wise and holy men.” The whole paragraph rests on these details of language, which allow the same phrase to double for two radically different meanings. It certainly appears, then, that Jesus has done what anyone does in making a pun; that he has constructed his message based on an intimate knowledge of the capacities of particular English words. It appears that his knowledge of those words suggested a particular message, and that this message was then expressed through words. In short, it looks as if he formulated both words and content together, each one guided by the other. Let us, then, state our fifth conclusion, remembering that the Course is filled with a “plethora of puns”:
- In the case of the puns Jesus makes, the specific content expressed depends on the multiple meanings of particular English words, suggesting that he formulated both the content and the words together.
* * * *
This concludes my examination of the role of Jesus in the authorship of A Course in Miracles. In part II I will explore the roles of Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford, where we will find that their roles do not contradict Jesus’ role as presented here, but merely flesh out more of the same picture. Yet even here, before we get to Helen and Bill, we can see that the words Helen heard regard Jesus as a true author. They do not portray him as a kind of abstract inspiration for the Course, but as the author of the specific train of words that makes up A Course in Miracles.
Please remember that I am not saying that this view is the truth, simply that this view is the claim of the words that Helen heard. Yet if we do accept this view as true, what does that mean? What relevance does it have? Well, I personally accept this view as the truth, and for me it means the following: that the Course is the specific expression of Jesus of Nazareth, that therefore it carries the unparalleled authority that he does, that through its words I can come to know him and experience him teaching and healing me, and that spirit can come down to my level, can reach me and help me in very specific forms and in a very personal way.