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The philosophy of Freemasonry is probably the least understood of all subjects pertaining to our Craft. It is relatively easy for the individual Mason to obtain a reasonable knowledge of its symbolism. However, many Brethren sooner or later encounter philosophy in their search for knowledge within the framework of Masonry, and in doing so may feel that while some of their Brethren may understand it, to them it is incomprehensible. There are, perhaps, two primary reasons for this. First, the almost universal view that the great philosophers of the past were intellectual giants whose thinking was on a plane high above the understanding of the average man. Second, nearly everyone at some time or another for his own edification has had a brief encounter with the works of Plato, Socrates or the other great philosophers, and, with no one to guide him, has given up after a few chapters. As a result, he comes to think of philosophy as something for only the lucky few who can understand it.

There is no mystery in philosophy. Rather, it is a rule and guide to the development of an attitude toward living, an attitude beautiful or otherwise, depending upon the individual. We can easily remove the feeling that Masonic philosophy is incomprehensible by defining it. The dictionary indicates that philosophy is "the love or pursuit of wisdom." It is divided into three branches : 1) natural, 2) moral, and 3) metaphysical philosophy.

We can discard two of these categories. We are primarily interested in moral philosophy, since Freemasonry is a moral science. Hence to apply the above definition to Masonry, we must pursue wisdom in moral philosophy.

Wisdom is the use of knowledge or judgment. Intelligence determines or limits the extent of one s thinking process. We might even say that intelligence governs our ability to retain knowledge. Knowledge, in itself, is easy to attain. It is one of the most inexpensive items we can acquire and we can acquire it within the limitations of our intelligence. Wisdom, on the other hand, is God-given.

To better understand the area in which we should direct our efforts in this search after moral wisdom, let us examine the story of the Garden of Eden. According to the story, the serpent took the forbidden fruit of the tree of Wisdom and gave it to Eve, who in turn gave it to Adam and they both did eat thereof. When God learned of this, He drove them from the garden because, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, they had become in part like God. To quote Chapter 4, Verse 22 of Genesis, "And the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil."   Thus was man given the power of choice. It is in this realm of choice that we must work to attain moral philosophy.

Before developing this subject more thoroughly, we should consider very briefly some renowned writers on Masonic philosophy. Four of the more important ones are William Preston, Karl Krause, George Oliver and Albert Pike.

William Preston was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 7, 1742. He was connected with the printing industry, became a Freemason and was Master of his Lodge at the age of 25. He is credited with constructing the degree lectures in the form we have today, particularly the Fellow Craft lecture. Living in an intellectual period, it was only natural for him to think that knowledge was the key to the philosophy of Freemasonry. Karl Krause was born near Leipzig, Germany, in 1781. He was the founder of a law school and taught law for a number of years. He also wrote extensively on the philosophy of law. Krause approached Masonic philosophy through morals and argued that the maintenance of a social order means responsibility to man.

George Oliver was born in England, on November 5, 1782. He, too, was a teacher and was a master at King Edward s Grammar School. He based his Masonic philosophy on tradition, contending that pure Masonry was taught by Seth to his descendants before the great flood and that Masonry, therefore, is a traditional science of morality. Albert Pike was born in Boston, on December 29, 1809. He gave us a metaphysical (beyond the real or material) approach to Masonic philosophy.

In addition to these four, there have been many others who have written at length on Masonic philosophy. Each had his own viewpoint concerning the subject and in reviewing what they have written, it is necessary to bear in mind the time and circumstances in which they lived because it had an influence on their reasoning. We established earlier that "Wisdom in Morality" is the goal for what we are looking. In what area shall we seek ? Since Freemasonry is a moral science, there is only one place to search. That is among the rich symbolism and the allegories in which it is veiled — the ritual.

Symbols are simply material objects used to express a thought, idea or precept. Allegories are used in much the same way as symbols: they are "picture symbols" or "word pictures." Allegories may involve a person, thing or an event or a combination of all three. From these word pictures we must derive for ourselves a moral meaning. Thus each member of the Craft develops within himself moral lessons consistent with the modes of behavior befitting a good man and true. Thus he attains wisdom in morality. Moral philosophy is not a thing of the past — yet it was there for those who lived in the past. For the modern student it is both a thing of the present and the future. Man is ever influenced and even controlled by the moral standards of his time. Similarly, any philosophy that he may develop within himself for the government of his conduct must of necessity be influenced by the customs and standards of his era. Having defined Masonic philosophy and shown how it must be achieved by the individual Mason in a way peculiarly his own, let us see how it can be applied.

Consider the completely indispensable prerequisite to becoming a Freemason — a belief in Deity. What part does Deity play in our philosophy ?

Since God has given man the power of choice, man needs a governing force to control that choice. God is that force. Some of the terms which are commonly applied to Deity illustrate this : "God is love" ; "God is the source of all good" ; "God is the source from whence all blessings flow" ; "God is the Creator" ; "God is all Truth" ; "God is omnipotent." To believe in Deity is to accept all this without question. It follows, then, that man is subservient to Him simply because man believes — because he was created in His image. Since a Mason must and does believe in Deity, in theory, at least, he can have only good thoughts — from whence come good actions, since actions spring directly from thoughts. Thus governed, he can be only a just and upright man. This points to perfection. But man, having a choice, cannot always be perfect because at times he will err in choice. Freemasonry recognizes this and demonstrates such recognition by the symbolism of the point within a circle. Freemasonry realizes that man needs some latitude in his thoughts, words and actions. It also recognizes that man needs to seek a balance point.

The emotions of man extend form the depths to the summit. Somewhere between these extremes is the perfect balance point where man can find complete happiness and fulfillment. Yet, inevitably there are situations when circumstances demand that his point be shifted up or down. This is governed by the thoughts of man as influenced by the existing set of circumstances. If the thinking is controlled, so are the emotions and so is the resting place of the balance point.

Freemasonry attempts to establish that control by the teachings of the point within a circle. The circle establishes the boundary line beyond which he should not go. Man establishes the dimensions of the circle by the limiting effect of the Holy Scriptures and by the examples of the two great saints. Thus, though the individual be rough and rugged or learned and polished, the teachings of this particular Masonic symbolism clearly delineates the boundary which determines the just and upright man.

Let us now consider the allegory of the third degree and see how it may be applied in our search for wisdom in morality. What is the moral application of the word picture which constitutes the legend of H.A.?

Here was a man, talented, giving all of his immense knowledge to the task of designing much of the Temple with its beautiful adornments and supervising its erection. How proud he must have been to have such an important part in the construction of the greatest edifice of its time ! Greatest, not because it was so large, but because it was to be the dwelling place of the most High God. But jealousy and envy were abundant then even as they are today. It is easy to see how many of the workmen, burdened with the superstition, thought that he had some mystic secret that enabled him to perform this great task so superbly. And if they could obtain this secret, they, too, could be of equal importance. Therefore, they conspired to force this secret from him.

Today, we have the same basic situation constantly with us and it is just as deadly as it was in the time of H.A. One who achieves some measure of success is almost certain to arouse the envy and criticism of his fellow men. They make baseless assertions to others and their actions prove the axiom that the tongue is mightier than the sword. They criticize, they ridicule, they crucify and sometimes they succeed in destroying the good name of their victim. Yet, throughout all this as the object of their venom, the person must maintain his fidelity to his fellow men and to his ideals as did our ancient Brother.

We could continue illustration of our responsibility to our Brethren and our fellow men, the necessity for the control of our thinking and our desires and passions and about the philosophy of our dearly beloved Fraternity. However, each Mason can and should analyze for himself each symbol, each allegory, so as to increase his wisdom and his knowledge of Masonic philosophy. Thus he will form his own personal moral philosophy and will find his life richer and fuller.

It is hoped that this brief treatise on the philosophy of Freemasonry will inspire every member of the Craft to search for the meaning of that which was lost so that he, too, as a Master Mason will enjoy the happy reflection consequent on a well-spent life.

Note : The Masonic Philosophy was extracted from the Grand Lodge F&AM of Ohio "Candidate Councelor's Handbook", with some editing.

Reference : VOL. 19, WINTER 1998, No. 8; pages 228, 229, 230 & 231


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