By Br. Gregory Stewart
A Freemason is a man who, in searching for life’s ineffable questions, finds his way into the company of fellow seekers. Comprised of men from every nation, races, social and economic level, all hold similar ideals and beliefs. The uniting idea is a faith in the divine founded in the certitude in an afterlife. This “belief” is grounded by certain landmark tenants and virtues which ultimately lead in exploration of those invisible questions, leading ultimately to the betterment of all mankind.
Traditionally a male organization, Freemasons exist in most every country around the world guided by three principals: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. The Fraternity is open to all men, with a belief in the divine, a passion towards humanity, and a desire to better themselves. Foremost is the practice of Brotherly Love, not just towards fellow Freemason’s, but towards all mankind for the purpose of unity and cooperation. Within the lodge, the bonds made through fellowship are vitally important steps towards a better understanding one another. Outside of the lodge, Brotherly Love leads to a greater degree of understanding and compassion towards all men. Coming to the aid of those in true need, Relief is a second light that serves as a sanctuary for the weary and distressed, what ever the cause to those in need, whether it be poverty, infirmity or what ever their ailment. And Truth, whose search is unending, becomes its own virtue by relating to the nature of man and his transcendental state. Truth does not conform to any specific dogmatic practice of law instead accepting all faiths as sacred. Freemasons nurture and grow the divine spark in humanity through the tenants of Brotherly love, Relief and Truth.
But, why exist for the betterment of mankind? For too long man has looked through varying degrees of authority for the answers to those unanswerable questions, “what is our nature and purpose” asked since time immemorial. By looking to answer those questions, Freemasons have found, instead the virtue in which the answers reside. To help frame the questions, Freemasons rely on four of the cardinal virtues, which are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. Temperance to suppresses our personal extremes, and promote modesty, Fortitude to keep good faith and careful watch ourselves, Prudence which keeps the perils of corruption in mind, and Justice which gives each their sense of due not stealing from another. By applying these virtues, the questions become transparent and unanswerable in terms of everyday ideas, instead they take on internal meaning, answerable only in the personal application of the virtues. The idea of personal growth this way is paramount to the craft, taught through lessons in allegory and symbols. The significance of learning this way is to convey their meaning symbolically, fostering individual introspection of their meaning. Exploration of these virtues is only part of the foundation of a Freemason with more enumerated throughout the allegorical degrees, all working to shape those who seek its light.
But the quest for answers is not lead by virtue alone. What many outside consider a barrier, is instead one of the strongest aspects of Freemasonry. Open to all faiths, Freemasonry has certain “landmarks” by which they live. One landmark in-particular is an acknowledged faith in God. Seeing the true nature of man through his works, a Freemason finds divine nature to be majestic in its meaning. But, to discuss faith, it would be problematic to not acknowledge the role of religion in the craft. Without any rule or requirement, Freemasonry neither prescribes to nor inflicts doctrinal controls over a member’s beliefs, ideas, or duties, but instead builds on the nature of good men; it only requires a simple profession of faith. Within Freemasonry there are no cannons of absolute law or moral leader as with a church congregation. Instead within each body of Freemasonry, democracy rules along with the sacred books of law, as prescribed to by each member’s faith. These books represent the backgrounds of the membership and the foundations from which they come, serving to link Freemasons to the transcendent. However, within the lodge, the conflicts of the sacred volumes are shunned, instead to embrace their celebration of the divine. What this represents is an open democratic society governed by mutual respect, advocating unity and harmony. No where is their represented malice or disunion, instead, men of all faiths are encouraged to make a harmonious fellowship.
As such, the inclusion of all faiths has made tremendous enemies. The diligent observer can easily find dissent from all faiths about the brotherhood of Freemasonry. Some examples are as recent as tracts written by the Pope of the Catholic Church, denouncing membership as being in disharmony with Christian faith. Also, standing against the gentle craft are imams of Islam, pastors of protestant Christianity, and rabbi’s of Judaism. The unique thing to all these groups is their agreement that their members should not join the fraternity and shun it as heretical. Their reasoning is that Freemasonry acts as a surrogate to religion, replacing their doctrines of faith. But reason shows us otherwise, as masonry builds on the tenants of all faith, embracing the primitive aspects of each faith, in that all faiths are sacrosanct.
Freemasons work to smooth the rough stone edge indifference to create a vibrant and living craft. Neither libertines, racists, nor atheists by creed, Freemasons should not suffer it to exist within its body. Therefore, it is accurate to say that masons are not irreligious; to the contrary their mandate is a belief in the divine. The obligations taken as Freemasons do nothing to stand in the way our family, our religion, or our civic participation, instead it necessitates our participation in all of these and more by advocating charity through brotherly love. Of this, love of our neighbor is to be paramount in our mind. We are, in fact, encouraged to perform our duties to God, our neighbor, and ourselves daily. Our fraternal bonds are made sacred by oaths and obligations between men, making us stronger and united in purpose. Those oaths make the bonds stronger and the bonds make the men stronger.
Freemasonry strives in its membership to bring like minded men together to explore the four cardinal virtues in hopes to glimpse the divine transcendence of God. Existing in all lands membership relies on the members own free will and accord, each in his search for illumination through the hands of the divine. A freemason believes in the brotherhood of man and fatherhood of a compassionate deity. Surrounded by like minded men, masons are dedicated to Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, believing in their universality of the sacred and divine for the betterment of mankind.