Thornton Chase: chapter 14 Chapter Fourteen


      `Abdu'l-Karím-i-ihrání remained in the United States for only three and a half months. After the negotiations with Ibrahim Kheiralla failed and Kheiralla left the Bahá'í community, `Abdu'l-Karím stayed to explain the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh to the American Bahá'ís. But because of his own poor understanding of Bahá'u'lláh's writings or his inability to grasp the American situation, he was able to teach the American Bahá'ís relatively little about their new Faith. His talks stressed Bahá'u'lláh's statements about `Abdu'l-Bahá's authority and high spiritual station and stressed the Bahá'í concept of covenant, but `Abdu'l-Karím spoke very little about other Bahá'í teachings. When he sailed for Egypt in early August, he left an American Bahá'í community that was ignorant of the basic teachings of the Bahá'í Faith and confused about which teachings of Kheiralla were true.[1]

      `Abdu'l-Karím's one innovation was the reorganization --again--of the Chicago Bahá'í community. Although the Bahá'ís had elected a ten-member Board of Council of men in March 1900, he encouraged them to replace it with a nineteen-member board of men and women. The larger body was selected in May or June 1900.[2]

      The following six months were a time of quiet rebuilding. There is no evidence that the Chicago Bahá'í Board of Council met or functioned in any way during the summer and fall of 1900. Presumably meetings continued in Chicago, where the Bahá'ís read the Bible and the very few Bahá'í scriptures that were now available. A book of Bahá'u'lláh's mystical and spiritual utterances, the Hidden Words, had been brought to America by the first pilgrims and was published in English translation in April 1900. Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas, or Most Holy Book, had also been translated into English and circulated among a few Bahá'ís in typescript. Browne's translations could be read as well. A few tablets by `Abdu'l-Bahá were available. The Bahá'ís read and clung to them.

      `Abdu'l-Bahá was aware of the American Bahá'ís' need for assistance and soon sent them another, more capable teacher. Mírzá Asadu'lláh arrived in New York on 4 November 1900, accompanied by three companions, ájí asan-i-Khurásání, Mírzá usayn Rúí, and Mírzá Buzurg. The last two were young Persian Bahá'ís who had learned some English in Egypt and who served as translators. After giving talks to the New York Bahá'í community for three weeks, they left for Chicago, arriving there on Thanksgiving Day, 29 November 1900. The Chicago Bahá'ís were renting a building as a headquarters and gave the Persians accommodations there.[3]

      To assist the Persians, Thornton Chase moved into the building and lived with them. This was possible because his wife and son had temporarily moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. Why they moved is uncertain; in a letter, Chase, deploring his separation from his family, said it had to do with "property and other conditions" from which he and his wife were trying to "escape."[4] About 1895 Thornton's stepmother, Cornelia, gave partial ownership of the "Chase villa" to him and Eleanor. In 1895 or 1896 Cornelia moved to Hartford, where she lived the rest of her life in her childhood home. About 1897 Eleanor and her son began living in Springfield, probably to guarantee that their claim to the property would be recognized. They remained there until 1902 or 1903, some time after Cornelia died. Eleanor returned to Springfield in 1904, then moved permanently back to Chicago.[5] Thornton could not move to Springfield because he would have had to quit his job; he remained in Chicago.

      Living in the same house as Mírzá Asadu'lláh, Thornton quickly got to know him quite well, in spite of the language barrier. Mírzá Asadu'lláh (1826-1930) was one of `Abdu'l-Bahá's trusted lieutenants; he had been assigned the difficult task of bringing the remains of the Báb, from Iran to the Holy Land, for interment.[6]

      Asadu'lláh understood the Bahá'í Faith well and began to explain it in weekly talks. In Thornton Chase he found an attentive and quick pupil. Because the Americans were especially interested in the Bible, Asadu'lláh focused his talks on interpretation of Genesis and biblical prophecy. He filled his lectures with quotations from Bahá'u'lláh, especially from the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh's chief work on biblical interpretation. Asadu'lláh also told the Chicago Bahá'ís about Bahá'u'lláh's religious laws: daily obligatory prayer; the Bahá'í month of fasting (2-20 March), during which one abstains from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset; and the laws of Bahá'í marriage and divorce. As a result, Chase and other Chicago Bahá'ís began to observe Bahá'u'lláh's laws. Under Asadu'lláh's guidance, Bahá'í Holy Days began to be celebrated in North America for the first time.[7] He did not offer the Chicago Bahá'ís much information about the Bahá'í social reform teachings, however, because he understood them little and did not recognize their importance. As a result of Asadu'lláh's teaching, a friend of Thornton Chase was able to say in March 1901, four months after Asadu'lláh's arrival, that

we are beginning to understand what in reality was taught by the Manifestation [Bahá'u'lláh] and explained to us by Abdel Baha; these [lectures by Asadu'lláh] are being printed from time to time. . . you, no doubt, will find them as we have, so powerful, so direct, so simple, that there will be no question as to what we will teach.[8]

      Asadu'lláh also sought to reorganize the Chicago Bahá'í community, for `Abdu'l-Bahá had written him about the subject. Apparently the Board of Council had met little and done little, probably because it was not sure what its duties and responsibilities were. Asadu'lláh explained the purposes of a Bahá'í governing body to the Chicagoans and provided them with translations of tablets that `Abdu'l-Bahá had written to the Tehran Bahá'í governing body. Thornton Chase drew up an election call and a document explaining how the election would take place. On 15 May 1901 the Chicago Bahá'ís chosen nine men to serve on their governing body; among them were Arthur Agnew, Thornton Chase, Charles Greenleaf, and George Lesch. Notably absent was Chester Thacher.[9] Apparently women were excluded from election to the body because of Asadu'lláh's understanding of certain statements of Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas about Houses of Justice.

      A few days later those elected met and made several important decisions. They decided that the body should go by the title given to it by Bahá'u'lláh: the House of Justice. They elected officers: Charles Greenleaf became chairman and George Lesch secretary. Lesch remained secretary until 1910, but Greenleaf soon began to miss meetings; Thornton Chase was generally made temporary chairman in his stead.[10]

      The House also decided to increase its membership to twelve. Over the summer it increased its membership further, to fifteen or sixteen. A Women's Auxiliary Board was established on 23 May 1901. In September, a tablet of praise addressed to the Chicago Bahá'í House of Justice arrived, and the Chicago Bahá'ís celebrated the fact that `Abdu'l-Bahá recognized the establishment of their governing body.[11]

      In late September 1901 another Persian Bahá'í teacher, Mírzá Abu'l-Fal, arrived in Chicago. He remained in the city for three months, until December, giving regular talks on Bahá'í topics. Abu'l-Fal was the Bahá'í Faith's most profound scholar, having been a professor at Al-Azhar in Cairo until his Bahá'í membership had been exposed. After he had been expelled from the university, `Abdu'l-Bahá asked him to travel to Europe and the United States. He immediately set to work writing an introductory book on the Bahá'í Faith, which, when published in 1902, provided the American Bahá'ís with thorough and accurate information on the history and teachings of their religion for the first time. Thornton Chase came to know him fairly well, corresponded with him after he returned to Egypt, and wrote a beautiful farewell letter to him when he sailed home in December 1904.[12]

      The year 1901 was one of slow and quiet consolidation in the Chicago Bahá'í community. Great differences existed between the Bahá'ís because they understood relatively little of the Bahá'í teachings, hence their respective understandings of religion tended to reflect their pre-Bahá'í interests. However, the differences did not create disunity until 1902. At the House's first meeting in January 1902, five members tendered their resignations; apparently they had become tired of the burden of work and responsibility that resulted from being a member of the House. Three of the members were convinced to remain, but two were dropped, and three new members were added.[13]

      Later that month the House met with the Women's Assembly of Teaching, as the Auxiliary Board has been renamed, and the objectives of the two bodies came into conflict. The Assembly of Teaching wanted Bahá'í meetings moved away from the building that was being rented for the Persians, because it was not conveniently located, and wanted community functions held downtown instead. The House of Justice, unable to pay the building's rent, could not imagine leasing a more expensive facility downtown.[14]

      Furthermore, the women apparently questioned the legitimacy of the House of Justice on two accounts: its exclusion of women from its membership and the length of the term of its membership.[15] If the term were one year, then a reelection would soon be necessary. Because the women constituted the bulk of the volunteers who carried out Chicago Bahá'í activities, but were excluded from membership on the House, there was a gap between the Chicago Bahá'í leadership and its human resources.

      Thornton Chase was distressed by the increasing disunity among the Chicago Bahá'ís. As if in anticipation of the troubles ahead, he received an encouraging tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá in April 1902. It said in part:

      Verily I pray unto my Lord with all humbleness, meekness, obedience, and submissiveness--which demolisheth every edifice of self-exaltation--that He shall strengthen thee by the fragrance of holiness and the breath of the Spirit of Truth and cause thee to be dedicated (or severed) unto God, purged and purified from the dross of the world, holy and sanctified from carnal passions, sacrificing thy soul to the beloved of God, contented with that which the Lord hath granted thee in the world, anxious to perform noble and good deeds while following the teachings of God, and in all things adhering to the law of God.

      As God liveth! Shouldest thou be honored by attaining to this station, thou wilt find thyself in the center of Paradise (Ferdowce [firdaws]), the highest of paradises![16]

      In late April and early May three blows fell successively on Thornton Chase and the House of Justice. First, the Assembly of Teaching decided to rent a facility downtown and hold Bahá'í meetings there themselves, without official support from the House. Since many of the prominent women were wives of House members, considerable tension resulted within families. When the House deliberated about whether it should support the downtown meetings, the vote was split. Those who wanted to support the meetings lost, and many ceased to attend subsequent meetings of the House.[17] Among the absent was Greenleaf; as a result, Chase was often made the chairman pro tempore of House meetings. Those who continued to come to sessions of the House found the rent for the building where the Persians stayed impossible to bear. The House was no longer able to muster a quorum--which was understood to be nine members--but continued to meet anyway.

      Thornton saw that the House was crumbling as an institution. He feared it would dissolve. He had spearheaded its creation and had been the main force behind most of its activities; its near collapse and the disunity in the Chicago Bahá'í community was a severe blow to him. As he explained to a close Bahá'í friend Isabella Brittingham:

I too have been going through hell this week. Last Sunday about noon. . . my head began to ache. Then followed a series of most exasperating occurrences one after another, beginning at lunch time, mail matters, the [Sunday worship] meeting, and the following meeting of the House of Justice. My head throbbed and pounded, and it seemed as if all the powers of evil were working together and unrestrained to work the destruction of the Assembly [Bahá'í community] and the Cause in this city. . . . All night I thought and thought, and my head refused to rest. On Monday it was worse. I had to come away from business. I doubted everything. At night I tried to worship (on Sunday and all Monday up to bed time I could not pray at all) and seeing my Bible lying on a little table by the couch where I kneel, I took it on an impulse and threw it open to a perfect description of my condition, the 73rd Psalm. I had indeed been "envious of the foolish" [Psalm 73:3]. . . . I slept a little Monday night, and I felt comforted, but on Tuesday (head ache gone but still feeling very much oppressed and sore) I found myself still in that condition of doubt regarding all things, and very miserable. Tuesday night, again I took the Bible and opened it to Jeremiah, ch 2, 18-19, and again it rebuked me, stating correctly concerning a fit of angry passion I had flown into during the day, after which I had been sick and more discouraged than ever. Then, as I read and prayed, I suddenly exclaimed "How can I know God at all?" and as I did so, I threw open a portion of the Bible and my eyes fell on Mal. 3.10 which answered the question.[18]

      But Thornton had worse to come. The second blow against the House of Justice was inadvertent: on 3 May Mírzá Asadu'lláh received a tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá that ordered the name of the Chicago Bahá'í governing body to be changed to the "House of Spirituality or Spiritual House."[19] The command prompted speculation in Chicago that `Abdu'l-Bahá had found the House of Justice unworthy and thus had stripped it of the title.

      In fact, `Abdu'l-Bahá had decided at least two years earlier that the title "House of Justice" could be misunderstood and might cause persecution of the Persian Bahá'ís, consequently he had decided that Bahá'í governing bodies should be called by a less political-sounding name. However, Asadu'lláh and the Chicago Bahá'ís remained unaware of `Abdu'l-Bahá's true reason for changing the name of Chicago's governing body until the fall of 1902. `Abdu'l-Bahá had not ordered the title changed in his first tablet to the Chicago House of Justice, presumably, so as not to discourage the Chicago Bahá'ís or show any initial displeasure about their election. The House of Justice changed its name to the House of Spirituality on 10 May 1902.

      The change of name created a cloud over the legitimacy of the House. It could only have made Thornton feel more depressed and overburdened. Then the biggest blow fell: In early May Mírzá Asadu'lláh hastily left Chicago for the Middle East. He had been supported financially by Phoebe Hearst, but Asadu'lláh had angered her by inviting his son Ameen Fareed to come to Chicago from the Holy Land and asking her to support him as well. She misunderstood Asadu'lláh's motives; he had invited Ameen because he knew English, and Asadu'lláh had no one to translate for him after the other Persians left Chicago. Hearst told Asadu'lláh that if he left before the beginning of June she would pay for his ticket, but after that date he would receive no further assistance from her. On 12 May, Asadu'lláh took a train for the East Coast, leaving Thornton Chase alone in the house, except for Ameen Fareed, a homesick adolescent in need ot nurturing.[20]

      The last blow was a severe one for Thornton. As he wrote Asadu'lláh a month after the latter's departure:

      As I saw the train moving away with you, my heart went with it, and it seemed to me as if the very heart and substance of the Cause of God in this city was being carried away, and that we were left scattered in the wilderness infested with wild beasts of personal ambitions, greed, selfishness and all sorts of impurities. I presume it was weak and foolish of me to feel so, but it was so. It seemed as if I were left alone, surrounded by wolves only waiting to tear me to pieces, and, Dear Teacher, it was not myself at all that I thought of, but the Blessed Cause for which I have tried to stand through the years. Of course I am not so proud or vain to think that God's Cause requires me to uphold it, but I could not see where else it was being upheld in reality and purity, and as you went from us, it seemed as if a great treasure which had been entrusted to me (so great that existence was impossible without it) were wrenched away from me, and I was left standing empty handed, alone, helpless.[21]

      In such a state of loneliness, Thornton turned to the only person who could comfort him: `Abdu'l-Bahá. He wrote a five-page letter, carried to `Abdu'l-Bahá by Asadu'lláh, that thanked `Abdu'l-Bahá for the recent tablet and expressed Thornton's anguish:

      I thank Thee for the Tablet which I have recently received from Thee through Hadji Hassan Khorassani. O my dear Master, how can I thank Thee for Thy great Goodness and mercy to me, Thy prayers for me. When I see my own misery and weakness and unworthiness, and discover but even a portion of the depths of selfish and wicked tendencies in me; when I find with sorrow the strength of the evil habits tht possess me and my lack of ability to control them or cast them out; when I consider the dust that I am and the unthinkable Majesty of GOD, it is impossible for me to conceive in the least the greatness, the depth and breadth, the hight [sic] and grandeur of His Mercy, that He should condescend to open before my sight the doors of the possibility of attainment of "Ferdowce," of nearness to Him, of His Kindness, of His Love, as expressed to me in this blessed Tablet from the hands of His Greatest Servant, Thy Own Unknowable Self. More worthy am I of His Wrath, His destruction, than of this blessed Kindness. Surely, all that is left of my life is His and Thine as far as it is in my power, with His aid, to give.[22]

      This letter is considerably more introspective than Thornton's first one to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Thornton then explained the spiritual cause of his anguish: that he had long sought to see the face of Bahá'u'lláh in a vision, but had never succeeded. Because of the tests that he had been experiencing in Chicago, he desired to see Bahá'u'lláh's face more than ever, and his failure caused him to doubt his acceptability to God:

Others told me of seeing Him in a vision, and for years I prayed constantly to Him to grant me to see Him or to realize Him in such a manner that all the hosts of air and earth could not cause me to doubt the certainty that I knew Him. My prayers have not been answered, and more and more, I feel like one who is in a sea of deadly waters, swimming still, and hoping for help, but far away from land or help, and growing weaker and weaker, nearer and nearer to sinking entirely to utter destruction. I know not how it is with others. I stand for the Truth with a bold front and assert my unwavering confidence and certainty, and strive to uplift and encourage every one with assurance, and while doing so, I feel assured and certain myself; but when I go into my room and fall on my knees and beg God for the ten thousandth time to show me Himself, that I may KNOW the Truth, I find myself sinking, sinking in fear and doubt, because I am as one talking through the telephone, but utterly unable to find an answer or any person at the other end. Dear Master, I beg with humbleness, with sincerity, well-knowing that I am nothing but a most miserable sinner and without one particle of worth, but I am sure that there is no Truth to be had in this world if it be not in Thee, and no knowledge of Truth if not from Thee, and therefore I beg of Thee from an aching heart to tell me, to Whom, or to What, I can pray.[23]

Thornton's desire is not uncommon to mystics; they seek an experience like Moses' on Mount Sinai, to see the face of God. But even Moses was only allowed to see God's back (Exodus 33:18-23).

      Thornton's sense of utter unworthiness, while exacerbated by the troubles of the Chicago Bahá'í community, was not triggered by them, for he had apparently felt unworthy for some time. Nor should his feelings of unworthiness be traced to the belief in Original Sin stressed by his Calvinist ancestors. Rather, Thornton seems to have experienced the utterly uncrossable gulf between God and God's creatures. The famous Protestant theologian, Fredrich Schleiermacher, described this as a "feeling of dependence." Rudolph Otto, a twentieth-century scholar of mysticism, uses the terms "absolute overpoweringness" and "absolute unapproachability" to describe the aspects of God that produce the sense of utter dependence.[24] The Bahá'í Long Obligatory Prayer expresses the same feeling in individual terms:

Whenever I ponder my evil doings and Thy benevolence, my heart melteth within me, and my blood boileth in my veins. By Thy Beauty, O Thou the Desire of the world! I blush to lift up my face to Thee, and my longing hands are ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven of Thy bounty.[25]

      Thornton did not write to `Abdu'l-Bahá just about his quest to see Bahá'u'lláh's face, however. He also believed his leadership in Chicago had failed. In different words, he repeated to `Abdu'l-Bahá what he had earlier said to Isabella Brittingham:

. . . so far, all my efforts to teach, to serve Him in any way, have been in vain, and still I am seeking Him and His Will, and striving, as best I can, to obey His Commands, to become fitted to be of some use in His Cause. My heart has been torn with jealousies and envyings of others who have been commanded to go forth and work and who have developed abilities to do so, while I could do nothing but try to help a little in correcting translations. I have battled within myself to overcome those awful sins of jealousy and envy, and I think God is helping me to do so. With His help, they shall not possess me.[26]

      Thornton asked a few other questions of `Abdu'l-Bahá as well. He requested an explanation of the value and justice of innocent suffering. He asked whether every individual is immortal, or whether immortality is conferred only on a chosen few. Finally, he asked a question that reflected his own spiritual struggle: how is it not contradictory to be ambitious for spiritual advancement?

      How can we possess ambition to attain the highest possible stations in the Kingdom of God, and at the same time seek to be evanescent and as dust and nothing. God has placed within us desires and hunger for all that it is possible to attain of nearness to Him and of His glorious attributes. He has given to us appreciation of Justice, Wisdom, Knowledge, Beauty, Mercy, Generosity, Kindness, and Service, and has endowed us with the ambition to seek and gain, to strive for these attributes with all our might, and at the same time we are taught to lay aside every particle of ambition and to pray and strive to be eternally evanescent and nothing. Dear Master, I am determined to want nothing for myself save that which God has ordained for me, because I am ignorant and He is Wise; I am weak and He is Mighty; I am poor and He is Wealthy; but I crave to receive from Thy favor more light upon this matter.[27]

      Thornton closed his letter with a final and beautiful plea for assistance. Remarkably, it was a plea that minimized his own spiritual pain, even though that pain was great:

Dear Master, Thou seest that I am laying my heart bare before Thee, hoping that Thou mayest give me some balm for my misery. I am in comfort, and Thou in discomfort; I am free and Thou art imprisoned; I am oppressed but slightly and Thou art the object of the venom of the World; but O my Lord, Thou Knowest God, and I can only seek Him. Thou art in the full blaze of His Favor, and I am groping blindly for Him thro' the darkness of my evil self: I believe that Thou hast the Power of Salvation, and I, more than most men, need salvation. Dear Master, Help me!

      Forgive whatever in this letter may be improper. I know not what is proper or improper, in addressing Thee. Thou art the Mystery of God; how unfathomable a mystery art thou to man! I only seek to come into Thy presence, to tear away all hypocrisies from my heart and ask thee to see it as is, and to give medicine for it, that shall heal it with the health of the favor of God and immortal life in His Service and Presence.[28]

      Most likely, the very act of writing `Abdu'l-Bahá made Thornton feel better, for he had thereby defined and vented his spiritual problems. He already knew how slow correspondence with `Abdu'l-Bahá could be; indeed, `Abdu'l-Bahá ultimately wrote four tablets to Thornton Chase in reply to the letter, and the first was not received until nine months had elapsed. Meanwhile, the situation in Chicago began to improve almost immediately. The House of Spirituality, though greatly depleted of active members, continued to meet, and the deliberations, freed from disruptions by the more refractory members, became more unified. The House continued to organize weekly meetings for discussion of the Bahá'í Faith. The gatherings were attended by both men and women. The House also turned to a new activity-- correspondence with the Bahá'í communities in Iran and Egypt--and became excited about its results.[29]

      The downtown meetings sponsored by the Women's Assembly of Teaching and its male supporters continued until August, when lack of funds forced them to cease. The women now had learned the same hard lesson that the House had previously learned: that good ideas must be accompanied by plans, organization, and means to be realized. Those who had stopped attending sessions of the House now returned. In September a tablet from `Abdu'l-Bahá arrived that explained why the name of the House had been changed to prevent a misunderstanding of its purpose, thereby lifting the cloud over the House's legitimacy. With the debt on the building rented for the Persians paid, and no more Persians to house, the women and men began to work together to plan a weekly Bahá'í worship service in a rented facility downtown. The service, begun on 22 February 1903, was an immediate success, and services continued for at least a decade.[30]

      Thornton's leadership in Chicago, thus, was vindicated. Time undoubtedly assuaged his spiritual pain as well. `Abdu'l-Bahá's first tablet in reply singled out Thornton for his spiritual attainments:

      Verily I read thine eloquent letter, the composition of which was beautiful, words excellent and significances interesting, and I thanked God that He hath chosen certain souls for His knowledge and love, deposited in their hearts His mysteries, manifested from their faces His lights and made them signs of His Kingdom. . . .

      O thou, my honorable friend! Verily I scented the fragrance of meekness and humbleness from the orchard of the meanings of thy letter and was caused to rejoice, smile, and be made glad that God hath made thee humble and submissive to His beloved.[31]

      `Abdu'l-Bahá then responded to Thornton's closing comment about `Abdu'l-Bahá's imprisonment:

O thou my friend! Be not sorrowful because of my imprisonment and lament not for my difficulties; nay, rather ask God to increase my hardship in His path, for therein lies a wisdom which none are able to comprehend, save the near angels.[32]

      `Abdu'l-Bahá also spoke of the Persian Bahá'í martyrs and their suffering. He said that martyrdom was "a favor from God which He bestoweth upon whomsoever He chooses" and that it was what the "holy ones in the Supreme Kingdom yearned for."[33] Apparently `Abdu'l-Bahá was trying to help Thornton understand the nature of great sacrifice for the Bahá'í Faith, which encouraged him to arise and sacrifice even more.

      Two other, brief, tablets arrived in March and April 1903 and consisted of words of encouragement. One apparently acknowledged another letter that Thornton sent to `Abdu'l-Bahá, possibly one he wrote on behalf of the House of Justice on 19 April 1902.[34] The fourth tablet, received in late July, replied to both of Chase's letters.

      In the letter to `Abdu'l-Bahá that Thornton wrote on behalf of the House of Justice, he expressed concern about the active role that women were playing in the American Bahá'í community. The women's initiating separate Bahá'í public meetings downtown probably prompted him to write, but Thornton's longstanding difficulties with women surfaced as well. Apparently, `Abdu'l-Bahá sensed Thornton's distress with their activities. `Abdu'l-Bahá's response was unequivocal:

If, in the letters to the maid-servants of the merciful, there hath been written. . . encouragement. . . the purport is that some women in this wonderful age have surpassed some men, and not that all women have surpassed all men. The members of the House of Spirituality must give unlimited encouragement to women. In this age, both men and women are in the shadow of the Word of God. Whosoever endeavors the most will attain the greatest share, be it of men or of women, of the strong or of the weak. . . .

      As to the number of Tablets to women, this is due to the fact that most of the letters which come to the Holy Land are from women. Rarely do letters come from men and, naturally, to women the most are written.[35]

      `Abdu'l-Bahá answered Thornton's other two questions:

      You also ask: "To whom shall we turn?" Turn to the Ancient Beauty [Bahá'u'lláh]. If it be the will of God, the blessed likeness (of the Manifestation) will be sent in its proper time, so that, in the world of the heart, thou mayest direct thyself to that holy likeness and thus be saved from imagination and phantasy.

      As to the subject of babes and infants and weak ones who are afflicted by the hands of oppressors: This contains great wisdom and this subject is of paramount importance. In brief, for those souls there is a recompense in another world, and many details are connected with this matter. For those souls that suffering is the greatest mercy of God. Verily that mercy of the Lord is far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world and the growth and development of this place of mortality. If it be the will of God, when thou shalt be present this will be explained in detail by word of mouth.[36]

      With resolution of his spiritual tests and of the tests facing the Chicago Bahá'í community, Thornton's life had passed a significant milestone. Adversities of similar intensity would not beset him again for several years. In the interim, his opportunities to serve his religion increased greatly, and his accomplishments multiplied.


[1]Abdel Karim Effendi Teherani, Addresses By Abdel Karim Effendi Teherani: Delivered before the New York and Chicago Assemblies, trans. Anton Haddad (Chicago: Behais Supply and Publishing Board, 1900). Detail is available in Robert Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Early Expansion, 1900-1912, Volume Two (Oxford: George Ronald, 1995) 17-29.

[2]The nineteen-member board can be reconstructed from two documents. Its number of members is given in `Abdu'l-Karím-i-ihrání, "Regulations relating to the Chicago Board of Council," Windust Papers, National Bahá'í Archives. The fact that its members included women as well as men is stated in "In Re: Dr. C. I. Thatcher [sic], Chicago, Illinois. Notes by Mrs. Fannie G. Lesch," TS, 2, Windust Papers.

[3]The arrival and early travels of the Persians is described in Thornton Chase, "A Brief History of the American development of the Bahai Movement," Star of the West 5.17 (19 Jan. 1915): 263. The work accomplished by the Persians is summarized in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Early Expansion, chapters three and four.

[4]Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 14 June 1902, 5, TC.

[5]The complexities of the ownership of the "Chase villa" are outlined in Thornton Chase to Jonathan Barnes (copy), 6 December 1904, TC. Barnes was a Springfield lawyer. Cornelia Savage Chase apparently refers to the "Chase villa" in her will as the house "of the said Mrs. J. B. T. Chase"; the will was drawn up on 1 March 1895 (Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Ct.). Springfield City Directories list Cornelia as residing at "Belmont Ave junc Fort Pleasant Ave." through 1895; see, for example, Price and Lee Co., comp., Springfield Directory Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1895. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. (Springfield: Price and Lee, 1895) 85. The 1896 directory says she "rem[oved] to Hartford" (Price and Lee Co., comp., Springfield Directory, Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1896. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. [Springfield: Price and Lee Co., 1896] 95, 96). The 1895 directory lists "Chase, Thornton, Mrs." at the same address as Cornelia Chase. Her address remains the same through 1902; the 1903 directory says she "rem[oved] West" (Price and Lee Co., comp., Springfield Directory, Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1902. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. [Springfield: Price and Lee Co., 1902] 109. Springfield Directory, Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1903. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. [Springfield: Price and Lee Co., 1903] 111.) Cornelia Savage Chase died on 10 December 1901 (death certificate of Cornelia Savage Chase, Hartford, Conn., City Clerk's Office, copy in author's personal papers.) In Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 14 June 1902, TC, Thornton says that Eleanor is still in the east, where she was tied up by property matters. The 1904 Springfield City Directory shows that Eleanor was boarding in Springfield (Price and Lee Co., comp., Springfield Directory, Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1904. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. [Springfield: Price and Lee Co., 1904] 113). Possibly she was there to arrange the sale of the "Chase villa." Thornton Chase to Eleanor Chase (copy), 12 March 1904, 2, TC, indicates that William Jotham Thornton Chase was going to school in Springfield. The 1905 city directory lists her as "rem[oved] West" again (Price and Lee Co., comp., Springfield Directory, Including Chicopee and West Springfield. 1905. Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, Classified Business Directory, Street Directory, Map, A Record of the City Government, Churches, Societies, Etc. [Springfield: Price and Lee Co., 1905] 117). The son started in Morgan Park Academy, Chicago, in the fall of 1904.

[6]Asadu'lláh's birth and death dates are given in Mirza Assad Ullah Fareed, My Will and Bequest (A Spiritual Will), translated by Dr. Ameen U. Fareed (Santa Monica: Ameen Fareed, 1953), preface page.

[7]Asadu'lláh's teachings were published as two works: Mirza Assad'Ullah, Instructions Concerning Genesis and the Mystery of Baptism, trans. Mirza Alla Khuli Khan [Ali Kuli Khan] ([Chicago: Bahais Supply and Publishing Board, 1901]), and Mirza Assad'Ullah, Explanations Concerning Sacred Mysteries (Chicago: Bahais Supply and Publishing Board, 1902). The works are summarized in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Early Expansion, chapters four and five.

[8]Arthur Agnew to Andrew J. Nelson of the Racine Bahá'í community, 13 March 1901, Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Racine, Wis., Records, National Bahá'í Archives, Wilmette., Ill.

[9]Minutes of the Chicago House of Justice, 24 May 1901, Chicago House of Spirituality Records, National Bahá'í Archives. The election, the nature of the Chicago Bahá'í House of Justice, and its first few months' activities are described in detail in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Early Expansion, chapter four.

[10]Minutes of the Chicago House of Justice, 24 May 1901, 28 May 1901, Chicago House of Spirituality Records.

[11]Minutes of the Chicago House of Justice, 20 May 1901, 6 August 1901, 13 August 1901, 10 September 1901, 26 January 1902, Chicago House of Spirituality Records; `Abdu'l-Bahá to Chicago House of Justice, received in Chicago on 1 September 1901, translated by Ali Kuli Khan, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Volume 1 (Chicago: Bahai Publishing Society, 1909) 1.

[12]Abu'l-Fal's arrival in Chicago is mentioned in the minutes of the House of Justice, 24 September 1901, House of Spirituality Records; he is last mentioned in the minutes of 15 December 1901. Abu'l-Fal's book is Bahá'í Proofs (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983). It is summarized in Stockman, The Bahá'í Faith in America, Early Expansion 81-86. His departure date is given in Edward G. Browne, comp., Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1918) 153. The farewell letter written by Thornton Chase was House of Spirituality to Mirza Abu'l-Fal (copy), 29 October 1904, TC.

[13]Minutes of the Chicago House of Justice, 5 January 1902, 12 January 1902, House of Spirituality Records.

[14]Minutes of the House of Justice, 26 January 1902, House of Spirituality Records.

[15]Minutes of the House of Justice, 9 February 1902, House of Spirituality Records.

[16] `Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, translated by Mírzá asan Rúí, received April 1902, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Volume 2 (Chicago: Bahai Publishing Society, 1915) 332.

[17]Minutes of the House of Justice, 9 April 1902, 13 April 1902, 4 May 1902, 16 May 1902, House of Spirituality Records. The question of when to reelect the House is presented in Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 19 April 1902, 1, TC. The downtown meetings are mentioned in Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 2 May 1902, 1, TC, and Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 17 April 1902, 5, TC.

[18]Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 17 April 1902, 1-2, TC.

[19]"Extract from a Tablet from the Master, Abdul Baha, to Mirza Assadullah, received in Chicago on the 3rd of May. 1902," Chicago House of Spirituality Records. The original Persian of this tablet probably no longer exists, nor is a complete English translation available. Presumably Ameen Fareed was the translator.

[20]Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 25 May 1902, 5-6, TC.

[21]Thornton Chase to Mírzá Asadu'lláh (copy), 17 June 1902, 1, TC.

[22]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 1, TC.

[23]Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 1-2.

[24]Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational, trans. John W. Harvey (N.Y.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958) 19-20.

[25]Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and `Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982) 14-15.

[26]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 3, TC.

[27]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 5.

[28]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 3-4.

[29]Correspondence was initiated in the minutes of the House of Justice, 9 March 1902, House of Spirituality Records; the letter sent to the Asian Bahá'í communities is Chicago House of Justice to "the holy souls in --------" (copy), March 1902, House of Spirituality Records. Many of the replies arrived in May and June, 1902.

[30]Thornton Chase to Isabella Brittingham (copy), 14 September 1902, 2, TC; `Abdu'l-Bahá to Chicago House of Spirituality, received on 9 September 1902, translated by Ameen Fareed, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 1:6. Efforts to plan new weekly meetings downtown are mentioned in the Minutes of the House of Spirituality during November and December 1902, House of Spirituality Records. The beginning of the Chicago weekly meetings is mentioned in Thornton Chase to Mr. C. M. Gates (copy), 4 March 1903, 1, TC.

[31]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, translated by Ameen Fareed in Chicago on 22 January 1903, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:332-33.

[32]Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:333.

[33]Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:333.

[34]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, translated by Ameen Fareed in Chicago, 18 March 1903, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, volume 2:334; `Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, received at Detroit on 2 April 1903, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, volume 2:335. Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 19 April 1902, TC.

[35]`Abdu'l-Bahá to Thornton Chase, translated by Ameen Fareed in Chicago, 24 July 1903, in Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:336-37.

[36]Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas 2:337-38.
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