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THE SQUARE AND COMPASSES - In search of Freemasonry


Chapter Four - HISTORY, A KEY ELEMENT IN MASONRY



Background
The Ancient Charges in summary
The liberal arts and sciences
The foundation of the crafts
The two pillars
Nimrod and the tower of Babel
The call of Abraham
The temple at Jerusalem
Freemasonry in France
Freemasonry in England
Freemasonry in Scotland
Freemasonry in Ireland
In operative lodges the Traditional History and Ancient Charges were a central part of the ceremonial and the basis of moral instruction.



Background
In operative lodges, history was a key element used to illustrate the moral teachings of masonry. Tradition also was an essential component in the instruction of apprentices and craftsmen at all levels of competence. Although the details differ and the English language has changed, the charges and traditional histories of modern speculative freemasonry were derived from the Old Constitutions of the lodges of operative freemasons working in medieval England, from when the craft guilds were established during the reign of Henry I in about 1153 until during the Reformation, when all lodges were prohibited by Henry VIII's Act of 1547 disendowing all religious fraternities. In operative lodges the Old Constitutions, usually referred to as the Ancient Charges or the Old Charges, were a central part of the ceremonial and the basis of moral instruction. An authentic copy of the Old Constitutions, which included the Traditional History, the Charges of Nimrod and the Ancient Charges, was the authority under which lodges worked. Candidates were admonished to behave in an appropriate manner, cautioned to preserve the rights and privileges of their craft and warned that they must not reveal their trade secrets and modes of recognition to strangers. No other medieval craft or religious body is known to have possessed documents similar to the Old Constitutions. Their content and character differed greatly from the Guild ordinances of other trades and clearly reflected the moralising influence of the ecclesiastical environment in which most operative masons worked and lived. A fundamental part of the Old Constitutions was the traditional history, which recounted the development of civilisation and highlighted the important part played by masonry in the improvement of mankind. Although some of the anecdotes were allegorical, most were based on biblical history. The ancient charges and traditional histories were not identical in all copies of the Old Constitutions, nor were they handed down in unvarying form, but they did have a common theme. The standardised lectures and traditional histories that are used in modern speculative lodges do not include all of the material that was incorporated in the Old Constitutions. The oldest known copy of the Old Constitutions is a document written by a priest, comprising thirty-three vellum sheets entitled the Poem of the Craft of Masonry. It is believed to have been based on a much older document and is called the Regius MS or the Halliwell MS. It was discovered in 1839 and early researchers thought that it would have been written in about 1390, but later the date was revised to about 1410. In modern terminology the Regius MS is classified as dating from the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The rules and regulations set out in the Regius MS for the governance of freemasons are arranged under fifteen Articles for ye maystur mason and a further fifteen Points for felows and prentes. The document states that the rules and regulations were established at a great assemblage of masons King Athelstan ordered to be held, reputedly at York in 926, but there is no known record of the event. The Regius MS and the Cooke MS, which was written about fifty years later, are both held in the British Museum. The Grand Lodge No. 1 MS, held by the United Grand Lodge of England, is a later rendition of the rules and regulations dated 1583, almost forty years after Henry VIII had prohibited all lodges. This document, which probably was transcribed in secret to preserve the old traditions, nevertheless brings to light a distinct transition from the tenor of earlier copies of the Old Constitutions because it includes much that is of a purely speculative nature.



The Ancient Charges in summary
The Ancient Charges were voluminous documents. Some of the older as well as a few of the more recent copies are in book form, but many are written on skins and stitched end to end to form rolls. The text is usually in three parts. The first part is a prayer invoking a blessing, usually of the Holy Trinity, but El Shaddai and other appellations also are used when referring to God, though mainly in obligations and charges. The second part is an extended historical statement that usually culminates with the requirement for the candidate to take an obligation on the Holy Book, sometimes in Latin. The final part of the text comprises the actual Charges, which are very comprehensive and were rehearsed to the candidate. The candidate was then required to take a vow to keep them well and truly and to the utmost of his knowledge and ability, which he ratified by saluting the Holy Book. As the prayer, the actual Charges and the associated obligations are not historical in character it is not necessary to discuss them any further in the present context. Relevant aspects of the traditional history will now be examined in relation to their historical content, having regard to the usual context in which they were used, but without reference to any specific copy of the Ancient Charges.



The liberal arts and sciences
It is not known when the seven liberal arts and sciences were first incorporated into the Ancient Charges, but they are an important component in nearly all of the known copies. A discourse on the characteristics of the arts and sciences and their utilisation by the various crafts is sometimes given in the opening statement. However it usually appears later in the traditional history, after the legend relating to their preservation on two pillars that together would resist the ravages of fire and water. This discourse concludes by emphasising that, in reality, all of the arts and sciences are dependant in some way upon measurement and therefore that they are all founded on the one science called Geometry, which in medieval days was synonymous with masonry. References to the liberal arts and sciences included in the rituals of the Second Degree of modern speculative freemasonry clearly evolved from the discourse in the Ancient Charges. As the liberal arts and sciences were the foundation of the curricula in all institutions of advanced learning in medieval times, their inclusion in the Ancient Charges is to be expected, confirming that the medieval master masons were men of considerable learning and skill. Master masons proved their ability by transforming the visions of their employers into the glorious cathedrals and other stately edifices they designed and constructed. This knowledge, especially geometry, was an essential part of a craftsman's training, because measurement is the foundation of a freemason's work.



The foundation of the crafts
The Traditional History begins with the biblical story in Genesis, which records the Hebrew traditions concerning the origin of the crafts, which are paralleled in the legends of other peoples and have been confirmed by archaeological investigations. The first section is about the beginnings of history, after the creation and before the flood. It commences with Lamech, a descendant of Adam through Cain and is taken directly from Genesis 4:19-22, which in the New English Bible translation says: "Lamech married two wives, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal who was the ancestor of herdsmen who live in tents; and his brother's name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of those who play the harp and pipe. Zillah, the other wife, bore Tubal-cain, the master of all coppersmiths and blacksmiths, and Tubal-cain's sister was Naamah." The biblical exposition is amplified in the traditional history by including the ancient Hebrew tradition that Jabal, while tending his sheep in the fields, was the first man to construct walls and later houses of stone, thus founding the craft of masonry. It also ascribes to Naamah the founding of the craft of weaving, completing the requirements for the rise of civilisation and urban dwelling. Until about a century ago, chronologists calculated the Old Testament dates solely on the recorded genealogies, which are incomplete and do not provide all of the required details. In 1650 Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656), an Irish prelate born in Dublin, used the recorded genealogies to date the creation of the world and the appearance of Adam at 4004 BCE, which is the Year of Light referred to in speculative craft freemasonry. Dates in the Anno Lucis calendar are derived by adding 4,000 years to the Common Era date. Modern research, supported by archaeological discoveries, indicates that the earliest biblical records relate to humanity about 10000 BCE or even earlier. Also that the flood probably occurred before 5000 BCE, that Noah's descendants developed into nations around 5000 BCE, that the tower of Babel was erected around 4800 BCE, followed soon after by the first great buildings in Babylonia. As writing was invented many centuries after these events and genealogies were based on oral tradition, such differences in dating are to be expected. It is of particular interest to note that archaeological investigations reveal that stone fences and footings in houses were first used in Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia about 12,000 years ago, when the domestication of wild sheep and goats began, which coincides in place and time with the story of Lamech and his children.



The two pillars
This section of the Traditional History is the original legend of the pillars and deals with the preservation of the arts and sciences. The legend is not of masonic origin and bears no relation to the two pillars erected at the entrance to King Solomon's temple. The Greek historian Berosus transcribed the legend in about 300 BCE, reputedly from a Sumerian account that had been recorded in cuneiform in about 1500 BCE. Flavius Josephus, the eminent Jewish author who lived in the first century and wrote in Greek, also included the legend in his Antiquity of the Jews. Ranulf Higden, a monk of Chester who died in about 1364, copied the legend from Josephus when he wrote his world history, Polychronicon. Although it is not known whether the legend was included in the Ancient Charges before it appeared in Polychronicon, in view of freemasonry's close ecclesiastical connections in those days it seems most likely. The legend is no longer referred to in speculative craft freemasonry, but it is still a part of the tradition in the Royal Ark Mariner and the Ancient and Accepted Rite. The tradition records that Lamech's four children, the founders of the crafts, "knew well that God would do vengeance for sin, either by fire or water", thus foreseeing the flood in Noah's time. They therefore determined to preserve the seven liberal arts and sciences against such a calamity by inscribing them on two pillars, one which would survive a fire and the other which would survive a flood, although accounts of the two materials vary. Some say marble that cannot be burnt and laternes or laterite, a stone formed from clay, that cannot be destroyed by water. Others more logically say that brick resists fire and either marble or brass resists water. Archaeological discoveries reveal that the smelting and casting of copper and the open hearth firing of earthenware were being used in the area by about 7,000 years ago and possibly earlier. Although after the probable time of the great flood associated with the melt down near the end of the last Ice Age, this is earlier than the indicated date of the later flood that inundated Mesopotamia and the surrounding regions, when either method of preservation would have been possible. Tradition relates that the knowledge thus preserved was providentially recovered after the flood by Hermes, who is called the "father of wisdom". He reputedly was a descendant of Noah through Shem and applied the recovered knowledge for the benefit of mankind. The moral of this ancient legend is that knowledge and truth must be preserved, but that corruption will be punished. An apparent problem with this tradition is that the oldest cuneiform inscriptions presently known date from about 5,200 years ago and hieroglyphs from about a century earlier, which is after the likely dates of both floods. However some pre-flood inscriptions have been discovered, including a pictographic tablet found by Dr Langdon under the flood deposit at Kish, seals found by Dr Schmidt under the flood layer at Fara and pre-flood seals found by Dr Woolley at Ur. One of the ancient Babylonian kings, Hammurapi who promulgated the famous code of laws in about 1750 BCE, recorded that "he loved to read the writings of the age before the flood". The reference appears to relate to the Mesopotamian inundation, not the earlier great flood associated with the Ice Age. Hammurapi was a contemporary of Abraham and he is usually identified with the Amraphel referred to in Genesis 14. When Assur-ban-apli founded Nineveh's great library in about 600 BCE, he also made reference to the "inscriptions before the time of the flood". In about 300 BCE, the Greek historian Berosus recorded a tradition from the Sumerian accounts, which said that before the flood Xisuthrus, the Babylonian equivalent of Noah, buried the Sacred Writings at Sippar on tablets of baked clay and dug them up afterwards. A tradition among Arabs and Jews says that Enoch invented writing and left a number of records.



Nimrod and the tower of Babel
This part of the Traditional History is derived from the Hebrew traditions concerning events that took place in the first few hundred years after the flood. It is taken from the New English Bible translations of Genesis 10:8-13 and Genesis 11:2-9, which say: "Cush (who was a son of Ham and a grandson of Noah) was the father of Nimrod, who began to show himself a man of might on earth; and he was a mighty hunter before the Lord, . . . His kingdom in the beginning consisted of Babel, Erech and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he migrated to Asshur and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah and Resen, a great city between Nineveh and Calah." "As men journeyed in the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks and bake them hard'; they used the bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar. 'Come', they said, 'let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves; or we shall be dispersed all over the earth.' . . . So the Lord dispersed them from there all over the earth and they left off building the city. That is why it is called Babel, because the Lord made there a babble of the language of all the world; from that place the Lord scattered men all over the face of the earth." Archaeological investigations reveal that the ziggurat called the Tower of Babel was constructed in the manner described in Genesis. Ziggurat is derived from the Assyrio-Babylonian word ziqquratu meaning a pinnacle or mountain top and denotes a sacred temple tower. The traditional site of the tower is one at Borsippa, about 15 kilometres south-west of the centre of Babylon, the ancient Babel. An inscribed cylinder found by Sir Henry Rawlinson in a foundation corner states that a former king completed the tower to a height of 42 cubits, but that it fell into ruins in ancient times. It further states that the brickwork and roofing tiles were rebuilt as new at the behest of Marduk, restoring the tower as it was in remote days. Marduk or Merodach was the Babylonian God that Nimrod was said to be in human form. A masonic tradition says that masons were first made much of at the building of the Tower of Babel under the directions of Nimrod, the great King of Babylon, who was a Master Mason. This tradition says that Nimrod loved the craft well and made the masons Free Men and Free Masons in his kingdom. Another tradition says that when Nimrod sent sixty lodges of masons to build Nineveh and the other cities of the east, he gave them a Charter and the Charges of Nimrod, which reputedly are those set out in the Ancient Charges. When an apprentice was indentured in an English operative lodge, his obligation traditionally was called the "Oath of Nimrod".



The call of Abraham
The Traditional History relates how Abraham, who was born at Ur of the Chaldees in southern Babylonia in about 2160 BCE, responded to the Lord's call that is recorded in the following words in the New English Bible translation of Genesis 12:1-4: "The Lord said to Abraham 'Leave your own country, your kinsmen and your father's house and go to a country that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great . . .' And so Abraham set out . . ." Although he lived in a world of idolatry Abraham was not an idolater, but believed in one God. He set out from Ur in search of the land where he could build a nation free from idolatry. He reached the ancient caravan city of Haran 1,000 kilometres to the north-west in about 2110 BCE, where he stayed for many years. After the death of his father Terah, Abraham travelled south-east and reached Shechem in Canaan about 2085 BCE, where he built an altar to God as he did later at Bethel and also at Hebron. Because of the famine in Canaan, Abraham continued on into Egypt. Tradition says that the patriarchs taught the seven liberal arts and sciences in Egypt, where Euclid was a worthy scholar who subsequently was commissioned by the king to teach the sons of royalty the science of geometry and the practice of masonry and all manner of worthy works. This is entirely allegorical, because Euclid was not born until about 330 BCE. In fact, one of the first Greek scholars to visit and study in Egypt was Thales of Miletus, who was born in about 630 BCE. When he returned from Egypt he was well versed in the techniques of Egyptian geometry. The Egyptians knew from their experience in building that a triangle with two sides of equal length also had two equal angles adjacent to them. They also knew that a triangle with sides three, four and five units long had a right angle opposite the long side. Thales devised a practical proof for the properties of an isosceles triangle, but it was Pythagoras, born about sixty years after Thales, who was credited with being the first to prove the famous theorem of a right angled triangle, that the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides. However it was Euclid who formulated the theorems, including his Forty-seventh Proposition for a right-angled triangle, which are still used as a basis for teaching classical geometry.



The temple at Jerusalem
This major episode in the Traditional History could be regarded as the culminating component, because it is a foundation for all instruction in moral precepts that were imparted in the degrees of operative freemasonry. To appreciate this section of the traditional history in its proper context, it would be pertinent to comment on the ceremonials within which the degrees of operative freemasonry were conferred. They were conducted in a specifically historical setting in which the candidate personified a "living stone" being wrought from the rough, as prepared in the quarry, to a state of perfection fit for erection in the most glorious of all temples, the life hereafter. In each degree in operative freemasonry the candidate represented a particular stone in the construction of temple at Jerusalem by King Solomon. The candidate was required symbolically to undergo the preparation of that stone, its testing prior to use and its erection in the temple. The degrees referred to relevant passages in the scriptures and were explained in practical terms in relation to the work of an operative freemason. The appropriate working tools also were introduced and their practical uses and moral interpretations were explained. The discourse in the Traditional History is taken directly from the scriptural record of King David's desire to build a temple at Jerusalem, the preparations he made for its construction and its construction by King Solomon with the assistance of Hiram King of Tyre and Hiram Abif, the son of a widow of the Hebrew tribe of Dan and of a Tyrian father. Hiram Abif was a man of great skill and ingenuity sent by King Hiram to execute the principal works of the interior of the temple and the various utensils required for the sacred services. Adoniram was the official whom King Solomon appointed to superintend the monthly levies of ten thousand men working in relays in Lebanon. All of this is described in some detail in I Kings chapters 5-10, I Chronicles chapters 21-22 and 28-29 and II Chronicles chapters 1-9. The following three passages recorded in the New English Bible translations of II Chronicles 3:1, I Kings 5:17 and I Kings 6:7 are especially relevant- "Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, on the site which David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." "By the king's orders they quarried huge, massive blocks for laying the foundation of the Lord's house in hewn stone." "In the building of the house, only blocks of dressed stone direct from the quarry were used; no hammer or axe or any iron tool whatever was heard in the house while it was being built." The Ancient Charges variously refer to the master of geometry and chief master of all masons as Aynon, Agnon, Ajuon or Dyon, who is called the son of the King of Tyre, but the context suggests that the person referred to is Hiram Abif. It seems that the word could have been a corruption of the Hebrew word Adon which signifies Lord, so that the title could refer to Hiram Abif as Adon Hiram, or possibly to Adoniram with whom he is sometimes confused, although the latter seems less likely. Another possible interpretation is the old use of Anon or Anonym signifying one whose name is not divulged and from which the modern anonymous is derived. Whatever the derivation of Anon, he takes on a purely allegorical mantle after the completion of the temple at Jerusalem and is credited with travelling to many lands with other masons to practice and teach the craft, thus introducing masonry into Europe and Britain.



Freemasonry in France
The allegorical story of Aynon is taken up in France under about twenty-five different variations of what most probably was intended to be the same name, among which Naymus Graecus and Maynus Grecus possibly are the best known, although in the second edition of the Constitutions of the premier Grand Lodge, Dr James Anderson refers to him as Ninus. When Pythagoras established his famous school at Crotona in about 530 BCE and later in other cities, Greece was known as Magna Graecia or Greater Greece which included Asia Minor, southern Italy and Sicily and continued from the settlement of Syracuse in about 750 BCE until the Punic Wars of 264-241 BCE. Pythagoras, who taught geometry and philosophy and established a comprehensive system of symbolism to explain his esoteric teachings, has a legendary connection with masonry which he is supposed to have introduced into France. It seems highly likely that Naymus Graecus and its variants were corruptions of Magna Graecia, arising from the legendary connection between Pythagoras and masonry. In any event, the legend says that "a curious mason named Naymus Graecus, who had been at the making of Solomon's Temple, came into France and there taught the craft of masonry". The legend then includes an anomaly similar to that of Euclid in Egypt, asserting that a person of French royal blood, Charles Martel, had learned the craft from Naymus Graecus and "loved it well", establishing masonry in France with good methods of payment. Charles Martel (688-741) was the progenitor of the Carolingian dynasty and he was known as Charles the Hammer. Although not actually the king of France, Charles Martel was a notable soldier and ruled France under the title "Mayor of the Palace".



Freemasonry in England
The historian Rebold says of Charles Martel that "at the request of the Anglo-Saxon kings, he sent workmen and masters into England". This is the reason why medieval operative freemasons in England regarded Charles Martel as one of their patrons and included him in the Traditional History, which continues with an allegorical account of the establishment of freemasonry in England and the fixing of good rates of pay. Briefly, it says that England was pagan and had neither masonry nor the ancient charges until the time of St Alban, when a worthy knight who was chief steward to the king constructed the town walls. He is said to have cherished the masons for their good work, on which account he obtained from the king and his counsel a charter, naming the masons an Assembly. He also gave them charges and doubled their wages, which previously had been only a penny a day throughout the whole land. The early background to St Albans is worth recounting. St Albans is the successor of the important Roman-British town of Verulamium, which according to the records of the Roman historian Tacitus may have been one of the few examples in Britain of a municipium, wherein the inhabitants had the same rights as the citizens of Rome. The town owes its name to St Alban, a Roman soldier who was the first Christian martyr in England, beheaded in 303 for giving refuge to St Amphibalus, the priest who had converted him to Christianity. In about 793 Offa, the king of Mercia, founded a Benedictine abbey in honour of St Alban. It rose to such great power and wealth that its head was the premier abbot in England from 1154 to 1396. Another contemporaneous legend says that Gordianus, who was emperor from 244 BCE to 238 BCE, sent many architects into England where they constituted many lodges and instructed the craftsmen in the true principles of freemasonry. It also says that a few years later, when Carausius was emperor in Britain, from 293 BCE to 287 BCE, he loved the craft and appointed Albanus as Grand Master of Masons, who employed the fraternity in building the palace of Verulamium. Despite the obvious discrepancies in the dates, it is a fact that architecture and the craft of freemasonry were first encouraged in England during the third century and that the earliest freemasons came from Europe. In the light of the early history of St Albans, it is not surprising that its establishment features in the traditional story of the origins of operative masonry in England. Some researchers are of the opinion that the increase in wages attributed to the time of St Alban was the increase that came into effect after the period of the Black Death, the bubonic plague that swept through Asia and Europe and reached England in 1348. Because of the unprecedented demand for labour in the aftermath of the Black Death, a Statute of Labourers was enacted in 1350 to regulate wages and prevent extortionate pricing. The wages of a master freestone mason were then fixed at four pence per day and of other masons at three pence per day, which are much higher than those referred to in the traditional history, strongly suggesting that there were two different events, of which the one in the traditional history occurred much earlier. Some have expressed the opinion that the Statute establishes that the traditional history is a product of the period shortly after the Black Death, but it seems most unlikely to have been compiled at a time of such misfortune and labour shortage. In any event, it almost certainly is a collection of oral traditions that had evolved over a very long period. The Traditional History concludes with the legend of an Assembly held at York in 926 during the reign of King Athelstan, whose half-brother Edwin, who is often called his son, had learnt geometry and the mason's craft, then prevailed upon the king to issue a Charter for the masons and a Commission to hold an annual Assembly. No record of the Assembly has been found, but a tradition handed down for many centuries usually has a basis in fact. In any event, the continuing association of York with masonry began with the conversion to Christianity of the Northumbrian king, Prince Edwin, by his Kentish wife. He was baptised on Easter Day 627 by the first Bishop of York, Paulinus, in a wooden chapel on the site of the present Minster. The Venerable Bede, a renowned historian who lived in the Jarrow monastery on Tyneside from 682 until his death in 735, records in his Ecclesiastical History that Edwin replaced the chapel with a stone church which became the centre of the Bishopric. When burnt down in about 741, the chapel was replaced by a magnificent stone church that was ruined in about 1080, following the Norman Conquest, but it was progressively rebuilt until the York Minster was erected between 1220 and 1474.



Freemasonry in Scotland
Operative lodges in Scotland did not have the allegorical story of the masons in France, nor did they have the traditional history of the masons in England, but the tradition of the Mason Word was well established in medieval times. Possession of the Mason Word and a knowledge of the local catechisms and modes of recognition enabled an itinerant mason to prove himself and obtain work appropriate to his skills. In Scotland operative lodges came under the jurisdiction of a Statute in 1424, almost a century before any similar organisation was instituted in England. Then in 1475 the first Seal of Cause, or Charter of Incorporation, was granted to the Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh by the Burgh. The organisation of Scottish operative lodges culminated in 1598 with the promulgation of the Schaw Statutes which established an elaborate code of organisation and procedure. The Hiramic legend and also a form of the five points of fellowship are known to have been in use in Scottish lodges in the late 1500s, by which time Masons' Marks were already being registered. There was no Scottish counterpart of the English Ancient Charges, but there are records of at least some Scottish lodges having had copies at the beginning of the 1600s if not earlier, probably obtained by the Scottish lodges working in northern England in those times.



Freemasonry in Ireland
The operative lodges in Ireland did not have an equivalent of the English Ancient Charges, nor is there any evidence of a tradition like the Mason Word as it was used in Scotland. However it is known that in Ireland the working tools of an operative mason were being used symbolically for moral instruction early in the 1500s, when the guild system was flourishing. In 1508 the earliest Charter known to be in existence was issued to the Dublin Masons operating in association with the Carpenters, Millers and Heliers (Tilers). Another well known feature of operative masonry in Ireland was the Freemason's Stone, a landmark in the Coombe District of Dublin from 1602 until at least 1818.