Posted by: samandal | April 29, 2010

Shoghí Effendí Rabbání, III: The Road to the Crater

‘Id-i-Ridván, the Festival of Paradise; Ninth Day

The Guardian was to be the sacred head of the Universal House of Justice, a body that would assume all legislative and elucidatory authority over the Faith. Its deliberations, legislation and elucidation on matters not determined in the scriptures of Bahá’u’lláh would have the same authority as Bahá’í scripture, even though it could abrogate its own laws in response to particular situations and specific circumstances. The common objectives of both the institution of the Guardianship and the House of Justice were to ensure the continuity of divinely appointed authority, safeguard the unity of the Faith, and maintain the integrity of the teachings.

The Guardian was authorized to reveal the purport and disclose the implications of the utterances of Bahá’u’lláh (and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá). He could only interpret what had been revealed by them, and could only legislate in his capacity as a member of the House of Justice. He could not dictate its activities and procedures, but he could repeatedly insist that a particular decision be reconsidered. His infallibility (acquired rather than inherent) only extended to his interpretation and application of doctrinal statements, and not to subjects such as economics or science. This complementarity of function would, therefore, distinguish interpretation from elucidation.

The Guardian insisted on a distinction between the letters he wrote himself and those written on his behalf by his secretaries. Though his secretaries generally conveyed his thoughts and instructions and the letters usually received his assent and approval, the authority of these letters is confined entirely to the interpretation of the scriptures and the protection of the Faith.

It would be unreasonable to give more weight to the words of a secretary written in response to a local situation than to the stated text of the scriptures and the actual practice of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghí Effendí. When the Guardian had an important message to convey, and when he gave an authoritative interpretation of scripture, he wrote a general letter addressed to all the Bahá’ís throughout the West, or to all the Bahá’ís throughout Iran. He did not, however, wish Bahá’ís to treat the words written on his behalf by his secretaries as possessed of the same authority as his own letters: they are authoritative for the person to whom they are addressed in the situation in question, but they were not intended to establish general principles universally applicable to particular situations.