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The Twelve Craftsmen

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

�A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.� Manly Hall  

�Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.� D. H. Lawrence  

�Live one day at a time emphasizing ethics rather than rules.� Dr. Wayne Dyer  

The Twelve Craftsmen Have you ever heard of �Scheming Ethics?� Scheming Ethics is simply getting others to be accomplices in a scheme to beat the system. Maybe we all have know someone who has done something wrong, or wants to do something wrong, and then goes to friends or co-workers to elicit support: the fallacy is that if a number wish to do it � it must be justified.  

When I think of someone trying to �beat the system� by �scheming ethics,� I think of the lessons contained in the 3� of Freemasonry. Thinking of the 3� also brings to mind the act of repentance, which is one of the lessons of the degree, and how some of the words from Freemasonry have been adopted and used in our every day English language and usage; and how that use is different from how Masons use them.  

If we were to spend even a short time thinking of words or expressions, we could come up with a number of expressions in the English language (at least the American version of English) that have roots in Freemasonry; one of them is �the third degree.�

There is a commercial running on TV in this area for Premiere Loan Company.  

I�m sure there is no connection with Freemasonry, but when I heard the name I automatically thought of the Premiere Grand Lodge formed in London in 1717. (I know; a quirky mind.) The question the announcer asked really made me think of Masonry too, here is what he said: �Where can you get a large loan without the third degree? Call Premiere Loan!�  

Getting the third degree is an expression I remember from the movies I saw as a kid, way back when they had Saturday Matinee�s (mat-in- nay). Giving someone the third degree meant some serious questioning. In those old movies when that sort of third degree was portrayed they tended to be on the rough side. That just goes to show how the entertainment industry takes things to an extreme for shock value; if anyone ever was the recipient of that sort of a third degree they would have preferred to skip it, and would do their best to get away from it and forget it.  

The third degree in Freemasonry is not like that at all, but it is thorough; meaning it is complete, (as each degree is,) and it ties together the lessons carried forward from the first and second degrees, it culminates and completes the Ancient Craft Degrees. While I am a proud member of the Minneapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite, and while the Scottish Rite and the York Rite are available for further study as affiliated bodies, I will state a truism; there is no higher degree than that of Master Mason, (the 3� for the non- Masons who might be reading this.)  

The third degree, which all Master Masons participate in, is a dramatic play that has been enjoyed and pondered for centuries; it is also something that each of us can enjoy and study for our lifetime: Unlike the third degree in the movies, the Masonic third degree is a pleasant experience, and once seen and participated in it is something you want to remember for a lifetime, and you do.  

Masonic students enjoy studying the lessons of the Hiramic Legend, to learn and understand the many allegories in the degree. For the Masonic Student, there is much to learn and enjoy in researching just one small bit of dialog or action of the play. Doing research on the degree work of Masonry is truly enjoyable. One of the best places to begin the study and research of the third degree is in the Great Light of Masonry: A good Study Bible is a very good research book. The reason for such research and study is to better understand, and thus improve ourselves.  

It is appropriate to dispose (to place) other volumes of sacred law on the altar, along with the Holy Bible, to represent the various religions we Masons may individually practice, it is always proper to have the Holy Bible disposed in the center of the altar with the Square and Compass upon its open pages; they are the 3 Great Lights of Masonry. The reason for this is that the degrees of Masonry are based on some of the content of the Holy Bible, with dialog that comes from both the Old and New Testaments in the degrees and lectures.  

Just as an aside; there are times Freemasonry is criticized and given the third degree by anti-Masons, because in one of the Masonic lectures the Holy Bible, the Great Light of Masonry, is listed as part of the �furniture� of the Lodge: The critics claim we are demeaning the Bible by calling it furniture, however, they condemn us wrongly. Freemasonry uses words with old meanings, not necessarily the way it is used in general conversation in the 1900�s or 2000�s. The meaning of what Mason�s know as the �Furniture of the Lodge� simply means the Lodge must be �furnished� with the Holy Bible, Square, Compass, and Charter or Warrant; if it isn�t furnished with those, it is not a Lodge. Masons can open a Lodge without the benefit of chairs, tables, and that sort of thing, but it must be furnished with the Three Great Lights of Masonry along with the Lodge�s lawful Charter or Warrant authorizing them to work. Furniture is the act of furnishing, or the state of being furnished. So if someone wants to give you the third degree about that particular expression, grab a good dictionary; there are some great ones on the Internet.  

In the play we Masons know as the 3�, there are twelve workmen who convey a message for the Masonic Student. We first see the craftsmen when they come before the king to make a confession for their part in a conspiracy with 3 others who might be carrying on with felonious plans. The twelve formally tell the king that �we� have recanted, and asked for his pardon.  

Some have asked why the king doesn�t show anger in the play, and why the twelve aren�t portrayed as filled with regret with hand wringing and pleading: To me the reason seems to be teshuva; it is written in Hebrew as ����� � it means return. Teshuva, meaning "returning", is the term for repentance. Repentance or returning to God or the Godly way of life; changing one's behavior by the following four steps:  

1. Stopping the sinful behavior; saying no, saying no more, and resolving to stop.  

2. Confession before God, regret over past actions; Teshuva.  

3. Commitment to changed behavior in the future; Appearing before the king to tell all without the need of being given �the third degree,� to publicly confess, ask for pardon.  

4. be willing to do whatever it takes to help.  

Another lesson to be realized from the 3� is that we are blessed: Two men meet, and one says to the other the standard, and sometimes without really wanting an answer, greeting; �How are you today?� The other man replies quickly, with a smile, �blessed; truly blessed.�  

In studying the Great Light of Masonry and commentaries regarding the various passages of scripture the student will find information that will sometimes make things a little clearer. For instance, there are two verses worth exploring; one is written by David in Psalm, 32:1 and the other is written by Solomon in Proverbs 28:13. Any translation you like best is fine to use.  

Psalm 32:1 � �Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.�  

Proverbs 28:13 � �He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.�  

These are interesting statements written by 2 different men; a father and a son.  

The Talmud asks: How are these two verses to be reconciled? And then the Sages tell us that there are two types of concealment.  

�People who realize that they have done wrong and now feel badly about it are obviously not likely to [but will on occasion] make a public declaration. Rather, they will be remorseful and resolve not to make the same mistake again. They do not deceive themselves and think they have done no wrong. The Psalmist speaks of these people and says, fortunate is he whose sins God will not consider, and there is no deceit in his spirit (Psalm 32:2). This honesty leads to forgiveness, and the concealment referred to is in contrast to those who flaunt their wrongful behavior, thereby indicating that they believe it to be correct.�  

�Proverbs is referring to those who conceal their sins from themselves, either by repression or by any of the many distortions that people use to justify their errant behavior. These people are dishonest with themselves, and they stand in contrast to the person who �has no deceit in his spirit.�  

�Obviously, people who deceive themselves cannot be honest with others, even if they try to do so. Honesty is certainly commendable, but we must first make certain that we are honest with ourselves.�  

Commentary from Jewish theology says; �honesty leads to forgiveness, and the concealment referred to is in contrast to those who flaunt their wrongful behavior, thereby indicating that they believe it to be correct.�  

Commentary from Christian theology says; this verse conveys �several aspects of God�s forgiveness; forgives transgressions, covers sin, doesn�t count our sins against us.� It further says; �God wants to forgive sinners.  

Forgiveness has always been part of his loving nature.� �It is hard to learn from mistakes you do not acknowledge; what good is a mistake if it doesn�t teach you something? To learn from an error you need to admit it, confess it, and analyze it, to make adjustments so that it doesn�t happen again.�  

Further commentary says; �Something in each of us strongly resists admitting we are wrong. That is why we admire people who openly and graciously admit their mistakes and sins; these people have a strong self-image. Be willing to reconsider � to admit you are wrong and to change your plans when necessary: The first step toward forgiveness is confession.�  

This information is helpful to me in understanding a certain part of the degree (play) a little better than before; I hope you find it helpful too.  

�Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate.� William A. Ward  

From volumes of Sacred Law:  

�The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.' Numbers 6:24-26 Tanakh (Old Testament) NASB  

"Blessed us the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.� Romans 4:8 (New Testament) NASB  

[Those] �Who give to charity during the good times, as well as the bad times. They are suppressors of anger, and pardoners of the people. GOD loves the charitable. If they fall in sin or wrong their souls, they remember GOD and ask forgiveness for their sins - and who forgives the sins except GOD - and they do not persist in sins, knowingly. Their recompense is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens with flowing streams; they abide therein forever. What a blessed reward for the workers! Qu�ran (Khalifa Translation) Surah 3 � Al-Imran: The Family of Imran 3:134-136  

You who suffer from the tribulations of life, you who have to struggle and endure, you who yearn for a life of truth, rejoice at the glad tidings!  

There is balm for the wounded, and there is bread for the hungry. There is water for the thirsty, and there is hope for the despairing. There is light for those in darkness, and there is inexhaustible blessing for the upright.  

Buddha, The Gospel � Paul Carus translation 1894. �The Disciple Speaks.� Words to live by: �Remorse is virtue's root; its fair increases are fruits of innocence and blessedness.� William C. Bryant

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