Commentaries on the
History, Philosophy, and Symbolism
of the Degree of
Excerpted from pages 64 – 94 of
by Albert G. Mackey
SYMBOLISM OF THE DEGREE.
The symbolism of the second degree essentially differs from that of the first. If the first degree was typical of the period of youth, the second is emblematic of the stage of manhood. Here new duties and increased obligations to their performance press upon the individual. The lessons of wisdom and virtue which he has received in youth, are now to produce their active fruits; the talent which was lent, is now to be returned with usury. Hence, as the Fellow Craft's degree is intended to represent this thinking and working period of life, it necessarily assumes a more important position in the Masonic scale, and is invested with a more dignified ritual, and a more extensive series of instructions. Here it is that the preparatory lessons which were obtained in the first degree are to be enlarged and enforced. As labor is the divinely appointed lot of man, in this degree the rewards of industry are set forth in emblematic forms, and the recipient is taught the exercise of diligence and industry, that by the faithful performance of his task he may, in due time, be entitled to the wages for which he has wrought.
But man was not intended for physical labor only. There are more exalted tasks to which the possession of mind has called him. Endowed by his Creator with the possession of reason and intellect, it is his duty, and should be his pleasure, to direct the vigor and energy of his manhood to the cultivation of his reasoning faculties and the improvement of his intellectual powers.
Hence, the Fellow Craft's degree, as a type of this state of manhood, is particularly devoted to science. The mind of the recipient is fixed, by the nature of its ritual, upon the wonders of nature and art. The attention is particularly directed to the liberal arts and sciences, with whose principles the candidate is charged to become familiar, that he may be enabled to occupy with honor to himself, and with profit to his fellow-creatures, his allotted place in the great structure of human society.
The lecture of the second degree is divided into two sections. While it extends the plan of knowledge commenced in the lecture of the first degree, it comprehends a more extensive system of learning, and inculcates, in our peculiar method, the most important truths of science.
The first section of the second lecture accurately elucidates the mode of initiation into this degree, and instructs the diligent craftsmen how to proceed in the proper arrangement of the ceremonies used on the occasion.
The square, as a symbol, is peculiarly appropriated to this degree. It is intended to teach the Fellow Craft that the square of morality and virtue should be the rule and guide of his conduct in his transactions with all mankind, but more especially with brother Masons.
The following passage of Scripture is introduced during the ceremonies:
“Thus he showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, a plumb-line. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more. — Amos 7:7-8.
The Working Tools of a Fellow Craft are the Plumb, the Square, and the Level.
The Plumb is an instrument made use of by operative masons to raise perpendiculars; the Square, to square their work; and the Level, to lay horizontals; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of them for more noble and glorious purposes: the plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations, before God and men, squaring our actions by the square of virtue, and remembering that we are traveling upon the level of time to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.
THE PRECIOUS JEWELS OF A FELLOW CRAFT.
The jewels of a Fellow Craft, like his working tools, and like every other gift that he receives, are altogether of a symbolic nature. They are lessons of instruction which derive their name of jewels from the moral value that they possess. They teach the candidate that the attentive ear receives the sound from the instructive tongue, and the mysteries of Freemasonry are safely lodged in the repository of a faithful breast.
The second section of this degree refers to the combined operative and speculative origin of the Institution; it details some interesting features relative to the Temple of Solomon and the usages of our ancient brethren, in the course of which the mind is drawn to the contemplation of themes of science and philosophy.
The connection between the operative art and the speculative science of Masonry is the first point to which, in this section, the attention of the candidate is directed. Something ought, therefore, to be here said in reference to these two divisions.
Masonry, in its character as an operative art, is familiar to every one. As such, it is engaged in the application of the rules of architecture to the construction of public and private edifices. It, of course, abounds in the use of technical terms, and makes use of implements and materials which are peculiar to itself. It is the popular theory, that the operative Masons were the founders of the system of speculative Masonry, in which they applied the language and ideas of their art of building to a spiritual and religious sense. Hence Speculative Masonry is nothing more nor less, in this aspect, than a symbolization of Operative Masonry.
The theory is (and it is not an untenable one), that at first operative Masonry existed simply as an art of building. Then the operative Masons, with the assistance of learned and pious men, invented the speculative science, or Freemasonry, and then each became an integrant part of one undivided system. Not, however, that there ever was a time when every operative Mason, without exception, was acquainted with or initiated into the speculative science. Even now there are thousands of skillful stone-masons who know nothing of the symbolic meaning of the implements they employ. But operative Masonry was at first, and is even now, the skeleton upon which was strung the nerves and muscles of the living system of Free or Speculative Masonry.
Speculative Masonry, now known as Freemasonry, is, therefore, the scientific application and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the technical language and the implements and materials, of operative Masonry to the worship of God as the Grand Architect of the Universe, and to the purification of the heart and the inculcation of the dogmas of a religious philosophy. And as the original union of the operative and speculative branches of the system is traditionally supposed to have taken place at the building of the Temple of Jerusalem by King Solomon, more attention is paid in the symbolism to that edifice than to any other.
We work in Speculative Masonry, but our ancient brethren wrought in both Operative and Speculative. They worked at the building of King Solomon's Temple, and many other sacred and important edifices.
By Operative Masonry we allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure will derive figure, strength, and beauty, and whence will result a due proportion and a just correspondence in all its parts. It furnishes us with dwellings, and with convenient shelter from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the seasons; and while it displays the effects of human wisdom, as well in the choice as in the arrangement of the sundry materials of which an edifice is composed, it demonstrates that a fund of science and industry is implanted in man for the best, most salutary, and beneficent purposes.
By Speculative Masonry we learn to subdue the passions, act upon the square, keep a tongue of good report, maintain secrecy, and practice charity. It is so far interwoven with religion, as to lay us under obligation to pay that rational homage to the Deity which at once constitutes our duty and our happiness. It leads the contemplative Mason to view, with reverence and admiration, the glorious works of creation, and inspires him with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of his Divine Creator.
In six days God created the heavens and the earth, and rested upon the seventh day; the seventh, therefore, our ancient brethren consecrated as a day of rest from their labors; thereby enjoying frequent opportunities to contemplate the glorious works of creation, and to adore their great Creator.
THE PILLARS OF THE PORCH.
“For he cast two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high apiece; and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about.” — 1 Kings 7:15.
“Also he made before the house two pillars of thirty and five cubits high, and the chapiter that was on the top of each of them was five cubits. — 2 Chronicles 3:15.
“And he made two chapiters of molten brass, to set upon the tops of the pillars: the height of the one chapiter was five cubits, and the height of the other chapiter was five cubits.” — 1 Kings 7:16.
The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and the chapiter upon it was brass: and the height of the chapiter three cubits; and the wreathen work, and pomegranates upon the chapiter round about, all of brass: and like unto these had the second pillar with wreathen work. — 2 Kings 25:17.
The discrepancy as to the height of the pillars as given in the book of Kings and in Chronicles is to be reconciled by supposing that in the book of Kings the pillars are spoken of separately, and that in Chronicles their aggregate height is calculated; and the reason that in this latter book their united height is placed at 35 cubits, instead of 36, which would be the double of 18, is because they are there measured as they appear with the chapiters upon them. Now half a cubit of each pillar was concealed in what Dr. Lightfoot calls “the hole of the chapiter,” that is, half a cubit's depth of the lower edge of the chapiter covered the top of the pillar, making each pillar apparently only 17.5 cubits high, or the two, 35 cubits, as laid down in the book of Chronicles.
In a similar way we reconcile the difference as to the height of the chapiters. In 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles the chapiters are said to be five cubits high, while in 2 Kings their height is described as being only three cubits. But it will be noticed that it immediately follows in the same place, that “there was a wreathen work and pomegranates upon the chapiter round about.” Now this expression is conclusive that the height of the chapiters was estimated exclusive and independent of the wreathen work round about them, which was two cubits more, and this added to the three cubits of the chapiter proper, will make the five cubits spoken of in all other parts of Scripture.
[A cubit was 21 inches. The height of each pillar in English measure was 31 feet 6 inches, and its diameter 7 feet. The height of each chapiter was 8 feet 9 inches, giving a total height of 40 feet 3 inches. The height of the shaft being only four diameters and a half, the pillars bore no resemblance to any of the modern orders of architecture, but were rather an imitation of the massive style of the Egyptians, the lilies on the chapiters being probably an exact copy of the lotus of the Nile, which wag a frequent ornamentation among that people.]
SYMBOLS OF UNITY, PEACE, AND PLENTY.
Symbols of Unity, Peace, and Plenty are here introduced and explained.
The globes are two artificial spherical bodies, on the convex surfaces of which are represented the countries, seas, and various parts of the earth, the face of the heavens, the planetary revolutions, and other particulars.
THE USE OF THE GLOBES.
Their principal use, besides serving as maps to distinguish the outward parts of the earth, and the situation of the fixed stars, is to illustrate and explain the phenomena arising from the annual revolution and the diurnal rotation, of the earth round its own axis. They are the noblest instruments for improving the mind, and giving it the most distinct idea of any problem or proposition, as well as enabling it to solve the same. Contemplating these bodies, we are inspired with a due reverence for the Deity and his works, and are induced to encourage the studies of astronomy, geography, and navigation, and the arts dependent on them, by which society has been so much benefited.
Reference is here made to the Masonic organization into three degrees—the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason—and to its system of government by three officers—the Worshipful Master, the Senior and Junior Wardens.
ORDERS OF ARCHITECTURE.
The five Orders of Architecture are next considered.
By Order in Architecture is meant a system of all the members, proportions, and ornaments of columns and pilasters; or it is a regular arrangement of the projecting parts of a building, which, united with those of a column, form a beautiful, perfect, and complete whole.
From the first formation of society, Order in Architecture may be traced. When the rigor of seasons obliged men to contrive shelter from the inclemency of the weather, we learn that they first planted trees on end, and then laid others across, to support a covering. The bands which connected those trees at top and bottom are said to have given rise to the idea of the base and capital of pillars; and from this simple hint originally proceeded the more improved art of architecture.
The five orders are thus classed: the Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.
Bears a kind of mean proportion between the more solid and delicate orders. Its column is nine diameters high, its capital is adorned with volutes, and its cornice has dentals. There is both delicacy and ingenuity displayed in this pillar, the invention of which is attributed to the Ionians, as the famous temple of Diana at Ephesus was of this order. It is said to have been formed after the model of an agreeable young woman, of an elegant shape, dressed in her hair, as a contrast to the Doric order, which was formed after that of a strong, robust man.
Which is plain and natural, is the most ancient, and was invented by the Greeks. Its column is eight diameters high, and has seldom any ornaments on base or capital, except moldings, though the frieze is distinguished by triglyphs and metopes, and triglyphs compose the ornaments of the frieze.
The Doric is the best proportioned of all the orders. The several parts of which it is composed are founded on the natural position of solid bodies. In its first invention it was more simple than in its present state. In after times, when it began to be adorned, it gained the name of Doric; for when it was constructed in its primitive and simple form, the name of Tuscan was conferred on it. Hence the Tuscan precedes the Doric in rank, on account of its resemblance to that pillar in its original state.
The richest of the five orders, is deemed a masterpiece of art. Its column is ten diameters high, and its capital is adorned with two rows of leaves and eight volutes, which sustain the abacus. The frieze is ornamented with curious devices, the cornice with dentals and modillions. This order is used in stately and superb structures.
THE INVENTION OF THIS ORDER.—It was invented at Corinth, by Callimachus, who is said to have taken the hint of the capital of this pillar from the following remarkable circumstance. Accidentally passing by the tomb of a young lady, he perceived a basket of toys covered with tile, placed over an acanthus root having been left there by, her nurse. As the branches grew up, they encompassed the basket, till, arriving at the tile, they met with an obstruction, and bent downward. Callimachus, struck with the object, set about imitating the figure; the vase of the capital he made to represent the basket; the abacus, the tile; and the volutes, the bending leaves.
Is the most simple and solid of the five orders. It was invented in Tuscany, whence it derives its name. Its column is seven diameters high; and its capital, base, and entablature have but few moldings. The simplicity of the construction of this column renders it eligible where ornament would be superfluous.
Is compounded of the other orders, and was contrived by the Romans. Its capital has the two rows of leaves of the Corinthian, and the volutes of the Ionic. Its column has quarter-rounds, as the Tuscan and Doric orders; is ten diameters high, and its cornice has dentals, or simple modillions. This pillar is generally found in buildings where strength, elegance, and beauty are displayed.
OF THE INVENTION OF ORDER IN ARCHITECTURE.
The ancient and original Orders of Architecture revered by Masons, are no more than three—the Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian, which were invented by the Greeks. To these the Romans have added two: the Tuscan, which they made plainer than the Doric, and the Composite, which was more ornamental, if not more beautiful, than the Corinthian. The first three orders alone, however, show invention and particular character, and essentially differ from each other; the two others have nothing but what is borrowed, and differ only accidentally; the Tuscan is the Doric in its earliest state; and the Composite is the Corinthian, enriched with the Ionic. To the Greeks therefore, and not to the Romans, are we indebted for what is great, judicious, and distinct in architecture.
Of these five orders, the Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian, as the most ancient, are most esteemed by Masons. The Ionic, from the skill and ingenuity displayed in its construction, is emblematic of the column of Wisdom, which is situated in the east part of the Lodge and is represented by the Worshipful Master; the Doric, from the massive strength of its structure is emblematic of the column of Strength, which is situated in the west part of the Lodge, and is represented by the Senior Warden; and the Corinthian, from the exuberance of its ornaments, is emblematic of the column of Beauty, which is situated in the south part of the Lodge, and is represented by the Junior Warden.
FIVE SENSES OF HUMAN NATURE.
The five Senses of Human Nature, which are Hearing, Seeing, Feeling, Smelling, and Tasting, are next referred to and described.
Is that sense by which we distinguish sounds, and are capable of enjoying all the agreeable charms of music. By it we are enabled to enjoy the pleasures of society, and reciprocally to communicate to each other our thoughts and intentions, our purposes and desires, while thus our reason is capable of exerting its utmost power and energy.
The wise and beneficent Author of Nature intended, by the formation of this sense, that we should be social creatures, and receive the greatest and most important part of our knowledge by the information of others. For these purposes, we are endowed with hearing, that by a proper exertion of our rational powers, our happiness may be complete.
Is that sense by which we distinguish objects, and in an instant of time, without change of place or situation, view armies in battle array, figures of the most stately structures, and all the agreeable variety displayed in the landscape of Nature. By this sense, we find our way on the pathless ocean, traverse the globe of the earth, determine its figure and dimensions, and delineate any region or quarter of it. By it we measure the planetary orbs, and make new discoveries in the sphere of the fixed stars. Nay, more; by it we perceive the tempers and dispositions, the passions and affections, of our fellow-creatures, when they wish most to conceal them; so that, though the tongue may be taught to lie and dissemble, the countenance would display the hypocrisy to the discerning eye. In fine, the rays of light which administer to this sense are the most astonishing part of the animated creation, and render the eye a peculiar object of admiration.
Of all the faculties, sight is the noblest. The structure of the eye and its appurtenances evince the admirable contrivance of Nature for performing all its various external and internal motions, while the variety displayed in the eyes of different animals, suited to their several ways of life, clearly demonstrates this organ to be the master-piece of Nature's work.
Is that sense by which we distinguish the different qualities of bodies, such as heat and cold, hardness and softness, roughness and smoothness, figure, solidity, motion, and extension.
Is that sense by which we distinguish odors, the various kinds of which convey different impressions to the mind. Animal and vegetable bodies, and, indeed, most other bodies, while exposed to the air, continually send forth effluvia of vast subtilty, as well in the state of life and growth, as in the state of fermentation and putrefaction. These effluvia being drawn into the nostrils along with the air, are the means by which all bodies are smelled. Hence it is evident that there is a manifest appearance of design in the great Creator's having planted the organ of smell in the inside of that canal through which the air continually passes in respiration.
Enables us to make a proper distinction in the choice of our food. The organ of this sense guards the entrance of the alimentary canal, as that of smelling guards the entrance of the canal for respiration. From the situation of both these organs, it is plain that they were intended by Nature to distinguish wholesome food from that which is nauseous. Everything that enters into the stomach must undergo the scrutiny of tasting; and by it we are capable of discerning the changes which the same body undergoes in the different compositions of art, cookery, chemistry, pharmacy, etc.
Smelling and tasting are inseparably connected; and it is by the unnatural kind of life men commonly lead in society, that these senses are rendered less fit to perform their natural offices.
Of these senses, Hearing, Seeing, and Feeling have always been highly revered by Masons.
SEVEN LIBERAL ARTS AND SCIENCES.
The seven Liberal Arts and Sciences—which are Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy—are then described.
Teaches the proper arrangement of words, according to the idiom or dialect of any particular people; and that excellency of pronunciation which enables us to speak or write a language with accuracy, agreeably to reason and correct usage.
Teaches us to speak copiously and fluently on any subject, not merely with propriety alone, but with all the advantages of force and elegance, wisely contriving to captivate the hearer by strength of argument and beauty of expression, whether it be to entreat or exhort, to admonish or applaud.
Teaches us to guide our reason discretionally in the general knowledge of things, and directs our inquiries after truth. It consists of a regular train of argument, whence we infer, deduce, and conclude, according to certain premises laid down, admitted, or granted; and in it are employed the faculties of conceiving, judging, reasoning, and disposing, all of which are naturally led on from one gradation to another, till the point in question is finally determined.
This science ought to be cultivated as the foundation, or ground-work, of our inquires; particularly tn the pursuit of those sublime principles which claim our attention as Masons.
Teaches the powers and properties of numbers, which are variously effected, by letters, tables, figures, and instruments. By this art, reasons and demonstrations are given for finding out any certain number whose relation or affinity to another is already known or discovered. The greater advancement we make in the mathematical sciences, the more capable we shall be of considering such things as are the ordinary objects of our conceptions, and be thereby led to a more comprehensive knowledge of our great Creator and the works of the creation.
Treats of the powers and properties of magnitudes in general, where length, breadth, and thickness are considered, from a point to a line, from a line to a superficies, and from a superficies to a solid.
A point is a dimensionless figure, or an indivisible part of a space.
A line is a point continued, and a figure of one capacity, namely, length.
A superficies is a figure of two dimensions, namely, length and breadth.
A solid is a figure of three dimensions, namely, length, breadth, and thickness.
THE ADVANTAGES OF GEOMETRY.—By this science the architect is enabled to construct his plans and execute his designs; the general, to arrange his soldiers; the geographer, to give us the dimensions of the world, and all things therein contained; to delineate the extent of seas, and specify the divisions of empires, kingdoms, and provinces. By it, also, the astronomer is enabled to make his observations, and to fix the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles.
In fine, geometry is the foundation of architecture, and the root of the mathematics.
Teaches the art of forming concords, so as to compose delightful harmony, by a mathematical and proportional arrangement of acute, grave, and mixed sounds. This art, by a series of experiments, is reduced to a demonstrative science, with respect to tones and the intervals of sound. It inquires into the nature of concords and discords, and enables us to find out the proportion between them by numbers.
Is that divine art by which we are taught to read the wisdom, strength, and beauty of the Almighty Creator in those sacred pages, the celestial hemisphere.
Assisted by astronomy, we can observe the magnitudes, and calculate the periods and eclipses of the heavenly bodies. By it we learn the use of the globes, the system of the world, and the preliminary laws of nature. While we are employed in the study of this science, we must perceive unparalleled instances of wisdom and goodness; and, through the whole creation, trace the glorious Author by his works.
Here a symbol of Plenty is introduced, and proper explanations are given as to the proper answers to the following questions:
What does it denote?
How was it represented?
Why was it instituted?
The passages of Scripture which are referred to in this part of the section will be found in Judges 12:1-6. The Vulgate version gives a paraphrastic translation of a part of the 6th verse, as follows: “Say, therefore, Shibboleth, which being interpreted is an ear of corn.” The same word also in Hebrew signifies a rapid stream of water, from the root SIHaBaL, to flow copiously. The too common error of speaking, in this part of the ritual, of a “water-ford” instead of a “water-fall,” which is the correct word, must be carefully avoided. A water-fall is an emblem of plenty, because it indicates an abundance of water. A water-ford, for the converse reason, is, if any symbol at all, a symbol of scarcity.
The lecture next proceeds to illustrate:
THE MORAL ADVANTAGES OF GEOMETRY.
Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences, is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected. By geometry, we may curiously trace Nature, through her various windings, to her most concealed recesses. By it we may discover the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of the Grand Artificer of the Universe, and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.
By it we may discover how the planets move in their different orbits, and demonstrate their various revolutions. By it we account for the return of seasons, and the variety of scenes which each season displays to the discerning eye. Numberless worlds are around us, all framed by the same Divine Artist, which roll through the vast expanse, and are all conducted by the same unerring law of Nature.
A survey of Nature, and the observations of her beautiful proportions, first determined man to imitate the Divine plan, and study symmetry and order. This gave rise to societies, and birth to every useful art. The architect began to design, and the plans which he laid down, being improved by experience and time, have produced works which are the admiration of every age.
The lapse of time, the ruthless hand of ignorance, and the devastations of war, have laid waste and destroyed many valuable monuments of antiquity on which the utmost exertions of human genius have been employed. Even the Temple of Solomon, so spacious and magnificent, and constructed by so many celebrated artists, escaped not the unsparing ravages of barbarous force. Freemasonry, notwithstanding, has still survived. The attentive ear receives the sound from the instructive tongue, and the mysteries of Freemasonry are safely lodged in the repository of faithful breasts. Tools and instruments of architecture, and symbolic emblems, most expressive, are selected by the fraternity to imprint on the mind wise and serious truths; and thus, through a succession of ages, are transmitted, unimpaired, the most excellent tenets of our institution.
[This descant on geometry is, perhaps, one of the oldest passages in our monitorial instruction. It originally constituted a part of an address, entitled “A Vindication of Masonry,” delivered on the 15th May, 1741, by Brother Charles Leslie, before Vernon Kilwinning Lodge, in the city of Edinburgh. The full address can be found in Hutchinson, William. The Spirit of Masonry, 2nd ed. pp. 308-320.]
The lecture closes by paying profound homage to the sacred name of the Grand Geometrician of the Universe, before whom all Masons, from the youngest E:. A:. who stands in the northeast corner of the Lodge, to the W:. M:. who presides in the east, humbly, reverently, and devoutly bow.
CHARGE AT THE PASSING TO THE DEGREE OF FELLOW CRAFT.
Brother: Being passed to the second degree of Masonry, we congratulate you on your preferment. The internal, and not the external, qualifications of a man are what Masonry regards. As you increase in knowledge, you will improve in social intercourse.
It is unnecessary to recapitulate the duties which as a Mason, you are bound to discharge, or to enlarge on the necessity of a strict adherence to them, as your own experience must have established their value. Our laws and regulations you are strenuously to support, and be always ready to assist in seeing them duly executed. You are not to palliate or aggravate the offenses of your brethren; but in the decision of every trespass against our rules, you are to judge with candor, admonish with friendship, and reprehend with justice.
The study of the liberal arts, that valuable branch of education which tends so effectually to polish and adorn the mind, is earnestly recommended to your consideration; especially the science of geometry, which is established as the basis of our art. Geometry, or Masonry, originally synonymous terms, being of a divine and moral nature, is enriched with the most useful knowledge; while it proves the wonderful properties of nature, it demonstrates the more important truths of morality.
Your past behavior and regular deportment have merited the honor which we have now conferred; and in your new character it is expected that you will conform to the principles of the Order, by steadily persevering in the practice of every commendable virtue. Such is the nature of your engagement as a Fellow Craft, and to these duties you are bound by the most sacred ties.
[This charge is taken, with but very little alteration, from William Preston, who first published it in his “Illustrations of Masonry.” See, e.g., pp. 79-82 of the 1775 edition or pp. 39-40 of the 1867 edition.]
LECTURE ON THE WINDING STAIRS.
Having passed through the Winding Stairs to the Middle Chamber, it is proper that you should be made acquainted with the symbolic meaning of the ceremonies in which you have been engaged.
Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition of Ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in Scripture is to be found in a single verse in the 6th chapter of the 1st Book of Kings, and is in these words: “The door for the middle chamber was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third.” Out of this slender material has been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its symbolical relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty. But it is only as a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition, for the historical facts and the architectural details alike forbid us for a moment to suppose that the legend, as it is rehearsed in the second degree of Masonry, is anything more than a magnificent philosophical myth.
Let us inquire into the true design of this legend, and learn the lesson of symbolism which it is intended to teach.
In the investigation of the true meaning of every Masonic symbol and allegory, we must be governed by the single principle that the whole design of Freemasonry as a speculative science is the investigation of divine truth. To this great object everything is subsidiary. The Mason is, from the moment of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, to the time at which he receives the full fruition of Masonic light, an investigator—a laborer in the quarry and the Temple—whose reward is to be Truth, and all the ceremonies and traditions of the Order tend to this ultimate design.
Hence there is in Speculative Masonry always a progress, symbolized by its peculiar ceremonies of initiation. There is an advancement from a lower to a higher state—from darkness to light—from death to life—from error to truth. The candidate is always ascending; he is never stationary; never goes back; but each step he takes brings him to some new mental illumination—to the knowledge of some more elevated doctrine. The teaching of the Divine Master is, in respect to this continual progress, the teaching of Masonry—“No man having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.” And similar to this is the precept of Pythagorus: “When traveling, turn not back, for if you do, the furies will accompany you.”
In an investigation of the symbolism of the Winding Stairs, we will be directed to the true explanation by a reference to their origin, their number, the objects which they recall, and their termination; but, above all, by a consideration of the great design which an ascent upon them was intended to accomplish.
The steps of this winding staircase commenced, we are in formed, at the porch of the Temple—that is to say, at its very entrance. But nothing is more undoubted in the science of Masonic symbolism than that the Temple was the representative of the world, purified by the Shekinah, or the Divine Presence. The world of the profane is without the Temple; the world of the initiated is within its sacred walls. Hence, to enter the temple, to pass within the porch, to be made a Mason, and to be born into the world of Masonic light, are all synonymous and convertible terms. Here, then, the symbolism of the Winding Stairs begins.
The Apprentice, having entered within the porch of the temple, has begun his Masonic life. But the first degree in Masonry, like the lesser mysteries of the ancient systems of initiation, is only a preparation and purification for something higher. The Entered Apprentice is the child in Masonry. The lessons which he receives are simply intended to cleanse the heart and prepare the recipient for that mental illumination which is to be given in the succeeding degrees.
As a Fellow Craft, he has advanced another step, and as the degree is emblematic of youth, so it is here that the intellectual education of the candidate begins. And therefore, here, at the very spot which separates the Porch from the Sanctuary, where childhood ends and manhood begins, he finds stretching out before him a winding stair which invites him, as it were, to ascend, and which, as the symbol of discipline and instruction, teaches him that here must commence his Masonic labor—here he must enter upon those glorious, though difficult researches, the end of which is to be the possession of divine truth. The Winding Stairs begin after the candidate has passed within the Porch and between the pillars of Strength and Establishment, as a significant symbol to teach him that as soon as he had passed beyond the years of irrational childhood, and commenced his entrance upon manly life, the laborious task of self-improvement is the first duty that is placed before him. He can not stand still, if he would be worthy of his vocation; his destiny as an immortal being requires him to ascend, step by step, until he has reached the summit, where the treasures of knowledge await him.
The candidate, then, in the second degree of Masonry, represents a man starting forth on the journey of life, with the great task before him of self-improvement. For the faithful performance of this task, a reward is promised, which reward consists in the development of all his intellectual faculties, the moral and spiritual elevation of his character, and the acquisition of truth and knowledge. Now, the attainment of this moral and intellectual condition supposes an elevation of character, an ascent from a lower to a higher life, and a passage of toil and difficulty, through rudimentary instruction, to the full fruition of wisdom. This is therefore beautifully symbolized by the Winding Stairs, at whose foot the aspirant stands ready to climb the toilsome steep, while at its top is placed “that hieroglyphic bright, which none but Craftsmen ever saw,” as the emblem of divine truth. And hence a distinguished writer has said that “these steps, like all the Masonic symbols, are illustrative of discipline and doctrine, as well as of natural, mathematical, and metaphysical science, and open to us an extensive range of moral and speculative inquiry.”
The candidate, incited by the love of virtue and the desire of knowledge, and withal eager for the reward of truth which is set before him, begins at once the toilsome ascent. At each division he pauses to gather instruction from the symbolism which these divisions present to his attention.
At the first pause which he makes, he is instructed in the peculiar organization of the Order of which he has become a disciple. But the information here given, if taken in its naked, literal sense, is barren, and unworthy of his labor. The rank of the officers who govern, and the names of the degrees which constitute the institution, can give him no knowledge which he has not before possessed. We must look, therefore, to the symbolic meaning of these allusions for any value which may be attached to this part of the ceremony.
The reference to the organization of the Masonic institution is intended to remind the aspirant of the union of men in society and the development of the social state out of the state of nature. He is thus reminded, in the very outset of his journey, of the blessings which arise from civilization, and of the fruits of virtue and knowledge which are derived from that condition. Masonry itself is the result of civilization; while in grateful return it has been one of the most important means of extending that condition of mankind.
All the monuments of antiquity that the ravages of time have left, combine to prove that man had no sooner emerged from the savage into the social state, than he commenced the organization of religious mysteries, and the separation, by a sort of divine instinct, of the sacred from the profane. Then came the invention of architecture as a means of providing convenient dwellings and necessary shelter from the inclemencies and vicissitudes of the seasons, with all the mechanical arts connected with it, and lastly, geometry, as a necessary science to enable the cultivators of land to measure and designate the limits of their possessions. All these are claimed as peculiar characteristics of Speculative Masonry, which may be considered as the type of civilization, the former bearing the same relation to the profane world as the latter does to the savage state. Hence, we at once see the fitness of the symbolism which commences the aspirant's upward progress in the cultivation of knowledge and the search after truth, by recalling to his mind the condition of civilization and the social union of mankind, as necessary preparations for the attainment of these objects. In the allusions to the officers of a Lodge, and the degrees of Masonry as explanatory of the organization of our own society, we clothe in our symbolic language the history of the organization of society.
Advancing in his progress, the candidate is invited to contemplate another series of instructions. The Human Senses, as the appropriate channels through which we receive all our ideas of perception, and which, therefore, constitute the most important sources of our knowledge, are here referred to as a symbol of intellectual cultivation. Architecture, as the most important of the arts which conduce to the comfort of mankind, is also alluded to here, not simply because it is so closely connected with the operative institution of Masonry, but also as the type of all the other useful arts. In his second pause, in the ascent of the Winding Stairs, the aspirant is therefore reminded of the necessity of cultivating practical knowledge.
So far, then, the instructions he has received relate to his own condition in society, as a member of the great social compact, and to his means of becoming, by a knowledge of the arts of practical life, a necessary and useful member of that society.
But his motto will be, “Onward and forward!” The stair is still before him; its summit is not yet reached, and still further treasures of wisdom are to be sought for, or the reward will not be gained, nor the middle chamber, the abiding-place of truth, be reached.
In his third pause, he therefore arrives at that point in which the whole circle of human science is to be explained. Symbols are in themselves arbitrary and of conventional signification, and the complete circle of human science might have been as well symbolized by any other sign or series of doctrines as by the seven liberal Arts and Sciences. But Masonry is an institution of the olden time; and this selection of the liberal arts and sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning is one of the most pregnant evidences that we have of its antiquity.
In the seventh century, and for a long time afterward, the circle of instruction to which all the learning of the most eminent schools and most distinguished philosophers was confined, was limited to what was then called the liberal arts and sciences, and consisted of two branches, the trivium and the quadrivium. [The words themselves are purely classical, but the meanings here given to them are of a mediaeval or corrupt Latinity. Among the old Romans, a trivium meant a place where three ways met, and a quadrivium, where four, or what we now call a cross-road. When we speak of the paths of learning, we readily discover the origin of the signification given by the scholastic philosophers to these terms.] The trivium included grammar, rhetoric, and logic; the quadrivium comprehended arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
These seven heads were supposed to include universal knowledge. He who was master of these was thought to have no need of a preceptor to explain any books or to solve any questions which lay within the compass of human reason; the knowledge of the trivium having furnished him with the key to all language, and that of the quadrivium having opened to him the secret laws of Nature.
At a period when few were instructed in the trivium, and very few studied the quadrivium, to be master of both was sufficient to complete the character of a philosopher. The propriety, therefore, of adopting the seven liberal Arts and Sciences as a symbol of the completion of human learning is apparent. The candidate, having reached this point, is now supposed to have accomplished the task upon which he had entered—he has reached the last step, and is now ready to receive the full fruition of human learning.
So far, then, we are able to comprehend the true symbolism of the Winding Stairs. They represent the progress of an inquiring mind with the toils and labors of intellectual cultivation and study, and the preparatory acquisition of all human science, as a preliminary step to the attainment of divine truth, which it must be remembered is always symbolized in Masonry by the Word.
Here we may allude to the symbolism of numbers, which is for the first time presented to the consideration of the Masonic student, in the legend of the Winding Stairs. The theory of numbers as the symbols of certain qualities was originally borrowed by the Masons from the school of Pythagoras. According to that system, the fact that the total number of the steps amount in all to fifteen, is a significant symbol. For fifteen was a sacred number among the Orientals, because the letters of the holy name, JAH, were, in their numerical value, equivalent to fifteen; and hence a figure, in which the nine digits were so disposed as to make fifteen either way when added together perpendicularly, horizontally, or diagonally, constituted one of their most sacred talismans. The fifteen steps in the Winding Stairs are therefore symbolic of the name of God.
But we are not yet done. It will be remembered that a reward was promised for all this toilsome ascent of the Winding Stairs. Now, what are the wages of a Speculative Mason? Not money, nor wine, nor oil. All these are but symbols. His wages are truth, or that approximation to it which will be most appropriate to the degree into which he has been initiated. It is one of the most beautiful, but at the same time most abstruse, doctrines of the science of Masonic symbolism, that the Mason is ever to be in search of truth, but is never to find it. And this is intended to teach the humiliating but necessary lesson, that the knowledge of the nature of God and of man's relation to him, which knowledge constitutes divine truth, can never be acquired in this life. It is only when the portals of the grave open to us, and give us an entrance into a more perfect life, that this knowledge is to be attained.
The Middle Chamber is, therefore, symbolic of this life, where only the symbol of the word can be given, where only the truth is to be reached by approximation, and yet where we are to learn that that truth will consist in a perfect knowledge of the G:. A:. O:. T:. U:. This is the reward of the inquiring Mason; in this consists the wages of a Fellow Craft; he is directed to the truth, but must travel farther and ascend still higher to attain it.
It is, then, as a symbol, and a symbol only, that we must study this beautiful legend of the Winding Stairs. If we attempt to adopt it as a historical fact, the absurdity of its details stares us in the face, and wise men will wonder at our credulity. Its inventors had no desire thus to impose upon our folly; but offering it to us as a great philosophical myth, they did not for a moment suppose that we would pass over its sublime moral teachings to accept the allegory as a historical narrative, without meaning, and wholly irreconcilable with the records of Scripture, and opposed by all the principles of probability. To suppose that eighty thousand craftsmen were weekly paid in the narrow precincts of the Temple chambers, is simply to suppose an absurdity. But to believe that all this pictorial representation of an ascent by a Winding Staircase to the place where the wages of labor were to be received, was an allegory to teach us the ascent of the mind from ignorance, through all the toils of study and the difficulties of obtaining knowledge, receiving here a little and there a little, adding something to the stock of our ideas at each step, until, in the middle chamber of life—in the full fruition of manhood—the reward is attained, and the purified and elevated intellect is invested with the reward, in the direction how to seek God and God's truth—to believe this, is to believe and to know the true design of Speculative Masonry, the only design which makes it worthy of a good or a wise man's study.
Its historical details are barren, but its symbols and allegories are fertile with instruction.
And so we close with this lesson: The Fellow Craft represents a man laboring in the pursuit of truth; and the Winding Stairs are the devious pathways of that pursuit.
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