The Baha’i teachings refer to the Holy Spirit as the source of power of the prophets and messengers of God.

Baha’is define the Holy Spirit as the ultimate revealer of truth and certainty, the force that powers the progressive nature of the revelations of God. That means every prophet or manifestation of God starts a fresh cycle of revelation, like a spiritual springtime, bringing a new infusion of the Holy Spirit and its spiritual powers to the world.

But like everything in nature, an organic cycle takes place in the life of every religion. A new Faith is born, rises to the zenith of its power and influence, and then wanes. As this natural cycle progresses, that powerful infusion of the Holy Spirit dissipates, and the spiritual powers stagnate, no longer able to bring about change.

In other words, the creative impulse and vitality of religion, within the context of time and space, are also subject to the principles of integration and disintegration; which means that religion needs to renew itself from time to time. Abdu’l-Baha uses a metaphor to illustrate this point:

Whensoever it [the Holy Spirit] appears, it invests the world of humanity with a new life and endows human realities with a new spirit. It clothes all existence with a glorious attire, disperses the darkness of ignorance, and causes the light of human perfections to shine resplendent…

In the same way, the manifestation of Baha’u’llah was a new springtide which appeared with the sweet savours of holiness, with the hosts of everlasting life, and with a power born of the celestial kingdom. – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 164.  

Religion, as such, has the potential to become devoid of its vitality and span of influence, in which case there only remain sedimentary elements of its original inspiration in cultural and traditional forms. With this new conception of the Holy Spirit, the Baha’i teachings refer to the progressive process of religious renewal, to the constant development of civilization, and to the dialectic of integration and disintegration. Wherever and whenever religion is crystallized into dogmas, Baha’is believe, the Holy Spirit disappears. The reality of religion is not only the rules and laws that it brings for society but also the spiritual power of change and transformation it carries.

Baha’u’llah explained the mechanism of cultural change based on the principles of progressive revelation. He said that religious systems embody a whole series of inherent potentialities, and that the unfolding of these potentialities underlies the processes of change and decay in culture.  

The life span of a religious system lies on the margin of its potentialities. The more universal the essential traits of the system are, the lower its duration is likely to be. As the creative potentialities of religion are exhausted over time, the meanings, values, and norms of the system lose their generating impulse. However, Baha’u’llah points to the reality of recurrent rhythms in social and cultural affairs. The direction of religio-social rhythm is neither from A to B (linear) nor a repetition of a return to the same cycle (purely cyclical). The spiral curve of religio-social change circles round an ordered pattern of progress and evolution. In other words, it represents the realization of the dialectical relationship between life and death, organization and disorganization.

The process of disintegration contains the embryo of renewal and resurrection. As one major form of religio-social system is declining, a new one emerges. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

…Prophets are founders; that is, They establish a new religion, recreate the souls, regenerate the morals of society, and promulgate a new way of life and a new standard of conduct. Through Them a new Dispensation appears and a new religion is inaugurated. Their advent is even as the springtime, when all earthly things don a new garment and find a new life. – Ibid., p. 188.

The Baha’i teachings refer to the concept of progressive revelation as the bedrock of Baha’i theology, and define it as a vast process through which the convergence of God’s vision and the dynamic evolution of the world towards completion occur. The Baha’i teachings speak of a grand synthesis that can unite the world’s spiritual history with dynamics of social change and renewal:

The fundamental principle enunciated by Baha’u’llah, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony… that their teachings are but facets of one truth… that their missions represent successive steps in the spiritual evolution of human society. – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. v.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

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