The "High" Mason and the "Higher" Degrees II.
By Bro. MELVIN M. JOHNSON
Past Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts
(Conclusion) The Master Mason - July-August 1924
From: Ron Blaisdell To: mi-masons
Subject: The High Mason and the Higher Degrees - Part 2 of 2
Date: Sunday, May 23, 1999 2:20 PM
WHEN the great struggle came between the legitimate Supreme Councils and Cerneauism, it was settled by the Grand Lodges of this Country. Those brethren who were active in the Northern and Southern Supreme Councils sought the support of the Grand Lodges. And it was the recognition accorded by Grand Lodges which determined the question. It was then well and truly said that: The Freemason in Masonic matters has pledged his allegiance to the Craft which made him a Mason, and must take his guidance from its Grand Lodge in Masonic matters. In 1882 an unusually able committee on which were Charles Levi Woodbury (Corresponding Grand Secretary, 1862-68, Deputy Grand Master, 1869-1871, Active 33d, serving continuously as Chairman of the Committee on Jurisprudence of the Supreme Council from 1868, and as its Puissant Lieutenant Grand Commander from 1879 until his death in 1898) and William Sewall Gardner (Grand Master 1869-1871, Most Eminent Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of the United States, Knights Templar, 1868-1871, first Commander-in-Chief of Massachusetts Consistory, Active 33d, Justice Massachusetts Superior Court 1875-1885 and Supreme Judicial Court 1885 until his death in 1888), in an exhaustive report, which was adopted by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, said in part: What are Masonic institutions other than the Grand Lodges? They are understood to be regular and duly constituted organizations for the practice of Masonic mysteries, built upon the basis of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry, admitting none to initiation who are not already initiated into Masonry under the auspices of a regular Grand Lodge, who are eligible to membership only whilst they retain their Masonic character in such Grand Lodges, and who forfeit it when expelled from such Grand Lodges. The Grand Lodge does not charter them, regulate their ritual, or prescribe their legislation. So far as they are a Chapter, an Encampment, or a Council, they are independent Bodies. Because they are independent the Grand Lodge must consider whether the allegiance they ask from the Fraternity will be injurious to that due to itself as the sovereign representative of the Fraternity. The Grand Lodge acts upon such independent bodies as one nation acts on another, by treaties of fraternity and peace, or by declaring non-intercourse, or by absolute embargo; but on the members of these bodies within its jurisdiction it acts directly with all the power of the whole of Free and Accepted Masonry of the jurisdiction. It is only by the tacit or direct consent of the Grand Lodge that such independent bodies are permitted to seek for initiates or to make proselytes among the lodges of its jurisdiction, or that any Mason in its allegiance is permitted to enter or remain in the ranks of such a Body. When that is cut off such a body must die. * * * It is an old and sound doctrine that there is no Mason within the boundary of the State who is not within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge, and amenable to it for his conduct. The Committee on Jurisprudence of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire should also be quoted: The Grand Lodge was created as the sole governing body and power of the Craft in all things Masonic. It was deemed to have absolute control over the Fraternity. The Landmarks were a guaranty that it would not trample upon their rights. They were to be observed as the Magna Charta, but all other powers and prerogatives were ceded to and vested in the Grand Lodge. No limit was set upon its authority. No line of separation was drawn between Craft Masons as such, and as adherents to the higher degrees then rapidly increasing but by universal consent, in obedience to the imperative demand, full power and authority was lodged in the governing body. We hope that the power of the Grand Lodge is full and complete in all things Masonic. Those who differ from this proposition do not deny its authority so far as appertains to the first three degrees, but they claim it extends no further, or in other words that the Grand Lodge cannot inquire into what is done beyond the Blue Lodge. This is a doctrine which answers itself. Can it be claimed that the ceremonies of symbolic Masonry can be used anywhere, except by the authority of the Grand Lodge? Would any Mason for an instant say that he could exhibit the signs of Craft Masonry in a lodge of Odd Fellows or other confraternity, and if he should do so, be would not be answerable to the Grand Lodge? And what is the difference so far as violation of the regulations is concerned between exhibiting them in an Odd Fellows lodge, and some degree of a so-called Scotch Rite not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge? Can any body of men owing allegiance to the Grand Lodge practice any part of the ceremonies of the Blue Lodge degrees anywhere or under any circumstances except by the permission of the Grand Lodge? Is it not clear that everything symbolic is within the control of this Grand Body? Are there any within the lines of the Fraternity who construe their obligations in a way to permit them to exhibit the Master's sign, for instance, anywhere or under any circumstances, except those occasions well understood by the Craft? If so, the sooner such are separated from us the better for the Institution. No system or rite is Masonic unless founded upon symbolic degrees. All claim to be built upon the Blue Lodge as a basis and such has always been the understanding. In all the degrees, and arrangements into what are termed rites, the symbolic degrees have been the cornerstone. It follows that no rite Masonic can be practised without the sanction either express or implied of the Grand Lodge. And we hold it to be sound law that the authority of the Grand Lodge is complete over the members of its obedience in the use, practice, or teaching of any rite or degree, containing any part, sign, work or symbol of any kind as a Masonic ceremony belonging to Craft Masonry. The Committee presented the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted: Resolved, That this Grand Lodge declares its understanding of the law in relation to its powers and authority over the Craft within its jurisdiction to be: First: That it is the supreme authority in Masonry. Second: That it has the power to determine what Masonry is. Third: That it has the power to decide what Masonic bodies are regular, wherein symbolic Masonry is used, shown, or made a part of the ceremonies. Fourth: That it has the power and authority to prohibit the Masons of its obedience from practising as Masonic any other rites than those which it declares to be Masonic; and from using any of its esoteric ceremonies as Masonic ceremonies in any other body than those it shall hold to be Masonic. A writer in "The American Tyler," in 1902, gives his views as follows: The highest position which can be reached in Ancient Craft or original Masonry is that of Grand Master of a Grand Lodge, and such a one need only have three degrees to be unmentionably higher in rank than is the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council itself, should he not have attained to a Grand Mastership. "I look upon this Grand Lodge," said an eminent lawyer, Grand Master, and holder of all Masonic degrees, "as the head of Masonry in this Commonwealth, and the Grand Master as the head of the Grand Lodge." When, therefore, the Grand Master is officially present at any Masonic function whatever within the limits controlled by his Grand Lodge, he is the ranking Masonic officer present and must be received and accommodated accordingly. He is the "highest" officer there is in Freemasonry. There is, of course, a clear distinction between his official and personal attendance. The Grand Master of a State cannot attend a lodge within his State while it is open on the First, Second or Third Degree, without being Grand Master, but it is possible that he could not attend a Chapter, for instance, at all. Within the Symbolic Lodge he is never shorn of his prerogatives, but he might not be able to pass the Sentinel of a Commandery, and, if he did, he could not take the chair at will. If he is entitled to enter these other bodies, it is by virtue of the practices of those bodies. But it is otherwise when the Grand Master as such is invited to attend. Then it is not the humble brother who enters, but it is the head of the supreme Masonic body of the jurisdiction who enters in his official capacity and garb. Then no other Mason outranks him. He takes precedence over all. No matter who else is there received, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge must be received last. Individually, personality has then no consideration. The Grand Master, as such, within his territorial jurisdiction and in a Masonic body rises for no man, salutes no man except at his own will and pleasure. When others rise to him, he may rise in courteous acknowledgement. When others salute him, he may return the salute. Wherever the Grand Master may be within his territorial jurisdiction, whether in Blue Lodge, Council, Consistory or elsewhere, he is never divested of that distinguishing characteristic of highest rank which permits him, for such cause as to him alone seems sufficient, to "suspend a brother, or a lodge." This high prerogative to suspend a brother from the rights and privileges of Masonry, thereby unseating him from all bodies of all rites, resides in no other Masonic authority whatever except the Grand Lodge itself. This prerogative may be exercised within or without a tyled door wherever and whenever the Grand Master comes to knowledge of sufficiently grave "dereliction of duty, or other un-Masonic conduct." On the other hand, great as is the authority of the Most Eminent Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, and exalted as is his station, he could not enter the youngest lodge covered with his official chapeau. There is much misconception about this, not only in the minds of the profane, but of some brethren. Because the degrees of the Scottish Rite have numbers which are arithmetically higher than the degree of Master Mason, many deem them to be higher in authority and power. True, the rungs of a ladder are higher in altitude as one climbs upward, but the higher he climbs the less is his security of station. The topmost rung may give one a greater vision, but he cannot stand there at all unless the ladder itself rests upon solid ground. Even that against which the top of the ladder rests must itself acquire the strength to support the weight of the ladder and its climber front its first attachment to the solid earth. The workmen who gild the dome of the State House and the foreman supervising their work are not higher in station in life than the governor whose office is upon the lower floor; merely higher in altitude. One who climbs the ladder of degrees of the Scottish or York Rites must get a greater vision if he has eyes which can see, yet he has in no wise attained a more exalted station in the Fraternity. Masonic bodies other than those of Symbolic Masonry and their future prosperity are seriously threatened by those who make from within an occasional mistaken assertion of superiority. It hurts the cause when responsible officers of bodies proclaim to great audiences that some General Grand High Priest or Commander is occupying the highest Masonic office in the world. Comparisons are always odious, the more so when they are not true. I entertain the deepest feelings of respect and affection for those who now occupy those great offices. Their predecessors, too, have usually been and are well worthy of the highest Masonic office iii the world, and most of them have held it, but for an officer in the Scottish Rite, for instance, to declare that any office therein is greater than to be Grand Master of a Grand Lodge is not only to voice that which is untrue, but is an affront to every Grand Lodge in the world. To hear such a declaration openly made and to remain silent justifies the accusation sometimes made, that the Supreme Councils and the General Grand Bodies are arrogating to themselves a superiority which they do not possess, a dignity which has never been conferred upon them, a power which they should not claim, an authority which never has and never can reside within them. It behooves us of these misnamed "higher" degrees to humble ourselves lest such degrees are justly attacked and, perchance, brought to destruction. We are not now haughty and arrogant, but will become so if we permit ourselves to feed upon such pabulum. If these views are wrong, they are at least in good company, for they are in perfect accord with the views expressed by Mackey and Drummond and Pike and others of our great leaders. Evidently they are entertained in the birthplace of speculative Freemasonry, where the Prince of Wales or some other prince of the blood royal has for many, many years served as Grand Master though never at the head of other branches of the Craft. I think I appreciate to the full the great honor of holding all the degrees of legitimate Freemasonry, but if I am supposed to regard any of them as higher than my standing in the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, then I misconceive Freemasonry and should prefer to be classed as hostile to them instead of a most ardent and loyal supporter. It is, indeed, my great love for them, my high regard for those who dominate them, my belief in their opportunities, my appreciation of their accomplishment, and my consequent desire that they be not misunderstood which prompts the earnestness with which these views are expressed. To see how so great a Mason as Pike realized the dangers of such self-glorification of the holders of degrees conferred outside of the "Blue" Lodge, it is only necessary to read his prophecy in Volume III of the Bulletin of the Southern Supreme Council, 33d, No. 3 (Misprinted No. 2), page 646, written in March, 1878, after he had served for a long time as Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander of that great Council. It may be too late to change a common terminology. But, however, we may refer to this ancillary or appendant degrees, let us not make the mistake of pretending that a 33d Mason is "higher" than a Master Mason, much less the Master of a lodge. Let us by our conduct and our speech always acknowledge the Grand Master of Masons in his own Jurisdiction to be the highest officer the Masonic world has ever known or ever can know. From this there flow certain rules concerning visitation by a Grand Master, which it may be worth while to state, viz: 1. Within a particular lodge of his own jurisdiction, the Grand Master is always such and cannot divest himself of his rank and station. He should always be received accordingly. 2. In any other body, admitted by his Grand Lodge to be Masonic, the person who happens to be Grand Master for the time being, may attend in his personal capacity according to his rank which he may hold therein and (with immaterial exceptions) without other privileges or duties. 3. In any body not of Symbolic Freemasonry but admitted by his Grand Lodge to be Masonic and meeting within his Jurisdiction, the Grand Master may, if thereunto invited, attend in his official capacity and regalia of office, in which case he takes precedence over all present, though without thereby acquiring authority, to exercise any official function pertaining to that body. 4. Outside of the territorial jurisdiction of his Grand Lodge while in Masonic bodies not chartered by it, a Grand Master receives only such recognition as may be accorded him through fraternal comity. 5. In practice, comity requires Grand Lodges and their particular Lodges to accord to a visiting foreign Grand Master the honors of his station. If more than one foreign Grand Master be present, it has been the invariable practice to receive them in order appertaining to the seniority of their respective jurisdictions, the senior being received last. 6. An officer of an admittedly Masonic body not of Symbolic Freemasonry is entitled to receive within Symbolic Lodges and Grand Lodges only such fraternal courtesies as they may see fit to accord him as a distinguished visitor or guest. Having attempted to demonstrate that there are no degrees beyond Master Mason which are higher than that degree in rank or in authority, it ought to be noted in conclusion that there is one sense in which the other degrees of the York and Scottish Rites may properly be called higher. When a pupil goes through the grades of school and college, one after another, passing out of one which taught things which he has sufficiently mastered, it may be said of him that he is going into higher grades. There is an analogy in Freemasonry. He who does not regard the degrees beyond Master Mason as merely a qualification for the Shrine, who does not look upon the degrees as merely spectacular or a means of spending a pleasant evening, who really absorbs their principles and is a student of what they have to teach, will really find higher degrees . He will benefit thereby and gain a breadth of vision and an insight into the deeper things of life which he probably could not get from the Symbolic Degrees alone. If in this respect the degrees beyond Master Mason are regarded as higher, the use of that word is justified. It is not in this restricted sense, however, that the words "High Mason" and "Higher Mason" are commonly used or understood.