AN APPRECIATION OF FREEMASONRY
An Address given by WBro John C A Francis, WM of the Ruapehu Lodge of Research No 444, on a visit to the
Hawke’s Bay Research Lodge No 305 in Hastings on
Monday, 5th November 2012
This brief talk has grown out of an article I prepared for the local newspaper prior to the 2009 Royal Arch Convocation. They did not use it – but that is not unusual, as it seems the media collectively have a prejudiced view of what freemasonry is and what it stands for. Perhaps my remarks will coincide with your perception of the craft; possibly, and optimistically, they might encourage you to re-think a long cherished notion, or yet again you may dismiss them as nonsense.
As a trade, masons probably date from the stone age when some enterprising Neanderthals exchanged their skills fashioning stones into rude shelters, for a bear skin or a couple of mammoth steaks. And that bit of trivia probably settles the question that seems to plague so many masons – just how old is freemasonry? It may even justify Dr James Anderson’s claims in his Constitutions, published in 1725, that freemasonry began with Adam instructing his son Cain in geometry, and also in claiming that Moses was a Grand Master.
Undoubtedly, in time, the genuine skills needed for working in stone developed, and around the tenth century warlords and clan chiefs considered it prudent to have fortresses made of permanent material if they were to enjoy a relatively comfortable old age. Of course it was not long before pride of possession became enmeshed with the charms of beauty. And so the more skilled and enterprising masons searched for ways to retain the strength of their structures while making them appear less forbidding – geometry and science took centre stage so that flying buttresses and the like transformed stodgy blocks of stone into light and airy structures with genuine eye-appeal. The age of the great cathedrals had arrived.
Consistent with this development the practical mason contrived ways to identify other skilled artisans who came seeking work. Guilds – in one sense a fore-runner of trade unions - were formed and in the case of the masons, because they lived on site in a temporary structure often attached to the cathedral or castle and known as a lodge, their guild and their lodge effectively became a single corporate identity.
Meantime other men were enquiring into the laws of nature and science. The first universities appeared and the boundaries of logic and reason were pushed to new extremes. (In making that statement I am limiting my observations to European history, I am quite sure that advanced schools of learning had long been in existence in the Middle Eastern nations.) Then, more so than now, education cost and was initially a preserve of the wealthy. But shock, horror, there was a bunch of near illiterates treating complex mathematical calculations and geometry as routine problems to be resolved in the course of their day-to-day employment. I suggest that reason was the great winner here, and the men of genius (though not all of them) sort to learn from the humble artisan. They weren’t going to soil their hands with honest manual labour, but by sharing their knowledge gained by study while seeking further enlightenment from the operative mason’s lodge they in time found an acceptance among the masons of their day. Of course this led in time to the recognition of that unique creature we now call the speculative mason.
In Britain, many of these wealthy educated men were already meeting in what became known as the Royal Society under the patronage of Charles II. In time this association between the workmen’s lodges and the learned society quietly produced the freemason’s lodges we are familiar with today. It was the Age of Enlightenment (1688-1789) and many men were keen to share their knowledge and, in the process, advance their own learning. There was a positive explosion of freemason’s lodges across the British Isles. In England, in particular, there developed a need for a governing body – a Grand Lodge – and after a couple of false starts the Premier Grand Lodge was founded in 1717. This body had a rather narrow-minded view of what constituted freemasonry, and their rival, a more liberal body, which worked a multitude of degrees and claimed an Antient heritage, dubbed the Premier Grand Lodge adherents as “The Moderns”. This simple action continues to confuse all manner of people right up to the present time.
The Holy Royal Arch was a feature of the Antient’s degree structure. Indeed, its appeal extended to many that pledged allegiance to the Moderns. Reason finally prevailed in 1813 and the United Grand Lodge of England came into being after some chicanery, and with inspired word play, declaring the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, including the Holy Royal Arch, as being pure Antient Masonry.
At this point I feel it necessary to back track a little and to suggest that the development of speculative masonry meant that ‘trade related problems’ were no longer of pressing importance. Discussions within the lodges diverted to moralising on the tools of trade, the materials and of course the product of the mason’s labour – the temple, that is to say King Solomon’s Temple. All of which contributed to the rituals we are familiar with today. Now I submit that to be a reasonable scenario.
Other trades – notably the Gardeners – as well as common interest groups have followed similar paths. It would not be difficult to repeat the process even now. Consider for a moment that tear jerking tale that was popular during the Korean and Vietnam wars when a soldier is found with a pack of playing cards during a church parade and in the course of interrogation cleverly connects each card to some feature of his religious belief.
Brethren, that is a light-hearted look at our origins and development. I offer now some observations on what it takes to be a freemason, on what we represent and on what we offer to our communities.
Freemasonry requires its members to believe in a Supreme Being – God being a common name for such a being. Faiths aside from Christianity, Judaism and Islam have other names for this being and so to promote uniformity, The Great Architect of the Universe is the usual style within a freemason’s lodge for the Supreme Being. English freemasonry required brethren to be Christian, until about 1725, when Dr James Anderson published his Constitutions, thereby effectively opening the door for Jews and other non-Christians to join. When the United Grand Lodge of England came into being in 1813 a new constitution was necessary and was subsequently published two years later. The Ancient Charges were scarcely altered except that the first “Concerning God and Religion” was amended to read:
‘Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality’.
In 1961, the UGLE further defined the relationship between English freemasonry and religion, asserting that ‘Masonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for religion … nor a competitor with religion, though in the sphere of human conduct it may be hoped that its teachings will be complementary to that of religion.’
Consequently virtually all Grand Lodges follow the non-sectarian ethic. However, notable exceptions are the lodges working under the Scandinavian Rite. This Rite is unequivocally Christian in orientation and has eleven degrees that follow a logical progression – the first three correspond to our Craft degrees and the eighth is similar to Knights Templar. The other degrees have no true equivalent under the systems common to British freemasonry. The bible, and/or its equivalent for non-Christian faiths, lies open at every lodge meeting. I have seen two VSLs open at a meeting and read of there being as many as four.
In Scotland, the Mark degree can be worked in either a Craft Lodge or a Royal Arch Chapter. There, as here, membership of a Mark Lodge is a pre-requisite to joining a Royal Arch Chapter.
A piece of history - the founding members of the Royal Society in 1662, with the exception of Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle were all freemasons – and there is strong evidence that Christopher Wren later joined the Craft.
Every initiate of a lodge pledges allegiance to the Crown or to the governing authority of the nation he is then resident in. A lodge promotes self-discipline and development of the individual, e.g. the routine ritual is memorized. Freemasonry is not a Service Club like Rotary, Lions, etc.
Masonic Retirement Villages and Rest Homes are open to all. I once heard a funeral director state that Catholic priests officiated at most of the funerals he arranged for one-time residents of a Masonic retirement home.
International freemasonry, with its appendant and dependent orders, must be a contender to be acknowledged along with such charities as Oxfam, and the Red Cross, as a leading international benevolent society. Every Grand Lodge has a charitable fund and encourages it member lodges to practice charity in the widest sense. Internationally, billions of dollars will be dispersed this year, and every other year, by way of grants to research and educational institutions, all sections of the performing arts, and such humanitarian institutions as St John’s, the Rescue Helicopters, and, in Britain, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (in my reading I see that UGLE over the years has donated thirteen lifeboats). The current cost for a lifeboat is in the order of half a million pounds sterling.
Freemasonry supports and, in some instances, actually maintains retirement homes with attached hospitals offering a full range of services, and provides thousands of volunteers looking in on invalids and other deserving people who have little or no affiliation with freemasonry. And, of course, we must not overlook the support given to individuals, families in distressed situations and those Masonic institutions offering care and education to children and the needy. In fact a great deal of Masonic Charity is directed to organizations that are in the field with manpower and the machinery to actually achieve the relief that is intended.
A Masonic lodge practices universal charity – it is not a friendly society, restricting its charity to members and their dependents. Disbursements of goods or services, sometimes cash, are made according to needs, not according to affiliation or association. My first active association with the Craft was as a fifteen or sixteen year old helping a friend in Petone deliver a couple of big boxes of foodstuffs to a family in keeping with instructions from my friend’s father.
Usually each lodge has its own benevolent fund and independently makes grants to such worthy causes as the hospice, rescue helicopter, St John’s and, not infrequently, to selected secondary school pupils. In 2004, Lodge Rangitane donated one thousand dollars to the Mayoral Flood Relief fund. More recently the Freemason’s Charity, in conjunction with the local lodges, has placed defibrillators in several small communities in the Manawatu-Rangitikei-Wanganui area, while nationally every St John’s ambulance has been fitted with a GPS system. Local lodges recently presented the rescue helicopter with an underwater training device – considered to be a necessary adjunct, as they often are obliged to operate over the sea or lakes.
For many years now lodges in the Ruapehu District (and no doubt in other districts) have supported the annual “Relay-for-Life” fund raising event in support of the Cancer Society. In 2011 the local Freemasons Team raised $8,350.
Freemasons New Zealand has endowed the Chair of Gerontology at the Auckland Medical School with something in excess of two million dollars. Their support for the Paediatrics Fellowships at the Otago Medical School is of a similar magnitude. They are actively underwriting research into Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, and this Freemason’s Charity Fund is actively supporting science for the benefit of all people. Masonic charity knows no bounds.
Many thousands of dollars, on average more than two hundred thousand dollars each year, are disbursed in University bursaries and scholarships making Freemasons New Zealand one of the largest private providers of student bursaries. On the 9th May 2011, in Hamilton, thirty-two students from the seven New Zealand Universities were awarded seven post graduate scholarships each of ten thousand dollars, together with a further twenty-five standard scholarships each of six thousand dollars. Over the last thirty-three years Freemasons New Zealand has awarded nine hundred and fifty-four student scholarships with a value approaching 3.75 million dollars. Up-to-date statistics may be found in the Charity Herald.
Additionally the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter annually awards around thirty renewable scholarships for tertiary study. In 1992 Supreme Grand Chapter launched their Centennial Award for post-graduate study. This enables the recipient to engage in overseas research on the condition that he or she returns to New Zealand to impart the knowledge gained. Some significant benefits have accrued in such diverse fields as the study of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, diabetes, forensic dentistry and the particular fields of interest of the most recent awardees, Drs Millner and Anderson of Massey University.
In conjunction with the Royal Society of New Zealand, Freemasons NZ annually sponsored a scientific project for secondary schools. I find it curious that the media, in reporting these awards, ignored the role played by Freemasons NZ in promoting the competition among the schools, and also in providing the prizes, which include international travel for the winning school’s team of three or four pupils, together with a teacher. This has included visits to such exotic places as Greenland and Antarctica.
In my experience there is no “old boy network” in freemasonry. Yes, like gravitates to like and an employer who is a freemason will often have brethren among his staff, but job security is as it should be – shape up or ship out.
Membership reached a high point in the twenty years following WW II but has now fallen to about ten thousand here in NZ. Social changes have meant that sons have not followed their fathers into the craft, but happily there is evidence we are now encountering grandsons wanting to renew family connections.
Yes, there are women freemasons. In Britain there is the Order of Women Freemasons, there is also Co-Freemasonry International, which caters for both male and female members. I do not know if these Orders are active in New Zealand, however, the Order of the Eastern Star, which is primarily a women’s organisation with some freemasons as members most certainly is.
There are similar organisations functioning in Australia and in the USA, such as the Order of Amaranth, and the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem. Whilst the De Molay Grand Council caters for teenage males, with the International Order of Job’s Daughters and the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls catering for their female counterparts.
Prince Hall Freemasonry developed in the USA and is virtually the private domain of the Afro-American. Also in the USA, the Shriners are an appendant order of freemasonry and while mainstream freemasonry is almost secretive about its charitable activities, the Shriners by contrast, blatantly promote themselves and their Order expressly to fund their charities, particularly the Shriner’s Children’s Hospitals. Remember this is an American initiative; their website states that their budget for 2008 was eight hundred and twenty-six million dollars – at the exchange rate then applicable, that represented 1.65 million NZ dollars - and that in the previous year they assisted over one hundred and twenty-five thousand young people, under the age of eighteen, through their hospitals.
Men of goodwill can always find a common bond; that freemasonry can be the facilitator in joining two radically different cultures is nowhere better illustrated than in the following news release.
Extract from an email circulated May/June 2011: -
Palestinian is Grand Master of Grand Lodge of Israel AF&AM
Over the last week or so, political news in the U.S. has been filled with headlines about Israel. President Obama called for a return to Israel's 1967 borders. President Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back and explained why such a move would be a suicidal act of madness. Meanwhile, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has embraced partnership with the terrorist group Hamas, whose leadership continues to vow to eviscerate the Jews and push them all into the sea. And next door, over in Egypt, in the midst of the much-vaunted "Arab Spring" Coptic Christians are being slaughtered in the streets and their churches burned.
With all of that going on, it is perhaps a faint glimmer of light in that part of the world that shines from the seal of the Grand Lodge of the State of Israel of Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons. That single image contains the Hebrew Star of David, the Muslim crescent, and the Christian cross, along with the square and compasses of Freemasonry. In all of the Middle East, it is in the Masonic lodges of Israel where men of all faiths regularly put aside their differences and seek to meet each other on the level as true brethren. The Grand Lodge of Israel has approximately 1,200 members who embrace at least five major religions and meet in fifty-six lodges, working in ten languages.
On January 25th, Most W.B. Nadim Mansour was installed as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel for 2011-2013. He is a Greek Orthodox Palestinian Arab, who was born in Haifa, and moved to Acre at the age of five. He was initiated as a Lewis in 1971 into Lodge Akko, a lodge of which his father was a founding member. In 1980, he was elected Master of his lodge. GM Mansour is the third Palestinian Arab to serve as Grand Master of Israel since the 1950’s.
As a general rule, service clubs such as Rotary, Lions, etc, actively recruit their members; by contrast freemasonry has traditionally relied upon interested men enquiring how they might join. As a consequence the world is full of men wondering why they have not been invited to become a freemason. Why the craft adopted this attitude is a mystery. More recently, within the last twenty or so years, Freemasons New Zealand has produced brochures designed to answer queries and to attract interested men to apply for membership. And of course with the advent of the World Wide Web more people are learning about what freemasonry stands for and what it offers. There is a small resurgence in applications to join and hopefully this will continue to grow.
Membership need not be onerous, or demanding financially. As in all things, the more that one puts into an activity, the more one gets out of it. The extent of freemason’s charity is greatly assisted by funds accumulated over very many years, so that members of today are being supported by the many thousands who have gone before them. Freemasonry is open to all men of goodwill.
I conclude this dissertation with a quotation taken from the “District Grand Lodge of the Middle East – 95th year” (being an history of that Scottish Constitution), which in my opinion comprehensively summarises what I consider distinguishes freemasonry from all other fraternal societies.
Masonry teaches love and kindness in the home; honesty and fairness in business, courtesy in social contacts; help for the weak and unfortunate; resistance to wickedness; trust and confidence in good men; forgiveness toward the penitent; love toward one another; and above all, reverence for the Supreme Being, based on a firm belief in the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man and the Immortality of the Soul.