Lodge Education Officer
Excerpt from Chapter
1: "What is Masonry?"
The following is an excerpt from
"What is Masonry"; Chapter I of The Builders. It is an attempt to give one of
several definitions for Masonry. This excerpt also gives some insight into the
purpose of Masonry.
Masonry, as it is much more than a
political party or a social cult, is also more than a church--unless we use the
word church as Ruskin used it when he said: "There is a true church wherever one
hand meets another helpfully, the only holy or mother church that ever was or
ever shall be!" It is true that Masonry is not a religion, but it is Religion, a
worship in which all good men may unite, that each may share the faith of all.
Often it has been objected that some men leave the Church and enter the Masonic
Lodge, finding there a religious home. Even so, but that may be the fault, not
of Masonry, but of the Church so long defamed by bigotry and distracted by
sectarian feud, and which has too often made acceptance of abstract dogmas a
test of its fellowship. Naturally many fine minds have been estranged from the
Church, not because they were irreligious, but because they were required to
believe what it was impossible for them to believe; and, rather than sacrifice
their integrity of soul, they have turned away from the last place from which a
man should ever turn away. No part of the ministry of Masonry is more beautiful
and wise than its appeal, not for tolerance, but for fraternity; not for
uniformity, but for unity of spirit amidst varieties of outlook and opinion.
Instead of criticizing Masonry, let us thank God for one altar where no man is
asked to surrender his liberty of thought and become an indistinguishable atom
in a mass of sectarian agglomeration. What a witness to the worth of an Order
that it brings together men of all creeds in behalf of those truths which are
greater than all sects, deeper than all doctrines-- the glory and the hope of
While Masonry is not a church, it
has religiously preserved some things of highest importance to the Church--
among them the right of each individual soul to its own religious faith. Holding
aloof from separate sects and creeds, it has taught all of them how to respect
and tolerate each other; asserting a principle broader than any of them-- the
sanctity of the soul and the duty of every man to revere, or at least to regard
with charity, what is sacred to his fellows. It is like the crypts underneath
the old cathedrals-- a place where men of every creed who long for something
deeper and truer, older and newer than they have hitherto known, meet and unite.
Having put away childish things, they find themselves made one by a profound and
childlike faith, each bringing down into that quiet crypt his own pearl of great
"The Hindu his innate disbelief in this world, and his unhesitating belief in
another world; the Buddhist his perception of an eternal law, his submission to
it, his gentleness, his pity; the Mohammedan, if nothing else, his sobriety; the
Jew his clinging, through good and evil days, to the one God who loveth
righteousmess, and whose name is "I AM;" the Christian, that which is better
than all, if those who doubt it would try it-- our love of God, call Him what
you will, manifested in our love of man, our love of the living, our love of the
dead, our living and undying love. Who knows but that the crypt of the past may
become the church of the future?"
Of no one age, Masonry belongs to
all ages; of no one religion, it finds great truths in all religions. Indeed, it
holds that truth which is common to all elevating and benign religions, and is
the basis of each; that faith which underlies all sects and overarches all
creeds, like the sky above and the river bed below the flow of mortal years. It
does not undertake to explain or dogmatically to settle those questions or solve
those dark mysteries which out-top human knowledge. Beyond the facts of faith it
does not go. With the subtleties of speculation concerning those truths, and the
unworldly envies growing out of them, it has not to do. There divisions began,
and Masonry was not made to divide men, but to unite them, leaving each man free
to think his own thought and fashion his own system of ultimate truth. All its
emphasis rests upon two extremely simple and profound principles-- love of God
and love of man. Therefore, all through the ages it has been, and is today, a
meeting place of differing minds, and a prophecy of the final union of all
reverent and devout souls.
Time was when one man framed a dogma
and declared it to be the eternal truth. Another man did the same thing, with
different dogma; then the two began to hate each other with an unholy hatred,
each seeking to impose his dogma upon the other-- and that is an epitome of some
of the blackest pages of history. Against those old sectarians who substituted
intolerance for charity, persecution for friendship, and did not love God
because they hated their neighbors, Masonry made eloquent protest, putting their
bigotry to shame by its simple insight, and the dignity of its golden voice. A
vast change of heart is now taking place in the religious world, by reason of an
exchange of thought and courtesy, and a closer personal touch, and the various
sects, so long estranged, are learning to unite upon the things most worth while
and the least open to debate. That is to say, they are moving toward the Masonic
position, and when they arrive Masonry will witness a scene which she has
prophesied for ages.
At last, in the not distant future,
the old feuds of the sects will come to an end, forgotten in the discovery that
the just, the brave, the true-hearted are everywhere of one religion, and that
when the masks of misunderstanding are taken off they know and love one another.
Our little dogmas will have their day and cease to be, lost in the vision of a
truth so great that all men are one in their littleness; one also in their
assurance of the divinity of the soul and "the kindness of the veiled Father of
men." Then men of every name will ask, when they meet:
Not what is your creed?
But what is your need?
High above all dogmas that divide,
all bigotries that blind, all bitterness that beclouds, will be written the
simple words of the one eternal religion-- the Fatherhood of God, the
brotherhood of man, the moral law, the golden rule, and the hope of life
- - - Newton, Joseph
F. "What is Masonry" Chapter I, Section III in The Builders.
Lexington, Massachusetts: The Supreme Council, 33rd Degree, A.A.S.R, 1973.
Lodge Education Officer