Which is the greatest? The strength of wine, the power of Kings, or the influence of women?
Those of you that have been received in the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross will doubtless recognize this question. In the degree, Darius offers this question for discussion in his forum and a discussion ensues on the correct answer. This question brings some critical concepts to light for all Masons.
The foundation for this story is found in the Apocrypha.
The Apocrypha is a collection of works that were considered for addition in the Bible, but were generally not included in canonical texts. Because these books are not in most Bibles, many Masons are unfamiliar with the content of these works. The story relating to the aforementioned discussion is found the the book of 1 Esdras.
“And when they had eaten and drunken, and being satisfied were gone home, then Darius the king went into his bedchamber, and slept, and soon after awaked. Then three young men, that were of the guard that kept the king’s body, spake one to another; Let every one of us speak a sentence: he that shall overcome, and whose sentence shall seem wiser than the others, unto him shall the king Darius give great gifts, and great things in token of victory…The first wrote, Wine is the strongest. The second wrote, The king is strongest. The third wrote, Women are strongest: but above all things Truth beareth away the victory.” (1 Esdras 3:3-12)
Throughout the rest of the third and fourth chapters, the discussion relating to these questions take place. Not surprisingly, the man which states that “Truth beareth away the victory” is considered the victor.
For the Mason, these four influences may be applied to the four cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. The strength of wine leads to disregarding the concept of temperance. This virtue instructs the Mason to “avoid excess, or contracting any licentious or vicious habit.” However, the strength of wine encourages indulging in excess and creates vicious several vicious habits. The man who claims that wine is the strongest defends his thesis by saying:
“It maketh the mind of the king and of the fatherless child to be all one… It turneth also every thought into jollity and mirth, so that a man remembereth neither sorrow nor debt: And it maketh every heart rich, so that a man remembereth neither king nor governor; and it maketh to speak all things by talents:And when they are in their cups, they forget their love both to friends and brethren, and a little after draw out swords…(1 Esdras 3:19-22)
The power of kings requires that the virtue of fortitude be considered. The virtue of fortitude is described in Masonic ritual as “that noble and steady purpose of the mind whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient.” The man who claims that the king is the strongest states of the king:
And yet he is but one man: if he command to kill, they kill; if he command to spare, they spare; If he command to smite, they smite; if he command to make desolate, they make desolate; if he command to build, they build; If he command to cut down, they cut down; if he command to plant, they plant. (1 Esdras 4:7-9)
These sentences can describe only one thing: absolute tyranny. Fortitude is that virtue which admonishes the Mason to resist the efforts of tyranny to influence him to forsake his own morals. The strength of kings does not refer only the power of monarchs, but the power of any person who may use their influence for unscrupulous purposes.
The influence of women mandates that the virtue of prudence be observed. Masonic tradition states that this virtue “teaches us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge, and prudentially determine, on all things relative to our present as well as to our future happiness.” Does not the lust for women cause the Mason to momentarily consider forgetting the dictates of reason or sacrifice a happy future for a moment of pleasure? The man who makes this assertion says: “Yea, many there be that have run out of their wits for women, and become servants for their sakes.Many also have perished, have erred, and sinned, for women (1 Esdras 4:26-27).” Certainly, the lure of peculiar form and beauty will influence a man to disregard the virtue of prudence.
However, the third man who asserts that the influence of women defeats the strength of wine or kings also states that truth is the victor over all of these influences. This is consistent with the Masonic view of justice, which the ritual states “is the very cement and support of civil society.” For justice to be served, the truth must be ascertained. The man who introduces this argument to the conversation says that:
As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong; it liveth and conquereth for evermore. With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she doeth the things that are just, and refraineth from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do well like of her works. Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages. Blessed be the God of truth. (1 Esdras 4:38-40)
Truth leads to justice and to overcoming the vices presented by the strength of wine, the power of kings, and the influence of women. Only through truth can the problems created by the influences be identified and corrected. It provides the support of civil society and is even symbolically represented by the feet, the foundation of the body. Therefore, truth is certainly the victor.
Blessed be the God of Truth.