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In the previous sections from cosmology to prophetology it has repeatedly been noticed that the concept of progress within Bahá'í-apocalypticism is central. As was formerly stated in the Introduction, one of the aims of this thesis is to systematically and structurally analyze the concept of progressive revelation. The preceding chapter of Bahá'í Apocalypticism may therefore be regarded as a rather lengthy preamble for this concept. It was also stated in the hypotheses that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of the Bahá'í-religion and consequently within the system of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
The concept of progressive revelation is defined in a Bahá'í-dictionary as "The concept that Divine Revelation is not final, but continuing," while another source states that it "Possibly [is] the central principle behind the Bahá'í concept of the oneness of religion." The first definition emphasizes on the concept of continuity (exoteric dimension) whereas the latter focuses on the underlying unity between religions (esoteric dimension), and further states that it is a central principle.
This hypothesis that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of the Bahá'í-religion will now be tested on two major levels:
The first level will be the simplest to confirm while conclusions about the second only will be reached and supported at the end of this chapter.
The following paragraphs by Shoghi Effendi are used to directly ascertain that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept, or principle, of the Bahá'í-religion:
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh . . . is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process.
[. . .] the fundamental principle which constitutes the Bedrock of Bahá'í belief, the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final.
The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh should indeed be regarded . . . as the culmination of a cycle, the final stage in a series of successive, of preliminary and progressive revelations.
It is possible to interpret the first two paragraphs above that "religious truth is not absolute but relative" as a separate principle from "Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process." Moreover, by that fact that it is mentioned first, this could be considered as the fundamental principle of the Bahá'í-religion. It is also possible, however, to see the two sentences as inseparably related and as a more elaborate version of a single principle. Note also that Shoghi Effendi in this context refers to this sequence as the "fundamental principle" and that it is constituting "the Bedrock of Bahá'í belief." Another passage by Shoghi Effendi will clarify this relationship in determining if they are to be treated as two separate principles or as one single principle:
Let none, however, mistake my purpose, or misrepresent this cardinal truth which is of the essence of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The divine origin of all the Prophets of God including Jesus Christ and the Apostle of God [Muhammed], the two greatest Manifestations preceding the Revelation of the Báb is unreservedly and unshakably upheld by each and every follower of the Bahá'í-religion. The fundamental unity of these Messengers of God is clearly recognized, the continuity of their Revelation is affirmed.
Here Shoghi Effendi indirectly refers to the "continuity of their Revelation" as a "cardinal truth which is of the essence of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh." In the first sections above one may also notice that the term "continuous" is directly coupled with the term "progressive," whereas the last quote contains the term "successive." Later on in this thesis, it will be shown that the terms successive and continuous are two crucial key terms to the concept of progressive revelation. Shoghi Effendi does also directly use the technical term "progressive revelation" in his own writings, both in the singular and in the plural as seen above. However, there exists no English translations where 'Abdu'l-Bahá directly utilizes the technical term "progressive revelation." In the English translations of Bahá'u'lláh's writings the technical term has only been found once, but it appears that this term never occurs in the original Arabic or Persian texts. Although Shoghi Effendi seems to have invented the technical term, it does not follow that the concept is absent in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This thesis would rather like to advocate the opposite in that Shoghi Effendi, due to the concept's centrality and frequency in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, must have seen the need to formulate a technical term that would disclose its appropriate connotations. Consequently, Shoghi Effendi asks the following question:
Does not Bahá'u'lláh Himself allude to the progressiveness of divine Revelation?
Shoghi Effendi's question indicates both that Bahá'u'lláh indirectly and implicitly refers to this concept and that he further implies that this concept is rather self-evident. Although both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh may hint at this concept, it will be shown in the subsequent sections that progressive revelation is a central theme of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, not only by the analysis of several Bahá'í-texts on this theme, but it will also be seen in the Bahá'í-author's own discussions of this concept.
While enumerating the various principles which he found to be central to the Bahá'í-religion, 'Abdu'l-Bahá mentions in a passage the underlying oneness of the religions. As this thesis proceeds, it will be shown that this is one fundamental aspect to the concept of progressive revelation. Although the exact technical term of progressive revelation may be lacking in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, statements like "revelation is progressive and continuous" are abundant. Here one can recognize that the term "continuous" is once more is coupled with the term "progressive." Similarly, although Bahá'u'lláh only alludes to the concept of progressive revelation in his Kitáb-Íqán, it is replete with frequent symbolism on this theme. In the following paragraph by Bahá'u'lláh (translated by Shoghi Effendi), the technical term "Progressive Revelation" is clearly noted:
Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb . . . And when this process of Progressive Revelation culminated . . .
Having found direct and explicit support in the Bahá'í-text that progressive revelation is a central concept, or principle, of the Bahá'í-religion, it is logical to make this concept the primary object of study in the continuing investigation of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. Below the second level of the hypothesis will be tested, i.e., to analyze various Bahá'í-texts which indirectly and implicitly suggest that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
The second major level of investigating this concept is by studying "texts of elaboration" in which the Bahá'í-authors elaborate on various themes of progressive revelation. This level is generally similar to the station of distinction (the exoteric dimension) in that it is the phenomenal aspects of religion which are predominant. This second major level could, in turn, also be further divided into four sub-categories which: a) centers around the theme of the rise and fall of an individual religion, b) examines the succession and continuity of religion (revelation), c) looks at the differences of the Manifestations of God and the progressive character of religion (revelation). The fourth and final sub-category d) can be seen as a synthesis and extension of the previous three sub-categories in that it portrays the concept of progressive revelation in a cyclical scheme of substantially greater time-periods.
A. Identification with God
The identity between the Manifestation of God and God was discussed in a former section. However, it is possible to allocate texts of identification where Bahá'u'lláh appears to identify himself with God in different religious traditions. In the following passage one can notice that Bahá'u'lláh utilizes the first form of the plural "We" in conjunction with four known religions:
At one time We addressed the people of the Torah. . . At another, We addressed the people of the Evangel. . . At still another, We addressed the people of the Qur'án saying: 'Fear the All-Merciful, and cavil not at Him through Whom all religions were founded.' . . . Know thou moreover, that We have addressed to the Magians Our Tablets, and adorned them with Our Law. . . . We have revealed in them the essence of all the hints and allusions contained in their Books. The Lord, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.
Here Bahá'u'lláh, most likely from the station of essential unity, identifies himself with "Him through Whom all religions were founded." Hence, he says that he at different times addressed various "people" and lists them as: "the people of the Torah" (Judaism), "the people of the Evangel" (Christianity), "the people of the Qur'án" (Islám), and the "Magians" (Zoroastrianism). Notice that in the final sentence the first person of the plural shifts to the third person in the singular. With this shift in mind it is also possible to interpret this section in that Bahá'u'lláh merely is speaking with the "voice of God" and that he does not, as was previously seen, identify himself neither with the totality nor the essence of God. However, the important point in this context is that Bahá'u'lláh claims that God has consecutively addressed various people at different times and thereby is the ultimate originator and founder their respective religions.
B. Identification with previous Manifestations of God
The second level of investigation texts of identification has already been conducted in some detail by Cole (1993) in his "I am all the Prophets": The Poetics of Pluralism in Bahá'í Texts. The title alludes ultimately to a passage in the Kitáb-i-Íqán where Bahá'u'lláh is elaborating upon the theme of the "return" of the Manifestations of God, and where Muhammed, according to Bahá'u'lláh, is identifying himself with the former Prophets:
Thus hath Muhammad, the point of the Qur'án, revealed: "I am all the Prophets." Likewise, He saith: "I am the first Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus." . . . Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: "I am the return of all the Prophets," He verily speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the former Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established.
Bahá'u'lláh is making a similar but indirect claim in the following text which Cole also uses for his analysis. The original text have, due to lack of space and its extensive length, been considerably shortened, and the assumed person referred to in the text have been added:
Praise be to Thee, O Lord My God, for the wondrous revelations of Thy inscrutable decree and the manifold woes and trials Thou hast destined for Myself. At one time Thou didst deliver Me [Abraham] into the hands of Nimrod; at another Thou hast allowed Pharaoh's rod to persecute Me [Moses]. . . Again Thou didst cast Me [Joseph] into the prison-cell of the ungodly. . . And again Thou didst decree that I [John the Baptist] be beheaded by the sword of the infidel. Again I [Jesus Christ] was crucified for having unveiled to men's eyes the hidden gems of Thy glorious unity . . . How bitter the humiliation heaped upon Me [Imám Husayn], in a subsequent age, on the plain of Karbilá! . . . In a later age, I [the Báb] was suspended, and My breast was made a target to the darts of the malicious cruelty of My foes. . . Finally, behold how, in this Day, My treacherous enemies have leagued themselves against Me [Bahá'u'lláh], and are continually plotting to instill the venom of hate and malice into the souls of Thy servants.
The crucial element in the above text of identification is that the author is using the narrative voice in the first person of either the singular or the plural. It is perhaps surprising that Bahá'u'lláh here identifies himself with Joseph, John the Baptist, and Imám Husayn, who, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's distinction above, would be classified as dependent prophets. The important point here, however, is that Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with six different religious figures: Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Imám Huseyn, and the Báb. The identification with these religious figures is, however, not exclusive since Bahá'u'lláh in another context also identifies himself with Muhammed: "If ye cherish the desire to slay Muhammad, the Apostle of God, seize Me and put an end to My life, for I am He, and My Self is His Self."
There is another way to look at texts of identification and that is to examine the concept of "return of prophets," and above Bahá'u'lláh also seems equate "I am all the Prophets" with "I am the return of all the Prophets." Christopher Buck has made an analysis of the claims of Bahá'u'lláh and refers to this concept as "Cross-Cultural Messianism." Buck identifies four figures in four different religions whom Bahá'u'lláh directly claims to be identified with:
In addition, there are a few cryptic lines where Bahá'u'lláh: 1) identifies himself with the Báb in that he refers to him as "My Previous Manifestation," or as "My previous Revelation," and, 2) claims to be the return of the Báb "arrayed in a new raiment," or "clothed in the glory of Bahá." Nowhere does Bahá'u'lláh directly claim to be the return of Krishna or the Buddha, but Shoghi Effendi, writing about Bahá'u'lláh on this theme, extrapolates the above claims to include even these two religious figures. Further, the above stated religious figures here can not be a fixed number since Bahá'u'lláh also proclaims to be the "Promised One" of all religions. The following passage by Bahá'u'lláh will exemplify this conclusion:
Followers of the Gospel, behold the gates of heaven are flung open. He that had ascended unto it is now come. Give ear to His voice calling aloud over land and sea, announcing to all mankind the advent of this Revelation -- a Revelation through the agency of which the Tongue of Grandeur is now proclaiming: 'Lo, the sacred Pledge hath been fulfilled, for He, the Promised One, is come!' The voice of the Son of Man is calling aloud from the sacred vale: 'Here am I, here am I, O God my God!' . . . whilst from the Burning Bush breaketh forth the cry: 'Lo, the Desire of the world is made manifest in His transcendent glory!' The Father hath come. That which ye were promised in the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. This is the Word which the Son veiled when He said to those around Him that at that time they could not bear it . . . Verily the Spirit of Truth is come to guide you unto all truth . . . He is the One Who glorified the Son and exalted His Cause . . . The Comforter Whose advent all the scriptures have promised is now come that He may reveal unto you all knowledge and wisdom.
In this symbol-laden passage Bahá'u'lláh is shifting dramatis personae in that he is alternating between the third person and the first of the singular. Bahá'u'lláh also transfers between the religious symbolism of Christianity and Judaism in that he identifies himself with the "Son of Man" (Jesus Christ), the "Burning Bush," the "Father," the "Spirit of Truth" and the "Comforter." The important point, however, is the final sentence in which Bahá'u'lláh implies that he is the advent of the promised one of "all the scriptures." In another text he says that he is "the One Whom the heart of the world remembereth and is promised in the Books of God." Consequently, it is quite irrelevant to ascertain whether Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with either four or five Manifestations of God since he is stating that every Manifestation of God can be said to be the "return of all the Prophets," and as was concluded in an earlier section, the exact number of Manifestations of God is unknown.
C. The Identity of the Manifestations of God
A third approach to examine the texts of identification is to look at texts where the Bahá'í-authors emphasize the identity between the Manifestations of God. The crucial difference here, however, is that this identification occurs in the third form of either the singular or the plural and not, as was seen above, in the first form of singular or the plural. The two types of identification of texts above could therefore be defined as specific texts of identification and this latter form as general texts of identification. The following excerpt by Bahá'u'lláh exhibits this general identity between the Manifestations of God:
Inasmuch as these Birds of the celestial Throne [Manifestations of God] are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness.
In the section on Prophetology it was observed, according to the station of essential unity, that "there is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message," and above it is shown that the Manifestations of God are even to be "regarded as one soul and the same person." Bahá'u'lláh even admonishes those who try to make a distinction between the Manifestations of God, and yet it was also clearly seen that each Manifestation of God occupies a station of distinction as well. This contradiction shall now be examined by illuminating the above cited passage with other excerpts from the Bahá'í-authors.
For example, in the following analogy and using the solar-model, Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the concept of the "return":
[. . .] Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am Jesus." . . Thus it is that Jesus, Himself, declared: "I go away and come again unto you." Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be another sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character.
The interesting matter here is that Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the "sequence of time" (temporal aspect) and that he later contrasts and tries to integrate the two stations of the Manifestation of God. The last line testifies to this: "For though they are the same" (station of unity), yet "one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character" (station of distinction). Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that:
All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each One had announced and extolled the One Who was to follow, and laid the foundation of reality. . . . the divine religions They established have one foundation; Their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form They differ, but in reality They agree and are the same.
The identity between the Manifestations of God is seen in that they are essentially "one." However, in the final part of this quote, 'Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts the dual station by stating that "in name and form They differ" (station of distinction), but "in reality They agree and are the same" (station of unity). Finally, Shoghi Effendi also writes: "No distinction can be made amongst the Prophets in the sense that They all proceed from One Source, and are of One Essence" (station of unity), and continues to say "But Their stations and functions in this world are different" (station of distinction). Thus, all three Bahá'í-authors explicitly advocates that the Manifestations of God are identical and yet, from another point of view, they differ. This theme shall be further developed in sections which follows.
Although Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with the above mentioned religious figures and claims to be the "return of all the Prophets," this identification appears to apply according to the station of essential unity and not according to the station of distinction. In this regard 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that the "return" does not refer to "specific, individual souls and identities." Consequently, and as was seen previously in the discussion on the nature of the Manifestation of God, the Manifestations of God all have their own "distinct individuality," which basically means that Mirza Huseyn 'Alí is not identical to either the individual of Muhammed or Jesus, or any other Manifestation of God. On the other hand, there still appears to be a certain affinity, or identity, within the station of essential unity. For example, in discussing Jesus Christ's statement that John the Baptist was the return of "Elias" 'Abdu'l- Bahá says that:
[. . . ] if we regard the return of the individual, it is another individual; but if we regard the qualities and perfections, the same have returned. Therefore, when Christ said, "This is Elias," He meant: this person is a manifestation of the bounty, the perfections, the character, the qualities and the virtues of Elias.
'Abdu'l-Bahá seems to argue that although John the Baptist denied that he was Elias and Jesus Christ said that John the Baptist was Elias, their contradictory statements derive from the different perspectives of either the station of essential unity or distinction. Consequently, from the perspective of distinction ("another individual"), John the Baptist is right. Concomitantly, from the perspective of essential unity ("the same have returned"), or that the return implies the return of the "qualities, conditions, effects, perfections, and inner realities of the lights which recur in every dispensation," Christ is right.
From the above cited texts it is possible to say that texts of identification emphasize the station of essential unity between the Manifestations of God while recognizing the station of distinction. Moreover, texts of identification do, in general, elaborate upon neither the succession, continuity, nor the progressive nature of revelation, but focuses rather on what could be called the esoteric dimension of revelation since this identity appears to be beyond the ordinary spatial, temporal, and causal dimension. This dimension could also be said to be vertical in that it accentuates the "higher" dimensions which were described in the section on Bahá'í-cosmology. However, sometimes texts of identification and elaboration are interspersed even within the same sentence, which obviously makes it difficult to classify the text. Hence, it was already seen in this section that Bahá'u'lláh spoke of the "sequence of time" and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá mentioned that the Manifestations of God have been "successive and correlated."
The second major level of analyzing the concept of progressive revelation will now be studied. This will be done by examining texts of elaboration which, rather than focusing on the station of essential unity, emphasize the station of distinction, in that they cover dynamic themes like; the rise and fall of a religion, the continuity and succession of religions, the concept of progress, and the cyclical scheme of revelation. Consequently, this level of examination elaborates and revolves around the exoteric, manifest, or horizontal axis of progressive revelation which is spatial, temporal, and causal.
A. The rise and fall of a religion
This level of texts of elaboration focuses on a single religion, on its inception, growth, culmination, and finally, its decline. Above, it has been shown that the solar-model is used frequently in various contexts. The Bahá'í-authors also employ the rising and setting of the sun in describing the inception of revelation (religion), and compares it to the advent, or the revelation, of the Manifestation of God who is portrayed as the "Sun of Truth":
Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it, all of a sudden, to manifest the energies latent within it, it would, no doubt, cause injury to all created things . . . In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist.
In the first part of this section Bahá'u'lláh describes the physical sun and in the latter half he compares it with the "Sun of Truth." In both parts, this solar-model points to a gradual rise and fall of both the physical sun and the revelation of the "Sun of Truth." The steadily decline refers here only to the physical sun, but several other texts points indirectly to this phenomena as a decline in religion in that the sun is described as set or darkened. This decline is viewed as inevitable since Bahá'u'lláh metaphorically states that the "break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error." Further, the gradual rising of the sun, as it approaches the zenith, enables "all created things" to adapt to the "growing intensity of its light." Likewise, one can notice that the revelation is gradually growing, or increasing, in its "intensity" which signifies a progressive character. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh is mentioning the "earliest stages," and the "full measure" of revelation which has to be in direct proportion to the capacity of the receivers. Taken together, these progressive features intimate that a revelation (religion), only is "potential" or "latent" at its inception, and that its "full measure" unfolds sequentially and gradually in time.
Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses a similar model where he compares the physical sun to the "Sun of Reality" which "rises from the horizon of the Kingdom with the greatest power and heat." He continues to say that when "it reaches the meridian it will begin to decline and descend, and the spiritual summer will be followed by autumn when growth and development are arrested." First, there is an interesting transition here in that 'Abdu'l-Bahá shifts from the solar-model to adopt another important metaphor, that of a seasonal-model. Secondly, the terms "growth" and "development" can be noticed, which are significant for both spring and summer, and thus they are also highly indicative of the concept of progress, i.e., a religion may grow and develop until a certain point and eventually this process is "arrested."
Bahá'u'lláh also employs the seasonal-model, but it is, however, often limited to the season of spring ("Divine Springtime" or "spiritual Springtime"), and he rarely describes the other seasons. For example, in discussing universal and specific revelation above, Bahá'u'lláh stated that the "cloud of the loved One's mercy raineth . . . only in the season of spring" and that the "other seasons have no share in this greatest grace, and barren land no portion of this favour." Hence the season of spring seems to be superior in comparison to the other seasons.
The seasonal-model is more often used by 'Abdu'l-Bahá when outlining not only the rise and fall of a singular religion but, as shall be seen below, in his portrayal of the successive and continuous character of religions. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also makes the following comment in the comparison of the seasonal-model and the "spiritual world":
The spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are the exact counterparts of each other. Whatever objects appear in this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of heaven. When we look upon the phenomenal world, we perceive that it is divided into four seasons; one is the season of spring, another the season of summer, another of autumn and these three seasons are followed by winter.
Here one can once again discern the macro/microcosmos scheme in that the "spiritual world" (the spiritual seasons) is reflected in the "phenomenal world" (the four "phenomenal" seasons). Generally speaking, the usage of an analogy rests upon the assumption that there is some degree of coherence or resemblance between two "analogous" phenomena. Yet, 'Abdu'l-Bahá seems here to use the concept of analogy above in a more Platonic sense in that there is a perfect correspondence between the "spiritual world" and the "phenomenal world" in that the objects of "this world of existence" are the "outer pictures of the world of heaven." However, the writings of both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are replete with examples in which they use the term "symbol" in the coherence sense while admitting that a symbol may contain multiple levels of meanings. For example, 'Abdu'l- Bahá states that the "outer sun is a sign or symbol of the inner and ideal Sun of Truth, the Word of God," and that the "reality of Prophethood . . . is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning places or zodiacal points." Although the above statement suggests a correspondence theory, the general context of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings rather supports a coherence theory. Thus, the "spiritual world" and "phenomenal world" are coherent rather than corresponding since they are similar but not identical, and hence can the latter, according to its capacity, reflect the former. With this subtle nuances in mind, the following excerpt will illustrate this theme more tacitly:
The coming of a Manifestation of God is the season of spiritual spring. For instance, the appearance of Christ was a divine springtime. Therefore, it caused a great commotion and vibrant movement in the world of humanity. The Sun of Reality dawned, the cloud of mercy poured down its rain, the breezes of providence moved, the world became a new world, mankind reflected an extraordinary radiance, souls were educated, minds were developed, intelligences became acute, and the human world attained a new freshness of life, like unto the advent of spring. Then gradually that spring was followed by the autumn of death and decay. The teachings of Christ were forgotten. The Christly bounties ceased. Divine moralities disappeared. Day ended in night. The people became negligent and oblivious. Minds weakened until conditions reached such a crisis that material science rose in the ascendant. Knowledge and sciences of the Kingdom became obsolete, the mysteries of God deepened, and the traces of the bounties of Christ were completely obliterated. The nations were enmeshed in superstition and blind imitation. Discord and disagreement arose, culminating in strife, war and bloodshed. Hearts were torn asunder in violence. Various denominations appeared, diverse sects and creeds arose, and the whole world was plunged into darkness.
In this text there is an intermingling with the seasonal-model and the advent of the Manifestation of God, here exemplified by Jesus Christ. His arrival is compared to a "divine springtime" where the "Sun of Reality" has dawned. Thus, the seasonal-model (springtime) is once again correlated with the solar-model (the break of dawn or the sunrise). These two models are then used to describe the renewal of the world and one can also observe an educational theme here in that "souls were educated." In other places 'Abdu'l-Bahá also states that it is during this time that "universal progress takes place" in general, or that "universal progress appears in the world of humanity." This further points to the centrality of the concept of progress in Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
Although the springtime is "the season of joy, of happiness," it is also seen as "the day of judgment, the time of turmoil and distress." In the quote above the season of summer is omitted, but in the previous citation by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it was understood that he speaks of the "season of summer" as well. Consequently, the first season (spring) is usually associated with the advent of a Manifestation of God, of renewal and resurrection. In other words, it is viewed as the rise of a revelation (religion). In turn, the summer is regarded as the peak, or the zenith, of the revelation (religion) where "The word of God is exalted, the Law of God is promulgated; all things reach perfection."
Above one can also notice that spring gradually is followed by autumn which is symbolized as "death and decay." Further, in the middle of the passage the solar-model is ("Day ended in night") is inserted and is once again associated with the seasonal-model. In the above mentioned model, 'Abdu'l-Bahá draws parallels with the decline of religion, the setting of the sun, the arrival of winter, and continues his exposition to say that eventually:
Only the name of religion of God remains, and the exoteric forms of the divine teachings. The foundations of the Religion of God are destroyed and annihilated, and nothing but forms and customs exist. Divisions appear, firmness is changed into instability, and spirits become dead; hearts languish, souls become inert, and winter arrives; that is to say, the coldness of ignorance envelops the world and darkness of human error prevails. After this come indifference, disobedience, inconsiderateness, indolence, baseness, animal instincts, and the coldness and insensibility of stones. It is like the season of winter when the terrestrial globe, deprived of the effect of the heat of the sun, becomes desolate and dreary.
In this text the term "exoteric" occurs and is associated with the phenomenal aspects of religion. Further, if autumn represents the "fall," or decline, of religion, then the winter season appears bring out the lower nature (animal instincts etc.) of man.
In discussing the symbols of the "sun" and the "moon" in his Kitáb-i-Íqán Bahá'u'lláh also explains that:
[. . . ] the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, laws, commandments, and prohibitions which have been established in the preceding Dispensation, and which have overshadowed the people of that age, become darkened, that is, are exhausted, and cease to exert their influence. . . . the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, the laws, and learning of a former Dispensation have darkened and set.
In this solar-model the sun is used as an illustration that a former Dispensation (religion) has "darkened and set" (declined), and can thus be associated with the winter-period in the seasonal-model.
Below follows a summarized scheme of some of the most common characteristics of each "spiritual season" according to various texts by Bahá'u'lláh, and especially by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The first level looks at the solar-model counterpart for each season (Spring = dawn). The second level enumerates some organic metaphors. The third level lists some general and recurrent features for each season. The fourth level looks at some religious themes, and the fifth level tries to allocate some attributes among humanity. Please note that this schematic illustration is only a structural outline and that no causal relationships have been established here:
Spring Summer 1) dawn, sun rise (morning) 1) zenith (noon) 2) vernal rain-showers (bounty) 2) flowers, blossom, fruits 3) renewal, rejuvenation, resurrection, 3) fullness, brilliancy, beauty; growth new life, awakening, a time of turmoil and and development attain their greatest distress, joy and happiness power, fruits will attain to the acme of perfection, grains and plants will yield their produce, and earthly beings will attain their most complete development and growth 4) Advent of the Manifestation 4) The word of God is exalted, the Law of God of God, the Day of Judgment, is promulgated, the teachings of God a new creation conquer the world 5) souls are educated, 5) all things reach perfection, men become minds are developed, educated, praiseworthy results are intelligence becomes acute produced, universal progress appears in the world of humanity Fall Winter 1) sunset (afternoon) 1) night 2) flowers wither 2) trees are naked, leafless 3 ) growth and development are arrested, 3) everything is clad in the robe of death; death and decay; unwholesome and sterile cold, darkness, tempests, death, winds blow, it is the season of sickness, desolation; it snows, rains, hails, when all things are withered, and the storms, thunders and lightens, freezes balmy air is vitiated and congeals 4 ) only the name of religion of God remains 4) material science/materialism ascends, Divine moralities disappears, only the discord and disagreement arise, exoteric forms of the divine teachings culminating in strife, war and bloodshed, remain, the foundations of the Religion of hearts are torn asunder in violence, various God are destroyed and denominations appears, diverse sects and creeds arise annihilated, and nothing but forms and customs exist 5) people become negligent and oblivious, 5) ignorance envelops the world and attraction and goodwill do not remain, darkness of human error prevails, divine qualities are changed, the indifference, inconsiderateness, radiance of hearts is dimmed, indolence, the teachings are forgotten, spirituality of souls is altered, virtues baseness, animal instincts, coldness, are replaced by vices, and holiness and insensibility and purity disappear
The advantage of structurally illustrating the various religious "seasons" is that certain patterns, or themes, start to emerge. Each season can in this way be associated with the solar-cycle, which in turn has its corresponding organic metaphors etc. In reviewing these metaphors, one can probably conclude that they are not selected at random. Rather, each season has a certain value connected with it where the first two seasons are described most favorably and where the latter two share the most negative connotations. Hence, the metaphors seem to be consciously employed to express a certain viewpoint on a religious phenomenon. Therefore, in examining the concept of progressive revelation, it is interesting to note that the theme of progress, growth and development are especially frequent within the summer-season. It is also in this season where the sun reaches its climax, zenith, or solstice (astronomic metaphors), and which the blossoms and fruits appear (organic metaphors). These metaphors have in turn their counterparts in that the religion is depicted as geographically expanding and growing i.e., "the teachings of God conquer the world," "all things reach perfection," and "universal progress appears in the world of humanity." From these various allusions it plausible to assume that it is during this period that a religion is seen its most glorious era. However, in neither the solar-model nor in the seasonal-model have any historical dimensions (time-periods) been discussed, but a whole section shall be devoted to discuss this topic.
It would certainly be possible to review the other seasonal-models above as well, e.g., winter, and note that some seasonal characteristics of winter "tempests, thunder, lightnings etc," are associated with "strife, war and bloodshed" and the appearance of "various denominations, diverse sects and creeds." But the important point in this context is not to analyze each season, but to observe that revelation (religion) is viewed as a highly organic, dynamic, and cyclical, phenomenon, and that it seems to be governed by a similar set of laws as the phenomenal seasons. However, although this model appears to be rather orderly and regular it shall now be discussed if humans somehow can influence and cause the directionality of a revelation (religion).
Instead of speaking of religion in general and the above mentioned analogous schemes, there are other sections where both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborate upon a known religion, or Manifestation of God. For example, in the following passage Bahá'u'lláh describes the decline Shí'i Islám:
Behold . . . how the sayings and doings of the followers of Shí'ih Islám have dulled the joy and fervour of its early days, and tarnished the pristine brilliancy of its light. In its primitive days, whilst they still adhered to the precepts associated with the name of their Prophet, the Lord of Mankind, their career was marked by an unbroken chain of victories and triumphs. As they gradually strayed from the path of their Ideal Leader and Master, as they turned away from the Light of God and corrupted the principle of His Divine unity, and as they increasingly centered their attention upon them who were only the revealers of the potency of His Word, their power was turned into weakness, their glory into shame, their courage into fear.
In this excerpt the "power, glory, and courage" of the past ("early . . . primitive days") is contrasted with the contemporary situation of Shí'i Islám. Notice that Bahá'u'lláh is stating that the followers have "gradually strayed from the path." Here the process of decline does not seem to be an inevitable, or a natural, process in the sense of the phenomenal seasons since the adherents have "turned away from the Light of God," "corrupted the principle of His Divine unity," and have "increasingly centered their attention upon them who were only the revealers of the potency of His Word." This last sentence is quite ambiguous, but it is likely that the "revealers of the potency of His Word" refer to the religious leaders (the Imáms). The term "increasingly" also reinforces the significance of a gradual process. The last sentence moreover exemplifies the decline in that power has been turned into weakness, glory into shame, and courage into fear. This method of contrasting pairs of opposite is also utilized by 'Abdu'l-Bahá while describing the decline of religion:
[. . .] the spirituality of the Religion of God had been changed into materiality, and virtue into vices; the love of God had been changed into hatred, enlightenment into darkness, divine qualities into satanic ones, justice into tyranny, mercy into enmity, sincerity into hypocrisy, guidance into error, and purity into sensuality.
The first lead in this bi-polarity is also highly informative in that it indirectly describes the positive attributes of a "true religion," either at its moment of inception or at its climax. 'Abdu'l-Bahá likewise comments upon the decline of certain religions e.g.,, Judaism and Christianity. However, below follows instead an example where 'Abdu'l-Bahá briefly elaborates on decline of Buddhism and Confucianism:
Buddha also established a new religion, and Confucius renewed morals and ancients virtues but their institutions have been entirely destroyed. The beliefs and rites of the Buddhists and Confucianists have not continued in accordance with their fundamental teachings. . . but later the original principles . . . gradually disappeared, and ignorant customs and ceremonials arose and increased until they finally ended in the worship of statues and images. . . It is, therefore, clear and evident that the Religion of God does not maintain its original principles among the people, but that it has gradually changed and altered until it has been entirely destroyed and annihilated.
This passage continues by using another common organic metaphor of religion the "tree" which through its various phases finally becomes "old and entirely fruitless . . . withered and decayed." The important and recurrent theme in all the above cited passages is that revelation is gradually growing in a similar manner as it is gradually declining. One reason for this decline is, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the "passage of time" which obscures the fundamental principles in the religion. Another reason is that "dogmas and blind imitations" increasingly encrusts the religion. These dogmas and blind imitations are not only viewed as one reason for the decline of the religion, but are even considered the "cause of the decline and effacement of a nation." In this context, 'Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts the causes of development and debasement as follows:
[ . . .] allegiance to the essential foundation of divine religions is ever the cause of development and progress, whereas the abandonment and beclouding of that essential reality through blind imitations and adherence to dogmatic beliefs are the causes of a nation's debasement and degradation.
Here are two important issues to notice. First, the terms "development and progress" are seen as diametrically opposed to "debasement and degradation" and secondly, the adherents allegiance to either the essence of religion, or to the dogmatic beliefs, does cause either the development, or the debasement, of a religion or nation. Consequently, although the "section of time" may be one factor to the decline of a religion, it is certainly not the only one. Furthermore, although the decline of a religion is seen as an inevitable and natural process, the adherents of a religion do seem to play a vital role in that they may influence the rate and direction of this process. Still, this could also be regarded as a reciprocal process since Bahá'u'lláh also states that religion also is the cause of the "progress of the world, [and] the development of nations," and that the decline of religion increases the "waywardness of the ungodly" which ultimately leads to "chaos and confusion."
Moreover, the Bahá'í-authors also repeatedly refer to the degeneration in either Persia, the Ottoman Empire, or in the world at large. Bahá'u'lláh writes, for example, about the "perversity of the people of this age" and that the "prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective," and it is in this context that he brings up the theme of "secularization":
The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it?
Here one may recognize the metaphor of the Manifestation of God as the "Divine Physician" who, through his "wholesome medicine" is able to restore and revive the human society from a disease, described as the "corrosion of ungodliness." This may be interpreted as either "atheism," or the lack of vitality in one's belief or spirituality. It is especially noteworthy that the terms "potent Revelation" is equated with the "Elixir." Notice also that Bahá'u'lláh is referring to the downfall of religiosity "in every land" which is suggestive of a global process of secularization. It is hence possible to equate the malaise of humanity, described in a previous section, with the decline of religion. This would further accentuate the intimate and mutual relationship between religion and humanity.
Similarly 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes about the theme of secularization in that "irreligion has conquered religion" and the "realm of the religionist has gradually narrowed and darkened." He continues to say that:
[ . . . ] the sphere of the materialist has widened and advanced; for the religionist has held to imitation and counterfeit, neglecting and discarding holiness and the sacred reality of religion. When the sun sets, it is the time for bats to fly. They come forth because they are creatures of the night. When the lights of religion become darkened, the materialists appear. They are the bats of the night. The decline of religion is their time of activity; they seek the shadows when the world is darkened and clouds have spread over it.
In this citation the rise of materialism is seen as a direct and natural consequence of the decline of religion. One can also notice the solar-model in that the sun has set and the materialists are negatively compared to "bats" who seek the "shadows when the world is darkened." Yet, in another context, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also attributes another cause to the downfall of religion with the "animosity and hatred existing between sects and denominations," and the "strife and contention" exists within a single religion, ultimately leads to religious wars and bloodshed. He continues to say that it is the "imitations" that destroy the foundation of religion and extinguishes the spirituality of the world and concludes with the following statement: "When materialists subject imitations to the intellectual analysis of reason, they find them to be mere superstitions; therefore, they deny religion." Here the perspective of the materialists seems to have altered in that it the materialist, when they scrutinize the religion, are unable to accept it due to its "imitations" and "superstitions." Finally, in other texts 'Abdu'l-Bahá also says that religion does not keep pace with the reforms of society and thus becomes increasingly inadequate and obsolete.
In the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, with headings like "The Signs of Impending Chaos," "The Decline of Mortal Dominion," and "Breakdown of Political and Economical Structures," Shoghi Effendi similarly and repeatedly portrays the decline of religion, society, and civilization. He includes areas like the "catastrophic fall of mighty monarchies and empires in the European continent," the "fall of the Qajar dynasty," the "overthrow of the Sultanate and the Caliphate, to the sustaining pillars of Sunni Islam." He then compares these themes to the "destruction of Jerusalem in the latter part of the first century of the Christian era" and the "Fall of the Roman Empire." Shoghi Effendi further states that this decline not only "threatens to engulf the whole structure of present-day civilization," but that the tumult "will grow in scope and in intensity" and its ramifications will extend "over the surface of the globe."
The above described reciprocal and intricate interplay between religion and humanity is also described by Shoghi Effendi below:
The signs of moral downfall, as distinct from the evidences of decay in religious institutions, would appear to be no less noticeable and significant. The decline that has set in in the fortunes of Islamic and Christian institutions may be said to have had its counterpart in the life and conduct of the individuals that compose them. In whichever direction we turn our gaze, no matter how cursory our observation of the doings and sayings of the present generation, we can not fail to be struck by the evidences of moral decadence which, in their individual lives no less than in their collective capacity, men and women around us exhibit. There can be no doubt that the decline of religion as a social force, of which the deterioration of religious institutions is but an external phenomenon, is chiefly responsible for so grave, so conspicuous an evil.
Here one can discern yet another explanation on the same topic. The downfall of religion is analyzed and subdivided into its internal (the individual members) and external (the religious institutions) components. This relationship is consequently described as intimately connected. Due to the downfall of morals in the former, the latter has ceased to be a "social force." Yet, since the religion is comprised of individuals, the "deterioration of religious institutions is but an external phenomenon." Thus, the last phrase implies that the individuals are the internal cause of the deterioration of religious institutions and ultimately, to the decline of religion as a whole. In another context, discussing various religions, Shoghi Effendi surprisingly refers to the religious decline as being "progressive," and hence one can observe that the usage of this term is not solely limited to an evolutionary or unilinear perspective, but that it also can describe a gradual process. However, in the vast majority of contexts the term "progressive" still connotes a positive and evolutionary concept.
In conclusion, for whatever reasons, or causes, the original religion either gradually progresses or declines, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's remarks that "if religions did not change and alter, there would be no need of renewal." The implication here seems to be that change is the ultimate and inevitable cause of the decline, and thus it is important to emphasize that this change is not unilinear, but is, as was observed, either in the "rise" (progressive) or in the "fall" (declining). Both processes do, however, tend to be slow and gradual, and therefore they are suggestive of extensive time-intervals. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's reasoning seem to be that since religions inevitably do decline, at some point or another, they will eventually be in need of renewal and restoration. He further says that due to this factor of change, the "manifestation is renewed, and a new religion [is] established." The expression the "manifestation is renewed" is, as was previously seen, identical to the concept of the "return" of the Manifestation of God. The next section will analyze what this renewal of religion is.
B. The succession and continuity of religions
Beyond the single religion, or the general concept of religion, one can in texts of elaboration discern a second theme which, in a broader sense, emphasize the succession and continuity of two or more religions. If the texts of identification describe the unity between various Manifestations of God in the esoteric dimension, this level of texts of elaboration describe their unity in the exoteric dimension. However, these two types, or levels, of texts are sometimes interspersed within each other which makes it difficult to determine the exact "level" of the text. Hence, while examining texts of identification it was previously shown that in the solar-model of the "return" of the Manifestations of God Bahá'u'lláh also mentioned the "sequence of time." Further, one could also observe that when Bahá'u'lláh identified himself with various religious figures, he unfolded this identification sequentially, beginning with Abraham and ending with the Báb. Moreover, it was also shown that texts of identification could be described as either general or specific, i.e., Bahá'u'lláh could either identified himself directly and specifically with various Manifestations of God, or the Bahá'í-authors described this identity in an indirect and general fashion. Similarly, the Manifestation of God can also in texts of elaboration be described in general or specific terms. The following excerpts may serve as examples of general texts of elaboration by Bahá'u'lláh which convey the theme of succession and/or continuity in religion:
These Mirrors [Manifestations of God] will everlastingly succeed each other, and will continue to reflect the light of the Ancient of Days. They that reflect their glory will, in like manner, continue to exist for evermore, for the Grace of God can never cease from flowing.
The Revelation sent down by God hath most surely been repeated, and the outstretched Hand of Our power hath overshadowed all that are in the heavens and all that are on the earth.
This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.
In the first example one can observe that when the Manifestations of God are being referred to, they are described in the third form of the plural. The second and third examples only briefly describe the succession, or the continuity, of either revelation or religion. The last sentence in the first example is particularly interesting since, it was noted above in the discussion on specific revelation, that to "each time and era a portion is allotted and a bounty set apart, this in a given measure." Yet, the excerpt above states that it "can never cease from flowing." One solution to this paradox is to say that specific revelation, although it is "seasonal," or "repeated," it is nevertheless perpetual. This passage is also similar to the one discussed in Prophetology where Bahá'u'lláh writes that "God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so." In both quotations the two terms "succeed" and "continue" are clearly noticeable and thus conveys the theme of succession and continuity respectively.
In the beginning of this chapter it was stated that Bahá'u'lláh used the chain-model to describe "the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations." The analogy of using a chain, which consists of a sequence of rings, suggests a sequence of revelations which are both successive (specific) as well as continuous (linked). Consequently, the two first examples above describe a dynamic pattern of change, or the exoteric dimension of revelation (succession, repetition), while the third example briefly mentions the non-change, or the esoteric dimension of religion. The theme of change and non-change of revelation shall be further developed in the section below.
The clearest and most abundant cases of texts of elaboration, in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, are those which are more specific, i.e., which specifically refer to other Manifestations of God or religions. As was noticed above in the discussion of texts of identification, Bahá'u'lláh identified himself with a sequence of religious figures. It is interesting to compare the text of identification above with the following specific text of elaboration:
Among the Prophets was Noah . . . And after Noah the light of the countenance of Húd shone forth above the horizon of creation. . . . And after Him there appeared . . . the holy person of Sálih, Who again summoned the people to the river of everlasting life. . . . Later, . . . the Friend of God [Abraham] appeared from behind the veil . . . And when His day was ended, there came the turn of Moses. . . . And when the days of Moses were ended . . . the light of Jesus . . . encompassed the world.
The text used above has been severely edited and abbreviated for this thesis since it is several pages in length, but still, it gives an idea of the structure of a specific texts of elaboration. Thus, the text synchronically lists a sequence of Manifestations of God, beginning with Noah and ending with Jesus Christ, and for each Manifestation of God Bahá'u'lláh elaborates on a certain theme. The crucial difference, however, between a specific text of identification and a specific text of elaboration is that in the former the Manifestations of God are always described in the first form of the singular or plural whereas the latter always portrays them in the third form of the singular or the plural.
In a mystical section in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, while describing the path of a seeker, Bahá'u'lláh alludes to the entrance into what he metaphorically describes as the "City of Certitude." This metaphor is also portrayed in the following citation:
Once in about a thousand years shall this City be renewed and re-adorned . . . That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation. In the days of Moses it was the Pentateuch; in the days of Jesus the Gospel; in the days of Muhammad the Messenger of God the Qur'án; in this day the Bayán; and in the dispensation of Him Whom God will make manifest His own Book.
Here the estimated time-period of about a "thousand years" for the renewal of the "Word of God" is clearly recognized. The "Word of God" is described as being "revealed" and could therefore be equated with the term "revelation." The identification with various "revealed scriptures" further suggests this. The phrase "in every age" implies a repeated pattern of renewal of about a thousand years. Bahá'u'lláh then enumerates a synchronic sequence of five Manifestations of God into which he indirectly includes himself; Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb (who revealed the Bayán), and Bahá'u'lláh ("Him Whom God will make manifest"). Each Manifestation of God is also associated with a "Book" which reveals "the Word of God": the Pentateuch, the Gospel, the Qur'án, the Bayán, and finally, Bahá'u'lláh's "own Book."
Above one can notice in the two quotations that the sequence of Manifestations of God varies. From this it is possible to conclude that it is not the listed Manifestations of God in each sequence which is significant, but rather that Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself in such a sequence of Manifestations of God who, "in every age and dispensation," reveals and renews the "Word of God" (revelation). Thus, in certain text of elaboration, especially those dealing with succession and continuity, there may be an element of text of identification as well.
In the previous section it was observed that both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá used the solar-model to describe the rise and fall of a religion. Below 'Abdu'l-Bahá is again using this model, but in a slightly different context:
The physical sun has its rising and its setting. The earthly world has its day and night. . . . The Sun of Reality, likewise, has its rising and setting. There is a day and night in the world of spirituality. After each departure there is a return and the dawning light of a new day.
In this general text of elaboration, 'Abdu'l-Bahá not only illustrates the rise and fall of a religion, but continues to say that "there is a return and the dawning light of a new day." The sunset is therefore not seen as the end but the beginning of something new a "new day." Elsewhere, while discussing the "oneness of the Manifestations of God," 'Abdu'l-Bahá employs the solar-model in yet a third way. In describing the Manifestations of God as "successive manifestations," he states that the "sun is one and the same but its points of dawning are various." He continues by intermingling the solar-model with the seasonal- model in a quite different fashion:
During the summer season it rises from the northern point of the ecliptic; in winter it appears from the southern point of rising. Each month between it appears from a certain zodiacal position. Although these dawning-points are different, the sun is the same sun which has appeared from them all. The significance is the reality of prophethood which is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning-places or zodiacal points.
Consequently, one can see that the appearance of the Manifestations of God occur within the time-span of the solar-year and are described as the "dawning-places or zodiacal points" of the sun, i.e., the astrological constellation into which the sun rises each day. Furthermore, the "reality" of the Manifestations of God is viewed from the station of essential unity ("the sun is one"), while their successive appearances is seen from the station of distinction ("but its points of dawning are various"). It should also be noted here that 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly admits that he is using these metaphors in a symbolic way.
In the previous section 'Abdu'l-Bahá used the seasonal-model to describe the rise and fall of a religion and above it was shown that the solar-model described succession of revelation as the "dawning light of a new day." 'Abdu'l-Bahá also uses the seasonal-model in a similar manner in that the "spiritual springtime returns and a new cycle appears." This theme is portrayed in the following passage:
The divine religions are like the progression of the seasons of the year . . . This is the continuous cycle of the seasons spring, winter, then the return of spring. But though the calender changes and the years move forward, each springtime that comes is the return of the springtime that has gone; this spring is the renewal of the former spring. Springtime is springtime, no matter when or how often it comes. The divine Prophets are as the coming of spring, each renewing and quickening the teachings of the Prophet Who came before Him.
Here the comparison between the "divine Religions" and the "progression of the seasons" is evident, and thus one can once again discern yet another cyclical theme of revelation and religion. Although the seasons are viewed as cyclical, the process itself is also designated as "continuous," which briefly points to the theme of change and non-change in religion. Notice also that each spring is seen as the "return of the springtime that has gone," which suggests a certain pattern of repetition.
In discussing text of identification above, it was also seen that 'Abdu'l-Bahá described the appearances of the Manifestations of God as being "successive and correlated." He moreover portrays this process as "continuous" and compares it to the rays which emanates from the center of the sun. In another passage he starts with a general text of elaboration, stating that:
From time immemorial the divine teachings have been successively revealed, and the bounties of the Holy Spirit have ever been emanating. All the teachings are one reality, for reality is single and does not admit multiplicity. Therefore, the divine Prophets are one, inasmuch as They reveal one reality, the Word of God.
The text then continues to be of a more specific character in that he synchronically enumerates the following sequence of Manifestations of God: "Abraham announced teachings founded upon reality, Moses proclaimed reality, Christ established reality and Bahá'u'lláh was the Messenger and Herald of Reality." In the next quote he does exactly the reverse. The text starts with a specific Manifestation of God whereupon it immediately proceeds to become more of a general text of elaboration:
From the days of Adam until today, the religions of God have been made manifest, one following the other, and each one of them fulfilled its due function, revived mankind, and provided education and enlightenment. They freed the people from the darkness of the world of nature and ushered them into the brightness of the Kingdom. As each succeeding Faith and Law became revealed, it remained for some centuries a richly fruitful tree and to it was committed the happiness of humankind. However, as the centuries rolled by, it aged, it flourished no more and put forth no fruit, wherefore was it then made young again. The religion of God is one religion, but it must ever be renewed.
The successive character of revelation can here be observed in the statements which describe the religions as "one following the other" or "each succeeding Faith." One may also notice the educational feature of the Manifestation of God who provide "education and enlightenment." The next part is especially interesting where the various religions again are organically compared to a tree-metaphor which remains "for some centuries a richly fruitful tree." This further indicates a time-period of a religion's duration, and can in turn be compared to Bahá'u'lláh's estimate above of a "thousand years." The text further reiterates this time-period in that the centuries roll by and the tree ceases to produce fruit. This can be interpreted that the "tree of religion" has entered the winter-season ("it aged"), and that eventually, the spring will make it "young again." The last sentence is also suggestive of the esoteric unity of religions, while the renewal of religion may describe its exoteric and multiple dimension. In other words, the imagery portrays that the "tree of religion" remains one and the same throughout the seasons, while its renewal may be seen in its periodic manifestation of leaves, flowers, and fruits.
In his Promised Day is Come, in a chapter entitled "The Continuity of Revelation," Shoghi Effendi devotes a lengthy discussion to the topic of succession and continuity of religion which is illustrated by the following paragraph:
Repudiating the claim of any religion to be the final revelation of God to man, disclaiming finality for His own Revelation, Bahá'u'lláh inculcates the basic principle of the relativity of religious truth, the continuity of Divine Revelation, the progressiveness of religious experience.
Here the phrase the "continuity of Divine Revelation" is upheld, together with the "relativity of religious truth," as a basic principle. Note also that this sentence is immediately followed by the concept of "progressiveness of religious experience." In other contexts Shoghi Effendi also refers to themes like "successive Dispensations," "successive Founders," that revelation is "continuous" and that the various religions of the world are recognized as having a "sequence," an "interdependence . . . wholeness and unity."
Finally, there are also a few passages which could be regarded as text of elaboration, and which emphasize the theme of succession and continuity, since they deal with the aspect of "prophecy." In other words, these texts imply that there is an awareness, or innate knowledge, of the succession and continuity among the Manifestations of God themselves. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states that:
[. . . ] all the Prophets of God whenever made manifest unto the peoples of the world, have invariably foretold the coming of yet another Prophet after them, and have established such signs as would herald the advent of the future Dispensation.
Here Bahá'u'lláh seem to indicate that each manifestation of God is somehow announcing the advent of "another Prophet" and a "future Dispensation." 'Abdu'l-Bahá likewise says that "Each of the holy Manifestations announced the glad tidings of His successor, and each One confirmed the message of His predecessor." This last sentence adds another aspect to the continuity of revelation in that the Manifestation of God is conscious of, and connected, with Manifestations of God in the past (the "predecessor") and of the future (the "successor"). This theme is expressed more elaborately in the next citation by 'Abdu'l-Bahá where he lists a sequence of Manifestations of God described as the "Founders of the various religious systems":
The holy Manifestations Who have been the Sources or Founders of the various religious systems were united and agreed in purpose and teaching. Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh are one in spirit and reality. Moreover, each Prophet fulfilled the promise of the One Who came before Him and, likewise, Each announced the One Who would follow. Consider how Abraham foretold the coming of Moses, and Moses embodied Abrahamic statement. Moses prophesied the Messianic cycle, and Christ fulfilled the law of Moses. It is evident, therefore, that the Holy Manifestations Who founded the religious systems are united and agreed; there is no differentiation possible in Their mission and teachings; all are reflectors of reality, and all are promulgators of the religion of God. The divine religion is reality, and reality is not multiple; it is one.
Here it is possible to recognize how the miscellaneous key terms and concepts, discussed in previous chapters and sections, converge within a single passage. For example, earlier it was observed that the Manifestations of God, from their station of essential unity, were regarded as "one soul and the same person," and elsewhere Bahá'u'lláh says that they are "one spirit, one being, one revelation." From this perspective one can also understand why they are regarded as "united and agreed in purpose and teaching." Nevertheless, the successive theme of Manifestations of God has also been clearly delineated above and hence, from the perspective of the station of distinction, each one of the Manifestations of God is known by a "different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation."
In examining texts of elaboration above, it was possible to distinguish between the two dimensions of progressive revelation; the esoteric (the station of essential unity) which primarily emphasize the essential identity of the Manifestations of God, and the exoteric dimension (the station of distinction), which focuses on the succession and continuity between the various Manifestations of God. Although these, and the above statements, admit of an apparent diversity, it is nevertheless the underlying unity which is seen as the fundamental reality. Examples of these themes are also seen in other statements by Bahá'u'lláh in which he says that the Manifestations of God have appeared "in diverse attire" or that they are the "accents of God Himself," and hence 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that "reality is not multiple; it is one." Consequently, as was previously stated and shown in this section, texts of elaboration delineate an exoteric unity of the various Manifestations of God in that the different revelations are perceived as fundamentally and coherently interrelated (successive and continuous). This section therefore serves as a general frame of reference for the next section which will examine the exoteric differences, or distinctions, between the Manifestations of God and the religions.
C. Differences between the Manifestations of God and the Concept of Progress
The concept of progress, as has been seen previously, could be recognized already in the field of Bahá'í-cosmology, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes about the "progressive process of creation," and that "'Progress' is the expansion of spirit in the world of matter." It was observed that all beings progress within their own kingdoms or planes of existence. Further, it was also shown that the human species, although being primarily spiritual, has successively progressed through the lower kingdoms, and is further distinguished from these in that it can evolve and transfer towards the higher or more spiritual kingdoms. Moreover, it was also noticed in the first section of this chapter that each religion progresses up to a certain point and then gradually starts to decline. In the following two sections, this progressive theme shall be explored to see whether it goes beyond the theme of succession and continuity of revelation. In other words, the question here is not only if there is a concept of progress in a religion and between religions, but also what it is that progresses? In the final section the eventual goal of progressive revelation shall be examined.
The concept of progress, being dynamic by nature, as have been shown, is more associated with that of the exoteric and horizontal axis than the esoteric and vertical axis of revelation. Consequently, it is in the context of the station of distinction among the Manifestations of God where this concept is expressed most clearly. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states that it is because of this "difference in their station and mission" that the Manifestations of God "appear to diverge and differ." In other words, although the Manifestations of God are esoterically unified, they have, nonetheless, different "stations" and "missions" in the world.
Earlier it was noticed that the solar-model is frequently employed in describing either the nature of the Manifestations of God, their relationship with God, or their relationships between each other. It is however interesting to observe that when Bahá'u'lláh is portraying the station of distinction between the diverse Manifestations of God, and the variations in the measure of revelation, he prefers to use a metaphor of the moon, or a lunar-model. One reason for this may be that the sun is usually attributed with permanence and unity, whereas the moon more often associated with change and diversity:
Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him . . . The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world, however, must differ. Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself through specific acts. It is for this reason that they appear to vary in their greatness. Their Revelation may be likened unto the light of the moon that sheddeth its radiance upon the earth. Though every time it appeareth, it revealeth a fresh measure of its brightness, yet its inherent splendour can never diminish, nor can its light suffer extinction. It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an ever-changing world.
Here it can be clearly seen that the "measure of the revelation" is not constant, but that it may differ for each Manifestation of God. The station of distinction is also seen in that each Manifestation of God is the "Bearer of a distinct Message," and that he reveals himself through "specific acts." That is why the Manifestations of God "appear to vary in their greatness." It can also be noted that when the moon appears, it reveals "a fresh measure," which connotes to the vernal theme of renewal and rejuvenation. The analogy basically conveys that the moon, on the one hand, is permanently illumined with a constant emanation of radiance, but on the other hand, due to its relationship with the earth, it "appears" to vary in its intensity. Thus, the model illustrates that the Manifestations of God from one perspective are essentially one and the same (esoteric), but from another perspective, they appear to be different due to the "varying receptivity of an ever-changing world" (exoteric). Yet, another theme also emerges, that of "an ever-changing world," a factor which will be examined below. Moreover, in the excerpt above, Bahá'u'lláh only ascribes a "variation" in either the intensity of revelation, or in the receptivity, but he does not specify any directionality of this variation, i.e., if it is decreasing or increasing. Yet, using a lunar-model in portraying the variation and measure of revelation suggests that the intensity of light is coupled with the lunar-phases (crescent, new-moon, half-moon, full-moon, etc). Consequently, it would mean that the measure of revelation first gradually is increasing and subsequently decreasing. This model would thus be in full agreement with the solar- and seasonal-models.
There is another passage where Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the relationship various measures of revelation, but this time in relation to himself:
The Revelation of which I am the bearer, is adapted to humanity's spiritual receptiveness and capacity; otherwise, the Light that shines within me can neither wax nor wane. Whatever I manifest is nothing more or less than the measure of the Divine glory which God has bidden me reveal.
In this passage it is possible to see that there is a clear distinction between the esoteric measure of revelation which is constant (it "can neither wax nor wane") and the exoteric measure of revelation which, as has been stated earlier, "is adapted to humanity's spiritual receptiveness and capacity." It is in this second measure where the measure can vary, but again Bahá'u'lláh does not specify the directionality. However, in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh addresses various religious themes and symbols, and one of these deals with a Qur'ánic verse in which he comments upon the symbolic meaning of "heaven":
As He hath said: "When the heaven shall be cloven asunder." [Qur'án 82:1] By "heaven" is meant the heaven of divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation, and rent asunder with every subsequent one. By "cloven asunder" is meant that the former Dispensation is superseded and annulled.
In this commentary one can readily see that the symbol of "heaven" is equated with "divine Revelation" which is "elevated with every Manifestation." The terms "every subsequent one" alludes to the successive theme of revelation, and together with the term "elevated," they point to a gradual and successive elevation of revelation, i.e., progressive revelation. Moreover, the term "elevated" here seem to suggest that it also is a "higher revelation" since it not only "supersedes" but also "annuls" the former religion. If the first term means that the new revelation is a "higher revelation," the second pair of terms suggests that the older form of revelation is antiquated or obsolete.
In order to understand the theme of elevation or progress in revelation it is now necessary to briefly explore a related area that of change and non-change in revelation (religion). About this topic Bahá'u'lláh says the following:
Know thou . . . that in every age and dispensation all Divine Ordinances are changed and transformed according to the requirements of the time, except the law of love, which like unto a fountain, flows always and is never overtaken by change.
Here the primary factor for change is the "requirements of the time," and yet, the "law of love" remains constant and unaltered throughout the different religions. Consequently, there appears to be two aspects of revelation, one which is non-changing and the other which is subjected to change and transformation.
In like manner, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also indirectly discusses two aspects of the "divine religions" as follows:
As regards the inculcation of morality and the development of human virtues, there is no difference whatsoever between the teachings of Zoroaster, Jesus or Bahá'u'lláh. In this they agree; they are one. The second aspect of the divine religions is nonessential. It concerns human needs and undergoes change in every cycle according to the exigency of the time.
Similarly to Bahá'u'lláh's account above, one can first observe that there is a dual notion of revelation, one "non-essential" and one "essential." However, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not directly define the first aspect above, he does refer, as shall be seen in the next quote, to the first aspect as the "fundamental basis," or the "essence of the Law," and he also uses the terms the "fundamental principle of the religion," and the "foundation of the religion." Secondly, the latter aspect of the "divine religions," which concerns "human needs," is subjected to change. Thirdly, one can recognize that the factor of "exigency of the time" is once again referred to.
In the following two passages 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborates more in detail about the dual parts of the "law of God":
[. . .] the law of God is divided into two parts. One is the fundamental basis which comprises spiritual things that is to say, it refers to spiritual virtues and divine qualities; this does not change nor alter: it is the Holy of the Holies, which is the essence of the Law of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, and which lasts and is established in all the prophetic cycles. It will never be abrogated, for it is spiritual and not material truth; it is faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy. It shows mercy to the poor, defends the oppressed, gives to the wretched and uplifts the fallen. These divine qualities, these eternal commandments, will never be abolished; nay, they will last and remain established for ever and ever. These virtues of humanity will be renewed in each of the different cycles; for at the end of every cycle the Spiritual Law of God that is to say, the human virtues disappear, and only the forms subsists.
The first aspect of the law of God clearly emphasizes a fundamental and essential unity in the revelation between the various Manifestations of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá thus enumerates a number of "spiritual virtues and divine qualities" which are non-changing in each revelation, and hence this part of the law will "never be abrogated," and he therefore refers to them as "eternal commandments." However, even though this part of the law is non-changing and eternal, it is nonetheless "renewed in the cycle of every Prophet," and hence this part of the law always reappears with each new Manifestation of God. In both quotations above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses the concept of the "cycle," and as shall be seen in the next section, this may refer to either a specific religion or period of revelation.
As to the second aspect or part of the law of God 'Abdu'l-Bahá continues to say that:
The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprises fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.
By contrasting the two parts of the law of God, the "essential" with the "non-essential," one can see that 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the former as "spiritual," or "human virtues," and the second one as dealing with "material things." In comparing the list of virtues, or "material things," it appears that the former primarily deals with individual qualities, while the latter is mainly concerned with social transactions, or "human needs." Although both aspects of the law are revealed by each new Manifestation of God, it is only the latter part that is "modified and altered." So, while the former remains an absolute essence with each revelation, and is therefore only "renewed," the second part can be seen as a relative non-essential since it is subjected to modification and alteration and consequently, it "undergoes change in every cycle." This latter aspect of the law is thereby, as Bahá'u'lláh mentioned previously, subjected to "abrogation" and "annulment" by each subsequent Manifestation of God, and it is therefore in this "non-essential" aspect of religion, according to Shoghi Effendi, where the revelations of the Manifestations of God differs.
It is now time to turn to an earlier but partially quoted excerpt by Shoghi Effendi which further elucidates and summarizes some of the points discussed above:
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh . . . is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
First of all one may observe, in the first part of this citation, the esoteric dimension which emphasizes that "Divine Revelation" has a "divine origin," that the religions are "continuous," and "their aims and purposes are the same." In other words, this dimension identifies the source, course, and goal of revelation as identical. Secondly, one may also note the exoteric dimension which expresses various distinctions and states that "their teachings are but facets of one truth," "their functions are complementary," and that "they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines." The last sentence is especially meaningful since it further underlines the theme discussed above, i.e., the differences between the various religions are not essential (absolute), but only "non-essential" (relative). However, to equate the terms essential with the absolute and non-essential with the relative may be problematic, since the opening line states that "religious truth is not absolute but only relative," while the last quotation continues to say that "their teachings are but facets of one truth."
This statement is reminiscent of the concept of God, which was discussed in an antecedent chapter and which now can be related to the above as follows. The essence of God, which may be equated with "the absolute" or "truth," can not be completely known by any Manifestation of God and consequently, it can not be fully known through any particular religion or revelation. It is rather seen as an integral part of a continuous and progressive revelatory process in that each subsequent religion may reflect some greater "facets of one truth" which ultimately is the essence of God. Thus, religious truth can be seen as "relative," not only because each religion stands in an intimate relation to every other religion, but primarily because it only can transmit a partial aspect of the truth, or a specific "measure of Revelation." Another interesting term in the above passage is that Shoghi Effendi states that the various religions are "complementary," which also points to the theme that no religion possesses the full and final revelation of God, but that the religions are fundamentally and mutually interrelated.
If the first level of Shoghi Effendi's cited passage emphasizes the essential unity, or the esoteric dimension, the second level emphasizes the non-essential diversity, or the exoteric dimension, and hence one can observe that these dimensions are deeply intertwined. Yet, there is another level of this quote which may seem to integrate these two views, and which sees revelation as a "progressive process" and the various religions as "successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." Not only is the progressive and evolutionary concept clearly expressed in terms of religion or revelation, but one can further recognize that it is related to "human society" as well.
This idea, that the growth of revelation is intimately related to the development of humanity, is also expressed in the following paragraph by 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
The more the world of humanity develops, the more the effulgences or emanations of Divinity will become revealed, just as the stone, when it becomes polished and pure as a mirror, will reflect in fuller degree the glory and splendor of the sun.
The increase of "effulgences or emanations of Divinity" could be interpreted as a growth of revelation and is, moreover, seen as a direct consequence of the development of the "world of humanity." Again the mirror-model can be noticed in connection with humanity which, potentially, may reflect in various degrees the "glory and splendor of the sun," i.e., the "emanations of Divinity." The next paragraph by 'Abdu'l-Bahá further elaborates on this theme:
[T]he dispensations of past ages are intimately connected with those that follow them: indeed, they are one and the same, but as the world groweth, so doth the light, so doth the downpour of heavenly grace, and then the Day-Star shineth out in noonday splendour.
In this citation one can first distinguish the theme of the esoteric dimension in the context of the continuity and succession of the religions. After that comes an explanation of why the "light," or the "downpour of heavenly grace," must grow. Together, the terms "grow" and "downpour of heavenly grace" are highly suggestive of a progressive theme of revelation. It is, however, unclear what 'Abdu'l-Bahá means by the phrase that the "world groweth," but it could refer to either the Násút level in general, the human world, or the human society, but in the passage below, the expression "the world of existence" may elucidate this phrase.
The next passage by 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly shows that the rain-model is utilized once again to illustrate the progressive nature of revelation:
[ . . . ] revelation is progressive and continuous. It never ceases. It is necessary that the reality of Divinity with all its perfections and attributes should become resplendent in the human world. The reality of Divinity is like an endless ocean. Revelation may be likened to the rain. Can you image the cessation of rain? Ever on the face of the earth somewhere rain is pouring down. Briefly, the world of existence is progressive. It is subject to development and growth. Consider how great has been the progress in this radiant century. Civilization has unfolded. Nations have developed. Industrialism and jurisprudence have expanded. Sciences, inventions and discoveries have increased. All of these show that the world of existence is continuously progressing and developing; and therefore, assuredly, the virtues characterizing the maturity of man must, likewise, expand and grow.
A couple of points are observed here. First, it is interesting that the "reality of Divinity" is compared to "an endless ocean" while revelation itself is "likened to the rain." This set of metaphors suggests the non-changing and infinite nature of Divinity as the ultimate source of revelation. In turn, associating revelation with "rain" may hint to its particular nature, but also its continuous and successive character. The question "Can you image the cessation of rain?" may be interpreted and paraphrased as "Can you imagine the finality of revelation?" and may therefore be seen to address the claim of finality in revelation, an issue that shall be examined in the final section of this chapter. Secondly, revelation is clearly described not only as being continuous but, more importantly, as progressive. In another context, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes religion as being progressive, he further states that if religion is "non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead." Thirdly, the "world of existence" is also depicted as progressive. In this connection one can note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá associated the following areas with the concept of progress: civilization, nations, industrialism, jurisprudence, sciences, inventions and discoveries. Fourth, these two progressive spheres, the revelatory and the worldly, are seen as parallel, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá thereby draws the conclusion that the "maturity of man must, likewise, expand and grow." Elsewhere he also says that "in the contingent world, the human species hath undergone progressive physical changes and, by a slow process, hath scaled the ladder of civilization." This sentence is highly suggestive of a gradual and sequential advancement of the human civilization.
Earlier it was also shown that the first aspect of the law concerned the development of human virtues, while the second part applied to social and material transactions. This is an important distinction, since although 'Abdu'l-Bahá is quite positive to the above mentioned "material" progress, often referred to as a "material civilization," this is only one aspect of a more profound evolutionary process, which ultimate purpose is to establish a "divine civilization" in which the spiritual abilities of human beings will fully develop.
Shoghi Effendi also employs a similar analogy of the development of humanity with the "measure of Divine Revelation":
Just as the organic evolution of mankind has been slow and gradual, and involved successively the unification of the family, the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, so has the light vouchsafed by the Revelation of God, at various stages in the evolution of religion, and reflected in the successive Dispensations in the past, been slow and progressive. Indeed the measure of Divine Revelation, in every age, has been adapted to, and commensurate with, the degree of social progress achieved in that age by a constantly evolving humanity.
Many of the previously discussed themes are imbedded in this single and compact statement. The evolution of mankind is here portrayed as being organic and constantly evolving. This process of evolution is, moreover, described as "slow," "gradual," and "successive," and as having various levels, or stages, of unification: family, tribe, city-state, and nation. Shoghi Effendi then compares the evolution of humanity with the "Revelation of God," and says that it similarly has existed at various "stages in the evolution of religion." This process is concomitantly described as being "slow," "successive," and "progressive." The final sentence integrates these two processes of evolution in that it says that the "measure of Divine Revelation, in every age, has been adapted to, and commensurate with, the degree of social progress achieved in that age by a constantly evolving humanity." In both examples above, one can clearly observe that both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi ascertain parallels between the religious and human spheres.
In order to examine how the differences between the Manifestations of God relates to the above discussed areas, another paragraph by Shoghi Effendi will clarify this relationship:
Any variations in the splendor which each of these Manifestations of the Light of God has shed upon the world should be ascribed not to any inherent superiority involved in the essential character of any one of them, but rather to the progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness, which mankind, in its progress towards maturity, has invariably manifested.
In the beginning of this section, a similar quote by Bahá'u'lláh was analyzed where he wrote that any apparent variation in the intensity of the light between the Manifestations of God was attributed, not to the light itself, but rather to the "varying receptivity of an ever-changing world." Here, however, Shoghi Effendi attributes this variation to the "progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness" of mankind, which also is portrayed as progressing towards "maturity." In other contexts, this process of humanity's evolution is frequently described, by both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, as a development from infancy to manhood or maturity. Concurrently, revelation is sometimes described in similar organic terms in that it, e.g., exists in an "embryonic state" and is thus capable to develop into stages of maturity. Again it is possible to see the emphasis on the concepts "capacity" and "receptivity." However, in Bahá'u'lláh's statement, the degree of "receptivity" is only described as varying, while Shoghi Effendi clearly defines it as being progressive and "ever-increasing." Nevertheless, and as will be shown below, the Bahá'í-authors do clearly point to that the variation of revelation generally is in the progressive direction.
The differences of the Manifestations of God and concept of progress are sometimes more explicitly and specifically elaborated upon than the quotes used above. For example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, using a more astrological oriented solar-model, compares the Bábí-revelation with that of Bahá'u'lláh as follows:
The Revelation of the Báb may be likened to the sun, its station corresponding to the first sign of the Zodiac--the sign Aries--which the sun enters at the vernal equinox. The station of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, on the other hand, is represented by the sign Leo, the sun's mid-summer and highest station. By this is meant that this holy Dispensation is illumined with the light of the Sun of Truth shining from its most exalted station, and in the plenitude of its resplendency, its heat and glory.
In this passage it is evident that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's comparison with Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as "the sun's mid-summer and highest station" and the Báb's revelation as the sun at the vernal equinox, evidently implies that the former has progressed towards a more developed and "exalted station." Similarly, in a letter written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi compares Islám with the former religions as follows:
Muhammadanism [Islám] is not only the last of the world religions, but a fuller Revelation than any one preceding it. The Qur'an is not only more authoritative than any previous religious gospel, but it contains also much more; ordinances, teachings and precepts, which taken together constitute a fuller Revelation of God's purpose and law to mankind than Christianity, Judaism or any other previous Dispensation. This view is in complete accord with the Bahá'í philosophy of progressive revelation, and should be thoroughly accepted and taught by every loyal . . . Bahá'í.
It is peculiar that Shoghi Effendi here refers to Islám as the "last of the world religions," since this phrasing is quite contrary to the theme of succession and continuity of revelation discussed above. Even the term "latest" would be awkward, since the Bahá'í-authors usually refer to the Bahá'í-religion, not Islám, as the latest in a series of religions and further emphatically inculcates that no religion can claim to be the final religion. Still, the interesting thing about the above quoted passage is that Shoghi Effendi compares Islám with Christianity and states that the former is a "fuller Revelation" than the latter and "any other previous Dispensation." This clearly suggests a progressive concept of revelation, and one can also readily observe this since Shoghi Effendi designates this concept as the "Bahá'í philosophy of progressive revelation," which not only should be "thoroughly accepted . . . by every loyal . . . Bahá'í," but also should be "taught." This statement consequently suggests that the concept of progressive revelation has doctrinal connotations and implications as well, which clearly implies that it should be identified as one of the Bahá'í-religion's central doctrines.
In the above cited quote, two or more religions are compared with each other, but elsewhere Shoghi Effendi writes that, in accordance with the "principle of progressive revelation," every Manifestation of God must bring a "measure of divine guidance ampler than any which a preceding and less receptive age could have received or appreciated." The term "divine guidance" can be interpreted as meaning "revelation" and it is evident that Shoghi Effendi indicates that the preceding ages were less receptive, which logically means that the proceeding ages are more receptive, and thus they will be capable to receive an "ampler" measure of revelation. In other contexts, Shoghi Effendi writes about the concept of "progressive religion" and describes the religions that have preceded the Bahá'í-religion as "different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it itself forms but an integral part." This phrase is especially significant since Bahá'u'lláh above stated that this is the "changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future." Although both Bahá'í-authors state that all revelations, in either the past or in the future, are essentially identical, Bahá'u'lláh's statement here emphasizes the non-changing and essential dimension of religion, while Shoghi Effendi includes the more dynamic view of "stages" and "evolution."
In addition, although all the various religions may be seen as "one religion," Shoghi Effendi also states that the Bahá'í-religion is an "integral part" of this process and in other contexts he says that it is but "one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations." Here the chain-model again suggests both a distinct and separate character of each revelation (the exoteric and horizontal axis), as well the underlining continuity which connects all the revelations of the past and the future (the esoteric or vertical axis). The use of the plural "progressive Revelations" also support the idea that each revelation is progressive in its own right, and yet, all revelations are seen as being part of a much larger scheme, which will be the topic in the next section.
In order to summarize this section one can at this stage conclude that progress occurs on two intimately and mutually interconnected dimensions:
1) The religious, or revelatory, dimension which is the level of the Manifestations of God, the revelation, or the religion, which is intrinsically progressive. Each religion progresses up to a certain point, and then starts to decline. But the general theme of the successive and continuous religions is an overall progressive and evolutionary tendency, and thus each new Manifestation of God brings a greater measure of revelation (religion) to humanity than each previous one. This variation in revelation is, however, not inherent in the Manifestations of God, but is attributed to various worldly, or human factors, and thus the various revelations must differ in their non-essential aspects. This part of the revelation would therefore correspond to 2 a) below, in that it is concerned with various societal and material transactions. However, although the Manifestations do differ, they always reveal the non-changing and essential aspect of the "Law of God." This part of revelation would correspond to 2 b) below, in that deals with spiritual and human attributes and virtues.
2) The human, or worldly, dimension. In general, this level may also correspond to revelation which is given in accordance with the "conditions" and "varying requirements of the age" and the "spiritual capacity" of mankind.
a) human society (material civilization) has slowly, gradually and successively evolved in that higher stages of unification has been accomplished: family, tribe, city-states, and nations.
b) humanity's spiritual capacity and receptivity (spiritual civilization) has slowly and gradually increased over time. Mankind is thus described as spiritually developing through the sequential stages of growth: infancy, childhood, youth, and maturity.
The above summarized dimensions are, as was seen from the various Bahá'í-authors, intrinsically and reciprocally related, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's mirror-model above illustrates this relationship, i.e., the more humanity develops and progress, both materially and spiritually, the greater the measure of revelation. Yet, there are several passages in the Bahá'í writings which would support the statement that religion, or revelation, is the primary cause of progress and development. 'Abdu'l-Bahá even states that the divine teachings of religion has been "the basis of all civilization and progress in the history of man" and that "it is the source of illumination, the cause of development and the animating impulse of all human advancement." However, if one would attribute the first dimension above to specific revelation, in that it involves the Manifestations of God, the second dimension could be said to be both indirectly under the influence of universal revelation, and directly under the guidance of specific revelation. Consequently, God, who is entitled the "Fountainhead of all Revelations" (universal and specific), would therefore be seen as the ultimate cause of progress in both dimensions. This conclusion lends further supports to the hypothesis that progressive revelation is a central concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
D. The cyclical scheme
In the following two sections of progressive revelation, the issue of finality in revelation, and the various concepts of cycles of Bahá'í-apocalypticism shall be examined. The previous sections constitute, in a way, a necessary framework for this discussion, which also integrates many previously discussed key terms and concepts of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, especially the concept of progressive revelation.
As was stated in the beginning of this thesis, the Bahá'í-religion has its origins within the Islámic context and naturally, the Bahá'í-authors had to address such problematic issues as the finality of revelation and the Qur'ánic concept of the "Seal of Prophets." In the previous discussions on the rise and fall of a religion and the succession and continuity of revelation, it was concluded that revelation occurred in a "seasonal," or cyclical fashion. These concepts points to that revelation, although periodic, is a perpetual phenomenon. In addition, the Bahá'í-authors not only regard the whole of the Qur'án as "an absolutely authenticated Repository of the Word of God," but also designate Muhammed as the "Seal of the Prophets." How is it possible to on the one hand acknowledge that revelation is continuous, and yet, on the other hand, admit that Muhammed is the "Seal of the Prophets"? This obviously appears to be a plain contradiction and how the Bahá'í-authors attempts to reconcile these apparently opposing positions shall be discussed below.
The Bahá'í-authors, especially Bahá'u'lláh, seem to approach this issue in at least five major ways, whereas 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi mainly utilize the fourth and fifth approaches. The first three approaches are more vertical or esoteric in character whereas the last two ways are predominantly horizontal and exoteric.
1. The finality of revelation
One approach is where Bahá'u'lláh, while discussing the theme of progressive revelation, generally addresses the issue of finality of revelation, or that God is incapable of raising up another Manifestation of God. In the following passage Bahá'u'lláh draws upon the Qur'án and thus uses similar arguments against the Muslims as Muhammed did with the Jews:
"'The hand of God,' say the Jews, 'is chained up.' Chained up be their own hands; And for that which they have said, they were accursed. Nay, outstretched are both His hands!"[Qu'rán 5:65] "The hand of God is above their hands."[Qu'rán 48:11] . . . How can He be conceived as powerless to raise up yet another Messenger after Moses? Behold the absurdity of their saying; how far it hath strayed from the path of knowledge and understanding! Observe how in this Day also, all these people have occupied themselves with such foolish absurdities. For over a thousand years they have been reciting this verse,[Qu'rán 5:65] and unwittingly pronouncing their censure against the Jews, utterly unaware that they themselves, openly and privily, are voicing the sentiments and belief of the Jewish people! Thou art surely aware of their idle contention, that all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the day springs of eternal holiness no Sun shall rise again, that the Ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest. . . . These people have imagined that the flow of God's all-encompassing grace and plenteous mercies, the cessation of which no mind can contemplate, has been halted.
From the context of this passage, Bahá'u'lláh compares the Jews' denial of Muhammed with "all these people" who "in this Day" have been "reciting this verse" for "over a thousand years." These statements apparently refer to the Muslims and the Islámic dispensation, which at the time of Bahá'u'lláh was over 1200 years old. He then further implies that although the Muslims have been reciting this verse (Qu'rán 5:65) for all this time, they are yet unaware that they are "voicing the sentiments and belief of the Jewish people," and hence that they are repeating the Jews' denial. This argument is both a theological argument, since Bahá'u'lláh addresses the omnipotence and power of God, and an apologetic argument, since he on the one hand agrees with the Qur'ánic statements and, on the other hand, reinterprets and polemically utilizes them against the Muslims themselves.
2. The "Seal of the Prophets"
A second approach is where Bahá'u'lláh directly addresses the issue of the "Seal of the Prophets" by adopting statements which, traditionally, may be directly assigned to Muhammed himself:
[. . .] how many are those who, through failure to understand its meaning, have allowed the term "Seal of the Prophets" to obscure their understanding, and deprive them of the grace of His manifold bounties! Hath not Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am all the Prophets?" Hath He not said . . . : "I am Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus?" Why should Muhammad, that immortal Beauty, Who hath said: "I am the first Adam" be incapable of saying also: "I am the last Adam"? For even as He regarded Himself to be the "First of the Prophets" that is Adam in like manner, the "Seal of the Prophets" is also applicable unto that Divine Beauty. It is admittedly obvious that being the "First of the Prophets," He likewise is their "Seal." . . . They [the Manifestations of God] are at the same time the Exponents of both the "first" and the "last." . . . Were a discerning eye to be found, it will readily perceive that the exponents of the "first" and the "last," of the "manifest" and the "hidden," of the "beginning" and the "seal" are none other than these holy Beings, these Essences of Detachment, these divine Souls.
Here Bahá'u'lláh seem to address the issue of the "Seal of the Prophets" by interpreting the "Seal" as the "last" Prophet of God. This way is clearly encountered from an esoteric point of view where each Manifestation of God, in his station of essential unity, is regarded as both the "First" or the "Last." This approach was also seen in an earlier context above where Bahá'u'lláh employed the solar-model to explain the concept of the "return." Thus, although Muhammed is considered the "Seal of the Prophets," this title is not seen as unique or exclusive solely to Muhammed, but that all the Manifestations of God could claim this title. Consequently, Bahá'u'lláh states that this title may be applicable even to the "First" of the Manifestations of God Adam. Once again, it is possible to observe that Bahá'u'lláh is using apologetic arguments by referring to the Islámic tradition and directing these towards a Muslim audience.
3. Unsealing the seal
A third approach seem to occur when Bahá'u'lláh either directly identifies himself with the return of Imám Husayn, or when he indirectly refers to the advent of his own revelation. Although Bahá'u'lláh upholds Muhammed as the "Seal of the Prophets," in other contexts he alludes to that "the seal" has been broken:
The seal of the choice Wine of His Revelation hath, in this Day and in His Name, the Self-Sufficing, been broken.
I have . . . with the hand of divine power, unsealed the choice wine of My Revelation, and have wafted its holy, its hidden, musk-laden fragrance upon all created things.
[. . .] the greatness of this Day the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.
In all three examples, Bahá'u'lláh associates the process of "unsealing" with the metaphor of the "wine." This is a recurrent metaphor in Bahá'u'lláh's writings and which is further commonly affiliated with concepts like revelation, reunion, and life. Moreover, the use of sealing and unsealing may also point to the notion of authority or power. Thus, statements like the unsealing has been made "in His Name," "with the hand of divine power," or by the "Finger of majesty and power," further emphasize this notion of authority.
4. The Adamic or Prophetic Cycle and the Bahá'í Cycle
A fourth approach, which is by far the most predominant and elaborate in the Bahá'í- writings, is when the Bahá'í-authors address this issue from an exoteric point of view and where the horizontal axis of cycles is predominant. It is therefore necessary to examine the Bahá'í concept of cycles more closely.
The perhaps earliest reference to the mentioning of a "cycle" occurs in one of Bahá'u'lláh's mystical works, the Four Valleys. In this piece he briefly states: "The Cyclic Scheme, to them, is but to Him a stair." It is unclear what Bahá'u'lláh exactly refers to here, but this mysterious line may suggest two different points of view of the same phenomenon, namely one cyclical and one that is gradually escalating. These two themes are, as was previously seen, respectively highly relevant to the concepts of cycles and progress. Earlier in this thesis, it was observed that a religion associated with a Manifestation of God may sometimes be referred to as a "cycle," e.g., the "Mosaic cycle," the "Messianic cycle," and the "Mohammedan cycle." The notion in this context may convey the meaning of a specific religious dispensation or revelation, and in a previous section it was concluded that one of the important differences between the dependent Prophets and the independent Prophets (Manifestations of God) was that the latter are "founders of a new cycle." Moreover, such a cycle is also associated with a "Book," and thus terms like the "cycle of the Qur'án" may also occur. However, the term "cycle," as the next paragraph by Bahá'u'lláh shows, appears also in many instances to be synonymous with the concept of an "age":
[. . .] they Who are the Luminaries of truth and the Mirrors reflecting the light of divine Unity, in whatever age and cycle they are sent down from their invisible habitations of ancient glory unto this world, to educate the souls of men and endue with grace all created things.
Here one is reminded of the educational theme of the Manifestations of God. In the previous sections it was also seen that the various revelations and Manifestations of God were described as successive and continuous. Bahá'u'lláh does in like manner refer to the ages as "successive." Furthermore, it was stated that the solar-model was employed to describe not only the rise and fall of a religion, but the succession and continuity of religions as well. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also applies this solar-model in connection with the seasonal-model and says that "just as the solar cycle has its four seasons, the cycle of the Sun of Reality has its distinct and successive periods." The Manifestation of God ("Sun of Reality") is in other words seen as having its own cycle, or season. Hence, the term "cycle" is on the one hand equated with a religion's rise and fall, and yet, on the other hand, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also refers to this "cycle of the seasons" as being "continuous." Consequently, the various religious cycles (seasons) are seen as both successive and continuous.
In his Some Answered Questions, in a chapter entitled "The Universal Cycles," 'Abdu'l-Bahá answers a question pertaining to the concepts of "cycles." By beginning his exposition with an explanation of the nature and duration of the astronomical cycles, he continues to say that:
Each of the Divine Manifestations has likewise a cycle, and during the cycle His laws and commandments prevail and are performed. When His cycle is completed by the appearance of a new Manifestation, a new cycle begins. In this way cycles begin, end and are renewed, until a universal cycle is completed in the world, when important events and great occurrences will take place which entirely efface every trace and every record of the past; then a new universal cycle begins in the world, for this universe has no beginning . . . Briefly, we say a universal cycle in the world of existence signifies a long duration of time, and innumerable and incalculable periods and epochs. In such a cycle the Manifestations appear with splendor in the realm of the visible until a great and supreme Manifestation makes the world the center of His radiance. His appearance causes the world to attain to maturity, and the extension of His cycle is very great. Afterward, other Manifestations will arise under His shadow, Who according to the needs of the time will renew certain commandments relating to material questions and affairs, while remaining under His shadow. We are in the cycle which began with Adam, and its supreme Manifestation is Bahá'u'lláh.
This passage contains many themes which shall subsequently be developed in this section. For example, one can readily see that each Manifestation of God is attributed with a specific "cycle" and that this cyclical pattern is repeated with a "new cycle," which suggests the successive and continuous pattern of revelation. Further, 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes a reference to a "universal cycle" which "signifies a long duration of time, and innumerable and incalculable periods and epochs." Thus, such a cycle seem to include a great number of "periods" and "epochs." Notice also the sentence where 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that "cycles begin, end and are renewed, until a universal cycle is completed," which in turns indicates that various shorter cycles occur within a longer universal cycle. Moreover, a "universal cycle" is, above all, associated with a "supreme Manifestation" whose "cycle is very great," who "causes the world to attain to maturity," and that the subsequent Manifestation of God will be "under his shadow."
In the final sentence above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá identifies the present cycle with the "cycle which began with Adam" and that Bahá'u'lláh is its "supreme Manifestation." Previously it was also witnessed that Bahá'u'lláh referred to the "chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb." Similarly, Abdu'l-Bahá stated that "From the days of Adam until today, the religions of God have been made manifest, one following the other." The notion of a cycle which began with Adam is often referred to as the "Adamic cycle," the "Prophetic cycle," or the "Prophetic Era." However, the term "Prophetic cycle" sometimes also occurs in the plural and refers to the various successive cycles of the Manifestations of God.
It is now necessary to proceed with the analysis of a fourth approach to the issues of finality in revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets," and discern how these two are connected with the cyclical scheme. In the following passage it is possible to see how the term "Seal of the Prophets" is related to the concept of the "Prophetic Cycle":
It is evident that every age in which a Manifestation of God hath lived is divinely ordained, and may, in a sense, be characterized as God's appointed Day. This Day, however, is unique, and is to be distinguished from those that have preceded it. The designation "Seal of the Prophets" fully revealeth its high station. The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended. The Eternal Truth is now come. He hath lifted up the Ensign of Power, and is now shedding upon the world the unclouded splendor of His Revelation.
Here Bahá'u'lláh states that "every age" can be designated as "God's appointed Day," but he continues to say that "This Day" (Bahá'u'lláh's "Day") is unique and "distinguished from those that have preceded it," i.e., the preceding ages or dispensations. Then he simultaneously proclaims that the title "Seal of the Prophets" is highly significant, since it alludes to a "high station." Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh announces that "The Prophetic Cycle" has terminated. In like manner, and referring to his own revelation, Bahá'u'lláh also declares that "In this most mighty Revelation all the Dispensations of the past have attained their highest and final consummation." Finally, in his last work, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh also relates the title of the "Seal of the Prophets" with a Qur'ánic and prophetic verse which ultimately alludes to the "Day of Judgment":
On this day the blessed words "But He is the Apostle of God, and the Seal of the Prophets" have found their consummation in the verse "The day when mankind shall stand before the Lord of the worlds."
This paragraph points to the intimate relationship between the epithet of the "Seal of the Prophets" and the eschatological and apocalyptical themes. The intimacy between the Adamic Cycle, the Prophetic Cycle, and the "Seal of the Prophets" can furthermore be seen in a passage of the Kitáb-i-Íqán where Bahá'u'lláh refer to "all the prophets, from Adam even to Muhammad, the 'seal'." Consequently, from the above cited passages, it is evident that although Bahá'u'lláh admits that Muhammed appropriately can be designated as the "Seal of the Prophets," he does not acknowledge the interpretation that the continuous succession of revelation is ended.
Concomitantly, Shoghi Effendi, on the one hand, says that the series of successive revelations was "starting with Adam and concluded by the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets," and yet, on the other hand, he also states that the advent of the Báb "at once signalized the termination of the 'Prophetic Cycle' and the inception of the 'Cycle of Fulfillment'." Earlier it was seen that Shoghi Effendi, while referring to the successive series of progressive revelations, also says that this series was "beginning with Adam and ending with the Báb." These statements may seem somewhat ambiguous, with respect to the ending of the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle, but in another context he says that:
[. . .] the rise of the Orb of Bahá'u'lláh's most sublime Revelation marking the consummation of the six thousand year cycle ushered in by Adam, glorified by all past prophets and sealed with the blood of the Author of the Babi Dispensation.
This paragraph clarifies the above indefinite and inconclusive lines in that Shoghi Effendi now indicates that the martyrdom of the Báb ("the blood of the Author of the Babi Dispensation") has sealed the Adamic Cycle. From the above statements by the Bahá'í-authors, it has been shown that it is only Muhammed who designated the "Seal of the Prophets" whereas the Báb never is associated with this title. Still, the Báb, rather than Muhammed, appears to be intimately connected with the ending of the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle. Thus, it can be understood that Muhammed is regarded as the last, or final, Manifestation of God within the Adamic or Prophetic cycle, whereas the Báb is seen as concluding, or sealing, this Cycle, while simultaneously inaugurating a new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle. The station of the Báb may in this sense be viewed as being a pivotal transition-point between two major cycles.
Above one could observe that Bahá'u'lláh referred to the term "Prophetic Cycle," but he never uses the term "Adamic Cycle". This term appears to be utilized only by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. Moreover, it is only the latter author who directly specifies that its duration of approximately 6000 years. This figure, however, is not be taken at face value as a historical starting-point of revelation, since Shoghi Effendi also states that the Adamic Cycle may be "stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world's recorded religious history." Moreover, in his answer to a question posed to him concerning the "Prophets that have preceded Adam," Bahá'u'lláh answers:
Know thou that the absence of any reference to them is no proof that they did not actually exist. That no records concerning them are now available, should be attributed to their extreme remoteness, as well as to the vast changes which the earth hath undergone since their time.
Bahá'u'lláh is obviously not arguing against the question and stating that Adam was the first Manifestation of God, but on the contrary, he seems to indirectly admit to the existence of Manifestations of God prior to Adam. Furthermore, it was previously seen that 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that there have been Manifestations of God "One thousand years ago, two hundred thousand years ago, one million years ago," and in this context of the cyclical scheme he states that:
[. . .] there where many universal cycles preceding this one in which we are living. They were consummated, completed and their traces obliterated. The divine and creative purpose in them was the evolution of spiritual man, just as in this cycle. The circle of existence is the same; it returns. The tree of life has ever borne the same heavenly fruit.
From the above stated excerpts, it is evident that universal cycles are not unique or exclusive phenomena, although they revolve at very extensive intervals of time. One can also notice in the passage above that the purpose of these cycles is the "evolution of spiritual man," which once again testifies to the progressive concept. Moreover, one may discern the organic analogy of these cycles with the metaphor of the "tree of life" which periodically produces the "same heavenly fruit."
In an earlier passage in this section, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that "We are in the cycle which began with Adam," and yet, in the immediate excerpt he indirectly states that "we are living" in a Universal Cycle. This seems contradictory, but it is possible that although the two cycles are seen as separate, they may also be seen as ultimately continuous. Yet, there are numerous texts which explicitly states that "we are living" in a Universal Cycle. For example, in an antecedent passage, 'Abdu'l-Bahá designated Bahá'u'lláh as the "supreme Manifestation" of this Universal Cycle, and in addition he labels this Universal Cycle as the "Cycle of Glory," the "cycle of the Blessed Beauty," the "cycle of Bahá'u'lláh," the "Bahá'í Cycle." In other contexts he says that:
This is the day of Bahá'u'lláh, the age of the Blessed Perfection, the cycle of the Greatest Name.
[. . .] this era is the era of Bahá'u'lláh, and this age is distinguished above all other ages.
[ . . . ] this period is the period of the Blessed Perfection, and this cycle is distinguished from all other cycles and epochs.
Earlier Bahá'u'lláh stated that "The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended," and from the lines above, one can see that 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses the terms "cycle," "day," "age," "era" or "period" of Bahá'u'lláh rather synonymously. Moreover, he says that "this age is distinguished above all other ages" or "cycles or epochs." Similarly, this theme of synonyms can also be found in another context where he says: "A year is the expression of a cycle (of the sun); but now is the beginning of a cycle of Reality, a New Cycle, a New Age, a New Century, a New Time and a New Year." In contrast with the Adamic Cycle, which is suppose to have been approximately 6000 years, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also states that the "magnitude of the Bahá'í cycle . . . must extend over a period of at least five hundred thousand years." The Bahá'í cycle is, consequently, seen as approximately a hundred times longer than the Prophetic cycle (See Appendix II).
Concomitantly, Shoghi Effendi contrast these "two universal prophetic cycles" with each other and states that the "Adamic Cycle" may be "stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world's recorded religious history" and that the "Bahá'í Cycle" is "destined to propel itself across the unborn reaches of time for a period of no less than five thousand centuries." The terms "two universal prophetic cycles" may perhaps be confusing here, since a distinction was made earlier between the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle and the Universal Cycle, and here Shoghi Effendi appears to treat them as being more or less equal. However, in other contexts he states that the "Bahá'í Revelation" is the "culmination of a prophetic cycle," and that Bahá'u'lláh is the Originator of a new 'Universal Cycle'."
It was also previously seen that Shoghi Effendi says: "The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh should indeed be regarded . . . as the culmination of a cycle, the final stage in a series of successive, of preliminary and Progressive Revelations." The phrase "final stage" may be perplexing, but elsewhere Shoghi Effendi says that "Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final." Thus, in the first context, directly addressing the Bahá'í-religion, he is referring to a the cyclical theme, whereas in the second context, addressing the theme of "Divine Revelation," he is maintaining that revelation is continuous and successive and not final. It is also significant that Shoghi Effendi above refers to the previous revelations as "preliminary," which is suggestive of a rather preparatory status for the Universal Cycle.
5. The Bahá'í Dispensation and the future Manifestations of God
A fifth approach which addresses the issues of finality of revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets" is where the Bahá'í authors point at either the "Bahá'í Dispensation," or the future Manifestations of God, which will subsequently appear. In just a few passages in his writings Bahá'u'lláh hints at this next Manifestation of God:
[. . . ] Him Who will be sent down unto you after Me . . . By those words which I have revealed, Myself is not intended, but rather He Who will come after Me.
Here Bahá'u'lláh clearly indicates that he does not claim to be the last, or final, Manifestation of God, but rather upholds that the succession of revelation continues. However, he also emphatically states that this event will not occur until the passing of at least one thousand years. 'Abdu'l-Bahá comments upon this claim and says that:
This is not a reference to the Universal Manifestation, for it is clearly set forth in the Holy Writings that centuries, nay thousands of years, must pass on to completion, before a Manifestation like unto this Manifestation shall appear again. It is possible, however, that after the completion of a full thousand years, certain Holy Beings will be empowered to deliver a Revelation: this, however, will not be through a Universal Manifestation.
This passage is in congruence with the passage above, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborated upon the theme of "universal cycles," and here one can see that the Universal Manifestation is distinguished from the ordinary Manifestation of God. Yet, such a Manifestation of God is capable and "empowered to deliver a Revelation." In addition, Shoghi Effendi, while contrasting the two cycles with each other, states that the Bahá'í revelation may be:
[ . . . ] hailed as the promise and crowning glory of past ages and centuries, as the consummation of all the Dispensations within the Adamic Cycle, inaugurating an era of at least a thousand years' duration, and a cycle destined to last no less than five thousand centuries, signalizing the end of the Prophetic Era and the beginning of the Era of Fulfillment.
Evidently the Bahá'í revelation is seen as the "consummation of all the Dispensations within the Adamic Cycle" and that this event, on the one hand, signalizes the "end of the Prophetic Era," it is, on the other hand, the "beginning of the Era of Fulfillment." Earlier it was observed that the duration of the Adamic Cycle, or the Prophetic Era, was estimated as 6000 years and here this cycle is contrasted with the Bahá'í Cycle (the Era of Fulfillment) which is suppose to continue for at least 500 000 years. But, in the last paragraph by Shoghi Effendi, one may also notify another numerical value of "a thousands years," and elsewhere he refers to this concept as the "millennium." Above it was also noticed that Bahá'u'lláh alluded to this number in the renewal of the "City of God," and that the appearance of a new Manifestation of God will occur after a thousand years.
In answering the relationship between the Bahá'í Cycle and the "era of at least a thousand years," Shoghi Effendi states the following:
Concerning your question relative to the duration of the Bahá'í Dispensation. There is no contradiction between Bahá'u'lláh's statement in the Iqan about the renewal of the City of God once every thousand years, and . . . that the Bahá'í cycle will extend over a period of at least 500,000 years. The apparent contradiction is due to the confusion of the terms cycle and dispensation. For while the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh will last for at least one thousand years, His Cycle will extend still farther, to at least 500,000 years. The Bahá'í cycle is, indeed, incomparable in its greatness. It includes not only the Prophets that will appear after Bahá'u'lláh, but all those who have preceded Him ever since Adam. These should, indeed, be viewed as constituting but preliminary stages leading gradually to the appearance of this supreme Manifestation of God.
Here Shoghi Effendi clearly makes a distinction between the "Bahá'í Dispensation" on the one hand, which is suppose to endure a thousand years, and the "Bahá'í cycle" which is suppose to continue for at least 500 000 years, on the other. Consequently, the Bahá'í Dispensation is considerably shorter and can thus be considered embodied within the Bahá'í Cycle as a "sub-cycle." Furthermore, one can observe that Prophets "will appear after Bahá'u'lláh," and elsewhere Shoghi Effendi refers to "successive Dispensations in the Five Thousand Century Bahá'í Cycle." Consequently, these "successive Dispensations" can be seen as sub-cycles within the Bahá'í Cycle as well.
In conclusion of the above mentioned approaches to the issues of finality of revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets," it should now be understood that all three Bahá'í-authors maintain that the Adamic, or Prophetic, Cycle has ended and that a new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle has been inaugurated. Consequently, from the latter two exoteric perspectives, the Bahá'í-authors defend that Muhammed is the "Seal of the Prophets," but interpret this title as being applicable only within the Prophetic Cycle, and not as the last, or final, Manifestation of God in the continuos succession of revelation. Moreover, it was stated that the Báb is designated as "sealing" the Prophetic Cycle, while at the same time ushering in the new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle.
This section has given support to the second hypothesis that issues like the "Seal of the Prophets" and finality of revelation are, according to the Bahá'í-authors, ultimately a matter of viewpoint and interpretation (esoteric/exoteric). Thus, the Bahá'í-authors upholds the that the "Seal of the Prophets" and the finality of revelation are valid from one specific point of view, but they prefer to interpret these issues within the concept of progressive revelation, especially within the cyclical scheme.
E. The Bahá'í Cycle and the concept of progress
In the preceding section, it was observed that all three Bahá'í-authors claim that the two major cycles the Bahá'í Cycle and Prophetic Cycle are distinguished and significantly different from each other. In this section the objective is not so much contrast the two major cycles, but rather to focus on the concept of progress in the contexts of the Bahá'í Cycle which includes the Bahá'í Dispensation.
Previously, while discussing the differences between the Manifestations of God and the concept of progress, one could observe a tendency of progress in two major dimensions, which were intimately and mutually interrelated: the religious, or revelatory, dimension and the human, or worldly, dimension. In the preceding section, it was seen that the Prophetic Cycle was described as "preliminary" and that the Bahá'í Cycle was depicted as a "culmination." Furthermore, when the two major cycles were compared to each other, the comparison did not seem to indicate a gradual change, or development, but rather a radical, or an exponential, phase-transition. There are a few sections in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh where he not only addresses the above stated cyclical scheme, but where he, in this context, also indicates a more radical theme to the concept of progressive revelation:
"Knowledge is twenty and seven letters. All that the Prophets have revealed are two letters thereof. No man thus far hath known more than these two letters. But when the Qá'im shall arise, He will cause the remaining twenty and five letters to be made manifest." Consider: He hath declared knowledge to consist of twenty and seven letters, and regarded all the prophets, from Adam even to Muhammad, the 'seal', as expounders of only two letters thereof. He also saith that the Qá'im will reveal all the remaining twenty and five letters. Behold from this utterance how great and lofty is His station! His rank excelleth that of all the prophets, and His revelation transcendeth the comprehension and understanding of all their chosen ones.
Here Bahá'u'lláh refers to some sources in the Islamic tradition. The twenty-seven letters alludes to the number of letters in the Arabic alphabet, and probably also refers to some mystical numerology. However, the important thing to notice here is the sentences which states that "All that the Prophets," in the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle, "have revealed are two letters thereof," but that the "Qá'im will reveal all the remaining twenty and five letters." This features two basic themes; first, that revelation of the Prophetic Cycle is regarded as incomplete (preliminary), and secondly, that the greater proportion of revelation is yet to be disclosed (or culminate) when the Qá'im arises. Further, this passage also puts the Qá'im in a rather unique position, or "station," since "His rank excelleth that of all the prophets." It is, however, not clear if this passage should be taken at face value, since it would be quite contrary and inconsistent to what was stated above, since it would logically imply that the future Manifestations of God would have nothing to reveal. An alternative explanation would be that it is rather the relative status of the different cycles which is compared here in that it designates the Qá'im such a superior station that his revelation even excels the revelation of all the other Manifestations of God combined. Another way to look at this statement is to compare the relative duration of the two cycles where the Prophetic Cycle is completely dwarfed by the Bahá'í Cycle (See Appendix II).
In this context Bahá'u'lláh further writes about the increased capacity for revelation and thus this passage may complement the one above in that the former discusses the revelatory dimension whereas the latter elucidates the human dimension:
The heights which, through the most gracious favor of God, mortal man can attain in this Day are as yet unrevealed to his sight. The world of being hath never had, nor doth it yet possess, the capacity for such a revelation. The day, however, is approaching when the potentialities of so great a favor will, by virtue of His behest, be manifested unto men.
Here the human dimension of revelation is clearly observed and it appears that the capacity for revelation will continue to increase. The second line testifies to this, since it relates to both the past ("hath never had"), and to the future ("nor doth it yet possess"). Consequently, the present capacity for revelation is on the one hand greater "in this Day" (i.e., in the Bahá'í Cycle) than in the past, and yet the "day . . . is approaching" when a greater potential of the human capacity for revelation will be disclosed.
Similarly, in comparing the two major cycles with each other, 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the Bahá'í Cycle as a "golden cycle," that "this cycle is distinguished from all other cycles and epochs," and that "this illumined age" is the "age of the progress of the world of humanity." Furthermore, it was shown in a preceding chapter that the measure of revelation was revealed in accordance to human capacity, but with regard to the Bahá'í Cycle 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that:
Know thou that the distinguished Individual of every age is endowed according to the perfections of His age. That Individual who in past ages was set above His fellows was gifted according to the virtues of His time. But in this age of splendours, this era of God, the preeminent Personage, the luminous Orb, the Chosen Individual will shine out with such perfections and such power as ultimately to dazzle the minds of every community and group.
'Abdu'l-Bahá does not say that the measure of revelation will be out of proportion to human receptivity, but he does state that the Universal Manifestation ("That Individual") will "dazzle the minds of every community and group." This certainly suggests that the measure of revelation will be dramatically intensified. In another passage he states this point more succinctly:
In cycles gone by, each one of the Manifestations of God hath had His own rank in the world of existence, and each hath represented a stage in the development of humanity. But the Manifestation of the Most Great Name . . . was an expression of the coming of age, the maturing of man's inmost reality in this world of being.
In this passage one is reminded of the intimacy and reciprocity between the revelatory and human dimensions. Thus, one can discern that each Manifestation of God would represent "a stage in the development of humanity," and that the crucial difference between this cycle, or age, with the former, is that humanity now is "coming of age." In another context 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that the Bahá'í Cycle is a "cycle of maturity and reformation." It was also mentioned earlier that 'Abdu'l-Bahá distinguished between a "material" and a "spiritual," or "divine civilization." In the next passage by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it is shown how the various themes of cycles, the coming of age of humanity, civilization, and the concept of progress concur:
From the standpoints of both material and spiritual civilization extraordinary progress and development will be witnessed. In this present cycle there will be an evolution in civilization unparalleled in the history of the world. The world of humanity has, therefore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reachest its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise in the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God that outworking Universal Spirit like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection.
In this excerpt the macro/microcosmos scheme is once again applied, since the evolution of the "world of humanity" (macrososmos) resembles the "individual human organism" (microcosmos). Further, humanity is described as entering a phase of "completeness and consummation," and progress will take place on all levels, individually as well as collectively. Another feature of this Universal Cycle is establishment of the "unity of all mankind". This was impossible in "cycles gone by," according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, since continents "remained widely divided." Consequently, he implies that this is possible in this age, due to the "material" progress of mankind. In addition, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá evidently suggest that the Bahá'í Cycle is a completely different cycle than the Prophetic Cycle, he still says: "Whatsoever is latent in the innermost of this holy Cycle shall gradually appear and be made manifest, for now is but the beginning of its growth, and the dayspring of the revelation of its signs." Thus, one may recognize the same gradual feature, which was observed in the inception of revelation in general, also is valid for the Bahá'í Cycle.
In like manner, Shoghi Effendi, comparing Bahá'u'lláh with the other Manifestations of God, says: "There are no Prophets, so far, in the same category as Bahá'u'lláh, as He culminates a great cycle begun with Adam." Moreover, he states that the Bahá'í Dispensation is a "Dispensation which posterity will recognize as the most glorious and momentous in the greatest cycle in the world's religious history," and that the Bahá'í Era is an "age which marks the opening of the most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle which the spiritual history of mankind has yet witnessed." In discussing the intimate and mutual interconnectedness between the revelatory and human dimensions, he further says that "this present age" is an age which is "infinitely more advanced, more receptive, and more insistent to receive an ampler measure of Divine Guidance than has hitherto been vouchsafed to mankind."
In the next passage one can also note that several of the previously discussed topics of progressive revelation converge:
The embryonic Faith, maturing three years after His [the Báb's] martyrdom, traversing the period of infancy in the course of the Heroic Age of the Faith is now steadily progressing towards maturity in the present Formative Age, destined to attain full stature in the Golden Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation. Lastly the Holy Seed of infinite preciousness, holding within itself incalculable potentialities representing the culmination of the centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity through the energies released by the series of progressive Revelations starting with Adam and concluded by the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets, marked by the successive appearance of the branches, leaves, buds, blossoms . . . whose radiance is now overspreading the surface of the globe during the present Formative Age, whose full splendor is destined in the course of future millenniums to suffuse the entire planet.
First, one may notice that Shoghi Effendi employs a variety of organic metaphors in describing the growth of the Bahá'í-religion. For example, he depicts it as "embryonic" at its inception and that it traverses a "period of infancy" and successive stages of growth, until it reaches the "full stature in the Golden Age." This process is further paralleled with the "centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity" which marks its "culmination." In turn, one may see that these processes also are coupled with the "series of progressive Revelations" and that this series also is identified with the Prophetic Cycle. Finally, the organic metaphors, employed above, also describe the succession of revelations as a gradual and consecutive unfoldment of "branches," "leaves," "buds," and finally "blossoms." More importantly, this sequential process is also delineated as progressive.
It is also possible to notice that Shoghi Effendi associate different "ages" (Heroic and Formative) or "epochs" within the Bahá'í Dispensation, and that its "full splendor" will only occur "in the course of future millenniums to suffuse the entire planet." He also refers to these "ages" as the "Iron Age" and, as was seen above, "The Golden Age" which is portrayed as an "age of fulfilment, fruition, attainment." Consequently, this process is also implied to be gradual and progressive.
Previously, it was understood that Shoghi Effendi described this evolutionary process of mankind as a process of "maturation," or as the "coming of age of the entire human race." In a preceding section, he also depicted the evolution of society as a sequential unification of families, tribes, city-states, and nations. However, nation-building is not conceived as the chief goal of the human society according to the Bahá'í-authors. On this theme Shoghi Effendi says:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.
In this excerpt nation building is rather seen as the final step towards "World unity," or the establishment of a "new World Order." It is also possible to note that this process is further associated with a "world growing to maturity." This new and more mature stage of humanity is depicted as a higher order of complexity in the social organization of mankind. These globalization-themes are more elaborately described by Shoghi Effendi in the next passage:
The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should . . . be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture--all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá'í Era--should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.
In the previous quotes by Shoghi Effendi, he said that the Bahá'í Cycle was the "culmination of the centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity," yet he now states that the establishment of a "world civilization and culture" is the "last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's collective life on this planet." In addition, he says that this is the "furthermost limits in the organisation of human society." Thus, when it comes to the level of organization of the planetary life, there seem to be a certain "ceiling-level," and yet, it is clear that the individual can "continue indefinitely to progress and develop."
Earlier it was observed that the various Manifestations of God who, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, were to arise after the Universal Manifestation, were suppose to come "under His shadow." Shoghi Effendi similarly says that:
After Bahá'u'lláh many Prophets will, no doubt appear, but they will be all under His shadow. Although they may abrogate the laws of the Dispensation, in accordance with the needs and requirements of the age in which they appear, they nevertheless draw their spiritual force from this mighty Revelation. The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh constitutes, indeed, the stage of maturity in the development of mankind. His appearance has released such spiritual forces which will continue to animate, for many long years to come, the world in its development. Whatever progress may be achieved in later ages after the unification of the whole human race is achieved will be but improvements in the machinery of the world. For the machinery itself has already been created by Bahá'u'lláh. The task of continually improving and perfecting this machinery is one which later Prophets will be called upon to achieve. They will move and work within the orbit of the Bahá'í cycle.
In this passage there are a couple of points to consider. First, one may discern that the future revelations within the Bahá'í Cycle will also be "in accordance with the needs and requirements of the age." Secondly, the Bahá'í-religion is clearly associated with the "stage of maturity in the development of mankind." Third, one may recognize that there will also be progress "in the later ages," but that this improvement will be "in the machinery of the world." Thus, although this "machinery" (World Civilization) may be achieved, there will still be the need to improve upon this world order, both on the individual and the collective levels, which suggests that there will be room for progress. This, Shoghi Effendi implies, is the task for the future Manifestations of God to achieve, but still, they are regarded to "move and work within the orbit of the Bahá'í cycle."
From the above cited passages it was possible to observe that Bahá'u'lláh, and the Bahá'í Cycle, clearly are set apart from both; the previous Manifestations of God and the Prophetic Cycle, and the future Manifestations of God who will appear within the Bahá'í Cycle. Thus, Shoghi Effendi exclaims that "Bahá'u'lláh is the greatest Manifestation to yet appear" and that the future Manifestations of God, within the Bahá'í Cycle, will be "under His shadow." Nevertheless, the Bahá'í-authors also clearly maintain, from an esoteric point of view (the station of essential unity), that "No distinction can be made amongst the Prophets in the sense that They all proceed from One Source, and are of One Essence." Their differences are rather seen from an exoteric point of view (station of distinction) that "Their [the Manifestations of God] stations and functions in this world are different."
In order to conclude the sections in the chapter on progressive revelation a final passage by Shoghi Effendi will suffice. This compact passage has previously has been cited in part, and it used here since it not only succinctly summarizes the concept of progressive revelation but, more importantly, contextualizes it with many of the various key terms and concepts surveyed and analyzed above:
The Revelation entrusted by the Almighty Ordainer to Bahá'u'lláh . . . has been endowed with such potentialities as are commensurate with the maturity of the human race--the crowning and most momentous stage in its evolution from infancy to manhood. The successive Founders of all past Religions Who, from time immemorial, have shed, with ever-increasing intensity, the splendor of one common Revelation at the various stages which have marked the advance of mankind towards maturity may thus, in a sense, be regarded as preliminary Manifestations, anticipating and paving the way for the advent of that Day of Days when the whole earth will have fructified and the tree of humanity will have yielded its destined fruit. Incontrovertible as is this truth, its challenging character should never be allowed to obscure the purpose, or distort the principle, underlying the utterances of Bahá'u'lláh--utterances that have established for all time the absolute oneness of all the Prophets, Himself included, whether belonging to the past or to the future. Though the mission of the Prophets preceding Bahá'u'lláh may be viewed in that light, though the measure of Divine Revelation with which each has been entrusted must, as a result of this process of evolution, necessarily differ, their common origin, their essential unity, their identity of purpose, should at no time and under no circumstances be misapprehended or denied. That all the Messengers of God should be regarded as "abiding in the same Tabernacle, soaring in the same Heaven, seated upon the same Throne, uttering the same Speech, and proclaiming the same Faith" must, however much we may extol the measure of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to mankind at this crowning stage of its evolution, remain the unalterable foundation and central tenet of Bahá'í belief. Any variations in the splendor which each of these Manifestations of the Light of God has shed upon the world should be ascribed not to any inherent superiority involved in the essential character of any one of them, but rather to the progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness, which mankind, in its progress towards maturity, has invariably manifested.
Below some key terms and concepts of this lengthy passage will be highlighted and enumerated, but in an order which is adopted to the overall structural analysis of this thesis:
Together, these points consider various key terms, metaphors, concepts, structures, and dimensions of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, but especially in their relation to the concept of progressive revelation. Since one of the objectives in this thesis was to both directly, and indirectly, show that this concept was a central principle of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, one can in the above passage notice that Shoghi Effendi states: 1) that "all the Messengers of God should be regarded as" essentially one (esoteric dimension), and 2) that the "measure of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to mankind at this crowning stage of its evolution" differs (exoteric dimension). Consequently, these two dimensions (esoteric/exoteric) are two crucial perspectives to the analysis of the concept of progressive revelation, and taken together they "remain," according to Shoghi Effendi, "the unalterable foundation and central tenet of Bahá'í belief."
This chapter has presented both direct and indirect evidence to support the third hypothesis that progressive revelation is a central concept, principle, or theme, of the Bahá'í-religion and that it consists both of an esoteric (texts of identification) and an exoteric dimension (texts of elaboration). It has further given support to the fourth hypothesis that progressive revelation is an evolutionary concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism and which interprets various revelations (religions) as essentially interconnected, cyclical, and progressive.
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