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by John Leisk Tait

FREEMASONRY, in both York Rite and Scottish Rite and in all the degrees of each, is theoretically highly selective. "Many are called, but few are chosen." This selectiveness increases, theoretically, as the Mason advances in degree. That the contrary is true in practice, is the fountain of the most serious evils that beset Freemasonry from within. 

This law of selectiveness is most significantly seen in that Masonic dictum which forbids the solicitation of the profane. No man, however blameless in his life, however beneficent in his attitude toward his fellow-men, is to be asked to become a Mason. Those who become members of the order are to do so entirely upon their own initiative - and only after the most rigid scrutiny and severe tests of their worthiness. That this fundamental Masonic law is not invariably followed out in practice is not the fault of Freemasonry as an order, but is due to the delinquency of some of those who wear the emblems, bear the name and are otherwise apparently Freemasons. 

In this unfortunate misrepresentation, however, it must be remembered that Freemasonry is by no means peculiar. Such is the Iot of every good cause. The churches are among the greatest victims of this deplorable practice; and it is hard to determine whether their worst detractors are those who hypocritically wear their white livery with malicious intent to abuse the privileges it confers, or the zealots who wilfully transcend the teachings they are commissioned to convey to the world. Certainly, either is more to be dreaded than those who stand without and openly level their weapons against ecclesiastical integrity. 

However, it is certain that the most dangerous, because the most insidious, enemies of Freemasonry are those who vaunt themselves as its partisans and followers while they violate the spirit of its teachings. There is no anti-mason so dangerous to Masonry as the Mason who, in his life, discredits Masonry. And the order is discredited in no way more seriously detrimental to its highest interests than in the wilful violation of this fundamental principle of selectiveness - in using the wiles of the proselyter to swell the rosters of the rites - in seeking numbers rather than character in its membership. 

And there is more than character required in the applicant for Masonry; there is a condition of individual preparedness which flows from within, out of the personal experience of the candidate and not from the prompting of others. No man is fit to be a Mason who is not already, in his heart and in his life, truly Masonic in principle and in practice. This is the Masonic law - nicely calculated for the ultimate good of the Craft, nicely evaded too often in actual practice. 

Freemasonry is often, and erroneously, likened to a tree, the stock of which is the Blue Lodge and the two rites, York and Scottish, in all their degrees are the branches. It might be more truthfully compared to a book, of which the Blue Lodge is the index or brief synopsis, and the two rites, York and Scottish, are twin chapters or expository texts. The whole of Freemasonry exists, in tabloid form, in the Blue Lodge. The purpose of the higher degrees in both rites is the development of the theme which the Blue Lodge supplies. That development is more or less similar in the two rites but is carried much farther in fact, and to greater refinements in philosophy, in the Scottish Rite. 

The higher degrees of the York Rite, like those of the Scottish Rite, add but little to the legends of Freemasonry. Their value lies in the fact that they refine, expound and apply the teachings of those legends. They bring them closer to the life and experience of the candidate, and link him through them more closely to his fellows. This refinement, expounding and application is carried to still greater lengths in the Scottish Rite. 

It may be seen from what has been stated that the higher degrees of the York Rite address themselves more especially to the man who thinks, the man of finer sensibilities, keener perceptions, wider sympathies, loftier aspirations. They represent, in this respect, a distinct advance upon the Blue Lodge, It is the manifest leaven of the middle class working upon the Masonic lump. 

In like manner, the Scottish Rite carries to still further refinement the exposition and application of Blue Lodge legends. The Scottish Rite is of imperial origin - the Freemasonry of kings, statesmen, philosophers and profound scholars. It brings forth to view those particular events in history, those special forms of worship, those peculiar teachings of philosophy, which are broadly hinted at in the Blue Lodge; and transpose the dogmatism of that into a rational Freemasonry, which is able not only to declare the law but to give the reasons for the law. It is the proper school of the Masonic sage. It is the final refinement of Freemasonry. 

It should hardly need pointing out that the moral obligation of selectiveness rises higher in the scale of its utility from rite to rite; that for the reasons already given and from the facts already stated, the higher degrees of the York Rite should be more rigidly selective than those of the Blue Lodge; and that those of the Scottish Rite should be the most selective of them all. In the very nature of the case, because of the richness of the rite, because of the abounding wealth of its history, ethics and philosophy, the Scottish Rite is empty and meaningless to many who make good Blue Lodge members not because of defects in their character but because of their lack of reading; not because of any dearth of intrinsic intelligence, but because they are not specially prepared to grasp its form and teachings. 

Unhappily, the doctrine of selectiveness is not always properly observed in either rite. Its violation is always followed by disaster. The reason is obvious to any one who thinks.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014