SHORT TALK BULLETIN

Vol. VI No. 8 — August 1928

next
previous

THE WONDER OF MASONRY

I

One of the Unwritten Sayings of Jesus, picked up in a rubbish heap in Egypt, is as follows: "Let him that seeketh desist not from his quest until he hath found; and when he hath found, he shall be smitten with wonder; and when he hath wondered, he shall come into his Kingdom, and coming into his Kingdom, he shall rest."

A great English critic said that there are two impulses by which men are governed; the impulse of acceptance — the impulse to take for granted and unchallenged the facts of life as they are — and the impulse to confront those facts with the eyes of inquiry and wonder. Men are of two kinds, according as they obey one or the other of these two impulses.

As Watts-Dunton goes on to point out, in the latter years of the eighteenth century it was the impulse of acceptance that held sway; and it was precisely those years that made the winter of English poetry, when Pope and Dryden shone like stars on a frosty night. Then came what he has called "The Renascence of Wonder,: and we heard again the bird notes of spring, of Cowper and Burns, of Wordsworth and Coleridge, of Shelly and Keats.

In the same way, Masons may be divided into two classes: those who take Masonry as a matter of course, and those who confront it with the eyes of inquiry and wonder. Let it be said at once, a man may be content — as, indeed many are — with the impulse of acceptance, and may live a Masonic life without reproach; but he will never feel the thrill of Masonry as one of the great romances of the world.

II

To some of us Masonry is more fascinating than any fairy story — a thing so wonderful that we can never think of it without astonishment. The very existence of such an order, older than any living religion, in one form or another going back into a far time where history and legend blend, like the earth and the sky on the horizon, is a fact amazing beyond words. If its real story were tellable, it would make other romances seem flat and tame. Deep in the heart of man is an instinct, if we may call it such, by which he feels that there are truths so high and faiths so holy that they are not to be trusted to men unless they are trustworthy, lest the most precious possessions of humanity be lost or debased. Out of this feeling grew the idea and practice of initiation, as we see it in the Men's House, and trace it through all lands and races.

No matter what forms the old initiations may take, at the heart of it all, somewhere, one finds the rudiments of and resemblances to the great drama of the immortal life, showing that from earliest time man defied death and refused to let it have the last word. How this instinct for initiation, if one may so describe it, linked itself with the art of architecture, using simple symbols to teach moral truths; as if to teach man that he must build up the eternal life within himself — how can one think of such a fact without wonder and a strange warming of the heart!

Yet there are brethren who seem to take it all for granted, as a matter of rite and rote, and nothing more. They remind one of the letter of Horace Walpole written from Florence: "I recollect the joy I used to propose to myself if I could but once see the Great Duke's Gallery: I walk in it now with as little emotion as I should into St. Paul's Cathedral. The farther I travel, the less I wonder at anything."

Truly, those words tell a pitiful tale of a jaded, blas, tourist who walked through ancient shrines of beauty and prayer with sealed, unwondering eyes. Yet, more marvelous than any cathedral is the story of the Builders, out of whose faith and dream and skill the cathedral was born and built; and it is Masonry that tells us who the builders were, why and how they wrought, and how we must be builders, too, of a House not made with hands.

III

To name the marvels of Masonry would require many books, but two may be mentioned, and the first is its anonymousness. Who made Masonry no one knows; when and how it was made no one has told us. Much is said about the "Revival" in 1717, but back of that date lies a long history, only glimpses and fragments of which we glean. Neither author, nor date, nor locality is attached to it. It is a monument, not of an individual, but of a mighty and mysterious past — like a cathedral the names of whose builders are lost. The genius that produced it has been forgotten in the service rendered.

Today we sit in a lodge listening to a ritual, not knowing when, or where, or by whom it was written. It is a lyric fragment detached from time and place; it has come down to us singing its way on the unrelated wings of time. Its anonyousness is a part of its power. It is universal; it is not of an age or a race, but of the world. Someone ought to write a book entitled "The Anonymous in Life," though is would assuredly take many volumes to tell the story of the wonders wrought by unknown, unnamed pilgrims of the past.

Think how much of the Bible is anonymous. Who wrote the idyll of Ruth, with the color of the loveliest sky on it and the wine of the purest love flowing through it? Who wrote that sublime epic of the desert, in which Job struggles with the mystery of undeserving suffering, and discovers a new dimension of faith in God? Who wrote the Epistle of the Hebrews, one of the most refined and gracious books of the New Testament? Origen said long ago, "No one knows but God."

Anonymousness takes all the egotism out of genius, gives absolute disinterestedness, converts the particular into the universal, and burdens it with a beauty and pathos, a dignity and nobility, which belong to humanity; as if the very soul of the race spoke to us, as the organ of the Infinite, instructing us, illuminating us. What Goethe said is true:

But heard are the voices,
Heard are the Sages,
The Worlds and the Ages.

How much of Masonry is anonymous! We do not know who is speaking to us. Their names are lost, like autumn leaves long fallen into dust. Like us, they were pilgrims and had to pass on. Yet, what a legacy of inspiration and instruction they left us for our guidance on the old-world human road. They told us what they learned by living, leaving their marks on the walls and arches of the Temple; and the rest is silence.

The Masonic Service Association of the United States of America