The Archeology of the Kingdom of God: Diving a Bit Deeper into a Baha'i Approach to Metaphysics

Ahanu

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In an effort to help improve and deepen our dialogue with @Thomas and @RJM, I would like to share a few quotes about Baha'u'llah's approach to metaphysics from The Archeology of the Kingdom of God, which is an English translation by Peter Terry of a French work by Jean-Marc Lepain. Because it is a translation, the wording for me is a little strange in places, but the writer is clearly knowledgeable. Let's start off with a comparison between Baha'u'llah's approach and the general approach of classical metaphysicians. We'll go elsewhere and explore further from there. :)

1. It looks like where we start our approach differs dramatically. Classical metaphysics begins with God and a descent through the hierarchy of Being. Baha'u'llah's approach works the other way around: "It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being."

"While classical metaphysics begin with God to descend thereafter through the degrees of the hierarchy of Being, from the world of essences to that of individuals, the question which is found at the heart of the philosophy of Baha’u’llah is an inquest upon the nature of man. It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being. This explains that the philosophy of Ideas or of Forms appropriate to Platonism or Aristotelianism is replaced by a philosophy of values. It is in the function of the meaning which is given to human life that one can define the finality of the physical reality of the universe."

More on the reasoning behind this thinking here:

"For Baha’u’llah, there are two complementary ways of apprehending the world: the one rational and scientific which exists from our exteriority, and the other intuitive and mystical which exists from our interiority. But, in order to take this second path, man must first explore and understand his interiority. Furthermore, in that which concerns God and the spiritual worlds in general, the way of interiority alone exists. This is why Baha’u’llah, after the knowledge of self, assigns as finality to human existence “to know and love God”. He affirms that this is not only the finality of all human existence but that it is also the finality of all creation, for it is impossible to conceive of a divine creation without a consciousness which knows his Creator. This is what we have called “the anthropic principle” of Baha’u’llah. This principle overturns all of philosophy and had multiple and fundamental implications which are far from being explored. It is this principle which explains that the reality of the universe appears to be structured in its functioning by a law of intelligibility which the universe shares with the human spirit. It is this principle which also implicates the necessity of a noetic and epistemological link between the creature and the Creator which is at the source of the Baha’i hermeneutic. From that also follows that Being cannot be at the center of the metaphysic, and even of the ontology, of Baha’u’llah."

2. "Being is no longer at the center of metaphysics" in Baha'i thought.

"The principle which is the resume of the anthropology of Baha’u’llah, and which constitutes the key to the vault of his teaching is contained in the affirmation that the nature of man is spiritual. The fundamental philosophical problem which this principle poses consists then in understanding what the word “spiritual” signifies. We can say that this question is the object of the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah, for the concept of the spiritual refers to a world of transcendental values, intermediary values between God and His creation, the existence of which one must explain. Now we understand why the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah is not presented according to the mode to which the classical systems have habituated us. Being is no longer at the center of metaphysics; it is replaced by the spirit and the consciousness."


3. Old terms are redefined by Baha'u'llah as a result of this approach.

"Whenever Baha’u’llah takes up the mystical language of the Arabo-Persian tradition it is always in a metaphorical sense and not in order to approve the dogmas which were generated therefrom. This is the case with all the vocabulary of the Ishraqi theophany, such as ishraq (auroral light), mashriq(orient, dawn), tajalli (radiance, effulgence, emanation), zuhur (manifestation, appearance), mazhar(place of manifestation), ufuq (horizons), and so forth. These words are, in the work of Baha’u’llah, redirected from their original meaning to express new ideas in the midst of a philosophy that denies all dogmatism and all systematic philosophical theorization. It is in the spirit of this transformation that we must examine the role and the place of the terminology of the divine worlds in the work of Baha’u’llah.

It is also important to emphasize that Baha’u’llah broke with the entire philosophical tradition of Islam. He rejects the ontology of Ibn Sina which furnished that tradition with its principal structure over the course of several centuries. He repudiates the theory of the creative Imagination which Ibn Sina, Ibn al-'Arabi and al-Suhrawardi developed. He also rejects existential monism which, since al-Hallaj, seemed to be the only form of thought definitely opposed to Islamic orthodoxy. He dares to affirm the eternity of the creation and reduces to allegorical symbols the greater part of the Quranic dogmas, including the resurrection, the final judgment, the appearance face to face with God, the angels, the Imams, and so on. The profundity of his thought manifests itself above all in its limpidity which contrasts it with the extreme sophistication of the thought systems of his time.

One does not find in the work of Baha’u’llah a single exposition sui generis of an ontological or metaphysical theory. This does not mean to say that Baha’u’llah did not have any conception of his own in this domain. But this conception is implicit. The only way to rediscover it is to become impregnated with his work, to study it deeply and to meditate thereon. Then abysses of wisdom reveal themselves. This refusal of all theorization by Baha’u’llah is fundamental. The Manifestations of God do not come to construct systems. The elaboration of a knowing discourse is the province of theologians, mystics and philosophers who follow the Manifestations in each Dispensation.

In the Writings of Baha’u’llah, it is often necessary to compare one text with several others in order to release the complete image of his thought. This brevity exemplifies the great reserve which Baha’u’llah leaves to be penetrated in the case of metaphysical questions. This reserve exists for two reasons. The first refers to the concept which Baha’u’llah has of his own mission. A Manifestation of God is not a professor of philosophy, no more than he is a medical doctor, a biologist, a physicist or other specialist. The Manifestation of God does not come to reveal to us the secrets of the universe, but to give us a moral and spiritual teaching susceptible of contributing to the spiritual expansion of man. The spiritual blooming of man is found in detachment, in the service of humanity and in teaching the Cause of God, not in metaphysical speculation.

However, the brevity of the discourses consecrated by Baha’u’llah to the divine worlds, and the evident reserve with which these are treated, should not make us believe that the subject has little importance in his eyes. He habitually employs this concise and stripped down manner of writing which delivers only the essential. One could even say that the absence of literary ornament always characterizes the most important passages of his writings. The “Most Holy Book” (Kitab-i-Aqdas) is the very model of brevity and concision. The establishment of Houses of Justice, signally the foundation of the Baha’i Administrative Order, is treated in less than three lines and none of his essential points receives a long elaboration. What is fundamental in the exposition of Baha’u’llah in the “Tablet of All Food” is the link that he establishes between the question of the divine worlds and a spiritual hermeneutic (ta'wil), in which he indicates that a certain food (understood as spiritual in nature) corresponds to each world, and that at the same time the word “food” itself is susceptible to receiving an interpretation particular to its function in each of these worlds, so that in fact the term contains innumerable significances."
 
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4. Avoiding "a fundamental stumbling-block of Neoplatonism."

Some have been disquieted when they discovered that all reference to the angelic hierarchies so popular in Shi'i writings is absent from the writings of Baha’u’llah. In such references they see not only the concretization of the hierarchical structure of the world, but they regard the angels as the incarnations of the hermeneutic function and consider the angelic hierarchies as a necessary safeguard against the destruction of theosophy by Western rationality. Gilbert Durand writes: “These angels, which we find in other Oriental traditions are good…the very criterion of a symbolic ontology. They are symbols of the symbolic function itself which is—like them!—the mediator between the transcendence of the signified and the world manifested in concrete, incarnate signs, which signs thereby become symbols for it.”

To tie the destiny of theosophy to an angelology derives from a deformation of perspective resulting from the immense influence of Avicenna (Ibn Sina), be it in Latin or Arabic, and more widely of the systems of Neoplatonic thought that appropriated the hierarchy, linked to a concept of process to which we will return, to frame a system in explanation of the world. In the next several Chapters of this book, we will examine the relations between the thought of Baha’u’llah and Neoplatonism. This will lead us to affirm that the important points of contact which are attested by both of these two visions of the world derive from the fact that the one and the other are both philosophies of emanation. Notwithstanding this, Baha’u’llah excludes any system of emanation by procession, while offering us very original descriptions of the engenderment of being and the hierarchization of the worlds. For the thought of Baha’u’llah aims at avoiding a fundamental stumbling-block of Neoplatonism which consists in regarding matter and the sensible world as a sort of degeneration of the spiritual and the intelligible, entailing a downfall of the spirit, and with it the downfall of man. The problem, which we will treat subsequently in a more complete manner, consists in explaining why God did not create a purely spiritual world, and why He imposed upon the human being this sojourn of the spirit in matter, with the retinue of sufferings that accompany it. Christian theologians, adopting the perspective of Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus), resolved this problem through the dogma of original sin. Islamic theologians (mutakalimun) remained closer to the Neoplatonism of Plotinus and of Proclus as most Muslim theologians imagined that the procession of the Spirit, bringing about the engenderment of successive hypostases, led to a weakening of theoriginal emanation resulting in its imprisonment in matter. Baha’u’llah, by eliminating all reference to the fall, and in showing that matter is one of the ways in which the Spirit evolves and a means that the Spirit employs in order to effect its expansion and diversification, considerably modifies the meaning of the traditional hierarchies in the universe and thus renders the problem of the angelologies secondary. However to understand the significance of the concept of hierarchy in the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah, we must further clarify the role of the angelic hierarchies in the Avicennian systems.

Antoine Faivre expresses the same fears as Gilbert Durand regarding the disappearance of the angelic hierarchies, and is more precise regarding the functions attributed to these hierarchies. In the 14th century in the West the great disturbance of Western theosophy took place under the increasing influence of nominalism and of Latinized Averroism. For Faivre, the primary consequence of the introduction of Averroism, namely the disappearance of these angelic hierarchies had as its secondary effect of bringing about the disappearance of spiritual hermeneutic, the foundation of the theosophical complementarity of the exoteric and the esoteric. He writes notably that the cosmology of Ibn Rushd “ends in destroying a part of the Avicennian angelology, that of the intermediary worlds which represent the “angeli” or “Animae coelestis”, the domain of Malakut, of the World of autonomous Images perceived in themselves by the active imagination. In posing a fundamental homology between “Anima coelestis” and “Anima humana”, Avicennism taught the existence of an instrumental Intelligence, “dator formarum” ramified in a plurality of possible intellects. This also indicates, as traditional esotericism teaches, that our intellect is related to a supra-individual source of light and of knowledge.”

Here we are encountering a fear that the disappearance of these hierarchies brings about the disappearance of ta'wil, and thus provokes a rupture between the esoteric and the exoteric. There is close link between the destiny of ta'wil and that of esotericism in the philosophy of Ibn Sina (Avicenna). He also points out that the “animae coelestis” possess active imagination in a pure and perfect state, and that man is also capable of exercising this faculty, no matter how imperfectly, because of the relationship he can have with these angelic or intellective hierarchies. Their disappearance, in Averroes [Ibn Rushd] and in Averroism, is represented by the reducing of the Imaginal to the status of “simple imaginary.” This is squarely in the realm of Avicennism, and it is not difficult to see that the positions that are presented here were strongly influenced by Henri Corbin. He regarded the disappearance of Christian Platonism and of Latin Avicennism under the influence of Averroism and of Orthodox Scholasticism as a catastrophe for Western thought. Notwithstanding this, he had the lucidity to recognize that a synthesis between Christianity and Avicennism was to some degree impossible. In effect, because of the dogma of the Trinity, it was impossible in Christian theology to identify the instrumental Intelligence with the Holy Spirit, as was accomplished by Suhrawardi, and thereby to develop a true “prophetic philosophy". Corbin reminds us that this instrumental Intelligence is…

“…the tenth in the hierarchy of the Cherubim or pure Intelligence separated (Angeli intellectuales), and this hierarchy are doubled by the secondary hierarchy of the Angels, which are the motivating souls of the celestial spheres; at every degree of these hierarchies, in every habitation of the hierarchy of being, are formed between these ones and the others many couples or syzygies”.

Corbin recalls the role of these soul-angels as the motor-force of the celestial spheres, then refers to their role as supports of the active Imagination:

“…they are even the Imagination in a pure state…They are to perfection the Angels of this intermediary world in which the prophetic inspirations and theophanic visions take place; their world is in itself the world of symbols and of symbolic knowings…As for Intelligence or the Holy Spirit, it is from it that our souls emanate; it is at the same time the existentiatrix and the illuminatrix. All knowledge and all reminiscence are an illumination projected by it upon the soul. By it, the individual human is attached directly to the celestial Pleroma, without needing the mediation of a magister or of an ecclesiastic reality…”

For Corbin, the mediation of the angelic hierarchies replaces all terrestrial mediations, and this is of course opposed to Christian dogma, which sees in the ecclesiastical hierarchy the earthly reflection of the celestial hierarchies, from whence comes this “fear of the angel” that is found in traditional Scholasticism. The “fear of the angel” brings about the degeneration of spiritual symbolism into simple allegory, and the reduction of hermeneutic to exegetical commentary. Beyond that, for Corbin, only the existence of these hierarchies is capable of guaranteeing the spiritual autonomy of the individual and making possible “the prophetic psychology upon which the spirit of symbolic exegesis depends”459, resulting not in a simple philosophy of the spirit, but in “a theosophy of the Holy Spirit”. Averroes certainly did not reject the angelic hierarchies, but he stripped them of their mediatory role, and in his Aristotelian critique of Neoplatonism he rejected the theory of Emanation. This resulted in the materialization of human intelligence and the corporalization of the soul.

The question that we must pose is whether we must so closely link the fate of metaphysics and theosophy as a whole with Avicennism. We find here a question regarding the true relationship between tradition and Revelation. The reader who will have followed us up to now will perfectly understand why Baha’i philosophy is altogether detached from this debate between Avicennism and Averroism. It does not derive from the same metaphysical presuppositions and is affirmed more in the form of an ontology of the spirit, while remaining a philosophy of emanation.

We must nevertheless examine the preoccupations of such a system. If we were to make a detailed list of the functions that the angelic hierarchies are supposed to assume in the Avicennian system, we will find that we have no difficulty whatsoever in identifying these functions in the hierarchy of the divine worlds of Baha’u’llah. This hierarchy of the divine worlds is thus clearly substituted for the angelic hierarchies of the Islamo-Platonic systems such as we find in Ibn Sina, Ibn al-'Arabi, al-Suhrawardi, the Ishraqiyyun and the School of Isfahan. It assumes the same hermeneutic, theosophical and metaphysical functions. This is a theme that we will develop further.

The translation of the angelic hierarchies into a hierarchy representing ontological modes is not without philosophical consequences and these merit exploration. First we must ask about the meaning of the resurgence of Avicennism in contemporary Western philosophical thought, a resurgence which is altogether curious after so many centuries of dormancy, and which is perhaps not a stranger to the influence of Heidegger and to his attempt to give to ontology a predominant role in philosophy. This resurgence unquestionably translates a new thirst for spirituality, and a desire to reconnect with sources and ancient tradition. Secondly, we may ask if this modern Avicennism is not disloyal to historical Avicennism. We may even suspect that certain of its contemporary defenders are making their mark by developing a philosophy of immanence foreign both to the spirit of Christianity and to that of Islam. For to reduce the Holy Spirit to the instrumental Intellect, is in a certain fashion to cut its connection to God and to render it an element among many others, quasi-autonomous in a celestial mechanism that obeys a law of necessity. This concept is very different from the transcendence affirmed by all the great religions and emphatically by Baha’u’llah as well. This tendency is however coherent with the whole spiritualist movement of our epoch which adheres to a philosophy of immanence in which the idea of God is emptied of its contents. This development responds to a profound need, which is that of affirming the autonomy of the subject. We have noted this tendency in all of the authors cited. Corbin clearly affirms that the existence of an instrumental Intelligence to which the soul of man can be related is a condition of his liberty and assures his autonomy on the psychological plan— in establishing a metaphysic of prophetic and imaginal liberty, and on the social plan in becoming free of any need for temporal mediation or of an ecclesiastic magister. One can not affirm more clearly than this that spirituality cannot be lived except on the individual plan, and that any search for spirituality which would take the form of a collective movement, would lose it authenticity. Again, we must repeat that this confuses the principle of individuation with the principle of spiritualization and substitutes the one for the other. Baha’u’llah, taking up again the great concepts of Christian spirituality, affirms the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order. This does not mean that this reflection is effected to such an extent that its movement must lead to a spiritual brigading. Conscious of the problem, Baha’u’llah has removed all of the ecclesiastical hierarchies, the priesthood and other human intermediaries, from the spiritual path. But this does not mean that he leaves their role empty. He has founded his magister upon the notion of “covenant” or “alliance”, representing first and foremost the relation of fidelity and intimate adhesion that each believer must establish with the divine Manifestation. He has wished that this relation of fidelity and of intimate adhesion be broadened to include the depositories of this covenant (mithaq) and of this alliance ('ahd), which are the Institutions that his writings have engendered. At the crowning apex is the Universal House of Justice, the guardian of his writings, the supreme legislature, the primary purpose of which is to translate the spiritual values and divine laws articulated by Baha’u’llah into norms that enable the celestial order to be clearly reflected in the terrestrial order. He put in place an Institution which resembles not the Roman Pontificate, nor the Imamat, nor the caliphate, and from which emanates a permanent authority, that will shelter his community of faith from schisms and divisions, the like of which have so torn up the religions of the past.

The third danger which the modern neo-Avicennism represents, after the loss of transcendence and the reduction of the process of spiritualization to a process of individuation, seems to us to come from confusing theosophical illumination with prophetic inspiration. The illumination of the soul which results from gnosis has nothing to do with prophetic revelation because prophetic revelation can not be made an expression of the Imaginal World. If theosophical illumination is carried out in the world of Malakut, prophetic inspiration comes from Jabarut, from the world of Revelation and of Command ('alam-i-amr). The one and the other cannot ever be on the same existential level. Man will always remain in submission to the law of God. It will always be impossible for him to become the equal of the Prophet. The product of his active Imagination only has value if his spirit is detached and purified from vain imaginations, and if his interior being is transformed through the influence of the divine Word. The active Imagination must always remain in submission to the control of the divine Word. It is thus clear that man and the Prophet are different both in nature and in status.This process should not however be regarded as inherently opposed to Avicennism. On the contrarywe can demonstrate that more than one of the its objectives is at the heart of the concerns and objectives of Baha’u’llah. Avicennism had, as one of its ambitions, the affirmation of the autonomy of the subject in the context of a spiritual movement. We have demonstrated how this objective was attained in the teaching of Baha’u’llah. All the functions of the Avicennian angelology are preserved in the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah, commencing with the symbolic function."
 
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Thank you

@Ahanu this is intense stuff and is definitely more @Thomas's territory than mine.
It will take some reading ;)
 
Baha’u’llah, taking up again the great concepts of Christian spirituality, affirms the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order.

I'm not too sure this is a necessary concept of Christian spirituality? Often Divine law seems at direct odds with natural law? And anyway, have you not just said Baha'u'llah proposes the opposite?
"While classical metaphysics begin with God to descend thereafter through the degrees of the hierarchy of Being, from the world of essences to that of individuals, the question which is found at the heart of the philosophy of Baha’u’llah is an inquest upon the nature of man. It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being

Baha’u’llah has removed all of the ecclesiastical hierarchies, the priesthood and other human intermediaries, from the spiritual path. But this does not mean that he leaves their role empty. He has founded his magister upon the notion of “covenant” or “alliance”, representing first and foremost the relation of fidelity and intimate adhesion that each believer must establish with the divine Manifestation.

Therefore, while professing to be inclusive of other faiths, Baha'u'llah brings it all down to a covenant of fidelity towards himself (the Manifestation) and his writings -- regardless that other often very ancient faiths might not see things his way?

(edited)
 
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5. How Baha'u'llah's "trichotomous" psychology solves the pitfalls of the Greek Church Fathers.

"The modality of the union of the soul and the body is a question that is found at the heart of all Christian Scholasticism, whereas Muslim Scholasticism seems to have been little concerned with this problem.

We have seen that the Fathers of the Church considered this union to be of two substances, the one material and the other spiritual. This superposition of substances posed many problems which Thomas thought himself able to resolve by saying that the soul is the form of the body, with all the consequences which that imposes. Christian Scholasticism always wanted the union of the soul and the body to be of substance, on the one hand because of the dogma of the bodily resurrection, and on the other hand because to set aside a union of substance led directly to the soul being considered an accident of the body; which became easy as soon as the soul was deprived of its autonomy and when it was made the seat of consciousness, of thought and of sensations.

To now understand the fashion in which Baha’u’llah resolves the problem, we must first make some clarifications in terminology. Scholasticism speaks of “substance” where we are used to speaking of “essence” and where Baha’u’llah speaks of “reality” (haqiqat). Shoghi Effendi says “essential reality.” The word “substance” (ousia) comes from Aristotle, and has a sense fairly close to that of essence. Aristotle defines substance as “that which is not the predicate of a subject, but of which other things are predicates”. A little later, he adds that in a second sense, substance can be defined as “the immanent cause of the existence of the beings of a nature such that they are not affirmed of a subject”. Substance is thus none other than an essence considered as immanent to a subject and constituting its limit and its quiddity. The primal substance (prote ousia) is the individual identical to the essence (to ti esti), in this sense that the essence is that which permits one to pass from the individual to the universal. In Scholasticism, Thomas refines these definitions and gave them a more systematic compass. In particular he made of the quiddity the nature existing in a corporeal nature as object of the intellect. These terms have their exact counterpart in Muslim scholasticism and we will see, when we arrive at his “Commentary on the Hidden Treasure”, that ‘Abdu’l-Baha also employed this terminology. For this reason, it is not without usefulness here to introduce this vocabulary.

According to this approach, one can give a substance to every level of reality. The soul is a substance, the body is a substance, but we are also obligated to give to the atoms which compose the body a substance independent of the body, so that man becomes an entanglement of substances. This difficulty was already perceived by Aristotle who spoke of a “multitude” of substances. It is to avoid this difficulty that Thomas posited the unity of the substance in the human composition by making the soul the substantial form which can be neither a substance nor an essence for form is not a reality in itself, but an intellectual reality ('aqli) which does not exist independently from the spirit of man. At the minimum, this is what we think we can deduce from his system of thought and it is found confirmed in the “Commentary on the Hidden Treasure” of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

The soul must be an essence, that is, a reality which transcends the body, not an immanent reality like the substantial form. So how are we to avoid having the human whole become a confusion of essences? It is here that Baha’u’llah envisions a radical solution, totally coherent with his system, which doubtless would have struck with terror, at an epoch in which men were burned at the stake for less than that, our Scholastic theologians shut up in their scriptorium. He reduces the body to a simple accident of the soul.

It is here that we see the reappearance of the spiritual hierarchies and the divine worlds. We can speak in the Thomist sense of the essence of man or of the essence of the atoms of the body, because these essences are intelligible realities: but these essences do not have the same ontological modality. They are not in the same world. The soul belongs to Malakut, which makes it a spiritual reality (haqiqat), while the essence (jawhar) of the atoms belongs to the world of Mulk, and this is nothing but an intelligible reality. A spiritual reality cannot be linked in substance to a material reality, even through its essence. The link which exists must be other than substantial. For Baha’u’llah, it is transparent. The body is a mirror which must be illumined by the light of the soul. The soul is reflected in it but does not descend into it. Such is the nature of their relationship without the intervention of any substance. But we must not forget that in this transparent theology it is the image which, in projecting itself, causes the mirror to appear.

Let us note that this conception of the soul maintains the transcendental character of the essence, with the existence of the individual being considered the first reality. Thus the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah escapes the terrible antinomy of Platonism and Peripatetism which has weighted down Western philosophy like death. Henceforth, nominalism is no more to be feared, for the existence of individual subjects is affirmed in transcendence.

In summary, the soul is a spiritual reality which is transcendental in its relation to the body—which is an accident thereof—and with which it carries on a transparent relation which is the only relationship possible between two realities of different ontological degrees."



Preceding this, our author gives a brief recap of Christian approaches to the soul. I will include some of that here for easy reference:

"It can be shown that from the Greek Fathers up until Descartes there is a perfect line of continuity. Their incapacity to place sensation, in a satisfactory manner, in the soul would transport Western psychology to the slope of materialism, which would result in the negation of the spirituality of the spirit.

The psychology of Baha’u’llah avoids this peril because it is trichotomous. We describe as trichotomous a psychology that distinguishes in the whole human not two entities (dichotomy) such as the soul and the body, but three entities, that is to say, the soul, the spirit and the body. We have seen in the preceding chapter how this trichotomy is established in the writings of Baha’u’llah. It now remains to see the philosophical consequences thereof.

In founding his psychology upon trichotomy, Baha’u’llah is faithful to a long tradition. The psychology of the Bible as well as that of the Qur'an is clearly trichotomous and we seen traces thereof even in St. Paul. It can thus seem astonishing that this doctrine was totally condemned by Western Christianity, and since the Council of Calcedonia. One must without doubt see in this a tragic misunderstanding whereby the Hellenized (Western) Church mistook trichotomy as conforming to the categories of Greek thought while the Churches of the East remained faithful to the trichotomous Judaic teaching.

The TANAKH distinguishes three elements in the human composite: nefesh, neshamah and ruah. However, the same difficulties which exist in Arabic also exist in Hebrew for distinguishing these terms from each other. It does not seem that these distinctions are intrinsic to Semitic languages, or that their nature is purely linguistic, but it seems that they were imposed at a distant time in the past by means of a true psychological reflection. All these terms evoke the breath.

Nefesh represents in the TANAKH the vital spirit. It is common to man and to the animals. As a principle of life, nefesh is sometimes associated with blood. It dies with the body. Nevertheless, nefesh is not reducible to a simple biological principle. It embodies an important psychological aspect. Certain Scriptural verses make of it the seat of thoughts, of sentiments, of knowledge and science. It is sometimes judged negatively, as responsible for the passions, and sometimes considered in its positive aspect, as a carrier of wisdom.

Ruah is like nefesh a breath, but it is a divine breath because it is the breath which God breathed into the nostrils of Adam in order to confer life upon him. Ruah distinguishes man from the animal. In Arabic, there are many other terms which designate the elements of the whole human. These terms are probably survivals from an epoch in which the psychical unity of man had not yet been perceived. Neshamah is hard to distinguish from nefesh and from ruah, with which it is interchangeable. It is also a vital breath principle of life. Levav signifies “heart”. It is the seat of the sentiments, good or bad, of thoughts and resolutions. Moreover, in the wisdom literature, these expressions seem to have been used above all for their metaphorical value.

The Christian translators translated nefesh with psyche in Greek and anima in Latin. Ruah was habitually rendered as pneuma in Greek and spiritus in Latin. As for Neshamah, it was generally translated by pnoe in Greek and spiraculum in Latin. Here we see the first difficulty, for pneuma is neither the equivalent of spiritus in Latin, nor of Ruah in Hebrew, and psyche is certainly not the equivalent of anima or of nefesh. The sliding of meaning is thus inevitable. These semantic slidings explain why we do not find in the Western languages a vocabulary adequate to describe the psychology of Baha’u’llah.

In the Writings of the Greek Church Fathers, psyche was the word chosen to designate the soul of the deceased, as the eternal principle which survives this life. This gave rise to many exegetical and doctrinal contradictions, because this word was thought from the beginning to translate nefesh, which is a mortal principle. To this first difficulty was added the fact that the Greek Nouswas introduced in a totally independent manner to designate a reality which is not actually found in the thought of either the Old and or the New Testament. This word, in the terminology of the Fathers of the Church, designated the Spirit in general, but also the thought of man. It was rendered into Latin sometimes as Sensus and sometimes as intellectus. The rare use of the word Nous in the Septuagint served as the basis for a neo-platonic interpretation of the Bible by affirming the equivalence of the Biblical Nous and the Plotinian Nous. This word, generally rendered into English as “intellect” or “intelligence” and in Arabic by “'aql”, also designated Reason, from which came a new source of misunderstandings.

The earliest Fathers of the Church and the first Christian exegetes, who did not know Hebrew, were thus faced with an anomalous vocabulary for which they had entirely lost the key. The distinction, actually fairly fluid, between a principle of the bodily life (nefesh) and a principle of spiritual life (ruah), completely escaped them, while it was evident to them that the thought of man was identical to his soul (psyche) as was his soul identical with the principle of life. The Greek Fathers saw a contradiction in the fact that nefesh could be the seat of a consciousness independent of the psyche, the author of thought, and principle of spiritual operations.

The Christian doctrine of the spirituality of the soul took three centuries to be established. It was naturally to Plato and Aristotle that the Fathers turned as they sought to illuminate the Sacred Scriptures while all the while being conscious that neither the one nor the other had a doctrine compatible with Christianity.

To the semantic difficulties were added conceptual difficulties. The Greek Fathers, and following them the Church of the West, would prove themselves incapable of thinking of the soul in any other way than in the category of substance. They were thus obliged to distinguish between two types of substances, the bodily substances and the spiritual substances. But in making soul a substance, one runs the risk of making it corporeal. This is notably the case with Tertullian, who stated that the soul is a body. This opinion was rejected by most of the Fathers, but they nevertheless considered that the soul had a reach, and that this reach coincided with the human body.

The Epistle to Diogenes affirms that “the soul permeates all the members of the body…” Irenaeus wrote that “the souls have the form of the body they receive, they adapt themselves as the water to the vase”. Certain Fathers would find this image to be too fluid and would say that the relation of the soul to the body is that of frozen water in a pail.

The Fathers of the Church did not completely ignore the trichotomy of the human whole as it is found in the Judaic tradition. Many passages of Scripture are so manifestly trichotomic that one must accommodate them. Justin tried to resolve the problem in saying that the soul (psyche) is vivified by the spirit (pneuma). In fact, Justin wanted above all to demonstrate that the soul does not possess life in itself, that its immortality is not an immortality by nature, but an immortality conferred by God. Notwithstanding this, Justin everywhere links the unity and identity of the thinking principle with the soul.

Tatian proposed another solution. He distinguishes in the soul an inferior part and a superior part which constitute two distinct kinds of spirits. The spirit is thus a subdivision of the soul even as the inferior spirit is generally assimilated to the soul itself and the superior spirit is described as “the image and the likeness of God” which is added to the soul. The inferior soul is linked to matter, because for Tatian, the fundamental distinction is between matter and spirit. This brings him to conclude that the human soul is composed and not simple; the inferior soul being composed with the body. The soul serves as the link between the body and the image of God, but the soul is in the body. We thus see the difficulty for Tatian to think of the soul independent of the body and to arrive at explaining in a dichotomic manner that which is essentially trichotomic.

Irenaeus said that the spirit is a gift from God given to the soul and is that which makes man perfect. He gives an ethereal body to the soul. It is this ethereal body which impenetrates the physical body which is its form. He thus considers the soul as a fluid substance. Many Fathers of the Church after him would have great difficulties in thinking of the soul, or of any other spiritual creature, without a body, even if it be an ethereal body. The difficulty which is brought up by this kind of interpretation is that if we make of the soul a corporeal reality, it becomes difficult for it to retain its spiritual qualities. Hence, there was a great temptation in Christianity, as in Islam, to corporealize the soul, as this permitted the explanation of the sufferings of hell. How could on imagine that the fire of hell could have an effect upon the soul if it was not a body? Origen attested that he was incapable of understanding how a spiritual substance could exist without a body, and he gave bodies even to the angels.

Origen's view

It is nonetheless in Origen that we find the first systematic exposition of the trichotomic psychology. Origen brings together all of the disparate elements which he finds in the Scriptures and among his predecessors, and he attempts to combine them into a general theory.He thus returns to Biblical trichotomy in a form which associates the spirit (pneuma) with the soul [psyche] and the body (soma). Like Tatian, he nonetheless distinguishes an inferior from a superior part in the soul. The superior element is the Nous which we could render equally as “Spirit” and as “Intelligence”, but which some have assimilated to the Stoic hegemonikon in order to render it in Latin by principia cordis, mentis or animae. The inferior element of the soul was added to man at the moment of the fall. It represents the temptation of the soul to turn away from the spirit in order to be of service only to the body.

The soul thus has the possibility of turning either towards the spirit or towards the body, in this sense towards the seat of free choice and human personality. If it gives itself over to the spirit, the soul spiritualizes itself and liberates itself from the confinement of the inferior element. On the contrary, if it turn towards the body it becomes carnal. In practicing the Christian virtues, the soul elevates itself in increasingly higher degrees of spirituality, bringing it closer and closer to the image of God which it holds within itself.

The spirit (pneuma) is the divine element in man. It is thus the breath of God. It is this element which possesses understanding of spiritual things, and it is thus this which, knowing the spiritual order of things, can dictate to the soul its conduct. It is this element which receives divine grace and in particular the gifts of the Holy Spirit and which permits man to participate in the divine. When the soul is reduced to the carnal, it does not disappear but it enters into torpor and loses its hegemonic power. It is this hegemonic faculty which Origen also calls “heart".

The psychology of Origen contains striking similarities to that of Baha’u’llah. These similarities are explained in part, but only in part, by the fidelity of Origen to Judaic tradition. It would be interesting to devote a comparative study to the two systems which would not only focus on the problem of sources but would study the responses derived from those sources to problems of the spirituality of the soul. For if Origen has the merit of leaving behind the ambiguity of his predecessors, he is far from being able to resolve all the problems he addresses.

We can see for example that pneuma and psyche in the writings of Origen do not correspond exactly with nafs in the Writings of Baha’u’llah. For Origen pneuma is the divine element of man; in this sense it is close to the ruh of Baha’u’llah and it is a prolongation of the Biblical ruah. But the pneuma of Origen does not possess a clearly defined ontological existence. Furthermore, we do not understand the connection it has with Nous or with the hegemonic element which preexisted before the appearance of the soul in the body. The psyche of Origen remains the eternal principle in man at the same time that it is the support of physical life. Origen has considerable difficulty in preserving the unity of this psychical life which is apportioned between the spirit and the soul. To the degree to which the ethereal body is a reproduction of the physical body, the soul explains sensations, from whence there is a difficulty in explaining the difference between sense perception and spiritual perception. Origen resolves this problem in part through his theory of the five spiritual senses. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, the concepts of Origen open magnificent perspectives for the development of a gnosis which, in itself, presents many resemblances with that of Baha’u’llah. Without this anthropology, Origen probably could not have established his theory of mystical exegesis which, in all of Christianity, is that which presents the most similarity to Muslim ta'wil.

The conceptions of Origen had only a subterranean influence in Christianity because they were condemned by the Church. It is certain that Origen did not know how to regulate the relationship between faith and reason and that he rejected all control of the discursive over the intuitive. His exegesis sometimes takes extraordinary liberties with the language of Scripture.However, without doubt, Origen was the greatest Christian thinker before Augustine. The Church, while all the while utilizing him, nevertheless denied him all recognition. Without doubt he aroused the “fear of the Angel”, and his condemnation by the Church is already a condemnation of all theosophical thought.


Syrian Thought

Trichotomic conceptions do not however disappear with the condemnation of Origen and his Alexandrians. They were conserved in the Syrian Church, which doubtless played an important role in the spiritual history of the East, but which is today totally ignored. The Syrians, because of their utilization of a Semitic language, were able to retain a terminology close to that of the Bible, all the while evolving its contents in a manner which prefigured the reflections of the great Muslim theologians. The Hebrew nefesh is rendered by the Syriac nafsha which leads to the Arabic nafs. This is a breath which is at the same time a vital principle. The Hebrew neshamah is rendered by the word neshma which may have simply been borrowed. As for the Biblical ruah, it becomes ruh. In opposition to the Greeks, the Syrians have always understood the immaterial character (la hulanayta) of the soul.

Aphraate, for example, is clearly trichotomic. The terminology of Aphraate shows the same fluctuations that we will later encounter in Arabic. Ruh and Nafsha are for him easily interchangeable. Aphraate was not interested in this type of metaphysical question478. In general, the Syrians remained faithful to the teaching of the Judaic schools, particularly those of Babylonia and Nineva. This fidelity does not signify however that they ignored the Greek teaching, but that they arrived at a much happier synthesis than that achieved by the Hellenized Church Fathers of the West.

Aphraate assimilates the soul, in the sense of the psyche, to “the spiritual soul” (ruha nafshanayta) as principle of the immortal life. The third element is defined as a grace. But his difference from Justin or Tertullian is that he gives to the spirit a true ontological existence, because at death the spirit ascends into heaven, while the soul is “buried in its nature”, “all sense is removed from it”, and it is plunged into sleep in expectation of the resurrection. Those who have lived a pious life sleep a peaceful slumber while the slumber of the wicked ones is populated by nightmares, for they know that they are condemned. At the moment of resurrection, the spirit comes down from the heaven to the body to resuscitate it along with the entombed soul. The reunion of the spirit and the body leads then to the entire spiritualization of the soul.

As for the sinners, they will only be revived by their souls and will thus live enshrouded in their inferior nature. This doctrine contains striking resemblances with those which were later developed in Islam. At the same time, we see that the principal difficulty which is opposed to the construction of an operational psychology that could take up the problems of conscience and the relations between thought and the body upon a trichotomic base, was that these theories had to be compatible with the dogma of the physical resurrection. In the teaching of Baha’u’llah, the question of the resurrection having been surmounted, nothing was opposed to the constitution of a true trichotomic psychology in agreement with modern psychology and epistemology.


The Spirit and the breath

The psychology of Ephraim is quite similar to that of Aphraate, although less subtle. He defines it in a celebrated formula “the soul prevails over the body; the spirit (re'yana) is more than the soul.The soul adorns the body and the spirit gives its beauty to the soul.”

The Syriac term re'yana was used to render either the Greek Nous or the [Greek] word pneuma.The term passed into Arabic under the form of rayhan, by assimilation to the root of Ruh (RWH or RYH). It is interesting to note that we also find this term in the writings of Baha’u’llah and in those of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, often in the form “ruh wa rayhan” which is sometimes translated by “the spirit and the breezes”. We must never lose sight of the analogy that the Semitic languages have between “the spirit” and “the breath”. Ruh wa rayhan thus designates something in the writings of Baha’u’llah which seems to be a divine emanation, probably an effect of the divine Verb, which penetrates this world order to revive the human spirits and to confer upon them a new spiritual life. But when we translate rayhan by “breeze” or by “breath” we must nevertheless never forget that this term has a kinship with the Greek Nous. This breath is a grace and a confirmation by the Spirit.


The Spirit of Faith

The Greek author often wishes to assimilate the spirit to the superior part of the soul, and denoted it as grace or charisma. To the degree to which a trichotomic psychology opens upon the theory of divine intuition through the illumination of the soul, “grace” or “light”, in other words “breath” is required to produce this illumination. We can show that Augustine's theory that divine knowledge may be acquired through the illumination of the soul has a hard time functioning in a resolutely dichotomist framework, and that it would be much more at ease in a trichotomic framework. In the Baha’i writings, the spirit of faith plays the same role. ‘Abdu’l-Bahaexplains that the spirit of faith (ruh-i-imani) is a grace or a divine emanation (the two terms are mingled) which produces effusions (nafathat) of the Holy Spirit, and which, through a divine power (qurat-i-ilahiyyih) confers eternal life upon the soul. Let us not become confused here.

regarding the meaning of this eternal life. He does not mean to say, as Justin did, that the immortality of the soul is not an immortality by nature but rather a grace conferred by God upon the soul. For the Baha’is, the soul is eternal in essence, but there are degrees in eternity. There is the eternity of the stone even as there is the eternity of the spirit and the two are not equivalent.The souls which do not receive the eternal life (hayat-i-abadiyyih) continue to exist in the kingdom of Abha, but at an attenuated level of consciousness that will impede them from entering into the contemplation of the most elevated spiritual realities. The eternal life thus designates the state of superior consciousness which implies a union or a communion with God and His Manifestation.But this divine power (rahmani), emanating from this divine grace (ilahi), does not have effects only in the other world. In this world it transforms the human being and makes of “the terrestrial man” (insan-i-ardi) a “celestial man” (insan-i-samavi). In the language of Origen, we may say that it makes the “pneumatic” man “hylic”. “It makes the impure to be pure, the silent eloquent; it purifies and sanctifies those made captive by carnal desires; it makes the ignorant wise.”

This doctrine of the spirit of faith as a grace is not without a relationship to Aphraate. But, differing from Aphraate, ‘Abdu’l-Baha does not make the ontological status of the soul dependent upon this grace. In Aphraate, it is the spirit which receives this grace, and that is its principal function. In Baha’i psychology, it confers upon the immortal soul, to supplement its immortality, an eternal character having an entirely spiritual meaning. Baha’i psychology permits us to distinguish clearly between the grace which produces illumination, and the soul as mirror.


The Tribulations of the Soul from Plato to Origen

One of the difficulties which the Greeks had in understanding the true meaning of the trichotomic psychology derives from the fact that they could not prevent themselves from interpreting it in Platonic, that is to say Pythagorean terms. But there are traces in Plato of archaisms which result in a true impossibility of conceiving the unity of the soul. This impossibility was detected by most of the Fathers of the Church, which is why, even the most Platonist among them, always rejected Platonic psychology. Plato identifies the concupiscent soul (epithymia) upon which depends the satisfaction of vital needs. This concupiscent soul easily slumbers in the immoderate (Hybris), which is why it must without respite be brought to temperance. The second soul is the heart (thymos) which is the seat of the passions. It swings constantly between the choleric (orge) and the courageous (andreia). For this reason, this heart is also called the irascible soul. Both the concupiscent soul and the irascible soul are mortal. The only eternal one is the Spirit (Nous) which is the seat of thought and which permits man to elevate himself to the intelligible. As we see, this Platonic trichotomy has little in common with the Judaic, Syrian or Origenist trichotomy. It is moreover upon the basis of this radical and abusive assimilation that theologians have critiqued trichotomic psychology and that certain ones believed that they could distinguish Pythagorean influences in Origen.

The condemnation of Origen resulted in a certain distrust of the Fathers who preceded him, and notably towards Clement of Alexandria, notwithstanding his having remained much more measured in his exegesis. This distrust would prepare for the character of Latin Patristics, which, after Augustine, broke with Greek Patristics. Already with Gregory of Nyssa there begins the establishment of the dichotomist doctrine which would become the orthodoxy of the Church.Gregory is one of the first who saw in the soul the image of the Trinity, which shows that the Trinitarian quarrels were not without effect even in this domain. The doctrine of Gregory of Nyssa is furthermore not without value, for the soul therein is much more spiritualized than in the doctrine of the first three centuries and its unity is better established. It is furthermore without doubt its intention to establish this unity and the unity of the thinking subject that favored the dichotomist doctrine from the start.

From Gregory of Nyssa to Augustine, Christian theology introduced numerous refinements in its doctrine, on the origin of the soul, on liberty and the fall, on the idea of that the body is the prison of the soul, etc. But these developments do not really interest us. The soul is now defined as immortal, immaterial, spiritual, simple and not composed. Scholasticism will do no more than take up these givens, especially from Augustine, in order to progressively intermingle them with Aristotelian elements. For Augustine, the fundamental problem was the transmission of the original sin to the soul. Augustine without doubt had a very negative influence upon the evolution of Christianity, because of his pessimistic vision of man which motivated him to formulate the dogma of original sin and the doctrine of predestination. He was nevertheless a fine psychologist and a philosopher of consequence. The triumph of his ideas over those of Pelagius nevertheless marks another defeat for the Christian spirit.

As we see, Christian psychology was unfortunately defined by dogmas which had nothing to do with psychology, such as the sufferings of hell, the resurrection, the Trinity and original sin. Psychology was always treated as a secondary and inferior problem. This was an error which produced numerous inconsistencies. These are the same reasons which will result, in the 13th century, in the rejection of Augustinianism for Aristotelianism.


The Spirituality of the Soul


All of this brings us to a first testimony: which is that the spirituality of the soul does not have the same meaning in Western philosophy as in Baha’i thought. In Western philosophy, “spiritual”means “having the qualities of the spirit”, but “spirit” is a category which is defined negatively in relation to matter in the framework of a bipolarity which is in fact a disguised dualism.“Spiritual” thus essentially means immaterial, incorporeal, stripped of extension. Of a certainty, essences are spiritual, in this sense, but also the thought of man is spiritual. This leads rapidly to an intellectualization of the spirit; and finally the term can not serve other than to describe the interior and affective life of man.


In his “Dissertation on the spirituality of the soul”, the Cardinal of Lucerne explains that among the proofs of the spirituality of the soul is included the fact that matter is composed, while thought is simple and without admixture, which implies a strict separation between thought and matter, and that matter must be without effect upon thought, for otherwise thought would be an attribute of matter.490 In this little treatise, we see clearly the appearance of confusion between the soul, the self, consciousness and thought. The soul is described therein as a spiritual thinking substance, the seat of sensation, of representation and of reflexive thought. Given this point of view, in proportion and according to the degree to which science will penetrate the mechanisms of sensation and the role of the brain, all the theological proofs for the spirituality of the soul will collapse.

We are observing a degeneration of the intelligible, which itself was a warped conception of the spiritual. This progressive reduction of the spiritual to the intellectual appears to be a more fundamental drama than the loss of angelic hierarchies or the reduction of the imaginal to the imaginary.

In the Baha’i writings, the word “spiritual” has a different meaning. Of course, it always designates something which has the qualities of the spirit, but the word reveals something else.That man is “spiritual” who expresses his true nature, that is to say, his divine nature. That which denotes the spirituality of the soul, is its capacity to reflect the divine Names and thus to be an image of its Creator. This image constitutes the divine deposit (amana). Spirituality thus exists in the soul only in the state of potentiality, even as intelligence is also potential in man. If a child never receives any education, his intelligence will not be developed; he may perhaps not even learn to speak. So also, the spirituality of the soul has need of exercise and practice to develop itself. It necessitates a work of purification and of transformation of the interior self. By approaching its Creator, it receives more fully the divine light which illumines it and permits it to radiate the divine Names in a more perfect manner. The spiritual qualities which are the reflection of these Names are thus perfections, even if they existed in latency at the beginning.


Thus Baha’i psychology avoids all possibility of confounding spirituality with thought. To deepen spirituality is to discover the true nature of man independently of any cognitive process.Inversely, the knowledge of gnosis derives from this spirituality. The spiritual man is thus a gnostic man in the sense in which Clement of Alexandria employed this term.491 But we must not mistake this meaning—if man were to consecrate his life to the study of gnosis, never would this study make him more spiritual, inasmuch as spirituality is acquired through meditation accompanied by action. It is in acting upon the world in order to transform it that man transforms himself.


 
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Thank you

@Ahanu this is intense stuff and is definitely more @Thomas's territory than mine.
It will take some reading ;)
Be sure to read the section on the soul in post number 5 if you have time. :)

It describes in detail our key differences.
 
Be sure to read the section on the soul in post number 5 if you have time. :)

It describes in detail our key differences.
Thank you. I will

To add to my post #4 above
Baha’u’llah, taking up again the great concepts of Christian spirituality, affirms the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order.
I'm not too sure this is a necessary concept of Christian spirituality? Often Divine law seems at direct odds with natural law? And anyway, have you not just said Baha'u'llah proposes the opposite?
To me the pure, unchanging and eternal vertical polarities of the celestial order -- the uncreated world order of the I Ching – are shifted out-of-sync in translation across the horizontal into the terrestrial order – the created world arrangement – to become the natural order, ever-changing, bound for death and limited by time and space.

Uncreated World>
uncreated world.png


Created World


created world.png
semi created world.png

It's symbolized by Christ's crucifixion, suspended, pinned between Spirit and Nature

If the celestial order of Spirit is reflected in the material order of 'nature red in tooth and claw' it is a distorted and imperfect reflection?

It’s Plato’s Cave or Paul’s through a glass darkly ...
 
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Baha’u’llah, taking up again the great concepts of Christian spirituality, affirms the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order.
I'm not too sure this is a necessary concept of Christian spirituality?

Earlier in the passage I quoted the author does note that "Christian dogma . . . sees in the ecclesiastical hierarchy the earthly reflection of the celestial hierarchies."

I think an example would be how Paul viewed members of his Church in union with angels in heavenly places (Eph 2.5-6), which can only happen in my opinion if the "celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order." The Qumran community had a similar view, with community members being lifted up to worship with the angels in the heavenly temple.
 
Often Divine law seems at direct odds with natural law?

Please elaborate.
And anyway, have you not just said Baha'u'llah proposes the opposite?

I think the quote below answers your question. Baha'u'llah reaffirms what the author calls "the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order," but he also notes that "the distinction between the divine worlds depends upon the differences on the condition of the observer." This approach plays a key role in Baha'u'llah's relational thought, so it is still centered on starting from human nature.

"If the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah is a metaphysic of emanation, it does not put into play either the concept of procession or that of hypostasis. Baha’u’llah is ten thousand [leagues] from the onto-cosmology of Ibn Sina which he considers to be pure fantasy. Baha’u’llah breaks the line which for ten centuries linked metaphysics to cosmology. He places ontological problems in their [proper] context, that is to say, in the domain which is that of pure thought, totally distinct from cosmogony. Ontology is only one of the ways of seeing the universe. It is necessary, because it alone can permit the human spirit to understand the problems of the realities situated outside the sensible world. But it constitutes a rationalization of that which is difficult to rationalize. In this sense it can only be a partial description of the ultimate reality of the universe. Thus, ontological questions have for Baha’u’llah a very relative meaning, as he affirms in the “Seven Valleys”, in saying that the distinction between the divine worlds depends upon the differences of the condition of the observer, or when he says in the “Tablet of Wisdom” that the affirmative or negative response to the question of whether or not the universe has or has not had a beginning depends above all on the perspective from which it is perceived."
 
4. Avoiding "a fundamental stumbling-block of Neoplatonism."
Most of those words I need a dictionary for, but I am able to see the ponts being made. I admire such knowledge of scriptures. God only knows as to why a stubborn Aussie Drooler found the faith.

Regards Tony
 
@Ahanu

With this quote

"... The psychology of Baha’u’llah avoids this peril because it is trichotomous. We describe as trichotomous a psychology that distinguishes in the whole human not two entities (dichotomy) such as the soul and the body, but three entities, that is to say, the soul, the spirit and the body. We have seen in the preceding chapter how this trichotomy is established in the writings of Baha’u’llah. It now remains to see the philosophical consequences thereof..."

Abdu'l-Baha in one talk says the the Spirit and Soul of man are essentially describing the same thing.

Is the above quote talking of Soul/Spirit of man, an intermediary spirit (Spirit of faith) and the Body, a station of being born again? (See quote below)

This has always been a point of confusion from my readings of the writings.

I quote Abdul'baha from 'Some Answered Questions'

".....The human spirit, which distinguishes man from the animal, is the rational soul, and these two terms—the human spirit and the rational soul—designate one and the same thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is called the rational soul, encompasses all things and as far as human capacity permits, discovers their realities and becomes aware of the properties and effects, the characteristics and conditions of earthly things. But the human spirit, unless it be assisted by the spirit of faith, cannot become acquainted with the divine mysteries and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, bright, and polished, is still in need of light. Not until a sunbeam falls upon it can it discover the divine mysteries...."

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, Spirit, Soul, and Mind

Regards Tony

P/S A product of my black and white approach to knowledge.
 
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Often Divine law seems at direct odds with natural law?
Please elaborate.
In nature all creatures need to take the life of other creatures in order to sustain their own -- if even by drinking water and breathing? The physical form of any creature exists by defending itself against the outside; cells survive by killing whatever threatens their viability.

Compared to the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

But we must not forget that in this transparent theology it is the image which, in projecting itself, causes the mirror to appear.
the distinction between the divine worlds depends upon the differences of the condition of the observer, or when he says in the “Tablet of Wisdom” that the affirmative or negative response to the question of whether or not the universe has or has not had a beginning depends above all on the perspective from which it is perceived."
Ok, this is quantum physics and relativity.

However both apply only to the ever-changing material universe (created world order) of time and space that ends in death. The eternal dimension of Spirit surrounds and contains and permeates the temporal dimension of Nature, as a house contains a room.

The walls of the room of nature (the created universe) are walls of time and space. There are many, perhaps infinite other dimensions within the greater house of spirit. Nature is just one of them.

My Father's house has many mansions.

In the same way that the dimension of nature is bound by time and space, the greater dimension of spirit is 'bound' by Love -- in the greater spiritual sense that all things are One, and return to the One.

The greater wheel of Spirit turns the lesser wheel of nature, but is not turned by it.

And beyond that ... who knows

IMO
 
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Baha’u’llah breaks the line which for ten centuries linked metaphysics to cosmology. He places ontological problems in their [proper] context, that is to say, in the domain which is that of pure thought, totally distinct from cosmogony. Ontology is only one of the ways of seeing the universe. It is necessary, because it alone can permit the human spirit to understand the problems of the realities situated outside the sensible world. But it constitutes a rationalization of that which is difficult to rationalize. In this sense it can only be a partial description of the ultimate reality of the universe. Thus, ontological questions have for Baha’u’llah a very relative meaning,
@Ahanu

It becomes a bit of a philosophical ramble. Is there perhaps a more concisely understandable way of expressing all this?

We create the reality we perceive, perhaps?
We perceive only the fraction that we need to know in order to survive?
To suddenly perceive everything would destroy us?
 
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We create the reality we perceive, perhaps?
We perceive only the fraction that we need to know in order to survive?
To suddenly perceive everything would destroy us?
Most likely yes to all of these, especially the last question.

Regards Tony
 
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Wow, Ahanu – you've certainly undertaken a project of work here, and I applaud your contribution, and may God bless you for your effort.

I've read through a couple of times, and that will hardly suffice, there's a lot of ground covered here, and necessarily the topics can only be touched on lightly.

At first pass then, there are a number of points raised I can nether accept or deny without further understanding. Here I need further clarification on a point' before I can agree/disagree.

Para 1
It looks like where we start our approach differs dramatically. Classical metaphysics begins with God and a descent through the hierarchy of Being. Baha'u'llah's approach works the other way around: "It is because one begins by defining the nature of man that one can thereafter ascend the degrees of the hierarchy of Being."
What added benefit (if any) is achieved by 'reinventing the wheel' as it were, from the ground up, in regard to an existing top down methodology? Where's the need?

This ... “the anthropic principle” ... overturns all of philosophy and had multiple and fundamental implications which are far from being explored.
OK – then the principle needs to be explained.

It is this principle which explains that the reality of the universe appears to be structured in its functioning by a law of intelligibility which the universe shares with the human spirit. It is this principle which also implicates the necessity of a noetic and epistemological link between the creature and the Creator which is at the source of the Baha’i hermeneutic.
But the reality and intelligibility of the universe is explained by classical and biblical metaphysics. This text could be an affirmation of classical metaphysics?

"From that also follows that Being cannot be at the center of the metaphysic, and even of the ontology, of Baha’u’llah."
That would have to be explained, as it's not a logical conclusion from what has gone before.

Above you talk about 'hierarchy of being' and in classical metaphysics the apex is simply 'beyond being', or the Dao, or Brahman in Hindu metaphysics. Baha'u'llah does not appear to be positing anything higher than being?

Para 2
Now we understand why the metaphysic of Baha’u’llah is not presented according to the mode to which the classical systems have habituated us. Being is no longer at the center of metaphysics; it is replaced by the spirit and the consciousness."
By being classical metaphysics means the being-as-such – one could say existence. To say 'spirit' or 'consciousness' means a priori that spirit and consciousness exist, therefore have being ... 'spirit' or 'consciousness' in its way of being, so being is higher and prior to them both?

In Hindu metaphysics Saccidānanda – Sat-Cit-Ananda – describe the subjective experience of the ultimate unchanging reality, called Brahman, The triune variously translated as "being, consciousness, and bliss". In Abrahamic metaphysics, the Godhead transcends all distinction, so transcends being, consciousness and spirit, as does Brahman.

Para 3
"... These words are, in the work of Baha’u’llah, redirected from their original meaning to express new ideas in the midst of a philosophy that denies all dogmatism and all systematic philosophical theorization. It is in the spirit of this transformation that we must examine the role and the place of the terminology of the divine worlds in the work of Baha’u’llah.
Does this not mean replacing one set of dogmas and systematic philosophical theories with another?

"... Baha’u’llah broke with the entire philosophical tradition of Islam. He rejects ... He repudiates ... He also rejects ...
OK, I get it ... but I still have no clue what he's actually replaces all this with, and why.

"He dares to affirm the eternity of the creation ...
So does classical metaphysics.

"... and reduces to allegorical symbols the greater part of the Quranic dogmas, including the resurrection, the final judgment, the appearance face to face with God, the angels, the Imams, and so on.
Allegories of what? Does by allegory he mean there is no existential actuality ... Does Baha'u'llah believe in God, or is that just a human construct? (Rhetorical question ... but he seems to be burning all his bridges?)

"The profundity of his thought manifests itself above all in its limpidity which contrasts it with the extreme sophistication of the thought systems of his time.
So it is said, but so far it has not been demonstrated here?


What is fundamental in the exposition of Baha’u’llah in the “Tablet of All Food” is the link that he establishes between the question of the divine worlds and a spiritual hermeneutic (ta'wil), in which he indicates that a certain food (understood as spiritual in nature) corresponds to each world, and that at the same time the word “food” itself is susceptible to receiving an interpretation particular to its function in each of these worlds, so that in fact the term contains innumerable significances."

But I get the same from my very shallow dip into classical Ismaili metaphysics?

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I understand that the author might be 'clearing the ground' here – but from what has been said so far, therte is nothing, as far as I can make out, about what Baha'u'llah's metaphysical model is?

On to the next post ...
 
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This ... “the anthropic principle” ... overturns all of philosophy and had multiple and fundamental implications which are far from being explored.
OK – then the principle needs to be explained.
The 'anthropic principle' in physics says that we live in the universe that supports us, because if it was not so, we would not be around.

The Anthropic Principle also known as the "observation selection effect", is the hypothesis, first proposed in 1957 by Robert Dicke, that the range of possible observations that could be made about the universe is limited by the fact that observations could happen only in a universe capable of developing intelligent life. Proponents of the anthropic principle argue that it explains why the universe has the age and the fundamental physical constants necessary to accommodate conscious life, since if either had been different, no one would have been around to make observations. Anthropic reasoning is often used to deal with the idea that the universe seems to be finely tuned for the existence of life.

Weak anthropic principle: Our location in the universe is necessarily privileged to the extent of being compatible with our existence as observers.

Strong anthropic principle: The universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends) must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage.
 
Q: Why is the universe fine-tuned to support intelligent human life?

A: Because it is, that's why ...

Like ...duh! Really? Thanks ...

 
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4 Avoiding "a fundamental stumbling-block of Neoplatonism."
The quote refers to 'an angelology derives from a deformation of perspective' but offers no explanation nor evidence, nor is there any indication of what hierarchy Neoplatonism is supposed to have 'appropriated'.

I rather think this is a defence of a Baha'i hermeneutic against an orthodox Muslim hermeneutic ...

Notwithstanding this, Baha’u’llah excludes any system of emanation by procession, while offering us very original descriptions of the engenderment of being and the hierarchization of the worlds.
Without knowing what that process is, I cannot offer a yay or nay.

Christianity is not an emanationist doctrine, nor emanation by procession – creatio ex nihilo is an immediate ontological relation between Creator and creature.

The emanationist model in Platonism is a triune consisting of 'stasis-kinesis-genesis' – stasis being the 'rest' of souls coexisting with God; kinesis is their impulse to movement away from God (for reasons various, usually satiaty, resulting in genesis, the passage of spiritual beings from the immaterial and intelligible to the bodily and sensible – so a hierarchical model of descending emanations.

In a stroke of illumined genius St Maximus the Confessor flipped the triune and in a stroke made it conformable to the Bible and the idea of a God both simultaneously Transcendent and Immanent: The process begins with genesis (‘coming into being ex nhihilo), kinesis is the natural and God-implanted inclination (logos) of created beings to their creator, an impetus that conveys the idea of First (or Formal) and Final Cause from their origin to their final end, stasis, the rest in the eschaton, when creatures will become by grace what God is by nature, and thus participate in the Eternal as both the Pauline and the Johannine scribes understood.

For the thought of Baha’u’llah aims at avoiding a fundamental stumbling-block of Neoplatonism which consists in regarding matter and the sensible world as a sort of degeneration of the spiritual and the intelligible, entailing a downfall of the spirit, and with it the downfall of man.
This, sadly, is a red flag for me, as it's simply not Neoplatonism – it's a gross misrepresentation, closer to 2nd century Gnosticism.

In the 14th century in the West the great disturbance of Western theosophy took place under the increasing influence of nominalism and of Latinized Averroism ...
This, I suggest, overstates the case with regard to Christian metaphysics.
"In the Latin West, only a part of Averroes became known. Many of his commentaries (on Aristotle) were translated into Latin and they became part of the required reading for anyone taking a university course, since they were indispensable as aids to understanding Aristotle. The Incoherence of the Incoherence, however, was not put into Latin until 1328 and was not widely circulated, whilst the Decisive Treatise was not translated in the Middle Ages. And the neglect of these polemical works of Averroes is not at all surprising. The relation between philosophy and religion is, no doubt, a subject of equal interest for Christians and for Muslims, but the Islamic context in which Averroes formulated his views made them untranslatable into terms that Christians could understand and assimilate, even if—through the intermediary of a Jew—the Arabic words could be put into Latin. And so, if ‘Latin Averroism’ is to refer to anything beyond the widespread, though selective use of Averroes’ commentaries—in which case the philosophical culture of the medieval universities will be without exception Averroistic, it must be to a body of thought that does not depend on Averroes’ most characteristic ideas but stands, rather, in a complex, oblique relation to him."
Furthermore:
"The Averroistae or Averroes’ followers (as described by their critics)—is to apply it to those writers who
(a) accepted Averroes’ view that there is only a single potential intellect;
(b) concentrated their efforts on reaching and examining an accurate account of Aristotle’s ideas—usually based on that presented by
Averroes—even where these positions are incompatible with Christian teaching (in particular, the position that the world has no beginning);
and,
(c) adopted some sort of strategy to explain why they, though Christians, did (a) and (b).
(a) requires a detour into Aristotle’s theory of cognition, as expounded in his De anima."
(Latin Averroism, John Marenbon, Honorary Professor of Medieval Philosophy Cambridge. 2007.)

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He (Henry Corbin) regarded the disappearance of Christian Platonism and of Latin Avicennism under the influence of Averroism and of Orthodox Scholasticism as a catastrophe for Western thought.
But it never quite disappeared, and the Church remained founded on its Patristic roots, despite Aristotle.
Aquinas, who championed Aristotle (utilising Avicenna and Averroes), was a Christian Neoplatonist. His theological and metaphysical references were Christian Neoplatonists ...

Much as I admire Corbin, I find his opinions, I think, reflect his era – which underwent great change. The recovery of Patristic metaphysics saw many great resources made available for the first time – Corbin would have been unaware of them. Wouldn't have changed his views, but might have made him more amenable.

In effect, because of the dogma of the Trinity, it was impossible in Christian theology to identify the instrumental Intelligence with the Holy Spirit ...
Here again the author either intentionally misrepresents or just doesn't know Christian doctrine.
"But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you" (John 14:26) – exoterically, the Muslim sees the Paraclete as (either) the Prophet (pbuh) or the Quran. In the same way the Baha'i claims it is Baha'u'llah – esoterically the differences can be resolved without having to defame any one tradition.

"We may say that Ibn 'Arabi gives us the most magnificent mystic exegesis of Andrei Rublev's icon (of The Trinity) ... That is why the icon of the three Angels sitting under the oak in Mamre ... is the perfect image of devotio sympathetica (Arabic tjiyafa). Oriental Christianity, in turn, looked upon the three Angels as the most perfect figuration of the three persons of the Trinity. According to the theological and iconographic analysis of Sergei Bulgakov (Jacob's Ladder), each of the three Angels represents a hypostasis of the divine Triad of which he bears the imprint (just as the thrice triple hierarchy of the Angelic degrees in Dionysius corresponds to the three persons of the Triad)... for a nominal identification of the three Archangels similar to one which was not unknown to our Koran commentators ... the messengers were the
Angels Gabriel, Michael, and Seraphiel, who appeared as youths of great beauty"
(Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi[/i], in the notes on pps 315-316).
That's just one example ...

... as was accomplished by Suhrawardi, and thereby to develop a true “prophetic philosophy".
In Christian theology, prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10). Corbin's exegesis of Avicenn'a angelic hierarchy of course differs.

... and this is of course opposed to Christian dogma, which sees in the ecclesiastical hierarchy the earthly reflection of the celestial hierarchies, from whence comes this “fear of the angel” that is found in traditional Scholasticism.
Again the author is flat wrong – for all his scholarship, he makes huge and erroneous assumptions about the origins of Christian dogmas or doctrines:
A) There is no such dogma as he alludes to.
B) The ecclesial hierarchy is based on the threefold office of Christ – Prophet, Priest and King, not on any angelic hierarchy.
C) Never heard of "Fear of the angel" – it's Corbin's phrase, I think he's referring to Muslim 'scholasticism' in the rejection of Avicenna?
D) Has the author ever read the Summa on the nature of angels?
E) Bonaventure on The Ascent of the Soul into God?

The reader who will have followed us up to now will perfectly understand why Baha’i philosophy is altogether detached from this debate between Avicennism and Averroism.
Not really ...

One can not affirm more clearly than this that spirituality cannot be lived except on the individual plan, and that any search for spirituality which would take the form of a collective movement, would lose it authenticity.
I firmly disagree – I think there's a metaphysical confusion here: God is One. Everybody is unique – so each expression is individual, but the plan is universal – otherwise every individual would have his own god, as it were ... and again we're now just compounding errors.

To say otherwise would require an individual Baha'i teaching tailored to each individual ...

Baha’u’llah, taking up again the great concepts of Christian spirituality, affirms the necessity that the celestial order be reflected in the terrestrial order.
How? Christian spirituality affirms that the Divine permeates all orders ...

This does not mean that this reflection is effected to such an extent that its movement must lead to a spiritual brigading.
Is that not what self-identification as a Baha'i – or indeed any religion – is?

Baha’u’llah has removed all of the ecclesiastical hierarchies, the priesthood and other human intermediaries, from the spiritual path. But this does not mean that he leaves their role empty. He has founded his magister upon the notion of “covenant” or “alliance”, representing first and foremost the relation of fidelity and intimate adhesion that each believer must establish with the divine Manifestation.
My money's on them creeping in under some disguise ...

At the crowning apex is the Universal House of Justice ...
That's a hierarchy.

... which resembles not the Roman Pontificate, nor the Imamat, nor the caliphate, and from which emanates a permanent authority, that will shelter his community of faith from schisms and divisions, the like of which have so torn up the religions of the past.
Different name, same thing. It's a hierarchical governing body with oversight – And there have already been schisms and divisions, so there's nothing new there.
 
OK ... rethink ...

My problem here is that the author is, I believe, a scholar, but this is a markedly unscholarly work, in which claims are made but not substantiated, and matters affirmed without sufficient explanation. As this work would not get through the starting gate of critical review, I assume it's been written for a Baha'i audience who are happy to accept the author's claims and insights without question.

That's not me throwing stones, the author has faults, the book its flaws, but neither he nor it are alone in that.

But two serious stumbling blocks for me:
1: It's total misrepresentation of classical Neoplatonism was a red flag, and the same with regard to many of his comments on Christin doctrine, are so jarring in places as to suggest polemical intent.
2: Based on that, how can I assume any credibility with regard to his presentation of a Baha'i metaphysics which he states is implicit, but nowhere explicitly stated – and that's worse for me because I have nothing to fall back on.

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The author points out – quite correctly – that the founders of religion did not write a metaphysical treatise. Dogmas and doctrines, theologies both metaphysical and pastoral (commentaries esoteric and exoteric) do not appear overnight, and in the same 180 year timespan, you can count the number of substantial Christian exegetes on the fingers of one hand.

I will say it's renewed my interest in Henry Corbin, and to be truthful as a result I'm more favourable to Corbinism than Baha'ism.

It's also sparked an interest in Ismaili Islam. Besides works by Corbin, I have a couple by Reza Shah-Kazemi and have posted a video by Dr Khalil Andani. It seems to me that here is a dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim (Shi'i Islam?) from the standpoint of the Sophia Perennis and the Transcendent Unity of Religions.

Dr Andani's brief presentation on the idea of 'Manifestation' in Ismaili gnosis, and his mention on the image of the mirror, central to Baha'i understanding, gave me some grounding in the concepts.

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So here is A Second Attempt.

This time I will simply delete a text that I think is extraneous or erroneous ... if anyone wants a Catholic apologia in the face of the misrepresentations above (Part 5 on the soul is riddled with them) I'm happy to provide, but I fear in the context of dialogue here, we'll just get bogged down into constant dispute.

I'll also attempt to keep it brief, but that is no disservice – I've written pages of notes on reading this stuff!

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Lastly – a cri de cœur – if you could come up with an author or text that is concise, succinct and to the point, then that would be so welcome.
The writers of the Sophia Perennis can sum up the whole thing in a phrase – I regard their brevity as a mark of their spiritual lucidity and depth.

(A tutor, reading one of my essays, commented: "St Augustine writes long and convoluted sentences, and so do you. The problem for me is that I know to stick with it with Augustine, because has something to say. I'm not sure you do." – My course director thought it a tad cruel. I thought it was funny – clearly so, because I haven't learned the lesson!)
 
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