Thursday, 8 September 2011

Relationship between the names and the attributes

I'm writing an introduction to Surah of the Almighty and I've just written a paragraph discussing in general terms the relationship between the names and the attributes. My source is a paragraph from Baha'u'llah's "Tafsír-i-Hu", translated by Keven Brown and quoted in his "Creation" essay, Section 3. I wish someone would translate the whole tafsir!
I thought I'd post here what I've written, because I have not found this information in any other place. Baha'is talk about the names and attributes of God, but the only place I've ever found information about what they are as a reality is in Keven's essay. What I've explained here is just a simple version of what is an endlessly complex topic.
Here is the paragraph from "Tafsír-i-Hu":
'In another station, the names are garments for the attributes, since an attribute is an act being manifested by an actor, such as giving something or causing one thing to prevail over another. Thus whatever is manifested by the actor appeareth through the stages of his will and his power. This act is made manifest as an effect of the action produced by the actor. When God purposed to make His action manifest in His realm, reveal it upon His earth, establish it in His land, and make it a perpetual word and a clear sign, He clothed it in the garment of names. This is the same as when ye say [of certain acts]: “this is munificent,” “this is discerning,” “this is informed,” and so forth with similar names…. If these actions were not named by these names, they would not become known and made manifest…. Nothing in the heavens or on the earth can exist unless it is under the shadow of certain names among His names. For example, if thou seest the knowledge of a learned person, be assured that this knowledge hath appeared as a result of the effulgence of the name of God the Knowing. If thou observest the power of a powerful individual, know that this power oweth its existence to its reflection of the name the Powerful. In like manner, the loftiness of the sky is a consequence of His name the Exalted, the radiance of the sun is a consequence of His name the Luminous, the stability of the earth is a consequence of His name the Imperturbable, the flowing of water is a consequence of His name the Fluid, and the blowing of wind is a consequence of His name the Sender.' (from the Tafsír-i-Hu, International Bahá’í Archives, unpublished manuscript, no. BC003/070/00084 C)
Here's my short discussion:
"Baha'u'llah says the names are 'garments' for the attributes. I think, in a simple sense, he is saying the names are titles we give to attributes that appear in the actions of actors. For example, you make a donation to a charity. That action comes about through your will and power and is freely chosen by you, so it is a genuine expression of who you are. The effect of this action is to transfer wealth from you to others in need of it. Through this action, you manifest the attribute of generosity. The name given to this attribute is the name of God, the Generous or the Giving. God's 'actions' can be understood along these lines. God acts, which produces particular effects on the intelligible realities in the World of Command, and the attributes manifest in those actions come under the shadow of related names of God. Baha'u'llah says that, if actions are not clothed in the garment of the names, they could not be known. Everything must be named; that is the structure of reality."

Forthcoming book about Baha'u'llah's mystical teachings

  Paradise of Presence: Conversations in the Mindscape of Eternity by Alison Elizabeth Marshall