“They who rule should rule with even-handed justice.”

From the encyclical Immortale Dei, promulgated by Pope Leo XIII on 1 November 1885:

It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence, it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life be it family, social, or civil with his fellowmen, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has, consequently, God for its Author. Hence, it follows that all public power must proceed from God: for God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything, without exception, must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single Source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. There is no power but from God.

The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form, provided only that it be of a nature to insure the general welfare. But whatever be the nature of the government, rulers must ever bear in mind that God is the paramount Ruler of the world, and must set Him before themselves as their exemplar and law in the administration of the State. For, in things visible, God has fashioned secondary causes in which His divine action can in some wise be discerned, leading up to the end to which the course of the world is ever tending. In like manner in civil society, God has always willed that there should be a ruling authority, and that they who are invested with it should reflect the divine power and providence in some measure over the human race.

They, therefore, who rule should rule with even-handed justice, not as masters, but rather as fathers, for the rule of God over man is most just, and is tempered always with a father’s kindness. Government should moreover be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State. Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual, or of some few persons; inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all. But if those who are in authority rule unjustly, if they govern overbearingly or arrogantly, and if their measures prove hurtful to the people, they must remember that the Almighty will one day bring them to account, the more strictly in proportion to the sacredness of their office and pre-eminence of their dignity. The mighty shall be mightily tormented.

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“My daughter, whom I have chosen for myself”

An excerpt from the words of Jesus Christ spoken to the mystic St. Birgitta of Sweden, who lived in the 14th century:

But you, my daughter, whom I have chosen for myself and with whom I speak in spirit, love me with all your heart, not as you love your son or daughter or relatives but more than anything in the world! I created you and spared none of my limbs in suffering for you. And yet I love your soul so dearly that, if it were possible, I would let myself be nailed to the cross again rather than lose you. Imitate my humility: I, who am the king of glory and of angels, was clothed in lowly rags and stood naked at the pillar while my ears heard all kinds of insults and derision. Prefer my will to yours, because my Mother, your Lady, from beginning to end, never wanted anything but what I wanted. If you do this, then your heart will be with my heart, and it will be set aflame with my love in the same way as any dry thing is easily set aflame by fire. Your soul will be filled with me and I will be in you, and all temporal things will become bitter to you and all carnal desire like poison. You will rest in my divine arms, where there is no carnal desire, only joy and spiritual delight. There the soul, both inwardly and outwardly delighted, is full of joy, thinking of nothing and desiring nothing but the joy that it possesses. So love me alone, and you will have all the things you wish, and you will have them in abundance. Is it not written that the widow’s oil did not fail until the day that the Lord sent rain upon the earth according to the words of the prophet? I am the true prophet. If you believe my words and fulfill them, oil and joy and exultation will never fail you for all eternity.

Just wondering…

Why is it that every Baha’i blog I see includes a disclaimer that any views expressed here are those of the blogger only and do not necessarily represent the worldwide Baha’i community, its institutions or subsidiaries (or words to that effect)? Is there a rule somewhere that all Baha’i bloggers have to put that? I haven’t seen that kind of thing on other religious blogs.

Shoghi Effendi and Christian authority

This is the second in a series on Shoghi Effendi’s comments in The World Order of Baha’u’llah. In this series we are exploring yet another facet of the Baha’i Faith’s misplaced superiority complex. In this case, Shoghi Effendi insists that the Baha’i Faith is superior to Christianity and Islam because the Baha’i Writings explicitly spell out how the Baha’i administration should be put together.

He [Baha’u’llah] has not merely enunciated certain universal principles, or propounded a particular philosophy, however potent, sound and universal these may be. In addition to these He, as well as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after Him, has, unlike the Dispensations of the past, clearly and specifically laid down a set of Laws, established definite institutions, and provided for the essentials of a Divine Economy. …

Not only have they revealed all the directions required for the practical realization of those ideals which the Prophets of God have visualized, and which from time immemorial have inflamed the imagination of seers and poets in every age. They have also, in unequivocal and emphatic language, appointed those twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship as their chosen Successors, destined to apply the principles, promulgate the laws, protect the institutions, adapt loyally and intelligently the Faith to the requirements of progressive society, and consummate the incorruptible inheritance which the Founders of the Faith have bequeathed to the world.

Should we look back upon the past, were we to search out the Gospel and the Qur’án, we will readily recognize that neither the Christian nor the Islamic Dispensations can offer a parallel either to the system of Divine Economy so thoroughly established by Bahá’u’lláh, or to the safeguards which He has provided for its preservation and advancement. (WOB 19-20)

I hope Shoghi Effendi doesn’t think all Jesus Christ did was “merely enunciate certain universal principles,” because he didn’t. But that’s another post. More to the point, Shoghi Effendi misunderstands the purpose of the Bible. I discussed this in the previous post on this topic, but I should make one more point in that regard.

It is important to understand that the Bible is a witness to the establishment of the kingdom of God. It doesn’t contain specific prescriptions for the Christian hierarchy (again, that’s not what the Bible’s for), but the Bible does, as a witness of events, give glimpses of that hierarchy being established.

It is clear that Jesus intended for there to be an organized church that would act in his name and be led by a designated authority. Speaking to his disciples, he said,

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’ [Deut. 19:15]. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-18)

So not only does Jesus anticipate the establishment of the Church, but he gives his disciples the authority to expell people from it. Earlier, when speaking to the apostle Simon he said,

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)

So while the Gospels don’t spell out how the authority of the Church will be structured, they assume such an authority will exist. This authority is not given to just any old Christian. Not all disciples exercise the power of binding and loosing. It’s given to specific individuals within the Church who are publicly recognized as holding this authority.

After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in Jerusalem, he finally grants them this authority that he had promised them:

Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

What is Jesus’ legacy? Is it a detailed set of regulations? Clearly not. But look at what his legacy is:

And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, “which,” he said, “you have heard from me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And he said to them, “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8)

When a charismatic, innovative thinker founds a new movement, he takes care to delineate for his followers exactly how the movement should be run after his death. Jesus is different. He doesn’t go into much detail. He tells them, “You’ll receive the Holy Spirit, and he’ll guide you into all truth.” Far from being a weakness, as Shoghi Effendi claims, this is a strength of Christianity’s claim. Jesus didn’t rely on human power for the success of his movement. (And creating a detailed administrative code would be exactly that.) He left everything to God, literally – by leaving the movement to God the Holy Spirit.

Shoghi Effendi demonstrates a fundamental stumbling block for Baha’is. Baha’is assume that a religion is ultimately summed up in its text. While the Manifestation is bodily present, he can convey God’s commandments orally and answer questions. In his absence, his followers have no choice but to rely on his teachings in written form.

Notice what Baha’i spirituality consists of: reading the Writings. Period. If you have a doctrinal question, you read the Writings. When you pray, you read the Writings. Even group worship consists of sitting in a circle and reading the Writings. If you want to mix things up a bit, you’ll listen to the Writings set to music or recited in another language.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s how your religion works then so be it. I just want to highlight that in other religions, that is not normal. And to assume that other religions work that way is wrong. Case in point: Christianity.

Shoghi Effendi claims that the Baha’i Faith is superior to Christianity because its Writings contain more administrative detail. From a Christian point of view, his assertion is irrelevant.

Getting back to the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles and in some of the letters we can see the hierarchy, the Christian administrative order if you will, continuing after the Ascension.

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. Thus Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:34-37)

So the Bible doesn’t prescribe “when Christians share their possessions, the common property will be administered by the apostles.” Like I said, rather than giving a set of regulations, it witnesses the formation of the hierarchy. Moreover, the apostles didn’t claim the right to hold this authority because of a quote from Jesus written somewhere. Their authority is not based on a text. It is handed on directly from the Lord.

They also hand their authority on to others. See for example Paul’s letter to Titus:

For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you…” (Titus 1:5)

Let’s close with a look at Acts 15. At the beginning of the chapter, a controversy arises in Antioch over a doctrinal question:

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

So again, the Bible witnesses to the fact that the Church operated with a recognized authority. They went to Jerusalem, and the apostles and presbyters had a long discussion of the matter. Some of the Christians were on one side, some on the other. Then the apostles Peter and James spoke before the assembly, and they reached a decision and drafted a letter. There are a a few things to highlight about the letter:

1) In order to make statements about Christian doctrine you have to have authorization from the rightful leaders:

Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind… (Acts 15:24)

(In another English translation it is rendered, “…some went out from us without our authorization…”.)

2) The Holy Spirit was involved; it was not just a human decision:

It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities… (Acts 15:28)

3) The decision was reached not by looking for an answer in the Hebrew scriptures (they gave no clear answer, anyway). It was by taking their understanding of the principles of the Gospel, gathered from their knowledge of the scriptures and the light of their own experience with God, coupled with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that they were led to their decision. And this is how the Church continues to make decisions.

What’s the Bible for?

This is the first in a series on Shoghi Effendi’s comments in the The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pages 18-22. In this passage, Shoghi Effendi claims that the Baha’i Faith is superior to Christianity and Islam because its Writings state clearly how the community should be led after Baha’u’llah’s passing, and because they include an abundance of laws and regulations.

…the Edifice which the Fathers of the Church reared after the passing of His First Apostle was an Edifice that rested in nowise upon the explicit directions of Christ Himself. The authority and features of their administration were wholly inferred, and indirectly derived, with more or less justification, from certain vague and fragmentary references which they found scattered amongst His utterances as recorded in the Gospel. …

Had it been possible for the Church Fathers, whose unwarranted authority was thus fiercely assailed from every side, to refute the denunciations heaped upon them by quoting specific utterances of Christ regarding the future administration of His Church, or the nature of the authority of His Successors, they would surely have been capable of quenching the flame of controversy, and preserving the unity of Christendom. …

Unlike the Dispensation of Christ, unlike the Dispensation of Muḥammad, unlike all the Dispensations of the past, the apostles of Bahá’u’lláh in every land, wherever they labor and toil, have before them in clear, in unequivocal and emphatic language, all the laws, the regulations, the principles, the institutions, the guidance, they require for the prosecution and consummation of their task. (WOB 20-21)

The second paragraph above begs a question that I want to come back to in a later post. For now, suffice it to note that Shoghi Effendi believes that the religious text is the basis for religious authority. This comes from an assumption intrinsic to the Baha’i belief system that revelation is a text, a set of words written down, and that a religion is ultimate based on those written words.

In Christianity, revelation does not consist ultimately in a text. In consists of a person, Jesus Christ. It’s true that the Bible is the word of God, but that is only in a secondary sense, in that it points us to the primary revelation of God, and the true Word of God, who is Christ.

Incidentally, we don’t customarily speak of the Bible as revealed by God. We speak of it as inspired by God. There’s a subtle but important difference.

If a text is thought of as revealed (as in the Baha’i Faith), that means that it was transmitted from God to earth by means of a messenger. The text takes its final form by means of a one-way transmission.

Inspiration connotes something different. The text comes into being from an interaction between God and human. Not just a human individual who happens to be holding the pen, but also the community to which he belongs. The books of the Bible were born from an interaction between the Holy Spirit and human agents. It’s a little like sex (much of Christianity is, one way or another), where God is like a father and the human community like a mother. The text is born from both of them, and bears the characteristics of both.

Could that endanger the integrity of the message? No, because the message is always simply, “This is what the Son of God is like.” And the Son of God himself is born of a communion of God and human.

As I’ve said before, one of the three pillars of Christianity is the Incarnation: when God became a human being. This joining of human to divine is at the heart of the Gospel. That is what brings us into eternal life. And the Bible mirrors this by also being a joining of divine and human.

The Bible is not simply a set of regulations for the governance of the Christian community. While it includes some moral teaching, its purpose is not for God to explain to us what to do. It is God showing us who he is, and pointing to his Son, who is the fullest expression of who God is.

Guidance with regard to how to handle particular situations as the ages pass, or detailed instructions as to how to structure the Christian “administrative order” – these are not relevant to the Bible. These issues are handled by a different mechanism, apostolic succession. Apostolic succession, like the Bible, involves an interaction between the Holy Spirit and human agents. It is not based on the Bible. It is based directly on the actions of Jesus Christ. Since the Bible witnesses to the actions of God in history, it witnesses to the establishment of apostolic succession, but apostolic succession was not created because of something someone read in the Bible. More on that in the second installment.

To summarize:

Shoghi Effendi thinks the Christian logic is this: “God inspired the Bible, in which he explained apostolic succession.” Shoghi Effendi then criticizes Christians for reading into the Bible something that isn’t there.

In reality, the Christian logic is this: “God inspired the Bible. God established apostolic succession (i.e. not by means of the Bible).” So Shoghi Effendi’s criticism is irrelevant