Commentaries on the
History, Philosophy, and Symbolism
of the Degree of
Excerpted from pages 13 – 32 of
by Albert G. Mackey
The ceremonies of the degree of Royal Master are very brief and simple—briefer and simpler, indeed, than those of any of the preceding degrees. Symbolically, however, they present one great idea—the truly masonic one—of the laborer seeking for his reward. Throughout all the symbolism of masonry, from the first to the last degree, the search for the WORD has been considered but as a symbolic expression for the search after Truth. The attainment of this Truth has always been acknowledged to be the great object and design of all Masonic labor. Divine Truth—the knowledge of God—concealed in the old Cabalistic doctrine, under the symbol of his Ineffable Name, and typified in the masonic system, under the mystical expression of the True Word, is the reward proposed to every mason who has faithfully wrought his task. It is, in short, the “Master's wages.”
Now all this is beautifully symbolized in the degree of Royal Master. The reward had been promised, and the time had now come, as Adoniram thought, when the promise was to be redeemed and the true word—divine Truth—was to be imparted. Hence, in the person of Adoniram, or the Royal Master, we see symbolized the speculative mason, who, having labored to complete his spiritual temple, comes to the Divine Master that he may receive his reward, and that his labor may be consummated by the acquisition of Truth. But the temple that he has been building is the temple of this life; that first temple which must be destroyed by death, that the second temple of the future life may be built on its foundations. And in this first temple the truth cannot be found. We must be content with its substitute.
This, then, is the symbolism of the Royal Master's degree.
The events recorded in the degree of Royal Master, looking at them in a legendary point of view, must have occurred at the building of the first temple, and during that brief period of time after the death of the Builder which is embraced between the discovery of his body and its “masonic interment.” In all the initiations into the mysteries of the ancient world, there was, as it is well known to scholars, a legend of the violent death of some distinguished personage, to whose memory the particular mystery was consecrated; of the concealment of the body and of its subsequent discovery. That part of the initiation which referred to the concealment of the body was called the aphanism, from a Greek verb which signifies “to conceal,” and that part which referred to the subsequent finding was called the euresis, from another Greek verb, which signifies “to discover.” It is impossible to avoid seeing the coincidences between this system of initiation and that practiced in the masonry of the third degree.
But the ancient initiation was not terminated by the euresis or discovery. Up to that point the ceremonies had been funereal and lugubrious in their character. But now they were changed from wailing to rejoicing. Other ceremonies were performed by which the restoration of the personage to life or his apotheosis or change to immortality was represented, and then came the autopsy or illumination of the neophyte, when he was invested with a full knowledge of all the religious doctrines which it was the object and design of the ancient mysteries to teach,—when, in a word, he was instructed in Divine Truth.
Now a similar course is pursued in masonry. Here also there is an illumination, a symbolical teaching, or, as we call it, an investiture with that which is the representative of Divine Truth. The communication to the candidate in the Master's degree of that which is admitted to be merely a representation of or a substitution for that symbol of Divine Truth, the search for which, under the name of the true word, makes so important a part of the degree, however imperfect it may be, in comparison with that more thorough knowledge which only future researches can enable the Master Mason to attain, constitutes the autopsy of the third degree. Now the principal event recorded in the degree of Royal Master, the interview between Adoniram and his two Royal Masters, is to be placed precisely at that juncture of time which is between the euresis, or discovery, in the Master Mason's degree, and the autopsy, or investiture with the great secret. It occurred between the discovery, by means of the sprig of acacia, and the final interment. It was at the time when Solomon and his colleague, Hiram of Tyre, were in profound consultation as to the mode of repairing the loss which they then supposed had befallen them.
We must come to this conclusion, because there is abundant reference, both in the organized form of the Council and in the ritual of the degree, to the death as an event that had already occurred; and, on the other hand, while it is evident that Solomon had been made acquainted with the failure to recover, on the person of the Builder, that which had been lost, there is no reference whatever to the well-known substitution which was made at the time of the interment.
If, therefore, as is admitted by all masonic ritualists, the substitution was precedent and preliminary to the establishment of the Master Mason's degree, it is evident that at the time when the degree of Royal Master is said to have been founded in the ancient temple by our “first Most Excellent Grand Master,” all persons present, except the first and second officers, must have been merely Fellow-Craft Masons. In compliance with this tradition, therefore, a Royal Master is at this day supposed to represent a Fellow-Craft in the search of, and making his demand for, that reward which was to elevate him to the rank of a Master Mason.
COUNCIL OF ROYAL MASTERS.
The symbolic colors of a Royal Master are black and red. The black is significant of the grief of the Craft for the loss of their Operative Grand Master, and the red, of his blood, which was shed in defense of his integrity. Hence the apron and collar of a Royal Master should be black, lined and edged with red. The apron must be triangular in form, in allusion to the sacred Delta.
The place of meeting is called the “Council Chamber,” and represents the private apartment of the King of Israel, in which he is said to have met his two colleagues during the erection of the temple, for the purpose of consultation on all matters relating to the craft.
When a candidate is initiated, he is said to be “honored with the degree of Royal Master.”
PRAYER AT THE OPENING A COUNCIL OF ROYAL MASTERS.
Almighty God, thou art from everlasting to everlasting; unchangeable in thy being; unbounded and incomprehensible. Thou didst speak into being this vast fabric of the Universe. We adore and bow before thee with reverential awe, and acknowledge our sins and misdeeds, for thou hast promised to heal our backslidings and to love us freely. Look down from thy holy habitation and bless us with thy approbation. Teach us to praise thy holy Name aright, for thou art the God whom we fear, and to whom we bow with humble submission. Lord, hear our prayer, and accept our sacrifice of thanksgiving. So mote it be. Amen.
The following passages of Scripture are appropriate to the reception of the candidate in this degree:
“And he set the cherubim within the inner house; and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubim, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.” — 1 Kings 6:27.
“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” — Revelations 22:12-14.
THE EXTENDED WINGS OF THE CHERUBIM.
The Cherubim were certain figures conspicuous in the ceremonial of the Jewish tabernacle and temple. There is much diversity of opinion among the learned as to their form, but all agree in this: that they were furnished with wings, and that their wings were extended. Two of them were placed in the tabernacle of Moses, in a stooping attitude, at each end of the mercy-seat or covering of the ark, which they overshadowed with their expanded wings. They were afterwards transferred, with the Ark of the Covenant, of which indeed they formed a component part, to the Holy of Holies of King Solomon's Temple. In the intervening space, above the ark and beneath the extended wings, were the Schechinah or sacred flame, that symbolized the Divine Presence, and the letters of the ineffable name of Jehovah. From this is derived that peculiar phraseology of the sacred writers, who always speak of the Deity as dwelling between the Cherubim; and whenever the Almighty is described as sitting on a throne, or riding in a triumphal chariot, the Cherubim constitute an important part of the description.
The Cherubim were eminently and purely symbolical. But although there is great diversity of opinion as to their exact signification, yet there is a very general agreement that, under some one manifestation or another, they allude to and symbolize the protecting and overshadowing power of the Deity. When therefore the initiate is received beneath the extended wings of the Cherubim, we are taught by this symbolism how appropriate it is, that he who comes to ask and to seek Truth, symbolized by the True Word, should begin by placing himself under the protection of that Divine Power who alone is Truth, and from whom alone Truth can be obtained.
ALPHA AND OMEGA.
Alpha (A) is the first and Omega (Ω) is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to the beginning and the end or the first and the last of any thing. The Jews used the first and last letters of their alphabet, Aleph (א) and Tav (ת), to express the same idea, but St. John, although a Hebrew, used the Grecian letters in the Apocalypse, because he was writing in the Greek language.
Alpha and Omega are adopted as a symbol of the Deity, and are found repeatedly in mediaeval paintings attached to representations of Christ as God. Prudentius, in his 9th hymn, gives expression to this idea:—
“Alpha et Omega cognominatur ipse; fons et clausula, Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt, vel post futura sunt.”
“Alpha and Omega is He called; the source and end of all things which are, which were, or will hereafter be.”
The passage from the Apocalypse, which is read during the circumambulation, is therefore exceedingly appropriate in referring, by this symbol, to the eternal nature of God, since that is the great truth for which, under the form of the WORD, the candidate is in search.
THE HOLY OF HOLIES.
Previous monitorial writers on this degree have given long descriptions of the Holy of Holies, and of the Ark of the Covenant which was placed within it. But the truth is (if we are guided by the tradition which the degree itself relates), that at the time that the incidents which it describes occurred, the Holy of Holies had not been finished, and the Ark had not yet been deposited in it. The Holy of Holies was still the resort of workmen who were engaged in its construction, and was, as we learn from the very words of the legend, as related by Adoniram, the place where the Builder prepared his designs; and the Ark was not deposited until the temple was completed and dedicated, neither of which circumstances had taken place at the time commemorated in the ceremonies and legend of the degree.
With the Ark of the Covenant the degree of Royal Master has no connection.
The first notice that we have in Scripture of Adoniram is in the Second Book of Samuel (20:24), where he is referred to by the abbreviated form Adoram, as having been “over the tribute” in the house of David, or, as Gesenius translates it, “prefect over the tribute service, or tribute master,” that is to say, in modern phrase, he was the chief receiver of the taxes. Clarke accordingly calls him, “Chancellor of the Exchequer.” Seven years afterwards we find him exercising the duties of the same office in the household of King Solomon, for it is said (1 Kings 4:6), that “Adoniram, the son of Abda, was over the tribute.” And lastly we hear of him as still occupying the same station in the household of King Rehoboam, the successor of Solomon. Forty-seven years after his first mention in the Book of Samuel, he is stated (1 Kings 12:18) to have been stoned to death while in the discharge of his duty, by the people, who were justly indignant at the oppressions of his master. Although commentators have been at a loss to determine whether the tax-receiver under David, under Solomon, and under Rehoboam, was the same person, there seems to be no reason to doubt it, for, as Kitto says, “it appears very unlikely that even two persons of the same name should successively bear the same office, in an age when no example occurs of the father's name being given to his son. We find also that not more than forty-seven years elapsed between the first and last mention of the Adoniram who was 'over the tribute,' and as this, although a long term of service, is not too long for one life, and as the person who held the office in the beginning of Rehoboam's reign, had served in it long enough to make himself odious to the people, it appears on the whole most probable, that one and the same person is intended throughout.” [Kitto, John., ed. Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, vol. I. p. 72, see Adoniram.] All of this however is merely conjectural. Even if the tax-receiver of Solomon was the man who held the same office under Rehoboam, we still have no means of knowing whether the odium he incurred was to be attributed to the unpopularity of the office or the oppressive conduct of the officer. In a Masonic point of view, we can only consider Adoniram as the incorruptible laborer in the temple and the diligent searcher after truth. He is, to the Mason, simply a symbol.
Adoniram occupies an important position in the Masonic system, but the time of action in which he appears is confined to the period occupied in the construction of the temple. The legends and traditions which connect him with that edifice derive their support from a single passage in the First Book of Kings (5:13-14), where it is said that Solomon made a levy of thirty thousand workmen from among the Israelites; that he sent these in courses of ten thousand a month to labor on Mount Lebanon, and that he placed Adoniram over these as their superintendent. From this brief statement the Adoniramite Masons have deduced the theory that Adoniram was the architect of the temple, while the Hiramites, assigning this office to Hiram Ahif, still believe that Adoniram occupied an important post in the construction of that edifice. He has been called “the first of the Fellow-Crafts;” is said, in one tradition, to have been the brother-in-law of Hiram Abif, the latter having demanded of King Solomon the hand of Adoniram's sister in marriage, and that the nuptials were honored by the kings of Israel and Tyre with a public celebration; while another tradition, preserved in the Royal Master's degree, informs us that he was the one to whom the three Grand Masters had intended first to communicate that knowledge which they had reserved as a fitting reward to be bestowed upon all meritorious craftsmen at the completion of the temple.
Adoniram is the Masonic symbol of the seeker after truth.
THE TRIPLE TRIANGLE.
The triple triangle is one of the oldest symbols of mystical science. It is perhaps better known as the Pentalpha, from the Greek pente, “five,” and Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, whose form is precisely that of the English letter A. It is so called because its peculiar configuration presents the appearance of that letter in five different positions.
In the school of Pythagoras it was adopted as the symbol of health, and each of the five salient points was represented by one of the five letters of the Greek word ΥΓEIA “health.” Hence the Pythagoreans placed it at the beginning of their epistles as a form of salutation. The early Christians referred it to the five wounds of the Saviour, because, when properly inscribed upon the representation of a human body, the five points will respectively extend to and touch the side, the two hands, and the two feet. Among the Druids the figure of the pentalpha was worn on the shoes as a symbol of the Deity, and they esteemed it as a sign of safety. It was drawn on cradles, thresholds, and especially on stable doors, in order to keep away wizards and witches, and has been used even at the present day as a protection against demoniacal powers, and is probably the origin of the well-known superstition of the horseshoe among the lower orders. Thus Aubrey, the antiquary, says that “it is a thing very common to nail horseshoes on the thresholds of doors, which is to hinder the power of witches that enter into the house.” The mediaeval Freemasons considered it a symbol of deep wisdom, and it is found among the architectural ornaments of most of the ecclesiastical edifices of the middle ages.
It is, in Masonic symbology, sometimes called the “Shield of David,” and sometimes the “Seal of Solomon,” and is said to have been inscribed, with the tetragrammaton in the center, upon the celebrated Stone of Foundation.
But as a Masonic symbol it peculiarly claims attention from the fact that it forms the outlines of the five-pointed star, which is typical of the bond of brotherly love that unites the whole fraternity, and alludes, therefore, to the five points of fellowship. It is in this view that the pentalpha or triple triangle is referred to in the Royal Master's degree, as representing the intimate union that existed between our three Ancient Grand Masters, and which is commemorated by the living pentalpha at the closing of every Royal Arch Chapter.
THE BROKEN SQUARE.
The square, containing four equal sides and four equal angles, is the most perfect figure in geometry. Hence in Masonry it is the universally acknowledged symbol of perfection. And as that condition of perfection was so pre-eminently exhibited in the mystical union of our three Grand Masters, whose Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty devised, erected, and adorned the temple, so the Broken Square, by the dismemberment of the perfect figure, is emblematic of that imperfection and loss which ensued upon the untimely death of one of the three.
If, therefore, the Triple Triangle is peculiarly appropriate to the Royal Arch, as symbolic of the perfect union of the Illustrious Three, so is the Broken Square equally appropriate to the Royal Master, as symbolic of the unhappy dissolution of that union by death. The Broken Square is preeminently the symbol of this degree.
PRAYER AT THE CLOSING OF A COUNCIL OF ROYAL MASTERS.
Incomprehensibly holy, supremely good and All-wise God, thou art our father and our friend; we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture. Prostrating ourselves before thee, we acknowledge our unworthiness to appear in thy presence. But thou hast said that thou art the Lord God, mercifully forgiving sin and transgression. Pardon, we beseech thee, what thou hast seen amiss in us at this time. Confirm and strengthen us in every good work, and take us henceforth under thy holy protection. For thine is the power and the glory, forever and ever. So mote it be. Amen.
Let brotherly love continue. Be ye careful to entertain strangers. And may the God of peace and love be with us always. So mote it be. Amen.
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