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A Report to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

The committee to whom was referred the petition of Jacob Norton and others, professing the Jewish religion, praying this Grand Lodge to cause such changes to be made in the masonic usages and ritual, as will conform the work of the Order to what they regard as ancient usage, beg leave to present the following Report: -

The committee invited Bro. Norton to meet them and express his views on this subject, which he did very fully, candidly and ably. After due and careful consideration, your committee unanimously recommend that the petitioners have leave to withdraw. The committee make this recommendation for reasons which they will endeavor to state, as briefly as a respectful consideration of the subject will admit of.

Your committee would observe in the first place, that the petitioners desire that all reference to the fact or the doctrines of the Christian religion, in the work or in the lectures of Freemasonry, should be expunged. The petitioners say in their petition, that "Masonry was intended to unite men of every country, sect and opinion." This is not so. All reasoning, therefore; upon such premises, is erroneous. This society was not designed to" unite men of every opinion." For example:- If a man believe that there is a GOD, and yet holds, that He is not the object of divine worship; is not a being to whom prayers are to be addressed; that the Bible is not his inspired word; that an oath is not binding; that there is no such thing as a moral obligation to lead a pure life; he is not a person whom Freemasonry would unite with her Institution; and why not? We answer, because his opinions do not agree with her principles.

The basis of this Fraternity is indeed broad, very broad, but not so broad as "to unite all men of all opinions."

Freemasonry opens her doors to men of every country and of every sect in religion:- to Jews and to Gentiles. She does not close her portals against any man for his religion. In this she is tolerant, in the fullest degree. The Jews in this country are allowed to enter our Institution and enjoy all its privileges, of whatever name or nature. No restrictions, whatever, are placed upon them, because, of that religion, which has drawn upon them the most terrible persecutions, in almost every land but our own. In this Fraternity they are admitted to an equality with all others, and no distinction whatever is allowed to their prejudice. However the Jew may be looked upon and treated in the world, in a Masonic Lodge, he is recognized and treated as a brother.

In this sense our Institution is not exclusive, and embraces men of all religions without invidious or prejudicial distinctions. When the Lodge has done this, she has done all that her professions require her to do. If we did not do thus, our Jewish brethren would have good cause of complaint.

The petitioners do not pretend that they are oppressed in this respect; that they are not admitted freely and fully to an equal enjoyment of all the privileges and benefits of the Institution. But they wish to have the ritual and usages of Freemasonry, as it exists in this State, and as it has existed here since its introduction into this country, so changed that its ceremonial shall be perfectly agreeable to their religious views.

It appears to your committee, that any alteration for such a reason, would be to make Freemasonry do the very thing which the petitioners say it should not do, viz. make the society sectarian. For if a Jew have the right to require the work of the Lodge to square with his peculiar views, so may a Romanist or a Protestant make the same demand. A Quaker may object to any obligation; the Deist may object to all prayers; the Swedenborgian to all reference to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; the Papist to the use of an English version of the Bible; the Mormon to the use of any Bible at all. The Socialist may object to the rule of obedience and the practice of preferment, and to all distinctions whatever. When Freemasonry professes to receive into her pale men of every religious sect, excluding none on account of their religion, she does not mean to stultify herself by pretending that all her lectures and ceremonies are so constructed as to please every individual, by exactly according with every shade of his religious views. Such a pretension would be sheer folly, since no Institution can do this, and no honest society would pretend to do it.

What this Institution does profess to do is, to exclude no man from her pale because of his religion; to make no invidious distinctions between men of different religious sentiments. If she compelled a Jew to offer up a prayer, in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, or compelled a Christian to pray differently from the mode of his faith, then there would be oppression. If a Jew prays at all, she leaves him to pray as he thinks most proper; and the liberty she allows to a Jew she allows to a Christian. To permit a Jew to pray as he pleases, and to compel a Christian to pray as a Jew does, and only as the Jew does, would be wrong and oppressive. An Israelite believes that he should pray to the Most High alone; the Christian believes, as sincerely, that he should offer up his prayers in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and he cannot conscientiously pray in any other way. The Jewish brother says, I cannot be compelled to pray in a way which is contrary to my conscientious belief. Very well; - in this Institution, nobody requires him to do so. But he is not satisfied with this degree of liberty. He demands that the Christian shall pray as he does, or else not pray at all. The Christian replies, that it is as much against his conscience to neglect to pray, in the name of Christ, as it is against the conscience of the Jew to pray in His name.

If the Grand Lodge should pass an edict, requiring all prayers to be in Jewish form, and in no other, then it would be guilty of violating the assurance which the candidate receives at his initiation. It would be making a distinction that would be oppressive. The true and just course is the one, which this Grand Lodge has ever pursued, and that is, to leave this matter entirely without legislation. The Jew and the Christian, of whatever creed, is allowed to offer prayer in the form which he deems the most acceptable to the Most High. No one can be, in this matter, aggrieved, who is neither required to pray in a particular form, nor required to pray at all, unless he is disposed to do so. Any absolute prescription of a form, on the other hand, by the Grand Lodge, would be an infraction of the principles of the Order.

A compliance therefore on the part of this Grand Lodge, with the request of the petitioners, to instruct the Lodges under its jurisdiction to permit only such prayers as will not conflict with any person's religious opinions, "provided he has Faith in GOD, Hope in immortality, and Charity with all men," - would be to make Freemasonry proscriptive and sectarian, which is the very thing against which our Hebrew brethren profess to petition.

Furthermore, if this petition were to be granted, and the changes made which are to be desired, where is this change to stop? Can we have only Jewish prayers, and yet have a Christian Bible upon our altar? Will not consistency require, that we should have no longer the light of Masonry, as it has shone ever since its benign ray struck upon this continent, but only one part of it, viz., the old testament, and that in the Hebrew tongue?

Again, if this request be complied with, how can we refuse to receive and grant the petitions of others, who are neither Jews nor Christians, who believe in GOD, but who do not believe in the immortality of the soul? Must we not change our lectures and charges? Must we not fling away the sprig of acacia? Can we keep that precious emblem of immortality, when it becomes offensive to the religious notions of one who believes in God, but does not believe in the immortality of the soul?

Where, we ask, is this thing to end? If we should commence the work of change, that we might adapt our Order to the conflicting opinions of all who may enter its pale, it requires no great sagacity to see, that the result would be a complete annihilation of this Institution?

Thus far, we have considered simply the expediency of making some of the changes asked for by the petitioners. We come now to the question, whether this Grand Lodge has the power or the right to make these proposed alterations? On this point your committee cannot hesitate, for a single moment, to answer this question, most decidedly in the negative.

We have received Freemasonry with its landmarks, with all its landmarks, from England. Among these is the "dedication to the holy Saints John." We have so received it, and we have so imparted it. Our Jewish brethren request us to change this dedication, and to make such other alterations "as are consistent with their religious belief."

This Grand Lodge can do many things, but there are some things which it cannot do, and to remove an "ancient land mark" is one of the things that it cannot do. If it should pass a vote changing the "dedication," it would not only transcend its legitimate authority, but it would do an act, which the obligations of the subordinate Lodges would compel them to entirely discard. What they as Lodges and as individuals have received, they must impart, and that too in the way in which they have received it, and in no other way. Without further discussion, we might rest the case here, as clearly made out on the ground that the Grand Lodge have no authority, whatever, to grant the request of the petitioners, and if they should do so, it would avail nothing, since the obligations of the members of the subordinate Lodges would impel them to resist any such ordinance of the Grand Lodge.

But for the satisfaction of our Jewish brethren, whose petition is couched in the most respectful terms, we are willing to go a step behind this position, and briefly refer to the historical aspect of this question.

In reply to what we have already said, our brethren might inquire, if we should deem it our duty to adhere to our practice, if it could be shown that we had not received the correct work and lectures? In answer, we have only to say, that we know no other Masonry than that which we have received. And we have no reason to believe that what we received, was any other than the true. So far as the subjects of the petition before us are particularly involved, we believe that :the history of Masonry will clearly prove that our practice is strictly correct. The petitioners refer to the fact, that since 1813, when the Grand Lodges of Ancient York and England coalesced under the title of the "United Grand Lodge of England," the same practice which they petition for, was adopted. With the present practice of the Grand Lodge of England; we have nothing to do. The question which mainly concerns us on this point is, what was the practice of those Grand Lodges from which we received Masonry, at the time that we received it.

In 1733, R.W. Henry Price, of this city, received from England, the first Charter ever received for any Lodge whatever, on this continent. This Charter conferred Grand Lodge powers. In the year 1752, St. Andrew's Lodge received from Scotland a Charter, which resulted in the establishment of another Grand Lodge, and so there were here two rival Grand Lodges. In the year 1792, they united and formed what is now our Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. These facts take us at once to England before 1733, and to Scotland before 1752. The practice which obtained at these periods, in those Grand Lodges, was the practice which we received, and which of course should constitute the "Landmarks" at this day. What were these landmarks touching the points referred to by the petitioners? In answering this question we are very much indebted to the Rev. Dr. Oliver of England, from whose work entitled "A Mirror for the Johannite Masons," we have made liberal extracts.

Dr. Anderson writes, under date 1679, (?) that many of the fraternity's records of this and former reigns were burnt in the next and at the revolution: and many of them were too hastily burned in his own time, for a fear of making discoveries; so that there is not so ample an account as could be wished of the Grand Lodge. When in 1720, Dr. Anderson compiled a book of constitutions, by order of the Grand Lodge, he adds, "the Freemasons had always a book in manuscript, called the book of Constitutions, containing not only their charges and regulations, but the history of architecture, but they had no book of constitutions in print until his Grace the present Duke of Montague, when Grand Master, ordered me to peruse the old manuscripts, and digest the constitutions with a just chronology."

Dr. Anderson, together with others who were constituted his associates, drew up a series of Lectures for the use of the Lodges. These were widely disseminated, and constituted an authentic digest of the pure and legitimate doctrines of Masonry. These lectures formed the basis of all succeeding ones; and, says Dr. Oliver, throughout the whole series, the Saints John are named as the patrons of the Order. They accompanied all the warrants which were sent to foreign parts; and we accordingly find that at that early period, in every country of Europe, where Masonry was planted under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, the Lodges were called by the came of St. John.

When Masonry was revived in 1717, and these lectures were authorized by the Grand Lodge of England, we have no reason to doubt that the landmarks were then pure and unchanged; as an illustration of what was then held touching the subject under consideration, we quote the following question, which occurs in their lectures:-

Q. "From whence came you."

A. "From the holy Lodge of St. John." This is an unequivocal testimony of the first Grand Lodge, under the revived system, to the fact that Lodges were dedicated to St. John.

In a formula used a little later than the middle of the last century, which was called "the Old York Lecture," the two Saints John occupy a prominent situation; the following is an extract:-

Q. "To whom were they (Lodges) dedicated under the Christian dispensation?"

A. "From Solomon, the patronage of Masonry passed to St. John the Baptist."

Q. "Why were the Lodges dedicated to St. John the Baptist."

A. "Because he was the forerunner of our Saviour; and by preaching repentance and humiliation, drew the first parallel of the Gospel."

Q. "Had St. John the Baptist any equal ?"

A. "He had; St. John the Evangelist."

Q. "Why is he said to be equal to the Baptist?"

A. "Because he finished by his learning what the other began by his zeal, and thus drew a second line parallel to the former; ever since which time, Freemason's Lodges in all Christian countries have been dedicated to the one or to the other, or both of these worthy or worshipful men."

Says Dr. Oliver:- "In the original lectures compiled by Sayer, Payne and Desaguliers, and improved by Anderson, Desaguliers and Cowper; in the reviewers of Dunckerly and Martin Clare, twice repeated; and in the extended rituals of Hutchinson, Preston and others, which were in use down to the reunion in 1813, and by some Lodges even to the present time," "the Saints John occupy their place as the patrons of Masonry; no link in the chain of evidence is broken: for in no one ritual, whether ancient or modern, which was in use during the whole century, were they omitted."

It was a law of the English Grand Lodge established in 1721, that the Lodges in and about London and Westminster, should hold an annual communication on St. John the Baptist's day, or else on St. John the Evangelist's day.

But that this was no new custom, no innovation upon ancient usage is evident from a historical. fact. It is Stated that Queen Elizabeth sent an armed force to break up the annual Grand Lodge at York, which was always held on the day of St. John the Evangelist; when Sir Thomas Sackville, the Grand Master, induced the officers to be initiated, and their report to the Queen was so satisfactory, that she gave them no further disturbance. Thus it appears that more than one hundred years before the revision of Masonry, by the Grand Lodge in 1717, the Grand Lodge of York observed the festival of St. John the Evangelist.

This custom it is said has existed from time immemorial, in proof of which Dr. Oliver refers to a copy of the old Gothic constitutions, which was produced at a grand festival on St. John's day, in the year 1663, before Henry Jermyn, earl of St. Albans, Grand Master.

Thus much we have deemed it proper to say upon the historical point, involved in the matter under consideration, by which it appears plainly enough, that the first we know, and all we know of English Freemasonry, up to the present century, recognizes the dedication of Lodges to GOD and to the holy Saints John, as a part of the usages of the Order, and the observance of the days set apart for the commemoration of these two persons as Masonic festivals.

But we said that we received a part of our Masonry from Scotland. It will be proper to advert, for the moment to the decision of the Grand Lodge of Scotland touching thin subject. "It is evident," says Dr. Oliver, "that the substitution of the Saints John for Moses and Solomon was an article of belief among the first Masons who introduced the Craft into this island. The Kilwinning system, which may be traced back to the 12th century, is called "St. John's Masonry;" and in the present laws of the Grand Lodge of Scotland this principle is unreservedly maintained in the provision respecting "private Lodges, where all Lodges holding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland are strictly prohibited and discharged from holding any other meetings, than those of the three Orders, of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, denominated ST. JOHN'S MASONRY."

We have shown that in our own Grand Lodge those parts of the work and lectures, which the petitioners desire to have expunged, were received from England and Scotland, and that these two Grand Lodges held to them at the time they transmitted the Institution to us, and they had been moreover held by their predecessors from time immemorial.

When Masonry was in the custody of the Jews there is no doubt that Lodges were dedicated to Solomon. But after the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem and dissolution of the Jewish polity, both civil and ecclesiastical, Masonry naturally fell into the hands of Christians. From that time to this our tradition is, that they were dedicated to the Saints John, and no historical facts have been, or can be, adduced to show that tradition in this respect is erroneous.

We have no evidence that there have been any Lodges but Christian Lodges since the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews have not been in a situation to hold Lodges. They have had no country, no home, no nation, no government. They have been flying from one country to another, seeking to escape from the persecutions which everywhere pursued them. That they have maintained their existence as a race, dispersed as they have been over the earth, is a miracle, which proves, if nothing else did, that they are the ancient people of GOD, and that their condition for the last eighteen hundred years is a fulfilment of divine prophecy.

Freemasonry did for them, what few if any other societies ware willing to do. They were virtually outlawed in many Countries, and in scarcely a single Christian nation were they admitted to the enjoyment of the full privileges of citizenship. Even in England at this very day, they are debarred from holding a seat in Parliament. In some of our own States, they are not eligible to hold any civil office, and yet no where upon the face of the earth do they enjoy so much of privilege, or are they as well treated as in England and in the United States. Under such circumstances this Institution, true to its principles as a cosmopolite society, opens its doors to them and permits them to enter its pale, if they desire to do so, with the assurance, if they do, that they shall be hailed and treated as brethren; that there shall be one spot which they may call home, where they may dwell in safety and in peace; where they shall enjoy all its immunities and privileges; eligible to any office, entitled to all the benefits which the Fraternity have covenanted to extend to each other. This was a very great favor, and we have no doubt that our Israelitish brethren have esteemed it as such.

To the best of our information it was not until about the middle of the last century that the Jews were admitted into Freemasonry, with the exception of their connection with spurious Lodges on the continent, - as Masonry was then understood and practised.

Up to about the year 1754, there was no authorized form of Masonic Prayer in use in the Lodges in England. The Prayer Book was then a text-book of the Lodge. The Master was left to his own discretion in this particular, although the general practice was to select an appropriate form from the Liturgy. About this time the Jews were first admitted into the English Lodges; they very naturally objected then as they object now, to the use of the forms of Christian worship. These objections being yielded to, by some of the Masters, led to irregularities in the devotional services of the lodge room. But this did not meet the approbation of the old and eminent members of the Order, who were desirous of transmitting to their successors, the forms and lessons of Masonry as they had learned them. In order to set this matter right by authority, Dr. Manningham, then Deputy Grand Master, in connection with Dr. Anderson, drew up the following prayer, and laid it before the Grand Lodge at London for its sanction, by which it was immediately adopted. It was published in the "Freemasons' Pocket Companion" in 1754.

"Most Holy, and Glorious Lord God, thou Architect of heaven and earth, who art the giver of all good gifts and graces! and hath promised that where two or three are gathered together in thy Name, thou wilt be in the midst of them; in thy name we assemble 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 to grant that this our Brother may dedicate his life to thy service, and be a true and faithful Brother amongst us. Endue him with Divine wisdom, that be may, with the secrets of Masonry, be able to unfold the mysteries of godliness and Christianity. This we humbly beg, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen."

This historical incident clearly proves two important facto, that previous to the year 1754, the English Lodges had been accustomed to use prayer taken from a Christian Liturgy, and secondly, that the admission of Jews into the Fraternity caused a discussion of the propriety of such prayers, which resulted in a decision of the Grand Lodge, by which a Christian form of worship was adopted.

It is very evident from what has been said, that all the Masonry which the world has known anything about, since the destruction of Jerusalem, up to about one hundred yearn ago, has been Christian Masonry, that is Freemasonry in the hands of Christians, conducted by them after a manner which has recognized, in some form or other, the fact and authority of the Christian religion. Yet it does not exclude persons who are not Christians. It requires belief in GOD as an indispensible qualification. Professing that, if there be no objection to the candidate as wanting in other qualifications, he is admitted. In this sense we have received no other kind of Masonry, and we can transmit no other. At the building of the Temple, the society was mainly in the hands of the Jews, now it is mainly in Christian hands, but open for Jews as well as Gentiles. It is confined to no sect, and to no nation. We trust that this Grand Lodge will be the last to do any thing to change the Landmarks of the Order; to circumscribe its influence, to restrict its usefulness, to render it national or sectarian, or to commence, in any form, or for any purpose, the mischievous work of innovation upon its well established principles. For these reasons, and for others which might be named, the committee recommend that the petitioners have leave to withdraw. For the committee, GEORGE M. RANDALL.

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