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book i

the scholar the builders rejected

w. bro. j. s. m. ward

"That excellent key, a Freemason's tongue which should speak well of a Brother, absent or present, but when unfortunately that cannot be done with honour, and propriety, should adopt that excellent virtue of the Craft, which is Silence."

The above paragraph constitutes the charge at the end of the first section of the First Lecture and inculcates a lesson which is particularly needed in a Society such as Freemasonry. A group of men constantly meeting together are only too prone to indulge in idle chatter and mild scandal-mongering. It is not necessary to assume that when Bro. A relates to Brother B the latest stories he has heard about Bro. C he is actuated by malice. As likely as not he is merely passing the time between lodge and refreshment, and hardly realises that he may be doing a real injury to a brother by passing on some tale which reflects no credit on the victim. It is clear that the reorganisers of Freemasonry in the 18th century realised how easy it was for petty scandals to pass from month to mouth, to the detriment of real brotherly affection, for there is little doubt that the moral lesson that you should speak well of a brother or else remain silent is dramatically taught on two occasions during the ceremony.

Soon after his entrance into Lodge the candidate is led to two of the chief Officers, and is only allowed to pass when each Officer in turn is satisfied that the tongue of good report has spoken in his favour. Here at once we have an important hint of this precept, for seeing that the candidate only gained admission because no one spoke unkindly of his past career, he should remember this fact and not speak unkindly of other brethren. If there were any doubt on this point, the similar testing which takes place towards the end of the ceremony would remove it. Therein the candidate is with much elaboration taught the important lesson of Caution; ostensibly it is caution with regard to Masonic secrets, but though, no doubt, it has this object in view, there is hardly an incident in Freemasonry which does not teach more than one lesson at the same time.

Let us then consider what is meant by the secrets of Freemasonry. Obviously, they are something more important than a few test "words and signs whose chief utility, apparently, is to enable brethren to recognise each other. There would be no use in having such signs unless Freemasonry itself contained some hidden secrets which these guarded, and we do know that hidden in her symbolism, particularly in the second and third degrees, is a system of mystical teaching and possibly, even, a certain amount of occult training.

But in the first degree we perceive that the main object of the ceremony is moral training, notwithstanding the fact that there are also mystical secrets hidden therein. From the standpoint of moral training, why then this emphasis on the necessity for silence and secrecy, and why should the first section of the Lectures close on this note ?

The explanation is surely that Masonry aims at developing Brotherly Love and in order that this may be achieved one of the first essentials is confidence in each other. If one brother finds that another has been passing on unkind remarks about him, the fact is sufficient to mar the harmony of the lodge and destroy mutual confidence. It is not merely that a trifling incident passed by word of mouth from man to man tends to be distorted and exaggerated, although this is a fact which cannot be denied, but ev en more that as brothers we ought to avoid doing anything which may harm another's reputation or hurt his feelings. At a later date the Candidate definitely promises to keep a brother's lawful secrets, but even thus early in his career the importance of caution and silence when dealing with the affairs of others is impressed upon his mind. Is it not a golden rule that when we cannot speak well of a brother we should at least remain silent ? There may be exceptions to this rule, occasions when we must protest against a certain line of conduct, but these are far fewer than at first sight one may be inclined to think. Moreover, in a higher degree the duty, if needs be, of reproving a brother is recognised, but that instruction is not given to an E.A., who is only at the beginning of his masonic career and is in the position of a junior among seniors.

It should be noted, however, that while there may be good reasons for reproving a brother to his face, there are none for telling tales about him behind his back, and the very school boy's code which lays it down that one must not sneak shows that Masonry is not unique in stressing the fact that we should speak well of a brother absent or present, but when that is unfortunately impossible should adopt that excellent virtue of the Craft, which is silence. If this were always done much bitterness and bickering which at present disfigures the social life of the world would automatically vanish.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014