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Enlightenment from the Ritual

by Giuliano Di Bernardo
Grand Master of Regular Grand Lodge of Italy

The Ceremony of Passing. The Worshipful Master faces the candidate: in the previous Degree you made yourself acquainted with the principles of Moral Truth and Virtue, you are now permittedd to extend your researches into the hidden mysteries of Nature and Science. (Emulation Ritual. Lewis Masonic; London,1991. p.137 ).

The Ceremony of Raising. The Worshipful Master speaks:

... Proceeding onwards, still guiding your progress by the principles of moral truth, you were led in the Second Degree to contemplate the intellectual faculty and to trace it from its development, through the paths of heavenly science, even to the throne of God Himself.. (op.cit.,p.175 ).

even to the throne.." Mark how the rational faculty can only take the Fellow Craft to the " Throne of God".
At this point, the rational intellect is exhausted in its operations or, if you prefer, dies or is sacrificed before the Supreme Being. This key point is clarified shorty afterwards:

Worshipful Master - Let me now beg you to observe that the Light of a Master Mason is darkness visible, serving only to express that gloom which rests on the prospect of futurity. It is that mysterious veil which the eyes of human reason cannot penetrate, unless assisted by that Light which is from above. ( op.cit., p.182 ).

These Rituals offer keys to enlightenment:

  1. The First Degree is characterised by the " principles of Moral Truth " - the relations governing man and man - and can therefore be called the Degree of Ethics.
  2. The Second Degree is characterised by the " heavenly science ", knowledge of the spiritual nature obscured in created things. The Mason is encouraged to perceive " heavenly science " from a rational standpoint: passing from visible to underlying causes ( seek and ye shall find). The Degree can therefore be called the Degree of Metaphysics understood rationally.
  3. The Third Degree still characterised by the relationship between man and God, takes this relationship beyond the strictly rational sphere. This Degree can therefore be called the Degree of Metaphysics understood intuitively, representing a raising from mortal perception ( perception governed by time and death ), to that unfathonmable " Light which is from above ".

The true import of the Third Degree will be lost if masons think of it as a " once and for all " event akin to initiation. Rather it represents a mystical process which must be continually dynamised if the Master Mason is to achieve or sustain his mastery. Masons are reminded that the path is one of perfecting, towards perfection. Perfection is the Neoplatonic ideal : identification with " the Light which is from above " . This perfection is indicated to us by an array of symbols, such as the one which can be found in the Third Degree Opening of the Emulation Ritual ( op.cit., pp.46-47 ) where we find the following questions and responses:

  • WORSHIPFUL MASTER ( TO SENIOR WARDEN ) - What is that which is lost ?
  • SENIOR WARDEN - The genuine secrets of a MM.
  • WORSHIPFUL MASTER ( TO SENIOR WARDEN ) - How came they lost ?
  • JUNIOR WARDEN - By the untimely death of our M.HA.
  • WORSHIPFUL MASTER ( TO SENIOR WARDEN ) - Where do you hope to find them ?
  • SENIOR WARDEN - With the C.
  • JUNIOR WARDEN - A point within a circle, from which every part of the circumference is equidistant.
  • SENIOR WARDEN - That being a point from which a MM cannot err.
  • WORSHIPFUL MASTER - We will assist you to repair that loss and may Heaven aid our united endeavours.
  • IMMEDIATE PAST MASTER - So mote it be.

Perfection requires that we understand that:

  1. The true secrets of a Master Mason have been lost.
  2. What was lost must be sought.
  3. These secrets may be found again with the aid of a circle.
  4. Being in the centre of a circle, a Master Mason cannot err.

Why is perfection represented by geometrical figure of a circle and point? I believe that we must look to the philosophical and alchemical origins of modern Freemasonry - before 1717. The seamless circle represents perfection extended, in time - like movements of heavenly bodies: they move around something.

That something is the centre which, not moving, represents the timeless. Thus Copernicus in his epoch-marking work on the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs ( 1543 ), quoting Hermes Trismegistus, can write of the stable, illuminating sun as " the visible god " , the manifest source of visible light and dynamic life.

To be centred ( to concentrate ) creates a circle around the one: the original perfection. ( Elias Ashmole's motto was Ex Uno Omnia: from the One, All ).

We may also think of the great Hermetic dictum : God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere, circumference nowhere. These and similar insights were very important to the philosophers of the Renaissance on whom we depend for much of our speculative material, because they linked ( and harmonised) scientific discoveries with spiritual order in the universe: " the hidden mysteries of nature and science. "

The Freemason will only find his goal when his perception passes through the visible order and he is raised to the spiritual reality which exists at its heart: the link and key to which lies in his own heart, which, as he learns in the First Degree, must first be true, and then thus, the mason is centred and make partake in the divine presence concentrated therein. Thus, while in the physical realm he is in armony with the spiritual law behind the visible universe: he is at one with the Great Architect's design.

The masonic path may therefore be viewed as an ascending ( raising ) staircase of Light, with seven steps. The first light is the light man receives with initiation, in which the visible darkness is overcome, while the last is the light preceding the mystic union with God, when non-visible darkness is reached. The seven steps can be described as : perception, examination, reflection, knowledge, understanding, wisdom and truth.

When the mason achieves mystic union with God ( in an allegorical sense ), the light-darkness duality ( the chequered floor ) disappears. The union can no longer be described. The Great Architecte of the Universe becomes the En Sof of the Cabalist: the unknowable, alogical Depth which appears to man's unenlightened mind as an impenetrable darkness.

Fiat lux! Let there be light!

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Last modified: March 22, 2014