IN THE BEGINNING
A study of man’s evolution, especially in relation to the development of his thought and speech concurrently with his growing awareness of things beyond his day to day existence, reveals an intimate connection with the development of Freemasonry.
Having 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 man sought to communicate his thoughts and wishes to others and his mind strived to fathom the significance of his mortal existence. From its earliest Stone Age beginnings, operative masonry and its speculative counterpart have mirrored man’s physical and intellectual progress, as well as the development of his spiritual conception.
As primitive man strives to comprehend his place and purpose in the universe, the spiritual aspects of his existence began to exercise his mind. He progressively evolved his perception of a creator, a supreme being, the controlling force from which all things emanated and upon which they depended for their continuing existence. In an endeavour to express his thoughts, man drew on the experiences of his physical existence. When explaining the concepts he was developing, masonry provided him with many useful examples, with which he could portray his unfolding appreciation of the spiritual elements of his life and illustrate the moral principles he was formulating. The speculative aspects of masonry became a natural extension of man’s vocabulary, enabling him to expound his moral precepts 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 which unites its many component parts. It is the first principle of Freemasonry, from which all else derives. Thus it is that no man can be accepted into freemasonry unless he has freely expressed a belief in God.
Whilst a man’s religion is immaterial to his acceptance into Freemasonry, being only a factor of his upbringing or a matter of personal choice, nevertheless 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 all religions and the ancient mysteries, the various titles used for God in masonic rituals reflect those of His attributes relevant to the particular ceremonial.
An essential element of the faith embodied in this first principle is that a man’s spirit does not perish with his mortal frame but, as so eloquently expressed by the preacher in Ecclesiastes: when “the dust shall return to the earth as it was, 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 did the neophyte in all ancient mysteries, so also in masonry does the apprentice enter the lodge in a state of indigence, being reminded of his defenseless condition and of his absolute dependence upon his creator.
Symbolically he is reborn into freemasonry and is exhorted to lead a just and upright life henceforth.
As a fellow of the craft, the Freemason is taught that labour is the lot of man, but that every good and faithful servant in due course will receive his just reward.
The master mason obtains a fleeting glimpse of the promised reward, but is told that he must continue his search for the ultimate truth. A closely related theme is the important concept that all men are equal in the sight of God.
BEHAVIOUR AND RESPONSIBILITY
The crucial importance of obeying God’s commands is a central theme in the teachings of Freemasonry, of such importance that it is introduced to the apprentice. The theme continues with the Fellow of the Craft and is expanded 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 in a practical example of the operative free mason’s work. The candidate is taught that he alone is responsible for his own actions, but that he will receive his just reward in the hereafter if he lives in strict accordance with the divine commands.
Obedience to God’s commands is of such vital importance 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.
Nevertheless, brotherly love, relief and truth must be regarded as third among the important precepts of freemasonry, being closely interrelated with the principle that all men are equal in the sight of God.
Indeed, we are taught that brotherly love, relief and truth are the grand principles on which freemasonry is founded.
In this context the teachings are based on concepts established by the operative free masons, who were charged with the responsibility of caring for the members of their fraternity, especially if they were out of work or suffering indigent circumstances, as well as to respect and protect all members of the families of their brethren.
They also 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. He is then admonished to practice brotherly love and relief cheerfully as a virtue, should a distressed brother fairly claim his assistance.
However, it is not until he is a master mason that the full implications of the virtue are clarified in the old operative terms , partly in the obligation and partly under the five points of fellowship which, in operative days, were imparted to fellows of the craft.
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 also signifies a strict adherence to the rules of right and justice that 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.
THE MORAL VIRTUES
Of the many moral virtues fostered by Freemasonry, the three principle ones are said to be 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 civilized society, being 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 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 the best test and surest proof of sincerity.
Charity, or 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 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 described as the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry. Their close relationship with the three moral virtues would justify their inclusion among the important precepts of Freemasonry, but some further comments are worth making.
In its correct usage, temperance indicates a wise moderation in the indulgence of personal pleasures, though it is often used 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 mason, enabling him to resist worldly temptation and to avoid excess. 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 taken has due regard to wisdom 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, complementing that impartiality, rightness, integrity and mercy signified by “justice”, all of which must be maintained when determining what is due in a particular set of circumstances.
The principles of Masonic behaviour are unmistakably reflected in the four cardinal virtues.
THE INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES
The three great pillars that symbolically support a Freemason’s lodge are called:- wisdom, strength and 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 intellect, suggesting a combination 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. These precepts provide a fitting conclusion to this study.
This paper is part of a larger set believed to have originated from The Grand Lodge of England.
In my opinion this paper provides one of the very best, if not the best, explanations of Freemasonry
that I have had the pleasure to read and share.
Have a wonderful Day & God Bless