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SYMBOLISM BY ICONS
by Chuck Blatchley
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When we first approached the door to the Lodge, we were told it had been dedicated to the Holy Saints John. Later, in the lectures, we were given the explanation that these two New Testament characters were considered eminent patrons of Masonry. In other jurisdictions, such obviously Christian patrons have been replaced since the early 19th century by Moses and Aaron, with similar functions and representations. As alternative patrons, they are highly honored by both Judaism and Islam, so the change reflects a trend toward generalization of the ritual and Masonic tolerance, even though perhaps it is not traceable to earlier operative traditions.
In addition to explicit dedication to the two Sts. John, most of us are also aware of traditional patrons of the operative craft, for example, the "Four Crowned Martyrs" for whom the Quatuor Coronati research lodge is named. However, there are some other Christian saints I would like us to consider, not because they are obviously related to working in stone, but because their iconography, their identifying symbology, is shared with our special emblems.
Moreover, when the complete set of icons and emblems is considered, they point to a much earlier origin than scholars usually consider, and they point to clues about who first collected and honored them. In other words, the study of these icons may tell us who actually started the fraternity.
In the early fifth century, St. Augustine recommended the use of such artistic representations for teaching moral and spiritual lessons. This is exactly the same use we make of them today, although, as we shall see, the Masonic meaning is often very different from the medieval Christian one.
One of Augustine's compilers summarized his teachings on icons by calling these images "libri idiotarum" or "books of the simple," meaning they were intended as teaching devices for those who could not read, in his day the vast majority of people. Prior to his recommendations, the early Church had frowned on such artistic representations as a possible opportunity for idolatry, in direct violation of the proscription against making graven images in the Ten Commandments.
For centuries afterwards, both Western and Eastern churches made statues, murals, wood carvings, paintings, and mosaic floors to represent these lessons in art, but the practice was particularly prevalent in the Eastern Church. There, by the seventh century, icons had become the center of an officially encouraged cult. Many believed in the images having special powers for healing or animation, particularly in locations that held relics of the saint represented in the icon.
During the eighth and ninth centuries, icons of all types were officially prohibited and suppressed in Byzantium and were more than a little controversial in Rome. Eventually, the iconoclasts lost, and images again proliferated throughout Christianity along with legends of the saints they represented.
However, the practice contrasted starkly with that in other religious traditions, particularly Islam. Religious images were banned by Mohammed; mosques are therefore only decorated with geometric patterns. Consequently, one of the Christian practices most offensive to Moslems during the Crusades was the mounting and painting of religious images on every exposed surface. This was even more offensive when such icons were painted over walls on which Islamic prayers or slogans had been written.
Prior to the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem, the Moslems had more or less learned to tolerate Christian veneration of selected holy places and the installation of images at those sites. They had also learned to cater to, and exploit, the Christian craving for relics. After the conquest, however, Christian imagery was found everywhere.
Another change that came with the Crusaders was veneration of the site of the Dome of the Rock as Solomon's Temple. Earlier Christian residents of Jerusalem had mostly ignored the Temple Mount, viewing its destruction and later construction of Moslem shrines as evidence of just punishment for the Jews, who were only allowed assemble to the East of the Mount for annual mourning. After the conquest of the First Crusade, a cross was mounted on the Dome of the Rock and Christian icons covered the Islamic inscriptions on the inside walls.
By the fifteenth century the use of icons in churches had gradually been reduced to only a few places beyond the rood screens and iconostasis, a wall separating the sanctuary from the nave. The Reformation, of course, re-invoked the proscription against images from the early Church, and the Counter-Reformation bowed to the trend, causing many images to be removed or destroyed. Consequently, icon use has continued significantly longer in the Eastern Church.
Eventually, much of the early encoding of symbolism in Europe was forgotten or relegated to archaeology. Great catalogs were published in the sixteenth century of old emblems and symbols taken from antique literature and translated into pictorial terms for use by artists. These comprise key sources for much of what I am presenting here. The apparent prevalence and then complete disappearance of these symbols from common usage also adds to the evidence for their antiquity.
Concurrent with the iconographic representation of the saints, their modes of martyrdom, or other key events in their lives, are the hagiographic legends of their lives. The most famous collection is The Golden Legend, written by James of Voragine, who died around 1298. This was one of many works printed by William Caxton, the first printer in England, who also published documents cited in the Old Charges, such as Higdon's Polychronicon or Isidore of Seville's Etymologies.
Encyclopedic descriptions of key incidents in the legends of saints, angels, and holy places give cross references for symbols used to identify figures in ancient art. Most of the favorite characters are labeled with only one or two easily identified symbols. If an artist wanted to show St. Joseph, for example, he would typically be shown with carpenter's tools, emblems which are still commonly used in Church art.
Key theological concepts were also typically associated with one or another teacher or advocate. For example, a symbol for the Trinity would be associated with St. Augustine, who argued for this concept against the Manicheans and Donatists.
Similarly, Masons use easily recognizable symbols to teach moral lessons, as was the original intent of Augustine's icons. However, there is a major difference. Masonic lessons are not tied to the life or example of an important saint. Most of our symbols are presented in isolation, representing ideals or principles, rather than attached to historical figures. However, their general harmony with each other, and common significance, will allows us to distinguish between alternative saints that share the same emblem.
Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy around 480 and was educated in Rome but never ordained. He was repelled by the vices of the city and at age fifteen moved about 30 miles away to take up the life of a hermit, living in a cave for about three years and fed by a monk named Romanus. Gradually he developed a reputation in the surrounding population for holiness and austerity, resulting in his invitation to lead a community of monks at Vicovaro. He accepted, but when they realized just how austere he really was, they attempted to poison him.
He was miraculously spared by the spontaneous breaking of the cup. This produced one of his more common emblems, the broken cup. Another later attempt to give him poison in a loaf of bread by a jealous priest named Florentius also failed.
Around 530 he began to build the monastery at Monte Cassino that would be the birthplace of Western monasticism. Disciples flocked to him as stories of his wisdom and miracles spread. He organized the community into twelve sections and wrote his Rule to govern them, based on previous rules written by St. John Cassian and St. Basil, among others. His Rule emphasized a healthy discipline with respect for human personalities and individual capabilities.
The symbol of a luminous ladder for Benedict comes from a dream he had in which he saw his brethren climbing to heaven on a ladder, whose rungs represented key virtues, such as faith, hope, and charity (agape). Benedict's ladder, as well as Jacob's, is often transformed in art into a set of winding stairs leading into clouds above. As I am sure you recognize, both forms are familiar to Masons.
His other emblem of the scythe is more commonly a symbol of death, carried by both the grim reaper and "Father Time," a euphemism for the Holy Ghost introduced by the iconoclastic struggles in the late Middle Ages. In Benedict's case, the scythe may be related to his Rule, which required daily physical labor, typically raising food, which would, of course, require the use of the scythe at harvest time. It is therefore a symbol related to bread, possibly the failed poisoned bread or the Eucharist. It may also be related to the final form of Benedict's death, since, as a death emblem, it refers to cutting down stems standing upright. He died around 547, held standing upright by his brothers, immediately after receiving communion. His feast day is March 21.
Another emblem of death is the hourglass, which is also carried by Father Time and the walking medieval skeleton that universally represents death or the plague. However, the presence of wings on an emblem implies instead a person with a divine mission, in this case the Apostle, Andrew. Brother of Simon Peter and a follower of St. John the Baptist, Andrew was the first to be called by Jesus to discipleship. He is therefore called the first apostle and was listed first in John's gospel. He therefore has a special connection to both Saints John.
Scripture says very little about Andrew, but legends depict him traveling to Scythia, Cappadocia, and Bithnia. Russian legends have him converting Muscovites in Sarmatia. After returning to Jerusalem, he reportedly settled in the Greek city of Patras, where he converted the wife of the Roman proconsul and persuaded her to make a public confession. Enraged, the proconsul ordered Andrew scourged and crucified. He was reportedly tied to a cross in the form of a large letter X, which was later symbolized by the hourglass, because of the similarity in its form to the saltire cross.
Incidentally, this should not be confused with the origin of the ancient practice of substituting the letter X for Christ in words such as Christmas. Instead this practice comes from the fact that the word Christ when written in Greek begins with the letter chi, ?.
Relics of St. Andrew were supposedly brought to Scotland in the fourth century by St. Rule who was guided to them in a dream. As a result, he is the patron saint of Scotland, as well as Russia. The Scottish flag incorporates the saltire cross. Templars recruited from Scotland would of course have special regard for Andrew, as would the fifth Grand Master de Montbard, who shared his first name.
In addition to the direct connection to Scotland, Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland's first secular order of knighthood, the Order of St. Andrew, and of the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece. Russia also had an Order of St. Andrew, but these may be artifacts of a more direct connection during the Crusades. St. Jerome reported that Andrew's body was taken from Patras to Constantinople in 357. His remains were then supposedly brought from Constantinople in 1215 to Amalfi, Italy, home of the sponsors of the hospital in Jerusalem.
Although today regarded as more legendary than factual, Christopher was significant to Crusaders as the patron of wayfarers and pilgrims. He was reputed to be a fourth century Canaanite named Offero, which means "the bearer" in Greek, who put his great size and strength to use carrying pilgrims across a powerful river that had drowned many. According to the story, he was approached by a small child begging to be carried over, but found that as he carried the child on his shoulders, the wind became a gale, causing great waves and powerful currents, and the child became increasingly heavy. With the aid of his giant staff made from a palm tree, an emblem of victory commonly given to martyrs, he finally made it to the other side.
As he set down his burden, he cried, "Whom have I borne? Had it been the whole world, it could not have been more heavy." The child identified himself as the Christ child, and as proof ordered Offero to plant his staff in the ground, at which point it took root and began to grow into a tree. It soon sprouted leaves and fruit. Note the similarity to Aaron's rod.
Eventually, Christ-Offero, the bearer of Christ, was captured and executed by Dagnus, King of Lycia. After resisting many temptations put before him and converting many, who also became martyrs, he was tortured and beheaded. As he knelt before the executioner, he allegedly prayed that all who saw him and believed in Christ would be spared from earthquake, fire, or tempest. His image was also alleged to protect a viewer from failing or fainting that day. Consequently, small statues of Christopher became a common object carried by travelers and Crusaders. Paintings of his image were common on church walls.
The emblem of a sheaf of wheat, or generic corn, is a common symbol for the Eucharistic bread or bread of life. Grapes or vines similarly represented the wine. Consequently, a sheaf of corn hanging in a tree denotes Christopher's staff symbolically supporting the body of Christ. When the sheaf is near a stream or waterfall, it confirms the allusion to Christ-Offero, the bearer across the stream. The same symbol of grain occurs in representations of Mary, for example, who is often shown holding both a book and the wheat, symbols of her gifts to humanity. In nativity scenes, the infant Jesus sometimes rests his hand on a sheaf of wheat.
Old Testament mentioning of bread or grain were also seen as prefiguring the bread in the New Testament, so these earlier incidents were sometimes incorporated into iconography. A great deal of effort was expended in medieval times in studies to delineate these Old Testament prefigurements. For example, Solomon's Temple was built on the site of Ornan's (Araunah's) threshing floor, which in turn was on the site where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son. Of particular interest to the Templars would be the use of shewbread in Solomon's Temple and the Hebrew word for an ear of wheat, shibboleth, which was used as a test to distinguish Gileadites from enemy Ephraimites. The latter mispronounced it as sibboleth, according to Judges xii, 6. This word also means river or flood, again connecting it to Christopher's crossing the flooded stream and the emblem of the waterfall next to the sheaf of wheat in a tree.
Christopher allegedly died in 364, although some versions place him a century earlier; his feast day was July 25.
I like to start with this one, because Bernard is one of the most well known characters among those who have at least considered the popular theories about the Templars.
Bernard was born in 1090 in the hills north of Dijon in Burgundy, the third of seven children born to the noble Tescelin le Sor, lord of Fantaines and Lady Aleth de Montbard. He was tall, slender, blue-eyed, and pale, and was described as having the authority of a leader and the charm of one filled with charity. These qualities, and especially those of his later teachings, earned him the title of Mellifluous Doctor, which means, "sweet as honey," from which his emblem of the beehive is taken.
The interpretation of a beehive representing ideals of self-sacrifice and industrious activity was first expressed in the Fourth Century by St. Ambrose as a desirable model for his monastery. As we shall see shortly, Ambrose's emblem is the individual bee.
As a child, Bernard's tutors found him to be a remarkable pupil, quickly mastering the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. He had only acquired a rudimentary familiarity with the quadrivium of geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music, however, when he suffered the death of his mother in 1106 or 1107.
A few years after this crisis, at the age of twenty three, he entered a small Benedictine monastery nearby. This community had been formed in 1098 at Citeaux by a group of Cluniac monks seeking a more ascetic life. In an early demonstration of his persuasiveness, he took thirty one of his friends and relatives with him, including four of his brothers.
Bernard's contemplative nature was at home in the austere atmosphere of Citeaux and he gradually became famous for the intensity of his withdrawal and passionate renunciation. Two years after entering the monastery, this simple monk was selected to lead a group to found a new monastery on land donated by Hughes de Troyes in the Val d'Absinthe or Valley of Wormwood. Thus, he became abbot of the new monastery of Clairvaux, which was to become the mother house of sixty-eight other Cistercian monasteries.
At Clairvaux, Bernard's self-imposed deprivations became even more severe, until after three years he was too ill to continue. He was ordered to rest for a year but never fully recovered his health. Although Bernard imposed the most severe renunciation on himself, he was downright gentle to his fellow monks, reserving his criticism for others in medieval society who clearly needed some restraint.
He is famous for his confrontation with the philosopher Abelard, many of whose rationalist ideas were later refined into Scholastic doctrine by Thomas Aquinas. Bernard preferred traditional authority and won the debate by unfairly comparing Abelard to past heretics, resulting in Abelard's condemnation and forced retirement by the Council of Sens.
Throughout his life, Bernard was a prolific writer and a persuasive speaker and was often consulted by rulers and popes. For example, he supported the legitimacy of Pope Innocent II's election in 1130 against the claims of Anacletus II and persuaded the Lombards to accept Lothaire II as emperor. Although not very successful in dissuading Cathars in the Languedoc, he is credited with stopping pogroms in Germany and nearly single handedly motivating the Second Crusade, particularly the German contingent under Conrad III. Always ill, Bernard's health weakened after the disastrous failure of this Crusade, which he considered his own. He died in 1153.
Bernard's mystical writings, particularly De Deligendo Deo, had a profound effect on Catholic spirituality and mysticism of the Middle Ages. More than three hundred sermons and five hundred letters survive to show his interpretations. His treatise, De consideratione, written to help guide his friend Pope Eugenius III, helped shape the papacy.
Bernard was canonized in 1174, well over a century before the fall of Acre. He was formally declared a Doctor of the Church in 1830 and is often referred to as the last Father of the Church. His feast day is August 20.
Bernard of Clairvaux must also lead the list of heroes of the Knights Templar. He wrote that order's first rule in 1128, and was the cousin of its first grand master and founder, Hugh de Payens. Their common uncle, Andre de Montbard, was another founder and fifth Grand Master. Bernard's immense influence given in support of the fledgling order was essential to its success and early growth. Bernard's friends, such as the Count of Champagne, made the large donations that started the order, and his friend and fellow monk from Citeaux, Pope Eugenius III, wrote the first Omne datum optimum that gave the Order sweeping powers and papal protection. In a sense, the founding of the Templars was a family affair, and it was Bernard's family.
Although the Cistercians were more ascetic than their Benedictine forbears, their governance was actually more democratic. Instead of a central Father-Abbot with authority over all their branches and power to appoint their officers, they evolved an annual chapter meeting for abbots and representatives from all member monasteries, and local officers were elected from within. This pattern was also passed on to the Templars when Bernard composed their first version of the Regle. And, it formed a template for governing later lay confraternities.
Reportedly related to Robert de Craon, the second Grand Master of the Templars, Anselm was born in Aosta, Italy, in 1033. Denied permission to enter a monastery at fifteen by his father, Anselm left home to study in Burgundy. He became first a friend then a disciple of the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Bec in Normandy. He became a monk there in 1060. Three years later he succeeded the abbot and acquired responsibility for founding and inspecting daughter houses in England on lands given by William the Conqueror.
In 1092 Anselm was elected Archbishop of Canterbury, again replacing the same abbot named Lanfranc that he had followed at Bec. He spent the next several years battling for his office and Church rights against English kings who wanted to either appoint their own clergy or levy huge fees for waiving the privilege.
While Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm pushed for ordination of native English clergy and enforced celibacy. Consequently, he was honored by the English Templars of the later Crusades. His connection to de Craon may have been invented by these later supporters. Whether the relation is actual, or not, is irrelevant to his being a hero to the Templars. It is enough that the Templars thought him related. Like St. Bernard, he is explicitly mentioned in Dante's Paradiso as among the spirits of light and power in the Sphere of the Sun.
Anselm was widely regarded as a pre-eminent theologian and has been called the "Father of Scholasticism," because of his incorporation of Aristotelian dialectics into theology. Like Aquinas to follow, he firmly believed that revelation and reason could be harmonized. His writings include the first ontological argument for the existence of God that influenced many later thinkers, including Duns Scotus, Descartes, and Hegel.
He was also influential in treatises on Atonement and the Incarnation, which he explained on the basis of the medieval concept of scaling debt according to the position of the wronged party. He also defended the filioque statement in the Creed in meetings with representatives from Byzantium. Anselm died April 21, 1109 and was named a Doctor of the Church in 1720.
Anselm's emblem of the sailing ship refers to both his ministry across the English channel and his defense of Church authority in England. The ship is also sometimes used to represent the Church itself or St. Peter. In some Masonic representations the ship resembles Noah's ark, with lessons comparing life to sailing on a storm-tossed sea. In such a situation, rudder, compass, and especially an anchor, are critical.
Clement I was the third successor to Peter in the see of Rome, following Linus and Cletus, or Anacletus. Little is known of any of their lives except they ended in martyrdom. Clement was reported by St. Irenaeus to have "consorted with the blessed Apostles" and to be the same Clement mentioned by St. Paul in his epistle to the Phillipians. He was Roman and probably a freed man in the imperial household. According to tradition, he was baptized by St. Peter and succeeded Cletus as pope in 91. During his bishopric he converted many, including the niece of the Emperor Domitian, who protected him during her uncle's reign.
Clement is counted by Christians as the first Apostolic Father because of a letter he sent to the Corinthians during a revolt in their congregation. The letter was well received and was often read out loud to their assemblies. It was evidently a classic mixture of pastoral solicitude with firm admonitions and represented the first instance of a bishop of Rome intervening in the affairs of another congregation, a precedent often cited favoring legitimacy of the papacy. This status would have been most significant to the Templars, who acted as the Pope's own militia.
Clement's legend is that he was first ordered by the Prefect under Emperor Trajan to worship Roman idols. When he refused, he was sentenced to hard labor in the stone quarries on an island in the Crimea, an occupation of obvious significance to stone masons. He allegedly was caught preaching the faith so zealously to his fellow prisoners in the quarries, that for punishment he had an anchor tied to his neck and was thrown into the Crimean sea. A number of miracles involving extremely low tides and submarine temples are attributed to him. Like Anselm, he is particularly honored in England with locations such as the Gild of the Holy Trinity and St. Clement, now known as Trinity House in London.
Three different Popes took the name Clement during the Crusades. Clement III (1187-1191) and Clement IV (1265-1268) supported and defended the Templars, even considering them their personal militia. Clement V (1305-1314), apparently under coercion from Phillip IV, actively participated in their demise and ordered their suppression and died a month after the execution of Jacques de Molay. Clement I died sometime at the end of the first century, and his feast day is November 23.
The emblem of an open book protected by a sword uniquely belongs to St. Paul, who is often portrayed in art holding these two objects. Most of the biographical information about Paul comes from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. Born Saul to parents of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin living in Tarsus between 5 and 15, he studied under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. His occupation was that of tentmaker, which may be related to the legend in the Old Charges about the inventor of masonry being Jabal, son of Lamech, "one who lived in tents and kept cattle" (Gen. iv). Paul's birth in Tarsus also made him a Roman citizen.
Brought up to be a rigid Pharisee, Saul at first became a fervent persecutor of Christians. His famous vision and conversion on the road to Damascus occurred sometime between 34 and 36. He was able to gain acceptance by the apostles and the Jerusalem church, largely through the sponsorship of Barnabas, with whom he was to make most of his travels.
On the first of his three missionary journeys (45-49) to Cyprus, Perga, and Antioch, he changed his name to Paul. On his return he argued successfully for exemption from Jewish law for Gentiles converting to Christianity, insuring universality for his subsequent missions. His second journey (49-52) extended from the churches established in the first into Macedonia, making converts in Phillipi, Thessalonica and Beroea. They returned through Greece and established yet another church in Corinth, where Paul stayed from 50-52.
After his third mission (53-58), two years of which were spent at Ephesus, he returned through Tyre to Jerusalem, where a mob attacked him for his missions to the Gentiles. He was placed under protective arrest by the Romans. A plot against his life caused them to move him to Caesarea, where his trial was delayed for another two years (58-60). As a Roman citizen, Paul could demand trial in Rome, which he then did. On the way, he was shipwrecked on the coast of Malta (Miletus). Eventually reaching Rome, he spent another two years (61-62) under house arrest.
According to the writings of St. Clement, Paul was released from Rome and traveled to Spain before returning once more to visit the churches in Greece. He was subsequently arrested again and, according to tradition, executed by beheading by a sword (Tertullian) on the same day as the execution of St. Peter (Eusebius). As a result, these two saints share the same feast day of June 29.
Paul was described as short, bald, and bow-legged and is often depicted in this way but carrying a book and holding a sword aloft to indicate the spiritual battles he fought. Sometimes he is shown with two swords, one for his spiritual battles, the other for his method of death. His emblem, when his own figure is left out, consists of an open book with the sword guarding it above.
Many of the locations visited by St. Paul in his journeys were key strongholds or staging areas of the Crusaders. Paul evidently followed the well-established roads built by the Romans, which were still generally the best overland routes during the Crusades. For the routes involving sailing ships, the islands of Cyprus and Malta were stopping points during the transport of Crusaders. Cyprus for a time was owned by the Templars, and the Hospitallers eventually took permanent ownership of Malta, eventually changing their names to the Knights of Malta.
One of the four Latin fathers of the Church included in these symbols is St. Ambrose, who is represented by a bee. In his childhood, the bee (or equivalently for early medieval zoology, a fly) evidently landed on his mouth without harming him, either indicating or imparting a rare gift of persuasion and eloquence. Recall that similar persuasiveness was ascribed to Bernard, whose emblem was the beehive. Similar stories were told by the ancient Greeks about Plato and Archilocus. Some versions of this incident make it an entire swarm of bees or flies. Ambrose is also sometimes portrayed with a complete beehive or a knotted scourge with three thongs.
Ambrose's eloquence was most often used to fight Arianism, and he is credited with helping to end paganism as a significant influence in the Roman empire. He also strongly advocated his two most favorite doctrines, celibacy and supremacy of the Church over all secular authorities. These were also of fundamental interest to the Templars.
Ambrose's birthplace was Trier, which is now part of western Germany but was at different times in France, Prussia, and the Holy Roman Empire. From Roman through Carolingian times, it was a part of Gaul, and Ambrose was born in 339 or 340 to a prefect of this province. He was educated in Rome and eventually was himself made a Roman prefect, residing at Milan.
While still an unbaptized catechumen Ambrose was elected to be Bishop of Milan, in part because all the other candidates were believed to be strongly partisan in the raging conflict between the Arians and the Catholics. Reluctantly, he accepted the office, baptism, and the responsibility for training himself. He first gave all he owned to the poor, then began his studies.
He eventually joined the arguments against the Arians and was largely successful in turning the tide of opinion. He wrote many sermons, a catechism, and quite possibly the Athanasian Creed itself. These forty verses or so of doctrine, with their stern warnings about the Trinity and Incarnation, were most influential in southern France and Germany. The struggle against Arian domination was also helped by St. Augustine, whom Ambrose found as he visited Milan, converted, and baptized in 387.
Ambrose was also the first teacher in the West to make use of hymns as a popular means of praise and fostering orthodox belief. His favorite form of iambic dimeter became the basis for many later hymnody, including some of those sung by Crusaders as they marched.6 The patron saint of Milan, Ambrose died there in April, 397. His traditional feast day is December 7.
Knowledge of geometry was slow to reach Europe from the ancient Greeks, mostly arriving after capture from the Moslems of Spain and the Holy Land after Crusader conquests in the last half of the 12th century. Translations from the Greek and Arabic copies became available during the formation of the first universities during the early 13th century. These included the proofs of theorems attributed to Euclid from about 300 BCE in the form of thirteen books known as the Elements.
While a renowned student of the followers of Plato and Pythagoras, but older than Archimedes, Euclid probably just compiled most of the proofs rather than deriving them himself. According to Proclus, he "collected many of the theorems of Eudoxus, perfected many of those of Theatetus, and also brought to incontrovertible demonstration the things which were only loosely proved by his predecessors." The geometers and mathematicians on whom he drew were all of the school of Plato. The theorems themselves were certainly known much earlier, particularly those in Elements Vol. I, which contains the proposition in question, one of the few actually attributed to Euclid.
Proposition 47 concerns what modern mathematics texts refer to as the Pythagorean theorem, namely that the area of the square on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares on the other two sides. Problem 48 is the reverse statement, that if the sum of the area of two squares add to the area of the square on the third side, then the triangle is a right triangle, i.e. it has an angle of 90 degrees.
Euclid was sometimes confused with another philosopher with a similar name (Eucleides), who was a contemporary of Plato. The Arabs took the name, Euclid, to be a compound of ucli, meaning key, and dis, meaning measurement. He thus was the key to geometry. The Arabs also claimed that the later Greek philosophers posted the following notice over their doors, "Let no one enter who has not learned the Elements of Euclid." This was the same notice that Plato had had over the doors of his Academy except "the Elements of Euclid" replaced "Geometry."
Euclid was therefore considered a great hero of ancient wisdom. As the seven liberal arts and sciences became elevated to the keys to spiritual wisdom, Euclid became sanctified. Consequently, his image is portrayed on many cathedrals and sacred art works beginning in the early 13th century. Such portrayals of the liberal arts will be considered in more detail shortly.
The diagram accompanying the 47th problem includes the familiar right triangle with squares drawn on the sides. In addition, to prove the theorem, lines are drawn from each angle of the triangle to the corners of the opposite squares, plus a fifth line from the apex of the right angle, normal to, and through, its opposite side. The result is a set of three intersections at right angles within the triangle, in other words, three distinct, properly proportioned, Roman style crosses.
Even to medieval readers who did not understand the deductive proof, or perhaps particularly to those readers, the construction of three crosses within the triangle, together with the three squares and three sides, would give the drawing religious or even magical significance, well beyond its practical applications. Most significantly, it made an ideal emblem for the author of the great tract De trinitate, St. Augustine of Hippo.
A less common emblem of Augustine was the pierced heart. This should not be confused with the heart with swords or arrows pointing toward its center, an emblem of Mary to be discussed shortly.
Augustine was born in 354 in a Roman province near what is now the eastern border of Algeria. His father was a Roman official of modest means and, at that time, a pagan; his mother, a fervent Christian. Although not baptized, he learned about Christianity from his mother and was enrolled as a catechumen. Around 11 years old, he began to study grammar and literature. He did so well, that his father sent him to Carthage to study rhetoric in hopes of making him a lawyer.
He sadly disappointed his father in this and other hopes. Although quiet and studious, and especially attracted to philosophical writings, he began a fourteen-year live-in relationship with a woman who quickly bore him a son, Adeodatus. He fell under the influence of the Manicheans, who claimed to reconcile philosophy and religion, and joined their sect.
Finally, he opted for writing instead of law and became a rhetorician, eventually accepting a chair in rhetoric at Milan. As described at length in his book, the Confessions, he abandoned Manicheanism, came under the influence of St. Ambrose, and began reading the Neo-Platonists. In 386, he decided to become a Christian, together with his mother, son, and several friends and pupils. His famous decision was made in a garden, when he opened the Bible at random to read Romans xiii, 12-14.
After baptism by St. Ambrose, he decided to return to Africa and assume a monastic lifestyle with his friends and pupils, but his departure was delayed by the death of his mother. He completed several books in the meantime, including a series on the liberal arts, of which only On Music has survived.
His planned quiet life of prayer and study only lasted two years before he was drafted into the clergy by popular acclaim expressed to the aging bishop at Hippo. Augustine moved to Hippo, where many of his transcribed sermons survive as commentaries on the scriptures, including one that describes a certain craftsman named Hiram as an example of the virtue Prudence, meaning skillful at making moral decisions.
Augustine also began public disputes with various African heretics, which were to occupy his attention for the rest of his life. In 395 he became bishop of Hippo, an office which was to last for thirty-five years. As bishop he contributed to many conferences and councils on the heresies, which included Manicheanism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His prolific writings dominated theological thinking for nearly a thousand years.
In 397 he wrote On Christian Doctrine and began his Confessions. On the Trinity began in 400. His largest work, City of God, began in 413 and was published as a series over thirteen years. His surviving books and treatises number 113. Over 200 letters and over 500 sermons also survive, as does his monastic rule, which was actually a fifth century adaptation of a letter giving advice to a community of nuns. It was much later adopted by regular canons and friars, among others, including the founders of the Jerusalem hospital from Amalfi that led to the founding of the military orders.
Augustine died in 430 during the third month of a siege of the city of Hippo by Genseric's Vandal army. The third Doctor of the Church, called the Doctor of Grace, his feast day is August 28.
The scene of Augustine's life most often pictured in art is of a vision, which he himself described. He saw a small child while he was walking on a beach thinking about his discourse on the Trinity, which he was then writing. The child was pouring water into a small hole dug in the sand and explained that he intended to empty all the water in the sea into the hole. "Impossible," said Augustine. "No more impossible," answered the child, "than for thee, O Augustine, to explain the mystery on which thou art now meditating."
Augustine is also sometimes illustrated with the twenty-four-inch gauge, or ruler, which represented the hours in the day. Augustine was the first to recommend dividing the day into three equal parts, one each for labor, service, and rest. A similar recommendation was adopted by Benedict in his Rule for monastic life, which was also the basis for the Templar Regle, which specifically invoked Benedict in its opening paragraph.
Also, three burning tapers commonly represented the Trinity and, by extension, their defender, Augustine. A single taper denoted piety, while a candelabrum of seven represented Christ and his Church, the light of the world.
Thomas Aquinas was born of noble parentage, with his father descended from the Lombards and his mother from the invading Normans, near Aquino, Italy between 1224 and 1226. He was the grand nephew of Frederick I (Barbarossa) and therefore related to emperors Henry VI and Frederick II. In addition to these prominent Crusader connections, his family had been instrumental in the civil strife between Frederick II and the papacy in southern Italy. His siding with the papacy against his infamous relative, who at one point had attempted to kidnap the Templar grand master, would have given him the special favor of the Templars.
When only ten years old, the precocious Thomas was sent to the University of Naples, where he first encountered the scientific and philosophical writings from ancient Greece that had just recently been recovered. Translations from the Greek and Arabic were just becoming widely available in the universities of Europe.
At seventeen, he announced his intention to join a Dominican order of mendicant friars. His family strenuously objected, so strenuously his brothers abducted him on the road to Paris and kept him under house arrest for a year, while family members attempted to dissuade him. However, persuasion is a two-edge sword, and he was eventually able to enlist his sisters to help him escape. Thus, in the fall of 1245, he completed his journey to Paris to enter the convent of Saint-Jacques, the important Dominican center attached to the University of Paris. There he studied under Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), whose wide ranging interests were eventually to earn him the title of patron saint of the natural sciences. Another notable lecturing in Paris at that time was Roger Bacon. All three scholars were later claimed to be masters of alchemy by sixteenth century alchemists possibly connected to Freemasonry.
The controversies raging in the universities at that time centered on the contradictions between the new scientific rationalism of the Aristotelian-Arabic writings and the metaphysics of Plato, which until then, had dominated theological thought. According to many ecclesiastics, these new ideas were downright dangerous and were seducing the younger scholars to naturalism and rationalism. They passionately argued to ban them.
Like his mentors, Albert and Roger Bacon, Thomas was not afraid to study the new writings and eventually developed a new synthesis, a new metaphysics, which has survived as the center of systematic Latin theology and the Thomist school of later commentators. He quickly became a well known expert interpreter and lecturer on Aristotle and Arabic technology, a body of knowledge which promised mastery over nature and a humanization of the cosmos.
In 1248, Thomas traveled with his mentor, Albert, to Cologne, where he was ordained. Albert remained in Cologne to head the school there, while Thomas returned to Paris in 1252 to prepare for the degree of master of theology. He was present at the university during the antimendicant controversy and strikes, which actually turned violent in 1253. Four scholars were beaten up and left for dead by a night watchman of the city, precipitating yet another strike. Eventually the Dominicans appealed to Innocent IV to intervene, lift the ban of excommunication against them, and order the university to readmit members of religious orders as masters.
Thomas eventually received his bachelor's degree and licentia docendi (license to teach) in early 1256, and shortly after that, the title and privileges of master. From 1259 to 1268, Thomas served in Italy as advisor and lecturer to the papal Curia, with the reputation of being one of the most knowledgeable theologians of the time. In 1266 he composed a treatise for the king of Cypress, of particular significance to Crusaders, and eventually to all jurisprudence, entitled De regimine principum ("On the government of princes"). In this document, Aquinas argued for the administration of justice to rely on juridical investigations and procedures instead of the accepted trial by ordeal and judgement of God.
After helping to establish a Dominican college within the University of Naples in 1272, he was sent back to Paris to confront the new extreme Aristotelian position of the Spanish-Arab philosopher, Averroés. Both Moslem and orthodox Augustinian Christian clerics soundly rejected the position of rationalism, which at that time was considered extreme. Thomas' middle position asserted reason under the authority of faith, but he had been somewhat discredited by association when radical Averroism was condemned in 1270. He also addressed a controversy with traditional Augustinian views, led by the Franciscan Bonaventure, of man as fallen and of Plato's ideals or exemplary Forms. His greatest volume of work, the Summa theologica, was abruptly interrupted by a vision during Mass, which warned Thomas to stop writing.
Shortly after this, in 1274, Thomas was summoned by Gregory X to the second Council of Lyons to help repair the schism with Byzantium. He fell ill along the way and died in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova on March 7. Three years later, several of his Aristotelian ideas along with a list of other propositions were condemned by a council of masters in Paris. The controversy may have delayed his canonization until 1323, but he was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1567, long before Bernard (with the Beehive emblem). His writings continued to be enormously influential and in the 1880's were declared (Aeterni Patris, Leo XIII) to be official teaching of the Catholic Church. Of particular interest for later symbols to be discussed are his commentaries on Aristotle concerning the seven arts and sciences and the cardinal virtues, which were treated at length in his Summa and which correspond to the "perfect points."
Aquinas' emblems in art include several symbols that represent the light of wisdom, namely, the blazing star, equilateral triangle, and the Sun. On portraits of Aquinas, at least one of these is usually drawn on the figure's chest. Each is typically displayed with diverging lines in the background to give the appearance of a halo, or blaze, of light. Thomas' connection to light may be related to his expositions on the relation of intellectual "light" to judgement in the Summa, in which he traces the causes (a distinctly Aristotelian obsession) to divine "light." In any case, the eventual acceptance of Aristotle engendered by Thomas greatly expanded the medieval valuation of the liberal arts and science, helping to make their mastery prerequisites for spiritual growth.
In many presentations, a single "all-seeing" eye, a common symbol for the Trinity, is placed inside the basic emblem. With the eye inside an equilateral triangle, making a doubly trinitarian symbol, the result is a configuration which, after losing its earlier Roman associations, was carried over into several 18th century institutions and can even be seen adorning the pyramid on the U.S. dollar.
The single star was also sometimes used to denote the Virgin Mary. However, the presence of the other symbols for Aquinas, and especially symbols based on his writings, make him a better candidate for this particular emblem. Mary also has several other emblems that are significant to this list.
Stephen was the very first Christian martyr as described in Acts vi and vii. Consequently, he was a prototype for all the military orders, who saw themselves as accepting a similar martyrdom through their service.
Stephen was chosen by the apostles shortly after the crucifixion as the first of seven deacons to look after the needs of Greek-speaking widows among the Christians in Jerusalem. Brought before the Jewish council on charges of blasphemy, he denounced them as stiff-necked men who resisted the Holy Spirit as their fathers had done before them, when they persecuted the prophets. When they had him stoned to death in 35, another Greek-speaking Jew named Saul of Tarsus was present and approved the execution.
Stephen's primary emblem is the presence of stones used in his execution. He is typically portrayed as young and beardless, in a deacons gown, carrying a palm leaf as a symbol of victory, and with stones on his head and shoulders. However, a secondary emblem of the incense thurible comes from the legend of his remains, according to which he is transferred to burial in the same sarcophagus as the later St. Laurence.
Laurence died on August 10, in the year 258, four days after Pope Sixtus II. Like Stephen, Laurence was an archdeacon but in Rome rather than Jerusalem. His birth is not documented, but he apparently came from Aragon, where his parents are also honored as saints.
When Sixtus II was condemned to die for his faith, Laurence begged the Pope to take him with him, comparing himself to St. Stephen who was made to die before his Pope, St. Peter. Sixtus assured Laurence that he would soon follow, and his death would be much worse than that inflicted on Sixtus, because he was stronger and could endure more.
Sixtus then commanded that Laurence distribute the Church property that was under his care as archdeacon, so the tyrant could not seize it. Laurence dutifully did so. When the emperor found out that Laurence was responsible for Church property, he was ordered to present all of it. After a three-day delay to organize and collect the treasure, Laurence presented a group of poor and sick people, announcing that they were the true treasure of the Church.
For this insolence, Laurence was roasted alive on a gridiron over an open fire. He supposedly cried out during the agony that he was "done" on one side, and they should either turn him over or eat him. He is often represented by the gridiron (resembles the mosaic pavement), but this was later softened into an incense thurible when he was shown with Stephen. The two were almost always shown together.
The way their images became conjoined began with Stephen's remains being lost for four hundred years. A priest named Lucian supposedly had Stephen's grave site identified through a vision communicated by the angel Gameliel. After Lucian dug them up, Stephen's relics were first placed in the Church of Sion at Jerusalem and later moved by Theodosius to Constantinople. From there, Pelagius carried them to Rome just before the hardening of the schism during the sixth century.
When the sarcophagus in Rome containing St. Laurence was opened to receive the remains of Stephen, Laurence allegedly moved to the left, giving Stephen the honored right-hand side. Laurence is therefore called the "courteous Spaniard." Their sharing of a sarcophagus and common rank of first deacon led to their portrayal as partners, even though their lives were three centuries apart.
Both saints were particularly popular in England, with over 250 churches named after Laurence. Stephen does have a separate feast day of December 26. Their sarcophagus in Rome was also a popular site to visit during travels to the Crusades.
Symbols: Sun, Moon, Stars, Naked Heart&Sword, Monument (Young woman, old man, and broken column) Representing: Virgin Mary
One of the favorite subjects of medieval iconography and religious art in Europe was the Virgin Mary, portrayed at any of several key occasions in her life, including her own nativity; presentation; marriage; annunciation by the angel Gabriel; visitation by her cousin, Elizabeth, mother of St. John the Baptist; nativity of Jesus; adoration by shepherds or Magi; and later Gospel events. Templars, at least partly through the influence of St. Bernard, were particularly fascinated by Mary and in many ways started the types of observations that were later to become an outright cult. Many of their chapels and other facilities were named after her.
An entire section of Aquinas' Summa Theologica is devoted to a discussion of Mary and particularly her role as Theotokos, Mother of God. These culminated in the 19th century in several Catholic doctrines that included declarations of her immaculate conception and perpetual virginity. Templar interest in either Aquinas or Mary would have logically extended to the other. Strict prohibitions against Templar interactions with women, even close family members, or with men who had more normal relations, even in their cemeteries, must have also promoted their adoration of the Virgin Mother. It was the only contact with femininity their rules allowed.
Also of significance to the Templars, Mary was closely connected to both Saints John. The Baptist was the son of her aging cousin Elizabeth, and her visit during their concurrent pregnancies is often represented in art. From the cross, according to John xix, 25-27, Jesus saw his mother standing with John and said, "Woman, behold your son." He then turned to his beloved disciple and said, "Behold thy mother!" He thus entrusted his mother's care to the Evangelist. The tunic color of St. John was blue, denoting truth, constancy, and fidelity. This may be reflected in Freemasonic terminology of calling the first three degrees the "Blue Lodge," as these are dedicated in Webb based forms to both Sts. John.
Since representations generally changed with time, the particular combination of symbols in the case of Mary allows an estimation of the date of these configurations. For example, later representations make her a type of the Church itself, the Bride of Christ, often shown during a coronation. This event is often shown through a prefiguring event, when Solomon effectively crowned his own mother, Bathsheba, by providing her a chair next to his own, 1 Kings ii, 19.
In the third symbol listed here, Mary completes a nuclear family in combination with God the Father, standing behind her, and a symbol of their Son, represented by the broken column replacing the cross. Her hair is shown as very long, the emblem of a virgin saint. Although resembling a picture from classical Greece, this grouping was a common Christian representation through the 14th century. Webb once commented that he adapted it for Masonic purposes from art on a grave marker, but by then it was a very old and traditional representation.
In the earlier versions, a single column was also used to represent the one to which Jesus was tied while scourged, so a broken column could represent triumph over either the trials of his passion or the cross itself. Through a similar derivation, the column in monuments has come to represent immortality.
Portrayals of God the Father as a human figure generally ended shortly after this same time. The Freemasonic symbol replaces Him with Father Time, who has wings and carries the scythe and hourglass.16 This was a common substitution following the Reformation, which tolerated the older representations of descending doves and even hands extending out of clouds, but NOT aging male figures.
Besides the long hair, the woman is shown holding up a sprig of acacia in one hand, while the other covers a book. Some representations include an urn, which stands for the general category of vessels, again appropriate for Mary. Our explanation of this as a pot of ashes contradicts our legend, in which the protagonist is reburied, not burned. Cremation would not have been appropriate in that time or culture, anyway.
Acacia, an evergreen, was an older medieval representation of immortality, which in later art work is often replaced by wheat. These objects represent Mary's distinct gifts to humanity through her Son, the bread or acacia, representing eternal life, the urn, her service as a vessel, and the book, the New Testament. In other portrayals, Mary was shown holding a sprig of cypress, palm, or olive. In still later portrayals, as Mary's status was elevated, the book took on other significance. If open, the book denotes heavenly wisdom or Virgo Sapentissima. If closed or sealed, it represents the book referred to in Isaiah xxix, 11-12, and it denoted final judgement.
God the Father in very early Christian art, up to the 12th century, was just a hand, typically extending out of a cloud. Finger positions distinguished between Roman and Byzantine representations. His next symbol was a face in the clouds, which then became a bust. During the 14th century, His representation became a full figure of an old man but still extending His hand, in this case into the woman's hair. Still later representations had Him holding a globe of authority in one hand and wearing the crown of a king or tiara of a pope. By the Reformation, the proscription against portraying God in human form was again in force, and such representations only survive by converting them to folkloric characters, such as Father Time.
A remotely possible alternative interpretation is that the old man represents the Holy Ghost. Except for a brief period in the 10th century, the universal symbol for this was the dove. Just before the Crusades, artists painted the Holy Ghost as a male at various ages of life, but this mode of symbolization was not very popular. Also, this early timing for the symbol does not make this seem very likely, considering the consistency of the other emblems.
The acacia has several legends of its own, some of which are repeated in Higdon's Polychronicon. Another name for shittim wood, which is described in the Bible as the wood Moses used to make the Ark of the Covenant, medieval legend says that it was also used in Noah's ark and may have been the plant species of the "burning bush." In another legend, Seth planted a branch of acacia over Adam's grave. It sprouted and was an ancient tree in the time of Solomon, who wanted it for his temple. However, it was too irregular, so he chose cedars from Lebanon instead and ordered that the shittim tree be cut down and thrown away, thus prefiguring the "stone that the builders rejected."
When cut, the tree fell across a stream forming a small bridge. When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, she crossed this bridge and prophesied as she did, that from its wood would be made a cross that would destroy Israel. Other versions attribute the prophesy to Solomon's mother. According to these legends, the wood surfaced again in time to be used in the Crucifixion. To Crusaders therefore, acacia was a symbol of immortality. However, it had a particular attraction for the Templars, because flowers of the Egyptian acacia formed a patteé cross of red petals on a background of white, resembling their insignia. Ironically, the same plant is now viewed as a pest species through most of the Middle East, often proliferating in disturbed ground and competing successfully with common weeds.
Mary's representation by the sun, moon, and stars is based on Revelations xii, 1, in which the author, by tradition John, describes a vision of a woman, "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." In the later coronation motif, these objects are embroidered on her expansive gown. In the earlier designs, the stars are literally around her head; she stands within a crescent moon; and rays from the sun come from behind her as a glory. When not shown with a female or feminine dress, the three heavenly figures also were taken to denote the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception.
A sword pointing toward a naked heart was often incorporated into portrayals of Mary as Mater Dolorosa or Mother of Sorrows. Often seven swords were arrayed around her resembling rays of the sun from behind her and all pointing inward towards a heart in front of her chest. These represented the seven sorrows of Mary, which were themselves individually represented in art. Up until the 14th century, the swords rarely contacted the heart. In later representations, a sword more graphically pierced the heart to represent both sacrifice and the wounds of Christ. These also appear in the "points of fellowship." As previously mentioned, the pierced heart was also sometimes associated with Augustine.
Several other symbols are significant in painted portrayals of Mary. First, certain Old Testament prophets, Moses, Aaron, and Gideon, are often included attending on Mary and the Infant Jesus, because they were believed to have referred to the Incarnation. Moses beheld the burning bush. Aaron's rod blossomed miraculously; and Gideon's fleece became wet with dew in a dry environment, denoting a promise of eternal life. These last two are both mentioned in the 133rd Psalm, which the Templars used to open their meetings. The same miracles are also a focus in the Royal Arch.
Moses is quite recognizable in medieval art, because he usually has horns after preparing the ten commandments, due to a mistranslation by St. Jerome from the Hebrew, which does not show vowels. The Hebrew words for "shining" and "horned" were thus confused.
Mary is often portrayed standing on a globe or trampling a serpent, indicating triumph over a world dominated by sin. The Infant Jesus is sometimes shown handing her a pomegranate, an emblem of hope and fecundity. Both the rose and lily (Fleur de Lis) have been widely used to represent her (and other saints), as has the Cedar of Lebanon, based on its height, perfume, healing qualities, and indestructibility.
Details of Mary's life after the crucifixion and her death are completely unknown, but various legends place her in Jerusalem, Ephesus, and France. Many of the key events in her life are separately celebrated as feast days, but her principal feast day is August 15 for the Assumption. Her birthday has been traditionally celebrated on September 8.
1. The Golden Legend, Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1229-1298), William Caxton, trans., 2 vols., Hammersmith Kelmscott Press, London, 1892.
2. Kurt Weitzman, The Icon: Holy Images Sixth to Fourteenth Century, George Braziller, New York, 1978.
3. Henri Daniel-Rops, Bernard of Clairvaux, E. Abbott, trans., Hawthorn Books, Inc., New York, 1964.
4. Life of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, R.W. Southern, trans., Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., London, 1962.
5. John J. Delaney, Dictionary of Saints, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1980.
6. Donald Attwater, Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin Books, New York, 1978.
7. George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, Oxford University Press, NY, 1954.
8. Angelo Paredi, Ambrose, His Life and Times, University of Notre Dame Press, 1969.
9. Clara Erskine Clement, Handbook of Legendary and Mythological Art, Houghton, Mifflin and Co. reprint of 1881 original, 1969.
10. James A. Weisheipl, Friar Thomas D'Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1974.
11. Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, L.K. Shook, ed., Random House, NY.
12. Bernard J. Lonergan, Verbum, Word and Idea in Aquinas, D.B. Burell, ed., University of Notre Dame Press.
13. Umberto Echo, "Componential Analysis of the Architectural Sign/Column," in Signs, Symbols and Architecture, G. Broadbent, R. Bunt, and C. Jencks, eds., John Wiley, New York, 1980.
14. Albert G. Mackey, A Manual of the Lodge or Monitorial Instructions, Clark & Maynard, Publishers, New York, 1872.
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