Although the Compasses, together with the Square are said to “convey the abstract means and end of the science in the most clear and comprehensive Manner”, the symbolic significance of this familiar instrument of design is perhaps a little more obscure.
To the schoolboy, the compasses is an instrument of two hinged legs, with a pencil on one end and a point on the other, which enables him to draw circles with a degree of accuracy he could not achieve by freehand efforts. But the compasses of our Masonic Ritual have points on both legs. They are of the type known to Architects, geometricians and navigators as “dividers”.
They are not drawing, but measuring, instruments and their function is proportion and symmetry. By means of the compasses, a distance of one side of a centre-line can be readily marked off on the other side of the line, and thus the designer is enabled to maintain balance and symmetry in his design.
Symbolically, a balanced viewpoint and a sense of proportion are essential attributes of good and sound judgment and of the mature, sterling character which is our Masonic ideal.
We are told in our ritual that the Compasses “remind us of His (God’s) unerring and impartial justice.”
The ideal Master Mason is a well balanced and just man, and one in whom, to quote Shakespeare, “mercy seasons justice.”
Perhaps this is what we mean when we say to the Fellowcraft, about to be raised, as he enters the darkened porch way and the points of the compasses are applied to his breast, that
“the most essential points of Freemasonry, which are Virtue, Morality, and Brotherly Love, are contained within the points of the Compasses.”
And so, Brethren, as we have each progressed through these three Degrees of Masonry, we have been presented, at the appropriate intervals with these nine simple tools, common implements by which physical material may be measured, cut and finished in accordance with a master craftsman’s design.
By Bro. Phil J. Croft, King David Lodge No. 93, BCR;
Published in MASONIC BULLETIN, BCR;
January and February, 1974