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book i

the scholar the builders rejected

w. bro. j. s. m. ward

"For even at this trying moment our Master remained firm and unshaken."

Although it is in the first degree that the candidate is made acquainted with the principles of moral virtue, and the second and third degrees are devoted to more recondite researches, yet all three degrees have their appropriate moral teachings interwoven with other allegorical instruction. If we desired to find a word which most aptly summarises the significance of the third degree, we could not find one more suitable than the word "loyalty," although, of course, this does not preclude the fact that other moral lessons are inculcated during the ceremony.

The brethren will remember the peculiar nature of the ob. in this degree, which, while containing a definite reference to the f.p.o.f., also contains a specific promise as to the loyalty we should show towards a brother, by respecting his secrets, protecting his good name and maintaining his honour, both in his absence and presence, and in particular by never injuring him through certain of his relations.

Some masons have been inclined to criticise the last clause on the grounds that by implication it releases the Freemason from a like responsibility to the relations of those who are not masons. This, however, is a gross travesty of the truth. The obligation must be considered in its entirety, and not as if each sentence were a separate and distinct command. The promise is one of loyalty to the Brotherhood as a whole, and to every member thereof, as is shown by the great stress laid on keeping inviolate th e lawful secrets of a brother. No one has ever suggested that because a Freemason thus promises to keep a brother's secrets, this implies that he is thereby exempted from a like duty in the case of non-masons. Similarly, every clause in the ob. inculcates the virtue of loyalty, a lesson which is immediately driven home by the dramatic incidents which follow, in connection with the Traditional History.

After all, what is the clearest moral teaching of the incident here related, is it not loyalty to one's duty, to the promises one has made and to Freemasonry itself? This does not mean that there are not more mystical meanings hidden within the story, there undoubtedly are, but the moral instruction is nevertheless of great importance.

Loyalty to duty. It is this which the story teaches us, and my readers may be interested to know that the same theme is taught in the Mahabarata, in the legend of the Last Journey of Yudisthira, which relates how he goes on a long journey which ultimately ends at the gates of Heaven. There he is told that he is welcome, but his dog, who has followed him, cannot enter Heaven, for Heaven is not the place for dogs. Whereupon the Indian king replies that the dog has followed him loyally throughout his lone, weary journey, and that to forsake a friend is as vile as to commit a murder. Rather than do such a foul deed he is prepared to give up all hope of Heaven. Immediately on his utterance of these words the dog changes form and stands beside him as Dharma, the god of Duty, and he enters into heaven.

Here, then, we have the same underlying lesson of loyalty to duty, and it should be remembered that the F.C.s who went in search, on a long and dreary journey, were similarly actuated by loyalty to their lost Master, and inspired by a sense of duty.

It is probably no exaggeration to say that among us English people loyalty to duty is considered one of the highest virtues. The pages of our history give countless examples of this fact, and this virtue probably appeals to us more than almost any other. It is therefore fit and proper that the culminating degree of the Craft should emphasise its importance in almost every line in the ceremony.

We must be careful, however, not to give too narrow an interpretation to the word "duty." The ceremony inculcates loyalty in all its aspects; loyalty to our fellow men; loyalty to a sacred trust reposed in us; loyalty to those set in authority over us and, above all, loyalty to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. The lesson is driven home by the manner in which the opposite vice is depicted. To all right-minded men, treachery is a peculiarly abhorrent defect. Dante places traitors in the very lowest part of Hell and lowest of all places those who have betrayed a benefactor. The three villains in our story are traitors first of all to a brother, secondly, to their Master, and lastly, to their benefactor, for, ex hypothesis, they must have received the F. C. degree from the very man whom they subsequently treated so badly.

There is one important lesson on this subject which is apt to be overlooked, namely, that the opportunity for the display of this virtue seldom occurs except in times of sorrow and defeat. It is when the foemen ring the castle round, the last food is eaten, the last water drunk and the walls are crumbling before the assaults of the attacking party, that the soldier is able to prove his loyalty. It is when false friends forsake a man, when troubles creep in on every side, that the true friend shows himself in his real colours. It is when a cause is lost, when victory rests on the banners of the enemy, when cowards fly and false friends prove traitors, that loyalty shines out as a glimmering ray amid the darkness. It is tragic, but true, to say that the real test of loyalty is usually on the brink of an open grave, and often the loyal man does not live to receive the reward of his virtue in this life, It is, therefore, in some ways one of the most unselfish of virtues, but it leaves behind it a fragrance sw eeter than myrrh and a crown which is truly celestial.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014