Honoring Norman J. Mick
Grand Master of Masons in Ohio
Question: Why additional degrees? Aren't the three symbolic degrees all one needs? Aren't they nothing more than
innovations in Masonry?
Did you know that the Master Mason degree is an innovation in Masonry? It's true! Modern Speculative Freemasonry began in 1717 and at that time there were only two degrees, not three. The Master Mason degree with the Hiramic Legend as we know it today did not come into being until 1725. Therefore, those uninformed or hypocritical Masons that say the additional degrees should not exist, should also include the Master Mason degree in that list of
objectionable degrees. Do they? Of course not! Nor should they! Please read on...
The development of mankind, civilization, cultures, religions and forms of government are progressive. They are not static and do not remain the same from its inception until the end of time. Knowledge, understanding and technology increase and changes are made for the better. Even in religion, we see change. There is the Old Testament and the New; the Old Covenant and the New Covenant; the Law of Moses and the New Law of Jesus. This is not to say that Truth changes. Truth, in fact never changes. However, because of the development of mankind's intellect and reasoning, the path to get there over the millennia has changed.
Therefore, it is so with Freemasonry. Speculative Freemasonry began in 1717 as a very rudimentary and primitive form of catechisms. Over the years, using the principles of synergy and building upon the work of their predecessors, its learned members began enhancing and embellishing the ceremonies as they developed deeper intellectual and philosophical understanding of their meaning. They eventually began to develop entirely new ceremonies, dividing them into degrees, or classes. A third formed, then a fourth and then numerous degrees, orders and ceremonies, each with their own specific lesson, significance and proper place in the Masonic system.
These degrees were not specifically planned out — they simply developed from various parts of the world from entirely different sources. Therefore, they do not fit together end to end in a chronological sense. However, when pieced together like a puzzle they tell a story and provide the candidate in search of light and truth valuable lessons for life. Even though the various degrees came from diverse sources, from various periods in time, they form a complete whole and tell a complete story.
Compare that with the Bible. Each book from both the Old and New Testaments came from different sources and from different periods in time. Presumably, some of the books had more than one author. Yet, all these books were brought together and became one, which we now know and treasure as sacred, The Holy Bible.
Freemasonry parallels life, not only in its lessons and in symbolisms, but also in its formation and development. Masonry, like life itself, is a progressive science. Just as newer civilizations built upon those that preceded them, sometimes quite literally rebuilding upon the foundation remains, Masonic scholars built upon the work of their predecessors.
Yes, all these degrees, orders and rites are an innovation. So what? Should life have stopped evolving? Should learning, discovery and understanding never have happened? Of course not! Neither should these things have been — or should be today — stifled in Freemasonry.
As a progressive science, the Symbolic Lodge degrees deal primarily with the physical, while the York Rite degrees and Orders deal more with the spiritual. Again, this is analogous to and parallels life. We deal with the physical life here on earth, working toward that spiritual life in the great hereafter. The Old Testament of the Bible is often compared to the physical law, while the New Testament deals with the spiritual law of God.
Speculative Freemasonry was formed in 1717 as something very basic. Within 20 to 30 years, it developed into something much more elaborate. We are now practicing Masonry nearly 300 years after its formation. So, when looking at the big picture, this relatively short thirty-year period, or 10 percent of our history of innovation and development, was insignificant in comparison to the overall near 300-year history of the Fraternity. Doesn't it seem logical that with anything in life comes a period of development? What our early brethren referred to then as an innovation, Masons have now been practicing for over 270 years! Could all of our predecessors during this time been wrong? Who are we or any one individual now to say that a degree, order or rite does not belong? What pompous arrogance!
Your Search for More Light in Masonry
The York Rite is the next logical step for a Master Mason to continue his search for More Light in Masonry. I urge you to become an enlightened Mason. I urge you to find the answers to the questions remaining after the Master Mason degree. I urge you to complete the journey of Ancient Craft Masonry that you began. Discovery the lost word, the true word, that symbol of wisdom and understanding. I know the secret, do you? We have found it!
Donald W. Owens
Past Grand High Priest
Grand Chapter of Ohio