Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Baha Concerning Arius
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1998-03-17
M E M O R A N D U M
To: The Universal House of Justice
From: Research Department
Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá Concerning Arius
In its letter of 17 December 1997 to the Universal House of Justice, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States seeks guidance concerning how to respond to a question raised by Mr. ____, whose letter of 24 November 1997 is enclosed by the National Assembly.
In his letter, Mr. ____ cites the following passage from a Tablet by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which is translated by Shoghi Effendi and published in "Star of the West":
Consider thou, at the time of Christ and after Him, how many childish attempts have been made by different persons! What claims they have advanced and what a multitude have they gathered around themselves! Even Arius attracted to himself a million and a half followers and strove and endeavoured to sow the seeds of sedition in the Cause of Christ. But eventually the sea of Christ surged and cast out all the gathering froth and nothing was left behind save the everlasting malediction. [*Star of the West, vol. 10, no. 5, p. 96]Mr. ____ expresses his understanding, drawn from available non-Bahá'í reference material, concerning the reason for Arius's excommunication from the early Christian Church. He states that Arius was a supporter of the unity of God and opposed to the Church's idea of the Trinity, and that his position on this issue appears to be "precisely in accordance with Bahá'í teachings". This being the case, Mr. ____ enquires about the validity of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statement, about the accuracy of the report in "Star of the West" and about Shoghi Effendi's translation.
Arius is referred to in several of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets. We attach a compilation of extracts from these Tablets * - the only references to Arius and to his activities we have, to date, been able to locate in the Bahá'í Teachings. It can be seen that these references confirm the assessment of Arius given in the Tablet published in "Star of the West". From a careful reading of this material, it is clear that the main subject of these Tablets is not Arius himself, nor his doctrinal views, but the question of Covenant-breaking and dissension, and the importance of firmness in the Covenant in the Bahá'í community. `Abdu'l-Bahá's references to the history of Christianity and to Arius seem merely to be given as examples to Western believers of what happened in the past and of how the Covenant of Christ preserved His Faith, even in the face of such a major challenge as that presented by Arius.
As to the doctrines of Arianism, it is difficult at this time and in light of the paucity of documents remaining, to ascertain exactly what Arius taught, but in "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" we find the following description:
ARIANISM. The principal heresy which denied the true Divinity of Jesus Christ, so-called after its author, *Arius (q.v.).It would, perhaps, be difficult to maintain that the teaching of Arius is closer to that of the Bahá'í Revelation than that of the Church in light of the Bahá'í Teachings about the nature of the Manifestations of God, of `Abdu'l-Bahá's elucidation of the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the following words of the Guardian:
As to the position of Christianity, let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that it s divine origin is unconditionally acknowledged, that the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ are fearlessly asserted, that the divine inspiration of the Gospel is fully recognized, that the reality of the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary is confessed, and the primacy of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, is upheld and defended. ("The Promised Day is Come" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, l980), p. 109However that may be, the principal theme of `Abdu'l-Bahá's authoritative references is not the nature of the teachings of Arius but the damage caused by his attempt to raise a following which divided the Church in defiance of the Covenant of Christ, and the ability of that Covenant to maintain the essential unity of the Church even in the face of so formidable an opponent.
No doubt in the future Bahá'í scholars will be able to examine this question in greater detail and draw many illuminating conclusions.