The Lesson of the Second Degree
W. Bro. F. B. Brook, M.A., LL.B.
BEFORE we commence our study of the second degree, please take a piece of paper, draw a line from one edge to the other. At each edge put an arrow head to show the line is unfinished. At one edge write alpha, at the other omega. This unfinished line indefinitely prolonged represents infinity. Mark off a centre portion with two lines. At one write "Birth"; at the other write "Death," and along the centre portion so marked off write "Life."
For many years I have felt a sense of disappointment in thinking of the 2nd degree. There seemed to be something lacking — something out of balance. I know it is said that formerly there were but two degrees, that of the Apprentice and that of the Master, and that the present second degree was carved out of a larger ritual to make a separate degree, but that explanation is not satisfying. It is not the form but the idea of anything that counts. Ritual is but the form. We have to find the essential idea. Now what is the essential idea of the 2nd degree? We are told emphatically that it is the "hidden mysteries of nature and science" and then not a word is said about them. So possibly one of the lessons is "Search that you may find" — "Knock that the door may be opened." In other ways the ritual seems to balance, the degrees and ceremonies form regular steps in the ladder of knowledge, they have an ordered sequence as parts of a plan, composite but complete.
For instance, when you study the chief officers you find that their respective offices have a distinct bearing on the whole of the ceremonies.
The sun rises in the East to open the day and give life to all animate creation and the W.M. is placed in the East to open his Lodge, to give Masonic life to a candidate and to employ and instruct the brethren in Freemasonry.
In the South, in the Meridian, where J.W. calls the Brethren to refreshment and labour, the sun gives life and preservation to the human race, and in the West it sets to close the day; and there the S.W. is placed to close the Lodge and to remind us of that great Power in whose charge is the close of life itself.
In thinking of these offices, we see three main things, first the luminary, a moving mass of matter, the created and its function, then second the officer, a man, a living soul, a creature and his duty, and third behind both created and creature, their Creator and His attributes. So in the W.M., J.W. and S.W. we are taught to consider the opening of the lodge, work during lodge hours, i.e. labour and refreshment and the closing of the Lodge, sunrise, noontide, and evening, birth, life and death, the creative, preservative and transmuting powers of the Deity.
The 1st and 3rd degrees give their lessons in extenso, but of what of the 2nd? What of the degree of life? I know we have ears of corn to remind us of physical sustenance. I know we have pillars, squares and roses to remind us of sex; but what of life during its course — life here in this world, considered not from the point of commencement or of end but of duration and purpose?
We know that in the Egyptian mysteries the study of natural science took years before a student was qualified to advance. Where were my seven years to understand their message?
I tried and I tried hard, but the more I tried the harder the puzzle became, for me the cry oft repeated was, "What about the hidden mysteries of nature and science?" And like Fabre in a like difficulty I thought of d'Alembert's advice to young mathematical students — "Have faith and go ahead."
So I tried hard to have faith or rather keep my faith in the ceremony and I said, "There is something there. The reason you do not see it is your lack of vision. Now why don't you see it?" and I said to myself "The vital thing in the degree must be life — and the essential part of life — What is it? Why is it?" and then I realized that I could not understand life because I spent all my energies grubbing round for means to live. I was confusing means and end. I could not see the picture for the frame. I had no time — no leisure. What chance had the hidden mysteries of nature and science of meaning anything to me? I should lose my place in the human river crossing London Bridge if I stopped to look at the waters below. What chance had I to see the stars in the artificial fog that hid even the crowded chimney pots? Obsessed with haste, what thought had I for speed? The nightmare of a traffic jam in the Strand prevented me from thinking of the majestic sweep of the earth in its ordered course around the sun. The fever of the rise and fall on the Stock Exchange made me forget the sea beating a regular, never ending pulse along the coast. The press hot pages of Fleet Street smeared my fingers and paralyzed my brains; the mad jazz band of the City drowned the message of universal rhythm that nature gives her children.
I had no time for anything — not even eternity. So I said "I must make time. This seems more important than income tax forms. They talk a lot about the sciences teaching us the hidden mysteries. Geometry is one of the sciences. What do they tell us about it?" And I read "It is a science by which we ascertain the contents of bodies unmeasured by comparing them with those already measured." 2nd sec. 2nd lect. and I thought of Fabre's definition. "The progressive march of the known towards the unknown." And as I made time to read about things we call knowledge I found that we knew quite a little which in its turn seemed to be quite a lot, and that in all sciences we seemed to come across Geometry, so that we were marching progressively from the known to the unknown. I found a good deal of Geometry in Chemistry.
When I read about the periodic Law I found there were 92 known elements which when compared with hydrogen, the lightest of them had different relative weights.
When the elements were arranged in a table according to those weights, they seemed to have likenesses in properties which occurred at regular stated intervals and that from studying the known elements chemists had been able to anticipate the finding of elements hitherto unknown. This to my mind showed the existence of a definite plan which was far removed from mere coincidence. This in turn led to the conclusion — if a plan, then a power that made the plan.
Again led by Geometry, I read about the world outside us. The time units of the scientists were quite beyond my comprehension but I found that known movements of the planets had enabled astronomers to prophesy the finding of planets yet unknown and that after many years actual photographs had proved the accuracy of mental calculations. Again a plan and again the Maker of the Plan.
From the worlds outside, I turned to read of our own earth. Here too the units of time were unthinkable, but somehow they seemed comparatively small compared with those of the outside worlds, and it seemed that there had not only been a plan and its Maker but a very long road, but I said "If all those years have been taken in reaching what is Master of these animals, if that Master is still at the mercy of the smallest microbe, if that Master is still imperfect as I know him to be, how long before perfection?" And I looked at those years gone by and I thought of the years to come and I got frightened. And I saw a lot of other pilgrims and I said "With such a lot of years for the journey, how long will it take me to shake hands with the next man?" and it did not take a second. And when I helped him on a bit I found I had helped myself for I was not so lonely — and I chatted things over with him and got more heart to tackle the problem again. So I had another try — and I did not say me this time, but us.
The hidden mysteries of nature and science have taught us a lot but what is beyond them? They cannot be the end, they must still be only the means.
They have shown us an orderly march and in company, but where are we all going? Does not this 2nd degree really show us what is the end to which the mysteries of nature and science are but the means? Does it show not only the known but also the unknown? So I read our history once again and there I found the answer right before my eyes — "When the Temple of Jerusalem" (it does not say in the desert but there in the heart of a busy city) "When the Temple of Jerusalem was completed "our ancient brethren passed into the middle chamber without scruple or diffidence (after effort and surmounting difficulties) and when there their attention was particularly arrested by certain Hebrew characters which are here depicted by the letter " G." . . . and further that the square pavement was for the High Priest to walk upon who alone was permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorurn but once a year after many washings and purifications.
And there I found the lesson of the 2nd degree.
As the 1st teaches from the travail of physical birth how to be born masonically in the spirit, and as the 3rd teaches us how to prepare for the closing of this our earthly lodge, so the 2nd teaches us from the contemplation of the laws that govern our physical universe to see that even in our crowded city of Jerusalem there is a temple and in that temple an inner chamber in which is found not a graven image of gold that can be stolen but the realization of the Everlasting in the midst of the Mortal, the peace of the infinite in the tumult of the Finite, the power of the Spirit in the Frustration of matter, the glory of the Unseen in the obscurity of the Seen and the presence of the Divine is dwelling in the Temple of the Spirit of Man.
So that even to-day in the midst of our puny troubles, our hurry and unrest, here may be found in the inner-chamber of the heart, the majestic calm of the infinite, and the healing peace of a Presence that awaits our understanding.
Now at the end of our study of the 2nd degree, write over the centre of our line of life the letter "G."
And in the Temple are the genuine secrets of Freemasonry inscribed on a plate of gold reading:-
"Man — son of mine — prince of My House. This is the Plan and the Law.
I have taken thee part of Myself and placed thee in flesh. There to learn the way of man. The way of man with all created things — The way of man with men — the way of a prince in a far country — the way of Spirit in Matter.
After long travel in the wilderness of ignorance thou shalt desire to climb the mountains of knowledge. So shalt thou study the hidden mysteries of nature and science and be amazed at the light of thy learning and find all thy learning but darkness visible.
Then shalt thou learn the way of man with Me.
For in that darkness when travail learning and reason fail, lest thou be utterly lost, from time to time thou shalt look within thyself and there in the inner chamber of thy heart which thou shaft keep as a temple for Me alone — thou shaft find Me.
And in my temple thou shaft think of Me and find my peace so that thy strength may be renewed for this Our search and Our finding.
Learn then the lesson of weakness and of strength for be it remembered that though thou seemest to be in a far country, ever art thou Prince of My House and in My appointed time Our Search shall end in finding and thou shaft return to Me.
This is the Plan and the Law."