RobertD wrote:Many of the Baha'is have told me that 'Abdu'l-Baha was "infallible".
But He was not.
The Universal House of Justice, which is described by 'Abdu'l-Baha as "the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error", in response to this question:
The Guardian states that his (the Guardian's) infallibility applies only to statements related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings. He says that he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. Do these statements also apply to Abdu'l-Baha?
...conveyed the following in a letter on their behalf:
"There is nothing in the Writings that would lead us to the conclusion that what Shoghi Effendi says about himself concerning statements on subjects not directly related to the Faith also applies to 'Abdu'l-Baha. Instead we have assertions which indicate that 'Abdu'l-Baha's position in the Faith is one for which we find "no parallel" in past Dispensations. For example, Baha'u'llah, in addition to His reference to the Centre of His Covenant as the "Mystery of God", states that 'Abdu'l-Baha should be regarded as God's "exalted Handiwork" and "a Word which God hath adorned with the ornament of His Own Self, and made it sovereign over the earth and all that there is therein..." And from Shoghi Effendi we have the incontrovertible statement that the Guardian of the Faith while "overshadowed" by the "protection'' of Baha'u'llah and of the Bab, "remains essentially human", whereas in respect of 'Abdu'l-Baha Shoghi Effendi categorically states that "in the person of 'Abdu'l-Baha the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized.""
(at http://bahai-library.com/uhj/infallibil ... lbaha.html
'Abdu'l-Baha Himself talks about "conferred infallibility" in Some Answered Questions, indicating it applies to "holy soul"s and the Universal House of Justice as a body (only):
"To epitomize: essential infallibility belongs especially to the supreme Manifestations, and acquired infallibility is granted to every holy soul. For instance, the Universal House of Justice,+F1 if it be established under the necessary conditions--with members elected from all the people--that House of Justice will be under the protection and the unerring guidance of God. If that House of Justice shall decide unanimously, or by a majority, upon any question not mentioned in the Book, that decision and command will be guarded from mistake. Now the members of the House of Justice have not, individually, essential infallibility; but the body of the House of Justice is under the protection and unerring guidance of God: this is called conferred infallibility."
('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 172
In another place, 'Abdu'l-Baha was to have interpreted Baha'u'llah's Book of the Covenant (which clarifies He was to be Baha'u'llah's Successor) as meaning: "Whatsoever He says is correct, for, verily, He knoweth the texts of My Book." (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 323
). There are numerous other examples which you will no doubt come across if you Google this site for infallibility and 'Abdu'l-Baha.
RobertD wrote:He once said that under the Law of Moses the hand of a thief could be cut off, but that was never a part of the law of Moses (it is actually a Quranic law), and never was part of any Jewish practice.
This question which was brought up to the House of Justice earlier and they provided a Research Department memorandum which addresses this question fully: http://bahai-library.com/file.php?file= ... f_guardian
. For one of the passages where this is mentioned an original Persian transcript is not available (so it cannot be considered authoritative) and for the other reference, the original Persian does not contain that reference
. These problems could have been introduced anywhere from the note-taker to the translator, so that is why we only rely on those that can be authenticated by the original Persian, and in this case, they cannot. So that supposed reference is not supported authoritatively, and, as far as we know, may well be spurious (at least one of them was).
RobertD wrote:Many Baha'is have told me: "Shoghi Effendi was infallible and so were his secretaries".
Presumably they are speaking of the Writings of the Guardian (except where he explicitly qualified that his advice was personal (see http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_auth ... memorandum
) or beyond his domain), and those which were written on his behalf and with his content. If they extend that to their persons, then this is contradicted by the Writings.
The letters of the Guardian state he was not infallible in certain subjects:
"The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretations of the Teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc."
"The Guardian's infallibility covers interpretation of the revealed word, and its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the protection of the Faith, or its well-being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both Baha'u'llah and the Bab, as the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha clearly reveals."
(from two letters on his behalf, cited at http://bahai-library.com/uhj/infallibil ... rdian.html
and likewise for the House of Justice:
"It must always be remembered that authoritative interpretation of the Teachings was, after Abdu'l-Bahá, the exclusive right of the Guardian, and fell within the 'sacred and prescribed domain' of the Guardianship, and therefore the Universal House of Justice cannot and will not infringe upon that domain. The exclusive sphere of the Universal House of Justice is to 'pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Bahá'u'lláh has not expressly revealed'. Apart from this fundamental difference in the functions of the twin pillars of the Order of Bahá'u'lláh, insofar as the other duties of the Head of the Faith are concerned, the Universal House of Justice shares with the Guardian the responsibility for the application of the revealed Word, the protection of the Faith, as well as the duty 'to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers, and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its Teachings.' However, the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient; like the Guardian, it wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge.
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 22, 1977, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1051
...but besides the quotation of how "Neither [the Guardian or the Universal House Of Justice] can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.", there is this quotation on how it is for the Central Authority to indicate when something is not in their domain, and not for us to challenge:
"Shoghi Effendi was asked several times during his ministry to define the sphere of his operation and his infallibility. The replies he gave and which were written on his behalf are most illuminating. He explains that he is not an infallible authority on subjects such as economics and science, nor does he go into technical matters since his infallibility is confined to 'matters which are related strictly to the Cause'. He further points out that 'he is not, like the Prophet, omniscient at will', that his 'infallibility covers interpretation of the revealed word and its application', and that he is also 'infallible in the protection of the Faith'. Furthermore, in one of the letters, the following guideline is set forth: '...It is not for individual believers to limit the sphere of the Guardian's authority, or to judge when they have to obey the Guardian and when they are free to reject his judgement. Such an attitude would evidently lead to confusion and to schism. The Guardian being the appointed interpreter of the Teachings, it is his responsibility to state what matters which, affecting the interests of the Faith, demand on the part of the believers complete and unqualified obedience to his instructions.'"
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 22, 1977, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1050
This may also be helpful:
"...praise be to God" he continued, "that the Pen of Glory has done away with the unyielding and dictatorial views of the learned and the wise, dismissed the assertions of individuals as an authoritative criterion, even though they were recognized as the most accomplished and learned among men and ordained that all matters be referred to authorized centres and specified assemblies. Even so, no assembly has been invested with the absolute authority to deal with such general matters as affect the interests of nations. Nay, rather, He has brought all the assemblies together under the shadow of the one House of Justice, one divinely-appointed Centre, so that there would be only one Centre and all the rest integrated into a single body, revolving around one expressly-designated Pivot, thus making them all proof against schism and division."
('Abdu'l-Baha, cited at http://bahai-library.com/uhj/challenge.uhj.html
, p. 3)
You may be interested in this as well: http://bahai-library.com/file.php?file= ... uardian#s2
and http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_auth ... memorandum
RobertD wrote:There is a difference between "authoritative" and "infallible". There is no evidence he claimed to be infallible, and was once asked (in pilgrim's notes) "Are you infallible?" and he said: "That is something for you to decide." Certainly, his secretaries were not infallible.
As with the infallibility of 'Abdu'l-Baha, it is indubitably clear from our Writings (such as the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha) that the Guardian was granted infallibility in matters of the Faith, and as quoted above, we were not to ascertain he was going beyond his domain (unless he stated so himself). See also http://bahai-library.com/uhj/challenge.uhj.html
However, as mentioned above, there were certain limits on his knowledge to which he did not speak or where he indicated his advice was only personal. As far as infallibility in character, the Guardian himself indicates he does not possess such infallibility (and a quotation earlier indicates the individual House members do not possess the same either):
"No Guardian of the Faith, I feel it my solemn duty to place on record, can ever claim to be the perfect exemplar of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh or the stainless mirror that reflects His light. Though overshadowed by the unfailing, the unerring protection of Bahá'u'lláh and of the Báb, and however much he may share with `Abdu'l-Bahá the right and obligation to interpret the Bahá'í teachings, he remains essentially human and cannot, if he wishes to remain faithful to his trust, arrogate to himself, under any pretense whatsoever, the rights, the privileges and prerogatives which Bahá'u'lláh has chosen to confer upon His Son."
(Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 151
But in the context of divine authority, and as you can glean from the quotations I've supplied in this post, "authoritative" is generally still seems to be used rather interchangeably in the Writings with being freed from error. That still allows for letters on behalf of the Guardian to be "less authoritative", but note as pointed out in http://bahai-library.com/file.php?file= ... uardian#s2
, they are still "authoritative". With letters all having been reviewed by him (as with messages of the House of Justice being reviewed by at least the needed majority), with only a few specific exceptions described in that letter, it is not possible to imagine he would approve sending something which conveyed the wrong idea, even if it may be not be as eloquently or definitively stated had he penned the letter himself.
RobertD wrote:Now, I'm told by members of this board that the Office of the Secretariat is infallible
You can verify this yourself from these quotations:
Unto the Most Holy Book every one must turn, and all that is not expressly recorded therein must be referred to the Universal House of Justice. That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority
doth carry, that is verily the truth and the purpose of God Himself. Whoso doth deviate therefrom is verily of them that love discord, hath shown forth malice, and turned away from the Lord of the Covenant. By this House is meant that Universal House of Justice which is to be elected from all countries, that is from those parts in the East and West where the loved ones are to be found, after the manner of the customary elections in Western countries such as those of England.
('Abdu'l-Baha, Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 19
As to whether there is a distinction between correspondence from the World Centre that has been signed "The Universal House of Justice" and that signed on behalf of the Secretariat: In brief, the manner in which each of these letters is prepared depends upon the contents of the letter. Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched. All letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice.
As to whether the materials prepared by the Research Department constitute the authoritative word of the Universal House of Justice on a particular subject, as raised in your third question, the House of Justice indicates that such materials, though prepared at its direction, represent the views of that Department. While such views are very useful as an aid to resolving perplexities or gaining an enhanced understanding of the Baha'i Teachings, they should never be taken to be in the same category as the elucidations and clarifications provided by the Universal House of Justice in the exercise of its assigned functions. However, the House of Justice chooses to convey the materials prepared by the Research Department to the friends because it wishes them to be thoughtfully attended to and seriously considered.
RobertD wrote:...but, again, that office once sent me a letter saying that Muhammad only had one wife and no concubines, and I know for the fact that that was false.
I'd like to see you provide a copy of that letter, if you mean a letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, because that would be very hard to believe. Letters such as http://bahai-library.com/uhj/wives.bahaullah.html
readily recognize that Muhammad limited wives to four (though really meaning only one) in that dispensation (though the Qur'an indeed allows Muhammad, as the Prophet, more).
If what you say was really the case and was from a National Spiritual Assembly's Secretariat, then it was apparently an unfortunate mistake by that Assembly (since the Writings indicate they are not infallible--see below).
RobertD wrote:One Baha'i told me that the "infallibity" is passed from Baha'u'llah to the Secretariat and to all the NSAs and all the LSAs are likewise infallible. I don't believe in such absolute non-sense!
That this infallibility extends to the NSAs and LSAs is indeed incorrect.
In response to this question,
Some of the friends consider that your letter of February 23, 1924, means that local and national assemblies are infallible, or at least not to be criticized, even in the business discussions of the 19-Day Feast. If the assembly decision is "the voice of truth, never to be challenged . . . its verdict truly inspired," does this mean infallibility, with its implications of no need for community or other advice and of the heretical nature of any criticism of an assembly policy or decision?
the Guardian, in a letter on his behalf, wrote:
There are only two institutions which are infallible, one is the guardianship, the other the International House of Justice. What the Master desired to protect the friends against was continual bickering and opinionatedness. A believer can ask the Assembly why they made a certain decision and politely request them to reconsider. But then he must leave it at that, and not go on disrupting local affairs through insisting on his own views. This applies to an Assembly member as well. We all have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently; but a Baha'i must accept the majority decision of his Assembly, realizing that acceptance and harmony--even if a mistake has been made-- are the really important things, and when we serve the Cause properly, in the Baha'i way, God will right any wrongs done in the end.
(On behalf of the Guardian, at http://bahai-library.com/guardian/easy.familiarity.html
Individual Baha'is (all of us) have some mistaken understandings, but these can usually be corrected by deepening in the Covenant and lovingly drawing people's attention to passages which can reinforce their understanding. It can indeed be as big a mistake to over-emphasize a station of an institution as it is to under-emphasize, but often it is said just due to a lack of knowledge.