When we think of the Three Great Lights the first one that comes to mind is the Volume of the Sacred Law. It is our rule and guide and in many jurisdictions it is opened to the passage that belongs to the degree the Lodge is working.
Next one would think of the Square. It is also the Master’s symbol and we always part on the Square. In addition throughout Freemasonry everything needs to be squared. In the world of the uninitiated we think of a square deal or a square person.
Lastly comes the Compass. Very little is said about this third Great Light other than than its use is to circumscribe our desires and keep our passions in due bounds. Yet without the compass the square might not exist.
Let us ask at this point what is the fourth part of a circle? And how does one get a perfect right angle? Perhaps the Compass is instrumental in the attainment of these ends. Maybe it is not such a third rate symbol after all.
Today’s elucidation on the subject comes from Brother Wayne Anderson of Ontario Canada. He says that whoever wrote this paper made it feel like a play. Squire Bentley says, Aye, but it could use a few more characters. Brother Anderson offers a weekly Sunday Masonic Newsletter in which many fine educational and historical Masonic information can be found. If you would like to get on Anderson’s mailing list please contact him at email@example.com
The Third Great Light
Author and Date Unknown.
Many hundreds of workmen are laboring on a great building –a Gothic cathedral which one day will be a poem in stone, a hymn to the Most High, a glory of architecture which will enthuse and make men reverent for a thousand years and more in the future.
There are many Fellows of the Craft; expert cutters of stone and layers of ashlars. Some build flying buttresses; some carve intricate and beautiful designs for the interior. In a hut nearby–it is called by the good old English name of “lodge”–the Kings’ Master Mason bends over his plans and draws his designs upon the trestleboard, as did Hiram Abif in the long, long ago.
A knock sounds upon the door. To his impatient “Enter then, and be quick,” a lad pushes upon the portal and stands bareheaded before the Master Workman of them all.
“Well, well? What is it, thou? I am busy upon the King’s work…”
The ‘Prentice bows his head. “Honored Sir,” he begins, timidly, “Full seven years have I served; now I would make my Master’ Piece, and it please you to let me try.”
The King’s Master Mason lays down his work and turns, interested.
“So! Seven years- how the days do pass Thou art young to be a Fellow of the Craft, surely!”
“A man grown, Sire. Twenty-one summers have gone over my head.”
“Hm. Twenty-one. ‘Tis man’s estate, but- art sure thou art ready? Art sure thou canst cut or carve or set the stone sufficiently well to pass the eyes of thy superiors?”
“Aye, Master, I am sure…at least, wilt thou look at thy records? There is naught against me. I have done thy bidding. I have brought no dishonor upon the Craft. I have labored long and with my heart as well as with my hands. I have paid attention…why, Master, thou thyself hath instructed me!”.
“Aye, aye. A good lad…I know. And so thou wouldst make thy Master’s Piece and be a Fellow of the Craft! There will be then, another lad enrolled as an Apprentice–in a year, mayhap, he will be entered on my books and become an Entered Apprentice, even as didst thou, so few days ago…”
“Six years ago, Master!”
“Six–or sixty–they are still few for the building of a Cathedrals Well, what wouldst thou of me?”
“Permission to try, Master…and that thou shouldst prove my square! ’tis old, old, and while I believe it to be true, I must e’en know it is true before I try for mine honor.”
The Master Workman nods approvingly. “Thou hast been well taught, in truth! To Work with an unproved square on important stone is folly. So be it. Thou hast my permission and- after the midday meal, bring me thy square.”
“Sire, may I see thee test it?”
“Now, now! Surely thou knowest better than that! How know I thou canst make thy Master’s Piece successfully? Show thee the great secret of the square? Ah, no, lad- not until thou hast much more of age and experience…but bring me thy square!”
It is after the midday meal. A few, perhaps, have eaten it upon long tables in the lodge. If a good day and warm, many have refreshed themselves without using as tables, stones ready for the setting. ‘Prentices have brought great flagons of cold water from a spring, hard by. Women from the town have carried huge baskets of food for the hungry workmen, and wives and daughters and mothers and sweethearts stand about chatting with their men while they eat. Then a bell rings and all go back to work – all except the Entered Apprentice, who, square in hand, stands again at the door of the lodge, knocking.
“Come in, thou–so! It is an old square, forsooth! Where got you it?”
“From Fellow Eben, Master–’tis he who has taught me much, and he who loans me his cherished tool. He believe it true, he and I, but we would be certain!”
“Eben–& good man. He would know soon enough if his square were awry. But wood doth warp and steel doth bend-I will test thy square. Be off with thee, and return in an hour!”
Pulling his forelock, the Entered Apprentice departs. What thoughts crowd his mind! The Master’s Piece he will attempt to make; what task will be set him to do? A rough ashlar to be made perfect? A stone carving he must labor over? Or will he be given twenty stones and a helper and told to build a wall, or start or complete a buttress? Whatever it is, he will have a true square. If he is to fail, it will not be because of a faulty tool. Well he knows how good work, true work, square work is tested when it is submitted by an Entered Apprentice as a Master’s Piece! Not easily do the Fellows of the Craft admit a newcomer to their ranks. The Entered Apprentice who is to become a Fellow must know his work. He must know his angles and his mortar, his gavel and his level and plumb. He must understand how to work a broached thurnel, and how to tap lightly on his irons or heavily to break a great piece of stone…stone costs much in time and labor to bring from the quarries and no false work can be permitted ’tis the King’s stone!
What goes on in the lodge? What mystic powers does the King’s Master Mason use to try Eben’s square? What a wonder it is, this great knowledge; this power to make a building grow where was but a pile of stones! A square is either square or awry. The tiniest fraction out and the walls lean, the stones seat insecurely the one upon the other. But with the square perfect, the stones can be perfect, the walls true, the building a lasting monument to God…Within the hut the King’s Master Workman closes the door and bars it.
Perhaps he has set a tiler or two to guard it– those who set tiles on roofs are less busy than the layers of walls. Sure that he is free from the prying eyes of those who might climb up to the open space beneath the eaves to listen-and, if it rains get thoroughly wet from the droppings from the roof, or from cowans who never built more than a low wall of field stones, huddled the one on the other to keep the cows from wandering–secure from prying eyes, the King’s Master Mason takes from its place his compasses.
Long they are and rough to look at, made of sturdy oak with an iron hinge, but with fair and true brass points.
Next a sheet of clean white parchment; ’tis costly, this parchment, but seven years! The King’s Master Mason shakes his long white hair about his seamed and lined old face. Seven years–one third of the lad’s life! ‘Tis worth it, even though parchment be expensive!
On the rough table he lays it, and weights its edges down with clean stones. With the compasses he scribes a circle upon it, a generous circle perhaps a cubit across. The sharp brass point scratches in the parchment so the circle is plain to see.
From his rack of drafting tools the King’s Master Workman takes a straight edge–finest work that Fellow Edwin could make. Long had he labored with the block of close-grained ebony, brought from across the seas, to make it true. Backed with strong ash, smoothed of edge, until like the silk that women wear in the East, and straight as the line that divides the sea from sky.
The Master sights along its edges, more from habit than distrust. Then with care he lays it across the circle, so that it touches the tiny puncture in the center made by the stationary leg of the compasses.
“Now, the square-point mark!” he mutters. “‘Tis no matter where I make it-the good God so made this mathematical wonder that I cannot fail, put it where I may.” With one point of the sharp brass pointed compasses he makes a dot on the circle. As he has said, it makes no difference where. Then with two shorter, straight edges connecting the dot on the circle with the circumference. Narrowly he looks.
“What? Do mine eyes deceive me? Is it really out of true?” He picks it up, again lays it down, adjusts it carefully. He looks again, first from above, then from each side. “Nay, I was wrong. They do coincide. Each is equally true–the square I have made by the secret and the power of the compasses–the square which Ebon has used–which now the young lad will use.”
The King’s Master Mason picks up his tools, rolls again the parchment and puts it away. “I could wish I might show the lad,” he sighs. “But it would never do. And likely he hath not the mind to understand. Indeed, who hath the mind to comprehend? What a wonder is the good God to provide such perfect ways to make things perfect. Now why, doth one suppose, doth a dot on a circle, when connected to points in a line with the center, become the juncture of a perfect square? Never a fraction of a fraction of an inch wrong! Always is the angle right the angle of the level on the plumb, a right angle indeed. Who comes?” as a knock sounds on the door.
“Tis thine officer who presides over the Fellows of the Craft – who but Hiram?”
“So. Enter then. I have but now tested Eben’s square for a lad who will try to make his Master’s Piece…”
“Would mine had been tested!” mourned Hiram. “Remember, Master? I did not ask for the testing of my square and it was not right angle, but an angle askew–it cost me a year more of Entered Apprentice Work before thou wouldst let me try again!”
The Master smiles. “Aye, I remember. Well, thou hast tested the tools oft enough since. But Eben’s square is true, a very right angle indeed.”
“While a square is circumscribed within the circumference of a circle, it is impossible that it materially err!” agrees Hiram.
“Aye, the point within the circle–the line across–the lines connecting –they make precepts which all Fellows must, and all men should, heed. Didst ever think, Hiram, that that applies to tools of brass and iron and wood, applies also to character and conscience and mind? Try the square by compasses, the circle, the point within it, the straight edge; so should man try his soul. Let the point be the individual. Let the circle be that boundary beyond which his passions and prejudices may not stray. Let the circle be a holy doctrine—he cannot, then, do any act which is not square, nor materially err in any conduct…”
“Tis a Pity all cannot know and understand, as dost thou!”
“Aye. But so it is ordained. The square is mine–mine by virtue of being the Master. It is for me to know, for me to try, for me to test the square. But the compasses-they belong to the Craft, since it is by the compasses that I do test the square which Craftsmen use!”
“Square and compasses!” mused Hiram. “All that glorious building, the most of which is yet to be, would never be, without the square and the compasses!”
“And neither square nor compasses would be possible without the wonder of the mathematics which God hath set in the midst of the compasses for the use and guidance of us, His Craftsmen,” answered the King’s Master Workman, reverently.
“Aye, aye, so mote it always be!” answered Hiram, bending his head.