He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Letter of Bahá'u'lláh to Pope Pius IX

Recently, I was finally able to get a decent copy of an English translation of some of the writings of the Bahá'í faith.  I realize that it's not common for Americans to order a book of Bahá'í writing, and folks may wonder, "Why would I do that?"

I haven't studied the Bahá'í faith is an much depth as Buddhism or Islam or various traditions under the umbrella of Hinduism, and I had a desire to at least lessen my ignorance about it.

I opened it up and quickly learned a few things.  First, I learned that Bahá'u'lláh wrote a fair number of letters to people of prominence.  He wrote to Pope Pius IXTsar Alexander II, Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, and the famous Sultan of Persia, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar.

I was a little surprised to see how prominently Bahá'u'lláh's letter to the Pope at the time was featured in the volume.  I wasn't sure why the Pope would head up that list in a Bahá'í collection, and I wasn't sure why the Pope was included among a list of very powerful secular rulers of empires.

"O POPE! Rend the veils asunder! He who is the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, hath come overshadowed with clouds (Rev. 1:7) – the prophecy hath been fulfilled on the part of God, the Almighty, the Unconstrained. It is incumbent upon thee, therefore to dispel the clouds and proclaim Baha'u'llah, the splendor of the Authority of thy Lord; then ascend into the Kingdom of His names and attributes. Thus hath the Supreme Pen command thee, on the part of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Most Powerful.
Verily, He hath come again from heaven another time, even as He came down from it the first time (Jn. 3:13 KJV); beware lest thou oppose Him even as the Pharisees opposed Him the first time without evidence or proof. On His right hand floweth the living waters of grace and on His left hand the choice sweet Wine of Justice; whilst before Him march the angels of Paradise bearing the Divine Standard of His signs (Is. 11:11). Beware lest any name debar thee from God, the Creator of the earth and heaven. Leave thou the creatures and the world behind thee, and turn towards thy Lord, through Whom all the horizons of the earth hath been illumined. We have adorned the Kingdom with the ornament of Our name, El-Abha – The Brightest of Lights (Jn. 3:19-21); thus hath the matter been decided on the part of God, the Creator of all things. Beware lest your theologies and vain imaginations withhold thee after the Sun of Truth hath shone forth above the horizon of the Explanation of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Beneficent. Dost thou dwell in palaces, while the King of Revelation (Rev. 6:16) liveth in the most desolate of abodes? Leave palaces to those who desire them behind, then advance to the Kingdom with spirituality and fragrance."

A little historical context helped me in that regard.  It seems that Bahá'u'lláh or someone close to him was at least somewhat familiar with the political troubles in Europe at the time, given the people he chose to write to with warnings and exhortations.

It might look like Bahá'u'lláh was seeing the future in some supernatural way, given that an important part of his warning to the Pope Pius IX turned out to be prophetic-sounding after the events in Rome.  He advises the Pope to leave behind his palaces, which would have seemed like very good advice to many people, given that the Pope's armies and city were conquered not too long after the letter was written.

But there were decades of problems leading up to Italy's conquest of the Papal territory, and it would have taken little insight from any non-prophet to predict that getting out of town was a good move for the Pope who prized his own safety first.

I also think it's unlikely that Bahá'u'lláh was actually concerned about giving such advice anyway.  His purpose seemed to be primarily theological, given that Bahá'u'lláh opens his letter by exhorting the Pope to abandon his Christian theology and accept the Bahá'í faith.  He goes on more in that vein later in the letter:

"Beware lest theologies of men prevent thee from accepting the King of the known, or the world distract thee from Him who created it and set it upon its course. Arise in the name of thy Lord, the God of Mercy, amidst the peoples of the earth, and seize thou the Cup of life with the hands of confidence. First drink thou therefrom, and proffer it then to such as turn toward it amongst the peoples of all faiths. Thus hath the Moon of Explanation shone forth from the horizon of wisdom and evidence.
Rend asunder the veils of man-made theology lest they prevent thee from the court of Him Who is My Name, the Everlasting, the Self-Subsistent. Call thou to remembrance Him Who was the Spirit - Jesus - Who, when He came, the most learned of His age pronounced judgement against Him in His own country, whilst he who was only a fisherman believed in Him. Take heed, then, ye men of understanding heart! Thou, in truth, art one of the suns of the heaven of His names. Guard thyself, lest darkness spread its veils over thee, and fold thee away from His light. Look at that which has been sent down in the Bible on the part of thy Lord, the Almighty, the Generous.
Say: O assembly of learned men, withhold your pens, for the sound of the Supreme Pen hath been raised between the earth and the heaven. Set aside that which ye have and accept what We have explained unto thee with power and authority. That Hour which was hidden in the knowledge of God hath come, whereupon all the atoms of the earth have proclaimed: “The Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9-10, 22) is Come seated upon David's throne! Hasten unto Him with submissiveness and penitence. O people of the earth!” Say: Lo, I made Myself your ransom for the sake of your lives (1 Tim. 2:5, 6), but when I come unto you another time (Heb. 9:28) I see you fleeing from Me (Rev. 6:16); therefore doth the eye of My compassion weep over My people; fear God, O ye people of observation."

Like those in the Islamic tradition before him, Bahá'u'lláh viewed Christian theology as corrupted by men, but based on a genuine revelation from Allah.  Also like them, he wanted those who had been granted access to the corrupted theologies to leave behind what they had been taught and to proclaim the pure and true revelation.

Bahá'u'lláh continues, as he goes on in the letter, to warn that Christian worship is actually a barrier between the Christian and Allah, and that being well-educated has not kept them from falling into error.

"Consider those who opposed the Son, when He came unto them with sovereignty and power. How many the Pharisees who were waiting to behold Him, and were lamenting over their separation from Him! And yet, when the fragrance of His coming was wafted over them, and His beauty was unveiled, they turned aside from Him and disputed with Him. Thus have we expounded unto thee that which was written in the Bible and Holy Scriptures. None save a very few, who were destitute of any power amongst men, turned towards His face. And yet today every man endowed with power and invested with sovereignty prideth himself on His Name! In like manner, consider how numerous, in these days, are the monks who, in My Name, have secluded themselves in their churches, and who, when the appointed time was fulfilled, and We unveiled Our beauty, knew Us not, though they call upon Me at eventide and at dawn. We see them clinging to My Name—Jesus—yet veiled from Myself. Verily, this is a strange marvel (2 Thess. 2:11 KJV). Say: Beware lest your devotions preventeth you from meeting the One to Whom you are Devoted, and your worship debar you from the One Who is the Object of all Worship.
Rend asunder the veils of vain-imaginings and false expectation. Verily this is your Lord the Omnipotent, the Omniscient! He hath come for the life of the world, life abundantly, and to unite all who dwell upon the whole surface of the earth. Come ye, O people, to the Rising-place of Revelation and tarry not even for a moment. Do ye read the Gospel of the New Testament and yet still do not acknowledge the All-Glorious Lord? This beseemeth you not, O concourse of learned men!
Say: Should ye deny this Revelation, by what proof have ye believed in God? Produce it! Thus the matter hath been revealed (2 Thess. 2:3 KJV) by the Supreme Pen on the part of your Lord El-Abha, in this Epistle from whose horizon the Light has shone. How many servants are there whose actions and deeds (Rev. 20:12,13; 22:12) became veils for themselves whereby they were withheld (Rev. 21:27) from coming nearer to God, the Sender of Breath."

This passage might make it seem like Bahá'u'lláh was claiming to be Jesus Himself, God's Son who was to return at the end of time, but it's important to remember that in Bahá'í cosmology, religion is renewed periodically by Manifestations of God, people who are sent by God precisely for that purpose.

While Bahá'u'lláh seemed to view himself as one of the Manifestations of God, there were many others who were also viewed that way in his religious tradition, including Krishna, Zoroaster, Jesus, and the Buddha.  He did not view any religion's revelatory claims as final, though they might be legitimately a partial revelation from Allah in terms of their moral content and theology.

Bahá'u'lláh expected that there would be more people like him to come, that Allah would send more messengers to humanity in other times and places.  He was exhorting the Pope and all those he led to abandon their attachments to their current way of understanding religion and accept the latest revelation that he was providing as Bahá'u'lláh.

"O concourse of monks! The fragrances of the All-Merciful have wafted over all creation. Happy the man that hath forsaken his desires, and taken fast hold of guidance. Verily he is one of those who have attained unto the presence of God in this Day and gazing upon all the inhabitants of the earth seeth them frightened and terrorized (Isaiah 2:10, 19) save those chosen by God, He who layeth low the necks of men.
Do ye adorn your bodies while the garment of God is intensely red with the blood of hatred by that which came upon Him on the part of the people of willful blindness? Come out of your abodes and bid the people to enter into the Kingdom of God, the King of the Day of Judgment. The Word which the Son concealed is made manifest. It hath been sent down in the form of the human temple in this day. Blessed be the Lord Who is the Father! (Is. 9:6, 7) He, verily, is come unto the nations in His Most Great Majesty. Turn your faces towards Him, O concourse of the righteous!
O people of all religions! We see you are wandering erringly in the waterless desert of loss; ye are the fish of this Sea, why do ye withhold yourselves from your Sustainer? Verily, the Sea is surging before your faces; hasten unto Him from all regions. This is the day whereon the Rock (Peter) crieth out and shouteth, and celebrateth the praise of its Lord, the All-Possessing, the Most High, saying: “Lo! The Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled!” This is the Word which was preserved behind the veil of might, and when the promised time came, it shone forth from the horizon of the Primal Will with manifest signs."

The renunciation of wealth, even of rich garments, continues to be emphasized as the letter continues.  Bahá'u'lláh tells the members of religious orders to leave their cloisters, monasteries, abbeys, and priories so that they can proclaim the Kingdom of God to all the people.

As before, he sees their religious attachments as keeping them from God, and abandoning their current religion as the means to begin reaching God.

"My body hath borne imprisonment that your souls may be released from bondage, and We have consented to be abased that ye may be exalted. Follow the Lord of glory and dominion, and not every ungodly oppressor. My body longeth for the cross, and Mine head awaiteth the thrust of the spear, in the path of the All-Merciful, that the world may be purged from its transgressions. Thus the Sun of Wisdom hath shone forth from the horizon of the command of Him Who is the King of all names and attributes.
The people of the Qur'án have risen against Us, and tormented Us with such a torment that the Holy Spirit lamented, and the thunder roared out, and the eyes of the clouds wept over Us. From amongst the unbelievers some imagined that afflictions could withholdeth Baha from fulfilling that which God the Creator of All Things hath Willed. Say unto them: No, by Him who causeth the rains to fall, nothing withholdeth Him from the mention of His Lord.
By the Righteousness of God! Even though they burn Him on the earth, verily He will lift up His head in the midst of the sea, and will cry: “Verily, He is God of whatsoever is in the heaven and the earth!” And if they cast Him into a darksome pit, they will find Him seated on earth's loftiest heights calling aloud to all mankind: ''Lo, the Desire of the World is come in His majesty, His sovereignty, His transcendent dominion!'' And if He be buried beneath the depths of the earth, His Spirit soaring to the apex of heaven shall peal the summons: ''Behold ye the coming of Baha with the Kingdom of God, the Most Holy, the Gracious, the All-Powerful!'' And though they shed His blood, every drop thereof shall cry out and invoke God by this Name, whereby the perfume of His raiment is diffused throughout all regions."

This portion of the letter seems to be referring to both the persecutions faced by the fledgling Bahá'í community and Bahá'u'lláh himself, who was imprisoned in Tehran.  Being a religious leader has its risks, and facing capture and imprisonment and harsh treatment is certainly something that Bahá'u'lláh shares in common with Jesus, which may be why he uses the imagery of the crucifixion throughout this passage.

It's really a beautifully-written passage, and while it's not the most poetic religious work I've read, it does have a nice poetic element to it.  We really see this poetry as we get into the direct appeal to the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff.

"Though while threatened under the swords of the enemies, We call the people unto God, the Creator of the earth and heaven, and We assist Him so greatly that We could not be hindered either by the hosts of the oppressors nor the influence of the liars. Say, O people of the earth: Crush to pieces the idols of imagination, by the name of your Lord, the Mighty, the Benevolent, then advance unto Him in this Day, which God hath made the King of Days.
O Supreme Pontiff! Incline thine ear unto that which the Fashioner of mouldering bones counselleth thee, as voiced by Him Who is His Most Great Name. Sell all the embellished ornaments thou dost possess, and expend them in the path of God, Who causeth the night to return upon the day, and the day to return upon the night. Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings, and emerge from thy habitation, with thy face set towards the Kingdom, and, detached from the world, then speak forth the praises of thy Lord betwixt earth and heaven. Thus hath bidden thee He Who is the Possessor of Names, on the part of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Knowing. Exhort thou the kings and say: ''Deal equitably with men. Beware lest ye transgress the bounds fixed in the Book.'' This indeed becometh thee. Beware lest thou appropriate unto thyself the things of the world and the riches thereof. Leave them unto such as desire them, and cleave unto that which hath been enjoined upon thee by Him Who is the Lord of creation. Should any one come unto thee with the whole treasures of the earth, be as thy Lord hath been: turn not thy sight toward them. Thus hath the Tongue of Revelation uttered that which God hath made the ornament of the Book of Renovation.
Consider the pearl! Verily, its luster is in itself, but if thou coverest it with silk it assuredly veileth the beauty and qualities thereof. Such is man, his nobility is in his virtues, and not in that which covereth him, and not in toys and childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). Know, then, that thy true adornment is the Love of God and thy devotion to naught else save Him, and not to the allurements and luxuries of the world which thou hast in thy possession: leave them to those who desire them and come to God, who causeth the rivers to flow."

The exhortation to sell all the property and liturgical garments in the Papal State and live a life of personal asceticism as a public figure would not be out of place in any Protestant's letter to any Pope, but it is Bahá'u'lláh who is making it this time.

That said, Bahá'u'lláh tries to differentiate himself from the average person who writes the Pope to advise the Pontiff as to the best course of action.

"All that was said by the tongue of the Son was spoken in proverbs (parables and figures), whereas He who speaketh today speaks plainly and does not use them (Jn. 16:25 KJV). Beware not to take hold of the cord of vain-imagination and withhold thyself from the plain truth of what was ordained in the Kingdom of God, the Mighty, the Bounteous. Should the inebriation of the wine of My verses seize thee, and thou determinest to present thyself before the throne of thy Lord, the Creator of earth and heaven, make My love thy vesture, and thy shield remembrance of Me, and thy provision reliance upon God, the Revealer of all power.
O people of the Son! We have sent unto you once again John the Baptist (in the person of the Bab as My precursor). Verily, He crieth in the wilderness of the Bayan: “O Peoples of the world! Clear your eyes, for the day of vision and meeting the Promised One is now!” “O people of the Gospel, prepare the way, for the Day whereon the Glory of the Lord (Baha'u'llah) shall come (Mk. 8:38), hath drawn nigh. Prepare yourselves to enter His Kingdom.” Thus was the matter decreed on the part of God, Who causes Dawn to Break.
Hearken unto the strains which the Dove of Eternity hath sung upon the Branches of the Divine Lote Tree and which is vocal with the melody: “O peoples of the earth, We have sent unto you Him who was named John to baptize you with water that your bodies might be purified for the Appearance of the Messiah, the Christ. He in turn hath purified you with the Fire of Love and with the Water of the Spirit in preparation for These Days whereon the All-Merciful hath willed to cleanse your bodies with the Water of Life, by the hands of His loving-kindness. This is indeed the Father, whereof Isaiah gave you tidings (Isaiah 9:6, 7 and ch. 2 and 11), and the Comforter (John 16:7-15 KJV) from whom Jesus hath received His Covenant.” O concourse of learned people! Open your eyes that you may see your Lord sitting on the Throne (1 Chon. 29:23) in Glory and Might."
Bahá'u'lláh makes the claim that his predecessor the Bab is John the Baptist returned to the Earth, once again preparing the way for a Manifestation of God.  His frequent references to the New Testament and the Old Testament of the Bible may be meant to persuade the Pope, but I am very doubtful that it did anything to persuade.

I suspect that the Pope would be very suspicious indeed of anyone from Persia claiming that he was providing a new revelation from Allah and acting as though he were equal to Jesus in authority.

"Say, O people of all Religions! Be not of those who followed the Pharisees and thus they were veiled from the Messiah, the Christ. Verily, they are in forgetfulness and error. The Ancient Beauty hath come in the Most Great Name and hath desired to admit all the people into His Most Holy Kingdom, that the pure in heart may see the Kingdom of God before His Face (Mt. 5:8). Hasten unto Him and follow not every denying infidel. And if the eye of any one oppose him in this, it behooveth him to pluck it out (Mk. 9:47). Thus was it written by the Pen of the Ancient of Days as bidden by Him Who is the Lord of all creation. He hath verily come again a second time for your deliverance and salvation (Heb. 9:28). O people of creation, will ye kill Him yet once more, He Who desireth to grant you eternal Life? Fear God, O people of discernment.
O people! Hearken unto that which is revealed to you on the part of thy Lord in El-Abha. Turn unto God, the Lord of this life, and the life to come. Thus commandeth you the Rising-place of the Sun of Inspiration on the part of the Creator of all human kind. We have created you for the light, and We do not like to leave you for the fire. Come out, O people, therefore from darkness through this Sun of Reality which has shone forth from the horizon of the grace of God. Then advance unto Him with purified hearts and assured souls, seeing eyes and bright faces. This is that whereby the King of Fate admonisheth you, from the region of the Most Great Outlook, that ye may be attracted by the Voice to the Kingdom of His Names.
Blessed is he who remains under the provisions of the Covenant, and woe unto him who breaketh the promise and denieth God, the Knower of secrets. Say: Lo! This is the Day of Grace! Come ye that I may make you kings of the realm of My Kingdom (Rev. 1:6). If ye obey Me, you will see that which We have promised you, and I will make you the friends of My Soul in the realm of My Majesty (Is. ch. 35) and the Companions of My Beauty in the heaven of My Power forevermore. And if ye disobey Me (Deut. ch. 28), I will be patient through My Mercy, perchance that ye will awake and arise from the couch of heedlessness. Thus hath My forbearance preceded you. Fear God and follow not those who have turned away from the Face while they invoke His Name at the dawn-tide and in the night season too."

Oddly for a letter to the Pope, Bahá'u'lláh addresses people of all religions and follows it with very specific religious language that Christians and Jews would readily understand, but might be rather obscure to the average Hindu, Buddhist, or even a devout Muslim who had not read the Bible.

You may notice that many of the exhortations of Bahá'u'lláh are reiterations of passages from the Tanakh, the Christian New Testament writings, or the Qur'an.  In this case, the part about remaining under the Covenant reminded me of a Quranic passage regarding the Jews as covenant-breakers.

"Verily, the Harvest Day hath come and all things are separated one from another. That which was chosen is stored in the vessels of justice, and into the fire was cast what was fitted for it. Thus hath decided thy Lord, the Mighty, the Beloved, in this Promised Day. Verily He ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth. There is no God but He, the Mighty, the Subduer! The Sifter did not wish but to store every good thing for Myself. He did not speak but to inform you of My Cause and guide you into the Path of Him by whose mention all the sacred Books of the world are adorned.
Say: O concourse of Christians! We have, on a previous occasion, revealed Ourself unto you, and ye recognized Me not. This is yet another occasion vouchsafed unto you. This is the Day of God; turn ye unto Him. Verily He hath come down from heaven as He came down from heaven the first time (Jn. 3:13 KJV) and desired to shelter you under the shadow of His Mercy. Verily, He is the Exalted, the Mighty, the Defender. The Beloved One loveth not that ye be consumed with the fire of your desires. Were ye to be shut out as by a veil from Him, this would be for no other reason than your own waywardness and ignorance. Ye make mention of Me, and know Me not. Ye call upon Me, and are heedless of My Revelation and of My Appearance, after I have come unto you from the heaven of prophecy with My Most Great Glory. Burn away the veils in My Name through the Power of My Dominion that ye may find a way to the Lord.
The King of Glory continually proclaims from the horizon of the Pavilion of Might and Greatness saying: “O people of the Gospel! They who were not in the Kingdom have now entered it, whilst We behold you, in this day, tarrying at the gate. Rend the veils asunder by the power of your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Bounteous, and enter, then, in My Name My Kingdom. Thus biddeth you He Who desireth for you everlasting life. Verily, He is powerful over all things. Blessed are they who have known the light and hastened toward it. Behold! They are in the Kingdom, they eat and drink with the elect."
The various titles which Bahá'u'lláh gives to Christians throughout the letter are interesting.  From "People of the Son" to "People of the Gospel" he emphasizes the continuity of his proclamations with the existing Christian religious traditions while calling the faithful Christians out of them.

Then he goes on to give them another title, which is "Children of the Kingdom."  He tells Christians that they are in darkness, and they need to return to the Light.

"We behold you, O children of the Kingdom, in darkness. This, verily, beseemeth you not. Are ye, in the face of the Light (Jn. 3:19-21), fearful because of your deeds? Direct yourselves towards Him. Verily, thy Glorious Lord hath honored His country by His coming, blessed His lands with His footsteps. Thus We teach you plainly the path to Him (Jn.14:6) whereof Jesus hath prophesied. I, verily, bear witness for him even as he hath borne witness unto Me. Verily, He said: "Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." In this day, however, We say: “Come ye after Me, that We may make you to become quickeners of mankind.” Thus has the decree been ordained in this Epistle written by the Pen of Command."

Finally, Bahá'u'lláh gets to the crux of the matter.  He makes it clear that the new revelation has priority, and that he is the new authority.  His letter to the Pope was, from the perspective of Bahá'u'lláh, a letter to a leader of the Church whose deposit of faith had been emptied, a guardian of a flame that had long since been snuffed out by error and corruption.

Bahá'u'lláh saw himself as a Manifestation of God writing an epistle to the lowly Servant of the Servants of God.  He understood himself as the Pen of Command, made by the Creator's hand to send these messages.

I'm not sure what Pope Pius IX thought of the letter, or if he even had the chance to read it.  He was rather busy at the time with many problems.  Nonetheless, I think that he might have been more interested by Bahá'u'lláh's account of his vision of the Maid of Heaven.

That might have been a more compelling place to start the letter to a Pope famous for his Mariology.

The above is a picture of my copy of The Summons of the Lord of Hosts.

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