Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!
The Ideas Which Made Freemasonry Possible
by William H. Stemper Jr. MPS
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the origin of fraternalism in general and Freemasonry in particular, in terms of the intellectual currents which made the Masonic Fraternity conceivable as an institution.
The presuppositions of the paper are twofold:
Freemasonry, as we know it, has existed in various places and times for about 300 years. Yet, nowhere has its impact upon culture been more profound than in the United States of America. After the Revolution of 1776 the fraternity provided a source of symbols, myths, and a public ethic or virtue, which--to the same extent--because of a similar role of the Monarchy and the Established Church in England makes the United States a unique laboratory for understanding the role of Freemasonry as a civilizational or cultural phenomenon.
Thus, to define the exact nature--as far as possible--of what was unique about early Freemasonry in the United States helps any inquiry into the preconditions for the synthesis or creation of Freemasonry itself.
Further, to understand the unique American experience assists the Masonic student to understand what specific philosophical currents in the 17th Century and before made Freemasonry possible.
If this paper succeeds in clarifying these latter currents--even to a small and suggestive degree--then its purpose will have been served. The U.S. Masonic Imprint: 'What the Craft Achieved'
Apart from the heroic role of key Freemasons in the American Revolution, the fund of ideas, symbols, and myths associated with Freemasonry were instrumental to the birth of the new nation.
Historian of religions, Joseph Campbell (1) summarizes this achievement in two ways:
This latter point is particularly important because it signifies that the Founding Fathers were able to articulate a vision which achieved two potentially opposite objectives simultaneously--the good of the whole, or the commonwealth; and the rights of the individual within that whole.
Thus, two potentially contradictory aims, the rights of the State vs. the rights of the person, were reconciled, and preserved in creative tension.
Symbolically, Freemasonry's imagery provided a third, alternative path between the symbols of the Church, on the one side; and the symbols of Monarchy, on the other; both of which were the prevailing systems of authority in the 18th Century European milieu.
The point becomes more evident when it is remembered that the Revolutionary and later the Federalist period spawned a unique architectural school which reflected not only the egalitarian and enlightened ideals of the Founding Fathers, but also which lended an aesthetic aura of believable respectability to buildings such as the White House and Federal Hall, in New York, which came to embody the public image of the new nation.
Nation-making is of course no easy task. Because the United States was the first modern nation built not upon arbitrary military power, dynastic ambition, or even pure self-interest, the foremost task of the Founding Fathers after the Revolution was to articulate a unifying philosophy or ideology which made sense to the educated classes of the era. This meant that the political promises in the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787), i.e., individual rights, had to be reconciled by a public philosophy which explained, or at least made understandable, the reality that everyone was not economically equal.(2)
In other words they had to find a philosophy which spoke of the dignity of work, the essential democracy of hierarchical representation--itself a potentially contradictory concept--all within a vision of harmony which avoided sectarian strife. The answer was of course Freemasonry.
In specific, early American Freemasonry performed three particular functions which illuminate its earlier origins in European intellectual history:
In another context,(7) I have suggested that Freemasonry can best be understood by reference to symbolic strata within the ritual motifs: biblical, medieval, hermetic (or occult) and Deistic or Enlightenment elements.
This way of approaching the study of Masonic origins is helpful because it enables the student to think of the synthesis of Masonic ideas in the early 18th century in terms of prevailing currents of ideas in the broader English and European context. For example, one can usefully trace the medieval, chivalric motif, including the degrees of the Royal Order of Ssotlands to the 1745 Jacobite era with its interest in the revival of chivalric; and the organization of modern Templary to the English Romantic era, ca. 1798 (9) to 1850 (beginnings of French Realism), when both the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, U.S.A. was instituted (1817) and the English and Welsh "United Religious and Military Orders of the Temple and of St. John of Jerusalem," etc. was reorganized under the Duke of Sussex (1812-1843).
With the exception of the biblical motif, which was probably absorbed into Free-masonry in the 17th Century with the saga of the building of King Solomon's Temple,(l0) the medieval, hermetic, and Enlightenment motifs can indeed be traced to the same chronological, times in which each of these currents prospered. which each of these currents prospered. Further, we can trace key Masonic emblems to each of these eras, as follows:
One can understand the Founding Fathers, and indeed those who synthesized Freemasonry into a coherent moral system and into an institution simultaneously, if--and only if--it is understood that the use of particular emblems reflect a living, mythic connection between society, including government, and the perception of the structure of the universe.
Thus, to understand the origin of Freemasonry, and its imprint upon the psyche of the new American nation, for example, it is important to understand that emblems were not as we view them today-- intellectual devices to help us recall particular precepts or teachings, but actual, bridges between human experience and the perceived nature of the created universe.
Another way to emphasize this point is to suggest that what 20th century man has come to understand as a difference between the exact, literal meaning of a word, or image; and its symbolic meaning, or allegorical, significance, did not exist in the same way for a person in the 17th or 18th Century. What we mean today to be " Symbolical, " they meant as "literal. "
Thus, to understand the exact currents in the intellectual history of Europe--without which there would be no Freemasonry as we know it--it is important also to understand that each current utilized its symbols in unique ways. The 16th Century philosopher looking at medieval working tools, for example, would see them as instruments of a change in consciousness; Solomon's Temple, for example, would be a means to experience man's place in the order of the universe; and the All-seeing Eye would be a statement that enlightened rationality might put one in touch with the mind of God.
Archetypal Men: The Creative Intellects Who Conceived Pre-Masonic Ideas
Freemasonry is quintessentially the product of certain historical elites: small groups of influential or powerful men who not only were able to conceive of an organization such as the Craft became, but also to imprint their surrounding culture with the significance of their ideas.
This is most clearly seen in American history, as I have noted above, by the Founding Fathers, and the generation of men following them, such as DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), who were the links between the upper-class Freemasonry of Washington and Franklin, and the more middle class Fraternity of the post-Morgan period.
Thus Freemasonry has always been at its best when it has captured the enthusiasm and loyalty of influential persons.
In England, two intellectual and/or commercial elites were particularly important to the founding of Grand Lodge: the members of the Royal Society, and the Huguenot emigres of Reformed, or Protestant faith, who flocked to England after the Revocation of the Edicts of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685.
Elias Ashmole, the first recorded English speculative Freemason, was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Jean Theophile des Aguliers, later John Theophilus Desaguliers, was both a Fellow of the Royal Society (1714) and a Huguenot, as well as the third Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge. (13)
The function of the Craft in this period 1685-1717-1723, indeed, can be seen as that of convening inquiring, progressive intellects who believed themselves to be part of either an aristocracy of learning; or in the case of Desaguliers and Presbyerian James Anderson (ca. 1678-1739), a spiritual aristocracy associated with the principles of Calvinism, notably its doctrine of the elect. Even the Chevalier Ramsay (1686-88-1743)--though a Roman Catholic-- was reared as a Calvinist.
It is helpful, therefore, to examine representative members of the intellectual elite of England in the period prior to the creation of Grand Lodge, and to do so in terms of their association not only with the "corridors of power," political or intellectual, but also because they and their writings embody the concepts which are to be found at the very heart of speculative Freemasonry.
These 'archetypal' figures will help us to understand what unique comingling of specific ideas, myths, symbols, etc., made Freemasonry as we have come to know possible.
The Medieval Stratum: Giordano Bruno
Apart from the Gothic Manuscripts and the existence of operative Lodges we have little evidence today that Freemasonry began in the middle ages in any form.
Cyril Batham, Past Master and former Secretary of the premier Lodge of Masonic Research, has nailed his scholarly "colours" to the mast by saying that he no longer believes that speculative Freemasonry evolved from operative Freemasonry. (14) Rather, we should look to the survival and existence of philosophically inclined cells within religious fraternities which went underground when they were disendowed in 1547 at the end of the reign of Henry VIII.
If we turn to the general history of ideas in Renaissance England, however, we find a general, though muted, fascination with the medieval view of life far after the close of the so-called middle ages. This motif can be seen in a revival of interest in medieval chivalry, and the codes of ethics and morality associated with it, far after the knight on horseback ceased to be a viable military or social figure, and long after feudalism ceased to be the principal factor in European economic organization.
The essential dynamic was a tension between an intellectual appreciation for an older form of medieval thought which was not scholastic or dogmatic, versus the imported Italian humanism familiar to us through the lives of such men as Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Sir Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), and Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490-1546; pub. Bolce of the Govenour (1531)--all of whom studied in Italy. The humanists regarded all things medieval as corrupt--and left the universities, notably Oxford, because they deemed them to be devoid of honest intellectual inquiry.
The 'older form' of medieval thought was not narrowly-speaking scholastic, however, and is significant to the origin of Masonic ideas because it incorporated through such figures as Friar Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1292); the so-called Merton College school of astronomy, and Bishop Robert Grossteste, one of the fathers of modern experimental science (c. 1175-1253), a deep interest in the mystica, significance of numbers. The philosophical trends, or currents, most associated with this form might be termed a combination of Platonism, with its emphasis upon the enduring idea, as the only reality, and the medieval understanding of Pythagoras.
By the end of the 16th century, it is possible to identify a distinct movement within the intellectual circles of Elizabethan England which might be characterized as including the following elements:
Each of these elements existed not only in a kind of creative tension with each other, but also--after the Act of Supremacy in 1535--with increasingly extreme forms of religious sentiment: Roman Catholic reaction to the English Reformation under Henry VIII during the reign of Mary Tudor (1553-1558); and strong expressions of Calvinism which became dominant during the reign of the boy- King, Edward VI ( 1547-1553), and toward the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1603).
The medieval strain of mysticism suffered both from the hand of secular humanists, who considered anything medieval corrupt and intellectually dishonest and from the newly formed Puritan Calvinists, who considered anything medieval to be under the influence of Roman Catholic idolatry.
The result was that those who affirmed the value of the earlier tradition attempted to preserve a broader vision of society, and of the life of the mind, than was acceptable to established ecclesiastical and political authorities.
Into this situation moved--like a comet--the pivotal or bridge figure of a former Italian, Dominican monk, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) whose short visit to England in 1583-1584 belies the enormous impact he had upon intellectually and spiritually minded Englishmen. (17)
In brief, Bruno was able to meld, or merge existing English interest in the medieval mystical tradition, with his own fascination in the legendary Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trismegistus--assumed at the time to be a contemporary of Moses, and a foreteller of the coming of Christ.
Bruno, who was ultimately executed by the Roman inquisition, is important to the origin of Masonic ideas because he actively advocated the preservation of medieval architecture--in a period when Protestants were pulling down medieval abbeys and statuary wholesale--and because he was the first major Renaissance figure to call for a broad, tolerant international ethic of world peace and universal brotherhood. 18(a) That he did so with self-conscious reference to Egyptian mythology and philosophy makes him--in the spirit of Mozart's Magic Flute, two hundred years later, the first identifiable pre-Masonic figure.l8(b)
There is an important sense in which the pre-Masonic ethic of Bruno was reinforced by the enduring presence of medieval political philosophy in the writings of Renaissance scholars such as Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600), the arch defender of a broad based national Church of England against the increasing influence of Puritanism. (19) Hooker, who rejects the political use of the Bible as too subjective and sectarian and who advocates an early form of constitutional monarchy, puts forward political ideas of tolerance and justice which--balanced with Bruno's philosophy--produce a strong re-interpretation of the medieval commonwealth appropriate to a more modern England. (20) After Bruno and Hooker, the stage was set for the usage of medieval elements in both morality and political structure which we find in Freemasonry after the synthesis of 1717.
The "Occult" Stratum: John Dee
No stratum, or layer of pre-Masonic ideas is either so elusive or important to Freemasonry as the esoteric, or "occult" aspect of the Fraternity. Because Freemasonry is by definition secretive, and therefore unlike other English institutions created at the same time, notably livery companies, scholarly societies, schools, churches, etc., we should be open to substantive, scholarly inquiries into the flow of occult ideas in and around London prior to the creation of Grand Lodge.
But, this is not the case. The proliferation of quasi-mystical, and sometimes irregular degrees in Europe after 1717; the ambivalence of English Freemasonry about the Royal Arch until the Union of 1813, and the general hostility of Masonic researchers to the whole issue, has made this most important of all Masonic scholarly questions the most difficult to answer.
It is helpful to understand the exact nature of the question. In short, this writer's framing of the inquiry would be something like the following:
What secret, esoteric, or hermetic influences shaped the environment out of which Freemasonry emerged in the 17th Century?
Put this way, scholars can achieve two important objectives:
The question is made more manageable if we select one of the most important Masonic symbols: the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, as a key to the inquiry.
By considering the way in which the occult/hermetic tradition utilizes the Temple, we can perhaps understand more sharply what its function was.
In the briefest of terms this is presaged or anticipated first in the life and work of the Renaissance, Elizabethan Magus
John Dee (1527-1608), the Astrologer Royal to Queen Elizabeth I, and reputedly the most learned man in England at the time. (21)
Dee was convinced that architecture was the key to a comprehensive understanding of the universe. The architect's role in society was indeed that of the actualization, and symbol of the universal, enlightened scholar. (22)
More germaine to the origin of Freemasonry, John Dee was convinced that architecture was an 'immaterial' art, the basis for which was in the individual moral imagination. (23)
Actual physical architecture was a magical or mystical enterprise because "ideally structures were patterned after potent celestia, harmonies." (24)
By 1570--147 years prior to Grand Lodge--Dee was publishing such ideas among the emerging class of English artisans, whose descendants two generations later were among the first Freemasons.
John Dee was anticipating the purpose or function of architecture as a moral teaching device notably the literature Alex Horne has pointed out with regard to the role of King Solomon's Temple as a moralizing device among Puritans. (25)
Such literature later in the 17th century was similar to the allegorical writings of John Milton (1608-1674) and John Bunyon (1628-1688).
But Dee's contribution as a pre-Masonic archetype is unique not only because he was a profound mathematician and geographer--a premier intellect of his day--but because he understood that the specific function of architecture was a memory device: a means for man to recall harmonies and proportions in the universe which were related to the harmonious ordering of human society and of the individual soul.
He was instrumental in re-introducing the insights of the Roman architect Vitruvius (First Century BC First Century AD) whose work, De architectura was much used by Renaissance architects in the classical revival.
The full use of architecture as a moral memory device (26) --to recall and apply the harmonies of the heavens to earthly forms-- does not develop until the influence of Rosicrucianism upon English intellectuals, notably Robert Fludd (1574-1637), Thomas Vaughan, and Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), but with John Dee the stage is set for a combination of the moral medievalism of Bruno and the symbol- making of Rosicrucianism to make speculative Freemasonry more conceivable to those who were eventually to become the synthesizers of the Craft.
The scope of Rosicrucianism is beyond this paper. However, no single current of ideas is more significant to the formation of Freemasonry than this unique and subtle current of concepts in European intellectual circles in the early 17th century.
It is premature to state categorically that Rosicrucianism had a direct, tangible impact upon the Craft degrees (This thesis was the subject of a not altogether successful paper to Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, by A.C.F. Jackson, on June 28, 1984). Yet, apart from the Rose Croix (27) which appears after 1750, and the Royal Arch, which appeared sometime in the 1740's, (28) it is important that many of us have been asking the "wrong" question about Rosicrucian influence upon Masonic symbolism.
This issue is not to prove or disprove a mystical, magical, or even esoterically Christian influence upon Freemasonry, but rather to examine how precisely such images as King Solomon's Temple were utilized--in terms of function--which might provide a clue to why the Temple is such a central symbol.
The answer is, I suspect, to be found in a German text by an obscure scholar known as Simon Studion, called Naomdria published in 1604. The manuscript is important for pre-Masonic history because it suggests that the real purpose for utilizing King
Solomon' s Temple in Masonic ritual is the interpretation of history; in a simplistic manner, to predict or prophesy about the future in terms of the 17th century pre Scientific Revolution mindset, but also more philosophically to give meaning to history, in the same way that the great classical historians, such as Polybius, Augustine, Suetonius, Thucydides, Tacitus, etc.,--and later Edward Gibbon himself--sought to give moral meaning to historica, narrative.
Naometria suggests that the whole span of history can be interpreted from the measurements of King Solomon's Temple. To us this sounds ludicrous; but to the more mythically oriented mind of the late Renaissance, it is plausible not only because the Temple was the chosen biblical vessel of God's presence before Christ, but because it became a symbol for Christian pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Such an effort is also similar to other 17th century efforts such as the Discourse on Universal History by French Roman Catholic Bishop acques Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704), whose work seeks to prove that the French Kingdom is the inheritor of the spiritual warrant of the Holy Roman Empire, and thus the embodiment of the virtues of earlier classical empires, Greek and Roman.
This method is all the more significant for an inquiry into the pre-Masonic origins of Grand Lodge because later Masonic writers, notably George Oliver (1782-1867) in England; and Salem Town (1779-1864) in the United States both utilize Masonic symbolism, including the Temple, as a means to interpret all of history, from pre-Christian antiquity to their present day.
We have been put off such writers because they are--of course--not empirical, critical historians--and indeed, the great accomplishment of Robert Freke Gould and other founders of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 was to repudiate the claims of such men to be actual historians.
But today, to read George Oliver, (29) and to a lesser extent Salem Town,(30) is not so much to be reminded of Alex Horne's Puritan moralizing on the Temple, (31) but to be transported to the very beginning of the 17th century in Simon Studion's Germany: 219 years prior to Oliver.
Here we come to a remarkable issue in the understanding of the Masonic synthesis which produced Grand Lodge, which might be expressed as follows: Since both Dee's and the genera, Rosicrucian influence, (32) was so notable in the lives of Elias Ashmole (initiated, 1646) and Robert Moray, the first recorded speculative initiate in Scotland (1641), and both were associated with the Royal Society, as were so many founders of Grand Lodge, why was not the occult influence more overt and noticeable in the first Constitutions (1723-1725)?
The obvious response is that Anderson's role was not only that of a codifier, law-writer, and historian (by the standards of the day), but also an arbiter, compromiser, and filterer of ideas-- deciding--perhaps with a committee--what would be included, and what would not.
There is little question that intelligent men of the late 17th and early 18th century were horrified at the incipient violence of the century through which they had just passed: the holocaust of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the English Civil War (1642-1660), the English Revolution (1688-1690), and the upheaval of the Puritan Commonwealth, could not have but repelled men of sensibility, when countless men and women were killed in the name of religion.
Understandably, anything that would feed sectarian strife--most particularly quasimystica, or occult issues--were omitted from the constitution, and--when standardized--ritual formularies.
More tangibly, any reference to King Solomon's Temple which was not explicit in the Authorized Version of the Bible's accounts (1611) of the building of the Temple (33) must have given respectable-minded men pause. Any esoteric reference would have been suspect.
The issue of the filtration of occult ideas from Masonic ritual and practice is also one of the increasing scientific sophistication of critical scholarship in the late 1600's. Antiquaries such as John Aubrey (1626-1697) and Elias Ashmole as models of scholarship were giving way to persons such as Christopher Wren (1632-1723), first an astronomer, then an architect, and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), physicist, but also a student of the esoteric aspects of Holy Scripture, both of whom were transitional figures from the late Renaissance to the age of the Scientific Revolution.
An excellent laboratory to examine the filtration process is also the so-called Cambridge Platonists--a group of scholars at Cambridge University from 1633-1688. They sought to purify and apply the philosophy of Neo-Platonism--which was the common denominator both to secular Renaissance humanism, and to the earlier medieval strain associated with Giordano Bruno---to expand the spiritual meaning of Christianity, and to avoid the extremes of dogmatic, scholastic Catholicism, and literalistic Puritanism. In this effort they were not unlike classic early Christian apologists for Christianity, such as Origen and Clement of Alexandria, who found much in Plato's thought to enrich Christian theology in order that cultured non-Christian Greeks and Romans might understand, as well as believe the Christian Faith.
The Cambridge Platonists were also self-consciously attempting to relate Christianity to the new spirit of philosophical thought associated with Rene Descartes (1596-1650), which was a harbinger of modern scientific method.
They are an intellectual, and an academic precedent for Freemasonry because they appealed to "Reason," from Neo-Platonic sources, and because they nurtured a concept of " Summum Bonum"--the greatest good--which anticipates the Masonic concept of the Tetragrammaton-- the ineffable Name of God, toward which Masonic initiation is directed.
One of these gentle scholars, Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683) advocated toleration for Jews during Cromwell's Protectorate--and the then revolutionary idea that one did not have to be Christian to be a moral person.
A second Cambridge Platonist, Henry Moore (1614-1687) advocated a doctrine of higher truth which was attainable through steps, or degrees; and a third Ralph Cudworth (1617 1688) considered ethics and morality as a reflection of the harmony implicit in the universe. (34)
Yet, in spite of their considerable toleration and efforts to reconcile ethics and religion with science, they are a principal "filter" through which pre-Masonic intellectual currents were cleansed of any reference to the deep mystical symbolism of Bruno or John Dee.
They preserved the basic framework of Neo-Platonic philosophy which Free-masonry exhibits in its degree system; the concept of Light; toleration; and Reason, but were persuaded to jettison any trace of mysticism. In this they were blood brothers under the skin of James Anderson!
The Deistic " Stratum "; John Toland
Beyond the medievalism of Giordano Bruno, and the occultism of John Dee, the origin of Masonic ideas can be traced to Deism--the quintessential philosophy of Freemasonry, and of our own Founding Fathers.
No element is as crystalline clear in Masonic ritual as this one-- conspicuously God as the Great Architect of the Universe: a God who does not interfere in human affairs, but whose very nature orders and structures all of creation.
Deism is implicit in much Greek and Roman philosophy, notably the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius--yet can be traced in specific to three early modern scholars 'who again 'set the stage' for the mind set to be found in the Masonic view of man and the universe:
Jean Bodin (1530-1596); Pierre Charron (1541-1603), both French, and the Englishman Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648).
Deism also recalls the philosophy of nominalism, in England most conspicuously represented by William of Occam (c. 1300-1349)--who advocated the separation of faith--as dealing only with the theological attributes of God--from Reason, the hallmark of Masonic philosophy four centuries later.
Importantly, Deism implies a kind of practicalism in public affairs and government which first becomes evident in the role of the new educated urban classes of urban England. (35)
Whereas the medieval state took a view only to the preservation of order; the Renaissance Tudor State, and the State during the Deistic era of the 18th Century presumed that educated, affluent elites would be par excellence active and informed citizens.
Because Deism was--in effect--the "religion" of the Founding Fathers, (36) we are accustomed to thinking of it as a backdrop for both the American Revolution of 1776, and the French, 1789.
But in terms of pre-Masonry, Deism is important to understand because it was the "compromise" between Bruno's medievalism and Dee's occultism which was acceptable to Desaguliers, Anderson, and countless other progenitors of Grand Lodge.
I have mentioned the political grounds which made such a compromise necessary. But there were other bases for a pruning down of Masonic symbolism at the time of the synthesis: it became intellectually and academically indefensible to uphold the pre-Christian, "Egyptian" grounds for Bruno's and Dee's symbolism after the scholarly work of the Swiss-born Anglican, Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), who disproved the existence of Hermes.
Casaubon's career signals the point at which alchemy, cabbalism, and hermeticism cease to appeal to serious, established scholars-- and likewise the beginning of a separate intellectual elite, apart from universities and major scholarly societies, who pursued esoteric studies.
He, and his son Meric (1599-1671) relentlessly debunked any idea that a mystical, pre-Christian world vision of universal brotherhood ever existed. If we recall that John Dee articulated such a vision, which by the way also justified to him the Elizabethan imperial colonization of the world in terms of Neo- Platonism, (37) we can begin to see that the respectability of Dee's vision was dealt a death-blow. After Casaubon, and certainly after his son's French contemporary Jean Mabillon (1632-1707)--the French Benedictine scholar who more than anyone else is the founder of modern historical scholarship--none of the premier intellects of the late 17th or 18th century would touch the kind of "mythic" history associated with Dee or Bruno. If history were written to make a moral point, the moral point was that of current political philosophy, such as Gibbon's Decline and Fall and not a quasi- mystical advocacy of world brotherhood.
The path of making Deism the prevailing philosophy of Freemasonry was a fateful one, containing both positive and negative aspects.
On the positive side was the fact that Deism was the only practical comprehensive successor to the occultism of Bruno and Dee which also advocated a world brotherhood of harmony and peace; and without the risk of offending scientists or theologians, or just plain, everyday secular businessmen.
The negative side is that much of the depth or richness of Masonic symbolism was probably lost--at least until the recrudescence of the so-called hautes grades after 1750.
I suspect that one thing that was lost was the possibility of Freemasonry remaining what it certainly was at the creation of Grand Lodge--a premier world-class gathering of the major intellects of the day. After 1750, few truly great civilizational figures--with the exception of the Founding Fathers and W.A. Mozart were self-conscious Masonic intellects. It was perhaps the price of respectability that Deistic Freemasonry did not attract--for whatever reason--the major leaders of the 19th century, and certainly not the 20th.
Divorced from the centers of scholarship and intellect, occultism became increasingly idiosyncratic, under the leadership of such persons as Robert Fludd (1574-1637) who debated Casaubon--but without entertaining or refuting the seriousness of his points. (38)
And without what might be termed a spiritual center, Deism--under the intellectual leadership of such men as John Toland (1670-1722)--became increasingly iconoclastic, and anticlerical.
While Fludd was attempting to "re-establish" the capacity of architecture and music to evoke the divine harmony within man Toland--the quintessential Deist--wrote a book, Christianity Not Mysterious, (1696) in which he claims that all we need to know of God can be discerned by and through human reason. Toland's intellectual cousin was Voltaire--and the other French philosophers, who tended to treat the baby the same as the bath water.
This is where we come full circle. I suspect that the genius of the Founding Fathers was that they perceived that there was more than a passing connection between the rational Deism of the Enlightenment and the earlier deeper symbolic richness of Giordano Bruno and John Dee. At least, they maintained a keen--even razor- sharp sense of the power of myth and symbolism, without succumbing to occultism or superstition. They knew they were creating a 'new order of the ages'--which their architecture and their words described, but they made an intellectual connection directly between Dee's appreciation of the power of symbol-as-reality and Toland's practical rationality, without going to the excess of either. When we see the excess of the French Revolution, and the never-never land inhabited by l9th Century occultists, we can perhaps be grateful that this small group of Masons and their friends had a vision--and achieved that vision both in the American Republic, and within the Masonic Fraternity of their time.
Perhaps our task as Masons in the 21st century is to recover, rearticulate, and realize that vision once again--with direct relevance to the cosmos which lies at our feet.
1 . Joseph Campbell, Thc Power of Myth, New York: Doubleday, 1988, pp. 24-29.
2.cf. " Building A National Image": Architectural Drawings for the American Democracy, 1789-1912, Exhibition organized by the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. IBM Gallery of Science and Art, New York City, May 12-July 11, 1987. Tim Hackler, "His Elective Highness," Amtrak Express, Feb. March, 1989, 35 passim. Fred Pierce Corson, Address on Freemasonry and the Constitution, Philadelphia:, The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1937, p. 7, ff. "...Freemasonry was...the only common bond of unity in the Colonies in 1987 . . . ", p . 11.
Barbara Franco, "Scipio Lodge Reflects Time Capsule of Early 19th Century." The Northern Light, February, 1989, p. 5, "Scipio Lodge's classical proportions and Masonic symbolism created an environment that evoked both the republics of antiquity and the Masonic virtues. . . "
3.cf. Sidney E. Mead, The Lively Experiment, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, pp. 38-52.
Also H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, pp. 208-209, ff. Note the impact of Church--State separation on the denominational identity of evolving immigrant churches.
4.Wilson Carey McWilliams, The Idea of Fraternity in America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974, n.b., comparison of Enlightenment and Puritanism, p. 172 .
5.cf. Thomas Bender, New York Intellect, Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987, pp. 60-68; E. Dolby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, Boston: Beacon Press, 179-
6.cf. Lynn Dumenil, Freemasonry in American Culture lb'b'0-1930, Princeton University Press, 1984, pp. 7-8, passim. The Symbolic Strata: The Essential Emblems of Fraternity.
7. William H. StemperJr., "Freemasons," The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Vol. V., pp. 416-419.
8.H.W. Coil, Masonic Encyclopedia, New York: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, 1961, p. 163, date dea. 1740-1743.
9. William Wordsworth's "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads.
10.Alex Horne, King Solomon's Temple in the Masonic Tradition, N. Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Company, pp. 29-40.
Helen Rosenau, "Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity, " London: Oresko Books Ltd. 1979, pp. 103, 133.
11 .Alex Horne, Sources of Masonic Symbolism, Trenton, MO: The Missouri Lodge of Research, 1981, pp. 73 ff.
12.Campbell, p. 25 and earlier Horne, Sources.... p. 63.
13.cf. Richard H. Sands, "Physicists, The Royal Society and Freemasonry, " The Philalethes, Vol. XXXIV, Number 6, pp. 11-16. Robin D. Gwynn, Huguenot Herita, ?c, London: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, 1985, pp. 89-
14.Cyril N. Batham, "The Origin of Speculative Freemasonry: A New Hypothesis," un-published paper, given to The Goose and Gridiron Society of the United States, October 1986. But also compare, Harry Carr, "The Transition From Operative to Speculative Masonry" T.L.R., September 15, 1979.
15.cf. Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought New York: Harper and Row, 1961, p. 21, n.b. Thomas More, passim.
16a. Arthur B. Ferguson, The Indian Summer of English Chivalry, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1960.
16.b Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, New York: Harper and Row, 1974, pp. 311 ff.
17. Francis A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, The University of Chicago Press and London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964, pp. 275 ff.
18 .Yates, supra, p. 415. Yates, supra, p. 274.
19.cf. Alexander Passerin D'Entreves, Thc Medieval Contribution to Political Thought: Thomas Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, Richard Hooker, New York: the Humanities Press, 1959, pp. 103 ff.
20. Also cf. Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1952, pp. 135 ff.
21 . The Standard Biography is Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.
It is important to note that the relationship between Renaissance magic and "orthodox" religion in the 17th Century was not sharply defined, which suggests the complexity of separating the 'occult' from the 'rational' in early Masonic constitutions, cf. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Harmondswoth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1984, pp. 318-323 ff. Also note references to King Solomon's Temple, Hermes, Pythagoras d. at. in English translations of the German Mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), cited in Rufus Jones, "Jacob Boehme's Influence in Eng-land " pp. 208-234, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries, London: Macmillan and Co., 1914.
22 .French, p. 57.
23 .French, p. 58.
24. French, p. 58-59.
25. Horne, Symbolism, supra.
26.cf. Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, The University of Chicago Press, 1966, pp. 303-305.
27 .cf. A.C . F. Jackson, Rose Croix--A History of the Ancient and Accepted Rite for England and Wales London: Lewis Masonic, 1980, pp. 17 ff., and James Fairbairn Smith, The Rise of the Ecossais Degrees, Dayton, Ohio: The Otterbein Press, 1965, pp. 11 ff.
28.Terrence Haunch, Anson Jones Lecture Transactions Texas Lodge of Research, June 18,1983 March 11, 1984, Waco, Texas Vol. XIX. ~. 155.
29. Oliver's laborious The Antiquities of Freemasonry comprising illustrations of the Fioc Crand Paiods o Masony, from the creation of the World to the Dedication of King Solomon's Temple, 1823.
30 .Town's A Systa II of Speculation Masonry, Salem New York: Dodd and Stevenson, 1818, n.b. pp. 98-99.
31 . Also cf . Rosenau, supra .
32.cf. Frances A. Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Boulder, CO: Shambbala Publications Inc., 1972, pp. 206-220; Christopher McIntosh, The Rosicrucians, Denington Estate, Wellingborougb, North Hamptonshire, UK: Crucible, pp. 50, 60, 67 68, 81, 82 passim.
33.I Kings 5-9; II Chronicles 2-8; Ezekiel 40-47.
34.F.L. Cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, entries pp. 925, 360-361 passim.
35.cf. Arthur B. Ferguson, The Artuulate Citizan and the English Ranaissance, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1965, pps. 402-409. Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987. Also cf. interest in American philosophy in Plato, with more practical Roman philosophers, p. 86.
36.cf. Henry Steele Commager, The Empire of Reason, Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Doubleday 1978, pP 43 ff
37 . cf. E . M . W . Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture in New York: Vintage Random House, n.d.,
38.cf. Utriusque cosmi, maioris scilied et minores metaphysical, physicae atique technica historiac, Vol. I Oppenheim, 1617, Vol. II 1619.
[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership
Development] [Education] [Masonic
This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United
States or elsewhere.
Last modified: March 22, 2014