Rev Dr James Anderson –A Founder of Modern Freemasonry?
Or, Craft Masonry and the forming of the Constitution
An Address given by WBro David Reid, JW, in The Hawke’s Bay Research Lodge No 305 on
Monday, 6th May 2013
Dr Anderson was a doctor of divinity. He studied initially under an Episcopalian tutor in divinity, who was replaced by a Presbyterian. The Doctor is still a man of many mysteries. Where was he born? Where was he initiated into freemasonry? The same may be said of Jean Theophile Desaguliers, as there is no record of him being made a Freemason. He, like Anderson, studied theology - but at Oxford. He persuaded members of the aristocracy to become Freemasons and in 1719 he was elected Grand Master. Dr Desaguliers believed in a tolerant deism. He was ordained in the Church of England. Here we have two well-educated intelligent men, a Frenchman and a Scot, who were to make a lasting impression on English Freemasonry.
Dr Anderson was probably born in or near Aberdeen, and was a Master of Arts of the Marischal College in that city. He was in London in 1710, was the minister of a Presbyterian chapel and was chaplain to the Earl of Buchan. He was probably not a Freemason, although his sons were. It is possible that an entry in the “Aberdeen Mark Book” in 1670 of a James Anderson refers to his father. It just happens that the minutes for the precise period during which we might expect to find our author, are missing. It is not known when he joined the Craft in London though he was Master of an unidentified lodge in 1722. There is no record of his having had anything to do with Grand Lodge prior to the Grand Mastership of the Duke of Montagu. He was not apparently at the Duke's installation. Anderson, in his version of the minutes, introduces his own name for the first time at the next meeting.
The grand lodge that was brought into existence in 1717 did not have a constitution of its own. Exactly what went on between 1717 and 1721 we do not know; almost our only authority being the account given by Anderson in 1738 which is unreliable in many particulars. Indeed it cannot be stated with certainty whether there were any more than the original Four Old Lodges until 1721; and it would appear from the Lists and other records we possess that the first lodge to join them did not do so till July of that year; the statements as to the number of new lodges in each year given by Anderson cannot be verified. It was also in the year 1721, on 24th June, that the Duke of Montagu was made Grand Master having probably joined the Craft just previously. This was reported in the daily press and the Craft then leapt into popularity. New lodges were rapidly constituted. Grand Master Payne, possibly anticipating the effect of the Duke on membership, had got ready a set of General Regulations, and these were read at his installation. The original text is not available; only the version revised and expanded by Anderson. It was found necessary for these regulations to be printed and published to the Craft. Their publication was undertaken by Anderson, who wrote a very imaginative history of the Craft as an introduction and to prepare a set of Charges; his intention clearly being to give the new body a work which would in every respect replace the Old Manuscript Constitutions. It consists of a dedication by Dr Desaguliers and is addressed to Montagu; an Historical introduction; a set of six Charges; Payne's Regulations revised and the manner of constituting a new lodge. To make it clear to readers that this Constitution is fully approved, the Dedication says, “to render these New Constitutions a just and exact Account of Masonry from the Beginning of the World to your Grace’s Mastership, still preserving all that is truly ancient and authentic. Every Brother will be pleased with the Performance that knows it had your Grace’s Perusal and Approbation, and that it is now printed for the use of the Lodges, after it was approved by the Grand Lodge, when your Grace was Grand Master.”
Was this an endeavour to increase acceptance and sales? Where did Anderson acquire his knowledge?
The third member of the trio who were to have a lasting impact on Freemasonry was Brother George Payne who was Grand Master in June 1718 and during this first period he wanted to form new regulations. Page 152 of the 1738 edition gives us “The General regulations of free and accepted Masons. Compiled first by Brother George Payne when Grand Master in 1720.” Payne asked that brethren give to Grand Lodge old manuscripts concerning the craft. These charges are now referred to as the “Cooke Manuscript”, as Cooke produced a facsimile of a 15th century version of the Old Charges, which were handed in to Grand Lodge in 1721. Why were the two editions of the Constitution, 1723 and 1738, published by the compiler and not by Grand Lodge? Commercial gain? Grand Lodge acknowledged his ownership of the documents in 1738.
Why wasn’t Anderson involved in the 1717 formation of the first Grand Lodge? Having been in London since 1710 was he an active Freemason? There is no record of him until 1720 (or 1721) when the Constitution used terms used in Scottish Freemasonry.
Why was he chosen for this important task when there were so many brethren of considerable achievements who could have been chosen? It appears that Anderson was self elected to write the ‘Constitution’. From where did he get his material? Anderson himself says, referring to the early seventeenth century, on page 105 of his Constitution ‘But many of the Fraternity’s Records of this and former Reigns were lost in the next and at the Revolution; and many of them were too hastily burnt in our Time from a fear of making Discoveries: So that we have not so ample an Account as could be wish’d of the Grand Lodge, &c.’
It is also believed that when Grand Master Payne called for the submission of manuscripts some brethren burned their copies rather than hand them over.
Possibly as another source of information and influence Dr Anderson also mentions on page 105, “Brother Ashmole and his diary entry on the 10th March 1682 giving an account of a meeting in Mason Hall, London at which he was the senior mason having been one for 35 years.” This makes his entry into Freemasonry 1647 and not 1646, though he may have been counting full years only. There is a record of a degree working on 16th October 1646, that of Elias Ashmole the famous English antiquary and philosopher who was ‘made’ a freemason at Warrington in Lancashire. It is believed the ceremony took place at Sankey Manor, the home of the Sankey family. Richard Sankey was present and it is very likely his son Edward wrote the account of the history and charges. Edward was a Freemason and he signed the document now in the British Museum that gives the old charges. The members of this lodge were primarily gentlemen but the rule was that there had to be one or two (the number varies) operative masons present. There is one recorded as being present at Ashmole’s ‘making’. It is believed that there was no initiation ceremony as we know it. Instead the antient charges were read to him. Anderson supports this possibility when he says on page 33, “at the Making or admission of a Brother the Constitution should be read” etc. There is no record of Edward Sankey being there though the manuscript bears his name.
What, if anything, did Anderson owe to Elias Ashmole’s diaries? They said nothing about Freemasonry for over thirty years but they included much that could have influenced Anderson. Ashmole had studied to some extent the Rosicrucian ‘illuminated fraternity’ and he, as a young man, was associated with the work of Dr Robert Fludd (1574-1637) and was influenced by him. This was well before he became a Freemason in 1646, did what he wrote in his diaries influence the course of speculative Freemasonry?
Anderson is credited, or otherwise, with the removal of all Christian references in the 1723 Constitution. It is believed that this was done to make Freemasonry a secular society by bringing Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians together in one society that acknowledge the Great Architect of the Universe. What Anderson has done is make a rule that enforces the general rule of civilised society among men with differences of something as personal as their religion – they refrain from mentioning them. It may have been a contrived and political solution to a potential problem but it has worked, enabling Freemasonry to be acceptable all over the world.
That Masonry was an oral teaching of rules, regulations and skills there is no doubt because many could not read or write. Like all oral teachings there would be changes over time though at some stages manuscripts were prepared, not necessarily for trade practice but to maintain the integrity of the craft. The uprightness and decency of the members was important to ensure a reliable working group. The oldest document concerning Freemasonry was the ‘Gothic Constitutions’ governing the craft masons. Their Constitutions, like that compiled by Anderson, began with a legendary history of craft masonry showing that it went back to kings and was not a lowly trade.
Anderson said at the beginning of the 1723 Constitution that Noah and his sons were Freemasons. The ark featured as a Masonic symbol until mid-eighteenth century and Anderson follows this practice by including that the first Charge, page 143 of the Constitution, concerning God and religion, starts with, “A Mason is obliged by his Tenure to observe the Moral Law, as a true Noachida; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a Stupid Atheist, nor an Irreligiuos Libertin, nor act against the craft.”
Today the Operative Masons, through the work of the reviver of Operative Masonry, Clement Edwin Stretton, claim that the degree workings of Operative Masonry or similar documents as the source of the first two degrees and that Anderson, with others, invented the third degree based on an imperfect knowledge of the Operative Masons “2nd October” Festival and a vivid imagination.
Where did the Third Degree come from if not from the Operatives ritual? Many will deny the existence of Hiram Abif in masonry yet there is evidence that he was known to masons by that name before the present day third degree. Canon Richard Tydeman says “Out of all this bewildering mass of material, one fact of great significance emerges clearly; that in England the name Hiram Abif had appeared in print but once, in a little known Bible of 1535, and nothing like it was used in scripture for 400 years. Yet Freemasons in 1723 were apparently familiar with it and did not find it necessary to explain it in any way. Can we really suppose that Anderson and his brethren invented a legend and took the trouble to dig out a name from a Bible two centuries earlier to go with it?”
Is it not far more probable that the name Hiram Abif was in regular use among Masons even before Luther and Coverdale came across it, and that it has been in continuous use among Freemasons ever since? Perhaps someone should do a little research between Luther and the Craft, to see which way round the borrowing took place.
Given the veracity of this research one must ask, was the Operatives claim valid? Anderson’s “History of Freemasonry” includes the degree workings very similar to that of the Operatives but the third degree is new. How much of it was oral tradition and how much invention by the author? What’s more, Anderson never says anything about Hiram Abif being murdered.
When a Master's Degree — not a Master of a Lodge, but a Master Mason — was added to the two Operative degrees used by Speculative Masons it was claimed it was based on the Operatives' festival commemorating the slaying of Hiram Abif at the Building of King Solomon's Temple.
Some recorders claim that the initiation of Ashmole was the first English speculative meeting while others use an earlier record of a speculative meeting that is recorded to have taken place in 1595 when Edward Minshull was permitted as probably the first non craftsman into a lodge of craft masons in England and the chair he commissioned to be made, Lord Northampton’s chair, was to become the oldest symbolic Masonry artefact in the world. There is a record of another speculative acceptance at a Scottish meeting in Newcastle when Robert Moray was admitted into St Mary’s Lodge in 1641. Being an army lodge it had a peripatetic charter.
Both Rev Dr Anderson and Rev Dr Jean Desaguliers may well have been influenced by the recorded work of Dr Robert Fludd who is reported as being influential within the aristocracy – the type of members wanted in Freemasonry to lift its status and encourage membership. Fludd was a Rosicrucian apologist who apparently embraced the teaching that there was a ‘supreme being’ or god and the ‘supreme being’ was that same god for all religions. Did this then spur the gradual removal of references to Christianity from Masonic ceremonies? Was this removal of references to Christianity all the work of Dr Anderson, a man of the cloth, or was it imposed on him by some group? Jews were permitted back into England in 1650 and the removal of Christian references made Freemasonry acceptable to them. This was the emergence of the tolerant deism favoured by Desaguliers. In the event this also made Freemasonry acceptable to all religions.
In 1824 the ‘London Magazine’ published an article by Thomas de Quincy, who had concluded from his studies of the German historian J G Buhle, that Rosicrucianism gave life to ‘Speculative Freemasonry’ and Dr Robert Fludd, with his many European contacts, “was named as the progenitor of a transformation accomplished between 1630 and 1640.”
The purpose of an initiation ceremony is to render the initiate to a state of wonder or awe. That practised today in the speculative lodges is a shadow of that practiced in various societies only a few years ago when it is believed drawing blood was a standard feature. The craft lodges, in common with their antient sun worshiping ancestors do follow the sun when proceeding by the North, East, South and West. The present Entered Apprentice initiation degree does a little of the old rituals in that it could cause apprehension or even a little trepidation but is only a shadow of its predecessors.
If we accept that presently practiced Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft Degrees are founded on the corresponding degrees of the Operative system and, because of their similarity, it is hard to deny, then why are there so many parts of the ritual that have clearly been invented since the original were allegedly purloined. At some time in the late 18th century the opening and closing rituals were added to the speculative mason’s ritual. There are numerous similarities and these are explained in the late WBro Brian Paget’s paper “Ceremonial Preparation,” in which he mentions the hoodwink, the cable tow, the divestiture of metals, the bare right arm, the bare left knee and the slipshod heel as all coming from the Operative Masons ritual.
When admitted for advancement in a Fellowcraft speculative lodge the candidate is told that having been admitted within the square he is bound to act within the square to all mankind. The exhortation derives from the operative practice of requiring the candidate to kneel with both knees bare on the ashlar stone that was placed within the square gauge. The reason for the change is not recorded; the present practice of supporting the candidates elbow within the angle of a small Pythagorean square was substituted for the operative practice at about the time of the reconciliation between the Ancients and Moderns was achieved in 1813.
The gallows square used by Operative Masons was shaped like the Greek letter G, there being four, one of which is placed on the VSL. The other three are then are placed upon the VSL before opening the lodge to resemble the swastika – a religious emblem that can be traced back 10,000 years to Scandinavia and is in use in Eastern religions today. They are the fourfold gamma that represents the four letters of the Hebrew alphabet which denote the sacred name of God or the Tetragrammatons’.
Clement Edwin Stretton, born in 1850 and who lived in Leicester, is credited with being the founder of today’s Operatives. Guild masonry experienced a period of decline and by 1908, when he visited the Derby lodge founded in 1866, Stretton found only seven in attendance. The reason being that the skilled mason was made obsolete with the development of new technologies and materials and the passing of the Trade Union Act of 1871. Stretton set about resuscitating Guild masonry before all the secret methods, traditions and practices disappeared and he revived three Guild lodges. He also pointed out certain inconsistencies and inaccuracies in some of the Craft rituals.
He vehemently laid the blame on the Rev Dr James Anderson who he claimed, had hijacked the four mainly Operative lodges. Anderson might have known that King James VI of Scotland (and James the First of England) was a member of Lodge Scoon and Perth where he is recorded as “entered frieman measone and fellow craft” though some describe him as more a patron. The practice of being “accepted” was used by Scottish masons who were “entered” in the records. Anderson must have been “accepted” in an Aberdeen Lodge as were many members of the Scottish nobility, none of whom were craftsman.
How is Operative Masonry linked to Speculative Masonry, apart from the accusations of theft? To be a member of an Operative Mason’s lodge today it is necessary to be a Speculative Mason who is a Master Mason, a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Arch Mason. The Royal Arch was invented in the middle of the 18th century and was later to become the only side order to be recognised by the Grand Lodge. To be a member of Royal Arch it is mandatory that you are a Speculative Master Mason. It was invented at about the same time that the premier Grand Lodge took formal control of lodges. Prior to 1757 their authority to meet and work as lodges was the formal act of constitution by the Grand Master and being registered with the Grand Lodge. In 1757 the premier Grand Lodge took the Irish and Antients practice of issuing warrants designating the first Master and Wardens and the lodge were empowered to elect their successors. The lodge then had to be formally constituted.
That the Rev Dr Anderson left gaps in his life in Freemasonry can be accepted as very little is known of the lodge meetings until the 1730s when better records were kept. After the publication of the first Constitution, he was not seen in Grand Lodge for eight or ten, years. He was earning royalties on that publication. That there are no records of his Masonic career in Scotland or in freemasonry from the time he came to England in 1710, at a time when there were very probably only four lodges in London where he worked. Anderson wrote, ‘the true Masonry is inscribed on every human heart’. Was he referring to the craft masonry of a Mason’s commitment to brotherly love, relief and truth? When Anderson made an appearance it was dramatic in that he apparently stepped out of nowhere, cultivated the right friends and caused major upsets. Those upsets became in fact no more or less than the creation of a code by which to live in harmony.
The first revision was in 1756 and there were seven more revisions before the United Grand Lodge was formed in 1813. What has happened to the Constitutions since, I do not know in any detail, but the fundamental teaching of Freemasonry today continues in that vein!
Mackey’s Revised Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry Albert Mackey
Anderson’s Constitutions 1723 and 1738 Quatuor Coronati Lodge
Freemasons Guide and Compendium, The Bernard E Jones
Freemasonry, the Reality Tobias Churton
Operative Masons and a Brief History of the Society David C Kibble-Rees, 7o
History of English Freemasonry, The John Hamill