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LEGEND OF THE THIRD DEGREE.
The most important and significant of the legendary symbols of Freemasonry is, undoubtedly, that which relates to the fate of Hiram Abif, commonly called, "by way of excellence," the Legend of the Third Degree. The first written record that Doctor Mackey had been able to find of this legend is contained in the second edition of Anderson's Constitutions, published in 1738 (page 14), and is in these words:
It (the Temple) was finished in the short space of seven yean and six months, to the amazement of all the world; when the capestone was celebrated by the Fraternity with great joy. But their joy was soon interrupted by the sudden death of their dear master Hiram Abif, whom they decently interred in the Lodge near the Temple, according to ancient usage.
In the next edition of the same work, published in 1756 (page 24), a few additional circumstances are related, such as the participation of King Solomon in the general grief, and the fact that the King of Israel "ordered his obsequies to be performed with great solemnity and decency." With these exceptions, and the citations of the same passages, made by subsequent authors, the narrative has always remained unwritten, and descended, from age to age, through the means of oral tradition. The legend has been considered of so much importance that it has been preserved in the symbolism of every Masonic rite. No matter what modifications or alterations the general system may have undergone no matter how much the ingenuity or the imagination of the founders of rites may have perverted or corrupted other symbols, abolishing the old and substituting new oncs the legend of the Temple Builder has ever been left untouched, to present itself in all the integrity of its ancient mythical form.
What, then, is the significance of this symbol so important and so extensively diffused7 What interpretation can we give to it that will account for its universal adoption? How is it that it has thus become so intimately interwoven with Freemasonry as to make, to all appearances, a part of its very essence, and to have been always deemed inseparable from it7 To answer these questions satisfactorily, it is necessary to trace, in a brief investigation, the remote origin of the Institution of Freemasonry and its connection with the ancient systems of initiation.
It was, then, the object of all the rites and mysteries of antiquity to teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. This dogma, shining as an almost solitary beacon-light in the surrounding gloom of Pagan darkness, had undoubtedly been received from that ancient people or priesthood, among whom it probably existed only in the form of an abstract proposition or a simple and unembellished tradition. But in the more sensual minds of the Pagan philosophers and mystics, the idea, when presented to the initiates in their mysteries, was asways conveyed in the form of a scenic representation. The influence, too, of the early Sabian worship of the sun and heavenly bodies, in which the solar orb was adored on its resurrection, each morning, from the apparent death of its evening setting, caused this rising sun to be adopted in the more ancient mysteries as a symbol of the regeneration of the soul. Thus, in the Egyptian Mysteries we find a representation of the death and subsequent regeneration of Osiris; in the Phenician, of Adonis; in the Syrian, of Dionysus; in all of which the scenic apparatus of initiation was intended to indoctrinate the candidate into the dogma of a future life.
It will be sufficient here to refer to the theory of Oliver, that through the instrumentality of the Tyrian workmen at the Temple of King Solomon, what he calls the spurious and pure branches of the Masonie system were united at Jerusalem, and that the same method of scenic representation was adopted by the latter from the former, and the narrative of the Temple Builder substituted for that of Dionysus, which was the myth peculiar to the mysteries practiced by the Tyrian workmen. The idea, therefore, proposed to be communicated in the myth of the ancient mysteries was the same as that which is now conveyed in the Masonic Legend of the Third Degree.
Hence, then, Hiram Abif is, in the Masonic system, the symbol of human nature, as developed in the life here and the life to come; and so, while the Temple was the visible symbol of the world, its Builder became the mythical symbol of man, the dweller and worker in that world. Man, setting forth on the voyage of life, with faculties and powers fitting him for the due exercise of the high duties to whose performance he has been called, holds, if he be "a curious and cunning workman," skilled in all moral and intellectual purposes (and it is only of such men that the Temple Builder can be the symbol), within the grasp of his attainment, the knowledge of all that Divine truth imparted to him as the heirloom of his race that race to whom it has been granted to look, with exalted countenance, on high; which Divine Truth is symbolized by the WORD. Thus provided with the word of life, he occupies his time in the construction of a spiritual temple, and travels onward in the faithful discharge of all his duties, laying down his designs upon the Trestle-Board of the future, and invoking the assistance and direction of God.
But is his path always over flowery meads and through pleasant groves? Is there no hidden foe to obstruct his progress? Is all before him clear and calm, with joyous sunshine and refreshing zephyrs? Alas! not so. "Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." At every "gate of life" as the Orientalists have beautifully called the different ages he is beset by peril. Temptations allure his youth; misfortunes darken the pathway of his manhood, and his old age is encumbered with infirmity and disease. But clothed in the armor of virtue he may resist the temptation; he may cast misfortunes aside and rise triumphantly above them; but to the last the direst, the most inexorable foe of his race he must eventually yield, and, stricken down by death, he sinks prostrate into the grave, and is buried in the rubbish of his sin and human frailty. Here then, in Freemasonry, is what was called the A phanism, concealment or disappearance in the Ancient Mysteries. The bitter, but necessary lesson of death has been imparted. The living soul, with the lifeless body which encased it, has disappeared, and can nowhere be found. All is darkness confusion despair. Divine truth the Word for a time is lost, and the Master Mason may now say, in the language of Hutehinson, "I prepare my sepulchre. I make my grave in the pollution of the earth. I am under the shadow of death."
But if the mythic symbolism ended here, with this lesson of death, then w ere the lesson incomplete. That teaching would be vain and idle nay more, it should be corrupt and pernicious which should stop short of the conscious and innate instinct for another existence. And hence the succeeding portions of the legend are intended to convey the sublime symbolism of a resurrection from the grave and a new birth into a future life.
The discovery of the body, which, in the initiations of the ancient mysteries, svas called the Euresis; and its removal, from the polluted grave into which it had been cast, to an honored and sacred place within the precincts of the temple, are all profoundly and beautifully symbolic of that great truth, the discovery of which was the object of all the ancient initiations, as it is almost the whole design of Freemasonry, namely, that when man shall have passed the gates of life and have yielded to the inexorable fiat of death, he shall then (not in the pictured ritual of an earthly Lodge, but in the realities of that eternal one, of which the former is but an antitype) be raised, at the omnific word of the Grand Master of the Universe, from time to eternity from the tomb of corruption to the chambers of hope from the darkness of death to the celestial beams of life and that his disembodied spirit shall be conveyed as near to the holy of holies of the Divine Presence as humanity can ever approach to deity. Such, Doctor Mackey conceived, to be the true interpretation of the symbolism of the Legend of the Third Degree.
I have said, continued Doctor Mackey, that this mythical history of the Temple Builder was universal in all nations and all Rites, and that in no place and at no time had it, by alteration, diminution, or addition, acquired any essentially new or different form: the myth has always remained the same. But it is not so with its interpretation. That which I have just given, and which I conceive to be the correct one has been very generally adopted by the Freemasons of America. But elsewhere, and by various writers, other interpretations have been made, very different in their character, although always agreeing in retaining the general idea of a resurrection or regeneration, or a restoration of something from an inferior to a higher sphere or function.
Thus, some of the earlier continental writers haste supposed the myth to have been a symbol of the destruction of the Order of the Templars, looking upon its restoration to its original wealth and dignities as being prophetically symbolized.
In some of the high philosophical Degrees it is taught that the whole legend refers to the sufferings and death, with the subsequent resurrection of Christ.
Hutchinson, who has the honor of being the earliest philosophical writer on Freemasonry in England, supposes it to have been intended to embody the idea of the decadence of the Jewish religion and the substitution of the Christian in its place and on its ruins. Doctor Oliver thinks that it is typical of the murder of Abel and Cain, and that it Symbolically refers to the universal death of our race through Adam and its restoration to life in the Redeemer, according to the expression of the Apostle, "as in Adam we all died, so in Christ we all live."
Ragon makes Hiram a symbol of the sun shorn of its vivifying rays and fructifying power by the three winter months, and its restoration to prolific heat by the season of spring. And, finally, Des Etangs, adopting, in part, the interpretation of Ragon, adds to it another which he calls the moral symbolism of the legend, and supposes that Hiram is no other than eternal reason, whose enemies are the vices that deprave and destroy humanity.
To each of these interpretations it seems to me, says Doctor Mackey that there are important objeetions, though perhaps to some less so than to others. As to those who seek for an astronomical interpretation of the legend, in which the annual changes of the sun are symbolized, while the ingenuity with which they press their argument cannot but be admired, it is evident that, by such interpretation, they yield all that Freemasonry has gained of religious development in past ages, and fall back upon that corruption and perversion of Sabaism from which it was the object, even of the Spurious Freemasonry of antiquity, to rescue its disciples.
The Templar interpretation of the myth must at once be discarded if we would avoid the difficulties of anachronism, unless we deny that the legend existed before the abolition of the Order of Knights Templar, and such denial would be fatal to the Antiquity of Freemasonry.
And so to the adoption of the Christian reference, Hutchinson and, after him, Oliver, profoundly philosophical as are the Masonic speculations of both, have, Doctor Mackey was constrained to believe, fallen into a great error in calling the Master Mason s Degree a Christian Institution. It is true that it embraces within its scheme the great truths of Christianity upon the subject of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body; but this was to be presumed, because Freemasonry is truth, and Christianity is truth, and all truth must be identical. But the origin of each is different; their histories are dissimilar. The creed of Freemasonry is the primitive one of Noah and his immediate descendants. If Freemasonry were simply a Christian institution, the Jew and the Moslem, the Brahman and the Buddhist, could not conscientiously partake of its illumination; but its universality is its boast. In its language, citizens of every nation may eonverse; at its altar men of all religions may kneel; to its creed, disciples of every faith may subscribe.
But the true ancient interpretation of the legend the universal, Masonic one for all countries and all ages, undoubtedly, was that the fate of the Temple Builder is but figurative of the pilgrimage of man on earth, through trials and temptations, through sin and sorrow, until his eventual fall beneath the blow of death and his final and glorious resurrection to another and an eternal life. And now, in conclusion, a word of historical criticism may not be misplaced. It is not at all essential to the value of the symbolism that the legend shall be proved to be historical. Whether considered as a truthful narrative of an event that actually transpired during the building of the Temple, or simply as a myth embodying the utterance of a religious sentiment, the symbolic lesson of life and death and immortality is still eontained in its teachings, and commands our earnest attention.
On the subject of that crying sin of the Order over-legislation by Grand Lodges Governor Thomas Brown, formerly Grand Master of Florida, has wisely said:
Too much legislation is the vice of the present day, as w well in Mazonzc as in civil government. The same thirst for change and innovation which has prompted tgros and demagogues to legislate upon constitutional law, and write expositions of the common law has prompted uninformed and unscrupulous Masons to legislate upon the Landmarks of Masonry.
German for an Entered Apprentice.
An eminent English antiquary, the Chaplain of King Henry VIII, who appointed him King s Antiquary, a title which he was the first and last to bear. The King also directed him to search after the antiquities of England, and peruse the libraries of all cathedrals, abbies, priories, colleges, etc., as also all the places wherein records, writings, and secrets of antiquity were deposited.
Leland, accordingly, traveled over England for several years, and made many collections of manuscripts, which were afterward deposited in the Bodleian Library. He was a man of great learning and industry. He was born in England in the beginning of the sixteenth century, the exact year is uncertain, and died on the 18th of April, 1552. Anthony Wood says that he was by far the most eminent historian and antiquary ever born in England. His connection with Freemasonry arises from the manuscript containing the questions of King Henry VI, which he is said to have copied from the original (see Leland Manuscript).
In the lecture of the First Degree we are told that a Lodge has three symbolic Lesser Lights; one of these is in the East, one in the West, and one in the South There is no light in the North, because King Solomon's Temple, of which every Lodge is a representation, was placed so far north of the ecliptic that the sun and moon, at their meridian height, could dart no rays into the northern part thereof. The North we therefore Masonically call a place of darkness. This symbolic use of the three lesser lights is very old, being found in the earliest lectures of the eighteenth century.
The three lights, like the three principal officers and the three principal supports, refer, undoubtedly, to the three stations of the sun its Rising in the East, its Meridian in the South, and its Setting in the West; and thus the symbolism of the Lodge, as typical of the world, continues to be preserved. The use of lights in all religious ceremonies is an ancient custom. There was a seven-branched candlestick in the tabernacle, and in the Temple "were the golden candlesticks, five on the right hand and five on the left." They were always typical of moral, spiritual, or intellectual light. The custom prevalent in some localities, of placing the burning tapers, or three symbolic lesser lights, East, West, and South, near the altar, is sometimes changed so that these respective lights are burning on or beside the pedestals of the Master and his two Wardens at their several stations. In the old Teutonic mythology, and in accordance with Medieval court usage, flaming lights or fires burned before each column, similarly situated, on which rested the images of Odin, Thor, and Frey. These columns are further represented as Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, sustaining the "Starry-decked Heaven," roof or ceiling colored blue, with stars.
LESSING, GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM.
A learned littérateur of Germany, who was born at Kaumitz, in the Neiderlausetz, January 22, 1729, and died on the 15th of February, 1781, at Woefenbutal, where he was librarian to the Duke of Brunswick. Lessing was initiated in a Lodge at Hamburg, and took great interest in the Institution. His theory, that it sprang out of a secret association of Templars which had long existed in London, and was modified in form by Sir Christopher Wren, has long been rejected, if it was ever admitted by any; but in his two works Ernst und Falk and Nathan d er Weise, he has given profound and comprehensive views on the genius and spirit of Freemasonry. Lessing was the most eminent littérateur of his age and has been styled "the man who was the forerunner of the philosophers, and whose criticisms supplied the place of poetry" (see Ernest and Falk). BrotherLessing's dramatic poem, Nathanthe Wise, is vigorously Masonic. The author was convinced that the stage would prove as useful in circulating the good doctrine as the pulpit and he strove in this play to preach universal brotherhood. He discusses class prejudice and teaches the force of that truth which underlies religious creeds. The effort was an outgrowth of the well-known Goeze controversy and was written in 1778 to 1779 in reply to some of the criticisms of the Hamburg pastor. First acted at Berlin in 1783, it met with little success, until in 1801 it was put on the stage at Weimar by Schiller and Goethe. The principal characters include the Sultan Saladin, a follower of Mohammed, Nathan, a wealthy Jew, Recha, his adopted daughter, Daja, a Christian woman companion of the daughter, and a young Knight Tetnplar. The plot is briefly as follows: Nathan finds that his daughter has been saved from death by the Knight Ternplar who, in turn, is captured by the Sultan, who spares his life because the young man rese-nbles the late brother of Saladin. The young people fall in love with each other though the Templar avoids the girl because she is presumably a Jewess. Saladin, in need of money, appoints Nathan his Treasurer and at an interview questions him about his preference for the Jewish faith. Nathan replies by telling him the story of the Three Rings quoted below:
Is that your answer to my question?
Not But it may serve as my apology. I cannot venture to decide between Rings which the father had expressly made, To baffle those who would distinguish them.
Rings, Nathan! Come, a truce to this! The creeds Which I have named have broad, distinctive marks, Differing in raiment, food, and drink!
By our Prophet's faith, The man is right. I have no more to say.
The Templar then visits the Patriarch at the Convent and states the case but withholds the names of those concerned. He is informed that it is the law for a Jew converting a Christian to die by fire and demands are made for the name of the criminal. The Templar refuses to betray Nathan and seeks Saladin. The climax of the play shows that the young people are the children of the brother of the Sultan and, therefore, his own nephew and niece. Lessing has strongly emphasized an enlightened tolerance in its relation to the several creeds which are of leading importance in the poem. In fact, this aspect of the drama is by farthe most important in it and well deserves critical study.
The name, Three Rings, applied to Lodges and to at least one Masonic Journal, is a brotherly tribute to Lessing's genius.
The passages of Scripture recited by the Prelate in the ceremony of inducting a candidate into the Masonic Order of Knights Templar. It is an ecclesiastical term, and is used by the Templars bet cause these passages are intended to instruct the candidate in reference to the incidents of our Savior's life which are referred to in the ritual.
LETTER OF APPLICATION.
More properly eagled a Petition, which see.
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