Further evidence that the Baha’i Faith is text-centered

When I wrote the post Shoghi Effendi and Christian authority, I came under criticism that I hadn’t expected. I mentioned as an aside that in the Baha’i Faith, religion is text-based, and this predisposes Baha’is to misunderstand other religions by assuming that they are always summed up in their text.

Well, a few days ago Marco Oliveira demonstrated my point.

Mr. Oliveira, a Baha’i and author of the blog Povo de Baha, was commenting on my reaction to his comments on Youtube (see A “very ironic” defense of the Pope). In the comment thread he observed,

Maybe it is important to define what do we mean by a “Catholic tradition”. Do we mean a set of teachings that exist on the Bible? Do we mean a set of teachings plus several dogmas? Do we add to that several teachings produced by Church Councils and theologians?

The Papacy is a human construction. Even if one claims it has divine guidance, it is a fact that it is not mentioned in the Bible.

it is not part of the Christian sacred writings. Unless one believes that a council-made-dogma has the same value as the Writings…

It is clear from these statements that he regards the Bible as the only valid source of Christian doctrine. He’s even telling me that, as a Catholic, I shouldn’t believe in the validity of ecumenical councils or obey the pope because these things aren’t found in the “Christian sacred writings”.

Thus, for Mr. Oliveira, it is writings that determine Christianity. A Christian must have a written revelation to justify any belief or practice. Like I said in the thread Shoghi Effendi and Christian authority, not all religions work this way. But Mr. Oliveira doesn’t seem to know that, probably because he has been taught as a Baha’i that there are Manifestations and they bring revelations and those revelations form the basis, and the only basis, for everything that goes on in that religion.

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31 Responses

  1. Yes, the Bahá’í Faith is a text based religion. For us the Word of God is tantamount, whether that is the Messenger or His revelation. I understand that Catholics are not Sola Scriptura by any means, and I am sure Oliveira understands this as well, but obviously from our perspective addons from outside of scripture are corruptive. I would personally disagree that the Papacy is purely a human construction, it does seem the natural progression from the biblical example.

    We understand that not all religions work that way, but we do think they should. The revelation should be the only thing that matters, other things are cultural and political not religious. Now, revelation works in different ways at different times, but the Catholic tradition of Dogma holding similar or even lesser but influential roles in religion is not something we would be okay with in ours. Does this come as a surprise? It seems and always has seemed fundamental to Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings.

  2. I wouldn’t say the Baha’i Faith is Sola Scriptura (but is certainly Text based.) The writings of the Bab’ and Baha’u’llah considered to be the “Revelation” portion. The interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Baha are given a sort of quasi-revelation credence (but not full revelation as the writings of the Bab’ and Baha’u’llah.) The writings of Shoghi Effendi are more or less considered to be the “administration” writings and the Universal House of Justice continues to give further guidance in lines with the times (but is not permitted to abrogate any of the laws or teachings of the figures who came before It.) But ironically, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote about the Holy Spirit and how it inspires people even if they haven’t read the Writings…So that would imply somewhat of a loosening of a Text based belief-system.

    Honestly, the Baha’i Faith seems to be more “Catholic” then It would like to admit.

    If you would indulge me for a moment, and let me spout off my ramblings….What I think is really going on here is the attitude that most of us when we are trying to convince ourselves of something. We defend it aggressively. We reach for any analogy that might prove our point. We start hearing our ideologies in songs, movie-quotes, art, etc..

    Just a couple of years back, I was telling a friend of mine that the world was getting ready for the Baha’i Faith because two movies with interesting titles came out in the same year. One was called “The Guardian” and the other was “The Covenant.” I whispered to him “I don’t think this is a coincidence.” And he whispered back “I agree.”

    In short, we feel that the whole world is reflecting our own personal world.

    Often times what makes us the most angry and defensive is when we find a group of people that are similar to ourselves, not those who plainly outwardly different. We see what is in ourselves manifested in other people, institutions, and we don’t like what we see. That enables us to criticize what we don’t like about our own selves, religions, nations—and resort to hypocritical arguments in which we lament the persecution and sanctions of people being “censored” in other communities—but when we participate in these same actions in our own, we look away and say “No, it’s not the same because….” It’s the most sorry state of the human condition, in my view.

    This is veering off into the last post’s subject about censorship and irony. It most certainly is ironic, and I know it well. All of my Baha’i friends have some “beef” with other religions, organizations that censor people….but when asked about Baha’i Institutions who have the authority to do the same, switch off the mode of criticism and come up with excuses as to why it’s different when the Baha’i institutions dis-enroll somebody, or impose sanctions on them. It’s not different.

    Correction: What makes it different is that it is supported by Text (going full circle.)

    It is wrong for certain religious institutions to censor some of its own members on the basis that the Scriptural Text doesn’t command it. It’s right for the Baha’i Faith to censor some of its own members on the basis that the Scriptural Text DOES command it. Basically this logic can be used to the extreme and justify even the most heinous acts.

  3. Steve, this is something I have discussed with Quaker friends. People have said the difference between Quakers/UU and Bahá’ís is that Baha’is are text based and Quakers/UU are based on the Holy Spirit moving people. I would say the Baha’is are revelation based, and the primary form of revelation is the texts, but the Holy Spirit can “reveal” to all of us any way God chooses.

  4. Bahá’u’lláh said that there are two proofs of the truth of a Manifestation:

    “He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His mission than the proof of His Own Person” (Gleanings, XX)

    “The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth…” (Gleanings, LII)

    So it seems logic to me to consider that the Sacred Writing should be the base for any religion.

    When we say that other religions are not text-based, and that their beliefs have other sources than the Sacred Writings, another question raises: what have these religions become? Does it make sense to add philosophical ideas to the sources of a religious belief? What about mystical phenomena like apparitions and miracles? And popular traditions and additional cults like Marianism? Would a consensus amongst believers, scholars and clergyman (like a Council or the Ijma) be also a source for religious belief?

    In my opinion the Sacred Writings are the most unquestionable source of authority and legitimacy of a religion. And also believe that with time some religions have lost this basic idea. However this doesn’t mean I should not appreciate some of the things that have developed in other religions and – in a way or another – have become part of their beliefs.

    Take the writings of Thomas Aquinas, for instance. Read the Five Ways (Quinque Viae) and other of his writings where he exposes arguments for the existence of God. The logic and the beauty of the arguments is touching (1). Read Saint Augustine’s City of God or Confessions. The spiritual intensity of his words is obvious. Explore the mystic poems of Teresa of Ávila concerning the union of the soul with God (2). And also father Antonio Vieira (3) whose sermons have an undeniable spiritual and literary beauty.

    It is obvious all of them were inspired by Jesus Christ and have produced some of the best fruits of Christianity. But I don’t think the fruits should be seen as the basis for a religion.

    —————–
    (1) – Just for curiosity compare these arguments with the ones presented by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on Some Answered Questions, ch. 2 and Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, No. 21
    (2) – Some similarities with the Seven Valleys can be found.
    (3) – A 17th Century Portuguese Jesuit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Vieira).

  5. I very much appreciate the unique, Baha’i-Catholic perspective you bring to the so-called blogosphere. However, the tone of your blog has increasingly turned sour. What was once an interesting, positive, and challenging perspective is becoming more hostile and more attack-oriented. The very fact that you make such a generalization as in your “About” section: “Baha’is are remarkably ill-informed about other religions, and what they do know (or think they know) comes either from pop culture or from fellow Baha’is.” This is, obviously, offensive from any academic standpoint. It also functions in direct opposition the very core of Baha’i principles, to which you once closely adhered.

    As I said, you offer a fine perspective, but seem to be joining the ranks of cynical, droning bloggers, rather than introspective, considerate ones focused on proper argumentation and effective reasoning. Needless to say, you are hardly contributing to greater human unity by drawing negative conclusions from the distinctions you discover.

    Obviously, I am a Baha’i. However, I found my interest in the faith in studying, not in talking to other Baha’is or through pop culture.

    Best of luck

  6. I very much appreciate the unique, Baha’i-Catholic perspective you bring to the so-called blogosphere.

    Thank you. I wish it were not so unique.

    However, the tone of your blog has increasingly turned sour. What was once an interesting, positive, and challenging perspective is becoming more hostile and more attack-oriented.

    I don’t know what I’m doing differently. The About section was one of the first things I wrote on this blog. Can you give any specific examples other than that?

    The very fact that you make such a generalization as in your “About” section: “Baha’is are remarkably ill-informed about other religions, and what they do know (or think they know) comes either from pop culture or from fellow Baha’is.”

    You are right to point out that the statement was an overgeneralization. I have edited it to read, “The Baha’is that I have known…”

    Obviously, I am a Baha’i. However, I found my interest in the faith in studying, not in talking to other Baha’is or through pop culture.

    I’m sorry I offended you. I shouldn’t have made that generalization. I hope you also understand why the Baha’i teachings about other religions are offensive to many non-Baha’is.

  7. That last comment was in response to Todd B. Now I’d like to make some general comments in response to ruhiwarrior19 and Mr. Oliveira.

    Ruhiwarrior19 gets what I’m saying. He recognizes that Catholicism isn’t entirely based on written scriptures. He says that from his perspective as a Baha’i, it should be. I respect that.

    I’m not sure if Mr. Oliveira understands, but I could be wrong. As a Baha’i, he also believes that Christianity ought to be based purely on written scriptures. But I’m not sure if he understands that Catholicism doesn’t work that way.

    I appreciate the effort Mr. Oliveira is making in his independent investigation of truth. If I might offer a suggestion, independent investigation of truth means, I think, seeking to understand other religions on their own terms without evaluating them according to the Baha’i teachings.

    Steve, I appreciate your comments. I would add that, while defensiveness and grasping for arguments could be motivated by a lot of things, sometimes it is motivated by a feeling of fear or insecurity. The great thing about “independent investigation of truth” is that it means being willing to follow the truth even when it goes where you don’t want it to go.

  8. Jonah,

    Of course I do understand that Catholicism sees itself as based in many more things than Scriptures. Some of those things are very interesting, but I don’t consider them as important as the Sacred Writings.

    You probably know that by the end of his life Thomas Aquinas abandoned his usual routine (he would not write neither dictate). When urged to return no work he replied: “I cannot, for all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

    Many people have tried to interpret these words. What do you, Jonah, think it means? I think Aquinas understood that no matter how brilliant he was, no matter how deep his thoughts were, his writings had no value at all when compared to the source of Christianity: the Sacred Writings.

    This is, of course a personal interpretation. I am no authority, ok? :-)

    Bu it stresses my point: besides the Manifestation and the Sacred Writings nothing can be seen as a valid base for a religious belief.

  9. “Bu it stresses my point: besides the Manifestation and the Sacred Writings nothing can be seen as a valid base for a religious belief.”

    Just wondering, how do you, then, view Baha’u’llah’s extensive quoting of Sufi poets in order to illustrate spiritual truths? Baha’u’llah’s use of them seems to suggest that some of them are legitimate sources of religious insight.

  10. Peace Jonah,

    I have nothing to add to the debate but I wanted to say that this is an interesting blog. As a Muslim, I am somewhat unaware of the issues involved here – though my purpose in stopping by is simply to learn.

    God bless you, and all that you do.

    Abdur Rahman

  11. Concourse_on_Low,

    Al religions generate their wise men and women. In Christianity we find names like St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila and Thomas Aquinas; in Islam there were people like Rumi and Ibn Arabi. Some of their works are spiritually uplifting; others, exhibit an uncommon wisdom.

    However, such words are product of human minds; no matter how wise such men and women were, they were not channels of a Divine Revelations, like the Manifestations of God. Therefore, I think it is not correct to consider the words of such wise men and women as a source of divine Guidance, similar to the Sacred Writings.

    I believe that when Baha’u’llah quotes Sufi poets, He is showing the validity of the spirituality (religious insight) and wisdom in their works. But that does not mean that the words written by those wise men and women have a value similar to the revealed Word of God (Dei Verbum); neither it means that every word and book written by them has the same level of spirituality or wisdom.

    We know that Baha’u’llah referred to Plato as the “Divine Plato”; and to Socrates as “wise, accomplished and righteous”; and to Aristotle as “the well-known man of knowledge”. In my opinion, He is simply praising their wisdom; and that doesn’t mean that books like “The Republic” or “Politics” can be consider sources of Divine Guidance.

  12. Jonah,

    While I agree with Todd that you sometimes make sweeping generalizations that are somewhat un-thoughtful, but I don’t think you intend them badly. I think that is something that is unavoidable when discussing comparative religion and not pulling punches. I just wanted to add that it is posts like this which spur discussion that are why I love your blog. >“Bu it stresses my point: besides the Manifestation and >>the Sacred Writings nothing can be seen as a valid base >>for a religious belief.”

    >Just wondering, how do you, then, view Baha’u’llah’s >extensive quoting of Sufi poets in order to illustrate spiritual >truths? Baha’u’llah’s use of them seems to suggest that >some of them are legitimate sources of religious insight.

    Ah, religious insight yes. We are a religion that accepts that God can move any person through the Holy Spirit when so willed. But are those insightful souls and Saints capable of creating religious institutions, practices or infallible teachings? No. If Rumi teaches something we may believe it and find great value in it, we do not accept it to be 100% true as if Bahá’u’lláh taught it. Bahá’u’lláh was a mystic, and Bahá’í cannot deny the power of mysticism. We can deny the AUTHORITY of mysticism though. Only the Manifestation has that. We are a Word based religion, whether the word is text of man.

    P.S. : I want to apologize for my behaviour in our last conversation, I was rude and I apologize, I have bowed out of that conversations as it was going nowhere and I think we can agree to disagree, but you are a challenging and interesting person to debate with and I hope my rudeness did not overly offend.

    God Bless,
    Gerald

  13. Jonah,

    You said:>He’s even telling me that, as a Catholic, I shouldn’t
    >believe in the validity of ecumenical councils or obey the pope
    >because these things aren’t found in the “Christian sacred
    >writings”.

    See, to a Bahá’í, and one that has no background in another religious tradition, this question seems rhetorical. I understand Catholicism on a base level, and am intrigued, but I have no real in-depth knowledge of Catholic doctrine. (Honestly, I am a Muslim history/religious studies guy)
    So, what would you believe in the validity of ecumenical councils, or obey the Pope if the reasons are not in the Bible? What gives these people authority? (Now, I am of the opinion there is some evidence for the legitimacy of the Papacy in the Bible, but the institution is by no means set forth in the Bible.)

    This is meant as an honest question, not a loaded one.

    God Bless,
    Ruhi

  14. Two of my comments were inadvertently merged. This was meant for Concourse_on_low:

    councourse_on_low,

    >“Bu it stresses my point: besides the Manifestation and
    >>the Sacred Writings nothing can be seen as a valid base
    >>for a religious belief.”

    >Just wondering, how do you, then, view Baha’u’llah’s
    >extensive quoting of Sufi poets in order to illustrate spiritual
    >truths? Baha’u’llah’s use of them seems to suggest that
    >some of them are legitimate sources of religious insight.

    Ah, religious insight yes. We are a religion that accepts that God can move any person through the Holy Spirit when so willed. But are those insightful souls and Saints capable of creating religious institutions, practices or infallible teachings? No. If Rumi teaches something we may believe it and find great value in it, we do not accept it to be 100% true as if Bahá’u’lláh taught it. Bahá’u’lláh was a mystic, and Bahá’í cannot deny the power of mysticism. We can deny the AUTHORITY of mysticism though. Only the Manifestation has that. We are a Word based religion, whether the word is text of man.

    P.S. : I want to apologize for my behaviour in our last conversation, I was rude and I apologize, I have bowed out of that conversations as it was going nowhere and I think we can agree to disagree, but you are a challenging and interesting person to debate with and I hope my rudeness did not overly offend.

    God Bless,
    Gerald

  15. and this for Jonah:

    Jonah,

    While I agree with Todd that you sometimes make sweeping generalizations that are somewhat un-thoughtful, but I don’t think you intend them badly. I think that is something that is unavoidable when discussing comparative religion and not pulling punches. I just wanted to add that it is posts like this which spur discussion that are why I love your blog.

    God Bless,
    Ruhi

  16. Ruhiwarrior19,

    No offense taken, and no need to apologise.

    Thanks to both of you for your replies.

    If you don’t mind me asking, how do you two understand the following quote?

    The Pen of the Most High hath decreed and imposed upon every one the obligation to teach this Cause…. God will, no doubt, inspire whosoever detacheth himself from all else but Him, and will cause the pure waters of wisdom and utterance to gush out and flow copiously from his heart. Verily, thy Lord, the All-Merciful, is powerful to do as He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.

    (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 313)

    Its strongly worded nature seems to suggest that an individual can experience something akin to revelation, albeit, I would presume, not at the same level as a prophet.

    Nevertheless, it seems to describe (and promise) an incredibly profound experience of inspired and oracle-like knowledge during the act of evangelizing. The implication is that one can learn things, which one would not have known otherwise, by evangelizing or observing a Bahai evangelizer.

  17. If my understanding of the quote is correct, the Bahai Faith can, in theory, have something akin to Catholic Patristics.

  18. Councourse_on_low,

    I would interpret that pretty much how you have interpreted it. This is something I have explained to quakers and UUs I know. Bahá’ís DO believe that the Spirit can Move each of us in manifold ways.

    Ruhi

  19. Councourse_on_low,

    I want to invite you and Jonah to a website I think you would both enjoy. I know this is soliciting of the type inappropriate for a blog, but did now know a better way to do it in terms of contacting either of you. http://allbeliefs.com/ is a great, very open site for discussing varying religious beliefs, and I would love to see both of you there sharing your beliefs. My username is RuhiWarrior19 on there.

    Jonah, I apologize for soliciting. It is not my site, All Beliefs, just one I think you two might enjoy.

    God Bless,
    Ruhi

  20. Mr. Oliveira said: You probably know that by the end of his life Thomas Aquinas abandoned his usual routine (he would not write neither dictate). When urged to return no work he replied: “I cannot, for all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

    Many people have tried to interpret these words. What do you, Jonah, think it means? I think Aquinas understood that no matter how brilliant he was, no matter how deep his thoughts were, his writings had no value at all when compared to the source of Christianity: the Sacred Writings.

    This is unbelievable. I got criticized by Baha’is for saying that the Baha’i Faith revolves around written scripture. I hope those Baha’is are reading this thread.

    Look at what Mr. Oliveira wrote! Aquinas said all his writings were like straw. He must have meant in relation to the Scriptures!

    The Scriptures? Why would Mr. Oliveira’s mind go there? That isn’t where a Catholic’s mind goes. His mind goes to the Scriptures because the Baha’i Faith conditions it to do so.

  21. Abdur Rahman said,

    I have nothing to add to the debate but I wanted to say that this is an interesting blog. As a Muslim, I am somewhat unaware of the issues involved here – though my purpose in stopping by is simply to learn.

    Thanks, and welcome to the blog.

  22. ruhiwarrior19 asked,

    So, what would you believe in the validity of ecumenical councils, or obey the Pope if the reasons are not in the Bible? What gives these people authority? (Now, I am of the opinion there is some evidence for the legitimacy of the Papacy in the Bible, but the institution is by no means set forth in the Bible.)

    Consider how it was in the early Church. There was no New Testament yet. Paul started writing his letters about 20 or so years after the Resurrection. The Gospels were written a couple generations after that. So in those first few generations, where did our authority come from, since there wasn’t yet a New Testament on which to base it?

    The authority came like this: Jesus ordained the Twelve Apostles, who later ordained bishops, and those bishops ordained other bishops, and so on down through the centuries. This is called apostolic succession.

    Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church after his Ascension. The Holy Spirit abides with the whole Church, but it cooperates in a special way with the bishops because they are entrusted with the role of shepherding the Church.

    An ecumenical council is a gathering of bishops from throughout the Church, and if they are deciding a matter of faith or morals (i.e. doctrine or morality), the Holy Spirit protects them from committing error.

    This is an issue that has been much discussed in the history of the Church, because there have always been Christians who disagreed with the bishops or with the universal Church, and have therefore argued that Christianity doesn’t need bishops or apostolic succession.

    You might be interested in reading Fathers of the Church who addressed this issue, like Cyprian of Carthage or Irenaeus of Lyon. Also, an easy place to get more detailed answers is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  23. And no problem with soliciting the site, ruhiwarrior19.

  24. Ruhiwarrior19,

    Thanks for the that. I actually visit that site occasionally.

  25. Jonah,

    I really don’t understand your excitement about this. I must be missing something…

    But tell me what you think about Aquinas writings. Are his writings as important as the Bible? Do you believe his are inspired writings but with less value than the Bible? Do you consider Aquinas writings equally valid and inspired? And what about Augustine writings?

  26. The writings of Aquinas and Augustine aren’t as important as the Bible. But one should not therefore conclude, as some do, that a Catholic can ignore what Aquinas and Augustine said, as if taking away everything but the Bible somehow creates a more pure Christianity.

    We have what we call the Deposit of Faith, which is the body of revealed truth. The revealed truth does not subsist (i.e. does not have its whole existence) in the Bible or in the writings of Aquinas. Everything the Bible says is true, but in order to know what the truth is that the Bible is telling us, you need an interpreter. The Church is the authorized interpreter. Aquinas, as a member of the Church, explained what is in the Deposit of Faith, both as it is described in the Bible and as it is described in Tradition.

    Certainly when Aquinas said his writings were straw, he was comparing them to perceiving the truth directly. Where I disagree with you is that I don’t believe Christian truth is summed up in the Bible. Aquinas was comparing his attempts at explaining the truth to his vision of Truth as he encountered it in his mystical experiences.

    Both Aquinas and the Bible use human words and concepts to point to something we cannot articulate in words.

  27. To call the Baha’i Faith “text based” is both a distortion and an oversimplification of the reality.

    The Baha’i Faith is “Provably the words of The Messenger” based. The only reason that turns out to be text based is that text happens to be the way The Word could be best made inviolate by The Messenger.

    Christ unfortunately did not have this option since his flock was mostly illiterate fishermen and the like. As a consequence, the actual words of Christ are not provably knowable for the vast majority of his life. Worse, his teachings had to be orally transimitted and then recorded in more permanent form if and when they got to the ears of someone literate to write them down. Which has led to many distortions and losses of Christ’s actual Word. That in turn has led to many distortions of Christ’s originally taught faith into the present situation within Christianity in general and Catholicism in specific.

    The Bible is at best an approximation of the actual revelations of the the Judeo-Christian prophets. The writings of the Baha’i Faith are _provably_ the actual words of the revealers of the Baha’i Faith.

    Bahai’s trust the Holy Texts because they are provably trustworthy. Not because we believe the written word is superior in and of itself over other forms of communication.

  28. Jonah,

    it seems to me you are encountering a very protestant-based interpretation of the Bahai Faith here. A Catholic-based reading of Bahai teachings is also possible, but the great majority of the Bahai secondary literature in western languages comes from a Protestant perspective, which has flowed through to the way the Bahai Faith is taught in summerschools etc, to the extent that Bahais in that environment are not aware that they are hearing and espousing a culturally-selected version of the Faith, not the Bahai Faith itself. An example is the words of Baha’u’llah that were cited above:

    “He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His mission than the proof of His Own Person” (Gleanings, XX)

    “The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth…” (Gleanings, LII)

    Both of these show that the Person, not the scriptural text, is central. But Marco who actually quoted these words then immediately concluded:

    “So it seems logic to me to consider that the Sacred Writing should be the base for any religion…”

    Which obviously is NOT what Baha’u’llah said; it is a protestant assumption imposed on the words of Baha’u’llah. There’s a letter attributed to Shoghi Effendi’s secretary in Lights of Guidance:

    “”With regard to your question concerning the Virgin Birth of Jesus; on this point, as on several others, the Bahá’í Teachings are in full agreement with the doctrines of the Catholic Church. … (From a letter dated October 14, 1945 written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer)
    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 489)

    The odd thing about this letter is that it was first published in the US Bahai News in August 1936, nine years before it was written. But that’s by the by, — it has led me to think about which other doctrines of the Catholic Church the Bahai teachings agree with, and this is one of them: that Baha’u’llah clearly privileges the Person above the scriptural text; and also another, that the ‘church’ is itself an embodiment of the Manifestation and the centre of the community. Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have said:

    “The purpose is that the church is a collective center. Temples are symbols of the Reality and Divinity of God, the collective center. Consider how within a temple every race and people is seen and represented — all in the presence of the Lord, covenanting together in a covenant of love and fellowship — all offering the same melody, prayer and supplication to God. Therefore it is evident that the church is a collective center for mankind. For this reason there have been churches and temples in all the Divine religions. But the real Collective Centers are the Manifestations of God, of whom the church or temple is a symbol and expression. That is to say, the Manifestation of God is the real Divine Temple and Collective Center of which the outer church is but a symbol.
    From a speech by ‘Abdu’l-Baha reported in The Star of the West, Vol. III, No. 10, p. 25

    See further
    http://bahai-library.com/articles/mashriq.html

    Note that the two quotes from Baha’u’llah that prioritise the Person above the writings are from Gleanings; that is, they were selected and translated by Shoghi Effendi, as essential teachings and perhaps as a corrective to the way the English-speaking Bahais were understanding the Faith at that time. In a number of letters he urges the Bahais to teach the Faith to Catholics. So I think he was aware that there was a protestant bias in the Bahai community, which
    needed to be corrected. I think that is still the case today.

  29. Thanks, Senn, I am learning.

  30. Mr. McGlinn,

    Thank you for your comments. They are very interesting.

    This raises an issue I brought up somewhere else on this blog (but I’m too lazy to go find the post). In Catholicism, after the Ascension of Christ, the nearest we come to him is through the sacraments. In the Baha’i Faith, as I understood it, the closest you came to the Manifestation nowadays is through the Writings. Is this a valid way of putting it?

  31. One more interesting quote, with respect to the Book – Person dichotomy:

    “O night of the All-Bounteous! We see in thee the Mother Book. Is this a Person born, or is it a Book? Nay, by Myself! All such things pertain to the station of names and God hath sanctified Him above all names. Through Him the Invisible of Invisibles and the Treasured Secret have been revealed.”

    From a meditation by Baha’u’llah on the birth of the Bab, in Ayyam-e Tis`eh pp 12-15

    I don’t think the Writings have an absolute priority as a way of approaching God (bearing in mind, in Bahai theology we do that by approaching the Manifestion; ie the Spirit is not an independent path to God, but comes from the Father AND the Son).

    In addition to the Writings, there’s any other access we have to the person of the Manifestation, like going to him if we live in the right age, or historical materials; there’s the church or temple as a “symbol and expression” – and by this I don’t mean primarily the physical building but the community of worship – and there’s the Spirit that gives us sure knowledge. One who has the books of scripture but not the Spirit is a donkey carrying books. The Spirit in turn is often mediated by general revelation, for example in nature.

    By the way, the temple is a symbol and expression, and it is also effective, it actually unites. But isn’t a “sacrament” an effective sign of grace instituted by Christ? The Mashriqu’l-adhkar and the House of Justice are instituted by Baha’u’llah and are both symbolic and effective, and full of grace. Who says the Bahais don’t have sacraments then? Most Bahais do, but I think they mean, we don’t have a sacrament that someone ordained administers to us in a particular ceremony, we simply have the thing itself, continually.

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