Monday, November 13, 2017


My son, age 12, and I, age older, have had some fascinating conversations over the past few days. The essence of them was what, in Baha'i literature, is considered authoritative. Some of this came because of some concerns we had seen on-line where questions were being raised in regards to letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

It was quite obvious that only the letters and writings from the central authorities of the Faith, Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, would be considered authoritative or official. This blog, for example, is not. What I write here is only my own opinion, and should be taken as such. There's a reason I write this statement often. It's to avoid confusion. For example, there are some on the internet who write about the Faith as if they are some kind of authority, and get upset when others question this, such as when they try to insist that letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi shouldn't be quoted as authoritative. They fall back on the "But I'm a scholar" line, not recognizing that this was the very same excuse that many of the Covenant-breakers of the past used. Now, I'm not saying that these people are violating the Covenant, for I'm in no position to do that, but just that I recognize it as a very dangerous line. And this is why my son and I were talking about it.

So, back to the question at hand: What is considered authoritative?

Well, to begin, anything written by Baha'u'llah, obviously, would be considered authoritative. In addition to this, though, or perhaps a subset of this, are those letters that He wrote as if they were written by His amanuensis. They are also authoritative. And from what I understand, they all have His seal, so it really isn't a question.

The next are the letters from 'Abdu'l-Baha. Anything written by Him, obviously, is considered authoritative. No question there. The things that were dictated by Him are also authoritative, as long as we have the original copy with His seal. There are whole whack of things that were published under His name in Star of the West, for example, which are quite wonderful, but if we don't have the original, then it is just "attributed" to Him. We can take it or leave it.

Another odd point, though, are the talks He gave. This would include books such as "Promulgation of Universal Peace", "Paris Talks, "Some Answered Questions" and the like. In relation to these, there is a letter from the Research Department that says:
The original of "Some Answered Questions" in Persian is preserved in the Holy Land; its text was read in full and corrected by Abdu'l-Bahá Himself. Unfortunately, Abdu'l-Bahá did not read and authenticate all transcripts of His other talks, some of which have been translated into various languages and published. For many of His addresses included in "The Promulgation of Universal Peace" and "Paris Talks", for example, no original authenticated text has yet been found. However, the Guardian allowed such compilations to continue to be used by the friends. In the future each talk will have to be identified and those which are unauthenticated will have to be clearly distinguished from those which form a part of Bahá'í Scripture. This does not mean that the unauthenticated talks will have to cease to be used -- merely that the degree of authenticity of every document will have to be known and understood. (23 March 1987)
So for now, "Some Answered Questions" is considered authentic, since it was reviewed by Him, while the others are just amazingly awesome.

But now we get to Shoghi Effendi. Prior to 1941, when Ruhiyyih Khanum began helping him, "he had had", in the words of Philip Hainsworth, "few helpers and his secretaries caused him much suffering." The Guardian, however, wrote "I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule." So while this makes the guidance authoritative, we read in a letter written on his behalf, "Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages." In short, yes, these letters written on his behalf are authoritative. They may not be written in his style, or convey his exact wording, but "these messages are authoritative". "The Guardian's statement that he reviewed every letter written on his behalf without exception", writes the Research Department, "makes it clear that the authority of the letters was independent of whatever personal 'sufferings' might have been caused by certain secretaries, and that there was no 'delegation' whatsoever of his interpretative authority, but merely a use of secretarial assistance for his huge burden of correspondence."

So, any questions about the authority of the letters from the Guardian are answered. Whether they written by him, or on his behalf, they are authoritative.

Finally, there is the Universal House of Justice. Letters written by the Universal House of Justice are, of course, authoritative. The question that has come up, though, is whether letters written by the Secretariat are authoritative. Fortunately the Universal House of Justice has answered this for us:
As to whether there is a distinction between correspondence from the World Centre that has been signed "The Universal House of Justice" and that signed on behalf of the Secretariat: In brief, the manner in which each of these letters is prepared depends upon the contents of the letter. Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched. All letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice.
Boom. Done. Now we know. All the letters sent from the Secretariat are considered authoritative.

There are a number of letters that detail all of this, many of which are found on-line, but my favorite is probably

And as for all those friends on-line who are trying to stir up trouble by saying anything different, that the letters written "on behalf of" any of the authority figures are not authoritative, well, I leave them to themselves. It is not worth trying to fight their ego. That fight is for themselves alone. Instead, I just try to offer what little I have been able to find by looking at the guidance.

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