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Masonic Jurisprudence

From the booklet, More Light on Freemasonry
Distributed by the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick

It may surprise some to hear that we have enough Masonic law to warrant the term "Jurisprudence", which infers a system or body of law as opposed to an isolated rule. Others will associate the word "law" with our civil law with its prohibitions, penalties and sanctions. Masonry differs from the state in that the prohibitions are a matter of conscience, and the only sanctions are those of public opinion (Masonic Brethren) and the power of reprimand, suspension or expulsion from the membership.

In spite of these limitations Masonry has a system and body of law which goes back for many centuries. This system embraces both principles and procedure. The principles are to be found in two sources, viz. in what we know as the Landmarks and in the Ancient Charges. Procedure is dealt with in the Book of Constitutions, and also, to some extent, in Grand Lodge decisions.

The Landmarks may be defined as ancient doctrines and cusotms that are essential to Masonry's Identity; remove a Landmark and Masonry would be something else. For this reason the Landmarks cannot be changed by any Mason, Lodge or Grand Lodge. Being the fundamentals of Masonry, the Landmarks constitute its basic laws.

The Ancient Charges require adherence to the moral law, conformity to the laws of the country whose protection we invoke, thrift and honorable dealing in private life, courtesy, and the promotion of the social virtues; that is, working for the good of the community and of society at large. They also call for loyalty to Masonry as a whole, and to our Lodge and Grand Lodge in particular.

The Master-elect of a Lodge must give his assent to a summary of the Ancient Charges before he can be installed. In addition, he is obliged to admit that it is not in the power of any man, or body of men, to make innovation in the body of Masonry. This is an all-important fact. Masonry has its roots far in the past, it has been proved in the fires of experience, and it survives today. There may be things which some think should be improved. Possibly they are right; but the result of change might be to create something other than Masonry.

The structure of most Grand Lodges is based on the General Regulations adopted by the Grand Lodge of England shortly after it was created in the year 1717. The General Regulations contain these words: "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent Power and Authority to make new Regulations, or to alter them, for the real benefit of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old Landmarks be carefully preserved". The regulations of a Grand Lodge, therefore, are liable to amendment and change; in fact, they are amended fairly often.

Masonic Jurisprudence is also concerned with the bylaws of a Lodge. Although a Lodge may make its own bylaws, they must be consistent with the regulations of Grand Lodge and be approved by the Grand Master.

Grand Lodge decisions and the edicts of Grand Masters also form part of the legal structure of Masonry. Thus, Masonic Jurisprudence includes written laws, decisions, edicts and unwritten laws, such as the Landmarks and other established practices of the Fraternity. The system is looser than the similar body of law for the government of a nations. Nevertheless, the Craft is well governed.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014