In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we explore the origins of the Latin phrase ordo ab chao better known as order out of chaos. Often taken as an esoteric alliteration of transformation, the source of this oft used Latin phrase has its roots deeply embedded in the origin story of the Scottish Rite in the Americas.
While philosophically esoteric, the phrase holds closer to the literal movement from darkness into light, with the formation of the Scottish Rite at Charleston.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, describes the phrase, thus:
A Latin expression, meaning Order out of Chaos. A motto of the Thirty-third Degree, and having the same allusion as lux e tenebrious (this Latin phrase belongs to the Latin translation of the Gospel of John: “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt,” meaning “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”). The invention of this motto is to be attributed to the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston, and it is first met with in the Patent of Count Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse, dated February 1, 1802. When De Grasse afterward carried the rite over to France and established a Supreme Council there, he changed the motto, and, according to Lenning in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry 1822 or 1828, Ordo ab hoc, Order Out of This, was used by him and his Council in all their documents.
The phrase appears on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General. The decoration rests on a Teutonic Cross which sits below a nine-pointed star, formed by three triangles of gold, one upon the other, and interlaced. From the lower part of the left side toward the upper part of the right extends a sword, and, in the opposite direction, a hand of Justice. In the middle is the shield of the Order, blue; upon the shield is an eagle like that on the banner; on the dexter side of the shield is a golden balance, and on the sinister a golden compass resting on a golden square. Around the whole shield runs a stripe of blue, lettered in gold with the Latin words ” ORDO AB CHAO;” and this stripe is enclosed by a double circle formed by two serpents of gold, each holding his tail in his mouth. Of the smaller triangles formed by the intersection of the principal ones, those nine that are nearest the blue stripe are coloured red, and on each is one of the letters that constitute the word S. A. P. I. E. N. T. I. A. (Latin: wisdom, discernment, memory)