The Flow of Divine Authority: Scriptural Authority for the Universal House of Justice to Function Infallibly without the presence of a Guardian

I originally wrote "The Flow of Divine Authority" in 1996; it can be found at I will modify it from time to time from its original form. Many of the themes in that article are more fully developed in other postings on this site such as this article about the Universal House of Justice and this article about the Gaurdianship.


  1. Thank you Brent! This article has helped me to much better understand the topic. I always understood the conditions for the election of the House of Justice had been met, so I had no reason to doubt its authority, but this article helped me grasp a lot of the nuances. It also confirmed to me I need to read more of Shoghi Effendi's writings.

    I find this passage from the World Order of Baha'u'llah which you quoted in the article so very unsettling:
    >>"that hereditary principle which, as
    >>'Abdu'l-Baha has written, has been
    >>invariably upheld by the Law of God.
    >>"In all the Divine Dispensations,"
    >>He states, in a Tablet addressed to
    >>a follower of the Faith in Persia,
    >>"the eldest son hath been given
    >>extraordinary distinctions. Even the
    >>station of prophethood hath been his
    >>birthright." Without such an
    >>institution the integrity of the
    >>Faith would be imperiled, and the
    >>stability of the entire fabric
    >>would be gravely endangered."

    The hereditary principle makes no sense to me. I get that it has effected every dispensation, and it seem obviously the Will of God, but it makes no sense. I understand Baha'u'llah's approval of constitutional monarchy, but this is quite different. In any case, whether it makes sense to me of not I accept the truth of it and I am confident that good reasons do exist for it. Plus, I am a big fan of the Institutions of the Imammate and Guardianship, so I can't complain about how the principle has been applied. :p

    Thanks again for the article! I am subscribed to the blog and will keep reading.

  2. Hi Crimson, thanks for your comment. The quote from Abdu'l-Baha about the eldest son comes from a Tablet, and a larger portion of that Tablet is found here:

    It reads:

    "As regards the holy verse, the intention of the reference to `male, not female', is the first-born son, for in all the Divine Dispensations the first-born son hath enjoyed a special distinction. Refer ye to the Torah and the Gospel, and likewise to the traditions related from aforetime. Read ye the story of Esau, Jacob and the sons of Isaac in the Torah, that it may become apparent that in all the divine Dispensations the eldest son hath been given extraordinary distinctions. Even the station of prophethood hath been his birthright, let alone the vanities of this world. Even the just laws current amongst civilized states and peoples have also accorded to the first-born son a special distinction.

    "Today the English state claimeth to be the most enlightened in the world. Among the characteristics of the English people is that they restrict the property in its entirety to the first-born son. Their reasoning in this is that when an accumulation of wealth is divided up it is dispersed and lost. A certain individual, for instance, amasseth with untold pains a considerable fortune; then, upon his death, his fortune is divided up, and this division causeth it to be dispersed and scattered to the winds. If, however, it be restricted to the first-born son, it is preserved intact, and he careth for others. For this reason there are at present among the English people many households in which, for four or five centuries, the family fortune hath remained intact without having been distributed and dispersed.

    "Our intention in this is not at all that it is commendable and praiseworthy to restrict the inheritance to the first-born son. Our intention is rather to show that in the laws of civilized countries the first-born son hath likewise been accorded a special distinction. By `first-born son' is intended the eldest of the surviving male children. The aim of assigning the residence exclusively to him is that at least the home of the deceased may be preserved intact, so that whoever among his family should either reside or visit there may be put in mind of him, and seek God's pardon and forgiveness for him.

    "All these matters, however, are of secondary importance. That which is of primary and fundamental importance, and constituteth, by the express pronouncement of the holy text, a divinely established obligation, is the making of a will. Everyone must in his lifetime draw up a will, and dispose of his property in whatsoever manner he deemeth fit, while having due regard for the need to observe justice and equity. Under these conditions, there will be no one who hath not made a will, and inheritance will thus be dealt with according to the will of the deceased. The said provisions are applicable only when someone dies without having made a will. The testator, then, is free to bequeath the residence to whomsoever he wisheth; or, if he desireth, he may devise it to all his heirs jointly. No room hath now been left for misunderstanding, and `Abdu'l-Baha hath elucidated the intention of the divine law. Let whomsoever wisheth turn towards it; whosoever wisheth not will turn away from it. In any case, Our function is to elucidate the law of God, and to explain the meaning of the compendious verses."

    [end quoted Tablet}

    So this is the Tablet from which Shoghi Effendi quotes in the Dispensation, which you have referred to. The subject of the Tablet is inheritance and wills, but Abdu'l-Baha is discussing much broader and deeper subjects. As I understand it, He is talking about how the material and spiritual worlds reflect one another; that just as in society there are laws which provide for privileges for one member of the family, so there are, with limitations, similar provisions reflected in the Divine Law. Even Prophethood has been a matter of descent to the eldest son. Shoghi Effendi demonstrated this himself, in appointing Mr. Ali Muhammad Varga to succeed his father, as Hand of the Cause and Trustee of the Right of God. In this one instance, he appointed a person whom he had never met.

    When He was in New York Abdu'l-Baha made the following statement:

    "According to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh the family, being a human unit, must be educated according to the rules of sanctity. All the virtues must be taught the family. The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother -- none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained. The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honor of one, the honor of all."
    (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 168)

    So there are differences among the members of the family, and different privileges and obligations. As in the Cause of God, ranks must be preserved. Perhaps reflection on what the Universal House of Justice wrote here, will assist you:

    "It is clear from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, as well as from those of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the interpretations of the Guardian, that the proper functioning of human society requires the preservation of ranks and classes within its membership. The friends should recognize this without envy or jealousy, and those who occupy ranks should never exploit their position or regard themselves as being superior to others. About this Bahá'u'lláh has written: 'And among the realms of unity is the unity of rank and station. It redoundeth to the exaltation of the Cause, glorifying it among all peoples.'"
    ("Elucidation of Baha'i Teachings on Ranks and Stations," Letter dated Feb. 22, 1999, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 376, paragraph 206.3a)


  3. Brent, this comment in particular has been very helpful for me. I've never read the Tablet on inheritance in its entirety before and it casts invaluable light on that subject, as well as the subject of primogeniture. I think what is challenging for us in this day and age is that our families are so fractured and unhealthy, we can't imagine how these laws will effect the wholeness and well being of human society. I think healing will happen at the micro and the macro levels, each affecting the other, and then the wisdom of such provisions will be even clearer for us.

  4. An incidental effect of primogeniture in monarchy is that it makes it clear who is next in line, and who after that, and so on. The Turkish culture from which the Qajar dynasty of Iran came, did not have this principle. So when the Shah died, his sons would fight it out and the winner would frequently kill or blind his rivals. That caused chaos in the state, and of course the rivalry in the family of the Shah made a normal family life impossible. It is no accident that the monarchies with a clear principle of succession became the most powerful nations of the early modern era.

  5. That's an interesting observation. I note that Abdu'l-Baha did not make His hereditary successor known during His lifetime -- in fact, did not even make the existence of the institution of Guardianship known to the community until His Will was promulgated. I infer that this was for the protection of the life of Shoghi Effendi. I have heard that He told Shoghi Effendi to not take food or drink when visiting certain people, and I do wonder if he would have survived the Master if these precautions had not been taken. Abdu'l-Baha's own life had been threatened by members of His own family. (Will and Testament p. 8; God Passes By, p. 249)


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