Thursday, April 17, 2008

Transcendence and Manifestation

Any examination of salvific action, of any sort of interpenetration of divine and human action, must proceed from its theological basis in divine transcendence. This is the logical order expressed in the opening paragraphs of the second part of the Kitab-i-Iqan, the most well-known, concise, and perhaps most comprehensive explanation Baha'u'llah offers of these themes. It is these passages that provide an effective starting point for pursuing salvific action throughout Baha'ullah's writings, from Baghdad to Bahji.

Baha'u'llah argues that God in His essence is absolutely different from His creatures. Corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress are human forms that do not apply to Him. He standeth exalted beyond all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. All creation and its accompanying order has come into being through His Primal Will. Because He is the one who decides upon the form and content of the law He is not bound by it. But knowledge is only possible where such law is binding. For this reason, God is invisible to His creatures as their creator even though He is the one that makes their vision possible. The unreciprocality of this arrangement is well stated in the Quranic verse Baha'u'llah quotes, no vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision. He is the Subtle the All Perceiving. (6.103) The transcendence of God rules out any sort of direct one-to-one encounter between the Creator and creation at the Day of Judgment. (K104 p.90)

The manifestation of Divine Sovereignty must in some way be from creation-to-creation so as to remain visible and knowable, but at the same time remain in the necessary downward motion of Creator-to-creation. Baha'u'llah lays out His doctrine of the Manifestation of God in the tension between these two dynamics. There must then be a mediator who represents both the Creator and creation. Baha'u'llah writes,

The door of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace...hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence. (KI106 p.91)

The divinely ordained Founders of Religion are made to stand at the threshold of the visible and the invisible so as to mediate between God and other humans. They are the mouthpiece of God in human history and the pivots on which turns His manifest sovereignty. Baha'u'llah uses the metaphor of a mirror reflecting the light of the sun to explain the mediating role played by such souls. The central concept undergirding this doctrine is Baha'u'llah's understanding of the names and attributes of God.

Within the metaphor the essences of God and the human correspond respectively to sun and the mirror. The names and attributes of God correspond to the light that originates in the former and is reflected in the latter. All knowledge, dominion, and love come from God, the unknowable essence. But they can be made manifest in this world making them the content of manifestation and the bridge that crosses the otherwise unbridgeable void between the Creator and creation. This is the model Baha'u'llah adopts for explaining how a transcendent god manifests His will within His creation.

Baha'u'llah outlines three levels at which the names and attributes of God are made manifest. The first of which is all things. He writes, within every atom are enchrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light. Methinks but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. (KI107 p.92) The second of which is humanity, who not only manifests the names and attributes to a supreme degree but is also capable of manifesting all of them. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God...All these names and attributes are applicable to him. Baha'u'llah supports these assertions using a number of Quranic verses and Islamic traditions, including the saying He hath known God who hath known himself. After repeating the capacities of all things and humanity, He explains a third and final level, the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. (KI109 p.94-95) Whereas all names and attributes are potentially revealed in man, they are actually revealed in the Manifestations. Furthermore, all else besides these Manifestations live by they operation of their Will, and move, and have their being through the outpourings of their grace, all of this in the noble form of the human temple. So pervasive a power and so universal an influence is all potentially revealed in the spiritual form given to all humanity by God.

Your Cat


Jason said...

Nice post. I am interested in your take on where Abdu'l Baha fits into this heirarchy: "Whereas all names and attributes are potentially revealed in man, they are actually revealed in the Manifestations". My understanding is that all the attributes are also revealed in Abdu'l Baha, who is not a manifestation. The difference is that he does not posses the creative word. In other words he doesn't manifest, he reflects.

Mr. Cat said...

Abdu'l Baha would be a perfect reflection of Baha'u'llah. His manifestation of attributes is derived from Baha'u'llah rather than from the transcendent essence of God.

As far as I've seen manifestation and reflection are roughly synonymous in the Writings. Manifestation is a term with a long history of awaiting the manifestation of the Hidden Imam. While reflection invokes the mirror imagery upon which rests the Shaykhi, Babi, and Baha'i understanding of manifestation.