The curious history of Freemasonry has unfortunately been treated only by its panegyrists or calumniators, both equally mendacious. I do not wish to pry into the mysteries of the craft; but it would be interesting to know more of their history during the period when they were literally architects. They are charged by an act of Parliament with fixing the price of their labor in their annual chapters, contrary to the statute of laborers, and such chapters were consequently prohibited. This is their first persecution; they have since undergone others, and are perhaps reserved for still more. It is remarkable, that Masons were never legally incorporated, like other traders; their bond of union being stronger than any carter. – HENRY HALLAM, The Middle Ages
From the foregoing pages it must be evident that Masonry, as we find it in the Middle Ages, was not a novelty. Already, if we accept its own records, it was hoary with age, having come down from a far past, bringing with it a remarkable deposit of legendary lore. Also, it had in its keeping the same simple, eloquent emblems which, as we have seen, are older than the oldest living religion, which it received as an inheritance and has transmitted as a treasure. Whatever we may think of the legends of Masonry, as recited in its oldest documents, its symbols, older than the order itself, link it with the earliest thought and faith of the race. No doubt those emblems lost some of their luster in the troublous time of transition we are about to traverse, but their beauty never wholly faded, and they had only to be touched to shine.
If not the actual successors of the Roman College of Architects, the great order of Comacine Masters was founded upon its ruins, and continued its tradition both of symbolism and of art. Returning to Rome after the death of Diocletian, we find them busy there under Constantine and Theodosius; and from remains recently brought to knowledge it is plain that their style of building at that time was very like that of the churches built at Hexham and York in England, and those of the Ravenna, also nearly contemporary. They may not have been actually called Free-masons as early as Leader Scott insists they were,* but they were free in fact, traveling far and near where there was work to do, following the missionaries of the Church as far as England. When there was need for the name Freemasons, it was easily suggested by the fact that the cathedral-builders were quite distinct from the Guild-masons, the one being a universal order whereas the other was local and restricted. Older than Guild-masonry, the order of the cathedral-builders was more powerful, more artistic, and, it may be added, more religious; and it is from this order that the Masonry of today is descended.
(* The Cathedral Builders, chap. 1.)
Since the story of the Comacine Masters has come to light, no doubt any longer remains that during the building period the order of Masons was at the height of its influence and power. At that time the building art stood above all other arts, and made the other arts bow to it, commanding the services of the most brilliant intellects and of the greatest artists of the age. Moreover, its symbols were wrought into stone long before they were written on parchment, if indeed they were ever recorded at all. Efforts have been made to rob those old masters of their honor as the designers of the cathedrals, but it is in vain.* Their monuments are enduring and still tell the story of their genius and art. High upon the cathedrals they left cartoons in stone, of which Findel gives a list,** portraying with search ing satire abuses current in the Church. Such figures and devices would not have been tolerated but for the strength of the order, and not even then had the Church known what they meant to the adepts.
(* The honor due to the original founders of these edifices is almost invariably transferred to the ecclesiastics under whose patronage they rose, rather than to the skill and design of the Master Mason, or professional architect, because the only historians were monks. . . They were probably not so well versed in geometrical science as the Master Masons, for mathematics formed a part of monastic learning in a very limited degree.” – James Dallaway, Architecture in England; and his words are the more weighty for that he is not a Mason.)
(** History of Masonry. In the St. Sebaldus Church, Nuremburg, is a carving in stone showing a nun in the embrace of a monk. In Strassburg a hog and a goat may be seen carrying a sleeping fox as a sacred relic, in advance a bear with a cross and a wolf with a taper. An ass is reading mass at an altar. In Wurzburg Cathedral are the pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and in the altar of the Church of Doberan, in Mecklenburg, placed as Masons use them, and a most significant scene in which priests are turning a mill grinding out doctrines; and at the bottom the Lord’s Supper in which the Apostles are shown in well-known Masonic attitudes. In the Cathedral of Brandenburg a fox in priestly robes is preaching to a flock of geese; and in the Minster at Berne the Pope is placed among those who are lost in perdition. These were hold strokes which even heretics hardly dared to indulge in.)
History, like a mirage, lifts only a part of the past into view, leaving much that we should like to know in oblivion. At this distance the Middle Ages wear an aspect of smooth uniformity of faith and opinic, but that is only one of the many illusions of time by which we are deceived. What looks like uniformity was only conformity, and underneath its surface there was almost as much variety of thought as there is today, albeit not so freely expressed. Science itself, as well as religious ideas deemed heretical, sought seclusion; but the human mind was alive and active none the less, and a great secret order like Masonry, enjoying the protection of the Church, yet independent of it, invited freedom of thought and faith.* The Masons, by the very nature of their art, came into contact with all classes of men, and they had opportunities to know the defects of the Church. Far ahead of the masses and most of the clergy in education, in their travels to and fro, not only in Europe, but often extending to the far East, they became familiar with widely-differing religious views. They had learned to practice toleration, and their Lodges became a sure refuge for those who were persecuted for the sake of opinion by bigoted fanaticism.
(* History Of Masonry, by Steinbrenner, chap. iv. There were, indeed, many secret societies in the Middle Ages, such as the Catbarists, Albigenses, Waldenses, and others, whose initiates and adherents traveled through all Europe, forming new communities and making proselytes not only among the masses, but also among nobles, and even among the monks, abbots, and bishops. Occultists, Alchemists, Kabbalists, all wrought in secrecy, keeping their flame aglow under the crust of conformity.)
While, as an order, the Comacine Masters served the Church as builders, the creed required for admission to their fraternity was never narrow, and, as we shall see, it became every year broader. Unless this fact be kept in mind, the influence of the Church upon Masonry, which no one seeks to minify easily be exaggerated. Not until cathedral building began to decline by reason of the impoverishment of the nations by long wars, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the advent of Puritanism, did the Church greatly influence the order; and not even then to the extent of diverting it from its original and unique mission. Other influences were at work betimes, such as the persecution of the Knights Templars and the tragic martyrdom of De Molai, making themselves felt, and Masonry began to be suspected of harboring heresy. So tangled were the tendencies of that period that they are not easily followed, but the fact emerges that Masonry rapidly broadened until its final break with the Church. Hardly more than a veneer, by the time of the German Reformation almost every vestige of the impress of the Church had vanished never to return. Critics of the order have been at pains to trace this tendency, not knowing, apparently, that by so doing they only make more emphatic the chief glory of Masonry.
(* Realities of Masonry, by Blake (chap. ii). While the theory of the descent of Masonry from the Order of the Temple is untenable, a connection between the two societies, in the sense in which an artist may be said to be connected with his employer, is more than probable; and a similarity may be traced between the ritual of reception in the Order of the Temple and that used by Masons but that of the Temple was probably derived from, or suggested by, that of the Masons; or both may have come from an original source further back. That the Order of the Temple, as such, did not actually coalesce with the Masons seems clear, but many of its members sought
refuge under the Masonic apron (History of Freemasonry and Concordant Orders, by Hughan and Stillson).)
Unfortunately, as so often happens, no records of old Craft-masonry, save those wrought into stone, were made until the movement had begun to decline; and for that reason such documents as have come down to us do not show it at its best. Nevertheless, they range over a period of more than four centuries, and are justly held to be the title deeds of the Order. Turning to these Old Charges and Constitutions,* as they are called, we find a body of quaint and curious writing, both in poetry and prose, describing the Masonry of the late cathedral-building period, with glimpses at least of greater days of old. Of these, there are more than half a hundred – seventy-eight, to be exact – most of which have come to light since 1860, and all of them, it would seem, copies of documents still older. Naturally they have suffered at the hands of unskilled or unlearned copyists, as is evident from errors, embellishments, and interpolations. They were called Old Charges because they contained certain rules as to conduct and duties which, in a bygone time, were read or recited to a newly admitted member of the craft. While they differ somewhat in details, they relate substantially the same legend as to the origin of the order, its early history, its laws and regulations, usually beginning with an invocation and ending with an Amen.
(* Every elaborate History of Masonry B as, for example, that of Gould – reproduces these old documents in full or in digest, with exhaustive analyses of and commentaries upon them. Such a task obviously does not come within the scope of the present study. One of the best brief comparative studies of the Old Charges is an essay by W. H. Upton, “The True Text of the Book of Constitutions” in that it applies approved methods of historical criticism to of them (A. Q. C., vii, 119). See also Masonic Sketches and Reprints, by Hughan. No doubt these Old Charges are familiar, or should be familiar, to every intelligent member of the order, as a man knows the deeds of his estate.)
Only a brief account need here be given of the dates and characteristics of these documents, of the two oldest especially, with a digest of what they have to tell us, first, of the Legend of the order; second, its early History; and third, its Moral teaching, its workings, and the duties of its members. The first and oldest of the records is known as the Regius MS which, owing to an error of David Casley who in his catalogue of the MSS in the King’s Library marked it A Poem of Moral Duties, was overlooked until James Halliwell discovered its real nature in 1839. Although not a Mason, Halliwell was attracted by the MS and read an essay on its contents before the Society of Antiquarians, after which he issued two editions bearing date of 1840 and 1844. Experts give it date back to 1390, that is to say, fifteen years after the first recorded use of the name Free-mason in the history of the Company of Masons of the City of London, in 1375.*
(* The Hole Craft and fellowship of Masonry, by Conder. Also exhaustive essays by Conder and Speth, A. Q. C., ix, 29; x, 10. Too much, it seems to me, has been made of both the name and the date, since the facts was older than either. Findel finds the
name Free-mason as early as 1212, and Leader Scott goes still further back; but the fact may be traced back to the Roman Collegia.)
More poetical in spirit than in form, the old manuscript begins by telling of the number of unemployed in early days and the necessity of finding work, “that they myght gete there lyvyngs therby.” Euclid was consulted, and recommended the “honest raft of good masonry,” and the origin of the order is found “yn Egypte lande.” Then, by a quick shift, we are landed in England “yn tyme of good Kinge Adelstonus day,” who is said to have called an assembly of Masons, when fifteen articles and as many points were agreed upon as rules of the craft, each point being duly described. The rules resemble the Ten Commandments in an extended form, closing with the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs, as an incentive to fidelity. Then the writer takes up again the question of origins, going back this time to the days of Noah and the Flood, mentioning the tower of Babylon and the great skill of Euclid, who is said to have commenced “the syens seven.” The seven sciences are then named, to-wit, Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Music, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry, and each explained. Rich reward is held out to those who use the seven sciences aright, and the MS proper closes with the benediction:
Amen! Amen! so mote it be! So say we all for Charity.
There follows a kind of appendix, evidently added by a priest, consisting of one hundred lines in which pious exhortation is mixed with instruction in etiquette, such as lads and even men unaccustomed to polite society and correct deportment would need. These lines were in great part extracted from Instructions for Parish Priests, by Mirk, a manual in use at the time. The whole poem, if so it may be called, is imbued with the spirit of freedom, of gladness, of social good will; so much so, that both Gould and Albert Pike think it points to the existence of symbolic Masonry at the date from which it speaks, and may have been recited or sung by some club commemorating the science, but not practicing the art, of Masonry. They would find intimation of the independent existence of speculative Masonry thus early, in a society from whom all but the memory or tradition of its ancient craft had departed. One hesitates to differ with writers so able and distinguished, yet this inference seems far-fetched, if not forced. Of the existence of symbolic Masonry at that time there is no doubt, but of its independent existence it is not easy to find even a hint in this old poem. Nor would the poem be suitable for a mere social, or even a symbolic guild, whereas the spirit of genial, joyous comradeship which breathes through it is of the very essence of Masonry, and has ever been present when Masons meet.
Next in order of age is the Cooke MS, dating from the early part of the fifteenth century; and first published in 1861. If we apply the laws of higher-criticism to this old document a number of things appear, as obvious as they are interesting. Not only is it a copy of an older record, like all the MSS we have, but it is either an effort to join two documents together, or else the first part must be regarded as a long preamble to the manuscript which forms the second part. For the two are quite Unlike in method and style, the first being diffuse, with copious quotations and references to authorities,* while the second is simple, direct, unadorned, and does not even allude to the Bible. Also, it is evident that the compiler, himself a Mason, is trying to harmonize two traditions as to the origin of the order, one tracing it through Egypt and
the other through the Hebrews; and it is hard to tell which tradition he favors most. Hence a duplication of the traditional history, and an odd mixture of names and dates, often, indeed, absurd, as when he makes Euclid a pupil of Abraham. What is clear is that, having found an old Constitution of the Craft, he thought to write a kind of commentary upon it, adding proofs and illustrations of his own, though he did not manage his materials very successfully.
(* He refers to Herodotus as the Master of History; quotes from the Polychronicon, written by a Benedictine monk who died in 1360; from De Imagine Mundi, Isodorus, and frequently from the Bible. Of more than ordinary learning for his day and station, he did not escape a certain air of pedantry in his use of authorities.)
After his invocation,* the writer begins with a list of the Seven Sciences, giving quaint definitions of each, but in a different order from that recited in the Regius Poem; and he exalts Geometry above all the rest as “the first cause and foundation of all crafts and sciences.” Then follows a brief sketch of the sons of Lamech, much as we find it in the book of Genesis which, like the old MS we are here studying, was compiled from two older records: the one tracing the descent from Cain, and the other from Seth. Jabal and Jubal, we are told, inscribed their knowledge of science and handicraft on two pillars, one of marble, the other of lateres; and after the flood one of the pillars was found by Hermes, and the other by Pythagoras, who taught the sciences they found written thereon. Other MSS give Euclid the part here assigned to Hermes. Surely this is all fantastic enough, but the blending of the names of Hermes, the “father of Wisdom,” who is so supreme a figure in the Egyptian Mysteries, and Pythagoras who used numbers as spiritual emblems, with old Hebrew history, is significant. At any rate, by this route the record reaches Egypt where, like the Regius Poem, it locates the origin of Masonry. In thus ascribing the origin of Geometry to the Egyptians the writer was but following a tradition that the Egyptians were compelled to invent it in order to restore the landmarks effaced by the inundations of the Nile; a tradition confirmed by modern research.
(* These Invocations vary in their phraseology, some bearing more visibly than others the mark of the Church. Toulmin Smith, in his English Guilds, notes the fact that the form of the invocations of the Masons “differs strikingly from that of most other Guilds. In almost every other case, God the Father Almighty would seem to have been forgotten.” But Masons never forgot the corner-stone upon which their order and its teachings rest; not for a day.)
Proceeding, the compiler tells us that during their sojourn in Egypt the Hebrews learned the art and secrets of Masonry, which they took with them to the promised land. Long years are rapidly sketched, and we come to the days of David, who is said to aye loved Masons well, and to have given them “wages nearly as they are now.” There is but a meager reference to the building of the Temple of Solomon, to which is added: “In other chronicles and old books of Masonry, it is said that Solomon confirmed the charges that David had given to Masons; and that Solomon taught them their usages differing but slightly from the customs now in use.” While allusion is made to the master-artist of the temple, his name is not mentioned, except in disguise. Not one of the Old Charges of the order ever makes use of his name, but always employs some device whereby to conceal it.* Why so, when the name was well
known, written in the Bible which lay upon the altar for all to read? Why such reluctance, if it be not that the name and the legend linked with it had an esoteric meaning, as it most certainly did have long before it was wrought into a drama? At this point the writer drops the old legend and traces the Masons into France and England, after the manner of the Regius MS, but with more detail. Having noted these items, he returns to Euclid and brings that phase of the tradition up to the advent of the order into England, adding, in conclusion, the articles of Masonic law agreed upon at an early assembly, of which he names nine, instead of the fifteen recited in the Regius Poem.
(* names as Aynone, Aymon, Ajuon, Dynon, Amon, Anon, and Benaim are used, deliberately, it would seem, and of set design. The Inigo Jones MS uses the Bible name, but, though dated 1607, it has been shown to be apocryphal. See Gould’s History, appendix. Also Bulletin of Supreme Council S. J., U. S. (vii, 200), that the Strassburg builders pictured the legend in stone.)
What shall we say of this Legend, with its recurring and insistent emphasis upon the antiquity of the order, and its linking of Egypt with Israel? For one thing, it explodes the fancy that the idea of the symbolical significance of the building of the Temple of Solomon originated with, or was suggested by, Bacon’s New Atlantis. Here is a body of tradition uniting the Egyptian Mysteries with the Hebrew history of the Temple in a manner unmistakable. Wherefore such names as Hermes, Pythagoras, and Euclid, and how did they come into the old craft records if not through the Comacine artists and scholars? With the story of that great order before us, much that has hitherto been obscure becomes plain, and we recognize in these Old Charges the inaccurate and perhaps faded tradition of a lofty symbolism, an authentic scholarship, and an actual history. As Leader Scott observes, after reciting the old legend in its crudest form:
The significant point is that all these names and Masonic emblems point to something real which existed in some long-past time, and, as regards the organization and nomenclature, we find the whole thing in its vital and actual working form in the Comacine Guild.*
(* The Cathedral Builders, bk. i, chap. i.)
Of interest here, as a kind of bridge between old legend and the early history of the order in England also as a different version of the legend itself, er document dating far back. There was a discovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, about 1696, supposed to have been written in the year 1436, which purports to be an examination of a Mason by King Henry VI, and is allowed by all to be genuine. Its title runs as follows: Certain questions with answers to the same concerning the mystery of masonry written by King Henry the Sixth and faithfully copied by me, John Laylande, antiquarian, by command of his highness.” Written in quaint old English, it would doubtless be unintelligible to all but antiquarians, but it reads after this fashion:
What mote it be? – It is the knowledge of nature; and the power of its various operations; particularly the skill of reckoning, of weights and measures, of
constructing buildings arid dwellings of all kinds, and the true manner of forming all things for the use of man.
Where did it begin? – It began with the first men of the East, who were before the first men of the West, and coming with it, it hath brought all comforts to the wild and comfortless.
Who brought it to the West? – The Phoenicians who, being great merchants, came first from the East into Phoenicia, for the convenience of commerce, both East and West by the Red and Mediterranean Seas.
How came it into England? – Pythagoras, a Grecian, traveled to acquire knowledge in Egypt and Syria, and in every other land where the Phoenicians had planted Masonry; and gaining admittance into all lodges of Masons, he learned much, and returned and dwelt in Grecia Magna, growing and becoming mighty wise and greatly renowned. Here he formed a great lodge at Crotona, and made many Masons, some of whom traveled into France, and there made many more, from whence, in process of time, the art passed into England.
With the conquest of Britain by the Romans, the Collegia, without which no Roman society was complete, made their advent into the island, traces of their work remaining even to this day. Under the direction of the mother College at Rome, the Britons are said to have attained to high degree of excellence as builders, so that when the cities of Gaul and the fortresses along the Rhine were destroyed, Chlorus, A. D. 298, sent to Britain for architects to repair or rebuild them. Whether the Collegia existed in Britain after the Romans left, as some affirm, or were suppressed, as we know they were on the Continent when the barbarians overran it, is not clear. Probably they were destroyed, or nearly so, for with the revival of Christianity in 598 A. D., we find Bishop Wilfred of York joining with the Abbott of Wearmouth in sending to France and Italy to induce Masons to return and build in stone, as he put it, “after the Roman manner.” This confirms the Italian chroniclists who relate that Pope Gregory sent several of the fraternity of Liberi muratori with St. Augustine, as, later, they followed St. Boniface into Germany.
Again, in 604, Augustine sent the monk Pietro back to Rome with a letter to the same Pontiff, begging him to send more architects and workmen, which he did. As the Liberi muratori were none other than the Comacine Masters, it seems certain that they were at work in England long before the period with which the Old Charges begin their story of English Masonry.* Among those sent by Gregory was Paulinus, and it is a curious fact that he is spoken of under the title of Magister, by which is meant, no doubt, that he was a member of the Comacine order, for they so described their members; and we know that many monks were enrolled in their lodges, having studied the art of building under their instruction. St. Hugh of Lincoln was not the only Bishop who could plan a church, instruct the workman, or handle a hod. Only, it must be kept in mind that these ecclesiastics who became skilled in architecture were taught by the Masons, and that it was not the monks, as some seem to imagine, who taught the Masons their art. Speaking of this early and troublous time, Giuseppe
Merzaria says that only one lamp remained alight, making a bright spark in the darkness that extended over Europe: (* See the account of “The Origin of Saxon Architecture,” in the Cathedral Builders (bk. ii, chap. iii), written by Dr. W. M. Barnes in independently of the author who was living in Italy; and it is significant that the facts led both of them to the same conclusions. They show quite unmistakably that the Comacine builders were in England as early as 600 A. D., both by documents and by a comparative study of styles of architecture.)
It was from the Magistri Comacini. Their respective names are unknown, their individual works unspecialized, but the breadth of their spirit might be felt all through those centuries, and their name collectively is legion. We may safely say that of all the works of art between A. D. 800 and 1000, the greater and better part are due to that brotherhood – always faithful and often secret – of the Mugistri Comacini. The authority and judgment of learned men justify the assertion.*
Among the learned men who agree with this judgment are Kugler of Germany, Ramee of France, and, Selvatico of Italy, as well as Quatremal de Quincy, in his Dictionary of Architecture, who, in the article on the Comacine, remarks that “to these men, who were both designers and executors, architects, sculptors, and mosaicists, may be attributed the renaissance of art, and its propagation in the southern countries, where it marched with Christianity. Certain it is that we owe it to them, that the heritage of antique ages was not entirely lost, and it is only by their tradition and imitation that the art of building was kept alive, producing works which we still admire, and which become surprising when we think of the utter iguorance of all science in those dark ages.” The English writer, Hope, goes further and credits the Comacine order with being the cradle of the associations of Freemasons, who were, he adds, “the first after Roman times to enrich architecture with a complete and well-ordinated system, which dominated wherever the Latin Church extended its influence.”** So then, even if the early records of old Craft-masonry in England are confused, and often confusing, we are not left to grope our way from one dim tradition to another, having the history and monuments of this great order which spans the whole period, and links the fraternity of Free-masons with one of the noblest chapters in the annals of art.
(* Maestri Comacini, vol.1, chap. ii. ** Story of Architecture, chap. xxii.)
Almost without exception the Old Charges begin their account of Masonry in England at the time of Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great; that is, between 925 and 940. Of this prince, or knight, they record that he was a wise and pacific ruler; that “he brought the land to rest and peace, and built many great buildings of castles and abbeys, for he loved Masons well.” He is also said to have called an assembly of Masons at which laws, rules, and charges were adopted for the regulation of the craft. Despite these specific details, the story of Athelstan and St. Alban is hardly more than a legend, albeit dating at no very remote epoch, and well within the reasonable limits of tradition. Still, so many difficulties beset it that it has baffled the acutest critics, most of whom throw it aside.* That is, however, too summary a way of disposing of it, since the record, though badly blurred, is obviously trying to preserve a fact of importance to the order.
(* Gould, in his History of Masonry (i, 31, 65), rejects the legend as having not the least foundation in fact, as indeed, he rejects almost everything that cannot prove itself in a court of law. For the other side see a “Critical Examination of the Alban and Athelstan Legend,,” by C. C. Howard (A. Q. C., vii, 73). Meanwhile, Upton points out that St Alhan was the name of a town, not of a man, and shows how the error may have crept into the record (A. Q. C., vii, 119-131). The nature of the tradition, its details, its motive, and the absence of any reason for fiction, should deter us from rejecting it. See two able articles, pro and con, by Begemann and Speth, entitled AThe Assembly” (A. Q. C., vii). Older Masonic writers, like Oliver and Mackey, accepted the York assembly as a fact established (American Quarterly Review of Freemasonry, vol. I, 564; ii, 245).)
Usually the assembly in question is located at York, in the year 926, of which, however, no slightest record remains. Whether at York or elsewhere, some such assembly must have been convoked, either as a civil function, or as a regular meeting of Masons authorized by legal power for upholding the honor of the craft; and its articles became the laws of the order. It was probably a civil assembly, a part of whose legislation was a revised and approved code for the regulation of Masons, and not unnaturally, by reason of its importance to the order, it became known as a Masonic assembly. Moreover, the Charge agreed upon was evidently no ordinary charge, for it is spoken of as “the Charge,” called by one MS “a deep charge for the observation of such articles as belong to Masssiry,” and by another MS “a rule to be kept forever.”
Other assemblies were held afterwards, either annually or semi-annually, until the time of Inigo Jones who, in 1607, became superintendent general of royal buildings and at the same time head of the Masonic order in England; and he it was who instituted quarterly gatherings instead of the old annual assemblies.
Writers not familiar with the facts often speak of Freemasonry as an evolution from Guild-masonry, but that is to err. They were never at any time united or the same, though working almost side by side through several centuries. Free-masons existed in large numbers long before any city guild of Masons was formed, and even after the Guilds became powerful the two were entirely distinct. The Guilds, as Hallam says,* “were Fraternities by voluntary compact, to relieve each other in poverty, and to protect each other from injury. Two essen tial characteristics belonged to them: the common banquet, and the common purse. They had also, in many instances, a religious and sometimes a secret ceremonial to knit more firmly the bond of fidelity. They readily became connected with the exercises of trades, with training of apprentices, and the traditional rules of art.” Guild-masons, it may be added, had many privileges, one of which was that they were allowed to frame their own laws, and to enforce obedience thereto. Each Guild had a monopoly of the building in its city or town, except ecclesiastical buildings, but with this went serious restrictions and limitations. No member of a local Guild could undertake work outside his town, but had to hold himself in readiness to repair the castle or town walls, whereas Free-masons journeyed the length and breadth of the land wherever their labor called them. Often the Free-masons, when at work in a town, employed Guild-masons, but only for rough work, and as such called them “roughmasons.” No Guild-mason was admitted to the order of Free-masons unless he displayed unusual aptitude both as a workman and as a man of intellect. Such as adhered only to the manual craft and cared nothing
for intellectual aims, were permitted to go back to the Guilds. For the Freemasons, be it once more noted, were not only artists doing a more difficult and finished kind of work, but an intellectual order, having a great tradition of science and symbolism which they guarded. (* History of the English Constitution. Of course the Guild was indigenous to almost every age and land, from China to ancient Rome (The Guilds of China, by H. B. Morse), and they survive in the trade and labor unions of our day. The story of English Guilds has been told by Toulmin Smith, and in the histories of particular companies by Herbert and Hazlitt, leaving little for any one to add. No doubt the Guilds were influenced by the Free-masons in respect of officers and emblems, and we know that some of them, like the German Steinmetzen, attached moral meanings to their working tools, and that others, like the French Companionage, even held the legend of Hiram; but these did not make them Free-masons. English writers like Speth go too far when they deny to the Steinmetzen any esoteric lore, and German scholars like Krause and Findel are equally at fault in insisting that they were Freemasons. (See essay by Speth, A. Q. C., i, 17, and History of Masonry, by Stembrenner, chap. iv.)
Following the Norman Conquest, which began in 1066, England was invaded by an army of ecciesiastics, and churches, monasteries, cathedrals, and abbeys were commenced in every part of the country. Naturally the Free-masons were much in demand, and some of them received rich reward for their skill as architects – Robertus Cementarius, a Master Mason employed at St. Albans in 1077, receiving a grant of land and a house in the town.* In the reign of Henry II no less than one hundred and fifty-seven religious buildings were founded in England, and it is at this period that we begin to see evidence of a new style of architecture – the Gothic. Most of the great cathedrals of Europe date from the eleventh century – the piety of the world having been wrought to a pitch of intense excitement by the expected end of all things, unaccountably fixed by popular belief to take place in the year one thousand. When the fatal year – and the following one, which some held to be the real date for the sounding of the last trumpet – passed without the arrival of the dreaded catastrophe, the sense of general relief found expression in raising magnificent temples to the glory of God who had mercifully abstained from delivering all things to destruction. And it was the order of Free-masons who made it possible for men to “sing their souls in stone,” leaving for the admiration of after times what Goethe called the “frozen music of the Middle Ages – monuments of the faith and gratitude of the race which adorn and consecrate the earth.
(* Note: on the Superintendents of English Buildings in the Middle Ages by Wyatt Papworth. Cementerius is also mentioned in connection with the Salisbury Cathedral, again in his capacity as a Master Mason.)
Little need be added to the story of Freemasonry during the cathedral-building period; its monuments are its best history, alike of its genius, its faith, and its symbols – as witness the triangle and the circle which form the keystone of the ornamental tracery of every Gothic temple. Masonry was then at the zenith of its power, in its full splendor, the Lion of the tribe of Judah its symbol, strength, wisdom, and beauty its ideals; its motto to be faithful to God and the Government; its mission to lend itself to the public good and fraternal charity. Keeper of an ancient and high tradition, it was a
refuge for the oppressed, and a teacher of art and morality to mankind. In 1270, we find Pope Nicholas III confirming all the rights previously granted to the Freemasons, and bestowing on them further privileges. Indeed, all the Popes up to Benedict XII appear to have conceded marked favors to the order, even to the length of exempting its members from the necessity of observance of the statutes, from municipal regulations, and from obedience to royal edicts. What wonder, then, that the Free-masons, ere long, took Liberty for their motto, and by so doing aroused the animosity of those in authority, as well as the Church which they had so nobly served. Already forces were astir which ultimately issued in the Reformation, and it is not surprising that a great secret order was suspected of harboring men and fostering influences sympathetic with the impending change felt to be near at hand. As men of the most diverse views, political and religious, were in the lodges, the order began first to be accused of refusing to obey the law, and then to be persecuted. In England a statute was enacted against the Free-masons in 1356, prohibiting their assemblies under severe penalties, but the law seems never to have been rigidly enforced; though the order suffered greatly in the civil commotions of the period. However, with the return of peace after the long War of the Roses, Freemasonry revived for a time, and regained much of its prestige, adding to its fame in the rebuilding of London after the fire, and in particular of St. Paul’s Cathedral.* When cathedral-building ceased, and the demand for highly skilled architects decreased, the order fell into decline, but never at any time lost its identity, its organization, and its ancient emblems. The Masons’ Company of London, though its extant records date only from 1620, is considered by its historian, Conder, to have been established in 1220, if not earlier, at which time there was great activity in building, owing to the building of London Bridge, begun in 1176, and of Westminster Abbey in 1221; thus reaching back into the cathedral period. At one time the Free-masons seem to have been stronger in Scotland than in England, or at all events to have left behind more records B for the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh go back to 1599, and the Schaw Statutes to an earlier date.
(* Hearing that the Masons had certain secrets that could not be revealed to her (for that she could not be Grand Master) Queen Elizabeth sent an armed force to break up their annual Grand lodge at York, on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1561. But Sir Thomas Sackville took care to see that some of the men sent were Free-masons, who, joining in the communication, made “a very honorable report to the Queen, who never more attempted to dislodge or disturb them; but esteemed them a peculiar sort of men, that cultivated peace and friendship, arts and sciences, without meddling in the affairs of Church or State” (Book of Constitutions, by Anderson).)
Nevertheless, as the art of architecture declined Masonry declined with it, not a few of its members identifying themselves with the Guilds of ordinary “rough-masons,” whom they formerly held in contempt; while others, losing sight of high aims, turned its lodges into social clubs. Always, however, despite defection and decline, there were those, as we shall see, who were faithful to the ideals of the order, devoting themselves more and more to its moral and spiritual teaching until what has come to be known as “the revival of 1717.”
Noc person (of what degree soever) shalbee accepted a Free Mason, unless hee shall have a lodge of five Free Masons at least; whereof one to be a master, or warden, of that limitt, or division, wherein such Lodge shalbee kept, and another of the trade of Free Masonry.
That noe person shalbee accepted a Free Mason, but such as are of able body, honest parentage, good reputation, and observers of the laws of the land.
That noe person shalbee accepted a Free Mason, or know the secrets of said Society, until hee hath first taken the oath of secrecy hereafter following: “I, A. B., doe in the presence of Almighty God, and my fellows, and brethren here present, promise and declare, that I will not at any time hereafter, by any act or circumstance whatsoever, directly or indirectly, publish, discover, reveal, or make known any of the secrets, privileges, or counsels, of the fraternity or fellowship of Free Masonry, which at this time, or any time hereafter, shalbee made known unto mee soe helpe mee God, and the holy contents of this booke.” – Harleian MS, 1600-1650
Having followed the Free-masons over a long period of history, it is now in order to give some account of the ethics, organization, laws, emblems, and workings of their lodges. Such a study is at once easy and difficult by turns, owing to the mass of material, and to the further fact that in the nature of things much of the work of a secret order is not, and has never been, matter for record. By this necessity, not a little must remain obscure, but it is hoped that even those not of the order may derive a definite notion of the principles and practices of the old Craft-masonry, from which the Masonry of today is descended. At least, such a sketch will show that, from times of old, the order of Masons has been a teacher of morality, charity, and truth, unique in its genius, noble in its spirit, and benign in its influence.
Taking its ethical teaching first, we have only to turn to the Old Charges or Constitutions of the order, with their quaint blending of high truth and homely craft-law, to find the moral basis of universal Masonry. These old documents were a part of the earliest ritual of the order, and were recited or read to every young man at the time
of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice. As such, they rehearsed the legends, laws, and ethics of the craft for his information, and, as we have seen, they insisted upon the antiquity of the order, as well as its service to mankind B a fact peculiar to Masonry, for no other order has ever claimed such a legendary or traditional history. Having studied that legendary record and its value as history, it remains to examine the moral code laid before the candidate who, having taken a solemn oath of loyalty and secrecy, was instructed in his duties as an Apprentice and his conduct as a man. What that old code lacked in subtlety is more than made up in simplicity, and it might all be stated in the words of the Prophet: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God,” B the old eternal moral law, founded in faith, tried by time, and approved as valid for men of every clime, creed, and condition.
Turning to the Regius MS, we find fifteen “points” or rules set forth for the guidance of Fellowcrafts, and as many for the rule of Master Masons.* Later the number was reduced to nine, but so far from being an abridgment, it was in fact an elaboration of the original code; and by the time we reach the Roberts and Watson MSS a similar set of requirements for Apprentices had been adopted B or rather recorded, for they had been in use long before. It will make for clearness if we reverse the order and take the Apprentice charge first, as it shows what manner of men were admitted to the Order. No man was made a Mason save by his own free choice, and he had to prove himself a freeman of lawful age, of legitimate birth, of sound body, of clean habits, and of good repute, else he was not eligible. Also, he had to bind himself by solemn oath to serve under rigid rules for a period of seven years, vowing absolute obedience B for the old-time Lodge was a school in which young men studied, not only the art of building and its symbolism, but the seven sciences as well. At first the Apprentice was little more than a servant, doing the most menial work, his period of endenture being at once a test of his character and a training for his work. If he proved himself trustworthy and proficient, his wages were increased, albeit his rules of conduct were never relaxed. How austere the discipline was may be seen from a summary of its rules:
(* Our present craft nomenclature is all wrong; the old order was first Apprentice, then Master, then Fellow craft – mastership being, not a degree conferred, but a reward of skill as a workman and of merit as a man. The confusion today is due, no doubt, to the custom of the German Guilds, where a Fellowcraft had to serve an additional two years as a journeyman before becoming a Master. No such restriction was known in England. Indeed, the reverse was true, and it was not the Fellowcraft but the Apprentice who prepared his masterpiece, and if it was accepted, he became a Master. Having won his mastership, he was entitled to become a Fellowcraft B that is, a peer and fellow of the fraternity which hitherto he had only served. Also, we must distinguish between a Master and the Master of the Work, now represented by the Master of the Lodge. Between a Master and the Master of the Work there was no difference, of course, except an accidental one; they were both Masters and Fellows. Any Master (or Fellow) could become a Master of the Work at any time, provided he was of sufficient skill and had the luck to be chosen as such either by the employer, or the Lodge, or both.)
Confessing faith in God, an Apprentice vowed to honor the Church, the State, and the Master under whom he served, agreeing not to absent himself from the service of the order, by day or night, save with the license of the Master. He must be honest,
truthful, upright, faithful in keeping the secrets of the craft, or the confidence of the Master, or of any Free-mason, when communicated to him as such. Above all he must be chaste, never committing adultery or fornication, and he must not marry, or contract himself to any woman, during his apprenticeship. He must be obedient to the Master without argument or murmuring, respectful to all Free-masons, courteous, avoiding obscene or uncivil speech, free from slander, dissension, or dispute. He must not haunt or frequent any tavern or alehouse, or so much as go into them except it be upon an errand of the Master or with his consent, using neither cards, dice, nor any unlawful game, “Christmas time excepted.” He must not steal anything even to the value of a penny, or suffer it to be done, or shield anyone guilty of theft, but report the fact to the Master with all speed.
After seven long years the Apprentice brought his masterpiece to the Lodge – or, in earlier times, to the annual Assembly *– and on strict trial and due examination was declared a Master. Thereupon he ceased to be a pupil and servant, passed into the ranks of Fellowcrafts, and became a free man capable, for the first time in his life, of earning his living and choosing his own employer. Having selected a Mark** by which his work could be identified, he could then take his kit of tools and travel as a Master of his art, receiving the wages of a Master – not, however, without first reaffirming his vows of honesty, truthfulness, fidelity, temperance, and chastity, and assuming added obligations to uphold the honor of the order. Again he was sworn not to lay bare, nor to tell to any man what he heard or saw done in the Lodge, and to keep the secrets of a fellow Mason as inviolably as his own – unless such a secret imperiled the good name of the craft. He furthermore promised to act as mediator between his Master and his Fellows, and to deal justly with both parties. If he saw a Fellow hewing a stone which he was in a fair way to spoil, he must help him without loss of time, if able to do so, that the whole work be not ruined. Or if he met a fellow Mason in distress, or sorrow, he must aid him so far as lay within his power. In short, he must live in justice and honor with all men, especially with the members of the order, “that the bond of mutual charity and love may augment and continue.”
(* The older MSS indicate that initiations took place, for the most part, at the annual Assemblies, which were bodies not unlike the Grand Lodges of today, presided over by a President a Grand Master in fact, though not in name. Democratic in government, as Masonry has always been, they received Apprentices, examined candidates for mastership, tried cases, adjusted dispute., and regulated the craft; but they were also occasions of festival and social good will. At a later time they declined, and the functions of initiation more and more reverted to the Lodge.)
(** The subject of Mason’s Marks is most interesting, particularly with reference to the origin and growth of Gothic architecture, but too intricate to be entered upon here. As for example, an essay en-titled “Scottish Mason’s Marks Compared with Those of Other Countries,” by Prof. T. H. Lewis, British Archaeological Association, 1888, and the theory there advanced that some great unknown architect introduced Gothic architecture from the East, as shown by the difference in Mason’s Marks as compared with those of the Norman period. (Also proceedings of A. Q. C., iii, 65-81.))
Still more binding, if possible, were the vows of a Fellowcraft when he was elevated to the dignity of Master of the Lodge or of the Work. Once more he took solemn oath to keep the secrets of the order unprofaned, and more than one old MS quotes the
Golden Rule as the law of the Master’s office. He must be steadfast, trusty, and true; pay his Fellows truly; take no bribe; and as a judge stand upright. He must attend the annual Assembly, unless disabled by illness, if within fifty miles – the distance varying, however, in different MSS. He must be careful in admitting Apprentices, taking only such as are fit both physically and morally, and keeping none without assurance that he would stay seven years in order to learn his craft. He must be patient with his pupils, instruct them diligently, encourage them with increased pay, and not permit them to work at night, “unless in the pursuit of knowledge, which shall be a sufficient excuse.” He must be wise and discreet, and undertake no work he cannot both perform and complete equally to the profit of his employer and the craft. Should a Fellow be overtaken by error, he must be gentle, skillful, and forgiving, seeking rather to help than to hurt, abjuring scandal and bitter words. He must not attempt to supplant a Master of the Lodge or of the Work, or belittle his work, but recommend it and assist him in improving it. He must be liberal in charity to those in need, helping a Fellow who has fallen upon evil lot, giving him work and wages for at least a fortnight, or if he has no work, “relieve him with money to defray his reasonable charges to the next Lodge.” For the rest, he must in all ways act in a manner befitting the nobility of his office and his order.
Such were some of the laws of the moral life by which the old Craft-masonry sought to train its members, not only to be good workmen, but to be good and true men, serving their Fellows; to which, as the Rawlinson MS tells us, “divers new articles have been added by the free choice and good consent and best advice of the Perfect and True Masons, Masters, and Brethren.” If, as an ethic of life, these laws seem simple and rudimentary, they are none the less fundamental, and they remain to this day the only gate and way by which those must enter who would go up to the House of the Lord. As such they are great and saving things to lay to heart and act upon, and if Masonry taught nothing else its title to the respect of mankind would be clear. They have a double aspect: first, the building of a spiritual man upon immutable moral foundations; and second, the great and simple religious faith in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man, and the Life Eternal, taught by Masonry from its earliest history to this good day. Morality and theistic religion – upon these two rocks Masonry has always stood, and they are the only basis upon which man may ever hope to rear the spiritual edifice of his life, even to the capstone thereof.
Imagine, now, a band of these builders, bound together by solemn vows and mutual interests, journeying over the most abominable roads toward the site selected for an abbey or cathedral. Traveling was attended with many dangers, and the company was therefore always well armed, the disturbed state of the country rendering such a precaution necessary. Tools and provisions belonging to the party were carried on pack-horses or mules, placed in the center of the convoy, in charge of keepers. The company consisted of a Master Mason directing the work, Fellows of the craft, and Apprentices serving their time. Besides these we find subordinate laborers, not of the Lodge, though in it, termed layers, setters, tilers, and so forth. Masters and Fellows wore a distinctive costume, which remained almost unchanged in its fashion for no less than three centuries.* Withal, it was a serious company, but in nowise solemn,
and the tedium of the journey was no doubt beguiled by song, story, and the humor incident to travel.
(* History of Masonry, Steinbrenner. It consisted of a short black tunic – in summer made of linen, in winter of wool – open at the sides, with a gorget to which a hood was attached; round the waist was a leathern girdle, from which depended a sword and a satchel. Over the tunic was a black scapulary, similar to the habit of a priest, tucked under the girdle when they were working, but on holy days allowed to hang down. No doubt this garment also served as a coverlet at night, as was the custom of the Middle Age, sheets and blankets being luxuries enjoyed only by the rich and titled (History of Agriculture and Prices in England, T. Rogers). On their heads they wore large felt or straw hats, and tight leather breeches and long boots completed the garb.)
“Wherever they came,” writes Mr. Hope in his essay on Architecture, “in the suite of missionaries, or were called by the natives, or arrived of their own accord, to seek employment, they appeared headed by a chief surveyor, who governed the whole troop, and named one man out of every ten, under the name of warden, to overlook the other nine, set themselves to building temporary huts for their habitation around the spot where the work was to be carried on, regularly organized their different departments, fell to work, sent for fresh supplies of their brethren as the object demanded, and, when all was finished, again they raised their encampment, and went elsewhere to undertake other work.”
Here we have a glimpse of the methods of the Free-masons, of their organization, almost military in its order and dispatch, and of their migratory life; although they had a more settled life than this ungainly sentence allows, for long time was required for the building of a great cathedral. Sometimes, it would seem, they made special contracts with the inhabitants of a town where they were to erect a church, containing such stipulations as, that a Lodge covered with tiles should be built for their accommodation, and that every laborer should be provided with a white apron of a peculiar kind of leather and gloves to shield the hands from stone and slime.* At all events, the picture we have is that of a little community or village of workmen, living in rude dwellings, with a Lodge room at the center adjoining a slowly rising cathedral – the Master busy with his plans and the care of his craft; Fellows shaping stones for walls, arches, or spires; Apprentices fetching tools or mortar, and when necessary, tending the sick, and performing all offices of a similar nature Always the Lodge was the center of interest and activity, a place of labor, of study, of devotion, as well as the common room for the social life of the order. Every morning, as we learn from the Fabric Rolls of York Mmster, began with devotion, followed by the directions of the Master for the work of the day, which no doubt included study of the laws of the art, plans of construction, and the mystical meaning of ornaments and emblems. Only Masons were in attendance at such times, the Lodge being closed to all others, and guarded by a Tiler** against “the approach of cowans*** and eavesdroppers.” Thus, the work of each day was begun, moving forward amidst the din and litter of the hours, until the craft was called from labor to rest and refreshment; and thus a cathedral was uplifted as a monument to the Order, albeit the names of the builders are faded and lost. Employed for years on the same building, and living together in the Lodge, it is not strange that Free-masons came to know and love one another, and to have a feeling of loyalty to their craft, unique, peculiar, and enduring. Traditions of fun and frolic, of song and feast and gala-day, have floated down to us, telling of a
comradeship as joyous as it was genuine. If their life had hardship and vicissitude, it had also its grace and charm of friendship, of sympathy, service, and community of interest, and the joy that comes of devotion to a high and noble art.
(* Gloves were more widely used in the olden times than now, and the practice of giving them as presents was common in mediaeval times. Often, when the harvest was over, gloves were distributed to the laborers who gathered it (History of Prices in England, Rogers), and richly embroidered gloves formed an offering gladly accepted by princes. Indeed, the bare hand was regarded as a symbol of hostility, and the gloved hand a token of peace and goodwill. For Masons, however, the white gloves and apron had meanings hardly guessed by others, and their symbolism remains to this day with its simple and eloquent appeal. (See chapter on “Masonic Clothing and Regalia,” in Things A Freemason Should Know, by J. W. Crowe, an interesting article by Rylands, A. Q. C., vol v, and the delightful essay on “Gloves,” by Dr. Mackey, in his Symbolism of Freemasonry.) Not only the tools of the builder, but his clothing, had moral meaning.)
(** Tiler – like the word cable-tow – is a word peculiar to the language of Masonry, and means one who guards the Lodge to see that only Masons are within ear-shot. It probably derives from the Middle Ages when the makers of tiles for roofing were also of migratory habits (History of Prices in England, Rogers), and accompanied the Free-masons to perform their share of the work of covering buildings. Some tiler was appointed to act as sentinel to keep off intruders, and hence, in course of time, the name of Tiler came to be applied to any Mason who guarded hle Lodge.)
(*** Much has been written of the derivation and meaning of the word cowan, some finding its origin in a Greek term meaning “dog.” (See “An Inquiry Concerning Cowans,” by D. Rainsay, Review of Freemasonry, vol. i.) But its origin is still to seek, unless we accept it as an old Scotch word of contempt (Dictionary of Scottish Language, Jamieson). Sir Walter Scott uses it as such in Rob Roy, “she doesna’ value a Cawmil mair as a cowan” (chap. xxix). Masons used the word to describe a “dry-diker, one who built without cement,” or a Mason without the word. Unfortunately, we still have cowans in this sense – men who try to be Masons without using the cement of brotherly love. If only they could be kept out! Blackstone describes an eavesdropper as “a common nuisance punishable by fine.” “Legend says that the old-time Masons punished such prying persons, who sought to learn their signs and secrets, by holding them under the eaves until the water ran in at the neck and out at the heels. What penalty was inflicted in dry weather, we are not informed. At any rate, they had contempt for a man who tried to make use of the signs of the craft without knowing its art and ethics.)
When a Mason wished to leave one Lodge and go elsewhere to work, as he was free to do when he desired, he had no difficulty in making himself known to the men of his craft by certain signs, grips, and words.* Such tokens of recognition were necessary to men who traveled afar in those uncertain days, especially when references or other means of identification were ofttimes impossible. All that many people knew about the order was that its members had a code of secret signs, and that no Mason need be friendless or alone when other Masons were within sight or hearing; so that the very name of the craft came to stand for any mode of hidden recognition. Steele, in the Tatler, speaks of a class of people who have “their signs and tokens like Free-
masons.” There were more than one of these signs and tokens, as we are more than once told – in the “Harleian MS,” for example, which speaks of “words and signs.” What they were may not be here discussed, but it is safe to say that a Master Mason of the Middle Ages, were he to return from the land of shadows, could perhaps make himself known as such in a Fellowcraft Lodge of today. No doubt some things would puzzle him at first, but he would recognize the officers of the Lodge, its form, its emblems, its great altar Light, and its moral truth taught in symbols. Besides, he could tell us, if so minded, much that we should like to learn about the craft in the olden times, its hidden mysteries, the details of its rites, and the meaning of its symbols when the poetry of building was yet alive.
(* This subject is most fascinating. Even in primitive ages there seems to have been a kind of universal sign-language employed, at times, by all people. Among widely separated tribes the signs were very similar, owing, perhaps, to the fact that they were natural gestures of greeting, of warning, or of distress. There is intimation of this in the Bible, when the life of Ben-Hadad was saved by a sign given (I Kings, 20 :30 35). Even among the North American Indians a sign-code of like sort was known (Indian Masonry, R. C. Wright, chap iii). “Mr. Ellis, by means of his knowledge as a Master Mason, actually passed himself into the sacred part or adytum of one of the temples of India” (Ananalslypsis, G. Higgins, vol. 1, 767). See also the experience of Haskett Smith among the Druses, already referred to (A. Q. C., iv, 11). Kipling has a rollicking story with the Masonic sign-code for a theme, entitled “The Man Who Would be King,” and his imagination is positively uncanny. If not a little of the old sign-language of the race lives to this day in Masonic Lodges, it is due not only to the exigencies of the craft, but also to the instinct of the order for the old, the universal, the human; its genius for making use of all the ways and means whereby men may be brought to know and love and help one another.)
This brings us to one of the most hotly debated questions in Masonic history – the question as to the number and nature of the degrees made use of in the old craft lodges. Hardly any other subject has so deeply engaged the veteran archaeologists of the order, and while it ill becomes any one glibly to decide such an issue, it is at least permitted us, after studying all of value that has been written on both sides, to sum up what seems to be the truth arrived at.* While such a thing as a written record of an ancient degree – aside from the Old Charges, which formed a part of the earliest rituals – is unthinkable, we are not left altogether to the mercy of conjecture in a matter so important. Cesare Cantu tells us that the Comacine Masters “were called together in the Loggie by a grand-master to treat of affairs common to the order, to receive novices, and confer superior degrees on others.”** Evidence of a sort similar is abundant, but not a little confusion will be avoided if the following considerations be kept in mind:
(* Once more it is a pleasure to refer to the transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, whose essays and discussions of this issue, as of so many others, are the best survey of the whole question from all sides. The paper by W. J. Hughan arguing in behalf of only one degree in the old time lodges, and a like paper by G. W.
Speth in behalf of two degrees, with the materials for the third, cover the field quite thoroughly and in full light of all the fact. (A. Q. C., vol. x, 127; vol. xi, 47). As for the Third Degree, that will be considered further along.)
(** Storia di Como, vol. i, 440.)
First, that during its purely operative period the ritual of Masonry was naturally less formal and ornate than it afterwards became, from the fact that its very life was a kind of ritual and its symbols were always visibly present in its labor. By the same token, as it ceased to be purely operative, and others not actually architects were admitted to its fellowship, of necessity its rites became more formal – “very formall,” as Dugdale said in 1686,* – portraying in ceremony what had long been present in its symbolism and practice.
(* Natural History of Wiltshire, by John Aubrey, written, but not published, in 1686.)
Second, that with the decline of the old religious art of building – for such it was in very truth – some of its symbolism lost its luster, its form surviving but its meaning obscured, if not entirely faded. Who knows, for example – even with the Klein essay on The Great Symbol* in hand – what Pythagoras meant by his lesser and greater Tetractys? That they were more than mathematical theorems is plain, yet even Plutarch missed their meaning. In the same way, some of the emblems in our Lodges are veiled, or else wear meanings invented after the fact, in lieu of deeper meanings hidden, or but dimly discerned. Albeit, the great emblems still speak in truths simple and eloquent, and remain to refine, instruct, and exalt.
(* A. Q. C., vol. x, 82.)
Third, that when Masonry finally became a purely speculative or symbolical fraternity, no longer an order of practical builders, its ceremonial inevitably became more elaborate and imposing – its old habit and custom, as well as its symbols and teachings, being enshrined in its ritual. More than this, knowing how “Time the white god makes all things holy, and what is old becomes religion,” it is no wonder that its tradition became every year more authoritative; so that the tendency was not, as many have imagined, to add to its teaching, but to preserve and develop its rich deposit of symbolism, and to avoid any break with what had come down from the past.
Keeping in mind this order of evolution in the history of Masonry, we may now state the facts, so far as they are known, as to its early degrees; dividing it into two periods, the Operative and the Speailative.* An Apprentice in the olden days was “entered” as a novice of the craft, first, as a purely business proceeding, not unlike our modern indentures, or articles. Then, or shortly afterwards – probably at the annual Assembly – there was a ceremony of initiation making him a Mason – including an oath, the recital of the craft legend as recorded in the Old Charges instruction in moral conduct and deportment as a Mason, and the imparting of certain secrets. At first this degree, although comprising secrets, does not seem to have been mystic at all, but a simple ceremony intended to impress upon the mind of the youth the high moral life required of him. Even Guild-masonry had such a rite of initiation, as Hallam remarks, and if we may trust the Findel version of the ceremony used among the German Stone-
masons, it was very like the first degree as we now have it – though one has always the feeling that it was embellished in the light of later time.**
(* Roughly speaking, the year 1600 may be taken as a date dividing the two periods. Addison, writing in the Spectator, March 1, 1711, draws the following distinction between a speculative and an operative member of a trade or profession: “I live in the world rather as a spectator of mankind, than as one of the species, by which means I have made myself a speculative statesman, soldier, merchant, and artisan, without ever meddling with any practical part of life.” By a Speculative Mason, then, is meant a man who, though not an actual architect, sought and obtained membership among Free-masons. Such men, scholars and students, began to enter the order as early as 1600, if not earlier. If by Operative Mason is meant one who attached no moral meaning to his tools, there were none such in the olden time – all Masons, even those in the Guilds, using their tools as moral emblems in a way quite unknown to builders of our day. ‘Tis a pity that this light of Poetry has faded from our toil, and with it the joy of work.)
(** History of Masonry, p.66.)
So far there is no dispute, but the question is whether any other degree was known in the early lodges. Both the probabilities of the case, together with such facts as we have, indicate that there was another and higher degree. For, if all the secrets of the order were divulged to an Apprentice, he could, after working four years, and just when he was becoming valuable, run away, give himself out as a Fellow, and receive work and wages as such. If there was only one set of secrets, this deception might be practiced to his own profit and the injury of the craft – unless, indeed, we revise all our ideas held hitherto, and say that his initiation did not take place until he was out of his articles. This, however, would land us in worse difficulties later on. Knowing the fondness of the men of the Middle Ages for ceremony, it is hardly conceivable that the day of all days when an Apprentice, having worked for seven long years, acquired the status of a Fellow, was allowed to go unmarked, least of all in an order of men to whom building was at once an art and an allegory. So that, not only the exigences of his occupation, but the importance of the day to a young man, and the spirit of the order, justify such a conclusion.
Have we any evidence tending to confirm this inference? Most certainly; so much so that it is not easy to interpret the hints given in the Old Charges upon any other theory. For one thing, in nearly all the MSS, from the Regius Poem down, we are told of two rooms or resorts, the Chamber and the Lodge – sometimes called the Bower and the Hall – and the Mason was charged to keep the “counsels” proper to each place. This would seem to imply that an Apprentice had access to the Chamber or Bower, but not to the Lodge itself – at least not at all times. It may be argued that the “other counsels” referred to were merely technical secrets, but that is to give the case away, since they were secrets held and communicated as such. By natural process, as the order declined and actual building ceased, its technical secrets became ritual secrets, though they must always have had symbolical meanings. Further, while we have record of only one oath – which does not mean that there was only one – signs, tokens, and words are nearly always spoken of in the plural; and if the secrets of a Fellowcraft were purely technical – which some of us do not believe – they were at least accompanied and protected by certain signs, tokens, and passwords. From this it
is clear that the advent of an Apprentice into the ranks of a Fellow was in fact a degree, or contained the essentials of a degree, including a separate set of signs and secrets.
When we pass to the second period, and men of wealth and learning who were not actual architects began to enter the order – whether as patrons of the art or as students and mystics attracted by its symbolism – other evidences of change appear. They, of course, were not required to serve a seven year apprenticeship, and they would naturally be Fellows, not Masters, because they were in no sense Masters of the craft. Were these Fellows made acquainted with the secrets of an Apprentice? If so, then the two degrees were either conferred in one evening, or else – what seems to have been the fact – they were welded into one; since we hear of men being made Masons in a single evening.* Customs differed, no doubt, in different Lodges, some of which were chiefly operative, or made up of men who had been working Masons, with only a sprinkling of men not workmen who had been admitted; while others were purely symbolical Lodges as far back as 1645. Naturally in Lodges of the first kind the two degrees were kept separate and in the second they were merged – the one degree becoming all the while more elaborate. Gradually the men who had been Operative Masons became fewer in the Lodges – chiefly those of higher position, such as master builders, architects, and so on – until the order became a purely speculative fraternity, having no longer any trade object in view.
Not only so, but throughout this period of transition, and even earlier, we hear intimations of “the Master’s Part,” and those hints increase in number as the office of Master of the Work lost its practical aspect after the cathedral-building period. What was the Master’s Part? Unfortunately, while the number of degrees may be indicated, their nature and details cannot be discussed without grave indis cretion; but nothing is plainer than that “we wed not go outside Masonry itself to find the materials out of which all three degrees, as they now exist, were developed.”* Even the French Companionage, or Sons of Solomon, had the legend of the Third Degree long before 1717, when some imagine it to have been invented. If little or no mention of it is found among English Masons before that date, that is no reason for thinking that it was unknown. “Not until 1841 was it known to have been a secret of the Companionage in France, so deeply and carefully was it hidden.”** Where so much is dim one may not be dogmatic, but what seems to have taken place in 1717 was, not the addition of a third degree made out of whole cloth, but the conversion of two degrees into three.
(* For a single example, the Diary of Elias Ashmole, under date of 1646.)
(* Time out of mind it has been the habit of writers, both within the order and without, to treat Masonry as though it were a kind of agglomeration of archaic remains and platitudinous moralizings, made up of the heel-taps of Operative legend and the fag-ends of Occult lore. Far from it! If this were the fact the presest writer would be the first to admit it, but it is not the fact. Instead, the idea that an order so noble, so heroic in its history, so rich in symbolism, so skilfully adjusted, and with so many traces of remote antiquity, was the creation of pious fraud, or else of an ingenious conviviality, passes the bounds of credulity and enters the domain of the absurd. This fact will he further emphasized in the chapter followmg, to which those
are respectfully referred who go every-where else, except to Masonry itself, to learn what Masonry is and how it came to be.)
(** Livre du Compagnonnage, by Agricol Perdignier, 1841. George Sand’s novel, Le Compagnon du Tour de France, was published the same year. See full account of this order in Could, History of Masonry, vol. i, chap. v.)
That is to say, Masonry is too great an institution to have been made in a day, much less by a few men, but was a slow evolution through long time, unfolding its beauty as it grew. Indeed, it was like one of its own cathedrals upon which one generation of builders wrought and vanished, and another followed,until, amidst vicissitudes of time and change, of decline and revival, the order itself became a temple, of Freedom and Fraternity – its history a disclosure of its innermost soul in the natural process of its transition from actual architecture to its “more noble and glorious purpose.” For, since what was evolved from Masonry must always have been involved in it – not something alien added to it from extraneous sources, as some never tire of trying to show – we need not go outside the order itself to learn what Masonry is, certainly not to discover its motif and its genius; its later and more elaborate form being only an expansion and exposition of its inherent nature and teaching. Upon this fact the present study insists with all emphasis, as over against those who go hunting in every odd nook and corner to find whence Masonry came, and where it got its symbols and degrees.
THE BUILDERS by Joseph Fort Newton – part 5