SHORT TALK BULLETIN
Vol. VII No. 2 — February 1929
There is a reason for everything, even for superstition, if we seek far enough to find it. There was a reason, both in the spirit of the age and the state of the Craft, for the "revival" of Masonry in 1717. It was a fad of the day to form all sorts of queer clubs and secret societies, some of them with odd, fantastic names. Our Craft was caught by that craze, but Masonry lived, while the rest were left in limbo. Why should it have been so?
The Cathedrals had long been finished and the work of the Craft seemed done. The place of the Master Mason had been taken by the architect who, like Sir Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones was no longer a child of the Lodge, but a man trained in books and by travel. By all the rules, Masonry should have died, or else reverted to some kind of guild or trade union. But, it did not. Instead, men who were not working Masons had long been joining the Lodges, in quest of truth they had not found elsewhere.
Put otherwise, why did Masonry alone of all trades live after its work was done, preserving not only its identity and its old emblems and usages, but transforming them into teachers of morality and charity? Of course, in the end only that lives which is in accord with the need of man and the nature of things; but we may go further and say that Masonry lived because it had never been simply an order of architects, but a moral and spiritual fellowship — the keeper of great symbols and a teacher of truths that never die.
Having reviewed the meager record, let us examine the facts in more detail. The new Masonry was not merely a "revival;" it was a revolution. The Craft had fallen to a low estate, following the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. The new Grand Lodge was intended to give it "a centre of union and harmony," a community of action, such as it had not had for years; but it did much more. It gave the Craft not only an old form with a new meaning, but a new spirit, a new force, a new direction, and sent it forward to a new destiny such as no one had ever dreamed of.
More than one writer has told us that the leaders of the Masonry of that day were fuzzy-minded men who did not know what they were doing; but the results show that they were wise men. Never more so than when they were careful to say that what they were doing was "according to ancient usage," a phrase which still has magical power among us, because Masons love things old, tried and lovely. They were doing things never done before "according to ancient usage" from "time immemorial," and that was surely a rare feat! They made the past glide into the future without loss, using an ancient form to clothe a new spirit and purpose.
The brethren who met in the Apple-Tree Tavern "constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro tempore in Due Form and forthwith revived the Quarterly Communication of Officers of Lodges, called the Grand Lodge." The quarterly meeting was never before called a Grand Lodge, so far as we are aware, but it became one none the less. Under the guise of reviving an old usage they created a new form of organization — new, certainly, in its power. No wonder there was a great Schism later on, made, as we now know, by Lodges not represented at the Apple-Tree Tavern, and who denied the right of a few men to constitute themselves a Grand Lodge.
What was the "Due Form" with which the new Grand Lodge was constituted? A postscript to the record tells us that "when the Grand Master is present it is a lodge in Ample Form; otherwise, only in Due Form." But what Ritual, if any, was used on that important occasion? Nobody knows; our Brethren have practiced the virtue of secrecy too successfully for us to penetrate the veil. Some sort of ceremony must have been employed, but we do not know what it was, unless it was that found in the "Narrative of the Freemasons Words and Signes" contained in the Sloan MS. The Grand Lodge itself being a new invention, no doubt it set about revising and elaborating such Ritual as existed, which developed into the Ritual as we now have it.
Under the guise of a "revival" still further innovations were made when the four lodges met to elect a Grand Master and celebrate the Feast of St. John in the Goose and Gridiron Ale-House. The office of Grand Master was new, both in its creation and in its amazing power — a power almost absolute, including the "sole" right of appointing both his Wardens. There must have been murmurs against it, because Anderson found it necessary to say a little later that it was found "as necessary as formerly, according to an ancient custom." Whereas he was in fact attempting to justify a new fact by appeal to an old fiction, since no such office existed in former times.
Old usages were in evidence, to be sure, as the observance of St. John's Day, the manner of voting by show of hands, the badges of office, the Tyled Lodge, to name no others. But if the new Grand Master wore an old Badge of office, he himself was a new figure in Masonry, invested with a new and vast power. His Badge was a large white apron, though hardly so large as the one we see in the Hogarth picture. The collar was of much the same shape as that at present in use, only shorter. When the color was changed to blue, and why, is uncertain, but probably not until 1813, when we begin to see both Apron and Collar edged with blue. By 1727 the officers of all lodges were wearing "the jewels of Masonry hanging to a White Apron." Four years later we find the Grand Master wearing gold jewels pendant to blue ribbons about the neck.
As regards innovations, it is pointed out by Gould that the new Grand Lodge introduced three striking changes in English Masonry, besides those already named. First, it prohibited the working of "the Master's Part" — now, probably the Master's Degree — in private Lodges, as if it intended to keep the most sacred and secret part of the Ritual within its own control. Not unnaturally this provoked rebellion on the part of many, and was done away with in November 1725. However, it was a wise thing, because, as Stuckeley said in his diary, under the date of January 1721, "Masonry took a run, and ran itself out of breath through the folly of its members." It seems that Masons were being made not only by Lodges, but by private groups.
The second innovation named by Gould was less important, but worthy of mention. The new Grand Lodge arbitrarily imposed upon the English Craft the use of two compound words new in its vocabulary — Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft. These words were known elsewhere in the Craft, but they were new in England. More serious, by far, was the article on "God and Religion" in the First Constitutions, by which Christianity was no longer to be the only religion recognized by Masonry. As Gould remarks, "the drawing of a sponge over the ancient Charge, 'To be True To God and Holy Church,' was doubtless looked upon by many Masons of those days in very much the same manner as we now regard the absence of any religious formulary whatever in the so- called Masonry of the Grand Orient of France."
The full import of this article was not realized at first; but it was one factor leading to the Great Schism which divided the Craft for fifty years. Indeed, the "epoch of transition," as it has been named, from the old Masonry to the new, covered a long period, say from 1717 to 1738, when the second book of constitutions was issued, and the first Papal Bull was hurled at the Craft. It was a period of ups and downs, all kinds of tangles, new and vexing problems, when the Craft was attacked and defended by turns, with many alleged "exposures" as well, as we know not only from the record of the Craft, but from items in the papers of the time.
The old diarist was right when he said that "Masonry took a run," and it did not stop until it reached the ends of the earth. Lodges multiplied, charity flourished, and the gentle influence of the Fraternity spread afar. In spite of the schism within and opposition without, the Craft grew almost too rapidly, and measures had to be taken to restrain it, least it go too fast, making members without making Masons. Those "Fuzzy-minded old men," as they have been called, knew what they were about, and while they made more than one sad mistake of policy, they helped forward the Brotherhood of Man. Even the Great Schism helped, rather than hindered, the onward march of Masonry.