The symbol of the Pillars in Freemasonry, three in total, have a special place in the rituals and symbolism of Freemasonry. Many an author, including myself, have attempted to capture their meaning and give resonance to their understanding. Writing in a preamble to the second degree, I defined the pillars in their three representations or mercy, severity and mildness, writing:
Wisdom, the left-hand pillar of mercy, is an active pillar and representative of alchemical fire, which is the principal of spirituality, often called the pillar of Jachin. It is a masculine pillar, and relates to our mental energy, our loving kindness, and our creative inspiration as we traverse it up the Kabbalaistic tree through the Sephirot.
Strength is the right-hand pillar and takes the form of severity, shaped into the alchemical symbol of water. It can represent darkness, but it is a passive symbol that is feminine in nature and called the pillar of Boaz. Upon it we find the points of our thoughts and ideas, our feelings and emotions, and the physicality of our physical experience, our sensations, each an aspect of its Cabalistic progression.
Beauty, then, takes on the role of synthesis of the two, the pillar of mildness; it is upon this pillar that the novitiate is transformed through his progressive states as he progresses. The central pillar of Beauty is representative of Jehovah, the Tetragrammaton which represents deity itself upon which our crown of being resides balanced through feeling and emotion from our foundation of justice and mercy, which springs from our link to the everyday world.
H. A. Kingsbury, writing in The Three Supporting Pillars Of A Lodge, from The Builder Magazine in October 1917, writes of the pillars saying, The Mason is informed that the Three Supporting Pillars of the Lodge are Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty “because it is necessary that there should be wisdom to contrive, strength to support, and beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings”: he cannot but gather from the lectures and the work, particularly of the First Degree, that the Lodge is the symbol of the World: therefore, when he combines these two conceptions and draws the necessarily resulting conclusion, he arrives at the same understanding of the ultimate symbolic significance of the Three Pillars as did the ancient Hindus–the Three Supporting Pillars of the Lodge are, considered as a group, the symbol of Him Whose Wisdom contrived the World, Whose Strength supports the World, Whose Beauty adorns the World-Deity.
Wisdom, Strength and Beauty
From the first degree lecture, it reads,“The Worshipful Master represents the pillar of Wisdom, because he should have wisdom to open his Lodge, set the craft at work, and give them proper instructions. The Senior Warden represents the pillar of Strength, it being his duty to assist the Worshipful Master in opening and closing his Lodge, to pay the craft their wages, if any be due, and see that none go away dissatisfied, harmony being the strength of all institutions, more especially of ours. The Junior Warden represents the pillar of Beauty, it being his duty at all times to observe the sun at high meridian, which is the glory and beauty of the day.”
The masonic pillars as an ancient symbol
Albert G. Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, writes of the pillars, saying:
In the earliest times it was customary to perpetuate remarkable events, or exhibit gratitude for providential favors, by the erection of pillars, which by the idolatrous races were dedicated to their spurious gods. Thus Sanchoniathon the Berytian tells us that Hypsourianos (Hypsuranius) and Ousous (Memrumus?), who lived before the Flood, dedicated two pillars to the elements, fire and air. Among the Egyptians the pillars were, in general, in the form of obelisks from fifty to one hundred feet high, and exceedingly slender in proportion. Upon their four sides hieroglyphics were often engraved. According to Herodotus, they were first raised in honor of the sun, and their pointed form was intended to represent his rays. Many of these monuments still remain.
In the antediluvian or before the Flood, ages, the posterity of Seth erected pillars; “for,” says the Jewish historian, “that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam’s prediction, that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence of water, they made two pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone; they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind, and would also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them.” Jacob erected such a pillar at Bethel, to commemorate his remarkable vision of the ladder, and afterward another one at Galeed as a memorial of his alliance with Laban. Joshua erected one at Gilgal to perpetuate the remembrance of his miraculous crossing of the Jordan. Samuel set up a pillar between Mizpeh and Shen, on account of a defeat of the Philistines, and Absalom erected another in honor of himself. The reader will readily see the comparison between these memorials mentioned in the Bible and the modern erection of tablets, gravestones, etc., to the honor of the dead as well as to a notable deed or event. Compare also the use of an altar.
The doctrine of gravitation was unknown to the people of the primitive ages, and they were unable to refer the support of the earth in its place to this principle. Hence, they looked to some other cause, and none appeared to their simple and unphilosophic minds more plausible than that it was sustained by pillars. The Old Testament abounds with reference to this idea. Hannah, in her song of thanksgiving, exclaims: “The pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them” (First Samuel 2, 8). The Psalmist signifies the same doctrine in the following text: “The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved; I bear up the pillars of it” (Psalm 75:3). Job 26:7 says: “He shaketh the earth out of her places, and the pillars thereof tremble.” All the old religions taught the same doctrine; and hence pillars being regarded as the supporters of the earth, they were adopted as the symbol of strength and firmness. To this, John Dudley (Naology: Or, a Treatise On the Origin, Progress, and Symbolical Import of the Sacred Structures of the Most Eminent Nations and Ages of the World, page 123) attributes the origin of pillar worship, which prevailed so extensively among the idolatrous nations of antiquity. “The reverence,” says he, “shown to columns, as symbols of the power of the Deity, was readily converted into worship paid to them as idols of the real presence.” But here he seems to have fallen into a mistake. The double pillars or columns, acting as an architectural support, were, it is true, symbols derived from a natural cause of strength and permanent firmness. But there was another more prevailing symbology. The monolith, or circular pillar, standing alone, was, to the ancient mind, a representation of the Phallus, the symbol of the creative and generative energy of Deity, and it is in these Phallic Pillars that we are to find the true origin of pillar worship, which was only one form of Phallic Worship, the most predominant of all the cults to which the ancients were addicted.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a vital emblem of Freemasonry, the compass or compasses. Albert G. Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, gives context to this meaning of this mysterious symbols meaning and history. Mackey, writes:
As in Operative Freemasonry, the compasses are used for the measurement of the architect’s plans, and to enable him to give those just proportions which will ensure beauty as well as stability to his work; so, in Speculative Freemasonry, is this important implement symbolic of that even tenor of deportment, that true standard of rectitude which alone can bestow happiness here and felicity hereafter.
Hence are the compasses the most prominent emblem of virtue, the true and only, measure of a Freemason’s life and conduct. As the Bible gives us light on our duties to God, and the square illustrates our duties to our neighborhood and Brother, so the compasses give that additional light which is to instruct us in the duty we owe to ourselves-the great, imperative duty of circumscribing our passions, and keeping our desires within due bounds. “It is ordained,” says the philosophic Edmund Burke, “in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters.”
Those Brethren who delight to trace our emblems to an astronomical origin, find in the compasses a symbol of the sun, the circular pivot representing the body of the luminary, and the diverging legs his rays.
In the earliest rituals of the eighteenth century, the compasses are described as a part of the furniture of the Lodge and are said to belong to the Master.
Some change will be found in this respect in the ritual of the present day.
The word is sometimes spelled and pronounced compass, which is more usually applied to the magnetic needle and circular dial or card of the mariner from which he directs his course over the seas, or the similar guide of the airman when seeking his destination across unknown territory.
Of the spheres and heavens
Pike, in Morals and Dogma, defines the compass as an emblem that describes circles, and deals with spherical trigonometry, the science of the spheres and heavens. The former, therefore, is an emblem of what concerns the earth and the body; the latter of what concerns the heavens and the soul. Yet the Compass is also used in plane trigonometry, as in erecting perpendiculars; and, therefore, you are reminded that, although in this degree both points of the Compass are under the Square, and you are now dealing only with the moral and political meaning of the symbols, and not with their philosophical and spiritual meanings, still the divine ever mingles with the human; with the earthly the spiritual intermixes; and there is something spiritual in the commonest duties of life.
Raised to a Master Mason in 1908, at Harmony Lodge No. 17 in Washington, DC, Carl H. Claudy served as the Master and eventually as Grand Master of Masons in 1943. He served as the executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association in 1929 holding the position until his death in 1957 claiming authorship of nearly 350 Short Talk Bulletins.
The MSANA says of the plays:
[They] are not merely a means by which a lodge may entertain, but attempt to satisfy a desire to understand the inner content of Freemasonry. They accomplish this purpose by drawing aside the veils of ritual, allegory and symbol that the truth behind may shine through.
BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY – And what I remembered of them.
After being away a long time, I recently returned to my home lodge for a visit. Those of you who have followed my writings will remember why I left my lodge, primarily due to Freemasonry turning into a good old boys club as opposed to the fraternity it was intended to be.
I went back to my lodge to see a young man return his catechism in front of the Craft. This was a good man who I was pleased to sign his petition. I am somewhat old school in this regard. I believe if you sign a man’s petition, you should be there for him as he proceeds through the three degrees. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me and thinks nothing of deserting the Brother.
My friend was joined by three other Entered Apprentices who all returned their catechisms masterfully. I have obviously heard these words many times before and instructed several Brothers in this regard. Needless to say, listening to this was nice, but a wee bit boring. As I sat there, my mind started to drift away to years ago when I was in their shoes and returning my catechisms.
It was a slow night, and nobody was in the north. As I sat there staring at the empty seats, I began to imagine seeing the many lodge Brothers I had known over the years who made lodge meaningful to me, but had passed away in recent years.
There was my old mentor, Rome Scerbo, who I succeeded as Secretary; the three men on my Masonic investigation committee, Bill Brooks, Forrest McQuiston, and Herb Furman; the organist, Bob Haynes, who played “Happy Trails” as we closed the lodge; Bob Clarkson, the Treasurer who presented me my first Masonic pin; Bill McIntosh (senior and junior) who influenced my Masonic career; Dave Seidel, who was Treasurer when I was Secretary; Alex McColl, an old Scot with a wonderful singing voice; Charles Rongey, the lodge Historian who taught me a lot about the history of the lodge and the village; and many other side-liners who had served the lodge in a variety of capacities. They are all gone now, but in their day, they were the movers and shakers of the lodge.
Back then, when our lodge meeting was over, it was common for them to sit down, drink coffee, and talk about the lodge, their lives, and the world around them. It was here I discovered these were the people who truly tended to the business of the lodge, not the current sitting Master. If there was a problem that needed to be addressed, they took care of it. They leaned on one and other thereby creating an esprit de corps which I admired. Yes, they most definitely spoke “on the level.” These were men of honor, integrity, and teamwork. There was no interest in autocratic rule or accolades for personal glory.
Today though, when lodge is over, people bolt for the exit. The words spoken in the lodge room are the same today, but the spirit is different. I am still warmly greeted, but I get the unsettling feeling we are only going through the mechanics of Freemasonry as opposed to living Freemasonry.
I had the great honor of serving as Master for many of the ghosts during their Masonic funeral service. Maybe that’s why I am so sensitive to their spirit and see them sitting in lodge before me.
Now, I am one of the elders. As I looked around the lodge room, and heard the catechisms spoken, I noticed there were only three other men attending who served the lodge longer than myself. Everyone else was much younger.
As I sat in my chair, gathering my thoughts, I thought back to a time when the fraternity meant something more important than a good old boy’s club. People weren’t measured by a Masonic title or fancy apron, but simply by a plain white leather apron, a warm grip, and the word “Brother.”
I like to think I’m an optimist. Most of the time at least.
If you haven’t been paying attention, COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc around the world. In the U.S., the pandemic is and growing exponentially in the United States with a flurry of mixed messaging about gathering, wearing masks, and even arguing if the virus is real.
Wherever you land on the issue, the dilemma is the same–the pandemic is shaping the way gather. And in the absence of gathering it’s shaping the way prospective members see the (or don’t see) the fraternity.
As COVID spreads and impacts more of us, shuttering or putting limits on what we can do in groups, we need to figure out new ways to communicate what it means to be a Freemason and how someone joins Freemasonry.
If they can’t see Freemasonry in action, they can’t take action to become a mason.
Closed Lodge Rooms During COVID-19
How do you show someone what you do if you can’t SHOW them what you do? You have to talk about it.
How you talk about it might and might not matter in the ways you think it would. What’s important is the message and engagement that comes from leadership to the members. Public where possible. Inspiring when able. But frequent in a way that’s not obsessive but relevant to the evolution of what’s taking place in the news.
I think we take leaders for granted. They’re in that leadership position to “lead.” So, they should. This could be lodge line officers, lodge masters, well-spoken district leaders and grandmasters.
The messaging should be inspiring, encouraging, not preachy or assumptive of one bend or another. I say this as the messaging should be worthy of sharing OUTSIDE of social media. How exciting or engaging would a message about the great things Freemasonry is doing to help beat the pandemic be?
The goal would be to capture the attention of the secondary audience, the friends of friends on Facebook or Twitter who see the Liked or Reshared communication. A great early adopter of this idea is taking shape out of the Grand Lodge of Ohio who has been producing content at an amazing rate and posting to social channels.
This is just one example of what I’ve seen on Twitter:
I mention this as one example of what one Grand Lodge is doing to connect and communicate with the broader public. What an amazing sight that would be.
Members at a Distance During COVID-19
While engaging the secondary audience of non-masons with interesting content, the need to keep existing members connected is paramount. How you go about this seems to come down to a few avenues.
Host regular (tiled and/or untiled) meetings via Zoom or other online platforms.
Break the quarantine protocols and meet in person.
This may not be the normal everyone likes or even wants to operate in. But it’s the normal we presently exist within. Here, members under the United Grand Lodge of England has organized some amazing events with Masonic notables like Dr. Robert Lomas and the 2012 Prestonian lecturer W Bro. Tony Harvey. These are but a few of the activities coming out of the U.K.
This isn’t to say that activities aren’t taking place around the U.S.
With the proliferation of online meetings, it would be foolish to assume that they aren’t taking place as tiled business meetings. The point here is the lack of wider publicizing of the activities or hosting activities that may be of interest to a wider of both member and non can only help to bolster any interest that may exist in the area. It’s not perfect. It’s not the best possible world. But it’s something. It’s work in the direction of re-emerging into a newly vaccinated world eager to do something social.
Doing this work or seeing the need to do it is challenging.
But there’s still time. It just takes the energy and leadership to see the value and do the work. This pandemic will end. We’ll beat COVID-19 with a vaccine. Freemasonry needs to make sure it’s ready to get back into the world when the vaccine is in circulation and the world opens back up.
Postscript: I’d written this several days before publishing it. On the evening before setting this up to go live, NPR dropped a national story on the subject titled: Freemasons Say They’re Needed Now More Than Ever. So Why Are Their Ranks Dwindling? In the story, it essentially encapsulates this very problem quoting Chris Hodapp from Freemasons for Dummies. Chris was speaking on the loss of membership, saying “…something that’s scaring the hell out of me is this COVID shutdown thing. God help us all when we stand back and survey the crumbling wreckage that that has caused.”
It’s that wreckage that can be addressed, now, as best possible. The way to do that is to be present.
This question started as one of those silent moment thoughts: What will Freemasonry look like after COVID-19?
The easy answer is that Freemasonry will go on business as usual. Monthly stated meetings, degree evenings, appendant body meetings and the bi-annual festive board. The question is, will members be willing to return given the breadth of the crisis and the disparity in following safety protocols or safe distancing standards?
The question, as I’m thinking it through, isn’t so much about how Freemasonry will respond to the easing of COVID restrictions and the return to a semblance of normal, but how the members will. After a yearlong (maybe two) hiatus from activities around the fraternity, how do things restart?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this.
Going into the pandemic, Freemasonry was already contending with a decrease in membership. This was illustrated in several stories on this site (The Death of Freemasonry: When Change Changes You, To Die Or Not To Die). Now, nearly a year into the quarantine, the old questions are compounded with having to figure how to re-engage and invigorate past members to come back and drive interest to new members to join–all while under quarantine and socially distanced.
My thinking is that now would be the time to start planning or rolling out campaigns to reinvigorate interest.
I see this happening in the content the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. They’ve been producing a stream of content around new members, virtual reunions and driving the message home that it’s still there, doing what masons do. You can catch a glimpse of the work in this one social post from Twitter.
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
It’s impossible to say what the net impact will be of a campaign piece like this. But smart, and well crafted, and on point. It’s an interesting glimpse of the bigger picture of what they’re doing which is building the Scottish Rite brand and strengthening the reach. They’ve really done a stellar job with their digital footprint.
Imagine this footprint spread across the 50 states. And this is only one example of one organization on one social platform.
The possibilities are nearly limitless to broaden the reach of your flavor of local Freemasonry.
I started this post with the headline Freemasonry after COVID, but I suppose the better lead would have been Freemasonry in the middle of COVID. The issues aren’t insurmountable. How do you reach and keep existing members engaged when social distancing is restricting face to face gatherings? And how do you grow and add new ones?
If you’re a Freemason away from lodge, how interested would you be if your Grand Lodge did more to engage you? Are they doing enough already? Do you think it would help to retain your interest in this period of social distancing while we await a vaccine?
The following is a remembrance sent in by Archibald A. H. Crawford. Arch was raised in New York in 1964 and spent several years around the lodge taking his passion for the fraternity on a deployment to East Asia. His remembrance serves to memorialize his time there and capture the memory of his labor for the craft abroad in 1969.
On the Formation of a Masonic Square Club in Vietnam, 1969
I was under Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in a Mobile Advisory Team (MAT) in Four Corp (Southernmost) headquartered in/near Cần Thơ on the sacred Mekong river. Our team of four American soldiers were stationed at a mud outpost of Local Force South Vietnamese on a tributary East of the city and our HQ. We scrounged enough material from our HQ base camp to build a small house within the company-controlled patch of land. The local people were of a recent Buddhist subset called Hòa Hảo (pronounced Wa How).
We had become relatively good scroungers and lived well compared to everyone within a few miles (which is not saying much at all). Our pride and joy were having traded with a unit no longer needing their 50-caliber machine gun, which was the strongest piece of weaponry in our district.
As one of our best at finding ‘stuff’ that made our lives better, I ran into a substantial number of
Masonic brethren in our military and also civilian support staff in and around headquarters. Most important for this story was a Naval Lieutenant Silver from Pennsylvania. We discussed Masonic backgrounds and he also knew quite a few members from the area.
We thought about how we could get a few together, simply for fellowship and considered some sort of ‘square club’ might be the way to go. A handful of us got together to plan an introductory meeting at some point, perhaps a couple of weeks. I had heard about the only Masonic Lodge in Vietnam located in Saigon under the auspices of the Philippines, which were in turn under the U.S. Southern Jurisdiction, and had travelled to Saigon and met the Master there. I proposed that he might come down and give at least an atmosphere of respectability and semi-official sanction.
Lt. Silver had mentioned our goings-on to the Sargent-Major, (Highest level non-commissioned officer in the army), and personal assistant to the Four-Corp General in charge. The Sargent-Major offered to take a helicopter up to Saigon and bring down the Lodge Master to our humble get-together!
It all came together, and the meeting was accomplished in the Fall of 1969 with roughly 40-60 brothers in attendance. I was transferred out not long after and (sadly) did not keep in touch. That lapse caused lasting effect, whether if, or how long it lasted, remains deficient.
If you have a memory of this Square Club, or one like it, drop a note in the comments below. Do you have a remembrance of Freemasonry you’d like to share? Send us a note.
Submitted and written June 10, 2019, by Arch Crawford Past Master of Chancellor Walworth Lodge #271, New York City. First Lt. at the time, mustered out in 1969 as a Captain in the Inactive Reserve. Arch took the York Rite degrees in New York before Vietnam and the Scottish Rite degrees on R&R from Vietnam to Manila in 1969. He says that while he was in Los Angeles in late 1970 waiting tables at the huge Scottish Rite Temple he was introduced and shook hands with Bro. John Wayne.
A Sojourner’s post by Carlos Francisco Ortiz, Equality No. 88 and Lodge Fraternal Action No. 42 under the Grand Lodge of Chile.
“Cogito ergo sum”
How does man think to himself and think of the universe, when you try to answer, between dogma and reason, the crucial questions of human existence?
Let’s think and briefly develop some ideas:
First was dogma, then reason. First was dogmatic thinking, since it is born and obeys the law of least effort, presenting itself as a way of understanding the natural world. Then the logos is born, intelligent thought with meaning, which seeks to understand the natural world through reason and explain it through words.
In this way, dogmatic thinking and rational thinking arise, and both are aware of themselves and of their ability to symbolically link with the universe. For this reason, there is a dogmatic reason that is founded on the speculation of an imaginary – individual or collective, and an adogmatic reason based on the certainty of facts and logic.
In the imaginary of dogmatic reason, religion is found as a great worldview that represents that set of beliefs of an indisputable nature, held by certain to be undeniable and obligatory principles for its followers. Thus, ignorance is born, which tries to be saved by the hope of faith and by the fear of Divine punishment.
Ignorance is the worst of all evils, as Plato says. From ignorance derive all evils and from knowledge all goods. Plato advises human beings to concern themselves with being rich in virtue–knowledge.
Faith, certainly respectable, does not save from ignorance, since the laws of nature are amoral and governed by causality.
In mythological stories and in biblical literature, the metaphor teaches us that the Deity tries to make man develop his existence in ignorance, the biblical account of genesis points out “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will not eat; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die ”, Genesis 2:17.
The Titan Prometheus, who stole the fire of the gods to deliver light to men, suffered Zeus’ punishment, and was taken to the Caucasus where he was chained so that an eagle would eat his liver, and being immortal, his liver returned to grow every night, and the eagle ate it again every day.
The angel of light was condemned to the lake of fire and brimstone for drawing light from darkness, for gaining wisdom by breaking infinite ignorance, for awakening consciousness of the unconscious.
If ignorance of dogmatic thinking about Deity is subjected to the judgment of reason, it does not successfully save the examination of the logic of the Epicurus paradox, since the attributes of Deity–created by man–such as his omnipotence , omniscience, omnipresence and omni benevolence, do not solve the problem of evil and disease in the world, so why call him God.
If Pascal’s wager in his argument states that in the face of the probability of the existence of God, the rational thing is to bet that he does exist in order to obtain as a reward the great gain of eternal glory, the absurdity of trading the light of the reason for obscurantism and ignorance, in order to live with the hope of an assumption that is based on a matter of chance.
In the absence of evidence and certainties, the real thing is that man has created God in his image and likeness, seeking salvation and existential security that allows him to give meaning to suffering and human misery, seeking to justify his lack of courage to assume their animal condition and nature.
In the thought of adogmatic reason, philosophy and science are found as great worldviews that have pushed human reason to the limit of its critical possibilities; Thus, reality is born.
Nature is the real, its laws obey principles demonstrable by the empirical-analytical method; and homo sapiens, whose reality about his nature exists in the homo sapiens-demens dialectic, masterfully illustrated by the anthropologist Edgar Morin, has real existence–not possible existence–in his culture.
The dogma-ignorance dialectic does not obey sociocultural reasons – education–or socioeconomic reasons–wealth–it is a dialogue that takes place depending on the level of consciousness of each homo sapiens-demens.
The level of consciousness is to the adogmatic thought, what the ignorance is to the dogmatic thought, conditio sine qua non, for the evolution of the human species.
Theism and atheism, in their apparent antagonism, are and are part of the tireless search for human reason to reach the truth, those conscious truths that the human species is building, both with its ideofactures and with its manufactures, in its desire to know itself herself, a longing that has often led her to the extreme of delirium, or as Richard Dawkins would say, to the “Mirage of God.”
Dogmatic thinking has its roots in fear, according to the philosopher Bertrand Russell, fear is the basis of everything, fear is the father of cruelty and, therefore, it is not surprising that cruelty and religion go from hand.
On the contrary sense, the adogmatic thought is born from the courage to conquer the world through intelligence, it is a rebellion against the moral of Tartufo, when José Ingenieros declared, “Hypocrisy is the art of gagging dignity… it is the guano that fertilizes the vulgar temperaments, allowing them to prosper in lies… “. In Robert Pirsig’s words “when a person suffers from delirium, we call it madness. When many people suffer the same delusion, we call it religion. “
The adogmatic thought is the great achievement in the evolution of the human mind, it is the one that allows us to distinguish between light and darkness, between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and error; he is the one who values life, builds a world and symbolically links himself to the universe from this side of death: “Citerior.”
Thus, reflecting on dogma and reason, it can be said that dogma does not create science or evolution in the human mind, the reality of our world is in the facts and in the certainties that we have about reality.
“Evolution is to generate and expand consciousness, in such a way that the gradual and progressive evolution of the parts is the evolution of the whole, otherwise the existence of the universe and humanity would not make sense.”
The Moral Law is a foundational aspect of the Fraternity if Freemasonry.
Anderson uses the phrase in his Constitution of 1723 without any explanation of what exactly he means in his phrasing of it. And, increasingly, it is being used as a de facto totem of decision making in violation of litigation and jurisdictional disputes. But in the modern civic age were criminal, civil, federal, and state (and lets not even get into international) laws abound we have in many ways lost sight (if ever we had a clear one) of what exactly the ideas were behind the linking of the “Moral Laws” to the fraternity. The source is ancient without a doubt, and most likely a challenge to come to any consensus over. Is the Moral Law from a religious perspective, as in given to man by the Great Architect, or a man-made law constructed with religious ideas but applied in a humanistic manner to apply to our interaction with one another. And then, how does it apply to Masonry? Is it a religious injunction or an instruction for how to behave?
At the root are the question then is what the Moral Law is and what is its purpose to be invoked in any decision making.
The first step to see it at the time when it was adopted by Freemasonry is to trace the idea though the ages, and it’s clear that the idea of a moral law has been around for some time. Before we get to these first steps, however, perhaps we should explore what exactly the moral law is.
Natural law or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis) has been described as a law whose content is set by nature and that therefore has validity everywhere. As classically used, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. The phrase natural law is opposed to the positive law (meaning “man-made law”, not “good law”; cf. posit) of a given political community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to criticize that law. In natural law jurisprudence, on the other hand, the content of positive law cannot be known without some reference to the natural law (or something like it). Used in this way, natural law can be invoked to criticize decisions about the statutes, but less so to criticize the law itself. Some use natural law synonymously with natural justice or natural right (Latin: ius naturale), although most contemporary political and legal theorists separate the two.
It likens the essence of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to the ideas of the Natural Law, something any American reading should be intimately familiar with.
To better encapsulate the idea of the Moral or Natural Law, we need to borrow from the ideas of Thomas Hobbes (a late philosopher who codified it into modern times) who says of the Natural Law that it is “a precept or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or takes away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that by which he thinks it may best be preserved.”
Hobbes breaks the Natural Law down to 19 points which he illustrated in his work Leviathan.
The First Law of nature is that every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all help and advantages of war.
The Second Law of nature is that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth, as for peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.
The Third Law is that men perform their covenants made. In this law of nature consisteth the fountain and original of justice… when a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust and the definition of injustice is no other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not unjust is just.
The Fourth Law is that a man which receives benefit from another of mere grace, endeavor that he which giveth it, has no reasonable cause to repent him of his goodwill. Breach of this law is called ingratitude.
The Fifth Law is complaisance: that every man strives to accommodate himself to the rest. The observers of this law may be called sociable; the contrary, stubborn, insociable, forward, intractable.
The Sixth Law is that upon caution of the future time, a man ought to pardon the offenses past of them that repenting, desire it.
The Seventh Law is that in revenge, men look not at the greatness of the evil past, but the greatness of the good to follow.
The Eighth Law is that no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare hatred or contempt of another. The breach of which law is commonly called contumely.
The Ninth Law is that every man acknowledges another for his equal by nature. The breach of this precept is pride.
The Tenth Law is that at the entrance into the conditions of peace, no man require to reserve to himself any right, which he is not content should be reserved to every one of the rest. The breach of this precept is arrogance, and observers of the precept are called modest.
The Eleventh Law is that if a man is trusted to judge between man and man, that he deal equally between them.
The Twelfth Law is that such things as cannot be divided, be enjoyed in common if it can be; and if the quantity of the thing permits, without stint; otherwise proportionably to the number of them that have right.
The Thirteenth Law is the entire right, or else…the first possession (in the case of alternating use), of a thing that can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common should be determined by lottery.
The Fourteenth Law is that those things which cannot be enjoyed in common, nor divided, ought to be adjudged to the first possessor; and in some cases to the firstborn, as acquired by lot.
The Fifteenth Law is that all men that mediate peace be allowed safe conduct.
The Sixteenth Law is that they that are at controversies submit their Right to the judgment of an Arbitrator.
The seventeenth law is that no man is a fit Arbitrator in his own cause.
The Eighteenth Law is that no man should serve as a judge in a case if greater profit or honor, or pleasure apparently ariseth [for him] out of the victory of one party, than of the other.
The Nineteenth Law is that in a disagreement of fact, the judge should not give more weight to the testimony of one party than another, and absent other evidence should give credit to the testimony of other witnesses.
Interestingly, we can turn to a religious perspective, coming specifically from a Catholic perspective; where the Natural/Moral Law is applied when the exterior actions of the actor reflect their interior motives as their source. It links the theological virtues to the Law citing Thomas Aquinas in saying that lacking the Cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude and the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, that a moral choice is impossible. (See Aquinas Ethicus: or, the Moral Teaching of St. Thomas. A Translation of the Principal Portions of the second part of the Summa Theologica)
According to Aquinas, to lack any of these virtues is to lack the ability to make a moral choice. For example, consider a man who possesses the virtues of justice, prudence, and fortitude, yet lacks temperance. Due to his lack of self-control and desire for pleasure, despite his good intentions, he will find himself swaying from the moral path.
To fully appreciate this, we must first look to Romans 2:14 when Paul of Tarsis, speaking of the Gentiles says: Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. Interesting to note, this is something Pike picks up on in his exploration of the 10th degree of Scottish Rite Masonry as he points to the tenants of the “old primitive faiths.”
One has to wonder how this foundational statement from the church became the basis of the Moral Law in Masonry. It does seem a natural fit – the Cardinal and Theological virtues in conjunction to the other ideas beginning to take shape, but it seems that they were naturally woven in as reasons for being, rather than the basis of the Natural Law.
A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. is speaking to something else, which I suggest is towards John Locke’s idea of the Moral Law.
A statement, you’ll note, devoid of linkage to the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. Anderson’s idea of a Moral Law came from somewhere, but where?
Perhaps it can be traced back to the time of the Roman Philosopher Cicero whose contribution to the idea was to suggest that:
“…natural law obliges us to contribute to the general good of the larger society. The purpose of positive laws is to provide for “the safety of citizens, the preservation of states, and the tranquility and happiness of human life.” In this view, “wicked and unjust statutes” are “anything but ‘laws,” because “in the very definition of the term ‘law’ there inheres the idea and principle of choosing what is just and true.” Further that “the virtues which we ought to cultivate, always tend to our own happiness, and that the best means of promoting them consists of living with men in that perfect union and charity which are cemented by mutual benefits.”
But, to see the Moral Law in a contemporary context, we must look to John Locke, for several reasons, and not just his ideas philosophy.
Locke’s point of the Moral Law was to say,
“the nature of the world is governed by laws and so too is man’s conduct, and that without moral laws, men would not have society; without moral law, trust between men would collapse.”
“Though in a constituted commonwealth, standing upon its own basis, and acting according to its own nature, that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate; yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still “in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative,” when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them: for all power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end: whenever that end is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the Power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security.”
“…sense experience proclaims the existence of a supreme lawmaker, a wise creator of the world, which has made man for a purpose. Man, thus has purposes – to contemplate and to procure and preserve his life. Yet the moral law cannot be garnered from consent – from mass or democratic agreement, for the voice of the people is as likely to lead to fallacies and evil. Men’s actual morality may be highly relative, but differences do not undermine the existence of commonalities in the law, hence we should not obey (or follow) others blindly. Nonetheless, the conservative Locke continues to argue that we ought to obey our lawmakers as possessing rightful power over creation, but our obedience should not just be out of fear for the lawmaker’s power, but conscientiously too: we ought to obey it because the magistrate should request morally right action.”
Locke, formerly a firm believer in the Platonic ideal of a good captain steering the ship, came to the idea of leadership having a limit to the extent that he perceived as authority’s reach which we can see when he says “…it cannot be supposed the people should give any one or more of their fellow men authority over them for any other purpose than their own preservation, or extend the limits of their jurisdiction beyond the limits of this life.”
This is important in that It’s been posited that Locke was a Freemason and that perhaps it was his ideas of the Moral Law, especially as they pertained to governance and leadership, pertained to Freemasonry too.
“Was Locke a mason? The answer is probably yes. There is an entry on the “Leland Manuscript” in Albert Mackey’s “Encyclopedia of Freemasonry” in which he quoted a passage by the famous Dr. Oliver in the Freemasons’ Quart. Review, 1840, p 10, where Dr. Oliver said, “… this great philosopher [Locke] was actually residing at Oates, the country-seat of Sir Francis Masham, at the time when the paper [Leland Manuscript] is dated; and shortly afterward he went up to town, where he was initiated into Masonry. These facts are fully proved by Locke’s Letters to Mr. Molyneux, dated March 30 and July2, 1696.”
In his essay, Br. Ng talks on several levels about how Locke’s ideas may have permeated into the Freemasons, including religious toleration and the process of learning by experience. But, in this context, did Locke’s ides of a Moral Law follow him also into the Lodge, if not in the letter then in spirit?
The Moral Law
It seems that in combination of both the religious and humanist application, one which at the time they were adopted they were likely blurred lines of between, the two were combined into the ideals and principals of Freemasonry. The Cardinal Virtues and the Theological Virtues tempered into the ideals of a Moral Law to give fairness in action and faith. Both the application of How to be Good Men, and in the principals of getting along in society, come into play now in issues of recognition, jurisprudence, and internal governance and the source of the Moral Law has to be of consideration in some way when acting in a way that invokes a Moral Law as the basis of the decision. Is it as Hobbes set down, remodeled by Locke, or is it in the manner of Paul of Tarsis in speaking of the faith of the Gentiles? Or, is it in a more oblique Catholic manner in applying the Cardinal and Theological virtues, something unmistakable to every Mason in his perception?
Further still, is it something older and less tangible like the ideas of Cicero in that the Natural Laws are laws that cannot in fact be laws, because to be so, they invalidate there very natural state if looked at as such?
What stands out in greatest resonance with Masonry is Cicero’s remark,
“the virtues which we ought to cultivate, always tend to our own happiness, and that the best means of promoting them consists in living with men in that perfect union and charity which are cemented by mutual benefits.”
This seem to best build the foundation of Hobbes and Locke to identify the Moral Law in Freemasonry and giving us a place to then make decisions from – perfect union and charity…cemented by mutual benefits.
There is a hot new book out here on the Prince Hall scene, THE LOST EMPIRE, Black Freemasonry In The Old West (1867-1906) by Brother James R. Morgan III. This book tells the history of African American Freemasonry in the Old West as seen through the lens of Captain William D. Matthews and the King Solomon Grand Lodge of Kansas.
Morgan is The Grand Historian for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and an active and experienced genealogist among many other glowing accolades.
He cut his teeth doing research for two other distinguished D.C. Masons and authors, Alton Roundtree and Tehuti Evans.
The book came about when fellow genealogist Denessia Swanegan asked Morgan to help her in her ancestral research and Morgan began a research project which became an article which became a Research Paper which morphed into a full-blown book. Morgan said that once he started down this path the research information just kept coming and coming until a book more or less had to be written.
Very little had been written about Black Freemasonry West of the Mississippi River in the Wild West years. This is the first work that ties many separate facts together into a cohesive whole so that a complete story could be told. The Lost Empire has much to say about Black Freemasonry’s National Grand Lodge or National Compact. Although I won’t reveal the details so as to not spoil the story, one interesting tidbit from James Morgan really surprised me. Morgan said that one of the big reasons that the National Grand Lodge was formed was because many bogus and clandestine Black Lodges and Grand Lodges were spreading like wildfire eventually far outnumbering those Regular Grand Lodges charted by the Grand Lodge of England and tracing their heritage back to African Lodge No 459.
Into the fray charged this swashbuckling, charismatic character named Captain William D. Mathews and his King Solomon Compact Grand Lodge of Kansas. But that is all we are going to tell you. Buy the book.
The Lost Empire is a well written well researched book (It has 106 pages of Appendixes) that fills a void in hitherto unknown and unpublicized Black Masonic activity in this part of the country in the Wild, Wild West era woven into a complete story. It is as much a history book as it is a Masonic book. That makes it a must for your Historical and Masonic Library.