Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What is Masonry?

by: Unknown
circa 1924


You are now a member, with all the rights and privileges, of the oldest and largest fraternal order of the world. Seeking this membership solely of your own free will and accord, you have advanced through its three degrees by virtue of your worthiness and diligence. It is, therefore, safe to assume that you are sincerely interested in knowing what Masonry is and for what it stands in its relationship to modern civilization.

Many definitions of Masonry have been attempted, but it is doubtful if any is better than the one with which you are familiar:

A beautiful system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.: A fuller definition is the following:

"Masonry is the activity of closely united men who, employing symbolical forms borrowed principally from the mason's trade and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble themselves and others and thereby bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale."

You have already learned that Masonry is a serious undertaking and that it exists to make men "Wiser and Consequently Happier." It is a great force for good - a force that binds into one universal brotherhood men who believe in the power of moral principles. Its teachings, based on those eternal truths that have from the beginning of time controlled human progress, are so broad that they have the foundation upon which rest the dogmas and creeds of all religious denominations. The interpretation of moral truth, as expounded in its ritual and lectures, forms the basis of all human efforts for good and of all wise and just government systems. It is well for us to start out in our Masonic pathway with this conception of the breadth of Masonic teaching and their entire freedom from all narrow dogmas. The true Mason, in matters of doctrine, is always tolerant and can never be a bigot.

At the foundation of all Masonic belief lies the most important of our Landmarks - the belief in the Fatherhood of God. As you well know, it is an essential to Masonic membership. It is the one fundamental tenet of the Order, an abiding bond of union that unites all men of every country, sect and opinion, who have faith in the power of good. Masonry seeks neither to limit your conception of God nor your interpretation of his Manifestations. These are left to your intelligence and your conscience. It does require, however, that you believe unreservedly in the existence of a Supreme Being, Architect and Ruler of the Universe.

As the chief conerstone of your Masonic belief is that other important Landmark, the recognition of the Brotherhood of Man. A third Landmark follows as a result of the of the first two - "The Hope of a Glorious Immortality." Beyond these three Landmarks Masonry asks it follower to subscribe to no religious creed. Its teachings and practices follow naturally as an interpretation of these beliefs.

You heard more or less about the universality of Masonry.

It is universal because it is broad and tolerant. Any man, of any Church or creed, who professes a belief in these three Landmarks is eligible for Masonry, so far as his religion is concerned.


In considering briefly the history of Masonry, it may be necessary for you to disabuse your mind of some preconceived ideas. Certainly we have no knowledge of the Masonic Fraternity, as we now know it, existing at a period so remote as that of the building of King Solomon's Temple. The references in our ritualistic work to the building of that famous edifice are purely allegorical. History teaches us that thousands of years ago there were in existence secret organizations that accepted many of the essential moral truths taught by our Order today. What connection, if any, they may have had with Masonry we shall probably never know, as the early history of our Fraternity is chiefly traditional and clouded in a dim and indefinite past.

As an established organization, Masonry took form several centuries ago when Operative Masonry flourished, and Masonic Guilds, and later fraternities, devoted their attention to the construction of buildings. During these early days the operative masons held lodge meetings in a building which was guarded to prevent the approach of those not members of the Craft. They met in secret, admitted members by initiation and taught the initiates the symbolism of the order as well as how to make themselves known to each other by grips and signs. Whatever we do not know concerning the beginnings of Masonry, we do see in all its history a body of men, bound by ties of fraternity, working for the common good and for the preservation of moral truths, unhampered by bigotry or blind intolerance.

Operative Masonry, associated with the erection of buildings, began to decline as a result of wars and changing economic conditions during the seventeenth century. In order to hold the lodges together, the members began to admit men, who, though not working as masons, were attracted by the traditions, symbolism and teachings of the Craft. They were called "Accepted" Masons, to distinguish them from those who practiced the art. As the years went on, the number of "Accepted" Masons grew until, by the opening of the eighteenth century, they predominated, and Operative Masonry was transformed into Speculative Masonry. In 1717 the four "Old Lodges" formed the Grand Lodge of England, and Masonry, as we now practice it began to take form; and by 1726 the Ritual, essentially as we know it today, was developed. As a result, there occurred a great Masonic awakening that brought the Fraternity to the front as an active force in the thought and life of England. Since that time Masonry has been taught and practiced in its present form substantially without change, and its membership has continued to grow until today, in the United States alone, we have about three million Masons (1924).

Mackey defines Speculative Masonry as the "Scientific Application and the Religious Consecration of the Rules and Principles, the Language, Implements and Materials of Operative Masonry to the Veneration of God." Newton, in his Masonic Masterpiece, "The Builders," a book that should be in the hands of every Masonic student, refers to the change to Speculative Masonry in these words:

"Henceforth the Masons of England were no longer a society of handicraftsmen, but an association of men of all orders and every vocation, and also of almost every creed, who met together on the broad basis of humanity, and recognized no standard of human worth other than morality, kindness and love of truth. They retained the symbolism of the old Operative Masonry, its language, its ritual and its oral tradition. No longer did they build churches but the spiritual temple of Humanity; using the square not to measure the right angles of blocks of stone, but for evening the inequities of human character; nor the compass any more to describe circles on the tracing board, but to draw a Circle of Good-Will around all mankind."

It is a remarkable fact that in Masonry we have an Order whose ritual, landmarks and teachings have remained unchanged for more than 200 years. They have stood the critical test of their application to the problems of humanity under vastly varying conditions and today stand as sound and as true as when they were formulated. Whilst denominational religions have constantly changed their creeds to adapt them to the advance of human knowledge, Masonry finds her interpretations of the principles of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man just as vital, just as useful in the correction of human conduct as they were over two hundred years ago. Masonry is not worthy because it is old; it is old because it is true.

No page in Masonic history is more eloquent in its record of influence on human endeavor than the part taken by Masons in the early days of our Republic. Masonic gatherings of one form or another were held prior to 1730. By 1735 Grand Lodges had been formed in several of the states, and lodges were becoming quite numerous. Thereafter the growth and influence of Masonry in the United States was marked, and members of the Fraternity everywhere were prominent in the cause of liberty and a free government. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, most of the members of the Constitutional Convention, and all of the governors of the original thirteen states, were Masons. Washington, a Mason, was sworn in as President of the United States by Chancellor Robert Livingston, who was also the Grand Master of New York, on a Bible taken from a Masonic Altar. Most of his Generals, including Lafayette, Von Stuben and Knox, his closet friend, were members of the Craft. Among a host of other Masonic Patriots and Soldiers might be mentioned Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Warren , Patrick Henry, Josiah Quincy, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton and Chief Justice Marshall; men who took their Masonic teachings seriously and wove them into the fabric and foundation of our national government. Ever since these early days, many of the leading statesmen, patriots, writers, poets, artists and musicians; leaders in all lines of thought and progress both in this and other civilized nations, have been masons.


Every newly raised Brother should make it a point to read, thoughtfully, the Landmarks and Ancient Charges of Masonry. You will find them in your handbook of Masonic Law of which they form the foundation. They are of great antiquity and they will give you an understanding of the broad scope of Masonic belief. Notice, for example, how sound and true, in these days of unrest and strife, are the teachings of the first two Ancient Charges "Concerning God and Religion," and "Of the Civil Magistrate, Supreme and Subordinate, even though they are more than two centuries old; and overlooking the quaint language of the time when they were written, how applicable they are to our present problems.

The mission of Masonry concerns itself with the individual.

You will find nothing in our teachings to encourage organized participation by the Fraternity in community, state or national affairs involving politics or religion. On the contrary, we are taught to eliminate from our lodge room discussions on all questions likely to involve party or fractional strife. Masonry seeks to inculcate in the individual those moral truths that can become, if he will use them, his faithful guide through life. Time has proved that you cannot make men good by legislation; that no elaborate system of laws can change men's natures or their hearts; and that the unit of morality and human progress is the individual. By lessons, mainly symbolical, Masonry points the way for him to lay down his rules of conduct, and by giving him knowledge of the fundamentals, seeks to develop his integrity, judgment and ideals.

Now that are a Master Mason you will be expected to take your share of responsibility for properly safeguarding the welfare and progress of your lodge. Remember that the Blue Lodge is the ground floor of all Masonic endeavor the world over, and that while degrees of the Chapter, Commandry and Scottish Rite, in which some time you may become interested, offer much that is beautiful and valuable in developing Masonic teachings, yet the real work of Masonry is carried on in the body of which you are now a member. All the business affairs of your lodge are conducted in the Third degree, including such material matters as finance and property interests, relations with other lodges, and election of officers. In this connection you will be called upon to exercise the privilege of voting on all those who petition your lodge for the Masonic degrees, and you must accordingly accept your share of responsibility for the character of its membership.

The true Mason, on such occasions, divorces from his mind all thoughts of personal bias and considers only the welfare of the lodge, asking himself if the petitioner is a man who can understand and apply the principles and ideals of Masonry and prove himself worthy of the Fraternity. The right to elect or reject a petitioner is a trust placed in a member to be exercised, not for personal reasons, but for the benefit of the lodge. And bear in mind that a worthy petitioner, even though rejected, may apply again; whereas unworthy material, once accepted by the lodge, can, with difficulty, be ejected.

As you progress in your knowledge and interest in Masonic affairs, you not only have the fullest right to participate, in all meetings, in the business and discussions; but you are expected to do so and it is your duty to assist, whenever occasion arises, in any activity which aids the healthy development of the lodge of which you are now a member.

The Masonic Lodge is the one place where all men, of every station in life, may meet on the basis of true equality.

President Roosevelt (Teddy). writing shortly before his death, called attention to the fact that while he was President of the United States, the gardener on a neighbor's estate, "A Most Excellent Public Spirited Citizen, was Master of His Lodge;"

And he adds:

"He was over me, though I was President, and it was good for him and good for me. I violate no secret when I say that one of the greatest values in Masonry is that it affords an opportunity for men in all walks of life to meet on common ground, where all men are equal and have one common interest."

William Jennings Bryan expresses the same idea thus:

"In a lodge room we do not ask a man who his father was; we simply inquire what he is. We do not ask what his father has done; we simply ask if he is ready to do the work that falls to him. We do not ask whether he has received a diploma from some institution of learning; we simply ask if he has studied the science of how to live, if he recognizes the ties that bind him to mankind. We do not ask him how many acres of land he possesses; we ask him whether he is possessed of the spirit of Brotherhood. The lodge room helps to draw us together; it helps to unify the world."


Having now discussed both the History and Teachings of Masonry, let us consider their application and your relationship thereto. Interested though you may be in what Masonry did for your country a hundred years ago, you are certainly more interested in what it can do for the world today.

We are taught that Masonry is a progressive science. For some two hundred years Freemasonry has adapted to life's problems the unchangeable moral principles handed down by Operative Masonry. Just as the rules of architecture adapt themselves to all forms of buildings, so do the truths of Masonry apply themselves to the manifold questions of our present civilization. From Operative Masonry to Speculative Masonry was a change demanded by progress; and the same spirit of progress demands today a virile interpretation of our teachings in the form of Applied Masonry.

In this connection, have you thought about your new responsibilities as a Mason? Voluntarily, you have allied yourself with a fraternity that stands for certain ideals and recognizes certain duties that it owes to mankind. You have thereby incurred certain responsibilities that were not yours before. Henceforth you will be known as a Mason; and no matter whether you wish it or not, the world will, to a certain extent, judge Masonry by the life you lead and the service you render to your fellowmen. You cannot escape this fact; and these words are written in vain if they do not convince you, definitely and earnestly, of your responsibility. That other Masons may not always recognize this fact, or live up to it, does not in the least relieve you from your duty to put your Masonic teachings into practice in your daily life and apply Masonic standards to your rules of conduct. Freemasons are presumed to be men of integrity and good standing, and as such are usually influential in their communities; and just so far as this is true, a moral obligation rests upon every Mason to maintain that reputation and to actively exert some influence for the common good. From this time on your attitude cannot be passive alone; you cannot shirk duty; and the duty of Freemasonry toward present day problems is quite plain. As a good Mason you will make it your concern to learn that duty and to perform it.

Masonry will mean to you just what you make of it in your daily life and influence. If you confine your Masonic activities to ritualistic work within the seclusion of your lodge room, your conception of its mission is indeed a limited one. But if you are going to translate that work into terms of practical applica-tion of its lessons, for the benefit of yourself and your fellow man, you will realize that Freemasonry is synonymous with Service and Civic Duty.

Let us then, briefly, consider a few aspects of Masonry in its application to modern civic problems.


Freemasonry has always stood, and stands today, four-square for free and compulsory education. Good citizenship rests on the ideals and integrity of the electorate, and a man's ideals and integrity can be no better than his knowledge. Our Masonic forefathers were the founders and supporters of the American Public School system. It is a heritage handed down to the Masons of today to guard, protect and foster. It is our Masonic duty to see to it that the American Public School, one of the bulwarks of our nation, is maintained at the highest degree of efficiency, under the sole dominion of the State, and entirely free from interference by other influence, political or ecclesiastical. It becomes our duty to see to it that those who teach our children, the future citizens of our Republic, are not only properly qualified for their work, but that they recognize their responsibility as trustees of our national development and that they shall be not only citizens of our country, speaking our language, but men and women imbued with the spirit and purpose that originated our public school system and who cherish American ideals beyond any other influence, political or ecclesiastical. Education is the chief factor in fostering a spirit of true Americanism.


One of the fundamentals guaranteed to us in our system of government is religious liberty and absolute separation of Church and State. The history of Masonry is the story of the development of liberty of conscience in religious matters. Masons - many of them Masters and Wardens of lodges - at the birth of our nation, wrote into our Constitution those precious provisions which insure our religious freedom. This heritage surely we of today should defend; because we accept it as our right, we are sometimes blinded to the dangers that threaten its continuance. Freemasonry insists that no church, of whatever denomination, can be superior to the state, and that it cannot intrude its dogma into civic and governmental affairs without interfering with the constitutional rights of the citizen.


"A Mason is a peaceable subject to the civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concerned in Plots or Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation." So reads the Ancient Charge; and Masonry has ever been an ardent champion of the constituted authority of self- government. Today we find these principals attacked, not by autocracy and despotism, but by anarchy and communism. The attitude of Freemasonry toward these influences cannot be questioned. When, in 1919, the city of Boston - scene of the "Boston tea Party" which was conducted by Masons (not as Masons but as individuals) - was imperiled by lawlessness and violence occasioned by a strike of the police force, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was not satisfied to remain silent as to the position of Freemasonry, but adopted a set of resolutions that breathe the same spirit of devotion to principal that animated organized Masonry in Washington's time. They close with the following words:

"Resolved, that Americans today face no more important task than that of asserting and maintaining the supremacy of the law of the land and resisting any and all efforts, by whomsoever made, to undermine and destroy that law-abiding spirit and habit which is the foundation stone of our liberties; and be it further, resolved, that this Grand Lodge requests the Grand Master to communicate these resolutions to his Excellency the Governor of the Commonwealth, and to his Honor the Mayor of Boston, with the assurance that the 80,000 citizens here represented offer full sympathy and whatever aid may be possible in their efforts to assert and maintain the supremacy of the law and to protect the peace of the community."

Wholehearted respect for the law of the land is a fundamental requirement of every Mason and it is a Masonic duty to combat the enemies of our constitutional government. Masonry is Organized Patriotism.


We will consider these together since they are similar in spirit and intent. The lesson of Charity was taught to you in the First Degree, but you misinterpret this lesson if you confine it to material relief alone. The true spirit of Charity that should animate a Mason not, only in his relations with his Brethren but with his fellowmen, is closely allied to that of Brotherhood; and true Brotherhood - the cornerstone of Freemasonry - cannot very well be separated from human service.

At no period of the world's history has the principle of Brotherhood applied with greater force to the problems of civilization than today, particularly in its relation to industrial conditions. More and more do we realize that in discussions between capital and labor the doctrine of selfishness breeds disaster; that might is not right between groups any more than between individuals; and that man cannot be independent of his fellowman. When the spirit and practice of brotherliness is applied to our industrial problems and we begin to think more of our duty toward our fellowman rather than of our rights against him, then will we be applying our Masonic teachings. With unrest and bitterness in evidence on all sides, it is no time for true Masons to be sitting in their lodge rooms soliloquizing on the past and discussing ritualistic technicalities. Rather should we be translating the symbolism of Freemasonry into helpfulness and true Brotherhood. How changed would be the social and industrial conditions of our nation if, instead of attempting to solve disputes by strikes and riots, we would apply, in a practical way, the Masonic precepts of "Who Best Can Work and Best Agree!"

The whole history of mankind shows that there is no substitute for brotherliness. Professions of Brotherhood in a Masonic lodge are of no avail unless they are put into practice in daily life. It is the task of each individual Mason, in his contemplation of national, state and local problems, to apply these age-old, unselfish and fundamental principles revealed in the ritual.


If Freemasonry stands for anything at all, it stands for Service.

The hope and purpose of this discussion is to create in your mind as a newly made Mason. a new vision of greater usefulness to your fellowman. You have not joined a mere club. You have allied yourself with a body of nearly three million men of all parties, or all religions, of all degrees of mental equipment. We represent the manhood of America. Our predecessors laid the foundation of this democracy, and we are tied by the same bonds of obligation to protect our Republic and the principles for which it stands. As you progress further on the Masonic pathway you will realize that the full duty that you owe to your country and your fellowman is not discharged by passively retaining your Masonic membership. Freemasons are builders, Creators, men engaged in constructive undertakings, and you as one of them cannot stand back and merely watch your felloworkers. You believe in Brotherhood, not as a platitude, but as a reality to be applied in daily life - and Brotherhood implies Service.

Every Degree in Masonry carries a lesson that points to civic duty and our relationship with each other in social and business life. Consider, for example, the Masonic admonition concerning the division of our time and apply it to the disturbed labor conditions of today (1924). "Eight Hours for our usual vocations," although recognized by Masons two centuries ago as a sane basis for a day's work, is now claimed by labor as a standard. But to go a step further, and induce your fellowman to accept that other admonition which requires "Eight Hours for the Service of God and a Distressed Worthy Brother,: and you have translated the doctrine of Service into daily life in a way that would solve all our labor problems.

Though not interested in politics or platforms, though not concerned with personalities, Masonry nevertheless, through education of the individual, stands squarely for moral principles in all civic affairs. She believes that "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty," and that the privileges of a free government are worth guarding; that her philosophy of human brotherhood squares with real Americanism; and that her manhood is a great moral force for the common good. and, believing this, she expects every man who subscribes to her obligations to practice the lessons she teaches.


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