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book i

the scholar the builders rejected

w. bro. j. s. m. ward

    "A peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."

The above phrase is often quoted as if it supplied a complete and adequate definition of Freemasonry, but this is a mistake. It occurs in a certain catechism addressed to an E. A. and should be regarded merely as an explanation of Freemasonry intended for the initiate.

Freemasonry is something much wider than a school of purely moral instruction, as becomes manifest when we study the second and third degrees, which to a large extent consist of mystical teaching of a more complex and spiritual nature than that usually designated by the term, "moral instruction."

The true significance of the above quoted phrase lies in the fact that it is given to an E.A., and the first degree teaches the important lesson that spiritual progress is only possible to those who have conformed rigidly to the moral law. Indeed, it is only when the apprentice has satisfied his instructors that he has made himself acquainted with the principles of moral truth and virtue that he is permitted to extend his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science.

Now, "The hidden mysteries of nature and science" are clearly something quite different from the principles of moral truth and virtue. These, we are told, form a necessary qualification for advancement in the search for further knowledge, and this fact should put us on our guard against assuming that Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, and nothing more.

Let us, however, consider the phrase in more detail, for at first sight it strikes us as unusual in form. Many students have jumped to the conclusion that it indicates that the morality of Freemasons is peculiar, but even a cursory glance through the rituals, not only of the first but also of the second and third degrees, reveals nothing at all unusual in the type of morality taught. It is, indeed, hardly distinguishable from the ordinary code of morality proclaimed by all the various Christian churches.

What is peculiar, however, is that much of it is taught by allegories and symbols instead of by didactic phrases. Not that the latter are entirely lacking, but in so far as they exist they do not fall under the terms of this definition, and although well deserving of study are obviously for the most part 18th century additions.

It is this system of moral instruction which is accurately described as peculiar and it may, indeed, be regarded as almost unique or at least as characteristic of Freemasonry. It is, moreover, especially marked in the first degree, whereas in the second and third degrees, though not entirely lacking, it is clear that we are dealing with a rather different subject, including the nature of God, the initials of Whose name we are supposed to discover in the second degree.

In this book we hope to set forth some of the moral lessons of Freemasonry which are taught by her to the candidates by means of allegories and symbols, but we shall not entirely ignore some of the definite moral precepts declaimed during the ceremony itself, although, as a rule, these require much less elucidation.

It may be argued, however, that it is necessary to prove that moral instruction is given, even in the first degree, by means of allegories and symbols, as distinct from obvious and perfectly intelligible admonitory phrases. This we will proceed to do.

The manner in which the candidate is brought into the lodge is intended to symbolise the fact that man is by nature the child of ignorance and sin, and would ever have remained so had it not pleased the Almighty to enlighten him by the Light which is from above. We are truly taught that but for Divine inspiration and teaching we should not even be able to perceive what is right and what is wrong. This inspiration may come from our own consciences, which are sparks of the Divine Spirit within us, or from t he instruction contained in the V.S.L., but without it we should ever have remained in a state of moral darkness.

Thus at the very commencement of our Masonic career we are taught in a peculiar way, by means of allegory and symbol, that the moral laws are not man-made conventions but Divine commands, which man should be able to recognise as such by means of the Divine Light within him.

This is by no means an unimportant lesson to a world wherein some doubters are loudly proclaiming that there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong, and that all moral codes are but the accumulated experience of past ages as to what is expedient or convenient. To those who would argue that there is no moral turpitude in theft, since no one has any real right to possess property, and that at the most all that can be said is that it is convenient for the community to punish theft, as otherwise the victim might take the law into his own hands and create a disturbance, the Mason replies by placing his hand on the V.S.L.. Remembering the most dramatic incident in the first degree, he declares that the Divine Wisdom sets forth in that sacred book the definite command, "Thou shalt not steal," for having been taught to look to the V.S.L. as the great Light in Freemasonry, he has no alternative but to accept this as a definite and binding instruction, disobedience to which must be accounted for before the throne of God Himself.

In like manner, the first regular step inculcates the important moral lesson that we must subdue our passions and trample the flesh under our feet. In one of my other books1 I have shown that this st. represents a tau cross, a symbol which stands for the phallus, and that the latter not unnaturally represents our passions, which therefore must be brought into due subjection. In the Lectures this fact is carefully stressed in unequivocal language, for to the question,-

".... what do you come here to do?"

The reply is,

"To learn to rule and subdue my passions, and make a further progress in Freemasonry."

Now it should be noted that the candidate has not had the significance of the explained to him in the initiation ceremony, yet, from the above answer in the Lectures, it is clear that he is supposed to have sufficient intelligence to understand the significance of this piece of symbolism and apply it to his own character.

The above two examples, out of many possible ones, are sufficient to prove that the definition, given, be it remembered, by the candidate previous to his being passed to the second degree, is a true and accurate definition of Freemasonry as revealed to an E. A.. Namely, a peculiar system of teaching morality, based on the use of allegories and symbols. It is thus that today we should no doubt word the definition, but for all that its true significance is easily discernable. Let us then try and discover similar pieces of moral, as distinct from mystical, instruction contained in our rituals.


1The E.A. Handbook, published by The Baskerville Press, Ltd.

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