Century of Light
WITH THE PASSING OF 'ABDU'L-BAHÁ, the Apostolic Age of the Cause reached its end. The Divine intervention that had begun seventy-seven years earlier on the night the Báb declared His mission to Mullá Husayn — and 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself was born — had completed its work. It had been, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, "a period whose splendours no victories in this or any future age, however brilliant, can rival...." Ahead lay the thousand or thousands of years in which the potentialities that this creative force has planted in human consciousness will gradually unfold.
Contemplation of so great a juncture in the history of civilization brings into sharp focus the Figure whose nature and role have been unique in this six-thousand-year process. Bahá'u'lláh has called 'Abdu'l-Bahá "the Mystery of God". Shoghi Effendi has described Him as "the Centre and Pivot" of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant, the "perfect Exemplar" of the teachings of the Revelation of God for the age of human maturity, and "the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity". No phenomenon in any way comparable to His appearance had accompanied any of the Divine Revelations that had given birth to the other great religious systems in recorded history; all of these had been essentially stages preparing humanity for its coming of age. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was Bahá'u'lláh's supreme Creation, the One that made
everything else possible. An understanding of this truth moved a perceptive American Bahá'í to write:
Now a message from God must be delivered, and there was no mankind to hear this message. Therefore, God gave the world 'Abdu'lBahá. 'Abdu'l-Bahá received the message of Bahá'u'lláh on behalf of the human race. He heard the voice of God; He was inspired by the spirit; He attained complete consciousness and awareness of the meaning of this message, and He pledged the human race to respond to the voice of God. ...to me that is the Covenant — that there was on this earth some one who could be a representative of an as yet uncreated race. There were only tribes, families, creeds, classes, etc., but there was no man except 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as man, took to Himself the message of Bahá'u'lláh and promised God that He would bring the people into the oneness of mankind, and create a humanity that could be the vehicle for the laws of God.
Beginning His mission as a prisoner of a brutal, ignorant regime and relentlessly assailed by faithless brothers who ultimately sought His death, the Master single-handedly created of the Persian Bahá'í community a brilliant demonstration of the social development the Cause could produce, inspired the expansion of the Faith across the Orient, raised up communities of devoted believers throughout the West, designed a Plan for the world-wide expansion of the Cause, won the respect and admiration of leaders of thought wherever His influence reached, and provided Bahá'u'lláh's followers throughout the world with a vast body of authoritative guidance as to the intent of the Faith's laws and teachings. On the slopes of Mount Carmel He erected with enormous pain and difficulty the Shrine housing the mortal remains of the martyred Báb, the focal point of the processes by which the life of our planet will gradually be organized. Through it all, in every least occasion of a life filled with cares and demands of every sort — a life exposed at all times to examination by enemy and friend alike — He ensured that posterity will possess that treasure of which poets, philosophers and mystics have dreamed all down the ages, a demonstration of unshadowed human perfection.
And finally, it was 'Abdu'l-Bahá who made certain that the Divine Order conceived by Bahá'u'lláh for the unification of the human race and the institution of justice in humanity's collective life would be provided with the means required to realize its Founder's purpose. For unity to exist among human beings — at even the simplest level — two fundamental conditions must pertain. Those involved must first of all be in some agreement about the nature of reality as it affects their relationships with one another and with the phenomenal world. They must, secondly, give assent to some recognized and authoritative means by which decisions will be taken that affect their association with one another and that determine their collective goals.
Unity is not, that is, merely a condition resulting from a sense of mutual goodwill and common purpose, however profound and sincerely held such sentiments may be, any more than an organism is a product of some fortuitous and amorphous association of various elements. Unity is a phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by the impotence of such efforts. However handicapped it often has been by ignorance and perversity, this force has been the primary influence driving the advancement of civilization, generating legal codes, social and political institutions, artistic works, technological achievements without end, moral breakthroughs, material prosperity, and long periods of public peace whose afterglow lived in the memories of subsequent generations as imagined "golden ages".
Through the Revelation of God to humanity's coming of age, the full potentialities of this creative force have at last been released and the means necessary to the realization of the Divine purpose have been instituted. In His Will and Testament, which Shoghi Effendi has described as the "Charter" of the Administrative Order, 'Abdu'l-Bahá set out in detail the nature and role of the twin institutions that are His appointed Successors and whose complementary functions ensure the unity of the Bahá'í Cause and the achievement of its mission throughout the Dispensation, the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. He laid particularly strong emphasis on the authority thus conveyed:
Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God....
Shoghi Effendi has explained the significance of this extraordinary Text:
The Administrative Order which this historic Document has established, it should be noted, is, by virtue of its origin and character, unique in the annals of the world's religious systems. No Prophet before Bahá'u'lláh, it can be confidently asserted,... has established, authoritatively and in writing, anything comparable to the Administrative Order which the authorized Interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings has instituted, an Order which ... must and will, in a manner unparalleled in any previous religion, safeguard from schism the Faith from which it has sprung.
Before the reading and promulgation of the Will and Testament, the great majority of the members of the Faith had assumed that the next stage in the evolution of the Cause would be the election of the Universal House of Justice, the institution founded by Bahá'u'lláh Himself in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas as the governing body of the Bahá'í world. An important fact for present-day Bahá'ís to understand is that prior to this point the concept of Guardianship was unknown to the Bahá'í community. There was wide-spread rejoicing at the news of the unique distinction that the Master had conferred on Shoghi Effendi and the continuing link with the Founders of the Faith that his role represented. Until then, however, there had been no appreciation of Bahá'u'lláh's intent that such an institution should emerge or of the interpretive function it would have to perform — a function whose vital importance has since become readily apparent and which hindsight makes clear was implicit in certain of His Writings.
What was entirely beyond the imagination of anyone then living, whether faithful or ill-disposed, was the transformation in the life of the Cause that the Will of the Master set in motion. "Were ye to know what will come to pass after Me," 'Abdu'l-Bahá had declared, "surely would ye pray that my end be hastened"?
 Horace Holley, Religion for Mankind (London: George Ronald, 1956), pp. 243-244.
[52 Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 11.
 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, op. cit., p. 326.
 Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1998), p. 15.