Sunday, November 8, 2009

Some Observations on Rhetorical Approaches used by Baha'u'llah in the Book of Certitude

In a classical sense, rhetoric is the science of persuasive speech. In his Rhetoric Aristotle described three major types of rhetorical approach, three modes of proof: The appeal to reason ("logos"), the appeal to emotion ("pathos"), and the ethical appeal ("ethos"). The focus of this comment is compile a number of verses from the Book of Certitude illustrating each of these, and showing a unique use by Baha'u'llah of the ethical appeal. I do not by any means suggest that Baha'u'llah's persuasive approaches are limited to these three. For example, Baha'u'llah also uses the fulfillment of prophecy as a form of proof (Iqan, paragraphs 266-282).

First, a brief comment on the logical and emotional appeals.

Pathos, the appeal to emotion (and there is no pejorative implied in this appeal in rhetoric) might be described as positive or negative. It can summon up a negative emotion such as moral outrage, or revulsion toward a situation, to persuade a person to take action to remedy it. For example, in perhaps the greatest of His Tablets of the Divine Plan, addressed to the "Apostles of Baha'u'llah" and revealed to the Baha'is of the United States and Canada during World War I, `Abdu'l-Baha graphically described the carnage of the ongoing war, with blood flowing and severed heads fallen on the dust. He then implored God to raise up "humble and submissive souls" as teachers and called on them to diffuse the fragrances of holiness, illumine the nations and still the tempest of war. (Tablets of the Divine Plan, pp. 45-56)

An example of the use of the appeal to "positive" emotions might be this verse from one of Baha'u'llah's mystic Tablets:

"Arise, therefore, and, with the whole enthusiasm of your hearts, with all the eagerness of your souls, the full fervor of your will, and the concentrated efforts of your entire being, strive to attain the paradise of His presence, and endeavor to inhale the fragrance of the incorruptible Flower, to breathe the sweet savors of holiness, and to obtain a portion of this perfume of celestial glory. Whoso followeth this counsel will break his chains asunder, will taste the abandonment of enraptured love, will attain unto his heart's desire, and will surrender his soul into the hands of his Beloved. Bursting through his cage, he will, even as the bird of the spirit, wing his flight to his holy and everlasting nest." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 321)

There are many examples of Baha'u'llah's appeal to logos in the Iqan. Without examining them here, I will only mention that this Book is described by Shoghi Effendi as "cogent in argument" (God Passes By, p. 138), which Baha'u'llah Himself confirms: "Such is the meaning of these verses, every word of which hath been expounded by the aid of the most lucid texts, the most convincing arguments, and the best established evidence." (Iqan, para. 87) And again, He describes Himself as "… having having set forth all these weighty and infallible proofs which no understanding mind can question, and no man of learning overlook…" (Iqan, para. 152) These appeals are accessible, as He here writes, to the "man of learning," to anyone possessed of an "understanding mind."

In the third form of persuasion identified by Aristotle, ethos, the speaker generally strives to impress upon the listener the speaker's virtue or benevolent motives. Baha'u'llah frequently draws attention to the moral pre-eminence of the Manifestation, that He, par excellence, has the highest moral claim; but there is another, unique aspect to the ethical appeal, discussed below in III.C.

In His Writings, Baha'u'llah often demonstrates the ethical appeal in the classical sense, in that His Words demonstrate His own excellence. For example, in the Most Holy Book, He writes: "Know ye from what heights your Lord, the All-Glorious is calling?" (p. 39, paragraph 55) Similarly, in the Iqan He writes: "O my beloved! Immeasurably exalted is the celestial Melody above the strivings of human ear to hear or mind to grasp its mystery! (para. 180). Baha'u'llah directly expresses His benevolence in such passages as: "God is Our witness that what We even now mention is due solely to Our tender affection for thee," (para. 68) and, "To everyone We have been a most kindly companion, a most forbearing and affectionate friend." (para. 277).

Baha'u'llah describes those who reject His arguments as those who have "weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge" (Iqan, para. 14), and as those who engage in "the interpretation of God's holy Book in accordance with their idle imaginings and vain desires." (para. 93)

That the truths contained in the Word of God are not seen until one is purified is also stated by the Bab:

"For on that Day whatever cause prompteth the believer to believe in Him, the same will also be available to the unbeliever. But when the latter suffereth himself to be wrapt in veils, the same cause shutteth him out as by a veil. Thus, as is clearly evident today, those who have set their faces toward God, the True One, have believed in Him because of the Bayan, while such as are veiled have been deprived because of it." (The Persian Bayan, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 103). This principle is expressed in the Qur'an: "And their unbelief shall only increase for the unbelievers their own perdition." (Qur'an 35:39, cited in paragraph 9 of the Iqan)

In what is perhaps a unique use of the ethical appeal, Baha'u'llah calls on the listener to grow spiritually in order to grasp the truths He presents. While ordinary human literature is suffused with examples of ethical persuasion, perhaps this is a new genre of ethical appeal in Baha'u'llah's Writings, particularly seen in the Iqan. In this mode Baha'u'llah calls on the reader to see with a higher vision, and states that only by possessing the most refined moral sense and disinterested motivation can the reader grasp the truth of His statements. While His logical arguments can be grasped by any "understanding mind" and "man of learning," as quoted above, some aspects of His exposition are not accessible universally; they become increasingly visible as one grows spiritually. It seems to me that Baha'u'llah uses this mode of persuasion in the Iqan at least as often as the logical appeal. Here is a sampling of such expressions from the Iqan:

"With fixed and steady gaze, born of the unerring eye of God, scan for a while the horizon of divine knowledge, and contemplate those words of perfection which the Eternal hath revealed, that haply the mysteries of divine wisdom, hidden ere now beneath the veil of glory and treasured within the tabernacle of His grace, may be made manifest unto you." (Paragraph 16)

"None except the righteous shall partake of this cup, none but the godly can share therein." (Para. 41, paraphrasing Qur'an 76:5)

"And now, with fixed gaze and steady wings enter thou the way of certitude and truth.... Then shalt thou witness all these mysteries with thine own eyes." (para. 43)

"If the eye of justice be opened, it will readily recognize ... " (para. 63)

"Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God..." (para. 75)

"Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge." (para. 75)

"The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning..." (para. 77)

"It is incumbent upon thee, by the permission of God, to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony." (para. 89)

"Wert thou to attain to but a dewdrop of the crystal waters of divine knowledge, thou would readily realize ..." (para. 128)

"Only those will attain to the knowledge of the Word of God that have turned unto Him, and repudiated the manifestations of Satan." (para. 130)

"Not withstanding the obviousness of this theme, in the eyes of those that have quaffed the wine of knowledge and certitude..." (para. 172)

"Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being....Gazing with the eye of God, he will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute certitude." (para. 216)

"When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immeasurable distances..." (para. 217)

"The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit…. Well is it with the sincere in heart for their share of the light of a mighty Day!" (para. 233)

"The wine of renunciation must needs be quaffed, the lofty heights of detachment must needs be attained, and the meditation referred to in the words 'One hour's reflection is preferable to seventy years of pious worship' must needs be observed, so that the secret ... might be discovered..." (para. 267)

"They that have hearts to understand, they that have quaffed the Wine of love, who have not for one moment gratified their selfish desires, will behold, resplendent as the sun in its noon-tide glory, those tokens, testimonies, and evidences that attest the truth of this wondrous Revelation, this transcendent and divine Faith." (para. 280)

"None apprehendeth the meaning of these utterances except them whose hearts are assured, whose souls have found favour with God, and whose minds are detached from all else but Him." (para. 283)

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