The Necessity of the Royal Arch Degree to the Master Mason
The Necessity of the Royal
Arch Degree to the Master Mason
[ The learned author traces the Origin and evolution of the Third degree in
Craft and that of Royal Arch and stresses the necessity for the M.Ms to take
the Royal Arch Degree for completion. The article was
published by the Educational Bureau, General Grand
Chapter Royal Arch Masons and was distributed by the Onslow York Rite Masons,
Jacksonville, North Carolina. to whom we acknowledge, with grateful thanks. The
article makes a very interesting study. Please read on ….]
The system of Masonic degrees, as now practiced, is the product of an
evolution. Prior to 1717 there is no record that, Freemasonry consisted of more
than one degree. The symbolism, the beautiful lecture, the ornate diction, with
which we find it clothed today, represents the growth and development from the
crude and transition stage of past centuries. Strictly speaking, there was no
degree from the dawn of Freemasonry until it began to take on the speculative
feature. Before the speculative era, the initiate or apprentice was sworn on
"the buke" to observe certain charges, now known as the "Ancient Charges and
Regulations." This constituted the entire ceremony, with perhaps the recital of
the various legends of the Craft, portions on which are retained so this day.
The Mason, prior to the "Revival' of 1717, was designated as an Apprentice.
Fellowcraft. or Master, not because of any special ceremony or degree work, but
because of the length of time of service and skill manifested in his handicraft.
The Ancient Charges and Regulations, as read to the apprentices, referred to the
duties they owed to each other, to the lodge and the Holy Church. It is even
doubted by some of our best historians, that the grip and password were
connected with these ancient ceremonies.
Ancient Craft Masonry, from its earliest legendary history (625 A.D.) down to
1740, made no pretensions to philosophical speculations. No latter day wise men
existed to convert the simple tools of the operative craftsmen into a
philosophical fog bank. Near the middle of the eighteenth century other than
mere operatives were admitted into the guilds or lodges and men were elected to
preside over the brethren, who were not skilled in the implements of the Craft.
The introduction of the speculative Mason prepared the way for the dawn of
Freemasonry. The so-called "Revival" of 1717 was but the bursting forth of the
evolutionary forces that had been slowly developing for half a century. These
same forces are at work today, so that it can truly be said that Freemasonry is
a progressive science. Masonic historians are agreed that some time between 1723
and 1730, the Second and Third degrees were evolved, and in the evolution of
degrees. ritualism and symbolism were developed, resulting in intellectual and
philosophical Freemasonry of today.
The central idea of the entire system of Freemasonry became the "loss" and
the "recovery" of the "Word," symbolizing death and the resurrection, the ending
of the present and the beginning of the future life. The student of Freemasonry
must admit that "The Word" is the central point around, which the entire system
of the Masonic symbolism must revolve. "Its possession is the consummation of
all Masonic knowledge; when lost its recovery is the soul's object of symbolic
labor." Mackey says: "No event in the history of Speculative Freemasonry had so
important, an influence upon its development as a system of symbolism as the
invention of the Royal Arch Degree and its introduction into the Masonic
The Royal Arch stands as the rainbow of promise of the resurrection; of that,
which was lost and that which shall be recovered.
The question arises as to whether the Master's Word was originally
communicated in the Third Degree. On this point there is some diversity of
opinion. In our present ritual of the Third Degree the Maser's Word is lost. Dr.
Oliver, a noted historian, says: "The Word was never lost, but transferred to
the Royal Arch," and in corroboration of this statement further says: "I have
before me an old French engraving of the Ground Work of the Master's Lodge,
dated 1740, containing the usual emblems, and on the coffin is the "True Word"
in Roman capitals."
Brother Newton R. Parvin, Grand Secretary and Librarian of the Grand Lodge of
Iowa, in a letter to the writer, says, "We have in the library an old ritual
manuscript of 1740, which was stated to be used by the brethren of Ben Johnson,
Head Lodge, No.194. The original manuscript belonged to George Oliver, and it
included in the Third Degree the Master's Word. This makes about sixty pages of
closely written matter. It begins with a long historical introduction. Many
points are quite similar to our present methods. The language is very simple and
impressive." This would tend to prove that before the legend of Hiram Abif was
introduced in the Master's Degree, the True Word was communicated in the
Master's Degree and not a substitute Word. It necessarily followed that when the
legend of Hiram became a part of the ritual of this degree the "loss" of the
"Word" followed, as the "loss" is a part of Hiramic legend. But the "loss"
without a "recovery" would be an absurdity; to complete the symbolism of
Freemasonry, the "Word" must be recovered, hence the necessity for a Fourth
Degree, the Royal Arch.
In 1738, or earlier, the story of the loss of the Word and the new legend,
the Royal Arch, were gradually introduced into the lodges, and when the
Freemasonry of England was divided into the "Moderns" and "Ancients" (in 1751),
the latter organizing a Grand Lodge and adopting ritual of four degrees, the
fourth being the Royal Arch.
The Grand Lodge of "Modems" evidently continued to use the old ritual,
without the legend of Hiram Abif, while the Grand Lodge of "Ancients" used the
new ritual containing the Hiramic legend and the Fourth Degree, until the year
1813, when the two Grand Lodges united and formed the present Grand Lodge of
England. It is therefore to the Grand Lodge of Ancients that we owe the Master's
degree as found in our ritual and also the preservation of the Royal Arch
degree. One of the Articles of Union of the two Grand Lodges of England in 1813
was the retention of the degrees as formulated by the Grand Lodge of "Ancients";
hence, among the articles of agreement of this union we find the only
declaration made anywhere or at any time as to what constitutes "Ancient Craft
Masonry." This article declared that "Ancient Craft Masonry shall consist of the
degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, together with the
Holy Royal Arch."
We see, therefore, that the Royal Arch is merely the evolution of a truth
contained in the early Third Degree. It is not a "Higher Degree," but the last
volume of the series in a sublime story revealed through symbolism. The Master's
Degree without the Royal Arch is a story half told, a song half sung and a
promise unfulfilled. The candidate is promised that he should receive, but is
put off with a "substitute." He is left in darkness, in doubt, and to the
thoughtful one, in a condition of disappointment. Yet, there is a purpose behind
this seeming deception. Light and revealed Truth come only through toil and
willing service. This lesson must be learned before any Mason is qualified to
know and to appreciate the Truth, the Master's Word. It is, possibly,
unfortunate that the Royal Arch Degree was separated from the "Blue Degrees";
but fortunate or unfortunate, the Royal Arch stands as the last of the degrees
in Ancient Craft Masonry. It is the Summit, and no Master Mason is in possession
of all that Freemasonry teaches without the Royal Arch. The series of four
degrees continued to be conferred under a lodge charter until about 1750, in
America at least. The earliest history that we have of the Royal Arch in this
country was in 1753, when it was conferred under lodge charter in
Fredericksburg, VA. It was introduced into New York about the same time by an
English military lodge, and into Massachusetts in 1769, where it was conferred
in St. Andrew's Lodge.
Since that time the Royal Arch Degree has remained secure in its superior
place. The term "Royal Arch Lodge" was succeeded by "Chapter" and "Royal Arch
Chapter." The word "Chapter" was used in Connecticut as early as September 5,
1783; in Pennsylvania, September 5, 1789; in New York, April 29, 1791; in
Massachusetts, December19, 1794. The word "Chapter" took the place of "Lodge" in
England for the first time, April 29, 1768. The word "Companion," used in the
Chapter in place of "Brother," was first used in England in 1778. These terms
Chapter and Companion were soon carried to America, where they flourished as
elements in the Capitular system of degrees.
Such, in brief, is the history of the Royal Arch Degree; its parentage is as
legitimate as any of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. It sprang from
introduction of Speculative Freemasonry into Operative Masonry, the fruit of
symbolism and allegory. To be a Master Mason is the highest and most honorable
degree that any man can attain. It entitles him to all the rights and privileges
of the Craft; all the accumulated so-called higher degrees do not add anything
to his Masonic stature. The Royal Arch is a part of the Master's Degree, the
summit of its excellence It is the privilege and should be the duty of Master
Masons to complete the Masonic story, told in allegory and revealed in
symbolism, by receiving the Royal Arch.
Would you be
enrolled as one living in that future generation, that shall discover IT?
Act now !