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Review of Freemasonry
THE SQUARE AND COMPASSES - In search of Freemasonry
Chapter Six - THE PRECEPTS OF FREEMASONRY
In the beginning
The first principle
Behaviour and responsibility
The moral virtues
The social virtues
The intellectual virtues
First and foremost among the precepts of freemasonry is a belief in a divine creator.
In the beginning
A study of human evolution, especially in relation to the development of thought and speech in conjunction with a growing awareness of things beyond their daily existence, reveals an intimate connection with the development of freemasonry. When they had achieved an ability to eke out a frugal subsistence within their natural environment, the primitive hunter-gatherers then turned their thoughts to improving their personal comfort. With the erection of their first rudimentary shelters, the seeds of masonry were sown, heralding the imminent birth of speculative freemasonry. Articulate speech became an ever more pressing necessity, as humans sought to communicate their thoughts and wishes to other humans and their minds strived to fathom the significance of their mortal existence. Operative masonry began in the Stone Age and its speculative counterpart developed concurrently. These two components of freemasonry were intimately interwoven and together reflected the physical and intellectual progress of humanity and the development of human spiritual conception.
When primitive humans tried to comprehend their place and purpose in the universe, they sensed a spiritual presence in their existence. Thus evolved the perception of a creator, a supreme being or controlling force from which all things emanated and upon which all things depended for their continuing existence. As civilisation evolved and human beings tried to explain the concepts they were developing, they drew on the experiences of their physical existence. Freemasonry provided many useful examples that could be used to portray their growing appreciation of the spiritual elements of life and to illustrate the moral principles they were formulating. Thus the speculative aspects of freemasonry evolved as a natural extension of the human vocabulary, enabling moral precepts to be expounded simply and graphically.
The first principle
First and foremost among the precepts of freemasonry is a belief in a divine creator, the one true God. This belief is the foundation of all masonic teaching, the cornerstone of every branch of freemasonry and the keystone that unites its many component parts. A belief in a supreme being is the first principle of freemasonry, from which all else derives. This is the reason why no man can be accepted into freemasonry unless he has freely expressed a belief in God. A man's religion is immaterial to his acceptance into freemasonry, because it is only a factor of his upbringing or a matter of personal choice, but his belief in God is of paramount importance. Every degree in freemasonry acknowledges the existence of a supreme being, whose blessing is supplicated at the opening and closing of all proceedings. As in the ancient mysteries and in all religions, the various titles that are used with reference to God in masonic rituals reflect those attributes of God that are of special relevance to the circumstances portrayed in the particular ceremonial.
An essential component of a freemason's belief in a divine creator is the faith that a human being's spirit does not perish with its mortal frame, which is so eloquently expressed by the preacher's words in Ecclesiastes 12:7 - "then the dust shall return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return to God who gave it". The freemason is exhorted to contemplate this aspect of his ultimate destiny and to regulate his life and actions according to God's will, so that at the end of this transitory mortal life he may confidently hope to be raised to those "immortal mansions, eternal in the heavens". Although various moral issues are expounded in the three degrees of craft freemasonry, the fundamental substance of their teachings concerns the immortality of the soul and its ultimate return to the divine creator.
As the neophyte was received in poverty in all the ancient mysteries, so also does the Apprentice in freemasonry enter the lodge in a state of indigence, when he is reminded of his defenceless condition and his absolute dependence upon his creator is emphasised. Symbolically, the initiate is being reborn on his entry into freemasonry and is exhorted to lead a just and upright life thenceforth. As a Fellow of the Craft, the freemason is taught that labour is the lot of man, but that in due course every good and faithful servant will receive his just reward. As a Master Mason the freemason obtains a fleeting glimpse of the promised reward, but he is then told that he must continue his search for the ultimate truth. A closely related theme is the important concept that all human beings are equal in the sight of God. This fundamental tenet of freemasonry is taught in many of its degrees and is the central theme of the Knights of Constantinople, one of the degrees in the Order of the Allied Masonic Degrees.
Behaviour and responsibility
A central theme in the teachings of freemasonry is the importance of obeying God's commands. It is of such crucial importance that it is a central part of the instruction given to the Apprentice. The theme continues in the instruction given to a Fellow of the Craft and is emphasised in the degree of Mark Master Mason. Strict obedience, the exercise of skill and ability, careful attention to detail and the importance of being responsible for one's own actions are impressed on the Mark Master Mason by a practical example from the work of an operative freemason. The candidate is taught that he alone must be responsible for his own actions, for which he will receive his just reward in a life hereafter if he has lived in strict accordance with the divine commands. Obedience to God's commands is so important and so closely allied to the belief in the immortality of the soul, that it merits being ranked as second among the precepts of freemasonry.
It will be evident from the foregoing discussions that the fundamental precepts of freemasonry are so closely interwoven that they cannot be subdivided into distinct and separable compartments. Even so, brotherly love, relief and truth must be regarded as third among the important precepts of freemasonry, because they are so closely interrelated with the principle that all human beings are equal in the sight of God. In this context the teachings are based on concepts established by the operative freemasons, who were charged with the responsibility of caring for the members of their fraternity, especially if they were out of work or in indigent circumstances. They were required to respect and protect all members of their brethren's families and were enjoined to regard their employers with due deference and to serve them well, in return for which they were promised regular employment and adequate recompense.
Brotherly love, relief and truth are described as the grand principles on which freemasonry is founded. They are said to shine with greater splendour than any other masonic emblems. The concept is introduced to the Apprentice in his impoverished state, when his principles are in some measure put to the test. The Apprentice is admonished to practise brotherly love and relief cheerfully and as a virtue, providing whatever assistance is within his means should a distressed brother fairly claim assistance. It is only later, when a speculative freemason becomes a Master Mason, that the full implications of this virtue are clarified in the old operative terms, partly in the obligation and partly under the five points of fellowship. In operative freemasonry the five points of fellowship were an essential element of the instruction imparted to Fellows of the Craft. The importance of truth is taught in various degrees and it is the central theme in the Knight of the East, which is that part of the work of the Red Cross of Babylon that is set in the Persian court. The scene enacted in the degree is graphically portrayed in the Bible in the first book of Esdras.
Closely allied with truth is integrity, which depends upon truth for its fulfilment. Integrity and rectitude imply a rigorous compliance with a code of ethics, based on an undeviating honesty that ascribes virtue to the subject. Rectitude is a strict adherence to the rules of right and justice, which strongly suggests self-discipline. Both integrity and rectitude are distinctive features of goodness that also have a close affinity with morality, righteousness, purity and virtue. None of these attributes can be considered alone, because each influences the other. Even benevolence, generosity, good will and kindness, which relate more specifically to brotherly love and relief, have a bearing on integrity. Thus there can be no doubt that integrity merits its high standing among the precepts of freemasonry. It is an important theme in many of the degrees in freemasonry. In particular the degree of Select Master, in the Cryptic Rite, teaches that constant care and integrity are essential when carrying out one's duties, but at the same time emphasising that integrity must always be tempered with justice and mercy.
The moral virtues
Of the many moral virtues fostered by freemasonry, the three principle ones are called faith, hope and charity. Faith has been defined as the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the pillar of civilised society, because it is the bond of amity and the foundation of justice. Hope has been defined as an anchor for the soul, which enters into that which is within the veil, suggesting that we may look forward to a positive and favourable outcome to our lives and actions if they have been carried out in accordance with God's commands. Charity is described as the brightest ornament that can adorn masonry, because it is lovely in itself and also is the best test and surest proof of sincerity. Charity, which is brotherly love in its truest sense, is said to comprehend all of the virtues. The principles illustrated in these moral virtues are essential elements of brotherly love, relief, truth and integrity and therefore are important precepts that should always activate a freemason's heart in his relations with others.
The social virtues
Temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice are called the four cardinal virtues of freemasonry. They are very closely related to the three moral virtues, which is sufficient justification for their inclusion amongst the most important precepts of freemasonry. In its correct usage, temperance indicates a wise moderation in the indulgence of personal pleasures, although often incorrectly applied to signify their complete rejection. Temperance is the appropriate restraint of our passions and affections that will ensure proper self control and overcome immoderate temptation. This virtue ought to be the constant practice of every freemason, enabling him to resist worldly temptation and to avoid excesses. Temperance is an essential element in the exercise of true justice.
Fortitude signifies that firmness and strength of mind which will enable obstacles and ordeals to be faced courageously, with a brave and unswerving resourcefulness that is neither rash nor cowardly. Fortitude is closely allied with prudence, which suggests that any action that is proposed should take into account the wisdom that has been gained by experience. Prudence enables us to regulate our lives and actions with due regard to the dictates of reason. Fortitude and prudence are both essential elements in the exercise of justice and complement that impartiality, rightness, integrity and mercy that is signified by justice. All of these elements must be taken into account when determining what would constitute true justice in any particular set of circumstances. Thus the four cardinal virtues are unmistakably reflected in the important principles that are the foundation of proper masonic behaviour.
The intellectual virtues
The three great pillars that symbolically support a freemason's lodge are called wisdom, strength and beauty. They refer to the triune essence of the Deity, whose wisdom is infinite, whose strength is omnipotent and whose beauty shines forth throughout the whole of the creation in symmetry and order. In a freemasons' lodge they also represent the Master of the lodge and his Wardens and are depicted on the first tracing board as columns of the three most celebrated of the classical orders of architecture, which are the Ionic, the Doric and the Corinthian. The Ionic column represents the Master and signifies wisdom. The Doric column represents the Senior Warden and signifies strength. The Corinthian column represents the Junior Warden and signifies beauty. Wisdom denotes those mental qualities that enable us to understand situations, anticipate their consequences and make sound decisions. Wisdom implies the highest and noblest exercise of all the faculties of the moral nature and the mental capabilities, suggesting an appropriate balance of discretion, maturity, keenness of intellect, broad experience, extensive learning, profound thought and compassionate understanding. Strength signifies power, might, force, solidity, toughness, fortitude, courage and many other things. Beauty signifies elegance, grace, symmetry, seemliness, fairness and a wide range of related attributes. The freemason is exhorted to apply wisdom in all his undertakings, to bring strength of character to bear when in difficulties and to adorn his inward self with beauty. A consideration of these attributes of behaviour is a fitting conclusion to a study of the precepts of freemasonry.