Commentaries on the
History, Philosophy, and Symbolism
of the Degree of
Excerpted from pages 35 – 73 of
Cryptic Masonry: A Manual of the Council
by Albert G. Mackey
The two virtues which it is particularly the symbolical design of the Select Master's degree to inculcate are secrecy and silence. They are, indeed, called the cardinal virtues of a Select Master, because the necessity of their practice is prominently set before the candidate in the legend, as well as in all the ceremonies of the degree. But these virtues constitute the very essence of all Masonic character; they are the safeguard of the institution, giving to it all its security and perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that degree which is the consummation of initiation, in which the whole cycle of Masonic science is completed, the abstruse machinery of symbolism should be employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the neophyte.
The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what thing appeared to him to be most difficult of performance, he replied, “To be secret and silent.”
“If we turn our eyes back to antiquity,” says Calcott, “we shall find that the old Egyptians had so great a regard for silence and secrecy in the mysteries of their religion that they set up the god Harpocrates, to whom they paid peculiar honor and veneration; who was represented with the right hand placed near the heart, and the left down by his side, covered with a skin before, full of eyes and ears; to signify that of many things to be seen and heard few are to be published.” [Calcott, Wellins. Candid Disquisition of the Principles of Freemasonry. p. 104.]
Apuleius, who was an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, says: “By no peril will I ever be compelled to disclose to the uninitiated the things that I have had intrusted to me on condition of silence.”
Lobeck, in his “Aglaophamus,” has collected several examples of the reluctance with which the ancients approached a mystical subject, and the manner in which they shrunk from divulging any explanation or fable which had been related to them at the mysteries under the seal of secrecy and silence.
And lastly, in the school of Pythagoras these lessons were taught by the sage to his disciples. A novitiate of five years was imposed upon each pupil, which period was to be passed in total silence and religious and philosophical contemplation. And at length, when he was admitted to full fellowship in the society, an oath of secrecy was administered to him on the sacred tetractys, which was equivalent to the Jewish tetragrammaton.
Select Masters therefore work in secrecy and silence, that they may prepare and preserve the sacred deposits of truth until the time shall come for its full revelation. And so should all men do, working now, yet not for the present time alone, but that their labor may bring forth fruit in the future; laboring here amid the foundations of the first temple of this transient life, that when their hours of work are finished on earth, the deeds which they have done may be brought to light, and the reward be bestowed in the second temple of eternal life.
This is the true symbolism of the Select Master's degree.
The circumstances referred to in the degree of Royal Master occurred during the building of the first temple, and at a period of time which lies between the death of the Builder and the completion of the edifice. Those referred to in the degree of Select Master also occurred during the construction of the Solomonic temple, but anterior to the Builder's death. Hence in the order of time the events commemorated in the Select Master's degree took place anterior to the occurrence of those which are related in the degree of Royal Master, although in the Masonic sequence the latter degree is conferred before the former. This apparent anachronism is however reconciled by the explanation, that the secrets of the Select Master's degree were not brought to light until long after the existence of the Royal Master's degree had been known and acknowledged.
In other words, to speak only from the traditional point of view, Select Masters had been designated, had performed the task for which they had been selected, and had closed their labors, without ever being openly recognized as a class in the temple of Solomon. Their occupation and their very existence, according to the legend, were unknown in the first temple. The Royal Master's degree, on the contrary, as there was no reason for concealment, was publicly conferred and acknowledged during the latter part of the construction of the temple of Solomon; whereas the degree of Select Master and the important incidents on which it was founded are not supposed to have been revealed to the Craft until the building of the Temple of Zerubbabel. Hence the Royal Master's degree is always conferred anterior to that of the Select Master.
COUNCIL OF SELECT MASTERS.
The symbolic colors of a Select Master, like those of a Royal Master, are black and red, but the symbolism is different. The black is significant of the secrecy, silence, and darkness in which the Select Masters performed their labors, and the red, of their fervency and zeal. Hence the apron and collar of a Select Master must be black, lined and edged with red. The apron should be of a triangular form, in allusion to the sacred delta. In some Councils it is decorated with nine stars, three placed in each angle of the apron, and in the center the letters I. S., or what would be better, the equivalent Hebrew letters יס. The jewel of a Select Master is a silver trowel within a triangle of the same metal, and this worn suspended from collar by every officer and member.
The place of meeting represents a secret vault or crypt beneath the temple; and hence that part of the Masonic system which refers to the degrees of Royal and Select Master is usually called “Cryptic Masonry.”
A Council of Select Masters is supposed to consist of neither more nor less than twenty-seven, although a smaller number, if not less than nine, is competent to proceed to work or business. The nine should be exclusive of the Steward, who is not considered as one of the Council.
A candidate is said to be “chosen as a Select Master.”
PRAYER AT THE OPENING OF A COUNCIL OF SELECT MASTERS.
May the Supreme Grand Master graciously preside over all our counsels, and direct, approve, and bless all our labors. May our professions as Masons be the rule of our conduct as men. May our secret retreat ever be the resort of the just and merciful; the seat of the moral virtues, and the home of the select. So mote it be. Amen.
The following passages of Scripture are deemed applicable to the reception into this degree, as explanatory of the events which it records:—
“So King Solomon was King over all Israel. And Azariah, the son of Nathan, was over the officers: and Zabud, the son of Nathan, was principal officer and the King's friend: and Ahishar was over the household: and Adoniram, the son of Abda, was over the tribute.” — 1 Kings 4:1, 5-6.
“And the King commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stone-squarers: so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.” — 1 Kings 5:17-18.
“And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow's son, of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon and worked all his work.” — 1 Kings 7:13-14.
The word here translated “stone-squarers,” is in the original Giblim. See the explanation on a subsequent page.
THE CIRCLE OF PERFECTION.
The ceremonies of reception into the degree of Select Master are of a compound nature, because they refer to two entirely distinct events. The earliest monitorial instruction that was given to the public on the subject of this degree, states that it rationally accounts for the concealment and preservation of those essentials of the craft which were brought to light at the erection of the second temple, and which lay concealed from the Masonic eye for four hundred and seventy years.
The inculcation of this doctrine—the imparting of this knowledge—undoubtedly constitutes the important object of the degree. It is because of its thus rationally accounting for the concealment and preservation of these fundamental mysteries of Freemasonry, filling up an hiatus between the Master's and the Royal Arch degrees, that the initiates into the Select Master's degree are said to have “passed the circle of perfection.”
The idea of comparing the progress of Masonic science to a circle, with whomsoever it originated, is a good one. The true signification of the phrase may be readily illustrated. Let us, then, suppose that the science of Freemasonry, or, in more definite words, the science of Masonic symbolism, is represented by a circle. This circle will be divided into three portions or arcs: One arc will be occupied by the degrees of the Lodge, or Ancient Craft Masonry; another by the degrees of the Chapter, or Royal Arch Masonry; and the third by the degrees of the Council, or Cryptic Masonry. Now, if a neophyte begins at any point of the circle, and passes over one-third of its circumference, he will arrive at the Master's degree, and will then discover that, so far, the consummation of his Masonic labor is to know only that that for which he has been striving has been LOST, and, instead of the key to all Masonic science, he receives only a substitute for truth.
Dissatisfied with this, let him, in his further search, proceed through another arc, or third of the circumference of the Masonic circle, and he will arrive at the Royal Arch degree. Here, in this second arc, that key which had been LOST in the first arc is FOUND.
But the circle has not yet been completed. It is true that the neophyte now knows that the lost has been found. He is perhaps even put in possession of the sacred treasure. But the process by which the restoration was accomplished is still unknown to him, and all the events of Masonic mythical history which form the links between the loss and the recovery, and all the sublime symbolism which is connected with these events, are withheld from him. He knows what he has obtained, but he knows not why nor how he obtained it. To acquire this knowledge he passes through the remaining arc, and, by arriving at the degree of Select Master, consummates and perfects his knowledge of the representative symbol of Divine Truth, and thus passes the circle of perfection in Masonic science.
But the same early monitorial instruction informs us that in this degree is exemplified an instance of justice and mercy by our ancient patron, toward one of the Craft who was led to disobey his commands by an over-zealous attachment for the institution. The event here referred to, however striking may be its dramatic effect, is really totally unconnected with the true symbolism of the degree. It is merely an interesting episode, which was introduced into the body of the Masonic epic by some ingenious but modern ritualist. So little is it really connected with the mythical symbolism of the degree, that it might actually be dismissed from the ceremonies of initiation without in the slightest manner affecting the great design of the degree, or in any way impairing the completeness of that circle of perfection to which we have just alluded. The science of the degree, as connected with the loss and the recovery of the truth, would not be at all impaired by its removal from the ritual. But it has been so long retained as a part of the ceremonial observance, that it could not at this late day be dispensed with, and it must therefore remain, like a superfluous stone in the edifice, which adds no strength to the building; a ceremony in Masonry without a symbolism, or at most only intended to exemplify the union and the practice of the two virtues, mercy and justice.
The Altar, in a Council of Royal and Select Masters, represents the celebrated Stone of Foundation in the temple, a notice of which will be found in a subsequent part of this volume. It should, therefore, unlike other Masonic altars, be constructed to represent a cubical stone without other ornaments, and on it should be deposited the Substitute Ark. As the Masonic legend places the Stone of Foundation in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the second temple, but immediately beneath it in the first, and as that point is represented by the ninth arch in a Council of Select Masters, it is evident that during a reception, at least, the altar should be placed within that arch, and not, as is too often done, outside of it, or even in the center of the room.
THE SECRET VAULT.
Considered simply as an historical question, there can be no doubt of the existence of immense vaults beneath the superstructure of the original temple of Solomon. Prime, Robison, and other writers who in recent times have described the topography of Jerusalem, speak of the existence of these structures, which they visited, and, in some instances, carefully examined.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Roman Emperor Hadrian erected on the site of the “House of the Lord” a temple of Venus, which in its turn was destroyed, and the place subsequently became a depository of all manner of filth. But the Caliph Omar, after his conquest of Jerusalem, sought out the ancient site, and, having caused it to be cleansed of its impurities, he directed a mosque to be erected on the rock which rises in the center of the mountain. Fifty years afterward the Sultan Abd-el-Meluk displaced the edifice of Omar, and erected that splendid building which remains to this day, and is still incorrectly called by Christians the mosque of Omar, but known to Mussulmans as El-kubbut-es-Sukhrah, or the Dome of the Rock. This is supposed to occupy the exact site of the original Solomonic temple, and is viewed with equal reverence by Jews and Mahommedans, the former of whom, says Mr. Prime, “have a faith that the ark is within its bosom now.” [Prime, William. Tent Life in the Holy Land. p. 183.]
Bartlett, in describing a vault beneath this mosque of Omar, says: “Beneath the dome, at the southeast angle of the temple wall, conspicuous from all points, is a small subterraneous place of prayer, forming the entrance to the extensive vaults which support the level platform of the mosque above.” [Bartlett, William. Walks about the City of Jerusalem. p. 170.]
Dr. Barclay [City of the Great King.] describes, in many places of his interesting topography of Jerusalem, the vaults and subterranean chambers which are to be found beneath the site of the old temple.
Conformably with this historical account is the Talmudical legend, in which the Jewish Rabbins state that, in preparing the foundations of the temple, the workmen discovered a subterranean vault sustained by seven arches, rising from as many pairs of pillars. This vault escaped notice at the destruction of Jerusalem, in consequence of its being filled with rubbish. The legend adds, that Josiah, foreseeing the destruction of the temple, commanded the Levites to deposit the ark of the covenant in this vault, where it was found by some of the workmen of Zerubbabel, at the building of the second temple.
In the earliest ages the cave or vault was deemed sacred. The first worship was in cave temples, which were either natural, or formed by art to resemble the excavations of nature. Of such great extent was this practice of subterranean worship by the nations of antiquity, that many of the forms of heathen temples, as well as the naves, aisles, and chancels of churches subsequently built for Christian worship, are said to owe their origin to the religious use of caves.
From this, too, arose the fact, that the initiation into the ancient mysteries was almost always performed in subterranean edifices; and when the place of initiation, as in some of the Egyptian temples, was really above ground, it was so constructed as to give to the neophyte the appearance, in its approaches and its internal structure, of a vault. As the great doctrine taught in the mysteries was the resurrection from the dead, as to die and to be initiated were synonymous terms, it was deemed proper that there should be some formal resemblance between a descent into the grave and a descent into the place of initiation. “Happy is the man,” says the Greek poet Pindar, “who descends beneath the hollow earth, having beheld these mysteries, for he knows the end as well as the divine origin of life;” and in a like spirit Sophocles exclaims, “Thrice happy are they who descend to the shades below after having beheld these sacred rites, for they alone have life in Hades, while all others suffer there every kind of evil.”
The vault was, therefore, in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of the grave; for initiation was symbolic of death, where alone Divine Truth is to be found. The Masons have adopted the same idea. They teach that death is but the beginning of life; that if the first or evanescent temple of our transitory life be on the surface, we must descend into the secret vault of death before we can find that sacred deposit of truth which is to adorn our second temple of eternal life. Looking, therefore, to this reference of initiation to that subterranean house of our last dwelling, we significantly speak of the place of initiation as “the secret vault, where reign silence, secrecy, and darkness.” It is in this sense of an entrance through the grave into eternal life, that the Select Master is to view the recondite but beautiful symbolism of the secret vault. Like every other myth and allegory of Masonry, the historical relation may be true or it may be false; it may be founded on fact or the invention of imagination; the lesson is still there, and the symbolism teaches it exclusive of the history.
This is the person named in the First Book of Kings 4:6, under the name of Ahishar, and there described as being “over the household” of King Solomon. Adam Clarke describes him as “the king's chamberlain,” but the original title of al-bait properly signifies, as Gesenius remarks, “the dispenser or steward who had charge of the household affairs and of the other servants.” The very same words are used in Genesis 44:1, and there translated “the steward of his house.” Achishar is therefore properly described in this degree as the steward of the household.
As to the legend of his conduct and his punishment, it has no known foundation in history, and may be considered simply as a mythical symbol.
This, like Achishar, is an historical personage, although the events recorded of him as peculiar to this degree are altogether legendary. The word is one of those corruptions of Hebrew names unfortunately too common in Masonry. The true name is Zabud; and he is mentioned in the First Book of Kings 4:5, where it is said, “Zabud, the son of Nathan, was principal officer and the King's friend.” Kitto says of Zabud and of his brother Azariah, that their advancement in the household of King Solomon “may doubtless be ascribed not only to the young king's respect for the venerable prophet (their father), who had been his instructor, but to the friendship he had contracted with his sons during the course of education. The office, or rather honor of 'friend of the King' we find in all the despotic governments of the East. It gives high power, without the public responsibility which the holding of a regular office in the state necessarily imposes. It implies the possession of the utmost confidence of, and familiar intercourse with, the monarch, to whose person 'the friend' at all times has access, and whoso influence is therefore often far greater, even in matters of state, than that of the recognized ministers of government.” [Kitto, John, ed. Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, vol. II. p. 977, see Zabud.]
It is scarcely necessary to say how closely all this has been observed in the legend of the Select Master's degree. It is time, however, that the word Zabud should be substituted for the corrupt form Izabud, now constantly used.
This word, which is most generally corrupted into HESED, is the Hebrew הסד, and signifies mercy. Hence it very appropriately refers to that act of kindness and compassion which is commemorated in this degree.
This expression is composed of the two Hebrew words, יש ISH, and סוד SOD. The first of these words, ISH, means a man, and SOD signifies primarily a couch on which one reclines. Hence ISH SODI would mean, first, a man of my couch, one who reclines with me on the same seat, an indication of great familiarity and confidence. Thence followed the secondary meaning given to SOD of familiar intercourse, consultation, or intimacy. Job (19:19) applies it in this sense when, using MATI, a word synonymous with ISH, he speaks of MATI SODI in the passage which the common version has translated thus: “all my inward friends abhorred me,” but which the marginal interpretation has more correctly rendered, “all the men of my secret.” Ish Sodi, therefore, in this degree very clearly means, a man of my intimate counsel, a man of my choice, one selected to share with me a secret task or labor. Such was the position of every Select Master to King Solomon, and in this view those are not wrong who have interpreted Ish Sodi as meaning a Select Master.
THE SUBSTITUTE ARK.
The Ark or Coffer which necessarily constitutes a part of the paraphernalia of a Council of Select Masters, is the same as that which forms a part of the furniture of a Chapter of the Royal Arch. But it must he distinctly understood that neither of these represents that Ark of the Covenant which had been constructed in the wilderness by Moses, Aholiah, and Bezaleel, which had been placed in the tabernacle, and afterwards, at the dedication of the Temple of Solomon was removed to the Holy of Holies. The later history of this ark is buried in obscurity. It is supposed that upon the destruction of the first temple by the Chaldeans, it was carried to Babylon among the other sacred utensils which became the spoil of the conquerors. But of its subsequent fate all traces have been lost. It is, however, certain that it was not brought back to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel. The Talmudists say that there were five things which were the glory of the first temple that were wanting in the second; namely, the Ark of the Covenant, the Shechinah, or Divine Presence, the Urim and Thummim, the holy fire upon the altar, and the spirit of prophecy. The Rev. Salem Town [System of Speculative Masonry. p. 222 et seq.], it is true, has endeavored to prove, by a very ingenious argument, that the original Ark of the Covenant was concealed by Josiah or by others, at some time previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, and that it was afterwards, at the building of the second temple, discovered and brought to light. But such a theory is entirely at variance with all the legends of the degree of Select Master and of Royal Arch Masonry. To admit it would lead to endless confusion and contradictions in the traditions of the order. It is besides in conflict with the opinions of the Rabbinical writers and every Hebrew scholar. Josephus and the Rabbins allege that in the second temple the Holy of Holies was empty, or contained only the stone of foundation which marked the place which the ark should have occupied.
But Prideaux [Old and New Testament Connected, vol. I.], on the authority of Lightfoot, contends that as an ark was indispensable to the Israelitish worship, there was in the second temple an ark which had been expressly made for the purpose of supplying the place of the first or original ark, and which, without possessing any of its prerogatives or honors, was of precisely the same shape and dimensions, and was deposited in the same place.
These are historical problems which it would be vain for us to attempt at this late day to solve. The Masonic legend, however, whether authentic or not, is simple and connected. It teaches that there was an ark in the second temple, but that it was neither the Ark of the Covenant, which had been in the Holy of Holies of the first temple, nor one that had been constructed as a substitute for it after the building of the second temple. It was that ark which is presented to us in the Select Master's degree, and which, being an exact copy of the Mosaical ark, and intended to replace it in case of its loss, is best known to Freemasons as the Substitute Ark.
This is peculiarly a Masonic form for the more usual word Giblites. It designates the inhabitants of Gebal, a city of Phoenicia, on the shore of the Mediterranean, and under Mount Lebanon. The Hebrew word is גבלים, Giblim, and is to be found in 1 Kings 5:18, where it is translated, in our common version, “stone-squarers” in the following passage: “And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders did hew them, and the stone-squarers; so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.” The translation would be more correctly thus: “And Solomon's builders and Hiram's builders and the Giblemites did hew them.”
The Giblemites, or inhabitants of Gebal, were subject to the King of Tyre, and were distinguished for their skill as builders. The town of Gebal was called Byblos by the Greeks, and was celebrated as the principal seat of the worship of Adonis, whose mysteries, and the initiation accompanying it, more nearly resembled, in its symbolism and allegorical teaching, the initiation into Masonry than any other of the ancient rites. It is not, therefore, unnatural to suppose that the Giblemites held a higher place in the confidence of King Solomon than any other of the Temple builders.
THE NINE ARCHES.
Of all the superstitious notions which prevailed among the ancient philosophers, there was none more prevalent than that which attributed a mystical meaning and a divine virtue to numbers. Nor did the idea die with antiquity. It was a favorite theory of many of the Christian Fathers, and even as late as the sixteenth century we find Cornelius Agrippa asserting that “there lies wonderful efficacy and virtue in numbers, as well for good as for evil.” [De Occulta Philosophia, Lib. II. Cap. iii.] The doctrine was especially taught in the school of Pythagoras, and afterwards by the Cabbalists, whence it has evidently descended to Freemasonry, of whose symbolical science it constitutes an interesting portion. But the numeral symbolism of Masonry very materially differs from that of the Pythagoreans as well as the Cabbalists.
With the Masons, odd numbers alone are considered mystical, which was according to the ancient doctrine, where it was taught that odd numbers were pleasing to the gods. [“Numero deus impare gaudet.” Virgil. Eclogae, VIII.] Hence three, five, seven, and nine, are deemed Masonic numbers. Three is the foundation of the Masonic symbolism of numbers, because it is the first odd number after unity, and it is particularly applicable to the lower degrees. When we ascend to the higher grades, nine comes into play as the square of three, and twenty-seven, which is the cube of three, and lastly eighty-one which is the square of nine.
The number nine is the sacred number of the Select degree, which, however, also refers to twenty-seven, simply because that is the product of nine multiplied by three.
Nine was called by the Pythagoreans teieios, or the number of completion, and as such it is appropriate to that degree which professes to complete the circle of Masonic science. But the lecture of the Select Master teaches us that the number nine alludes to the nine attributes of the Deity, which are said to be: 1. Beauty. 2. Wisdom. 3. Power. 4. Eternity. 5. Infinity. 6. Omniscience. 7. Justice. 8. Mercy. 9. Perfection.
THE STONE OF FOUNDATION.
The Stone of Foundation, which in this degree is represented by the altar on which is placed the Substitute Ark, constitutes one of the most important as well as abstruse of the symbols of Freemasonry. It is, it is true, scarcely alluded to, except in a very general way, in the primitive degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry, but is peculiarly appropriate to the Royal Arch, and especially to the degree of Select Master, where it is really the most essential symbol of the degree.
The Stone of Foundation must, however, be distinguished, both in its symbolism and in its legendary history, from other stones which play an important part in the Masonic ritual, but which are entirely distinct from it. Such are the corner-stone, which was always placed in the northeast corner of the building about to be erected, and to which such a beautiful reference is made in the ceremonies of the first degree; or the keystone, which constitutes an interesting part of the Mark Master's degree; or, lastly, the cape-stone, upon which all the ritual of the Most Excellent Master's degree is founded. These are all, in their proper places, highly interesting and instructive symbols, but have no connection whatever with the Stone of Foundation, whose symbolism it is our present object to discuss. Nor, although the Stone of Foundation is said, for peculiar reasons, to have been of a cubical form, must it be confounded with that stone called by the continental Masons the cubical stone—the pierre cubique of the French, and the cubik stein of the German Masons, but which in the English system is known as the perfect ashlar. This has a legendary history and a symbolic signification which are peculiar to itself, and which, differing from the history and meaning which belong to these other stones, particularly connect it with the degree of Select Master.
The Stone of Foundation is supposed, in the science of Masonic symbolism, to have been a stone placed at one time within the foundations of the first temple, or that of Solomon, and afterward, during the building of the second temple, transported to the Holy of Holies. It was in form a perfect cube, and had inscribed upon its upper face, within a delta or triangle, the sacred tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Name of God.
Oliver, speaking with the solemnity of a historian, says that Solomon thought that he had rendered the house of God worthy, so far as human adornment could effect, for the dwelling of God, “when he had placed the celebrated Stone of Foundation, on which the sacred name was mystically engraven, with solemn ceremonies, in that sacred depository on Mount Moriah, along with the foundations of Dan and Asher, the center of the Most Holy Place, where the ark was overshadowed by the shekinah of God.”
The Hebrew Talmudists, who thought as much of this stone and had as many legends concerning it as the Masonic Talmudists, called it eben shatijah, or “Stone of Foundation,” because, as they said, it had been laid by Jehovah, as the foundation of the world, and hence the apocryphal book of Enoch speaks of the “stone which supports the corners of the earth.”
The Masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation are very numerous, and many of them contradictory and unsatisfactory. The series of legends which is now very generally adopted by Masonic scholars is that which commences with the patriarch Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of Foundation.
This legend in full is as follows: Enoch, under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions which he had received in a vision, built a temple under ground on Mount Moriah, and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although he was not acquainted with his father's motives for the erection. This temple consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and communicating by apertures left in each vault.
Enoch then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones, and incrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the tetragrammaton, and, placing it on a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arch.
When this subterranean building was completed, he made a door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might be occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so covered it that the aperture could not be discovered. Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it but once a year, and on the deaths of Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech, and the destruction of the world by the deluge, all knowledge of the vault or subterranean temple and of the Stone of Foundation with the Ineffable Name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.
At the building of the first temple of Jerusalem the Stone of Foundation again makes its appearance. According to the legend, when King Solomon was digging the foundations of the temple he discovered this stone of Enoch, which for wise purposes he deposited in a secure and secret place, that the Ineffable Name upon it might be preserved for future times.
The Foundation Stone of Masonry appears to be intimately connected with the stone worship of the ancients. History affords abundant examples which prove that the worship of a cubical stone formed an important feature of the religions of the primitive nations. But Cudworth, Bryant, Faber, and all other distinguished writers who have treated the subject, have long since established the theory that the Pagan religions were eminently symbolic. Thus, to use the language of Dudley, the pillar of stone “was adopted as a symbol of strength and firmness— a symbol, also, of the divine power, and, by a ready inference, a symbol or idol of the Deity himself.” And this symbolism is confirmed by Phurnutus, whom Toland quotes as saying that the god Hermes was represented without hands or feet, being a cubical stone, because the cubical figure betokened his solidity and stability.
Profane and Masonic history combined seem to establish the following series of facts: First, that there was a very general prevalence among the earliest nations of antiquity of the worship of stones as the representatives of Deity; secondly, that in almost every ancient temple there was a legend of a sacred or mystical stone; thirdly, that this legend is found in the Masonic system; and, lastly, that the mystical stone there has received the name of the “Stone of Foundation.”
Now, as in all the other systems the stone is admitted to be symbolic, and the tradition connected with it mystical, we are compelled to assume the same predicates of the Masonic stone. It, too, is symbolic, and its legend a myth or an allegory.
The fact that the mystical stone in all the ancient religions was a symbol of the Deity, leads us necessarily to the conclusion that the Stone of Foundation was also a symbol of Deity. And this symbolic idea is strengthened by the tetragrammaton or sacred name of God that was inscribed upon it. This Ineffable Name sanctifies the stone upon which it is engraved as the symbol of the Grand Architect. It takes from it its heathen signification as an idol, and consecrates it to the worship of the true God.
The predominant idea of the Deity, in the Masonic system, connects him with his creative and formative power. God is to the Freemason Al-Gabil, as the Arabians called him, that is, The Builder; or, as expressed in his Masonic title, the Grand Architect of the Universe, by common consent abbreviated in the formula G:. A:. O:. T:. U:. Now, it is evident that no symbol could so appropriately suit Him in this character as the Stone of Foundation, upon which He is allegorically supposed to have erected His world. Such a symbol closely connects the creative work of God, as a pattern and exemplar, with the workman's erection of his temporal building on a similar foundation-stone.
But this Masonic idea is still further to be extended. The great object of all Masonic labor is divine truth. The search for the lost word is the search for truth. But divine truth is a term synonymous with God. The Ineffable Name is a symbol of truth, because God, and God alone, is truth. It is properly a Scriptural idea. The Book of Psalms abounds with this sentiment. Thus it is said that the truth of the Lord “reacheth unto the clouds,” and that “His truth endureth unto all generations.” If, then, God is truth, and the Stone of Foundation is the Masonic symbol of God, it follows that it must also be the symbol of divine truth.
When we have arrived at this point in our speculations, we are ready to show how all the myths and legends of the Stone of Foundation may be rationally explained as parts of that beautiful “science of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” which is the acknowledged definition of Freemasonry.
In the Masonic system there are two temples; the first temple, in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned, and the second temple, with which the higher degrees, and especially the Royal Arch, are related. The first temple is symbolic of the present life; the second temple is symbolic of the life to come. The first temple, the present life, must be destroyed; on its foundations the second temple, the life eternal, must be built.
But the mystical stone was placed by King Solomon in the foundations of the first temple. That is to say, the first temple of our present life must be built on the sure foundation of divine truth, “for other foundation can no man lay.”
But although the present life is necessarily built upon the foundation of truth, yet we never thoroughly attain it in this sublunary sphere. The Foundation Stone is concealed in the first temple, and the Master Mason knows it not. He has not the true word. He receives only a substitute.
But in the second temple of the future life we have passed from the grave, which had been the end of our labors in the first. We have removed the rubbish, and have found that Stone of Foundation which had been hitherto concealed from our eyes. We now throw aside the substitute for truth, which had contented us in the former temple, and the brilliant effulgence of the tetragrammaton and the Stone of Foundation are discovered, and thenceforth we are the possessors of the true word—of divine truth. And in this way the Stone of Foundation, or divine truth, concealed in the first temple, but discovered and brought to light in the second, will explain that passage of the Apostle: “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 so we arrive at this result, that the Masonic Stone of Foundation, so conspicuous in the degree of Select Master, is a symbol of divine truth, upon which all Speculative Masonry is built; and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul, the search for which is a Mason's labor; and the discovery of which is to be his reward.
CHARGE TO THE NEW SELECT MASTER.
Companion: Having attained to this degree, you have passed the circle of perfection in ancient Masonry. In the capacity of a Select Master, you must be sensible that your obligations are increased in proportion to your privileges. Let it be your constant care to prove yourself worthy of the confidence that has been reposed in you, and of the high honor that has been conferred upon you in admitting you to this select degree. Let uprightness and integrity attend your steps; let justice and mercy mark your conduct; let fervency and zeal stimulate you in the discharge of the various duties incumbent on you; but suffer not an idle and impertinent curiosity to lead you astray or betray you into danger. Be deaf to every insinuation which would have a tendency to weaken your resolution, or tempt you to an act of disobedience. Be voluntarily dumb and blind when the exercise of those faculties would endanger the peace of your mind or the probity of your conduct; and let silence and secrecy, those cardinal virtues of a Select Master, on all necessary occasions be scrupulously observed. By a steady adherence to the important instructions contained in this degree, you will merit the approbation of the select number with whom you are associated, and will enjoy the high satisfaction of having acted well your part in the important enterprise in which you are engaged; and after having wrought your regular hours, may you be permitted to participate in all the privileges of a Select Master, and to enter the Celestial Council, where you will behold that divine Stone of Foundation on which rests Eternal Truth.
CHARGE AT THE CLOSING OF A COUNCIL OF SELECT MASTERS.
Companions: Being about to quit this sacred retreat to mix again with the world, let us not forget, amid the cares and vicissitudes of active life, the bright example of sincere friendship, so beautifully illustrated in the lives of the founders of this degree. Let us take the lesson home with us, and may it strengthen the bands of fraternal love between us, unite our hearts to duty, and our desires to wisdom. Let us exercise Charity, cherish Hope, and walk in Faith. And may that moral principle which is the mystic cement of our fellowship remain with and bless us. So mote it be. Amen.
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