Is It Our Special Function to Save One or Many?

by Robert Perry

Many students believe that our special function is not some kind of function we actually take up in the world, by which we actively contribute to the world's salvation, but that it is forgiving just one person, perhaps our biggest forgiveness challenge. In this view, this is not a function that we outwardly carry out. Rather, it is merely about our private act of inwardly forgiving.

The fact is, there are passages in the Course that sound somewhat like this. However, there are a number of other passages that clearly speak of our special function as saving many, even thousands. In this article, I would like to try to resolve this dilemma. Is our special function forgiving one or saving many?

There are two passages that talk of our special function being about just one person:

To each who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him, and so to free himself. In the world of separation each 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.5:3-5)

Consider once again your special function. One is given you to see in him his perfect sinlessness. (T-26.II.6:5-6)

These, however, are just two passages out of a great many, and those many do not sound like this. My assumption is that we have to avoid using these passages to rule out the others, or use the others to rule out these. There must be a way that they all go together.

So let me go through a number of the other passages that suggest that our special function is not just forgiving one person.

He chooses it based on our strengths

Seeing your strengths exactly as they are, and equally aware of where they can be best applied, for what, to whom and when, He chooses and accepts your part for you. (W-pI.154.2:2)

This says that the Holy Spirit designs your special function ("your part" is one of the ways the Course refers to the special function) based on your strengths. That implies that your special function is an expression of your strongest abilities. And that suggests that it's about making some kind of impact on or difference in the world. Abilities are muscles; they make an impact on the world. And thus one's strongest abilities make the strongest impact. This passage implies, then, that the special function is one in which we use our biggest muscles and thus make a maximal impact on the world. That's very different than saying, "He chooses your special function for you based on the person in your life that is your biggest forgiveness lesson." Do you see the difference?

Each teacher teaches a number of others

Certain pupils have been assigned to each of God's teachers. (M-2.1:1)

One form the special function may take is to be a teacher of pupils, a mentor. And here this teacher is said to have a number of "pupils"—plural. It's not just one, it's a number. And it's not just forgiving them, it's also teaching them. Here is a similar passage:

He will be told all that his role should be, this day and every day. And those who share that role with him will find him, so they can learn the lessons for the day together. (M-16.1:5-6)

Another code word for special function is "role." Here in this passage, once again, the teacher's role involves multiple others ("those who share that role with him"), not just one.

Jesus' special function

He has established Jesus as the leader in carrying out His plan since he was the first to complete his own part perfectly. (C-6.2:2)

As I said, a code word for special function is "part." So this passage is saying that Jesus was the first to complete his own special function perfectly. And we know what his special function looked like. We know that it wasn't just forgiving one person. It was saving a great many.

Helen's visions

Along the same lines, if you look at Helen's visions leading up to the Course, they were mostly about her moving into (or resuming) special function. In one, she found herself exclaiming with great joy, "Does this mean that I can have my function back?" Throughout her visions, this special function was pictured as her scribing of the Course. That is definitely not forgiving one person. This function was also pictured as, in a past life, her being a priestess who never left her temple, but stayed inside and prayed for people who came. Again, that was not just forgiving one person. It was saving many.

"Entering the Ark"—a resolution

Okay, so if it's not just forgiving one person, why are there those two passages in which it is talked about as forgiving one person? Actually, the first one I listed talks about it as saving one person. So it's not just that I forgive this one person and I feel better, because I've sloughed off the poison of resentment. It's that I forgive this one person and thereby set this person free from his own chains, which are really made of guilt.

So talking about us saving this one person (through our forgiveness) gets us closer to "special function" as I've been talking about it. For the role is really a savior role. Through the Holy Spirit using my strengths to serve His plan, people are saved (in the very best sense of the word).

But this still doesn't tell us how the "save one person" model actually fits with the "save lots of people" model. I think the answer is actually in that first section that contains the "save one" passage ("Entering the Ark"—T-20.IV). Here, again, is that passage:

To each who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him, and so to free himself. In the world of separation each 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.5:3-5)

The key here is to realize that the one person we are meant to save is our holy relationship partner. This is someone who is significant in our life and with whom we have joined in a truly common purpose, a purpose that transcends the usual notions of self-interest.

I say that the one person is our holy relationship partner because that is the context in this section. It's right in the middle of several chapters (17-22) in which the references to "your brother" or "your savior" (both of which are in this section) are specific references to your holy relationship partner. Actually, they were more specific than that. For Helen, they were references to Bill. For Bill, they were references to Helen.

The fifth paragraph of that section is the one with that crucial line: "To each who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him." If we look at what comes in the next two paragraphs, we can actually solve the riddle of how the "save one" model integrates with the "save many" model.

Here is the first part of very next paragraph, paragraph 6:

The plan is not of you, nor need you be concerned with anything except the part that has been given you to learn. For He Who knows the rest will see to it without your help. But think not that He does not need your part to help Him with the rest. For in your part lies all of it, without which is no part complete, nor is the whole completed without your part. (T-20.IV.6:1-4)

This is talking about the importance of your "part"—your special function. It's the sentences that follow next to which we need to pay special attention:

The ark of peace is entered two by two, yet the beginning of another world goes with them. Each holy relationship must enter here, to learn its special function in the Holy Spirit's plan, now that it shares His purpose. And as this purpose is fulfilled, a new world rises in which sin can enter not, and where the Son of God can enter without fear and where he rests a while, to forget imprisonment and to remember freedom. How can he enter, to rest and to remember, without you? Except you be there, he is not complete. And it is his completion that he remembers there. (T-20.IV.6:5-10)

The ark of peace here is, of course, a biblical image, but Jesus has joined this biblical image with the notion of the holy relationship and the holy instant. Specifically, I believe, the ark represents the holy instant, the holy ark in which two people of like nature enter together, a place of rest and sanctuary which then carries them to their role in starting a new world. Who are the two people who enter? That's answered by the next line (the second in the above quote): "Each holy relationship must enter here." So this clearly says that the two people are holy relationship partners. And in the context of the previous paragraph of this section, these two holy relationship partners are you and that person you are meant to save.

And when those two enter "the ark of peace" they learn their "special function in the Holy Spirit's plan." Actually, they learn their relationship's special function in His Plan (the language is "its special function"—"its" being a reference to the relationship).

Now for the next paragraph, paragraph 7:

This is the purpose given you. Think not that your forgiveness of your brother serves but you two alone. For the whole new world rests in the hands of every two who enter here to rest. And as they rest, the face of Christ shines on them and they remember the laws of God, forgetting all the rest and yearning only to have His laws perfectly fulfilled in them and all their brothers. Think you when this has been achieved that you will rest without them? You could no more leave one of them outside than I could leave you, and forget part of myself. (T-20.IV.7:1-7:6)

This paragraph is crucial. Look at sentence 2: "Think not your forgiveness of your brother serves but you two alone." This is the brother that, just two paragraphs earlier, we were told it was our function to save ("To each who walks this earth in seeming solitude is a savior given, whose special function here is to release him, and so to free himself"). Now we are told that this isn't about just saving this one person.

What, then, is it about? It's about your forgiveness of him bringing the two of you into the ark, where you learn and acquire your joint special function. Then, just as in the Noah story, the ark carries the two of you to the new world, which you have a key function in founding. "For the whole new world rests in the hands of every two who enter here to rest." Thus, saving this one partner gets the two of you into the ark. But when you leave the ark, it's no longer about you saving this one person. It's about both of you saving a great many, drawing as many as you can into that ark. The paragraph explicitly says that as these two take their rest in the ark, they yearn "only to have His laws perfectly fulfilled in them and all their brothers. Think you when this has been achieved that you will rest without them?" (my italics).

That is the resolution to our dilemma. We first save the one, and then the two of us save the many.

This pattern is actually found throughout the Text. It's one, though, that students are not familiar with. The idea is that you join with one holy relationship partner. This person then becomes the focus of a huge investment. Your ego steps in, places tons of demands and expectations on this person, which she totally fails to live up to. And then you acquire a mountain of resentment, and she acquires a mountain of corresponding guilt. This is called "the period of discomfort."

But if you can rise above that, if you can truly forgive this person, you can relieve her of her mountain of guilt. That's the "save one" part. And then the two of you can do what you came together to do. First, you can truly join. How can you really join if you have a mountain of resentment and guilt standing between you?

And then once you join, the two of you acquire a joint special function. You learn "its special function"—the relationship's special function. And that is definitely about saving the many. Here are some quotes. There are a lot of them, and if you've read the Text before, you have read them. But try to read them with new eyes now, for in light of the foregoing discussion they will most likely have new meaning:

Reason now can lead you and your brother to the logical conclusion of your union. It must extend, as you extended when you joined. It must reach out beyond itself, as you reached out beyond the body, to let yourselves be joined. (T-22.In.4:5-7)

You have been called, together with your brother, to the most holy function this world contains. It is the only one that has no limits, and reaches out to every broken fragment of the Sonship with healing and uniting comfort. This is offered you, in your holy relationship….The holy light that brought you together must extend, as you accepted it. (T-18.I.13:1-3, 6)

Through your holy relationship, reborn and blessed in every holy instant you do not arrange, thousands will rise to Heaven with you. Can you plan for this? Or could you prepare yourself for such a function? (T-18.V.3:1-3)

The extension of the Holy Spirit's purpose from your relationship to others, to bring them gently in, is the way in which He will bring means and goal in line. The peace He lay, deep within you and your brother, will quietly extend to every aspect of your lives, surrounding both of you with glowing happiness and the calm awareness of complete protection. And you will carry its message of love and safety and freedom to everyone who draws nigh unto your temple, where healing waits for him. (T-19.IV.1:5-7)

Each herald of eternity sings of the end of sin and fear. Each speaks in time of what is far beyond it. Two voices raised together call to the hearts of everyone, to let them beat as one. And in that single heartbeat is the unity of love proclaimed and given welcome. (T-20.V.2:1-4)

And think how beautiful will you and your brother look to the other! How happy you will be to be together, after such a long and lonely journey where you walked alone. The gates of Heaven, open now for you, will you now open to the sorrowful. And none who looks upon the Christ in you but will rejoice. How beautiful the sight you saw beyond the veil, which you will bring to light the tired eyes of those as weary now as once you were. How thankful will they be to see you come among them, offering Christ's forgiveness to dispel their faith in sin. (T-22.IV.4:2-7)

I don't think it always has to be like this—that a special function is carried out jointly by two holy relationship partners. Remember, the Text was speaking very personally to Helen and Bill. And I don't think that this joint special function requires profound forgiveness between the two partners or it won't happen at all. After all, Helen and Bill took down the Course together without reaching any deep forgiveness of each other. But their lack of forgiveness definitely limited their joint function. It seems clear that they were called to go deeper, to become real teachers of the Course, but they didn't, because of their unhealed relationship.

I think the reason for this being the ideal pattern is that, if at the heart of one's special function is a truly holy relationship, then there is real love, real sincerity, real oneness, powering the whole thing. The relationship's holiness becomes this engine that pumps real holiness out into the world through its special function. Otherwise, the special function can just be a flashy but hollow display of terrific abilities, without the real stuff flowing through those abilities. If you get up on stage and dazzle everyone, but then go home and scream at your partner, how genuine and substantial was what you gave on stage? But if at the source of what flows through you is a genuine holy relationship, then what will flow through will definitely be the real thing.


What we have, then, are two passages that speak of our special function being the saving of one person. Then we have a number of passages that speak of our special function being the saving of many. We can't use one set of passages to rule out the other. Somehow, they must both be true. And, thankfully, we have a particular section that speaks of both and directly ties them together.

According to this section, first, we save our holy relationship partner. We forgive this person so completely that he is able to drop the heavy burden of guilt he has been lugging around. This then allows the two of us to enter "the ark of peace," the holy instant. Then, resting in the walls of this holy sanctuary, we "learn its [the relationship's] special function in the Holy Spirit's plan." Then we leave the ark so that our relationship can do its part in founding a new world. Our relationship now "reaches out to every broken fragment of the Sonship with healing and uniting comfort." We "carry its message of love and safety and freedom to everyone who draws nigh unto [our] temple, where healing waits for him." Our "two voices raised together call to the hearts of everyone, to let them beat as one." In the end, "thousands will rise to Heaven with [us]."

Our function may begin, then, in an inward act of forgiving one person, but it leads directly to actually saving that person, and in the end it will result in the two of us saving "thousands." Seeing it this way is how we honor all the passages in the Course, both the passages that speak of saving one and the passages that speak of saving many.


  1. Mary Benton
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your detailed analysis of this subject. Here are a few thoughts.
    If each of us is a Son of God, but this identity is not our body or our personality (on this we would agree) it is difficult to conceptualize this identity in any worldly way, except to say that a quiet center can be experienced at times in the world. As I understand the Course this center, this Self, would be the same in all of us.
    As you demonstrate, the Course talks about oneness and multiplicity. Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence for there being multiplicity in the original state of Heaven is the teaching that we asked for special favor from God. How could simple oneness do that?
    Having said that, there are three passages that make me think a bit further on the subject. Here they are:
    "The first in time means nothing, but the First in eternity is God the Father, Who is both First and One. Beyond the First there is no other, for there is no order, no second or third, and nothing but the First." (T-14.IV.I:7-8)
    "Heaven is not a place nor a condition It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this Oneness and nothing else within." (T-18.VI.I:5-6)
    Both of these passages talk of complete unity, a unity in which multiplicity does not exist.
    Here is the third passage.
    "Mind reaches to itself. It is not made up of different parts, which reach to each other. It does not go out. Within itself it has no limits, and there is nothing outside it. It encompasses everything. It encompasses you entirely; you within it and it within you. There is nothing else, anywhere or ever." (T-18.VI.8:5-11)
    While discounting "parts", this does give us a glimpse of a unity which "encompasses everything". It is within us and we are within it. I am reminded of a phrase from my Catholic past: "Through Him, with Him, and in Him."
    In this world we might get a glimpse of this experience in real love, if we are blessed to experience it. The Course tells us a Son of God comes closest to himself in a holy relationship, a relationship which will eventually lead to "One Relationship". Now there's an interesting concept. This Course is always ahead of us. A teacher once said, in speaking of the spiritual path: "You can't work it out", meaning the intellect will not take us to the experience. A Course in Miracles tells us the same thing.

  2. Mary
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Our understanding of the Special Function in the Course's teaching must begin with Chapter 25, Section 6 "The Special Function", where its meaning is made quite explicit. Nowhere in this Section do we get stipulation about how many people we are forgiving: it could be one or many, depending on our own individualized curriculum. Moreover, nowhere does the Course describe forgiveness as " a private act of inwardly forgiving". Throughout the teaching, forgiveness and its extension are inextricably connected. Extension itself could take several forms, some "external", some not; some with our conscious intent, some not.
    In summary, I think your treatment of this subject does not do justice to the bedrock content of Chapter 25, Section 6, which states quite explicitly that the special function is forgiveness. This is not a limiting concept at all, on the contrary, it is the core of the curriculum. I think much more attention needs to be paid to this crucial Section, which was the purpose of my article The Special Function: an interpretation.
    In peace,

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