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WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
THE VOICE OF FREEMASONRY - 1881
In the mind of the intelligent young Mason, who, of course, is constant in his attendance upon all lodge meetings, questions like these will continually arise: " What is the meaning of all these solemn and mysterious ceremonies .
"What is the true explanation of these symbols so continually presented to view?" "What is the interpretation of these curious allegories so frequently repeated in our hearing?" In short, "What is Freemasonry, and what is its object? "
To obtain Masonic light and knowledge, he learns "the work," and becomes a very "bright " Mason, when upon serious reflection, he discovers that he has only obtained a knowledge of a certain series of words, which in themselves, afford no instruction. He eagerly reads a "Monitor," and obtains no knowledge of the symbolism of Freemasonry that he did not already possess as a profane. He reads Masonic publications, from which he gleans much information connected with what may be termed Masonic "diplomacy," reads learned disquisitions on Masonic "jurisprudence," but does not find that information of which he is in search. He is continually informed that Freemasonry, in some form, has existed from time immemorial, and that the wisest and best of all nations and in all ages have been but too proud of the honor of being enrolled among the members of such an ancient institution. He knows that to-day the Society of Freemasons is the leading social organization of the world, and has no reason to doubt that it will continue to exist through all future generations. By reading, he learns that the grand old institution has descended to us from the remote past. It has seen nation succeed nation, as the centuries have rolled past; in its time, dogmas, religious and political, have swiftly sped their way and disappeared in oblivion, yet Freemasonry, unsullied by political, strife, free from religious dogma of man's invention, remains changeless and, unchangeable - the same to-day as yesterday, and will so continue forever - the chain connecting the past and present with the future.
Those members of the Institution who have been favored with the privilege of examining the structure in all its parts, - who have descended to its foundation and wondered at its strong supports, - have critically examined its finely proportioned columns and pilasters, - have stood upon the checkered pavement and admired the implements displayed thereon, and received rudimentary instruction respecting their use, - have been conducted through the middle chamber, and received lessons in science, and finally been permitted to enter the most holy place; yea, have even assisted in the rite of sacrifice at the holy altar; those of us who have been so highly favored, should know the meaning of all these symbols and allegories, - should fully understand the import of these solemn rites and ceremonies in all their allusions, and should be willing to communicate that knowledge to our less informed brethren. It is their right to demand information, and it is our duty to communicate to them all that each is entitled to know.
Freemasonry does not consist merely of the ceremonies and so-called "Lectures," connected with the initiation and advancement of candidates; these are merely the frame work of the structure, or, more correctly, the key which unlocks the door to the treasure-house, - and are only intended to serve as a means of impressing upon the mind of the candidate, in a manner not to be misunderstood or easily forgotten, the most vital and salutary lessons, not of mere morality, but religious and political doctrines, comprising within their scope, our entire duty to GOD, our country, our neighbor, and our own self. Freemasonry is DUTY, and Masonic "work" is the performance of every duty, religious, political and social.
Religion is defined by the best lexicographers as "the recognition of GOD as an object of worship, love and obedience - right feelings toward GOD as correctly understood - piety;" and another definition is "Religion is Godliness, or real piety, in practice;" which practical religion consists in the performance of every duty to GOD and our fellow-men, in obedience to His laws, or from love of Him and His works.
With these definitions in view, Freemasonry is eminently a religious institution. It cannot be sectarian, for men of every creed, and every phase of religious thought, are admitted within the portals of its temples, and among its members we find the followers of Moses and Confucius, of CHRIST and Zoroaster, standing side by side, laboring in the interest of Freemasonry - the benefit of humanity.
Masonry is a religious institution, but its religion is that of nature and primitive revelation - that religion in which all men may agree, and in which none can differ - and to that purely religious element, as a foundation, it is indebted for its origin and continued existence, and without which it would be no more worthy of consideration than any one of the multitude of ephemeral imitators, which from time to time have arisen, flourished their brief day, and passed into decay and forgetfulness. The religion of Masonry is not Christianity, or even a substitute for it, as that religion is explained by the dogmas of the various creeds, any more than it is peculiar Judaism, or Brahminism, but it is the foundation of all creeds - the true religion as expounded by the Great Teacher who taught His disciples to raise their aspirations to "Our FATHER which art in heaven; " that religion so fully defined by St. James, who says, "Pure and undefiled religion before GOD and the FATHER is this, that ye visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and keep yourselves unspotted from the world."
Politics is correctly defined as "the science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state; the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest; the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights with the preservation and improvement of their morals." With this definition in view, Freemasonry is also a political institution; not the tool of party, not laboring in the interest of any individual or section, but for the benefit of the whole body politic.
Freemasonry may, therefore, be defined as being a system and school of Religious and Political Philosophy, in which its doctrines are suggested by allegories and concealed under symbols.
An allegory is a narrative containing a double meaning, a literal rendering, and at the same time a spiritual allusion. The allegory was a favorite figure among the ancients, and the Jewish Rabbins made use of it to such excess that in the Hebrew writings it is extremely difficult to distinguish the allegory from the true history. This style of instruction has ever been used by Christian teachers, and in Freemasonry, what are known as "traditions" are but allegories - Masonry has no traditions.
A symbol is a visible sign, with which a spiritual idea is connected. The first records of the world were in hieroglyphs, - a collection of symbols; letters of the alphabet are but symbols of spoken sounds, - words are but symbols of ideas, and in all ages visible symbols have been used as most vividly acting upon the minds of the people, and thus we find that all propositions, religious, political or scientific may be expressed by means of symbols. Symbolic representations of things sacred were coeval with religion itself, and even at the present time a religious symbolism is practiced which has descended to us from the most remote antiquity. Masonic "traditions" and legends are allegories - spoken symbols - by the utterance of which spiritual things are better understood, and by the exhibition of visible symbols, a deep and lasting impression is made upon the attentive mind.
To study the symbols made use of in Masonry, and endeavor to elicit from them the ideas they were originally intended to express, without which knowledge the practice of the tenets of our profession would be of no force, because not understood, is a labor of love for the intelligent Mason. The ability of an individual to rehearse a certain series of words, with appropriate action, as is comprised in what is commonly termed the "work," is merely evidence of a retentive memory, or capacity as an actor; and it is frequently found that the brother who can scarcely recite sufficient of the catechism - improperly called "Lecture" - to enable him to "work his way" into a lodge, is foremost in true Masonic labor, and a most active and zealous brother, fully understanding the full meaning of all the symbols presented to his view, and showing by his daily conduct that he endeavors practice the lessons they convey.
Every portion of the ceremonies of Masonry is full of meaning; nothing is done which, when properly understood, does not in the most impressive manner, convey some lessons calculated to make all who witness the ceremony wiser and better men and consequently more worthy citizens; and any portion of the ceremonies which does not convey such lessons is an innovation, and should not be tolerated. In the performance of our solemn rites no haste should be allowed, nor omission be tolerated, and the Master of a lodge, who abridges the ceremonies, or allows his officers to shorten them by omitting any portion of the instruction the ritual provides, is guilty of a violation of his duty as a Mason, and neglectful of the vow he assumed as Master, when he promised in the most solemn manner that he would never close his lodge without giving a lecture for the instruction of the brethren. A few trivial questions, selected at random from the catechism, should in no case be accepted as even to the letter fulfilling the requirements of the law, but a lecture, on some Masonic subject should be delivered for the instruction of the young Masons, before the close of every lodge meeting, and thus the requirements of the installation obligation be fulfilled in the spirit as well as to the letter. Being instructed in the principles of the Institution, in all their applications, the object is evident - the spiritual elevation of man-but in order to accomplish this end we must be true ourselves, by continually endeavoring to practice all the precepts inculcated by the lectures and allegories and illustrated by the symbols of Freemasonry.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014