HAVE WE LOST OUR WAY?
Bro. Howard Wyatt, P.A.G.M., P.M.
Grand Lodge of New Zealand
The charges of a Free-Mason, Extracted from The Ancient records of lodges beyond Sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the Use of the lodges in London: To be Read at the making of New Brethren, or when the Master shall order it.
1. Concerning God and Religion
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. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of Conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance.
(From the first Book of Constitutions of the Free-masons, 1723)
1. Concerning GOD and RELIGION
A Mason is obliged 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. He, of all men, should best understand that GOD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but GOD looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct, to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they profess. Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
(From the Book of Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of New Zealand — which is identical to that found in the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Alberta, AF & AM.)
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At the meeting in May 1986 of United Masters Lodge Bro. Busfield presented a paper to the lodge entitled 'The Final Forty Years of Freemasonry?' In that paper he outlined the progress of the New Zealand Constitution since 1890, and printed in the paper graphs and figures to illustrate his lecture. He presented statistical evidence to prove beyond doubt that, unless steps were taken promptly, the years ahead would be not only difficult for lodges, but catastrophic for the Craft. Bro. Busfield documented evidence ot appeals from leaders in the Craft for action to be taken; a summary of reports, proposals, surveys etc, received and discussed by the Board of General Purposes; also enthusiastic statements from Grand Masters that were not born out by the facts! All this he presented just to try to galvanize brethren into action. 1987 he published a further paper on the subject 'Thirty Nine Years to Go?', which showed that very little change had taken place and if anything the situation had deteriorated. From the figures presented the decline had continued and the only bright note being action taken by some individual lodges. He again called for action from leaders, both national and district. In the commentary on that paper our Grand Secretary expressed the opinion (was it at the direction of the Board of General Purposes, or even the Grand Master?) that he was saddened by Bro. Busfield's "continuance as a harbinger of despair and desperation". (On the facts and figures presented, what else could Bro. Busfield be?) The Grand Secretary did however point out that there are other considerations (that is other than numerical strength) which should be considered, and brought to our notice the many District projects together with the development of their District Trusts, Homes, other ventures and the extended work of the Board of Benevolence. All these projects are commendable but it is wonder if through the promotion of projects such as mentioned by the Grand Secretary we may have lost sight of the aims of Freemasonry "to make good men better men and for each brother to enjoy to the full the fellowship of the brethren of the Lodge". In this paper I would like to examine the history (in relation to its main purpose) of our Craft, and to see if we can find at least a partial answer to our problems.
Freemasonry throughout the world has spread from the Mother Grand Lodge founded in London in 1717. Our knowledge of the form and working of a lodge in the 18th century is mainly derived from the minute books and records of old lodges, such as The Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, The Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4 and The Old Dundee Lodge No. 18. Other sources of information available to us are exposures of Freemasonry. Masonry Dissected 1730, Three Distinct Knocks 1760, Jachin and Boaz 1762, and the early French exposures of the 18th century. The records of the Old Dundee Lodge particularly afford us a very good insight into the workings of a lodge 250 years ago. This lodge was constituted on 27 March 1723 and met at Wopping, near London. It worked under the Grand Lodge of the Moderns as No. 9 and was given No. 18 at the Union in 1813. As the Grand Lodge of the Antients did not commence working until 1751 our early knowledge of the Craft derives mainly from lodges working underthe Moderns Grand Lodge.
The three degrees as we know them today are a development by speculative brethren of the simple ceremony of the admission for an apprentice and a formal ceremony of admission later to full membership (with possibly a secret rite associated with the membership) into the Guild system. By 1717, the year Grand Lodge was formed, the ceremony had been divided up into two degrees, and by the mid 1720s a third degree had been included into the system. The old manuscript charges vary, with each having its idea of the proceedings at the admission of a candidate can be obtained. The meeting was opened with prayer. The legendary history of the Craft was then read. Then the candidate was led forward and instructed to place his hand on the V.S.L. (which was held by one of the seniors) while the Articles, binding on all Masons alike, were read, at the conclusion of which a brief obligation was imposed upon the candidate. Then followed the Special Charges for an apprentice, concluding with an obligation, by which the candidate bound himself to secrecy. The secrets, whatever they were, were then entrusted to him, and the proceedings terminated. Early speculative Freemasonry either evolved from these Craft ceremonies changing gradually over a lengthy period, or was created from these ceremonies by a group of speculative brethren into the system we know existed in the early 18th century. Researchers into the history of our Craft are divided as to which of these two theories is correct and it does seem that, until fresh evidence is forthcoming, we cannot state categorically by which method our speculative degrees came into existence. This particular point does not really matter for this study, as we are concerned with the content of the ceremonies more than the method of their coming into being.
CONTENT OF CEREMONIES
By the year 1730 the three degree system was firmly established. Before that date there had been several partial exposures of the first and second degrees, but Samuel Prichard's Masonry Dissected was the first and most famous of a long series of exposures, setting out the three degrees, and appears to give a very good indication of the ritual worked at that time. For that reason it is worth studying. The first thing that strikes one is that it is all in the form of question and answer, as we use in opening and closing the lodge. These questions and answers give us an opportunity to understand the intent of the thought behind the ceremony. The first degree questions (some 90 odd in number) are very similar in content to the lectures as we know them today and cover the usual range of operative/speculative Masonry, with the exception that the personal moral issues of our first degree are not covered. Perfect Points of entrance, squares and rectangles, steps, signs, tokens and grips, perfect and regular lodges, the form of the lodge, fittings, ornaments, lights, position of officers, and an obligation with penafty, are all there but it is worth noting that the three Grand Principles, brotherly love, relief, and truth the moral lessons of the working tools-and the North East corner are not mentioned and obviously came into the ceremony at a later date. Two areas of questions of interest:
Q. What do you come here to do?
A. Not to do my own proper Will,
But to subdue my Passion still;
The Rules of Masonry in hand to take,
And daily Progress therein make.
Q. What do you learn by being a Gentleman-Mason?
A. Secresy, [sic.] Morality and Goodfellowship,
At a slightly later date (1747) in "La Desolation des Entrepreneurs" we find these questions:
Q. What do you learn being a Speculative Mason?
A. Good morals, to purlly our manners, and to make ourselves agreeable to everyone.
Q. What are the duties of a Mason?
A. To shun evil and to practise virtue.
Q. What are his qualifications?
A. Strength, Wisdom and Beauty.
Q. How are these three qualities united in him?
A. His strength lies in union with his brothers, his wisdom is in his morals, and his beauty in his character.
The second and third degrees (of Masonry Dissected) both contain about 30 questions. Again, questions relating to the Craft, but only an operative/speculative nature without any reference to the moral lessons. At this time we have no record of any charges being given in the ceremonies but we do know that during the "Manner of Constituting a New Lodge" (Anderson's Constitutions 1723) a "Short and pithy charge that is Suitable to the thing presented" was given. The content of these charges and also that of one given to the new Wardens, were evidently left to the individual brother presenting them, and probably have always related to the particular subject (i.e. Constitutions, Lodge Book, Instruments of Office etc.) being presented rather than the morals conveyed by them. A short charge to be given to the new admitted brethren first appeared in print in 1735: A Pocket Companion for Freemasons compiled by William Smith (who does not lay claim to the authorship of any of the material in his book) was the first of a long series of Pocket Companions which almost took the place of the official Books of Constitutions. This magnificent piece of ritual has come down to us through the years with very little change, and our charge after initiation follows the form, content and substance of this original charge.
During the 18th century a number of other exposures appeared, the most famous among them were Jachin and Boaz (1762) Three Distinct Knocks (1760) Hiram (1760) Shibboleth (1765) Tubal Cain (1777) and also some French ones, such as L'Ordre des Francs Macons Trahi (1745) which was later translated and published in English under the title of Solomon in all His Glory.
A study of these exposures shows that the ceremonies had been considerably elaborated since Prichard's Masonry Dissected of 1730. There are separate specific obs. for each degree, questions about preparation (Reasons) and the beginning of the North East corner charge, in the form of simple questions and answers. The prayer given is Christian and implores God to "add to Godliness, brotherly Love". This is the first reference I can find to one of the Grand Principles although in the Royal Order of Scotland ritual (said by some historians to have been practised on and off since beginning sometime between 1725 and 1741) the three Great Principles of Masonry are given as we know them today. Whether they were in the original ritual of the early eighteenth century or whether they were added late is unknown.
Bro. William Preston in 1772 organized his first Gala Meeting in order to submit his work for the approbation of the Grand Officers and leaders of the Craft. An oration which he delivered on that occasion was so well received that he decided to print it, which with a description of the proceedings and other matter formed the first edition of his Illustrations of Masonry 1772. He then proceeded to complete the lectures by adding the second and third degrees and their delivery as public 'Lectures to the Craft' took place at the Mitre Tavern, Fleet Street, during 1774 and were published as the second edition of the Illustrations of Masonry in 1775. These 'lectures', as they became known, were an extension or an elaboration of the simple question and answer form which we find printed in the exposures of the first half of the eighteenth century. Bro. Preston felt that the Freemason of the eighteenth century required more than a simple degree working, and the Questions and Answers that were then being followed in rote form. Brethren knew very little about the Craft; had few books available to explain and elaborate on the various words and references of the ceremony, and were in the main intelligent men seeking further knowledge. His Illustrations of Masonry when published, not only achieved success, but did a great work for the Craft by bringing together material as a complete unit in each degree and making it generally available. It presented Freemasonry in a dignified and worthy manner and rendered it acceptable even to those who were not members of the order. Preston was the first 'Public Relations' man Freemasonry had! There is no doubt that his publications did much to raise the general concept of Freemasonry and, while many of the sections detailing the history and theory of the Craft are not now taken literally, there are useful lessons inculcated in the lectures which are equally applicable today.
His Illustrations ran through twelve English editions during his lifetime, and then, under the editorship of Bro. Stephen James and finally of Dr. Oliver, reached the seventeenth English issue in 1861. There were German and Dutch translations and American re-issues. In the English Craft it was frequently given to initiates and became an almost indispensable lodge possession. By the beginning of the nineteenth century several lodges were using the Illustrations of Preston, and working the Lectures of the three degrees. At the union of 1813 Dr. Hemming was entrusted with the task of revising them and the form we use today has come down to us from his final revisions. By the middle of the nineteenth century lodges took a more formal approach to the ceremonies and in the course of the next hundred years the lectures lost favour and few lodges today work them; they are wordy by today's standards and, while they have a great educational benefit, today's Masons seem to begrudge the time and effort it takes to present even a section of one of the degrees. The members of those lodges that regularly or even occasionally work the Lectures, normally attain a greater understanding of the history (although not always accurate), teachings and philosophy of Freemasonry.
Today a candidate of a lodge can look forward to being received into the company of a group of brethren who attend their lodge meetings and enjoy a short time together afterwards before dispersing and going their various ways. Some lodges do provide a meal after their meetings, but usually the meal is sparse and often the time spent is occupied with unnecessary speeches which must have a detrimental effect on our members' views of Freemasonry. For their fellowship to develop, brethren must be able to spend time together, talking and listening to each other and build up a bond of friendship over a period of time. The way our proceedings are conducted today, time and opportunity for this to happen is impossible. I believe our ceremonies are achieving what was intended-'To make good men better men'-but are we building that bond of fellowship between lodge members which makes us feel we want to go to lodge to be in their company?-or do we attend lodge simply to progress through the 'Chairs' then continue attending hoping for an appointment to a Grand Lodge Office.
In the beginning of this paper I quoted the comment of the Grand Secretary regarding our work on the caring and benevolent side of Freemasonry. While that is the result of the teaching of Freemasonry it is not Freemasonry. By becoming a Freemason every brother is taught the age-old lesson of morality which is common to all great religions and through the lessons learned brethren can, and indeed do, exert an influence for good in the community. Having been taught those lessons, it is only natural that the brethren are motivated to apply a practical application of them, and it is in the result of that application of those lessons that we are seeing results in those avenues outlined by the Grand Secretary. These activities are the by-product of our system. Each brother will find his own particular interest in the Craft (and there are many) but if we do not attract members how can our order survive? Our members often quote Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, our three Grand Principles, as the basis on which our order was founded. This is not borne out by the facts as shown in the first part of this paper. While we all acknowledge those principles today, it is quite evident that they were only introduced into our ritual as the three Grand Principles some time towards the end of the eighteenth century and probably not until after the Union in 1813. From the earliest days the brethren of each lodge took an interest in their own members and relief was extended to those in want. The Mother Grand Lodge instituted a charity fund and ever since has been to the forefront in all forms of relief. But this was not the object of our early Freemasons. Our lodges were formed by groups of brethren who gained pleasure and enjoyment in each other's company. They met for fellowship and based their simply initiation ceremony on the old operative stonemasons'trade. Over the years our ritual ceremonies have increased in length and the festive Bond proceedings have diminished in importance to many of our brethren. I wonder, if we kept our business and ritual work to a minimum (and there are ways this could be done without altering our basic ritual or ceremonies) and made our refectory proceedings more enjoyable (to enable real and lasting friendships to develop), more brethren may be encouraged to partake in an enjoyable and interesting form of Freemasonry. It is often been said that after the end of both of the last two world wars, brethren were attracted to the Craft looking for the comradeship and friendship they experienced in the forces. This is something that many of our lodges have lost, and may be one of the aspects we are overlooking in endeavouring to maintain our members' interest. No one single answer will solve the membership problem of the Craft but every avenue should be considered. I feel that too much importance is being placed by senior members of the Craft on our benevolent activities, thereby giving the impression that that is Freemasonry. If prospective members want to concentrate on that particular aspect that is very commendable, but I do not think we should give the impression that benevolent work which we willingly do, is the be all and end all of Freemasonry.
From the first Book of Constitutions of the Free-masons, 1723
Finally, All these Charges you are to observe, and also those that shall be communicated to you in another way; cultivating BROTHERLY-LOVE, the Foundation and Cape-Stone, the cement and Glory of this ancient Fraternity, avoiding all Wrangling and Quarrelling, all Slander and Backbiting, nor permitting others to slander any honest brother, but defending his Character, and doing him all good Offices, as far as is consistent with your Honour and Safety, and no farther ... Saying or doing nothing which may hinder Brotherly Love, and good Offices to be renew'd and continu'd; that all may see he benign Influence of MASONRY, as all true Masons have done from the Beginning of the World, and will do to the End of Time.
Amen So Mote It Be.
From the Book of Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted Masons of New Zealand [Alberta]
Finally. — All these charges you are to observe, and also those that shall be communicated to you in another way; cultivating brotherly love, the foundation and copestone, the cement and glory of this antient fraternity, avoiding all wrangling and quarreling, all slander and backbiting, nor permitting others to slander any honest brother, but defending his character and doing him all good offices, as far as is consistent with your honour and safety and no farther ... Saying or doing nothing which may hinder brotherly love and good offices to be renewed and continued, that all may see the benign influence of Masonry as all true Masons have done from the beginning of the world, and will do to the end of time.
Amen. So Mote It Be.