The title given by Dermott to the Book of Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Antient Freemasons in England, which was established about the middle of the eighteenth century in opposition to the legitimate Grand Lodge and its adherents who were called the Moderns, and whose code of laws was contained in Anderson's work known as the Book of Constitutions. Many attempts have been made to explain the significance of this title ; thus according to Doctor Mackey, it is derived from three Hebrew words, ....., zhiIn, meaning brothers; ..manah, to appoint, or to select in the sense of being placed in a peculiar class (see Isaiah liii, 12), and ..ratzon, the will, pleasure, or meaning; and hence the combination of the three words in the title, Ahiman Rezon, signifies the will of selected Brethren- the law of a class or society of men who are chosen or selected from the rest of the world as Brethren.
Docter Dalcho (Ahiman Rezon of South Carolina, page 159, second edition) derives it from ahi, a brother, manah, to prepare, and rezon, secret, so that, as he says, " Abiman Rezon literally means the secrets of a prepared brother." But the best meaning of manah is that which conveys the idea of being placed in or appointed to a certain, exclusive class, as we find in Isaiah liii, 12 "he was numbered (nimenah) with the transgressors," placed in that class, being taken out of every other order of men. Although rezon may come from ratzon, a will or law, it can hardly be elected by any rules of etymology out of the Chaldee word raz, meaning a secret, the termination in on being wanting; and furthermore the book called the Ahiman Rezon does not contain the secrets, but only the public laws of Freemasonry. The derivation of Dalcho seems therefore inadmissible.
Not less so is that of Brother W. S. Rockwell, who as recorded in the Ahiman Rezon of Georgia (1859, page 3) thinks the derivation may be found in the Hebrew, ... amun, meaning a builder or architect and .., rezon, as a noun, prince, and as an adjective, royal, and hence, Ahiman Rezon, according to this etymology, wifl signify the royal builder, or, symbolically, the Freemason. But to derive ahiman from amun, or rather amon, which is the masoretic pronunciation, is to place all known laws of etymology at defiance. Rockwell himself, however, furnishes the best argument against his strained derivation, when he admits that its correctness will depend on the antiquity of the phrase, which he acknowledges that he doubts. In this, he is right. The phrase is altogether a modern one, and has Dermott, the author of the first work bearing the title, for its inventor. Rockwell's conjectural derivation is, therefor, for this reason still more inadmissible than Dalcho's.
But the most satisfactory explanation is as follows: In his prefatory adress to the reader, Dermott narrates a dream of his in which the fourmen appointed by Salomon to be porters at theTempel (First Cronicles ix, 17 ) appear to him sojourners from Jerusalem, and he tells them that he is writing a history of Freemasonry; upon which, one of the four, named Ahiman, says that no such history has ever yet been composed and suggests that it never can be.
It is clear, therefore, that the first word of the title is the name of this personage. What then does Rezon signify? Now the Geneva or Breeches Bible, publishes in 1560 contains a table giving the meanings of the Bible names and explains Ahiman as a prepared brother or brother of the right hand and Rezon as a secretary, so that the title of the book would mean Brother Secretary. That Dermott used the Geneva Bible is plain from the fact that he quotes from it in his address to the reader, and therefore it may farly be assumed that he selected these names to suit his purpose from the list given in it, especially as he styles himself on his title-page merely Secretary.
The first Book of Masonic Law published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was entitled: Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested: as a Help to a tilat are or would be Free and A ecepted Masons. It was prepared by the Grand Secretary, the Rev. Brother Wifliam Smith, D.D., Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott's work; it was approved by the Grand Lodge November 22, 1781, published in, 1783, and dedicated to Brother George Washington. It is reprinted in the introduction to the first or edited reprint of the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1730-l808. On Aprril 18, 1825, a revision of the Ahinwn Rezon was adopted, being taken largely from Anderson's Constitutions.
In the 1919 edition (page 210) are these comments: "The revision of 1825 contains the following as the definition of the words Ahiman Rezon: The Book of Cunstitutions is usually denominated Ahiman Rezon. The literal translation of Ahiman is A prepared Brother, from manah, to prepare, and Rezon, secret; so that Ahiman Rezon literally means, the secrets of a prepared Brother. It is likewise supposed to be a corruption of Achi Man Ratzon, the thoughts or opinions of a true and faithful Brother. As the Ahiman Rezon is not a secret, but a published book, and the above definition has been omitted from subsequent revisions of the book, the words were submitted to Hebrew scholars for translation upon the assumption that they are of Hebrew origin. The words however are not Hebrew.
"Subsequent inquiry leads to the belief that they come from the Spanish, and are thus interpreted: Ahi, which is pronounced Ah-ee, is demonstrative and means there, as if pointing to a thing or place; man may be considered a form of monta, which means the account, amount, sum total, or fullness; while razon or rezon means reason, principle, or justice, the word justice being used in the sense of law. If, therefore, we ascribe the words ·himan Rezon to Spanish origin, their meaning is-There is the full account of the law."
But the history of the origin of the book is more important and more interesting than the history of the derivation of its title.
The premier Grand Lodge of England was established in 1717 and ruled the Freemasons of London and the South of England without opposition until in 1751 when some Irish Freemasons established another body in London. This organization professed to work "according to the old institutions," and the Brethren called themselves Antient Freemasons and the members of the older Grand Lodge .
Moderns, maintaining that they alone preserved the ancient usage of Freemasonry.
The former of these contending bodies, the Grand Lodge of England, had, In the year 1722, caused Dr. James Anderson to collect and compile all the Statutes and Regulations by which the Fraternity had in former times been governed. These, after having been submitted to due revision, were published in 1723, by Anderson, with the title of The Constitutions of the Freemasons. This work, of which several other editious subsequently appeared, has always been called the Book of Constitutions, and contains the foundatious of the written law by which the Grand Lodge if England and the Lodges deriving from it, both in that country and in America, are govemed.
But when the Irish Freemasons established their rival Grand Lodge, they found it necesery, also, to have a Book of Constitutions. Accordingly, Laurence Dermott, who was at one time their Grand Secretary, and afterward their Deputy Grand Master, compiled such a work, the first edition of which was published by James Bedford, at London, in 1756, with the following title: Ahiman Rezon: or a Help to a Brother; showing the Exellency of Secrecy, and the first cause or motive of the Institution of Masonry; the Principles of the Craft; and the Benefits from a strict Observance thereof, etc., etc. ; also the Old and New Regulations, etc. To which is added the greatest collection of Masons' Songs, etc. By Bro. Laurence Dermott, Secretary.
A second edition was published in 1764 with this title : Ahiman Rezon: or a help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons; containing the Quintessence of all that has been published on the subject of Freemasonry, with many Additions, which renders this Work more useful than any other Book of Constitution now extant. By Lau. Dermott, Secretary. London, 1764.
A third edition was published in 1778, with the following title: Ahiman Rezon: or a Help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons (with many Additions). By Lau. Dermott, D.G.M. Printed for James Jones, Grand Secretary; and sold by Peter Shatwell, in the Strand. London, 1778.
Five other editious were published: the fourth, in 1778 ; the fifth in 1787 ; the sixth in 1800 ; the seventh in 1801; the eighth in 1807, and the ninth in 1813.
In this year, the Ancient Grand Lodge was dissolved by the union of the two Grand Lodges of England, and a new Book of Constitutions having been adopted for the united body, the Ahiman Rezon became useless, and no subsequent edition was ever published.
The earlier editious oi this work are among the rarest of Masouic publicatious, and are highly prized by collectors.
In the year 1855, Leon Hyneman, of Philadelphia, who was engaged in a reprint of old standard Masonic works, an enterptise which should have received better patronage than it did, republished the second edition, with a few explanatory notes.
As this book contains those principles of Masonic law by which, ior three-fourths of a ceutury, a large and intelligent portion of the Craft was governed; and as it is now becoming rare and, to the generality of readers, inaccessible, some brief review of its coutents may not be uninteresting.
In the preface or address to the reader, Dermott pokes fun at the history of Freemasonry as written by Doctor Anderson and others, and wittily explains the reason why he has not published a history of Freemasoury.
There is next a Philacteri for such Gentlemen as may be inclined to become Freemasons. This article, which was not in the first edition, but appeared for the first time in the second, consists of directions as to the method to be pursued by one who desires to be made a Freemason.
This is followed by an account of what Dermott calls Modern Masonry, that is, the system pursued by the original Grand Lodge of England, and of the diflerences existing between it and Antient Masonry, or the system of his own Grand Lodge. He contends that there are material differences between the two systems; that of the Antients being universal, and that of the Moderns not; a Modern being able with safety to communicate all his secrets to an Antient, while an Antient cannot communicate his to a Modern; a Modem having no right to be called free and accepted; all of which, in his opinion, show that the Antients have secrets which are not in the possession of the Moderns. This, he cousiders, a convincing proof that the Modern Freemasons were innovators upon the established system, and had instituted their Lodges and framed their ritual without a sufficient knowledge of the arcana of the Craft. But the Modern Freemasons with more semblance of truth, thought that the additional secrets oi the Antients were only innovations that they had made upon the true body of Freemasonry; and hence, they considered their ignorance of these newly invented secrets was the best evidence of their own superior antiquity.
In the later editions Dermott has published the famous Leland Manuscript, together with the commentaries of Locke; also the resolutions adopted in 1772, by which the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland agreed to maintain a "Brotherly Connexion and correspondence" wlth the Grand Lodge of England (Antients).
The Ahiman Rezon proper, then, begins with twenty-three pages of an encomium on Freemasonry, and an explanation of its principles. Many a modem Masonic address is better written, and contains more important and instructive matter than this prefatory discourse.
Then follow The Old Charges of the Free and Accepted Masons, taken from the 1738 edition of Anderson's Constitutions. Next come A short charge to a new admitted Mason, The Antient manner of constituting a Lodge, a few prayers, and then the General Regulations of the Free and Accepted Masons. These are borrowed mainly from the second edition of Anderson with a few alterations and additions. After a comparison of the Dublin and London Regulations for charity, the rest of the book, comprising more than a hundred pages, cousists of A collection of Masons Songs, of the poetical merits of which the less said the better for the literary reputation of the writers.
Imperfect, however, as was this work, it for a long time constituted the statute book of the Antient Masons. Hence those Lodges in America which derived their authority from the Dermott or Antient Grand Lodge of England, accepted its contents as a true exposition of Masonic law. Several of their Grand Lodges caused similar works to be compiled for their own government, adopting the title of Ahiman Rezon, which thus became the peculiar desiguation of the volume which contained the fundamental law of the Antients, while the original title of Book of Constitutions continued to be retained by the Moderns, to designate the volume used by them for the same purpose .
Of the Ahiman Rezons compiled and published in America, the following are the principal:
1. Ahiman Rezon abridged and digested; as a help to all that are or would be Free and Accepted Masons, etc. Published by order of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; by William Smith, D.D. Philadelphia, 1783. A new Ahiman Rezon was published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1825.
2. Charges and Regulation8 of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, extracted from the Ahiman Rezon, etc. Published by the consent and direction of the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia. Halivax, 1786.
3. The New Ahiman Rezon, containing the Laws and Constitution of Virginia, etc. By John K. Reade, present Deputy Grand Master of Virginia, etc. Richmond, 1791. Another edition was published in 1818, by James Henderson.
4. The Maryland Ahiman Rezon of Free and Accepted Masons, containing the History of Masonry from the establishment of the Grand Lodge to the present time; with their Ancient Charges, Addresses, Prayers, Lectures, Prologues, Epilogues, Songs, etc., collected from the Old Records, Faithful Traditions and Lodge Books; by G. Keating. Compiled by order of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. Baltimore, 1797.
5. The Ahiman Rezon and Masonic Ritual, published by the order of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina and Tennessee. Newbern, North Carolina, 1805.
6. An Ahiman Rezon, for the use of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, Ancient York Masons, and the Lodges under the Register and Masonic Jurisdiction thereof. Compiled and arranged with considerable additions, at the request of 'the Grand Lodge, and published by their authority. By Brother Frederick Dalcho, M.D., etc. Charleston, South Carolina, 1807. A second edition was published by the same author, in 1822, and a third, in 1852, by Dr. Gilbert G. Mackey. In this third edition, the title was changed to that of The Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, etc. Furthermore, the Work was in a great measure purged of the peculiarities of Dermott, and made to conform more closely to the Andersonian Constititions. A fourth edition. Was published by the same editor, iu 1871, from which everythiug antagonistic to the original Book of Constitutions has been omitted.
7. The Freemason's Library and General Ahiman Rezon ; containing a delineation of the true principles of Freemasonry, etc.; by Samuel Cole. Baltimore, 1817. 8vo, 332 + 92 pages. There was a secoud edition in 1826.
8. Ahiman Rezon; prepared under the direction of the Grand Lodge of Georgia; by Wm. S. Rockwell, Grand Master of Masons of Georgia. Savanuah, 1859. 4to and 8vo, 404 pages. But neither this work nor the third and fourth edition of the Ahiman Rezon of South Carolina had any counection in principle or theory with the Ahiman Rezon of Dermott. They have borrowed the name from the Antient Freemasons. but they derive all their law aud their authorities from the Moderns, or, as Doctor Mackey preferred to Call them, the legal Freemasons of the last century.
9. The General Ahiman Rezon and Freemason's Guid‚, by Daniel Sickles. New York, 1866. 8vo, 408 . Pages. This book, like Rockwell's, has uo other connection with the work of Dermott but the name.
Many of the Grand Lodges of the Uuited States having derived their existence and authority from the Dermott Grand Lodge, the influence of his Ahiman Rezon was for a long time exercised over the Lodges of this country. Indeed, it is only within a comparatively recent period that the true principles of Masonic law, as expounded in the first editions of Anderson's Constitutions, have been universally adopted among American Freemasons.
However, it must be observed, in justice to Dermott, who has been rather too grossly abused by Mitchell and a few other writers, that the innovations upon the old laws of Freemasoury, which are to be found in the Ahiman Rezon, are for the most part not to be charged upon him, but upon Doctor Anderson himself, who, for the first time, introduced them into the second edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738. It is surprising, and accountable only on the ground of sheer carelessness on the part of the supervising committee, that the Grand Lodge should, in 1738, have approved of thes alterations made by Anderson, and still more surprising that it was not until 1756 that a new or third edition of the Constitutions should have been published, in which thes alterations of 1738 were expunged, and the old regulations and the old language restored.
But whatever may have been the causes of this oversight, it is not to be doubted that, at the time of the formation of the Grand Lodge of the Antients, the edition of the Book of Constitutions of 1738 was considered as the authorized exponent of Masonic law by the earlier, or, as Doctor Mackey would say, the original or regular Grand Lodge of England, and was adopted, with but little change, by Dermott as the basis of his Ahiman Rezon. How much this edition of 1738 differed from that of 1723, which is now considered the only true authority for ancient law, and how much it agreed with Dermott's Ahiman Rezon, will he evident from the following specimens of the first of the Old Charges, correctly taken from each of the three works :
First of the Old Charges in the Book of Constitutions, edition of 1723:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged, in every country, to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is to be good men and true, or men of honour aud honesty, by whatever denominatious or persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the centre of union, and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distauce."
First of the Old Charges in the Book of Constitutions, edition of 1738:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law, as a true Noach.ida; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine, nor act against conscience.
"In antient times, the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of each country where they travelled or worked. But Masonry being found in all nations, even of divers religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree (leaving each Brother to his own particular opinions; that is, to be good men and true, men of honour and honesty, by whatever names, religions, or persuastons they may be distinguished; for they all agree in the three great articles of Noah enough to preserve the cement of the Lodge. Thus, Masonry is the center of their union, and the happy means of conciliating persons that otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance."
First of the Old Charges in Dermott's Ahiman Rezon:
"A Mason is obliged by his tenure to observe the moral law, as a true Noachido ; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine, nor act against conscience.
"In antient times, the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian usages of each country where they traveled or worked; being found in all nations, even of divers religions.
"They are generally charged to adhere to that religion in which all men agree (leaving each brother to his own particular opinions) ; that is, to be good men and true, men of honour and honesty, by whatever names religions, or persuasions they may be distinguished; for they all agree in the three great articels of Noah enough to preserve the cement of the Lodge.
"Thus, Masonry is the center of their union, and the happy means of conciliating persons that otherwise must have remained at a perpetual distance. "
The italics in the second and third extracts will show what innovations Anderson made in 1738 on the Charges as originally published in 1723, and how closely Dermott followed him in adopting these changes. There is, in fact, much less difference between the Ahiman Rezon of Dermott and Anderson's edition of the Book of Constitutions, printed in 1738, than there is between the latter and the first edition of the Constitutions, printed in 1723. But the great points of difference between the "Antients" and the "Moderns," points which kept them apart for so many years, are to be found in their work and ritual, for an account of which the reader is referred to the article Antient Freemasons.