General Transformation of Freemasonry


Emmanuel Rebold - 1868

DURING the troubles which desolated England about the
middle of the seventeenth century, and after the death of
Charles I, in 1649, the Masonic corporations of England, and
more particularly those of Scotland, labored in secret for the
reestablishment of the throne destroyed by Cromwell; and
for this purpose they instituted many degrees hitherto
unknown and totally foreign to the spirit and nature of
Freemasonry, and which, in fact, gave to this time honored
institution a character entirely political. The discussions to
which this country was a prey had already produced a
separation between the operative and accepted Masons.
The latter were honorary members, who, according to long
established usage, had been accepted into the society for
the advantage which their generally influential position in the
country might effect; but this very position made them at this
time naturally the adherents of the throne and the strong
supporters of Charles II, who during his exile was received
as an accepted Mason by their election, and, in
consequence of the benefits he derived from the society,
gave to Masonry the title of Royal Art; because it was mainly
by its instrumentality that he was raised to the throne and
monarchy restored to England.

Notwithstanding, however, the favor with which it was
regarded by the king, Freemasonry, during the latter part of
the seventeenth century, decreased to such a degree that in
1703 but four lodges existed in the city of London, while
throughout Great Britain at that time none other were known
to the members, who, reduced to the smallest number,
attended the meetings of these. In fact, with the completion
of St. Paul's Cathedral, the city of London was considered
rebuilt, and the occupation of the operative Masons seemed
to have been brought to a close; while the accepted Masons,
having obtained the object of their desire in the restoration of
the monarchy, neglected the communion they had previously
kept up with the operative members of the institution. Hence
we find that in the year 1703 the lodge of St. Paul - so
named because the operative Masons engaged in the
erection of the cathedral held their lodge in a building
situated in the churchyard or grounds thereof - passed an
important resolution the object of which was to augment the
numbers of the fraternity, and to give the Masonic institution
some of its former importance in public estimation. Here,
having agreed that they should continue the existence of so
praiseworthy an institution to be used as the conservator of
religion and tradition, and perpetuate, by the beautiful
allegories of its legends and symbols, its eminently
humanitarian doctrines, they for this purpose adopted the
following memorable resolution:

RESOLVED, That the privileges of Masonry shall no longer
be confined to operative Masons, but be free to men of all
professions, provided that they are regularly approved and
initiated into the fraternity."

This important decision changed entirely the face of the
society, and transformed it into what we find it to-day; but
many difficulties had to be removed, many years of
probation had to be passed before this form of its workings
could be successfully adopted. This was owing, first, to the
want of union among the four lodges; second, to the
exceedingly disreputable character which, for many years,
had attached to the society - it having degenerated from an
influential and privileged institution to little better than a pot-
house companionship, with here and there a proud few who
remembered its glories of other days - but perhaps, above
all, the determined opposition of the Grand Master, Sir
Christopher Wren, the architect of the new city of London, to
the spirit of the innovating resolution. This opposition he
maintained until his death; so that it was not until after that
event, which occurred in 1716, that the four lodges which still
existed, more in name than in fact, felt themselves at liberty
to assemble their membership with the primary object of
electing a new Grand Master, but more particularly to detach
themselves from all connection with the lodge at York, that
had for fifty years enjoyed but a nominal existence, and to
put into active operation the decision involved in the
resolution of 1703.

In that assembly, after electing the Master of St.. Paul's
Lodge, Anthony Sayre, to the office of Grand Master, there
were gathered up the "Constitution and Charges of a
Freemason," which, subsequently prefaced by a "History of
Freemasonry," prepared by Dr. Anderson, were accepted,
sanctioned, and printed in 1723, under the title of "The
Constitution and Charges of the Ancient and Respectable
Fraternity of Freemasons." And it is the date of this
publication that may properly be considered the
commencement of exclusively speculative or modern
Freemasonry. The principle of civilization indwelling in the
doctrines and pursuits of Masonry, after having burst the
bonds which kept it grasped in the stiff embrace of a
mechanical association, at once abandoning itself to all its
powers of expansion, almost immediately penetrated the
heart of the social system, and animated it with a new life.
The new Freemasonry, in the short space of twenty-five
years, spread itself in a manner but little less than
miraculous into nearly every portion of the civilized world. It
passed from England to France as early as 1725, thence to
Belgium, to Holland, to Germany, to America, subsequently
to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, to Sweden, and to
Poland; and, as early as 1740, were to be found lodges in
Denmark, in Bohemia, in Russia, in the Antilles, in Africa,
and in the British possessions in Hindostan.

If Freemasonry has ceased to erect temples; if it has ceased
to engage in material architecture; if it no longer exhibits
itself in the elevation of spires and turrets as points from
which eyes may be directed and hopes ascend toward a
better and a happier world, it has not less continued its work
of moral and intellectual culture; and its success in this
respect has been far more satisfactory than those who
planned its design as a speculative institution ever hoped to
achieve. In all time it has exercised a powerful and happy
influence upon social progress; and if today, instead of
holding itself at the head of all secular societies, it is known
in some countries but to be rejected and despised, this
condition is owing to the destruction of that uniformity and
oneness of purpose which constituted its fundamental
recommendation; and this destruction is due to the
innovations introduced by ambitious and designing men for
motives of personal influence and advancement, add in
defiance of their solemn asseverations that it was not within
the power of its membership to introduce innovations into the
body of Freemasonry. But even here it has shown the
immortality of its spirit; for, notwithstanding the multiplicity of
rites which have been forced upon it, and the ceremonial
degrees which have been added to it - thus dividing its
strength, causing grave inconvenience, choking the sources
of accurate information as to its origin and history, and
creating useless and unsatisfactory distinctions among its
members - that excellent spirit which its earliest teachings
engender and subsequent culture fosters is ever exhibited in
a fraternal regard for each other when the brethren meet in
their popular assembly, and there lay aside "all distinctions
save that noble distinction, or rather emulation, of who can
best work and best agree."