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Masonry as an Order

EVERY NEWLY-MADE MASON is confused by hearing the Fraternity called by a half dozen other descriptive names, now one and now another, with apparent casualness, and as if its own members had never yet decided in their minds whether it is in reality a Fraternity or is a Lodge, or a Brotherhood, or an Association, or a Society, or a Craft, or an Order, or a Rite, or a Fellowship, or a Gild, or an Art; and at one time it might also have been called by the now obsolete or unfamiliar names of mystery, or covine, or sodality. What, exactly, is it? The only exact answer that can possibly be given is that it is Freemasonry, which cannot be classified with anything else, but that within itself it possesses properties or forms of many kinds of association, so that when a Mason calls it first a Lodge and then a society, etc., he is thinking at one time about one aspect of it and at another time is thinking about another aspect of it. Freemasonry is in strict and literal fact many kinds of associations, and is all of them at one time. It is multiform. A Mason is not compelled to make his choice of one descriptive name out of many but may use any one of them as best suits his needs. 

The word Order is neither poetical nor pleasant, and has an air about it of something hard, something arbitrary, and is always connected in our minds with the days when a parent "ordered us about" at home, or a teacher in school, or a sergeant snapped out orders in the army, or a foreman yelled orders in the shop; it carries with it in consequence overtones of arbitrariness, authority, harshness and the use of force. Also it has an air of being undemocratic, and is closely and necessarily connected with the idea of rank, or ranks. The word rank itself has a curious history in one language because we have not only two words, rank and rank, both of which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but two words which mean, it so happens, the complete opposite of each other. One rank is an Anglo-Saxon term and means unlicensed, untamed, unordered, as when we speak of a rank growth of vegetation. The other rank is French but was originally the Greek word for ring, and is a first cousin of the word range; it describes the ranging of men or things in ranks, or lines, or circles. Order has in it these and a number of other related meanings. It is as it stands a Latin word, and means that men or things are in an arrangement, that each thing is placed, that there is no confusion, that everything is planned and ranked according to such categories as time, or size, or function.

The word also is connected in our minds with a certain type of organizations which have been called "Orders" for the past 1500 years, such as the Order of the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Order, the Benedictine Order, the Order of the Garter, the Order of Malta, the Order of the Hospital, and many others. These associations and organizations did not give the word its meaning, and except in Templarism we Masons are careful not to permit the use of the word to define for us what we mean when we say that our Fraternity is an Order, because it has very little in common with the rules and regulations of the Orders of Chivalry, etc.; in Ancient Craft Masonry we use the word in its common and original sense whereas the Orders use it in a special sense; those Orders of which the Order of the Temple is the most familiar example were established by some one man, a Pope, an Abbot, a King, etc., and began with a set of rules drawn for the purpose and at that time; that in Freemasonry which makes it an Order was on the other hand never initiated by any one man but came about gradually, and in consequence of historical causes; that which makes the Order of the Garter an order, is almost wholly unlike that which makes Ancient Craft Masonry an order.

When a Lodge of Operative Freemasons began work on a new building they employed the same principle as that which is the secret of the assembly line in a factory using the method of mass production; they laid out their work in a series of steps, or stages, or degrees in such a way that they would do one thing first, and then because they had done it could go on to do a second thing, and then a third, so that the separate tasks fell into a series, like the letters in an alphabet.

To be able to see beforehand how many steps would be needed, and in what order they would come, was one of the most difficult and important arts in the work of building, because in order to do it the Craftsmen had to understand the whole idea and general plan of the building. The building work, therefore, had a serial order.

A building occupied space - if it was to be a cathedral it might occupy an acre or more; it had for that reason to be laid out, or planned, spatially. The where was as important as the when. A stake was set at the place where the cornerstone would be laid; from it the whole structure was oriented; a given wall of a given length was to stand at a certain spot, each pillar or column was to come at a given point, a door was to be placed here, a window there, an entablature from this point to that point, the base of the tower was to stand so many feet from this and so many feet from that, and this arrangement in space was carried down to a point so fine that any given small piece of mosaic was to have a place of its own. Once these points, positions, places were fixed in the plans they came to have a magisterial function because they always dictated where a given workman was to work, and what he was to do there. There was a general orientation, and this was of a sort so organic that in most instances the shifting of one element of the building to another place necessitated a revision of the whole plan. Therefore the spatial ordering of the structure was a law which the craftsman had to obey; it ordered, or gave orders, to him, and it mattered not if he might prefer to work in one place rather than another because his preferences did not count. As a Craftsman he belonged to an order because his work was ordered, and was so of necessity.

In our modern customs of work nothing differs more from customs of work in the Middle Ages than the role of management, or superintendence. In modern customs the superintendent "keeps his distance" in the physical sense as well as in the sense of his picturing himself as a sort of monarch who issues fiats from a distance. Among Operative Freemasons both the Master and his Wardens were themselves workmen, reported in at the same time as others, and came through the same apprenticeship; it could never have crossed their minds that they were to stand back giving commands while other men did the work because an idea so puerile had not yet been conceived; they were workmen like other workmen, worked for wages, worked the same hours, and a craftsman who was superintendent, or Master of Masons, at one place might not be such a one at another, and if so it was never taken that he had been "demoted."

Where a Master of Masons (or other Officers) differed from other craftsmen was not in the difference between one man who works and another man who "bosses" (Operative Masons would have tolerated no "bosses") but in the difference between a craftsman who did one kind of work and a craftsman who did another kind. It was necessary to send orders to the quarries for stones, their number, kind and date of delivery; to order them cut and finished by a certain time and in given dimensions; to have some of them carved; to furnish the models or patterns; to see that a carved stone was put in a certain place at a certain time; to coordinate the work being done at one place by one man with work being done (perhaps hundreds of feet away) by another man; to keep records; to pay wages; to employ men as needed and to dismiss them when not needed; to call assemblies and to preside over them; to smooth differences among craftsmen and to resolve their quarrels; and to act as spokesman for the Craft to check on civil authorities or to the administration which employed the men. These functions were themselves forms of work, as toilsome as any other and even more exacting; the officers were craftsmen selected or "told off" to do those kinds of work, and if Officers had a rank, honors, prerogatives, and powers it was because the nature of architectural work required that they should have.

In the meantime there were always a certain number of apprentices busy about the place. The fundamental difference between these apprentices and full craftsmen (or "fellows") was that where an adult craftsman was answerable for doing his own work to orders and plans or to the officers, each apprentice was answerable personally to his own particular Master, and answerable to him only. He was never anything more than a helper. He could decide nothing, could undertake nothing on his own initiative, was not responsible for any form of work, had no voice and no vote. His station was therefore wholly unlike the status of a Master Craftsman, or an Officer. 

The whole organization of the Craft thus was one made necessary by the nature of the work itself; we discuss theories or principles of organization in the abstract, and among ourselves prefer some one among the many possible theories such as collective, cooperative, dictatorial, communistic, democratic, etc., and we argue about these as theologians once argued about doctrines, but no Medieval Freemason could even have guessed what these arguments were about, because he did not have "theories" or "doctrines," but ordered and arranged and organized his craft in the form made necessary by the nature of the art of building; if any man had said to him, "But your Craft is not democratic," or "Is not monarchic" he would have answered, "What of it?" When therefore it turned out that his Craft was an order, that it had in it three ranks, or grades, or degrees of status, that these were sharply separated from each other, that each Craftsman had a station, or place, or rank of his own, that these were fixed in Craft rules and regulations and Landmarks, it was not because he had a "belief" in such a system, or had been talked into it by organizers or stump-orators, or liked it better, but because the nature of the work (or art) of architecture made such a form of organization necessary. He could not see that he had a choice of having it any other way. There are some of us even in our talk-raddled United States, certainly among us Freemasons there are those of us, who believe that the Medieval Freemason was far nearer the truth of things than our own schools of economists, and our after dinner speakers, and our newspapers with their catchwords and their propaganda; if there is a certain kind of work that needs to be done if we are to continue to exist, then let us go to work and do it, and if to do it makes it necessary for us to do it in a certain way, then let us do it in that way and not waste our efforts in arguing about the method of doing it.

For such reasons, and in such a sense, Operative Freemasonry was an order. It was not as if there had been beforehand such a thing as Freemasonry, that this Freemasonry chose to be an order, and that it could have chosen another form of organization; Freemasonry was itself an order, and was one to begin with; to destroy Freemasonry as an order would have destroyed Freemasonry. And the order which it was during the centuries of its Operative period it still is; there was no change made in it in respect of that fact in its transition from Operative to Speculative.

Every regular Lodge in the world is an order, and no man could make it otherwise without destroying the Lodges.

During the twenty-year period between World Wars I and II the Fascists (using that word in its most inclusive sense) undertook to set up a single Fascist System in the countries of Europe. Freemasonry was an obstacle, at least they believed it to be one; to remove it they set up an Anti-Masonic organization, with its principal bureau in Paris, and this organization had some hundreds of books published in order to persuade the rank and file of ordinary men that they ought not to be Masons. They accused Freemasonry of many things, but one of the commonest of their accusations was to say that Freemasonry is a revolutionary society; and they tried to make this plausible by asserting that Freemasonry had plotted the French Revolution, and that the Revolutionary motto of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" was the motto of Freemasonry.

This was one of the falsest, or at least one of the most mistaken accusations ever made against Freemasonry not only because it was mistaken in fact at one point or another but because it was false as a whole. "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" is not the motto of the Fraternity, and it never has been; at no moment in its long history has the Fraternity ever been within view of that motto, and certainly there has never been a moment when it could have believed in it; and the facts set forth in this present chapter show why this is true.

By "liberty" the French revolutionists meant "without restraint." When a Candidate enters the door he is hoodwinked cable-towed, and conducted, and from then on continues to move through the Three Degrees under the narrowest of restraints, and after he has become a Lodge member, and though he may be a Lodge member for sixty years, he is always under those same restraints. By "equality" the revolutionists meant the obliteration of status, grades, ranks; the Fraternity has never believed in doctrinaire libertarianism, and never will, because it cannot, for libertarianism would abolish half the Landmarks since those Landmarks are in themselves ranks, grades, differences in status. The Fraternity believes in the free man, which is an idea far away from libertarianism in its many forms. By "fraternity" the revolutionists meant that "wherever you and I are we can be brothers together"; so little is such a notion true of Freemasonry that an Apprentice cannot sit in Lodge as the brother of a Fellowcraft, and a Fellowcraft cannot sit in Lodge with Master Masons, and only one out of the whole number of members in a Lodge can sit in the East, and no Mason can visit or demit to another Lodge at his own pleasure.

Under the American Constitution which grants and protects the many rights of free association to its citizens any number of men can at will form themselves into a group; they can choose their own name, select their own officers, write their own rules they can be free, each of them, to have a voice about anything, to discuss anything, to have a vote about anything; they can at any time, whenever their own whim or circumstances suggest, reorganize and remodel their organization from top to bottom, can alter its rules, and can even wholly change its purposes - and these things are done in the United States almost every day in the year.

But they are never done in a Masonic Lodge. Its own members cannot say what it is, or is not. They cannot make Freemasonry over to suit themselves. If one of them attempts an innovation of the Landmarks he is reprimanded, suspended or expelled. What the Lodge was before any one of them came into it, it continues to be; it will continue to be that same thing after every one of them has gone. A Candidate cannot take one degree, or seven, or seventy, but must take three, and three only, and he himself has no voice in what these Degrees are, nor has the Lodge itself. Once the Candidate has become a member he has a place or station; he must sit on the side-lines, and cannot move at will. Each Officer has a place or station, and he and he only can occupy it and he cannot even do that until after he is installed. The Communication of a Lodge is at a fixed date and place; it uses fixed rites and ceremonies, and conducts its affairs in compliance with its By-Laws and the Order of Business. The Ritual itself is an orderly arrangement of degrees, rites, ceremonies, steps, parts, and each symbol comes at a place or time of its own. Each member has a voice or a vote about certain things, no voice or vote about other things; the Master is supreme within the jurisdiction of his own office, has no authority beyond it. Nothing is fluid, or footloose, nothing is unrestrained.

There is no equalitarianism, and neither is there any factionalism, or partying, or bossism. Within the whole of it, like the skeletonal framework in the body of a man, stand the Landmarks, and not even a Grand Lodge can alter them, nor could the whole number of Grand Lodges working together, because, Masonically speaking, they are of the nature of things. It is only another way of saying that Freemasonry is an Order, and anything said or written which contradicts that fact cannot possibly be true.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014