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Article # 1
What is Freemasonry? (Part 1)

Author: R.W. Bro.R.Ratnaswami P.A.G.M.    Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002
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Several definitions have been propounded from time to time by learned Freemasons. We find that ritual teaches us that Freemasonry is “an ancient and honourable institution, ancient no doubt it is, as having subsisted from time immemorial and honourable it must be acknowledged to be, as by natural tendency, it conduces to make those so, who are obedient to its precepts”. It has been further added that “to so high an eminence has its credit been advanced that in every age monarchs themselves have been the promoters of the art, have not thought it derogatory of their dignity to exchange the scepter for the trowel, have patronized our mysteries and joined in our assemblies.” This praise, eventhough true, does not give an accurate definition or description of freemasonry. Ritual also teaches us that Freemasonry “is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” While it brings about one aspect of freemasonry, it is not a complete definition. It does not project the universal brotherhood and the fundamental principle underlying the organization of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men. Dr.Mackey in Symbolism of Freemasonry refers Masonry as “ a science which is engaged in the search after divine truth”.That definition also does not bring about the uniqueness of Freemasonry. Truth no doubt is an important Masonic Grand Principle , but freemasonry does not stop with the search after the divine truth alone.

A.C.L.Arnold in his book History and Philosophy of Masonry has defined Freemasonry as “Friendship, Love and Integrity” and proceeded to observe that “Friendship, which rises superior to the fictitious distinctions of society, the prejudices of religion and the pecuniary conditions of life”,and “Love,which knows no limit, nor inequality, nor decay: Integrity,which binds man to the eternal law of duty.” That no doubt is the very essence and spirit of Freemasonry, but not the entire Freemasonry, but that as pointed out by Joseph Fort Newton in his classical book “The Builders”’ the uniqueness of freemasonry consists in the form in which it seeks to embody and express the gracious and benign spirit, which is the genius of all higher life of humanity. Friendship and love can not be equated with or exemplify Brotherly Love, another Grand Principle on which our order is founded.

M.M.Johnson has defined Freemasonry as “an ancient male society, having secret methods of recognition, teaching by symbolism(in part esoteric) a moral philosophy based upon monotheism and inculcating the brotherhood of man and belief in immortalty.”G.P.Moore observes that “Masonry is the science of life in a society of men, by signs, symbols and ceremonies and having as its basis a system of morality and for its purpose the perfection and happiness of the individual and the race.” Eventhough, those definitions have highlighted important aspects of freemasonry, they are in no way, complete and it is not possible to regard them as complete definitions.

Albert Pike, a very erudite Masonic scholar has defined masonry as “the subjugation of the Human that is in man by the Divine; the conquest of the appetites and passions by the moral sense and the reason; a continuous effort, struggle and warfare, of the spiritual against the material and sensual.That Victory-when it has been achieved and secured and the conquerer may rest upon his shield and wear the well earned laurels-is the true Holy Empire.” That definition, while focusing upon the spiritual aspect of Freemasonry omits to refer to the universal brotherhood, benevolence and the other distinguishing characteristics of freemasonry.

Oskar Posner has pointed out that life separates man from man and to unite him again with man needs an art ; a means to this art , not the art itself , is Freemasonry. He has therefore defined “Freemasonry is therefore , the medium of an art, which strives to mould people whom life has separated, so that they can enter a new communion with one another.” Freemasonry is a great unifying force. It builds bonds of affection and brotherhood , no other institution is capable of developing. That aspect again is one of the attributes and functions of freemasonry and not the whole of it.

Freemasonry makes good men better . Certainly the men who enter the portals of freemasonry come out of the Lodge temple better and refined . It teaches the various duties of man .it inculcates in him the duties he owes to the State and the Society . It makes him a better citizen. exhorts him to be exemplary in the discharge of his civil duties ,by never proposing or even countenancing any act that may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society. It enjoins on its members to pay due obedience to the Laws of the State and to never loose sight of the allegiance he owes to the head of his native land. It emphasizes abstinence from every topic of religious or political discussion, to preserve the harmony and peace in the Lodge. Highlighting this aspect of the teachings of Freemasonry , Findel ,another erudite Masonic scholar in his book “The Principles of Freemasonry “ has observed that “While masonry abjures political questions and disputes in its Lodges, it is all the while training good citizens and through the quality of its men, it influences public life –as Washington, Franklin and Marshall carried the spirit of Freemasonry into the organic law of the republic.” He has further emphasized that “ It is not politics, that corrupt character ; it is bad character that corrupts politics – and by building men upto spiritual faith and character , Masonry is helping to build up a state ,that will endure the shocks of time ; a nobler structure than ever was wrought of mortar and marble.” That is a beautiful passage about the influence of masonry on its members .It is appropriate at this stage to notice that a considerable percentage of American Presidents, Justices, scientists, industrialists, senators, defence personnel and others had been and continue to be Freemasons. Some masons from America hold the view not incorrectly, that U.S.A was built by Freemasons. The nation building activities of freemasons throughout the world over had been commendable. That aspect of freemasonry has been well illustrated by Findel.

Bro.Wilmhurst in his book “ The Meaning of Masonry “, writes that “ Masonry is a sacramental system, possessing like all sacraments an outward and visible side consisting of its ceremonial, in doctrine and its symbols, which we can see and hear and an inward , intellectual and spiritual side, which is concealed behind the ceremonial, the doctrine and the symbols and which is available only to the Mason, who has learned to use his spiritual imagination and who can appreciate the reality that lies behind the veil of outward symbol.” He then proceeds to expound the Meaning of Freemasonry, He has observed that there are many other doctrinal systems inculcating more or less the same principles and to which no secrecy is attached,”- ,but Masonry according to him “ a specialized and highly effective method of inculcating those principles.” He then proceeds to explain the symbolism of initiation in detail and those of the other two degrees. I recommend a study of that book by all the brethren for such of those brethren, who can not find time due to the pressing emergencies of their public and private avocations, the Research Circle will periodically forward extracts of that book.

While still on the spritual aspect of Fremasonry, it will be appropriate to refer to the views of Dr.J.F.Newton expressed in his monumental book “The Builders”’, that “human soul is akin to God and is endowed with powers to which no one may set a limit..” and that masonry “ dares to read the meaning of the universe through what is highest in man, not through what is lower, asserting that the soul is akin to the eternal spirit and that by a life of righteousness its eternal quality is revealed. He has declared that,”..More than an institution, more than a tradition ,more than a society, masonry is one of the forms of the Divine Life upon earth,” It may not be possible to extract here all his views and we will reserve it for a future occasion. The more we read the Masonic literature the more we understand that it would not be possible to define Freemasonry, simply for the reason that no definition can include all the aspects of freemansonry.

Among the various descriptions about freemasonry, best possible acceptable description is found in the “Handbuch”,published in German in 1900,about which there was an admirable review in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Handbuch is an encyclopaedia of masonry.The description is as follows. “ Masonry is the activity of closely united men, who employing symbolical forms borrowed principally from the masons trade and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble themselves and others and thereby to bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale.” Even though that description does not embrace the entire range of the activities, the symbolism and the teachings of freemasonry, it may have to be accepted as the one that covers most of the aspects of Freemasonry.

As has been already pointed out, the belief in God is the basic qualification for a freemason. All the freemasons believe in the Almighty God. Masonry does not give a name to God. Masons professing all religions meet on the level invoking the blessings of God. No Masonic activity commences without invoking the blessings of God .I am reminded of the Universal Prayer by Alexander Pope, who was also a distinguished Freemason.

“Father of all ! in every age,
In every clime adored,
By Saint, by Savage, and by Sage,
Jehovah, Jove or Lord !

Dr.J.F.Newton holds that “with eloquent unanimity, the Masonic thinkers proclaim the unity and love of mankind—to be the great truth of the Masonic Philosophy.” The unity of God and the immortality of soul are the basic postulates of freemasonry. The initiate, who is in a state of darkness, on being restored to the material benefit of light looks at the great emblematical light in freemasonry. He is taught to consider it as the unerring standard of truth , teaching him the duties he owes to God, to his neighbour and to himself. The three Grand Principles of the order namely Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth are unveiled to him. He is instructed on the distinguishing characteristics of a freemason. The distinguishing characteristic of a Freemason’s heart namely charity is impressed upon him by making him feel for fleeting moment, what it is to be poor and penniless and he is instructed to remember that peculiar moment and cheerfully embrace the opportunity to help a brother or friend in times of need, . Probably no other institution teaches a man to seek the solace of his own distress by extending relief and consolation to the fellowmen in distress. The principles of moral truth taught to him at initiation, besides teaching him his duties to God, his neighbour and to self, exhort him to hold in reverence the creator and to implore his aid only in his lawful undertakings .Freemasonry teaches that masons should practice out of the Lodge, all those duties taught in it and that by virtuous ,amiable and discreet conduct to prove to the world the happy and beneficial effects of our ancient institution and that a masons behaviour should be such ,that the world should know, that masons are persons to whom the burdened heart may pour forth their sorrow and to whom the distressed may prefer their suit and that masons’ hearts have to be expanded by benevolence and their hands are to be guided by justice. Masons have been exhorted to pour the healing balm of consolation into the bosom of the afflicted and to drop a tear of sympathy over the failings of a brother. Masons have also been instructed to observe the four cardinal virtues namely temperance ,prudence ,fortitude and justice.

The subject what is freemasonry is a vast subject and the same can not be compressed in a single paper. All the matters not adverted to in this paper will be covered in the next part.

R.W. Bro.R.Ratnaswami P.A.G.M.Author was initiated, passed and raised in Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge (No.150) Grand lodge of India. He is an erudite scholar and a prolific writer. He has conducted many Masonic seminars and delivered several lectures and orations. He holds the rank of Past Assistant Grand Master. He is guiding the Brahadeeswara Lodge Masonic Research Circle and is responsible for the designing and establishment of the website.

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