belief in the great architect of the universe
A HISTORICAL TENET OF FREEMASONRY
Bro. Gilbert W. Daynes
Today, Freemasons, in almost every Grand Lodge, recognize that an
abiding belief in God, the Great Architect of the Universe -is the
solid foundation upon which the Masonic edifice rests. These
brethren regard all those who own allegiance to the isolated Grand
Lodges that have broken away from this standpoint as renegade-beyond
the pale; and rigorously exclude such backsliders from their Lodge
Meetings, as being unworthy of the name of Freemason.
This belief in God is no new tenet of the Craft: records demonstrate
that it is a Landmark in Masonry co-eval with its birth. Let us
therefore dig into the past and, by means of such documents as have
survived to the present day, establish the truth of this statement.
The connection between Speculative Masonry and Operative Masonry of
the Middle Ages having been largely verified, it is essential that
the documents of the Mediaeval Masons should be considered before
attempting those relating to Freemasonry under the Grand Lodge of
England, the premier Grand Lodge of the world.
The earliest Masonic document to which we can thus refer is the
Regius Poem of about A. D. 1390. In this MS. King Athelstan is said
to have made "hye templus of gret honowre," in order to "worschepe
hys God with alle hys mygth." We are also told, when dealing with
the points to be observed by Masons:
That whose wol conne thys craft and com to astate,
He most love wel God, and holy churche algate.
The second document of importance is the Cooke MS., a document of a
somewhat later date, but supposed by many Masonic students to be a
copy of a MS. even older than the Regius Poem. The Cooke MS.
Thonkyd be god our glorious ffadir and founder and former of heuen
and of erthe, and of alle thyngis that in hym is that he wolde
fochesaue of his glorious god hed for to make so mony thyngis of
diuers vertu for mankynd.
Also, at line 835, where the points to be observed by Masons are set
out, all Masons are exhorted to love "god and holy chyrche & alle
Throughout these two MSS. there are clear indications that it was
the duty of every Mason to worship God in accordance with the
doctrine of the then established church: and it would be difficult
to imagine any deviation from this rule when we remember that these
were the Craftsmen to whom we are indebted for those wonderful
sacred edifices--those poems in stone -which still are the glory and
veneration of the whole world.
The next documents in chronological order are those Masonic title
deeds known to the brethren of today as the MS. Constitutions, or
Old Charges. There are now about 100 texts in existence, all of them
slightly varying, but nevertheless so similar as unquestionably to
point to a derivation from one common original. These MSS., except
when following the opening sentence of the Cooke MS., invariably
commence with an invocation, or prayer, addressed to the Trinity.
One of the earliest dated copies of the Old Charges is the Grand
Lodge, No. 1, MS., of 25th December, 1583. In it the Invocation runs
The Mighty of the father of Heaven and the wysedome of the glorious
soonne through the grace & the goodnes of the holly ghoste yt been
three psons & one god be wth vs at or beginning And give vs grace so
to gou'ne vs here in or lyving that wee maye come to his blisse that
neu' shall have ending. Amen.
That this Invocation originally was, or in the 17th century became,
the opening Prayer of the Lodge is supported by the evidence of the
Buchanan MS. (1660 1680), and the Atcheson-Haven MS. (1666), in both
of which the Invocation commences "O Lord God, Father of Heaven."
The Aberdeen MS. (1670) goes even further, and this Invocation to
the Trinity is expressly termed "A Prayer befor the Meeting." In the
Freemasons' Pocket Companion, published by J.Scott, in 1754, this
Invocation is given as "A Prayer to be used of Christian Masons at
the empointing of a Brother: Used in the Reign of Edward IV." We may
thus feel assured that the Speculative Mason of the 18th century had
no doubt as to the character of the opening sentence of the Old
Charges, and the use to which it was put at the making of their
After setting out the Legendary History of the Craft of Masonry in
some detail the Old Charges recited certain Articles and Points, or
Charges, which were binding upon all Masons; and also some further
Clauses which were binding on the Masters and Fellows. In the very
forefront of these charges came a Charge concerning belief in God as
a requisite for all Masons. This Clause, as given in the Grand
Lodge, No. 1, MS., is as follows:
The first Charge ys this That ye shall bee trewe men to god and
holly Churche and you vse no Errour nor heresye by yor vndrstanding
or discreacon but be yee discreet men or wyse men in eache thing.
This Clause, with but trifling alterations, appears in all the
copies of the Old Charges. It would, with the other Articles and
Points, invariably be read to all who were made Masons; after which
an Oath to observe the Articles, etc., would be administered.
Again, throughout the Middle Ages, there were in most towns of
England and Scotland Gilds of Masons, and many of their Ordinances
have been preserved. From these Rules and Regulations it is clear
that the Mason was no Atheist but was required to profess the
religion of the Established Church. For instance, in the Regulations
for the Masons Company of the City of London, passed in 1481,
attendance at Church to hear Mass was compulsory on certain Feast
Days. Nor, with regard to this Company, must we forget that their
Motto was "God is our Guide." Although disused for some centuries
the substituted one--"In the Lord is all our Trust"--does not
suggest any departure from the Masons' standard of belief.
Such was the condition of affairs when the Grand Lodge of England
was brought into being, in London, in 1717. For how long after this
date the Christian Faith was requisite we cannot with certainty
state. In 1722 the Roberts Print of the Old Charges was published,
with its Invocation to the Trinity, and its clause concerning belief
in God. It was not, however, an authorized production, under the
aegis of the Grand Lodge of England. Concurrently with the issue of
this work Dr. James Anderson was completing the first Edition of the
Book of Constitutions, and the Grand Lodge was widening its portals
by dropping the definite and distinctive Christian character of the
The Book of Constitutions was published in February, 1723, and in
it, amongst other things, Anderson inserted "The Charges of a
Free-Mason, extracted from the ancient Records of Lodges." The first
is headed "Concerning God and Religion," and reads as follows:
A Mason is oblig'd, by hiS Tenure, to obey the moral Law and if he
rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor
an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were
charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or
Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to
oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their
particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true,
or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion
they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of
Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons
that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance.
This Charge might certainly have been worded more clearly, and has
led some people to believe that even a belief in God had ceased to
be obligatory. But it should be recollected that the Charge was
probably drawn up by Anderson, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, and
was approved by, amongst others, the Rev. J.T. Desaguliers, a French
Protestant Divine. It is inconceivable that either of these
Clergymen would have acquiesced in the removal of that Landmark-the
belief in God--from the Constitutions of the Craft; but we must
remember that both of them would desire to emphasize that the Craft
was open to others than those whose religion was that of the
Established Church of England. Anderson's accuracy in transcription
has been found at fault on several occasions, and his wording of
this Charge need not be construed with minute exactness. A careful
perusal of contemporary evidence will aid in its true construction,
and negative the assumption of atheistic principles. The correct
interpretation seems to be that the phrase "Irreligious Libertine"
was intended to designate the Freethinker of the present day; and
that Anderson, in framing the clause, wanted to make it as wide as
possible without including the man with no belief in God. It was not
to admit the Atheist, but to enable brethren with different
religious opinions to meet together in amity.
In the Second Edition of the Book of Constitutions Anderson alters
the wording of the first Charge, and gives it in the following
A Mason is oblig'd by his Tenure to observe the Moral Law, as a true
Noachilla; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be
a Stupid Atheist, nor an Irreligious Libertin, nor act against
Conscience. In antient Times the Christian Masons were charged to
comply with the Christian Usages of each Country where they
travell'd or work'd: But Masonry being found in all Nations, even of
divers Religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that
Religion in which all Men agree (leaving each Brother to his own
particular Opinions) that is, to be Good Men and True, Men of Honour
and Honesty, by whatever Names, Religions or Persuasions they may be
distinguish'd: For they all agree in the 3 great Articles of Noah,
enough to preserve the Cement of the Lodge.
In the Third Edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in
1756, a return was made to the wording in the First Edition,
irrespective of its precise meaning; but the so-called Exposures of
that period show that a belief in God was requisite. The wording
remained thus until after the Union of the premier Grand Lodge and
the Grand Lodge of the Antients in 1813.
If we turn to the Grand Lodge of the Antients we find that the First
Edition of Ahiman Rezon was published in 1756. The Old Charges are
given, and the first one "Concerning God and Religion" follows the
wording in Anderson's Second Edition of the Book of Constitutions.
But earlier, when dealing with the principles of the Craft, Laurence
Dermott has no doubt as to the meaning of this First Charge, and
A Mason is obliged by his Tenure to believe firmly in the true
Worship of the eternal God, as well as in all those sacred Records
which the Dignitaries and Fathers of the Church have compiled and
published for the Use of all good Men: So that no one who rightly
understands the Art, can possibly tread in the irreligious Paths of
the unhappy Libertine, or be induced to follow the arrogant
Professors of Atheism or Deism; neither is he to be stained with the
gross Errors of blind Superstition, but may have the Liberty of
embracing what Faith he shall think proper, provided at all Times he
pays a due Reverence to his Creator, and by the World deals with
Honour and Honesty ever making that golden Precept the Standard-Rule
of his Actions, which engages, To do unto all Man as he would they
should do unto him: For the Craft, instead of entering into idle and
unnecessary Disputes concerning the Different Opinions and
Persuasions of Men, admits into the Fraternity all that are good and
Also, when dealing with the duties of a Mason, Laurence Dermott
At his leisure Hours he is required to study the Arts and Sciences
with a diligent Mind, that he may not only perform his Duty to his
Great Creator, but also to his Neighbour and himself: For to walk
humbly in the Sight of God, to do Justice, and love Mercy, are the
certain Characteristics of a Real Free and Accepted Ancient Mason.
With the Union of 1813 came an amalgamation of the Constitutions of
the two Grand Bodies thus united. An Edition of the Book of
Constitutions was published in 1815, and the wording of the first
Charge, "Concerning God and Religion," assumed its present form, as
A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he
rightly understand the art he will never be a stupid atheist nor an
irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that
GOD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward
appearance, but GOD looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore,
particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his
conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may,
he is not excluded from the order provided he believe in the
glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred
duties of morality.
Turning to the Grand Lodge of Ireland for a moment we know that John
Pennell published The Constitutions of the Free-Masons in Dublin, in
1730. He copied very extensively from Anderson's earlier work,
including the Charges. There is, however, a paragraph by Pennell,
which is very illuminating. He says:
Let all Free Masons so behave themselves, as to be accepted of God,
the Grand Architect of the Universe, and continue to be, as they
have ever been, the Wonder of the World: And let the Cement of the
Brotherhood be so well preserved that the whole Body may remain as a
It is also in Pennell's Constitutions that we have the earliest
dated Prayer, other than the Invocation to the Trinity which
commenced the Old Charges. This Prayer is entitled "A Prayer to be
said at the opening of a Lodge, or making of a Brother," and runs
Most Holy and Glorious Lord God, thou great Architect of Heaven and
Earth, who art the Giver of all good Gifts and Graces; and hast
promis'd that where two or three are gathered together in thy Name
thou wilt be in the Midst of them; in thy Name we assembie and meet
together, most humbly beseeching thee to bless us in all our
Undertakings, to give us thy Holy Spirit, to enlighten our Minds
with Wisdom and Understanding, that we may know and serve thee
aright, that all our Doings may tend to thy Glory, and the Salvation
of our Souls.
And we beseech thee, O LORD GOD, to bless this our present
Undertaking, and grant that this, our new Brother, may dedicate his
Life to thy Service, and be a true and faithful Brother among us.
Endue him with Divine Wisdom, that he may, with the Secrets of
Masonry, be able to unfold the Mysteries of Godliness and
This we humbly beg in the Name and for the sake of JESUS CHRIST our
LORD and SAVIOUR. AMEN.
There is a marginal note, that the second paragraph was "To be added
when any man is made." This Prayer subsequently appeared in Scott's
Pocket Companion for Freemasons of 1754.
Contemporary with the Prayer just quoted there are three others to
be found in the Rawlinson MSS., at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Two
of these are in script, and one in type print. These Prayers possess
much similarity, and probably point to a common origin. The Printed
Prayer commences thus:
O Most Glorious and Eternal God, who art the Chief Architect of the
Created Universe! Grant unto us, thy Servants, who have already
enter'd our selves into this most noble, antient, and honourable
Fraternity, that we may be solid and thoughtful, and always have a
Remembrance of those sacred and holy things we have taken on us, and
endeavour to inform and instruct each other in Secrecy; and that
this Person, who is now about to be made a Mason, may be a worthy
Member; and may all of us live as Men, considering the great End for
which thy goodness has created us; Etc.
Other Prayers of a somewhat later date are also preserved: they all
refer to the Grand Architect of the Universe, and leave no doubt
that throughout the whole period a belief in God was a prerequisite
to entrance into Freemasonry.
Somewhat analogous to the Prayers -as being Ritualistic in character
-the following Charge may be cited. It was printed by William Smith
in his Freemasons' Pocket Companion, published both in Dublin and
London, in 1735, and is headed "A Short Charge to be given to new
admitted Brethren." In it the following occurs:
The World's great Architect is our Supreme Master, and the unerring
Rule, he has given us, is that by which we work. Religious Disputes
are never suffered in the Lodge; for as Masons, we only pursue the
universal Religion or the Religion of Nature. This is the Cement
which unites Men of the most different Principles in one sacred
Band, and brings together those which were the most distant from one
another. There are three general Heads of Duty which Masons ought
always to inculcate, viz., to God, our Neighbours, and ourselves. To
God, in never mentioning his Name but with that Reverential Awe
which becomes a Creature to bear to his Creator, and to look upon
him always as the Summum Bonum which we came into the World to
enjoy; and according to that view to regulate all our Pursuits.
Let us now direct our attention to a further class of evidence,
and see what individual brethren have to say concerning this fundamental belief
in God. Francis Drake, in a speech to the Grand Lodge of all England, held at
York on the 27th December, 1726, in concluding, states:
Let us so behave ourselves here and elsewhere, that the distinguishing
Characteristics of the whole Brotherhood may be to be called good Christians,
Loyal Subjects, True Britons, as well as Free Masons.
Another early Freemason, Edward Oakley, in a Speech to the Lodge at The
Carpenters Arms, Silver street, Golden Square, London, on the 31st December,
I therefore, according to my Duty, forewarn you to admit or even to recommend to
be initiated Masons, such as are Wine-Bibbers or Drunkards, witty Punsters on
sacred Religion or Politicks, Tale-Bearers, Bablers, or Liars, litigious,
quarrelsome, irreligious, or prophane Persons, lew'd Songsters, Persons
illiterate and of mean Capacities; and especially beware of such who desire
Admittance with a selfish View of gain to themselves; all which Principles and
Practices tend to the Destruction of Morality, a Burden to Civil Government,
notoriously scandalous, and entirely repugnant to the Sacred Order and
Constitutions of Free and Accepted Masons.
Later on in his Speech, when dealing with false brethren, Bro. Oakley remarks
not having the Fear of God before their Eyes, value no sacred Obligations, turn
Rebels, and endeavour to defame the Craft.
These brethren have set out in unmistakable language their ideas as to the
Character of the Craft and its vital tenets.
There still remains another class of evidence of varying value.
I allude to certain early MSS., and the many so-called exposures, which have
been written and published during the first half of the 18th century and even
later. Some of these undoubtedly indicate Masonic customs with more or less
truth. In the examination known as the Sloane MS. the following occurs:
Q. From whom do you derive your principal?
A. From a greater than you.
Q. Who is that on earth that is greater than a Freemason?
A. He yt was caryed to the highest pinnicall of the Temple of Jerusalem.
In the same examination, a little further on, we have:
Q. How stood your Lodge? A. East and west as all holy Temples stand.
And yet again there is this Question and Answer:
Q. What were you sworne by ?
A. By god and the square.
Next in chronological order comes A Mason's Examination, which first appeared in
print in. 1723. In the course of this examination the following sentence occurs:
Then one of the Wardens will say--God's greeting be at this Meeting.
Shortly after this last named Exposure appeared The Grand Mystery of the Free
Masons Discovered was published. In it we have the following:
Q. How many make a Lodge?
A. God and the Square, with Five or Seven right and perfect Masons, on the
highest Mountains, or the lowest Valleys in the World.
A little later comes the following:
Q. How many Lights?
A. Three; a Right East, South, and West.
Q. What do they represent?
A. The Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
At the close comes "The Free Masons' Oath," which runs thus:
You must serve God according to the best of your Knowledge and Institution, and
be a true Liege Man to the King, and he'p and assist any Brother as far as your
Ability will allow; By the contents of the Sacred Writ you will perform this
Oath. So help you God.
There is also reference to God's greeting, and the position of holy temples, to
which reference has already been made.
In 1730, two further so-called exposures made their appearance. The later one -
Masonry Dissected, by Samuel Prichard -contains much that is germane to our
inquiry. In the Entered Prentice's Part, when dealing with the Furniture of the
Lodge, the following questions are asked and answered:
Q. What is the other Furniture of a Lodge?
A. A Bible, Compass and Square.
Q. Who do they properly belong to?
A. A Bible to God, Compass to the Master, and Square to the Fellow Craft.
Then, in the Fellow-Craft's Degree, referring to the letter G, the
under-mentioned questions and answers are given:
Q. What did that G denote?
A. One that's greater than you.
Q. Who's greater than I, that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a
A. The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or he that was taken up to
the Top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
Also, in the same Degree, reference is made to "God's good Greeting be to this
our happy Meeting." Lastly, in the Master's Degree, there is the following:
Q. How came you to be passed Master?
A. By the help of God, the Square, and my own Industry.
In many of the subsequent so-called Exposures we have still further proof of the
necessity of a belief in God in every Mason. Thus we find, that the Lodge is
opened "in the name of God"; the brethren pray "O Lord God, thou great and
Universal Mason of the world, and first builder of man, as it were a temple";
the Initiate is required to put his trust "in God"; and the Bible is explained
as one of the three great lights in Masonry "to rule and govern our faith."
These references are by no means exhaustive, but they will suffice clearly to
demonstrate that a Belief in God was recognized as a Masonic essential.
In conclusion, I think it may safely be affirmed that, although there was
undoubtedly some ambiguity in the wording of the Charge "concerning God and
Religion" in the First Edition of Anderson's Constitutions, yet the mass of
contemporary evidence available indicates an adherence at all times, by the
Craft in the British Isles and elsewhere, to a Belief in God as one of its
inflexible, unquestionable and unalterable tenets. The redrafting of this Charge
in the Constitutions of 1815 removed such ambiguity as may then have existed,
and a faithful belief in God was once more clearly shown to be a fundamental, or
Landmark, in English Craft Masonry. May it ever so continue.
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