Lecture 1: Historic Instruction

How old is Masonry?

It is difficult to answer this question.

The roots of what we know as modern Masonry are obscured by the mists of time. And the changes in the Masonic Fraternity, which have occurred over the years - its evolutions and meta- morphoses — make our origins even more indistinct. Generally speaking, five major hypotheses have been advanced to suggest the answers to the questions regarding Masonry's origins.

The frst hypothesis, stated briefly, is: The medieval building guilds were the descendants of the architectural brotherhoods of antiquity. Through the centuries, the master builders used apprentices in the construction projects. They trained these apprentices to be craftsmen and, ultimately, these apprentices became masters of their crafts. Their training was not limited to the craft, but included instruction in ethics and morality. This, according to this theory, should come as no surprise since the major building efforts were sponsored by the church, or by princes and political leaders closely associated with the church. This thesis says: The roots of Masonry can be traced — directly — back to antiquity through the histories of the builders and their organizations. It is used to support the suggestions that the roots of present day Masonry extend back to the time of the building of King Solomon's Temple — and even before that, to the building of the Tower of Babel.

The second hypothesis places the origin of Masonry at the times of the various crusades. The Knights Templar Crusaders became aware of some of the esoteric traditions of the antiquity of the Near East, and the history and mythology of Jerusalem's destroyed Temple of Solomon. This second theory further suggests the Knights Templar developed and adopted those traditions into their own ceremonies and, even after the suppression of their order, their rites and ceremonies continued and formed the basis of what subsequently became known as Masonry.

The third hypothesis is as follows: Masonry was originated in the 1400s, or perhaps the 1300s, by a secret group of philosophers and moralists, who adopted architectural allegories including the tools of the building trades — as a method of expressing their concepts of the values and ethics of life. During this time in the development of the world, new thought and the questioning of generally accepted explanations of ethics — and even the explanations regarding the workings of the the world - were not viewed with universal enthusiasm. In 1633, the Inquisition forced Galileo to deny the theory that the earth moved around the sun — instead of the then accepted "truth" that the sun moved around the earth. So again, "secrecy" in such an organization could be explained.

The fourth hypothesis ascribes the origin of Masonry to the German Christian philosopher Rosenkruetz (which means Red Cross). Rosenkruetz traveled to the Holy Land in the late 1300s. He returned to Germany in 1401 and is believed to have died there in 1484. The theory says he created a secret society known as the Rosicrucians (Rosy Cross), whose existence was not suspected for 120 years. But in 1605, it began to excite attention in Germany and, later, in France. The theory holds the beliefs and ordinances of the Rosicrucian Society served as the basis for today's Masonic organizations.

The fifth hypothesis is usually accepted as the one with the most reasonable seal of surface probability and common sense. It suggests modern day Freemasonry had its roots in the Middle Age building guilds - with no direct extension back to antiquity. Regardless of which theory of origin you adopt, a combination of record and guess has to be used to show how present day Freemasonry developed.

To understand from whence we came, one set of definitions is necessary. We call ourselves "speculative" Masons, but our ancient brethren were "operative" masons. The term "speculative Mason" refers to Masons who do not work as masons. I am a speculative Mason. So are you. So was George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The "operative mason" was - and is one who plies the trade of masonry. Today, we consider operative masons to be stonemasons, but in the Middle Ages the term was broader, covering carpenters and other tradesmen as well as stonemasons.

How old is Masonry? Remember, Guttenberg introduced movable type to Europe around the year 1440. Record keeping before that time was done by the educated, who maintained hand written manuscripts. The ability to read and write was limited to a few. Written records made prior to 1500 are scarce.

And there were persecutions and edicts directed against both operative and speculative Masons. This, you can understand, may have made it prudent for Masons to keep their identity and their business secret.

As late as 1825, a lodge of Masons was raided by authorities in Granada, Spain. Seven Master Masons, who were present, were hung. And a newly initiated Entered Apprentice was sentenced to five years of hard labor. There was reason to keep their organization hidden.

So, the earliest references and records of the Masonic Fraternity are fragmentary and we are reduced to speculation in interpreting them.

From whence did we come? What was the nature of our fraternity's early form, or forms?

The Middle Age builders were operative Masons. They were employed to build the castles of kings and the cathedrals of the church. They were artisans, and they were in demand. So they had the protection of the lay and clerical authorities. They could travel from one area to another with the protection of those powers. They could work and receive a master's wages. And they formed societies and groups somewhat akin to present day labor unions.

Records of these matters are sketchy. They city records of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1483 suggest the Ancient Stirling Lodge — in 1147 — represented a body of masons at work on the construction of Cambies Kenneth Abbey. Of course, these were operative masons. In 1231, the governing body of the City of Worms suppressed all trade guilds. The wages of operative English masons were regulated by statute in 1350. And the Regius Manuscript — the original considered to have been written somewhere around 1380 to 1400 (a copy is dated 1425) — contains a Constitution of Masonry, suggesting a type of organization more ornate than a grouping of tradesmen.

As we approach the l500s and the 1600s, records become more numerous and detailed.

Early Masonic organizations, it may be supposed, were probably composed entirely of operative masons. But we are now mostly speculative Masons. We don't practice the actual trade. How did the change occur?

One would have to have a vivid imagination, indeed, to envisage a group of Middle Age builders performing the rituals which have been adopted for usage in modern Masonic lodges. But I have no difficulty in imagining a group of those competent and qualified carpenters, stonemasons and architects working closely with the religious organizations and political leaders who were using their services. I have no trouble seeing both patron and employee developing closely allied religious and moral teachings. And I have no difficulty seeing the builders forming societies for their protection, ritualizing initiation ceremonies and, then, allowing their patrons to become a part of those organizations — initially in an honorary fashion. As their moral and ethical beliefs became more broadly known and accepted, I have no difficulty imagining other nonoperative masons becoming members of their organizations.

As early as 1600, John Boswell, of Auckenlec, Scotland, is said to have attended a meeting of Masons at Mary's Chapel Lodge. This is quoted as the earliest authenticated instance of a non-operative mason being a member of a Masonic organization.

A Masonic lodge currently existing in Glascow, Scotland, has records going back to 1620. It is supposed that most of its members in that early time were operative masons. But by 1652, it is clear that speculative masons were members of the lodge. On February 24, 1652, according to a solemn declaration of a Presbyterian synod at Kelso, it was said that ministers of the Presbyterian persuasion had been Freemasons in the purest time of the church.

The records show — in 1678 — the Rev. George Hickes termed the Mason-Word a "secret signal" as old as Babel, according to some Masons, while others refer to its origin to the time of Solomon. With this knowledge, it might be presumed the good reverend was a Mason.

In 1682, Elias Ashmole attended a meeting at Mason's Hall and it was noted that he was not an operative mason.

In 1686, a pamphlet, "The Natural History of Staffordshire," was published by Dr. Robert Plot. It refers to the "Society of Freemasons" in Staffordshire and states that persons of the most eminent quality did not disdain to be of this fellowship. This suggests membership in Masonic organizations by people who were not operating masons was not an uncommon occurrence.

Certainly by 1700, non-operative Masons were, by far, the major factor in the Scottish and English lodges. But before we follow Masonic history in the 1700s, some of these fragmentary Masonic records and earlier references will be of interest to you.

In 1173, the term "magister" was conferred on William of Senns at a meeting of builders in Canterbury. According to the historians, the term magister either meant "Master of the Work" or "Master Mason." Is this the root of the Degree of Master Mason.

Between 1187 and 1199, the same title of Master Mason was applied to William of English- men, who designed the cathedral at Coventry. From 1257 to 1260, John of Glouster was "King's Mason" and he was rewarded by Henry III with his freedom for life from tolls throughout the English realm. He could travel freely into "foreign" countries.

In 1349, English Masonic guilds were apparently quite active. In that year, a law was passed to regulate masons' wages. In 1375, an organization of operative masons was represented in the Court of the Common Council in London.

In 1376, the Masons who composed the London Masonic organization were formally known as "Freemasons." In 1425, congregations and chapters of Masons were prohibited in London and the leaders of such organizations were, by statute, adjudged to be fellons.

In 1583, a Manuscript of Constitutions was written. This, in the strictest meaning of the words, was the first record of a Masonic constitution.

A manuscript, with an approximate date of 1665, has a rough memorandum containing a Masonic pledge. The pledge states there are Masonic words and signs to be kept secret from all but Masters and Fellows of the society.

The minutes of the Ancient Stirling Lodge go back to 1670 — although by Aberdeen City records of 1483, as previously stated, indicate by inference that the lodge was in existence in 1147.

On the European continent, the City of Halberstadt in 1693 passed ordinances regulating German stonemason organizations.

By the 1700s, records become more complete. The Ancient York Lodge in England has preserved a membership list from 1705. It is said to be the first listing of Masons — none of whom had any connection with operative masonry.

And in 1717, at the Apple Tree Tavern in London, representatives of Masonic lodges met and decided to establish a Grand Lodge. They resolved to hold annual meetings and a feast, and they decided to elect a Grand Master. Later that year on St. John the Baptist Day, they met at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St. Paul's Churchyard in London. Anthony Sayer was elected as the first Grand Master of Masons of those British lodges.

Grand Lodges were soon established in Ireland and Scotland. Thereafter, the record is much more than fragmentary — though not complete. Still, the record of the growth of the fraternity and the attempts to suppress it are clear.

English Masonry went to France sometime between 1718 and 1725. The first Spanish lodge was established in 1728. A lodge was established in Prague in 1729, in Calcutta in 1730 and in Naples in 1731. Masonry entered Poland in 1734 and Sweden in 1735. Also in 1735, a lodge was established in the Vatican.

The growth of Freemasonry and its ideals and beliefs came not without opposition. Masons are taught that all men are equal — we meet upon the level. Individual freedom of thought and action, as well as morality and ethics, are the concepts and ideals upon which our order is founded. The teachings are anathema to autocratic government.

This can be seen in our century when Masonry was outlawed by such leaders as Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Franco of Spain, the dictator Salazar of Portugal and the communist Arbenz during his regime in Guatemala.

In the 18th century, when the rumblings for demands of reform and more democratic gov- ernments began to be heard, the ideals of Masonry were, in some quarters, highly suspect. The result was Masonry and Masons were persecuted. Masonry was prohibited in Holland in 1735, and in the Vatican in 1737. During that same year, the police in Paris meted out what has been described as "arbitrary treatment" to Masons. Freemasonry was suppressed in the low countries and in Sweden in 1738 and, during that year, on April 27, E'Opel Clement XII issued his famous bull, in which Freemasons were condemned and excommunicated. The bull also extended the same treatment to anyone who promoted or favored their cause.

In 1739, an inquisition persecuted Masons in Florence, and the lodges in Warsaw were closed. In 1740, the Grand Master, the ruler of Malta, forbade Masons on the island and Phillip of Spain issued an edict against Masonry. In 1743, the inquisition reached into Portugal, where Masons were tortured and burned. Freemasonry was prohibited in Switzerland in 1745. In 1751, Ferdinand VII of Spain condemned Freemasons to death without trial.

There has always been anti-Masons — and there probably always will be such individuals.

However, it is particularly important to recognize that during these same periods of inquisition and suppression, the Masonic fraternity continued to grow and expand both in number and territory.

In 1738, the Crown Prince of Prussia, afterwards Fredrick the Great, was initiated into the German lodge. In 1743, Freemasonry appeared in Bohemia. It reemerged in Holland in 1744. In the 1750s, Masonry established itself in Transylvania, Madras, Sweden, Bombay and Quebec.

In 1753, a Freemason's orphanage was established in Stockholm. This is one of the first records of Masonic charity. The Grand Lodge of England, on December 29, 1729, enacted a res- olution which required the sum of 2 guineas to be paid to the general charity fund of every new lodge.

In the 1760s, Masonry was revived in Portugal, it appeared in southern Hungary, in Russia, Belgium, Jamaica and was reestablished in Spain.

In the 1770s, the decade of our own revolution, Masonry established itself in Capetown and in Poland.

Masonry was persecuted and condemned, but it continued to grow.

Clearly, autocratic authority did not care for the Masonic organization. But who were Masons? What kind of men were attracted to the Masonic fraternity?

As pointed out, Fredrick the Great became a Mason in 1738. Lord Byron was the Grand Master of the British lodges in 1747. The first record of a royal prince becoming a Mason dates back to 1731 when the Duke of Lorraine was made a Mason in the Hague. In 1771, King Gustav III of Sweden and his two brothers became Masons.

According to some authorities, Napoleon Bonaparte was made a Mason in Malta in 1798. Alexander I of Russia became a Mason in 1803 and the Prince of Wales was elected Grand Master of Masonry in Scotland in 1805. King Christian VIII of Denmark became a Mason in 1817. His son, Christian IX, became a Mason in 1836 and Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany was initiated in 1840. In England, Edward VII, Edward VIII and King George VI were Masons.

And all of these men were Masons: Joseph Hayden, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Von Beethovan, Giachomo Puccini, Jan Sibelius and Gilbert and Sullivan. And many great authors were Masons. The poet Goethe was initiated in 1780. Oscar Wilde, Voltaire, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson were members.

And whenever you read of European revolutions of the 18th and lath centuries, you are apt to find Masons. For example, the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi was a Mason as was his Hun- garian counterpart, Kossuth.

In the European political arena, Masonry is well represented — Winston Churchill was a Mason as was Anthony Eden. So was the Czech liberator Jan Masaryk and Czech President Edward Benes.

Other European Mason you will recognize include: Robert Burns, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott and a number of people who came over to help in our revolution — Lafayette, Roschambeau, vow Stuben, Pulaski, Koskiusko, de Kalb - to name a few of the better known.

Certainly, we can't begin to investigate to any degree of depth the hundreds of years of Masonic history in Europethrough the discussions entailed in this presentation. Within our Masonic organization in Wisconsin, we have a lodge dedicated to historical investigations. It is called Silas Shepherd Lodge and, if you want to take an active interest in that activity, your membership in the Silas Shepherd Lodge will be welcomed after you become a Master Mason.

After you have been passed to the Degree of Fellow Craft, we will have an opportunity to discuss the development of Freemasonry in America.