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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

“..of the substance of God Himself”

On Christian Forums (12 July 2010) ‘Peaceful Soul’ quoted Baha’u’llah in Gleanings XXVII (page 66), on the dual nature of a Manifestation of God:

Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold (dual) nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself

and said:

This is almost exactly how Christians view Jesus–body/flesh (material) and spirit (of the same substance as God (The Father). The last sentence (highlighted) clearly shows that manifestations (including Baha’ullah) are born of the substance of God himself, which is another way of saying that the manifestation and God are one in the same.

The two natures doctrine in Bahai teachings is very like the Catholic one, and the language about ‘one substance’ looks the same, but we do not draw the conclusion that Baha’u’llah (or Jesus) is God. The translator here has used a Christian formulation but inserted a difference, indicated with the phrase “born of”. The translator (Shoghi Effendi) translates Baha’u’llah as saying that the spiritual nature of the Manifestation is “born of the substance of God Himself.” What the Persian says is more literally “an apparent and natural nature and a concealed divine nature.”

Since Shoghi Effendi is also the Faith’s official theologian, he’s entitled to do that: he is incorporating his knowledge of Bahai teachings generally into his translation, and then re-expressing it for a Western audience. So why does he put “born of” into this formulation, rather than just saying that the Manifestation is of the same nature as God?

If we go back a little earlier in that passage, Baha’u’llah writes:

“Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, “

The first part of this a Christian theologian would call general revelation, or the book of creation: everything is a witness to God. The second part is the “image of God” doctrine. Both tell us that the divine can be found through the creation/person, but neither mean that God is in the creation/creature. God’s involvement is pictured rather as a light shining from God: the source of the light stays where the source is, and does not descend, but the light (a ‘name’ or attribute of God, not Godself) emanates and is seen where it rests on an object. It’s because Shoghi Effendi understands that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha do not believe in shared substances, but rather in the emanation of light from one to another, that he inserts the “born of” in his translation.

In his major doctrinal work, ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ Shoghi Effendi writes:

Let no one meditating, … misconstrue the intent of its Author. The divinity attributed to so great a Being and the complete incarnation of the names and attributes of God in so exalted a Person should, under no circumstances, be misconceived or misinterpreted. The human temple that has been made the vehicle of so overpowering a Revelation must, if we be faithful to the tenets of our Faith, ever remain entirely distinguished from that “innermost Spirit of Spirits” and “eternal Essence of Essences” — that invisible yet rational God Who, however much we extol the divinity of His Manifestations on earth, can in no wise incarnate His infinite, His unknowable, His incorruptible and all-embracing Reality in the concrete and limited frame of a mortal being. Indeed, the God Who could so incarnate His own reality would, in the light of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, cease immediately to be God. So crude and fantastic a theory of Divine incarnation is as removed from, and incompatible with, the essentials of Bahá’í belief as are the no less inadmissible pantheistic and anthropomorphic conceptions of God — both of which the utterances of Baha’u’llah emphatically repudiate …
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 112)

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