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Harry Howard was the M.W.Grand Master of Grand Lodge of Alberta, in 1952,1953.He
presented this paper at the Conference of Grand Masters of North
America on 24th February 1953.He has
explained in this paper, which was very well received, the entire Philosophy of
the First Degree in his own distinguished style. This article has been published
in the website O.M.T.P. Vol X,
Issue 12 and the same can be accessed in the link http://www.linshaw.ca/omtp/vol10no12.txt
(HTML format) This website has posted numerous articles on Freemasonry and is
being maintained by M.W.Bro.Hugh Young P.G.M, who has been kind enough to grant
us the necessary permission to post the article in our website. We are very much
beholden to him. This article exhibits the great erudition of the author and
repeated study of the same will, we are certain, expand our Masonic knowledge,
enabling us to comprehend the philosophy behind the tenets and symbolism taught
to us in the first degree. Please read on . . .]
The Philosophy of the First Degree
by M.W Bro. Harry E. Howard. P.G.M,
Grand Lodge of Alberta
In the first place I must express my appreciation of the honor which was
given to my Grand Lodge of Alberta and myself in being invited to prepare an
address to this highly selective body of distinguished Freemasons, representing
as it does such a large number of brethren who have at some time requested a
petition for admission to this most ancient and honorable institution. During my
peregrinations over the length and breadth of my jurisdiction, stretching
fourteen hundred miles north of the boundary to the Arctic Circle and four
hundred miles east from the Rocky Mountains to the westerly boundary of our
neighboring jurisdiction to the east, I have endeavored to emphasize the
universality of the science and ever present need for the brethren to practice
outside of the Lodge those precepts of virtue which are so beautifully
inculcated within it. I have been conscious of the wishes, nay the heartfelt
appeal, of many of our brethren who are away from centres where Masonic
education is more readily available, for some enlightenment on the significance
of the symbols and work and lectures and charges.
Hitchcock in his Alchemy and Alchemist, written in 1857, quotes an old
Hermetic philosopher as saying "although a man be poor, yet may he very
well attain to perfection" and on commenting on this be says, "That
is, every man, no matter how humble his vocation, may do the best he can in his
place - may love mercy, do justly and walk humbly with God; and what more doth
God require of any man." It would appear, therefore that even the symbols
of the Alchemist have an affinity with the symbols of the spiritual temple of
In all my work in Lodge I have always been impressed with the deep spiritual
and ethical value of the lessons portrayed in the First Degree. I agree that the
three degrees supply a well rounded and abiding series of principles which
should carry one through all the vissicitudes of life, but the first degree, as
is proper, packs a punch which brings a man up smart to realize that here is
something steeped in fundamentals for a definite "way of life."
The dictionary defines philosophy as 'the general principles, laws or causes
that furnish the rational explanation of anything - practical wisdom." This
being so I feel that I cannot do better than to use as a basis for my subject,
the procedure which is provided in order to become an Entered Apprentice.
Voltaire, one of the great philosophers and a Freemason, said "the
discovery of that which is true and the practice of that which is good are the
two most. important objects of philosophy."
When one has asked for and receives a "petition" and this, vouched
for by two brethren, is presented in open Lodge, then other brethren are
assigned, to assure themselves of the worthiness of the petitioner. Certain
attributes should be looked for here, such as the likelihood of keeping
confidences the tendency towards fidelity and loyalty and whether or not there
would be a risk of the petitioner to balk at the need for obedience. There
should also be given some idea of the need, on the part of the petitioner, for a
spiritual atmosphere in his attitude, having in mind the questions which will be
asked of him if he should be so fortunate as to be admitted, and it is the
nature of these questions which point out the basic principles inherent in the
The question requiring a declaration of freedom of approach, of being of an
age of responsibility and of a genuine desire for knowledge and a sincere wish
to become more extensively serviceable to mankind, illustrate one of the basic
philosophies of Freemasonry, "The brotherhood of man".
There are also certain questions regarding ones belief in God and the
immortality of the soul to which an unequivocal answer in the affirmative is
essential, thus emphasizing another basic philosophy, "The fatherhood of
We have not yet secured admission but have been challenged with the type of
organization we are about to be admitted into and when we do gain admission into
the Lodge, erected to God and dedicated to the Holy Saints John, an intercession
is made to God for our assistance to so dedicate and devote our lives to His
service that we may be enabled to display the beauties of true godliness. After
this, when an admission has been made of our trust in God in times of
difficulty, we are assured of the safety in following the guide.
This point is surely one where the 133rd Psalm is applicable "Behold how
good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity; It is like
the precious ointment upon the head that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's
beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon and as
the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded
the blessing, even life for evermore," and should be used as an example of
the relationship of the "brotherhood of man" to the "Fatherhood
After the preliminary perambulations, the charge of the Master, which puts
the whole matter squarely up to the candidate and outlines in a different way,
the design of the institution, to make its votaries wiser, better and
consequently happier, never weary in well doing; naturally seeking each others
welfare and happiness equally with their own, would almost seem to give the real
summary of the lessons portrayed in the first degree, but we have only started,
because we are admonished in connection with the wearing of the apron, "to
let its pure and spotless surface be to you an ever present reminder of purity
of life and rectitude of conduct, a never ending argument of nobler deeds, for
higher thoughts, for greater achievements," until when we stand before the
Throne of God we shall have earned the judgment, "Well done, good and
faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee
ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord".
Then comes the great lesson on Charity, beautifully taught in a never
forgettable manner, calling for that lovely verse:
We give thee but thine own
What ere the gift may be
All that we have is thine alone
A trust, O Lord, from Thee
To comfort and to bless,
To find a balm for woe
To tend the lone and fatherless,
Is Angels' work below.
In various parts of this degree we are taught the universality of Freemasonry
and that a Mason's charity should know no bounds save prudence.
"The Lodge represents the world and includes both Heaven and Earth.
Ancient Temple formations consisted of a double square end to end, one
representing Heaven and the other representing Earth. In the middle were three
cubes, one above the other representing a primary Trinity. Here the mortal soul
is blended with the immortal spirit. The initiate has his eyes opened to a new
world and he will not pass out of the Lodge as quite the same man as he entered
it. Hence the term "Universality."
Charity being linked up in the same paragraph as Universality has a very deep
significance because it illustrates the limitless area which this virtue of all
virtues covers. I think this was the principle intended to be inculcated. There
would appear to be a cororally in the expression later on with reference to
initiation wherein it is stated that a Mason is instructed in proper exercise of
UNIVERSAL BENEFICENCE AND CHARITY and to seek solace of his own distress by
extending relief and consolation to his Fellow Creatures in the hours of their
affliction. Notice the emphasis on the UNIVERSALITY. In other words the
reference to a "Mason's Charity knowing no bounds" refers not only to
the extent but the area.
The golden rule "To do unto others as you would wish they should do unto
you" takes on a new meaning when applied to the lessons herein contained.
It would be well at this point to deal with the quality of Charity and to
consider what it consists of. To give money to the poor is a beautiful act but
hardly as important as to give love, unstinted, without hope of gain or reward -
this indeed may well extend to the very feet of the Great White Throne. If we
read what St. Paul says about Charity ,we will still see that it is limitless in
degree. In the King James version of the Holy Bible, the word of
"love" was substituted for the word "Charity".
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I
am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling symbol.
And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all
knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and
not have love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body
to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not: Love vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up.
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil.
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all
Love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether
there be tongues, they shall cease, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfected has come, then that which is in part shall
be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as
a child; but when I became a man, I put away my childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in
part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest of these is
It is of such charity that a Mason's faith is made. He is, indeed, taught the
beauty of giving that which is material; the Rite of Destitution shows forth the
tender lesson in the first degree; Masonic Homes, Schools, Foundations,
Orphanages, Hospitals, are the living exponents of the charity, which means to
give from a plenty to those, who have but a paucity.
The first of the principal tenets of our profession and the third round of
Jacob's ladder are really one; brotherly love is "the greatest of
these" and only when a Mason takes to his heart the reading of charity to
be more than alms, does he see the glory of that moral structure the door to
which Freemasonry so gently, but so widely opens.
Charity of thought for an erring Brother; charity which lays a brotherly hand
on a troubled shoulder in comfort; charity which exults with the happy and finds
joy in his success; charity which sorrows with the grieving, and drops a tear in
sympathy; charity which opens the heart as well as the pocket book; charity
which stretches forth a hand of hope to the hopeless, which brings a new faith
to the crushed ... aye, these, indeed, may "extend through the boundless
realms of eternity."
Man is never so close to the divine as when he loves; it is because of that
fact that charity, (meaning love), rather than faith or hope, is truly,
"the greatest of these."
Even if the foregoing were not enough, we have the admonition to so divide
our time as to leave a goodly portion to the service of God and a distressed
brother, also to divest our hearts and consciences of all the vices and
superfluities of life, thereby fitting our minds as living stones for that
spiritual building - that house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. All
of this, being as it is a summary of God's work, surely emphasizes that in
Freemasonry we embark on a "Way of life" in tune with and applied to
the practical work of God. There is no place in the life of a Freemason, when he
has any right to be idle, because there is always something to do. The Preacher
in Ecclesiastes III. says "To everything there is a season and a
time for every purpose under Heaven," and you will notice as he goes on to
illustrate the various allotments of time, he never indicates a situation where
time can be wasted. Albert Pike made himself a learned scholar by his constant
use of all his time, so did Abraham Lincoln.
The one great jewel in our Masonic fraternity is the Holy Bible or the volume
of the Sacred Law. It is the Great Light, which illustrates the will of God for
mankind in whatever situation he may find himself. The true "way of
life" is depicted herein and it is the revelation to all truth. The Golden
Rule originates here and so does the Commandment "Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself." The Golden Rule in our first degree is included in
the following "to your neighbor in acting upon the square and doing unto
him as you would wish he should do unto you."
The expression "acting upon the square" is a very significant
expression because the square is the symbol most commonly associated with
Freemasonry. From most ancient times, it has been the emblem of correctness and
uprightness. Even at the building of the Pyramids in their endeavor to have the
placements arranged so that certain points, corners or openings might face the
sun or a star at a particular time, the builder laid down a cross axis at a
right angle to the main axis. Mencius nearly 300 B.C. taught in one chapter
"that just as the most skilled artificers are unable without square and
compasses to produce perfect rectangles or perfect circles, so must all men
apply these tools figuratively to their lives, with the level marking line
besides, if they would walk in the straight and even paths of wisdom, and keep
themselves within the bounds of honour and virtue." The nature of the
square is as unchanging as truth and it is in its very antiquity that we have a
deep lesson. The operative Masons symbolized it as their base for right building
and right living.
The Compasses, the points of which are thus far hidden from view, indicate
the need for us to circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due
bounds with all mankind. Here again our symbol is steeped in antiquity in
keeping with the square.
From age to age they have always represented heavenly things and may justly
be called the spiritual working tools. The Perfect Square is a figure, which can
be drawn in or about a circle and so the earthly life of man moves and is built
in and about the Divine Circle of life and law and love which surrounds and
sustains and explains it. To know ourselves is the first principle of Wisdom,
without which we may lose self respect and thus lose the respect for others
which is disastrous. The Compasses, rightly used teach us about Liberty based on
law. Most of our life is based on habit and ruled by opinion and custom but the
realm of desire, emotion and motive need circumscription. Properly instructed
the Mason will rest the point in the centre of his innermost being and draw a
circle beyond the bounds of which he will not go until ready to go further; then
he will draw another and another until he attains a full, balanced and finely
poised life. We must apply the Compasses, if we would have our own faith fulfill
itself in fellowship.
So too the Ornaments, Lights and Jewels emphasize the practice of every
virtue and, in the situation of a Lodge - E. to W., reference is made to three
divine offerings, which met with divine approbation of unselfishness and
service. In every symbol there is a lesson pertaining to and illustrating some
characteristic of Brotherly Love and the Fatherhood of God.
In one of the charges in the first degree we are enjoined to be exemplary in
the discharge of our civil duties by never performing or even countenancing any
act which might tend to subvert the peace and good order of society, but to pay
due obedience to the laws of any state in which we reside. This admonition is a
clear manifesto to all who are admitted that they must be good loyal citizens
always alert to the needs of our local authority, (be it either a hamlet or a
metropolis) to our State and to our Federal Government; and ready to do anything
or make any sacrifice to maintain its honour and further its development,
economically, socially, administratively, educationally or in any other manner
as will best conduce to the preservation of our democratic way of life.
The turbulence of the state of affairs today only emphasizes my previous
statement that a Mason has no right to be idle and as it is the duty of the
Master to afford light and instruction and to show him how to practice outside
of the Lodge the great moral precepts which are ever inculcated within it, and
thus keep him from idleness.
We are beset by so many and great dangers through the machinations of those,
who have set themselves as leaders of groups by sheer brutality and by holding
them in a state of fear even of themselves, refusing any acknowledgment of the
existence of God and liquidating those who do so believe, particularly
Freemasons, knowing full well that they would only hinder and oppose the vicious
practices, they wish to force upon the subjective groups. By an open denial of
God, they are not obligated to the truth nor to the other fine characteristics
outlined in the Holy Bible and man is a mere cog in the wheel of the State
instead of, as is the case with us, of the State existing for the benefit of the
people, by the people and for the people. The blandishments of this type of
oligarchy hold out temptations to people who would otherwise be content and this
gullible type is preyed upon to infiltrate the society of States, which could
otherwise be happy. The propaganda is vicious and I would again emphasize that
Freemasons should be ever alert and never idle in upholding the precepts of the
fraternity, by endeavoring to reclaim the faltering and aiding to stamp out the
incorrigible, thus preserving the harmony and good fellowship of our democratic
and God-loving way of life.
The philosophy seems to me to be the teaching of the practical application of
the Brotherhood of man and that this is attained, when we are conscious of all
being the Children or Sons of God.
It teaches us the efficacy of prayer and the value of the Eternal Word of
God, from which we are exhorted to eschew those things which blight the soul
such as Pride, the deadliest sin ,which binds the eyes to truth; Envy, which can
envelope the whole person like a fog, sears what it touches; Anger, which
prevents straight thought, produces unhappiness and is sometimes an explosion
against frustration; Covetousness, the veritable lust for things and the
instigator of crime; Gluttony, which smothers the soul; Lust, the perverter of
a God-given beautiful relationship.
Instead of all these we are taught to improve ourselves and to cultivate
hospitality, a true Masonic virtue; kind services, graceful courtesies; cheerful
assistance and relief; integrity; sincerity; citizen ship; and finally that
virtue, which from its beginning, Freemasonry has tried to develop - Character;
which is described by Macduff as follows:
"Character is the product of daily, hourly, actions, words and
Sacrifices for the good of others
Struggles against temptation
Submissiveness under trial.
It is like the blending of colors in a picture, or the blending notes of
music, which constitute the man.
And TRUE CULTURE is illustrated below .
"The highest culture is to speak no ill
The best reformer is the man whose eyes
Are quick to see all beauty and all worth
And by his own discreet, well ordered life
Alone reproves the erring.
When thy gaze
Turns in on thine own soul, be most severe,
But when it falls upon a fellow man
Let kindliness control it, and refrain
From that belittling censure that springs forth,
From common lips like weeds from marshy soil."
In other words we should, with St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians,
"Put on the whole armour of God, that we may be able to stand against
the wiles of the Devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this
world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the
whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day and,
having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having our loins girt about with
TRUTH and having on the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS; and your feet shod with
preparation of the GOSPEL OF PEACE; above all, taking the shield of FAITH;
wherewith ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the
helmet of SALVATION and the sword of the SPIRIT, which is the word of God;
praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching
thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."