On March 11, 2017, Dr. Bob Rosenthal, the Co-President of the Foundation for Inner Peace posted a 5-star review of the newly released *A Course in Miracles, Complete & Annotated Edition*, published by Circle of Atonement, on www.amazon.com. Dr. Bob Rosenthal is the author of the *A Course In Miracles* related book,*From Plagues to Miracles*. He will also be a Presenter at our 2018 International *ACIM* Conference. The following is a copy of that review, reproduced with Dr. Rosenthal's permission.
It has been the long-standing policy of the Foundation for Inner Peace to offer no comments, positive or negative, with regard to any edition of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) or any other works about the Course. As the Foundation's new Co-President, I fully abide by that policy. Therefore, I had no plans to review this book. After receiving a complimentary copy of this new Circle of Atonement (CofA) Edition from Robert Perry, however, and carefully looking it over, and after having received a number of queries from students and friends, I am guided to share my thoughts after all.
What follows then should not be construed in any way as representing the opinion of the Foundation for Inner Peace. Rather, these are my own personal views and observations, offered as one of ACIM's earliest students, and one of the few still alive who actually knew its two scribes. Indeed, Bill Thetford was a close friend and mentor of mine from the time we first met in the Skutch's New York home until his death in 1988.
Circle of Atonement has been meticulous in documenting its reasons for producing this edition and the myriad changes it contains. I want to be equally conscientious in my review, which will make this a long read. Much of what follows is addressed to the community of existing Course students. It will probably seem irrelevant to newer students and those trying to decide which edition to purchase. Therefore, I have summarized my conclusions at the end of this review. If you don't want to read the whole thing, but simply want the recommendations, feel free to skip directly to the end.
History and Healing
In order to fairly evaluate the changes to A Course In Miracles introduced by this edition, some history is in order – history that many in the Course community are not fully aware of. The first hardbound edition of ACIM was printed in June of 1976 by the newly formed Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP), the organization specifically authorized by the Voice that dictated the Course to Helen Schucman to "publish, disseminate and discuss" the Course. Its two scribes were very much alive and played an active part in that process. There was no controversy over which edition was best or most authentic because there was only one. Furthermore, Helen herself had stated about the Course (in her Preface) that, "Only a few minor changes have been made.… [S]ome of the more personal references that occurred at the beginning have been omitted. Otherwise, the material is substantially unchanged."
Given that Helen had brought the Course into being, and that without her, there would be no Course, there was no reason for anyone to doubt her words. Some were aware that she and Bill had given an early draft of ACIM's Text to Hugh Lynn Cayce (Edgar Cayce's son) for his feedback. He had promised Helen and Bill that he would share it with no one but his son, Charles Thomas, and so it was deposited in a hidden vault in the library of Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia. However, there was no interest in this draft because we already had the complete Course as scribed and edited by Helen under the direction of the Voice (of Jesus).
This was the situation that prevailed for over twenty years. Then, sometime in the late 1990s, the Cayce draft was removed from the A.R.E. library without permission, photocopied, and circulated. (Charles Thomas Cayce, unaware of the promise made by his father to Bill and Helen, had moved it from the vault to a locked, private room.) The Cayce draft was eventually published without permission under the title Jesus' Course in Miracles and later as ACIM Original Edition. In addition, Helen's notebooks and the earliest complete draft of the Course (known as the Urtext) were illegally removed from the Library of Congress, copied, and posted online.
A cursory glance at these earlier drafts revealed that far more material had been cut from the authorized FIP edition than anyone had realized. This was particularly true in the early chapters of the Text. And so today we have four different sources for ACIM: Helen's ‘shorthand' Notes, the Urtext, the Hugh Lynn Cayce draft editions, and the FIP Edition(s). This proliferation of Courses is confusing to say the least. But it has had far more serious consequences. It has led to schisms and factionalism among a community ostensibly devoted to the practice of love and forgiveness. I have no doubt that those who stole and made public Helen's Notes and the two earlier drafts saw themselves not as thieves, but as liberators. Yet these actions were divisive because they have sown division.
Which brings me to my first and perhaps most important point regarding this new Circle of Atonement Edition. Whereas previous actors vilified the Foundation for Inner Peace and were more than willing to break laws in pursuit of their agenda, the CofA has gone in a different direction. This edition has been meticulously assembled, with obvious care for the material. Robert Perry and CofA have demonstrated the utmost in integrity and transparency, explaining the changes they've made and the reasoning behind those changes. The work is scholarly and respectful throughout. It should also resolve any debate about which version of the Course adheres most closely to the original source material.
Therefore, it is my hope that, unlike previous published editions of ACIM, this annotated Circle of Atonement Edition will begin to mend the rifts in the Course community. I view it as a profound opportunity for healing. The misdeeds of the past, along with all of the ugly accusations and conspiracy theories, can at last be put to rest. If we choose, we can reunite in forgiveness as a community of Course students. We can discuss the various editions with the understanding that their similarities far out-weigh their differences. Any of them, if diligently studied, can bring about profound transformation.
However, there are some important points to be made about the changes featured in this Circle of Atonement edition and the assumptions underlying them.
Material Cut from the Early Text Chapters
With Helen's notes serving as their backbone, Robert Perry and the Circle of Atonement have tried to rebuild the Course from the bottom up in order to achieve their stated goal of restoring the Course to its original form, that is, "the original words as Helen received them," (p. 1920) editing these words with only the lightest touch possible. As a result, they have reinserted a great deal of material from the Notes and Urtext that was cut, not just from the FIP Edition, but from the Hugh Lynn Cayce draft as well. This is particularly true for the early chapters of the Text, where approximately 150 pages of new material and explanatory footnotes have been added.
In doing so, they make a key assumption, one that is essential to understand if we are to view this new edition in proper perspective. They consider the original wording from Helen's Notes to be the most accurate. This implies that the rapid-fire, stream of thought that Helen managed to capture and record in words, taking it down in her own personal shorthand, came through with such precision that it required little or no revision. Of course, anyone who has sat in a lecture hall attempting to take notes from a fast-paced lecturer can tell you how improbable this is. But there is a more significant issue here. Helen and Bill clearly stated that their editing was fully directed by the Voice: the same one that dictated the Course to her in the first place. So basically, we are being asked to believe that Helen overrode the explicit instructions of the Voice of Jesus in order to change and ultimately degrade the very Course she gave birth to. Robert Perry and the CofA give their reasons for making this assumption on pages 1911-1912 of this edition and their arguments come across as persuasive. But as neither Helen nor Bill are alive to present an alternate point of view, let me attempt to stand in for them and say what I believe they might have said in response.
There is no question that the material cut from the early chapters of the FIP Edition, but included here, is intriguing. For a seasoned Course student, there are some real hidden gems to be found. But is this material necessary for an understanding of ACIM? Is it fully congruent with the rest of the Course? In all too many instances, I would have to say it is not. Therefore, should it be treated as part of ACIM proper? The Voice didn't think so, and I agree – again, not because it has no value, or because it is somehow esoteric or special, or too "personal," and therefore compromising to Helen and Bill, but rather, because it was never intended for Course students. It was intended for its two scribes.
We must remember that, at the time of the scribing, Helen and Bill were not students of ACIM. There was no Course when they began: no Text to study, no Workbook lessons to practice. They were given this material fresh. And because the Course is so radical, so contrary to what we have all been taught to believe, they needed their own unique preparation – a rapid immersion program – if they were to bring it through and persist in what turned out to be a seven-year process. They needed to be able to trust the Voice of Jesus.
Consider Helen's position. She was born Jewish, became enamored of Catholicism at an early age, but gave up on religion altogether and was a confirmed atheist by the time the scribing began. She was also employed as an academic psychologist at an Ivy League medical school. All of a sudden, she's receiving communication from a voice in her head that, by the nature of what it's telling her, could only be that of Jesus. Her first assumption? She's going insane, which is quite understandable, really. (It is a testament to Bill that he could assuage her fears and create a setting that allowed her to feel safe enough to proceed. Without Bill's help, I am quite certain that Helen would have quit and there would be no ACIM today.)
Now flip this around and consider it from the viewpoint of Jesus. You're trying to get through to this atheistic psychologist, her curious but irreligious boss and engage them in an intensive, years-long process. How do you go about that? How do you manage to convince them that you are not merely a symptom of incipient psychosis? The way you convince them is to speak their language. You offer powerful insights (both personal and scholarly) that they could not have reached on their own. You gently reveal to them aspects of their personalities that they've kept hidden. You focus on specifics, not theory. You do not speak in formal iambic pentameter; you converse in a relaxed and plainspoken manner. Because above all else, you do not want to frighten them.
I think that when viewed in this light, the newly-included material from the early chapters of the Text makes far more sense. It is not a didactic course like the rest of the Text; it is an informal discussion, with Helen asking questions and Jesus responding. (But only His answers are preserved; we are essentially hearing only half of the conversation.) This early material was intended for Helen and Bill; the rest is for all of us. This is the reason why words such as "create" change in meaning, and why the Voice shifted so dramatically from casual to formal in tone, and from specifics to the abstract, once it got past the early chapters – and never reverted back. Otherwise, why devote an entire section to the nature of possession? Because Helen was no doubt frightened that what she was experiencing might be some form of possession. And why the voluminous psychoanalytic references, which require from two to seven explanatory footnotes per page in order to become comprehensible? Because Bill and Helen were steeped in psychoanalytic thought. In the world of 1960s psychology, unlike today, Freud was gospel. But was this intended to be part of ACIM proper? Or was this the Voice of Jesus assuring them, speaking their language and establishing both its authority and authenticity – that He knew what He was talking about, that He was credible and trustworthy, and that He had something truly valuable to offer them?
When I read the early material, I hear Jesus courting Helen and Bill, recruiting them to join him in a grand enterprise. Where Circle of Atonement sees "a bias against specifics" (p.1914) as motivating the elimination of the early "personal" material, I see the removal of material addressed to the specific needs and worldview of Helen and Bill, and therefore not readily generalizable to new students.
By reintroducing this material, the editors have conflated the needs of Helen and Bill with those of all Course students. Circle of Atonement states that, in their experience, "this additional material has made and continues to make an immense contribution to our understanding, appreciation, and application of the Course's teaching." (p.1914) I have no doubt this is true – for them, and for myself as well – but we are well-traveled students and teachers, not newcomers. We already have a context in which to make sense of this. The Voice's tone may be casual and conversational, but the language is difficult and opaque. Consider how it might impact the new student who has zero interest in Freud, psychoanalytic theory, Edgar Cayce, or the Bible. Despite CofA's beautiful work restoring this material, new students will likely find it confusing. Or worse, boring and irrelevant. And then there are the statements like, "Sex relations are intended for having children?" (CofA.p.11,para.4) Is this congruent with the ACIM we have come to know? And how might a new student react to it? How many would bother to read any further?
Circle of Atonement states that "… the early material constituted a much needed bridge into the unfamiliar world of the Course's ideas, the kind of bridge that Helen and Bill needed" – yes, that is exactly right! – "the kind of bridge that every student needs." (p. 1916) Well, not necessarily. That is the core assumption underlying the inclusion of so much additional material in this edition. And that is where CofA and Helen's Voice part ways.
There are two final points I want to make in order to fully address the contention that Helen's editing was not guided, as she claimed, and therefore compromised "the purity of the original dictation." (p.1917)
First, Circle of Atonement quotes Helen as saying that in her editing, she wanted to "change just about everything." But she also says, "Any changes I made were always wrong in the long run, and had to be put back." (p.1912) The point here is that, in the end, Helen felt she was unable to override the wishes of the Voice of Jesus. Would she have even made such a statement if she had introduced copious changes contrary to the guidance of Jesus and left them in place? And yet, these quotes are cited to suggest that she did exactly that.
Second, I think it is safe to assume that Bill Thetford, of all people, would have known if Helen had changed or subverted the material in any meaningful way. Yet Bill, as the Course's first student, used the FIP Edition of the Course himself for a dozen years, right up to his death. He read aloud and taught from it and never expressed any concerns or complaints. However, he did once confide to me that there was one place, just one, where Helen did in fact intentionally defy Jesus's Voice. (I raised this at different times with both Judith Skutch Whitson and Kenneth Wapnick. Neither was aware of it.) In the last section of Chapter 1, "Distortions of Miracle Impulses," found in both the FIP Edition and HLC Editions, Helen insisted on changing the word "sexual" to "physical" because, she said (and here Bill imitated her indignant distaste), "I will NOT have sex in my Course!" I bring this up because, to Bill's knowledge, this was the only example of such willful disregard by Helen. By implication, she bowed to the wishes of Jesus in all other instances – or her minor stylistic changes were deemed so inconsequential that they required no correction.
Now, I would like to evaluate the many new features and other changes included in this edition.
1. Annotations (Footnotes)
The Circle of Atonement Edition is packed with footnotes. These serve several purposes. They help to explain unfamiliar terms, difficult passages and cultural references, and they clarify the Course's all-too-frequent ambiguous use of pronouns. They also cross-reference certain passages, as when the Course states, "we have said before…." And they flag the many references in ACIM to Bible passages, providing the matching Bible quote with chapter and verse. The annotations are almost always helpful. For Course students with a special interest in the Bible, they will prove invaluable.
My sole objection to the annotations lies in the nature of all annotations. Footnotes are intrusive. They break up the flow of the material. We are drawn to read them. There is simply no avoiding this. Like trying to watch a movie with subtitles or closed captions, your gaze naturally attaches to the words over the images. Therefore, I feel that the footnotes – much like those in a study Bible – are a plus for intermediate and experienced students, but a minus for newcomers, because they interrupt the flow of the language, making it far more difficult for the student to lose herself in its beauty and power. And there is considerable value as well in wrestling on your own with the ambiguous pronouns and tortured syntax to extract meaning from them. These are integral to the Course's learning process.
The original Course dictation was replete with words either underlined or rendered all in CAPS for emphasis. To include these in any published edition would have resulted in a distinctly amateurish, sloppy-looking product. Circle of Atonement has neatly solved this problem by using a very light gray underscore for all words emphasized in Helen's notebooks. They are easily identifiable, but not the least intrusive. And they do make a difference. With the underscores, you hear the language as Helen "heard" it. As a result, the meaning is often clearer. Of course, there was no way to achieve this sort of subtle underscoring in print back in the 1970 or ‘80s. And the underscores appear only in the Text, adding to the impression that the Text is intended as a lecture on Course theory, while the Workbook is for putting its teachings into practice.
3. Transcription Errors
The promotional material for the Circle of Atonement Edition includes the discovery (in Chapter 18 of the Text) of a transcription error in which the word "not" from the Notes was inadvertently changed to "now" in the Urtext. Basically, a typo. The sentence still made sense, but it was not really congruent with the surrounding teaching. CofA also tracks the changes in certain passages from one edition to the next, showing how the editing choices actually wound up changing the meaning. These are significant. Robert Perry has told me that there were perhaps scores of these – neither hundreds nor only a very few. Some were meaningful, others not so much. But do they impair the student's ability to learn the curriculum? Given the phenomenal redundancy built into ACIM (after all, it can be summed up in the three lines from the Introduction), I doubt it. Nonetheless, future revisions of all ACIM editions should take them into account.
4. The Cameos
At the back of the Circle of Atonement Edition, there are thirty-three "Cameos" (over 200 pages worth) that expound upon aspects of the teaching as it applied to Bill and Helen's lives, or that add new material or deeper insights that are not part of ACIM proper, but are nonetheless interesting or helpful. These come with extensive commentary by CofA. I think they are a most worthwhile addition, with one important caveat. To the extent that these examples are drawn primarily from the lives of Bill and Helen, we must once again be careful not to confuse their learning needs with those of all Course students. What was relevant for the two scribes is not necessarily pertinent for the rest of us. We have the completed Course to study, they did not. The Cameos do give the reader a greater appreciation for Helen and Bill's life struggles, and that, in my opinion, is a good thing.
This edition contains a comprehensive glossary of ACIM terms which will be helpful to newer students. However, some definitions reflect the interpretations of Circle of Atonement; not all ACIM students would agree with them.
6. Changes to Formatting and Wording
A. Changes to Chapter and Section Numbers and Titles
Because of the addition of so much early material, the chapter numbers in the CofA edition do not consistently match the numbering of the other editions. But then, the FIP Edition and Hugh Lynn Cayce or "Original," Editions had this problem too.
A few sections retain the same titles, but have been moved to reflect the original ordering of the Notes. This can be confusing.
And Circle of Atonement has changed many, but not all, chapter and section titles. Some of their changes do indeed better reflect the subject matter – their stated purpose – but others substitute a prosaic title for a more poetic one. For example, "God Is Not Insane" replaces "The Rock of Salvation." (T-25.VII) Whether this appeals to you or not will be purely a matter of taste.
B. Changes in Paragraph Breaks
Circle of Atonement has introduced new paragraph breaks, primarily in the Text, again adhering as closely as possible to those found in Helen's Notes. Many of these changes feel right, though some are awkward and others just trivial. But there are problems that come with this new structure, which I will address at the conclusion of this section.
C. Changes to Punctuation
Circle of Atonement has taken the liberty of changing punctuation throughout the Course to better reflect current standards of usage. The pervasive incorrect use of semicolons, for example, has been remedied. Commas have been inserted where necessary. To my mind, this is all to the good. But sentences starting with "And" or "For" have often been linked to the preceding sentence, making for a more fluid and grammatically correct read, but one that is stylistically less powerful in many instances.
D. Word Changes
The Course is full of awkward sentences and poor syntax. I checked some of the most glaring examples of these and found they had not been changed in any way. So, we can assume that these were present in the notebooks right from the start.
However, because of Circle of Atonements fidelity to the notebooks, it appears that wherever wording was changed in the later editing, CofA has reverted to the original word choice from the notebooks. In Workbook Lesson 43, for example, there are 23 such changes; in Lesson 44, there are 27; in Lesson 45, there are 13. Only rarely were the CofA reversions an improvement; more often I preferred the FIP version. However, the vast majority of changes were utterly trivial. Unless compared side by side (as I have done), they would pass unnoticed. Because they made no difference whatsoever to the meaning, I question why they were considered necessary, especially since they introduce a serious complication with using this edition in groups.
The new Circle of Atonement Annotated ACIM does not emerge on the world stage in a vacuum. The community of Course students is already extensive and well-established. The FIP English Edition has been available for over forty years and has found its way into the hands of approximately two million people. Another million have been reached through the twenty-six (and counting) translations shepherded by FIP. The two so-called "Original" Editions have been available for at least a decade, though I do not have access to their sales numbers. And there are over 300 books in print about the Course, the majority of which cite passages keyed to the FIP Edition's line-and-paragraph numbering system.
Many students also choose to participate in ACIM study groups, of which there are currently thousands in existence around the globe. One thing that most have in common is reading aloud, paragraph by paragraph, from sections of the Course. Because the Circle of Atonement Edition has different sections, different paragraph breaks, and changes in wording throughout, any attempt to read from it aloud in a group setting where most members are using the more established versions will prove problematic. This may well turn out to be the major liability of this edition. The only way group study will be possible is if the entire group commits to buying and using this new edition exclusively.
Summary and Recommendations
This is a beautiful book. The design is attractive and distinct. Its 1945 pages weigh in at 3½ pounds (shipping weight), so it's going to be heavy to carry around. The paper is a bit lightweight and there is some bleed through of text where there is blank space or where the print does not align perfectly on opposing pages. But the layout is clean and the type easy to read. The annotated footnotes are well-marked and their smaller font is still quite legible. As previously discussed, the underscores are beautifully executed. Given the amount of work that has gone into this book, it is hard not to be appreciative.
For Established ACIM Students, those with several years of practice and a solid grasp of the Course's central teaching, I would certainly recommend this edition. If you want a window onto the lives of its two scribes, if you currently use one of the "Original" ACIM Editions, or if you happen to agree with Circle of Atonement that Helen's editing was a departure from the guidance of her Voice and you seek to recapture the "purity of the original dictation," then this book will serve you well.
The primary reasons for my recommendation are, in order of importance: 1. the underscores, 2. the Cameos, 3. the annotations (especially for those interested in Bible passages), and lastly, 4. the inclusion of ‘new' material in the early chapters – but only for those with sufficient knowledge of ACIM not to be confused by it and with sufficient interest to read through the annotations and contend with the psychoanalytic jargon.
For New Students of ACIM or those still struggling to understand its core concepts, I would not recommend this edition. My reasons for this are:
1. The reintroduction of 150 pages of early material (understandably cut by Helen under the direction of her Voice) will likely prove confusing, frustrating, or downright off-putting. Therefore, if you are approaching the Text for the first time, you would do well to start with the authorized Foundation for Inner Peace Edition or one of the others. (I disagree with other reviewers on this point, but they are pretty much all well-established ACIM practitioners.)
2. As previously noted, this edition will not fit well into existing study groups, and for the new student in particular, study groups are an invaluable learning aid. It will also make it difficult to look up Course references from the 300-plus books about ACIM that help explain its teachings.
3. Even though the annotations may seem tempting, I believe that they are more likely to impede learning rather than promote it. ACIM students develop their own very personal relationship with the material and with their inner Teacher. That is in fact one of the primary goals of the curriculum. By breaking up the reading experience, the abundant footnotes make this more difficult to achieve. The beauty and power of the Course's language, the dense but irrefutable logic of its world view, and most of all, the sense of peace that flows from it – all become disjointed by the intrusion of footnotes, and your experience of ACIM will likely be proportionately impoverished.
In closing, I think Robert Perry and the Circle of Atonement have done a terrific job with this new edition. I thank them for their work and dedication in bringing it to the ACIM community. Although the FIP Edition will remain my mainstay, I will certainly be consulting this edition and reading the two in tandem. If the Course is your path, and you know this beyond any doubt, then this volume will make a worthwhile addition to your ACIM library. ♥
Dr. Bob Rosenthal's author page: www.fromplaguestomiracles.com
The Circle of Atonement Edition of ACIM can be purchased for $39.94 for the CMC's On-Line ACIM store. (Regular retail is $48.) Here is a direct link to the product page: Circle of Atonement ACIM
3006 Buchanan Street, Unit #1
San Francisco, CA 94123
This article appeared in the May 2017 (Vol. 31 No. 3) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.