Freemason Information

Redefinition of the Ancient Landmarks of the Order, 1939

The topic comes from a link picked up in a message board on the ever swirling definition of Regularity between Masonic bodies. Setting aside the idea of Territorial Exclusivity prevalent in the U.S., the message board linked to an interesting inclusion to a Wikipedia entry on the European question of recognition and the 11 defined Ancient landmarks that makes Masonry Freemasonry. Simple called “The Aims and Relationships of the Craft Freemasonry” this document is the Magna Carta, if you will, of who, how, and when, a body is recognized and the trump to why English Masonry (UGLE and its Home lodges of Ireland and Scotland) is the arbiter of what is, or what isn’t recognized Masonry.

What I find most interesting is that there is no mention of the “Antient” Landmarks as such that most are familiar with from Anderson (that rang from 11-25 depending on the source which you can read on Paul Bessel’s site). Some states have NO codification of any these past landmarks, rather deferring, it would seem, to the document below as their institutional operating parameters.

These are more Corporate Landmarks, in that they spell out what the essence of regular Grand Lodge Freemasonry is, saying at the end of the document that “The three Grand Lodges are convinced that it is only by this rigid adherence to this policy that Freemasonry has survived the constantly changing doctrines of the outside world, and are compelled to place on record their complete disapproval of any action which may tend to permit the slightest departure from the basic principles of Freemasonry.” and that if any deviation were to take place “that [they] cannot maintain a claim to be following the Antient Landmarks of the Order, and must ultimately face disintegration.”

It’s a pretty extreme position, and probably true, just as adding any new ingredients to a particular recipe changes it into a new one.  It is impossible to make a singular change to a thing and see it as the same as it was before the revision.

With that in mind, I’m struck by the idea that the document then places some very interesting caps onto the fraternity dictating what exactly IT is and what IT isn’t, despite what the ritual implies, or what it imparts.

The most notable point in the document is that the institution is essentially a thoroughly Christian institution as indicated by paragraph 4. I say this as it instructs to place the Bible into such a position of prominence above (read in-place) of all others which excludes entirely other faiths. On its own merit, this isn’t bad, but does it does not take into account the faiths of other members, whether in majority or minority of a lodge.

What does this mean? At a surface brush it leaves open the question of oaths and obligations of those who are not of that particular faith. Would the oath sworn by a Christian hand upon a Koran be the same as an oath taken upon the bible? Or, in a less inflammatory tone, would the oath of a Jewish brother taken on the Holy Bible be held to breast as close as an oath taken on the Tanakh, the Hebrew holy writing, called the Old Testament in the Christian church.  But, taken a step further, does it truly permit a lodge of mixed faith brothers to exist, putting each members on equal footing, or does it place deference towards the Christian faith at the sake of any others?

Paragraph 3 does seem to address this in stating that the condition of being a Freemason is predicated upon the belief in a Supreme Being, with no declaration of which Supreme Being, but does this square with the idea that the Holy Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law that MUST be on the alter? Does that very book dictate the order as being exclusively a Christian body? Could, in light of the requirement of books on the alter, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or other non-Christian truly become a Freemason under the United Grand Lodge of England or its Home Lodges of Ireland or Scotland?

Albert Mackey‘s Landmarks, recorded in 1835, say nothing of which Holy Book, saying rather in Landmark 21 “A “Book of the Law” is indispensable in every Lodge” but not saying in the list what that book of Law is. Pounds Landmarks say too A “book of the law” as an indispensable part of the lodge” but does not indicate which book. Mackey, in an expanded look says: I say advisedly, a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments shall be used. The “Book of the Law” is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Mohammedan countries, and among Mohammedan Masons the Koran might be substituted. Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the peculiar religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief. The |”|Book of the Law|”| is to the speculative Mason his spiritual Trestle-board; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestle|-|board, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct The Landmark, therefore, requires that a |”|Book of the Law,|”| a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.  -From The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon

Anderson’s Constitution speaks to the obeying of the “Moral Law” but offers no leaning towards what that means. Used in context, one could debate its meaning as coming from a religious implication stemming form the Bible or a Humanist one based on the work of John Locke.

American Masonry has this same prohibition as the Holy Bible is the undisputed Volume of Sacred Law upon every alter in every lodge, with some states allowing for shared space with other books, usually at the will and pleasure of its membership to allow its use.

Another aspect of the document is the prohibition of Masonry taking a position “to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of government.”

While this alleviates the shift of balance, it also preserves the harmony of the membership from leaning the fraternity in any particular way. In some respects, this seems characteristic of the first prohibition, making the fraternity a predominantly Christian body to ensure its cultural heritage which worked in an era of Christian dominance. Peace and harmony of the lodge being the principal aim of the Landmarks. the difference in these two very definite points is that in the column of no politics it makes no declaration as to which political party it drapes onto its alter in the manner it does with religion.

The full document of The Aims and Relationships of the Craft Freemasonry as crafted by the Masonic High Council the Mother High Council in 1939 has some other interesting aspects that dictate regularity, and make for an interesting consideration as to the shape and composition of Masonry in the 21st Century now. The MW Pro Grand Master-Most Hon. Marquess of Northampton Iain Ross Bryce, TD, DL presented a speech in 2007 on the subject and reaffirmed the importance of the document to European Masonry and the role of the UGLE in recognizing them, which lends itself even more to the authority, within Masonic circles, of the High Councils Document.

The full points of the document:

1. The MHC has deemed it desirable to set forth in precise form the aims of Freemasonry as consistently practiced under its Jurisdiction and since the premier Grand Assembly it come into being as an organized body at York in 1705, and also to define the principles governing its relations with those other Grand Lodges with which it is in fraternal accord.

2. In view of the distortion by some so called world Masonic powers, and the deviation from the core values principles and aims of Ancient Craft Freemasonry, it is once again considered necessary to emphasize certain fundamental principles of the Fraternity.

3. The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order of Freemasons is a belief in a Supreme Being. This is essential and admits of no compromise.

4. The Bible, referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every Candidate is required to take his obligation on that book or on the Volume, which is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it.

5. Everyone who enters Freemasonry is, at the outset, strictly forbidden to countenance any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society; he must pay due obedience to the law of any state in which he resides or which may afford him protection, and he must never be remiss in the allegiance due to the Sovereign of his native land.

6. While English Freemasonry thus inculcates in each of its members the duties of loyalty and citizenship, it reserves to the individual the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs. But neither in any Lodge, nor at any time in his capacity as a Freemason, is he permitted to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions.

7. The MHC will always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of government.

8. The MHC is aware that there do exist Bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles, and while that attitude exists the Regular Grand Lodge of England refuses absolutely to have any relations with such Bodies, or to regard them as Freemasons.

9. A Regular Grand Lodge is a Sovereign and independent Body practising Freemasonry only within the four Degrees and their complement within the limits defined by the Grand Assembly at York 1705 as pure Antient Masonry. It does not recognize or admit the existence of any superior Masonic authority, however styled.

A) A Regular Grand Lodge has sole Jurisdiction over the Craft Freemasonry including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch, and confers the degrees of: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason and employ the ceremony of the Board of Installed Masters in which the Worshipful Master of a Lodge is installed and invested, it confer the; Mark Man/Mason degree on Master Masons in a regular craft lodge of Master Masons lowered to the Fellow Craft degree.

B) The degrees controlled by the Grand Royal Arch Chapter are: Royal Ark Mariners, Excellent Mason and Most Excellent Master, Royal Arch, including the Ceremony of the Veils and inner workings of Royal Arch Freemasonry as practiced in the Crypt of York Minster.

10. The MHC will refused to participate in Conferences with so-called International Associations claiming to represent Freemasonry, which admit to membership Bodies failing to conform strictly to the principles upon which the MHC is founded. The Grand Lodge does not admit any such claim, nor can its views be represented by any such Association.

11. There is no secret with regard to any of the basic principles of Freemasonry, some of which have been stated above. The MHC will always consider the recognition of those Grand Lodges, which profess and practise, and can show that they have consistently professed and practised, those established and unaltered principles, but in no circumstances will it enter into discussion with a view to any new or varied interpretation of them. They must be accepted and practised wholeheartedly and in their entirety by those who desire to be recognised as Freemasons by the Regular Grand Lodge.

How do you read them and how do you see them relating to your jurisdiction practice of Freemasonry?  Do you see Freemasonry as principally a Christian organization?

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