In this final installment of the Faith Hope and Charity series, we consider the symbolism of charity, or perhaps better called love. It is this attribute that allows the fraternity to “find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home,” the subtext of which Mackey defines in his text from his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
Charity in Freemasonry
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinth. xiii. 1, 2.)
Such was the language of an eminent apostle of the Christian church, and such is the sentiment that constitutes the cementing bond of Freemasonry.
The apostle in comparing it with faith and hope calls it the greatest of the three, and hence in Masonry, it is made the top most round of its mystic ladder. We must not fall into the too common error that charity is only that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as its Christian application, is more noble and more extensive. The word used by the apostle is, in the original, αγάπη (agápi – agapi) or love — a word denoting that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of goodwill and affectionate regard toward others. John Wesley expressed his regret that the Greek had not been correctly translated as love instead of charity, so that the apostolic triad of virtues would have been, not “faith, hope, and charity,” but “Faith, Hope and Love.” Then would we have understood the comparison made by St. Paul, when he said,
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”
Guided by this sentiment, the true Mason will “suffer long and be kind.” He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive. He will stay his falling brother by gentle admonition, and warn him with kindness of approaching danger. He will not open his ear to his slanderers, and will close his lips against all reproach. His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his brother’s sins. Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or worldly friendship alone, but, extending them throughout the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge. For it is the boast of our Institution, that a Mason, destitute and worthy, may find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we examine the text of Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the symbolism of Hope.
Much derided, today, hope is one of those indispensable utilities that carries many of us over the final miles of a trying journey through life. In a masonic context, the symbol is simplified (almost overly) to represent a moment by which the individual may enter into the bliss of eternity.
In the video component, we explore the more broadly understanding of Hope and its origins from a small box out of the mists of antiquity.
Hope in Freemasonry
The second round in the theological and Masonic ladder, and symbolic of a hope in immortality. It is appropriately placed there, for, having attained the first, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation. The ancients represented Hope by a nymph or maiden holding in her hand a bouquet of opening flowers, indicative of the coming fruit; but in modern and Masonic iconology, the science of Craft illustrations and likenesses, it is represented by a virgin leaning on an anchor, the anchor itself being a symbol of hope.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a reading of Albert Mackey’s text on the subject of Faith as it pertains to Freemasonry. Distilled to a single word, Mackey gets to the essence of what that faith means in the fraternity and why it is so critical to the becoming of an Apprentice mason. Rather than give away Mackey’s conclusion, I’ll let his words speak for themselves as we explore them.
Faith in Freemasonry
In the theological ladder, the explanation of which forms a part of the instruction of the First Degree of Masonry, faith is said to typify the lowest round. Faith, here, is synonymous with confidence or trust, and hence we find merely a repetition of the lesson which had been previously taught that the first, the essential qualification of a candidate for initiation, is that he should trust in God.
In the lecture of the same Degree, it is said that “Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity And this is said, because as faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” when we see we no longer believe by faith but through demonstration; and as hope lives only in the expectation of possession, it ceases to exist when the object once hoped for is at length enjoyed, but charity, exercised on earth in acts of mutual kindness and forbearance, is still found in the world to come, in the sublime form of mercy from God to his erring creatures.
In this edition of Freemason Information’s Symbols and Symbolism we consider, together, the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry as gathered form Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Mackey (and Freemasonry) originally sourcing the virtues from Plato’s scheme, discussed in Republic Book IV, 426–435. Mackey writes of the cardinal virtues saying, The pre-eminent or principal virtues on which all the others hinge or depend. They are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. They are referred to in the ritual of the first degree, and will be found below under their respective heads. Oliver says (Revelation of a Square, ch. i.,) that in the eighteenth century the Masons delineated the symbols of the four cardinal virtues by an acute angle, variously disposed. Thus, suppose you face the east, the angle symbolizing temperance will point to the south, It was called a Guttural. Fortitude was denoted by a saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross. This was the Pectoral. The symbol of prudence was an acute angle pointing towards the south-east, and was denominated a Manual; and justice had its angle towards the north and was called a Pedestal or Pedal.
Of the particular virtues, Mackey says:
One of the four cardinal virtues; the practice of which is inculcated in the First Degree. The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon is memory, lay its reference to one of the most solemn portions of the ceremony of initiation. Some Freemasons, very properly condemning the vice of intemperance and abhorring its effects, have been unwisely led to confound temperance with total abstinence in a Masonic application, and resolutions have sometimes been proposed in Grand Lodges which declare the use of stimulating liquors in any quantity a Masonic offense. Put the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrongs.
Plato’s text on temperance says, “the virtue of temperance has more of the nature of harmony and symphony…Temperance…is the ordering or controlling of certain pleasures and desires; this is curiously enough implied in the saying of ‘a man being his own master;’ “ Something he finds as a “ridiculous in the expression ‘master of himself;’ for the master is also the servant and the servant the master; and in all these modes of speaking the same person is denoted,” but to which he denotes “…in the human soul there is a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is said to be master of himself; and this is a term of praise: but when, owing to evil education or association, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse—in this case he is blamed and is called the slave of self and unprincipled.”
One of the four cardinal virtues, whose excellencies are dilated on in the First Degree. It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.”
Spence, in his Polymetis, when describing the moral virtues! says of Fortitude: “She may be easily known by her erect air and military dress, the spear she rests on with one hand, and the sword which she holds in the other. She has a globe under her feet; I suppose to shows that the Romans, by means of this virtue, were to subdue the whole world.”
Plato encapsulates courage (fortitude) as “a kind of salvation…[a salvation] of the opinion respecting things to be feared, what they are and of what nature, which the law implants through education; and I mean by the words ‘under all circumstances’ to intimate that in pleasure or in pain, or under the influence of desire or fear, a man preserves, and does not lose this opinion.”
This is one of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated upon the Entered Apprentice. Preston first introduced it into the Degree as referring to what was then, and long before had been called the Four Principal Signs, but which are now known as the Perfect Points of Entrance. Preston’s eulogium on prudence differs from that used in the lectures of the United States of America, which was composed by Webb. It is in these words: “Prudence is the true guide to human understanding, and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is to be said or done upon all our occasions, what dangers we should endeavor to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties.” Webb’s definition, which is much better, may be found in all the Monitors. The Masonic reference of prudence to the manual point reminds us of the classic method of representing her in statues with a rule or measure in her hand.
In Plato’s Republic, Wisdom is harder to tease out as a virtue, but can essentially be distilled down as knowledge “first among the virtues…” where “good counsel is…a kind of knowledge, for not by ignorance, but by knowledge…so by reason of the smallest part or class, and of the knowledge which resides in this presiding and ruling part of itself, the whole State, being thus constituted according to nature, will be wise; and this, which has the only knowledge worthy to be called wisdom, has been ordained by nature to be of all classes the least.” The takeaway, perhaps, is that knowledge (education) leads to wisdom.
One of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated in the first degree. The Mason who remembers how emphatically he has been charged to preserve an upright position in all his dealings with mankind, should never fail to act justly to himself, to his brethren, and to the world. This is the cornerstone on which alone he can expect ” to erect a superstructure alike honorable to himself and to the Fraternity.” In iconography, Justice is usually represented as a matron with bandaged eyes, holding in one hand a sword and in the other a pair of scales at equipoise. But in Masonry the true symbol of Justice, as illustrated in the first degree, is the feet firmly planted on the ground, and the body upright.
Justice, Plato encapsulates as, “being concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others,—he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals—when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition, just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition, he will call unjust action, and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Death. More broad than a mere memento mori, or skull and bones. Rather, Mackey equates the sentiment ones passing as the entrance to eternal existence.
The Scandinavians, in their Edda, describing the residence of Death in Hell, where she was east by her father, Loke, say that she there possesses large apartments, strongly built, and fenced with gates of iron. Her hall is Grief; her table, Famine and Hunger, her knife; Delay, her servant; Faintness, her porch; Sickness and Pain, her bed; and her tent, Cursing and Howling. But, the Masonic idea of death, like the Christian’s, is accompanied with no gloom, because it is represented only as a sleep, from whence we awaken into another life.
Among the ancients, sleep and death were fabled as twins. The Greek sophist, Old Gorgias, when dying, said, “Sleep is about to deliver me up to his brother;’’ but the death sleep of the heathen was a sleep from which there was no awaking.
The popular belief was annihilation, and the poets and philosophers fostered the people’s ignorance, by describing death as the total and irremediable extinction of live. Thus Seneca says—and he was too philosophic not to have known better—that “after death there comes nothing,” while Vergil, who doubtless had been initiated into the Mysteries of Eleusis, nevertheless calls death “an iron sleep, an eternal night,” yet the Ancient Mysteries were based upon the dogma of eternal life, and their initiations were intended to represent a resurrection. Freemasonry, deriving its system of symbolic teachings from these ancient religious associations, presents death to its neophytes as the gate or entrance to eternal existence. To teach the doctrine of immortality is the great object of the Third Degree. In its ceremonies we learn that live here is the time of labor, and that, working at the construction of a spiritual temple, we are worshiping the Grand Architect for whom we build that temple. But we learn also that, when that live is ended, it closes only to open upon a newer and higher one, where in a second temple and a purer Lodge, the Freemason will find eternal truth.
Death, therefore, in Masonic philosophy, is the symbol of initiation completed, perfected, and consummated.
Additionally, Mackey’s entry on Death in the Ancient Mysteries reads,
Each of the ancient religious Mysteries, those quasi-Masonic associations of the heathen world, was accompanied by a legend, which was always of a funereal character representing the death, by violence, of the deity to whom it was dedicated, and his subsequent resurrection or restoration to life. Hence, the first part of the ceremonies of initiation was solemn and lugubrious in character, ,while the latter part was cheerful and joyous. These ceremonies and this legend were altogether symbolical, and the great truths of the unity of God and the immortality, of the soul were by them intended to be dramatically explained.
This representation of death, which finds its analogue in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, has been technically called the Death of the Mysteries. It is sometimes more precisely defined, in reference to any special one of the Mysteries, as the Cabiric death or the Bacchic death, as indicating the death represented in the Mysteries of the Cabiri or of Dionysus.
Continuing the series of the broken column and the weeping virgin, in this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry into the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry as he examines the figure of time in the Jeremy Cross statue of early American Freemasonry. the statue, a newer invention in the collection of symbols, it remarkably follows in the vein of the 24 inch gage and the hourglass.
The image of Time, under the conventional figure of a winged old man with the customary scythe and hour-glass, has been adopted as one of the modern symbols in the Third Degree. He is represented as attempting to disentangle the ringlets of a weeping virgin who stands before him. This, which is apparently a never-ending task, but one which Time undertakes to perform, is intended to teach the Freemasons that time, patience and perseverance will enable him to accomplish the great object of a Freemason’s labor, and at last to obtain the true Word which is the symbol of Divine Truth. Time, therefore, is in this connection the symbol of well-directed perseverance in the performance of duty.
This symbol with the broken column, so familiar to all Freemasons in the United States is probably an American innovation.
In this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at a short entry from Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry examining the figure of the weeping virgin. A newer invention in the symbolism of Freemasonry, Mackey draws an ancient parallel to its cryptic iconography.
The Weeping Virgin with disheveled hair, in the Monument of the Third Degree used in the American Rite, is interpreted as a symbol of grief for the unfinished state of the Temple.
Jeremy Cross, who is said to have fabricated the monumental symbol, was not, we are satisfied, acquainted with Hermetic Science. Yet a woman thus portrayed, standing near a tomb, was a very appropriate symbol for the Third Degree, whose dogma is the resurrection.
In Hermetic Science, according to Nicolas Flammel (Hieroglyphics, chapter xxxii), a woman having her hair disheveled and standing near a tomb is a symbol of the soul.
Jeremy Cross (b.1783, d. 1861) became a mason in 1808 and soon became a student of Thomas Smith Webb. In 1819 he published The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, in which he borrowed liberally from the previous work of Webb. The Weeping Virgin first appeared as an illustration as rendered by the American copperplate engraver Amos Doolittle, appearing in Crosse’s The True Masonic Chart.
A clouded horizon and starry field of shimmering twilight jewels are often the embelishments aloft above the altar of a masonic lodge. As beautiful and mysterious as this stage dressing is, it holds a special significance in the work at hand in the Masonic Lodge. In this episode, we examine the covering of the lodge, better known as the canopy of Heaven.
As the lectures tell us that our ancient brethren met on the highest hills and lowest vales, from this it is inferred that, as the meetings were thus in the open air, the only covering must have been the overarching vault of Heaven. Hence, in the symbolism of Masonry the covering of the Lodge is said to be “a clouded canopy or starry decked heaven.” The terrestrial Lodge of labor is thus intimately connected with the celestial Lodge of eternal refreshment.
The symbolism is still further extended to remind us that the whole world is a Mason’s Lodge, and heaven its sheltering cover.
Skulls, architectural tools, mallets, aprons… all of these things can we weird. So why does Freemasonry use so many odd symbols? This question is at the heart of many detractors who like to speculate on their nefarious meanings.
Freemasonry is a system of symbol and allegory. By using such symbols, it conveys specific meanings or lessons that each recipient can apply to his personal life and spiritual development.
The skull and bones, or specifically the skull (or death’s head) is actually a symbol to remind us of mortality, as it is the ultimate equalizer of men of all rank, as none can avoid its inevitability. This is more a means to remind us that no matter our station in life, rich or poor, we are all subject to the same fate, and that our goal should be to make this world better for everyone. All Masons should always strive for our noble endeavor of spreading brotherly love, relief, and truth. The hourglass similarly reminds us of the swift passage of time, so as not to delay. The Temple of Solomon has many meanings within Masonry; most significantly it represents the Temple built to hold the laws of God to man in the Judaic tradition. Though its use implied a religious connotation, its application is universal and serves as an allegory to a deeper meaning.
What makes something a “ritual?” Is it an evil connotation? Is it something sinister? Why then is Freemasonry considered a ritual practice? How could something so full of moral virtues practice something ritualistic?
The use of the word ritual is described as the regular practice of the same series of ceremonies at each meeting.
Often there is a connotation of something sinister or counter to popular practice by the use of the term ritual.
To the contrary, it is instead meant to imply that the degree rituals are an established or prescribed practice to convey the knowledge and symbolism of the Fraternity in a repetition to impart their teachings.
What this means is that the same ritual ceremony is practiced with each candidate to induct him into the fraternity so that each man undergoes the same experience creating a unifying shared experience. That practice imparts the three principal tenets of the fraternity which are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.