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DEGREES, THE THREE.
THE FELLOWCRAFT LODGE
THE MASTER MASON LODGE
DEGREES, THE THREE. When a cathedral, abbey, chapel or any large and fine building was begun in Britain during the Middle Ages the Freemasons who were employed to design and to build it came from many places, and sometimes from foreign countries; and they brought their families with them; some of them came expecting to work at the same place and on the same building through the rest of their lives. Their first step was to secure a number of houses for themselves in some quarter of the town, and as near the building site as possible, or else they erected a community of new houses; more than one still-existent English village (as at Maida Vale) began as the Freemasons' village near some great building work. In each town or city men of the same skilled craft lived together with their shops and homes in a quarter of their own, and such a neighborhood was so completely shaped and dominated by the craft which composed it that passing from the quarter of one to the quarter of another was almost like going from one town to another; the Freemasons had such a quarter of their own. We may call it the Masonic Community.
After they had settled in their houses the craftsmen next erected a building at the site of their work to be their headquarters; they met in it, reported to it at the beginning and end of the day; kept tools in it; had their own offices and officers in it; and they called it the Lodge. They also might erect a second building for the use of the craftsmen who made plans, drawings, models, and templates. The craftsmen were as compactly organized and as rigorously ruled as an army.
At the head was the Master of Masons, whom we call Worshipful Master; he ruled the Lodge, and was the liaison between the working craftsmen and the king, lord, bishop, or foundation for whom they were working; he was assisted by a corps of officers. The site, the Lodge, and the Craftsmen together, along with their offices and tools, made a single unity with the quarter of the town in which they lived and comprised the Masonic Community.
The whole of that Community existed for sake of the work to be done; but there was much in it beside daily work. The men and their families lived in it as well as worked in it. Family life belonged to the Craft as much as the hewing of stones. The women tended to their homes and went to market and visited among themselves; children were eared for and trained; there were sports, pastimes, and games, visiting of the sick, burial of the dead, going to church, processions to chapel; the endless and many-colored life of the Middle ages went on in the Masonic Comrnunity as in other quarters of a town. It had its own boundaries, which usually were streets, the men and their families were a clan among themselves, and in a certain sense the whole neighborhood was tiled like the Lodge because intrusion or interference from outsiders was not permitted. The whole of the Community, the families and their homes and children, were as much under the Craft's rules and regulations as were the Craftsmen when at work; and ancient traditions were observed. When a boy came from outside to learn the art as an apprentice it was this Community that he entered, not merely the Lodge; and it was this Community, and not merely a few customs of the Freemasons' daily work, at least in the form of its substance and principles and spirit, that was inherited by Lodges of a later time -When we search for the origin of the present-day, universal Fraternity of Freemasons it is in the Medieval Freemasons' Community that we find it.
There were Masons of many sorts in Medieval Britain. There were Masons in the quarries who got out the stone by hand, rough-shaped it, and sent it away by wagon or boat. Wallers dressed stone and built walls, piers, abutments but did not carve them and could not design or erect buildings. Tilers cut slates or stone for roofs and laid them. There were sculptors, mosaic workers, glaziers and other specialists. In each community were a number of builders belonging to the local gild, and not permitted to work outside their own jurisdiction, who constructed stone or brick cottages, barns, houses, warehouses, etc. Like every other craft in the Middle Ages each of these was organized, and there were a number of types of organization, so that a mason might be in a sodality, a gild a fraternity, a society, or a lodge. These branches of the craft came under general gild laws and usages; they had much in common among themselves; and in the stream of inheritance which flowed into the modern Fraternity of Speculative Freemasons were a certain number of elements from Craft usages and customs as a whole.
But it was from the Freemasons that our Fraternity originated, and not from Medieval masons at large; Speculative Freemasons came, that is, not front Operative Masons in general but from one highly. specialized group of them. They were called Freemasons for possibly a number of reasons. They worked in free-stone, the only building stone in England which could be carved and at the same time was a sound building stone. Doubtless "free" also meant that they were free from restrictions which everywhere were imposed on local, stationary gilds, and were permitted to go from one community or county to another to work. It may be, as Hope, Pownall, and other historians once believed, that they were made free to travel about by church encyclicals or bulls, and were called free for that reason. In any event they were Masons apart, honored above others, received higher wages, were recruited from men of the highest qualities, and they were the architects and builders of the cathedrals, abbeys, chapels, monasteries, castles, mansions, and public buildings in the Gothic style, which buildings taken together, historians agree, in genius, ability, and height of accomplishment, represented the high-water mark of the Middle Ages. Any builder of average competency could construct a stone cottage, or barn, or wall, to say nothing of carpenters who also were builders; but the designing and construction of a cathedral was infinitely beyond the competency of the rank and file of ordinary masons. In the Community of Freemasons lived the supreme men of two centuries of Medieval Europe and Britain; among them were the great artists sculptors, architects, engineers, chemists, mathemsaticians, and men of learning and free intelligence as well as men of great skill.
They were the fathers of Freemasonry.
A new style in architecture is one of the rarest of events. Such a style is more than a trick of ornamentation (or fad, or fashion); it is a complete combinaytion of architectural principles, a formula involving an engineering of its own, and has its own principles of proportion and perspective, and its own shape or outline it cannot be merely locally popular but must satisfy a want of a whole people, and it must belong to their ways of work and their ways of life; also, it is not a mere structural improvement, but is a new accomplishment as a fine art. Throughout the history of the world builders have found out new styles.
The Greek was a supremely great style but the Gothic was equally great; it was invented, developed, and perfected by Masons in France (for a long time was called the French style) and the first complete building in it was the Abbey Church of St. Denis, near Paris, which the famous Abbot Suger began about 1140 A.D. This date may be taken as in a true sense the beginning of the Masonic Fraternity because it was the Freemason architects who worked in Gothic from two to three centuries in England out of whose thought, art, and practices came the origins of that which became the Fraternity of Speculative Masons; it was because they worked in Gothic, a difficult and learned style, that they were men of such large ability, of so much learning master of so many arts, of a commanding manhood, and therefore alone capable among other masons of guiding and developing that philosophy which was preserved and perpetuated in Speculative Masonic Lodges. Not all building construction is architecture; architecture is an art rather than a craft or a skilled trade, and is therefore used largely in monumental buildings and in public buildings; to say : that our Fraternity originated among the Medieval Freemasons is only another way of saying that they practiced the art of architecture, and the word "Freemason" was, roughly, the Medieval name of architect; to say that they were Gothic builders, or cathedral builders, is another way of saying the same thing, because after the middle of the Twelfth Century architocture was built in the Gothic style.
Brother Arthur Edward Waite refused to believe that Freemasonry could have originated among Medieval Operative Masons because there is in the Masonic Lodge, and especially in the Ritual, so much of religion, philosophy, symbolism, and ethics; and he could not see how so rich a philosophy and a fraterninity so many-sided could have been fathered by horny-handed laborers who quarried and dressed stone and laid it up in walls. Brother Waite's argument omitted two of the most massive facts about those rticular Freemasons who fathered our Fraternity:
that they were men in the art of architecture and rere not "horny-handed laborers"; and the fact that it was the Masonic Community as a whole, ; and not a few practices of labor, that was preserved in the Lodge.
Because he could not believe that Operative Masons in bad been the founders of Freemasonry he sought elsewhere for its origin, looking for it in schools or circles tof religious mystics. A number of other writers, also unable to believe that the Operative Masons could have been our founders, have argued that the Fraternity began among Medieval occultists, among alchemists or among the Kabbalists, or astrologers, or theosophistsf etc. The one document in which the Operative Freemasons left a complete autobiography is the still-existing buildings which they conceived, designed, and constructed; there is nowhere in them arty trace or suggestion of occultism.
v The Freemasons indubitably were not believers in any of the forms of superstition which flourished so profusely in the Middle Ages; they were not because they did not dare to be; they did not dare to be because their work itself would not permit them.
They were responsible workmen—a fact which is frequently overlooked about them. If a Medieval "doctor" administered a pill composed of toads' eyes, cow's urine, and pulverized human bones he received credit if the patient recovered, but was not held responsible if the patient died, because a demon or a witch could be blamed for the death. If an astrologer made a blunder in casting a horoscope the stars were not quenched by his mistake nor did the sky crash down on his head. If a priest pictured heaven as an Arabian paradise in a land on top of the sky, and a hell a few feet under the earth full of burning chemicals he was mistaken, but his mistake killed nobody, and did not cave the earth into the flames.
The practitioner of occultism and of superstitions were not responsible. But if a Freemason miscalculated the curve of an arch it would fall down upon his head and on other heads; if he made a pillar too high for its diameter the roof would fall, and a whole wing of the building would collapse; the men who ran up fifty-foot walls and spanned thirty-foot doors, and hung great vaults of- stone, and ran up towers for two hundred feet, did not dare to make mistakes.
They were respormble workmen.
They could not make guesses, or try experiments in magic; they used a plumb and not a spell to test a wall.
They were compelled by the nature of their work to be men of the arts and sciences, to know geometry, to understand engineering, to think rigorously, to master difficult subjects. The little systems of superstition built by astrologers, Kabbalists, Rosicrucians, alchemists, etc., collapsed, and the rubbish of them had to be swept away by modern scientists; the cathedrals stand, and in some of the cities destroyed by the bombings of the Second World War they are almost the only buildings that do.
From the middle of the Twelfth Century until the middle of the Fourteenth Century the Masonic Community was dissolved when a building was completed, the workmen and their families moved to other sites, the Lodge room or building was torn down or used for other purposes, and the Lodge was disbanded. In about 1350 A.D., in or near London or possibby in Gloucestershire or possibly at York, or, it may be, at two or three centers at once, a Lodge was kept up permanently. To make it permanent the Freemasons had to take two steps which, as the events were to prove, were to be epoch-making in the history of Freemasonry. For one thing, and though the membership continued to be largely composed of Operative Freemasons, the Lodge began to admit non-Operatives, who joined it sometimes for personal reasons of business or else because they were profoundly attracted by the philosophy, rites, symbols, lore which the Lodge had preserved out of the old Masonic Community. These "Accepted" Masons (also called Geomatic, or Gentleman, or Speculative Masons) continued to divide Lodge membership with Operative Freemasons until the early Eighteenth Century when the Fraternity became wholly Speculative. For another thing the first permanent Lodge adopted the Old Charges.
Law in the Middle Ages was divided between civil law and the ordinances of religion, equally binding, and had the whole of England for their jurisdiction. Under this dual system the great majority of laws (estimated at about ninety per cent) were directed not at individual citizens, as laws are now, but at organized bodies of men; it was corporation law; and the corporations might be churches, boroughs, colleges, gilds, fraternities, societies, sodalities, merchant companies, city companies, etc., etc. It was a fundamental axiom of this Medieval corporation law that any body of men would be illegal, any gild would be illicit, if it did not receive from a king, borough, or bishop a written charter, or similar official instrument. This charter would give an organized body its official name and title ("style"), its purposes, its jurisdiction, possibly its officers, would require it to have its own rules and regulations and to enforce them, and it did this over a seal which granted legality.
Freemasons had long believed (and their belief was allowed by authorities) that in the reign of King Athelstan a Prince Edwin had, with Athelstan's official approval, granted the Fraternity a royal charter— the word is underscored because a royal charter outranked any other. When the Freemasons set up the first permanent Lodge they did not petition for a charter but submitted a claim to the Prince Edwin charter in the form of a document which was destined to be reproduced hundreds of times in the future, and which came to be called Old Charges (also, Old Documents, Old MSS., etc.); of the many reproductions, copies, and versions some 150 or so are still in existence, the oldest being the Regius MS which was written about 1390 A.D. to 1410 A.D. The Old Charges began by stating that the art of Freemasonry was very ancient as well as honorable, and continued to be true to its time immemorial reputation; it next went on to describe the royal charter granted by Edwin; and it concluded by giving the rules and regulations under which Lodge members were governed. There were Freemasons in England who did not belong to a permanent Lodge; there were many who belonged to the City Companies; and there were thousands of masons who were not Freemasons. The evidences both external and internal indicate that our own Fraternity descended from the Lodges which were organized under authority of a copy of the Old Charges. As stated in a former paragraph certain elements may have been received from the City Companies (a subject in which insufficient research has been made); but the true origin of the present Fraternity was in the Lodges with the Old Charges, and from about 1350 A.D. that line has nearer been broken.
These Lodges had nowhere a national center; they had no Grand Lodge; each one was self-constituted, and if it practiced the same art as the others and used the Old Charges members of one Lodge could demit to or visit in other Lodges; they maintained a general unity by means of the Old Charges, the Work, the Modes of Recognition which is to say, by having the same Ancient Landmarks. In 1716 A.D. some four or more old Lodges in London considered the desirability of having a center of union; in the following year they erected a Grand Lodge for that purpose; regular and duly-constituted Freemasonry has descended from it. In 1723 A.D. that Grand Lodge recast the Old Charges for its own purposes and published a Grand Lodge version of them in a printed volume called The Book of Constitutions.
What truth, teaching, or practice was it which thus perpetuated itself through these Lodges century after century?
Why did not Medieval Lodges pass away along with other gilds and societies of the period? Wherein is that secret of life which has grown and not lessened, and after eight centuries or more has propagated itself in thousands of Lodges in nearly a hundred countries? A complete answer, along with proofs and arguments, calls for a whole volume; given in brief the answer is that the early Freemasons discovered the truth about work, and gave to men, in the form of a fraternity instead of in the pages of a book, a philosophy of work.
In the Middle Ages gentlemen and ladies refused to work; it was degrading; the Church taught that work was a curse; the ruling and aristocratic class kept soft hands; working men were crowded down into the lower classes; and this caste system was declared to be ordained by God, and it was therefore by God's will that popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, kings, nobles, and ladies were exempted from work, were entitled to prey upon workers and to live at their expense, to own workers as they owned land, and to keep them shut out from entrance by office or marriage into the sacred precincts of the ruling class.
The Freemasons discovered for themselves, in the course of their own daily work and not from theory, that this whole scheme of things was a fraud and a crime, false and untrue from top to bottom. They found—and they "found" it rather than made it because it is true of the nature of things—that unless a man works he cannot be a man but becomes an ex-man, and that no man can be honorable who preys on other men. Work means that a man makes use of himself to produce those necessaries without which men cannot continue to be; that this belongs to the order of things for ever; that it can never be otherwise; and Masons therefore gave God the attribute of work along with His other attributes This was one of the most revolutionary of all possible doctrines in the Middle Ages; it is no longer revolutionary but it is still far from a sincere and general; acceptance; and it will be centuries before Freemasonry's own work is completed because to teach that truth, to build it into young men, to make it prevail and to bear witness to it, is Freemasonry's mission in the world. It is for this reason that a body of Freemasons calls itself a Lodge, because a lodge is a group organized for work; and calls its teachings, symbols, and ceremonies not a Ritual but Work.
ENTERED APPRENTICE LODGE
A family renews and perpetuates itself by births and marriage; similarly the Masonic Community preserved itself by means of apprentices. These boys of twelve or fourteen, most of them from the country, came primarily to learn the craft (or "mystery") of the builder but there was more to their admittance than training, for they became members of the family of Masons and citizens of the Masonic Community, and the majority of them lived in the homes of the Master workmen to whom they were apprenticed; furthermore though a boy was only twelve or so when he came he continued in apprenticeship for seven years (as a rule) and therefore was a young man of nineteen or so before he was freed from his indenture; he had for some portion of his term, more than a boys part in the life of the Masonie neighborhood and among the men at their work.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014