THOSE PRE-INITIATION QUESTIONS
by John G. Hanna, M.P.S.; Montreal,
Published in MASONIC LIGHT, Huntingdon, PQ, October, 1951
In the summer number of Masonic Light  you touch upon an interesting
Masonic practice concerning certain questions put to the candidate before
In the fore part of the article, however, you assume that in all Masonic Lodges
a number of questions relating to a belief in a Supreme Being and the survival
of the soul after death are put to the person about to be initiated before
admission to the Lodge room. This may be so in Lodges following what is known as
the Canadian work, a form of the Emulation ritual. But in Lodges practicing the
York or Scotch rites only one question is asked, and that is concerning his
beleif in a Deity. That question is asked after the reception of the Candidate
into the Lodge proper, and not in the anteroom.
Curiously enough, the problem presented in Masonic Light came before the Grand
Lodge of British Columbia in 1911. I quote from the Grand Lodge proceedings in
"Elk River Lodge, before admitting candidates for initiation, has been in
the habit of asking the following questions:
- "Do you believe in the existence of a Supreme Being?
- "Do you believe that the Supreme Being will punish vice and reward sin?
- "Do you believe that that Supreme Being has revealed His will to man?
" Until the last regular meeting these questions have always been answered
in the affirmative. At last meeting a candidate for initiation answered the
first question in the affirmative, but refused to answer the second any
further than saying "I do not know." As he would not answer the second
question, the third was not put to him. His initiation was deferred until your
ruling could be procured. Are we correct in asking these questions? If so, is
it imperative that they be answered in the affirmative?
ANSWER - "The first of the Ancient Charges clearly defines the latitude in
opinion permitted to Brethren of the Craft, and the 19th and 20th Landmarks,
given in our Book of Ceremonies, (1st and 2nd Landmark, Quebec) contain all
that may be considered common matter of belief by Freemasons. Beyond these
tenets Brethren have the utmost liberty of thougth. I am, therefore of opinion
that although some may think that question 2 and 3 are natural corollaries of
question 1, the propounding of such questions is not only unnecessary but
contrary to the usages of the Craft. The initiation of the candidate in
question, therefore, should no longer be deferred for the sole reason that he
would not give an affirmative answer to question 2"
The Committee on the Grand Master's Address reported as follows: "Your
Committee agree with the Grand Master that the Old Charges allow a Masons the
utmost latitude in the expression of his religious beliefs. With the strict
interpretation of the law it is, perhaps, not absolutely necessary that these
questions (2 and 3) be asked; but, nevertheless, we recommend that Lodges
which have been following the practice be permitted to continue it."
"The report of the Committee was adopted. Proceedings, 1911."
It happens that the writer was a member of the above mentioned Lodge for some
fifteen years, and, after serving in various offices, was Master in 1931, and
during all those years only one question was asked of any candidate, and that
concerned his belief in a Supreme Being. This took place in the Lodge room
itself, and not in the preparation room. However, before penning these lines I
took the precaution of writing to one of my old friends, R.W.Bro. Matthew
Whitelaw, this year D.D.G.M. for District No. 8, G.R. B.C., and he advises that
although the three questions above listed are shown as "permissable" in the 1950
Constitution of British Columbia, yet the Lodge still continues to ask only
Elk River Lodge, No. 35, G.R.B.C. practices the York rite, and has no written or
printed ritual, the work being communicated from mouth to ear in the good
old-fashioned way. Questions 2 and 3 are not usual in the York rite Lodge. They
probably were introduced by Canadian rite Masons who formed part of the original
membership when the Lodge was instituted in 1900.
The Grand Lodge Committee, as you will notice, while upholding the Grand
Master's ruling, yet added a rider to the effect that Lodges which have been
following the practice of asking questons 2 and 3, be permitted to continue it.
This of course, leaves the door wide open to future trouble.
In a spurious ritual known as THE WORK, but which to all intents and purposes is
the same as the Quebec working, the three questions are given, and in exactly
the same order, as in the British Columbia proceedings just referred to.
This theological disquisition reminds me of that great American clergyman and
enthusiastic Mason of the 1820's, known as "Father" Taylor. This grand old man
took great pride in his membership in the order, and was one of the Grand
Chaplains of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Utterly free from all the rigid
dogmatism of his day, he was never failing to expound the great Masonic doctrine
that we as Masons, considering that man at his best is subject, to frailty and
error, should always endeavour to cover up the faults and imperfections of our
fellows with the broad mantle of charity and brotherly love.
To a minister who had taught the dogma of infant damnation, he said, "It's no
use, brother, preaching sermons like that, because of what you say could be
true, your God would be my devil".
back to top