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TITLEEnigmatic Questions Surrounding the Appearances of the Prophets
AUTHOR 1John S. Hatcher
ABSTRACTIssues related to the ontology and powers of the Manifestations can test the mettle of even deepened and learned Bahá'ís, but these concepts are central in understanding how the creator employs vicegerents to educate humankind.
NOTES Question-and-answer text mirrored with permission from; audio mirrored as "fair use" from
TAGS- Bahá'u'lláh; Creation; God; John Hatcher; Manifestations of God; Prayer; Tahirih
Notes: This presentation was hosted on the webinar/conferencing website, where the audio is simulcast with an animated visual presentation. I have captured the audio using the program Audio Hijack, but did not capture the video. See the original webinar at to view both the audio and the animated video. The question-and-answer text below is copied from [-J.W.]

1. Abstract

“Enigmatic Questions Surrounding the Appearances of the Prophets" is the theme of the webinar conducted by John S. Hatcher, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida, widely published poet and author, and distinguished lecturer.

"Through the years of teaching classes in permanent Bahá'í schools," says Dr. Hatcher, "I have encountered a number of critical issues that seem to test the mettle of even deepened and learned Bahá'ís. These emanate primarily from questions related to the ontology and powers of the Manifestations. In a presentation of approximately forty minutes, I will try to address a few of these questions with my personal responses. I hope this discourse will make evident why I consider these concepts to be central in understanding the distinctive nature of Bahá'í beliefs regarding how the Creator employs Vicegerents to educate humankind."

2. Audio and Animated Video


3. Audio only

Download MP3 file [15 MB, 44 min.]

4. Questions and answers

Due to time constraints, not all the questions posed during the webinar could be answered immediately. Dr. Hatcher has kindly agreed to answer them in writing so that they could be made available on our website.

1. Is there any aspect of Bahá'u'lláh’s life that is not perfect?

     Of course, the physical aspects of His life were not. Indeed, Bahá'u'lláh notes in the Kitáb-i-Iqán that one of the tests God imposes on us is that the Manifestations appear in unexpected circumstances or with unexpected physical defects. Moses stuttered. Christ was presumed to be a bastard. Muhammad was an unlearned caravan leader. The Báb was an unlearned merchant. Bahá'u'lláh was short of stature and disdained rank in the court to follow an imprisoned merchant who claimed to be the Qá'im.

     However, in a spiritual sense, even in the spiritual aspect of His response to physical circumstances, we are told that He and all the Manifestations embody perfection in all they do and say. Here again we come to a most powerful passage of Bahá'u'lláh that inescapably asserts this principle:

    The essence of belief in Divine unity consisteth in regarding Him Who is the Manifestation of God and Him Who is the invisible, the inaccessible, the unknowable Essence as one and the same. By this is meant that whatever pertaineth to the former, all His acts and doings, whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth, should be considered, in all their aspects, and under all circumstances, and without any reservation, as identical with the Will of God Himself. This is the loftiest station to which a true believer in the unity of God can ever hope to attain. Blessed is the man that reacheth this station, and is of them that are steadfast in their belief. (Gleanings 166)

     As the perfect exemplar of the Bahá'í, 'Abdu'l-Bahá would also hold up to this same standard, the very reason that the Guardian regards 'Abdu'l-Bahá as a figure unique in the annals of religious history. In this vein, I have found it interesting and valuable to note that, as a perfect exemplar, he was probably a very fine father and husband, and yet his five daughters all fell short of the standard of fidelity to the Covenant. In short, we cannot always take responsibility for the failings of our children.

2. Is there authoritative reference for Táhirih recognizing Bahá'u'lláh as a manifestation prior to His public declaration; even as 'Him Who God Shall Make Manifest' referred to by the Báb?

     There are very clear references to Bahá'u'lláh as “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest” in several of her poems. Most of the historical descriptions of their relationship (Bahá'u'lláh helping her escape imprisonment, her staying at Bahá'u'lláh’s home, she and Quddus helping Bahá'u'lláh plan the conference at Badasht) imply that she knew very well Who and What He was, but it is mostly through inference we conclude this. I personally have no doubt that both she and Quddus knew Bahá'u'lláh’s station. The Báb had promised Quddus he would meet the Promised One: “Quddus, on the eve of his final separation from Him, was promised that he would attain the presence of the One Who was the sole Object of their adoration and love” (Shoghi Effendi God Passes By 28).

3. According to the Bahá'í Faith, God has created man to know and worship Him, yet we read that He is an unknowable essence, most of writing alludes to him but repeatedly says we can learn about his qualities but not truly know Him. And why do we have to worship Him? You are asked to worship something which you can't fully even understand? It does not make sense. Could you explain this? What does have to gain from this? Isn't the purpose of worship basically to keep us humble so we don't become horribly narcissist?

     First, it must be understood that it is the “essence” of God that cannot be understood, not God Himself. God is imminently knowable. Indeed, it is impossible to know the true meaning of any created thing and not become aware of some attribute of God. Put simply, everything we know has something to do with educating us about the nature of God. As Bahá'u'lláh states,
    Know thou that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty. Inasmuch as He, the sovereign Lord of all, hath willed to reveal His sovereignty in the kingdom of names and attributes, each and every created thing hath, through the act of the Divine Will, been made a sign of His glory. So pervasive and general is this revelation that nothing whatsoever in the whole universe can be discovered that doth not reflect His splendor. Under such conditions every consideration of proximity and remoteness is obliterated.... Were the Hand of Divine power to divest of this high endowment all created things, the entire universe would become desolate and void. (Gleanings 184)

     Second, we worship God not because we are mandated to do so. Authentic love of God derives from the fact that when we truly know the attributes or nature of God, we cannot help loving this Being because He is entirely loving and lovable. He possesses all the attributes we would desire in a loved one, in a dear friend, in a close companion. Knowledge of him drives our every affirmative action, even if our motive is veiled from our own understanding. We may think we are attracted to material objects, forms, sensations, but in reality all of these attractions are but manifestations of God’s nature translated into sensually perceptible experiences.

     Third, the love of God is not only our foremost desire—once we begin to understand His nature—it is inherently valuable in itself. This relationship is ongoing, progressive, organic, and it underlies every single object of delight we ever experience.

     Fourth, your implicit notion of “worship” is very narrow. Yes, supplication and humility before this wonderful Creator is one result of this process, even as is our association with people who are far more spiritually advanced than ourselves. But worship in the context of the obligatory prayer implies any form of translating our love or knowledge of God into creative forms of action. These include such mundane chores as earning a living to feed our family, helping a neighbor, or being kind to a stranger. This pervasive concept of worship become clear once we gain a sense of the relationship between knowledge and action that permeates the writings of Bahá'u'lláh.

4. In discussions with those investigating the Faith or new believers, how have you approached the complementarity but seeming contradiction between the oneness of the Manifestation, and the understanding of the "supreme" Manifestation, the first time the Most Holy Spirit has been manifested (having sent the Holy Spirit in previous dispensations).

     As the Guardian says, Bahá'u'lláh is the “Supreme Manifestation for this Age” (the Bahá'í Era). Of course, each Manifestation is the “Supreme Manifestation” for the age in which He appears. The distinction regarding the appearance of Bahá'u'lláh concerns the social and historical circumstances surrounding this period in history—the readiness of humankind to attain maturation.

     'Abdu'l-Bahá explains this distinction fairly clearly in the following statement about cycles of Manifestations compared to the “universal cycle” which includes various ages or cycles:

    Briefly, we say a universal cycle in the world of existence signifies a long duration of time, and innumerable and incalculable periods and epochs. In such a cycle the Manifestations appear with splendor in the realm of the visible, until a great and universal Manifestation makes the world the center of his radiance. His appearance causes the world to attain to maturity, and the extension of his cycle is very great. Afterwards other Manifestations will arise under his shadow, who according to the needs of the time will renew certain commandments relating to material questions and affairs, while remaining under his shadow. We are in the cycle which began with Adam, and its universal Manifestation is Bahá'u'lláh. (Foundations of World Unity 55).
     This does not mean that ontologically Bahá'u'lláh is superior to other Manifestations, even as Bahá'u'lláh Himself repeats what Muhammad had said in the Qur'án, that the Manifestation are all endowed with the same capacity, but some appear in an historical context which causes their revelation to excel that of other Manifestations. Some of the following passages help elucidate this axiom:
    These Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attribute, thou hast not erred from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between any of His Messengers!"[1] For they one and all summon the people of the earth to acknowledge the Unity of God, and herald unto them the Kawthar of an infinite grace and bounty. They are all invested with the robe of Prophethood, and honoured with the mantle of glory. Thus hath Muhammad, the Point of the Qur'án, revealed: "I am all the Prophets." Likewise, He saith: "I am the first Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus." (Bahá'u'lláh Kitáb-i-Iqán 152)
    It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring 154 in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendour. Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: "I am the return of all the Prophets," He verily speaketh the truth. (Bahá'u'lláh Kitáb-i-Iqán 152)
     Stated briefly, the distinctions among the Prophets concerns the needs and capacities of humankind for the time and place and peoples their revelation is intended to serve, even as Bahá'u'lláh observes in the oft cited passage, “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” (Bahá'u'lláh Gleanings 213).

     Had another Manifestation appeared at this same time, His job would have been precisely the same as that of Bahá'u'lláh, to coalesce all that has been previously revealed and to set the stage for a global commonwealth, the basic structure of which will remain inviolable so long as planet Earth endures. Therefore, while we correctly regard Bahá'u'lláh as being exalted beyond all previous Manifestations insofar as the scope and purpose of His mission is concerned, it is not (as I understand it) because He as a Being is exalted above His fellow Prophets, all of whom are intimately aware of One another and among Whom there is no essential distinction.

5. What do you understand the role of the Manifestation in the process of creation of the physical world? Clarification to my question: Does the Manifestation have a role to play in the process whereby God creates the planets and stars, and everything else?

     John 1:1 states, “In the Beginning was the Word In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

      'Abdu'l-Bahá authoritatively interprets this verse as follows: “Without the bounty of the splendor and the instructions of these Holy Beings the world of souls and thoughts would be opaque darkness. Without the irrefutable teachings of those sources of mysteries the human world would become the pasture of animal appetites and qualities, the existence of everything would be unreal, and there would be no true life. That is why it is said in the Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ meaning that it became the cause of all life” ('Abdu'l-Bahá Some Answered Questions 162).

     Elsewhere, 'Abdu'l-Bahá explicates this same passage at greater length, explaining that by the “Word” is meant the Manifestations of God through Whom the creative Will of God is translated into terms understandable to human beings, because God, as an essentially spiritual Being, cannot be divided up and literally come to earth in some physical form:

    But the proceeding through manifestation (if by this is meant the divine appearance, and not division into parts), we have said, is the proceeding and the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the Word, which is from God. As it is said in the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God";[1] then the Holy Spirit and the Word are the appearance of God. The Spirit and the Word mean the divine perfections that appeared in the Reality of Christ, and these perfections were with God; so the sun manifests all its glory in the mirror. For the Word does not signify the body of Christ, no, but the divine perfections manifested in Him. For Christ was like a clear mirror which was facing the Sun of Reality; and the perfections of the Sun of Reality -- that is to say, its light and heat -- were visible and apparent in this mirror. If we look into the mirror, we see the sun, and we say, "It is the sun." Therefore, the Word and the Holy Spirit, which signify the perfections of God, are the divine appearance. This is the meaning of the verse in the Gospel which says: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God";[1] for the divine perfections are not different from the Essence of Oneness. The perfections of Christ are called the Word because all the beings are in the condition of letters, and one letter has not a complete meaning, while the perfections of Christ have the power of the word because a complete meaning can be inferred from a word. As the Reality of Christ was the manifestation of the divine perfections, therefore, it was like the word. Why? because He is the sum of perfect meanings. This is why He is called the Word. (Some Answered Questions 206)
     Of course, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is here alluding to the process by which human life evolves and progresses once the planet has come into being, not the beginning of the planet or the solar system or the galaxy. As we know, this is a process in motion, occurring infinitely throughout the created universe as we speak. About this the writings are clear, that the universe is infinite in time, in space, and plentitude.

      True, it changes constantly as systems come into being and others decompose and go out of being, and yet the universe (as the name implies) is one organic system that has always existed and always will exist even though it is in this constant state of motion, composition, and decomposition. As 'Abdu'l-Bahá notes, this means that humankind, as the fruit of this process, has always existed somewhere in the created universe.

     As to what point the Manifestation takes part in this process, I have found no passage that indicates precisely when in human evolution this occurs, though some passages seem to imply it occurs at a stage when the human physical being has evolved to a condition when it is capable of being taught, even as we must await the child’s birth before we can have much direct effect on its conscious understanding of reality.

6. How does one actually pray to God through Bahá'u'lláh. What words would be used to address God through Bahá'u'lláh while at the same time addressing the Manifestation for assistance as well?

      The Guardian says we can pray to God or pray to Bahá'u'lláh or pray to God through Bahá'u'lláh, meaning, I infer that we are always praying to a spiritual Being Whom we are aware is attentive to our supplication and capable of responding in the most appropriate way.

      In the webinar, I was a bit ambiguous about whether in the short obligatory prayer we are praying to God or to Bahá'u'lláh. Obviously the prayer states quite plainly that one is speaking directly to God: “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me….” Now on the one hand we are reciting words that Bahá'u'lláh revealed whereby we can, on a systematic basis, establish a dialogue with God, even though we are using words devised by Bahá'u'lláh for this purpose.

      In light of the passage I cited in the webinar and included above regarding “The essence of belief in Divine unity” being to regard Bahá'u'lláh and God as more or less the same, I would suppose that it really doesn’t matter. For example, the Guardian stated that it is permissible for us to meditate on the image of the Master as we pray because His image has such spiritual power for us. But we are given such latitude about when we pray, how often we pray, which prayers we employ that I personally cannot believe it makes a difference whether we pray directly to God or to Bahá'u'lláh since for our present purposes we are trying to do the best we can working through these troublesome bodies and beseeching the heavenly hosts for all the help they are able to bestow.

7. A couple of attendees suggested that the twofold station of the Manifestation of God could explain His use of “We.” Others were wondering whether the “modes of revelation” are the same as those mentioned by Nader Saiedi in Gate of the Heart. There have been suggestions that webinar speakers could make themselves available for a certain period of time (weeks, perhaps) to extend the conversation by means of an online forum of some kind.

      I strongly feel there is no significance other than stylistic preference as to the Guardian’s decision to employ the “Majestic Plural” as “we” is sometimes called when used to represent a single speaker. I include for your perusal the description of its usage from Wikipedia. I think you will find it gives an excellent explanation as to why the Guardian chose to employ it:
    The majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis/majestatis in Latin) is the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a single person holding a high office, such as a monarch, bishop, or pope. It is also called the royal pronoun, the royal "we" or the Victorian "we." The more general word for the use of we to refer to oneself is nosism, from the Latin nos.[1] It is most commonly used to denote the excellence, power, and dignity of the person that speaks or writes.
      Finally, there is no authoritative explanation as to what Bahá'u'lláh means by “nine modes.” Several scholars have proposed theories about what these are, but I find none of them very convincing so far. At this point, I prefer to think of this statement as a symbolic use of the term “nine” to mean what it represents elsewhere in our Faith, sufficiency or perfection (exactly the right number of styles to befit the purposes for this dispensation).
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