Lessons of the Master's Degree



LESSON OF THE MASTER'S DEGREE

by CHAS. A. MERZ.

The American Freemason - 1914


THAT matchless lesson of the Master's Degree! When one
contemplates its sublimity, its beauty, its majesty, well may
he exclaim with the illustrious Fichte -"I raise my head to the
threatening rock, the raging flood and the fiery tempest, and
cry, 'I am eternal, and defy your might; break all upon me;
and thou Earth, and thou Heaven, mingle in the wild tumult;
and all ye elements, foam and fret yourselves, and crush in
your conflict the last atom of the body I call mine; my WILL,
secure in its own firm purpose, shall soar unwavering and
bold over the wreck of the universe; for I have entered on my
vocation and it is more enduring than ye are - it is eternal,
and I am eternal like it!"' In that hour of darkness and dread,
when pride is humbled, when fear of unknown and untried
depths lays bare all of human frailty, its lesson comes to the
ever hungry soul of man with the promise of eternal life and
advancement. It is here that immortality is presented, not as
a general truth, but as one individualised.

God sits serene and unchangeable beyond that awful and
mysterious veil; and man, in humble faith and submission,
must yield up the germ of immortality within him, to Him in
whom the dead live and to whom all flesh shall come.

When his courage and fortitude must need be tried by
Miolner's murderous representative, with its impartial,
resistless, crushing force, and the chamber of longest
tarrying yawns for his reception; in the hour of death, of
judgment, of retribution, he must tread the wine-press alone!
In its own strength or weakness, clothed or unclothed, in its
own robe of submission and penitence, must the soul wage
this dreadful conflict. Alone in the Judgment of Amenti, must
the soul, unveiled and self-knowing; its depths of memory
and consciousness broken up; the secrets of the heart laid
open, advance toward the Goddess Thumme, while Anubis
and Horus weigh the actions and mete out the sentence
which consigns it to unknown woe or to joy unspeakable.
This latter we read on an inscription: "Found favor before the
great God; they dwell in glory, where they live a heavenly
life; the bodies they have quitted will forever repose in their
tombs, whilst they rejoice in the life of the supreme God." On
the one side, the ostrich feather; on the other the human
heart.

The lesson of the Master's Degree is burdened with symbolic
meanings of the most sublime and exalted character, It
teaches "the hope of a blessed abode, where the sun grows
not dim, where the shadows gather not; where there is a sea
of glass, a great white throne, the marriage supper of the
Lamb, white robes and golden harps-all imagery that brings
over the soul multitudinous and transporting thoughts of
splendor, glory, joy and praise.

"In this definite outline does the hope of Heaven end? Nay -
it does not here begin. Not in the hope of a blessed abode -
not in the hope of eternal rest by houris fanned - but in the
hope of the glory of God-in the hope of eternal advancement
- yea, even in the knowledge that there is no home, nor stay,
nor station on the wild bright way we know not whither, we
shall spurn these heavens of the dull imagination. From the
colonnades and temples, in gardens Elysian, where fancy
hears the footfalls of the loftiest of time, past thrones,
principalities and constellations, past crowns whose jewels
win the lifted eyes of Gabriel and Michael, up through laws
and harmonies which it hath not entered into the heart of
man or angel to conceive-which are to music as is music to
the grating of a dungeon hinge, shall rise the flying soul-and
the blessed air shall echo in her shouting, far o'er the lost
ideals of this world, Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving to the Lord
God Almighty, who calls and calls us through the Universe of
Glory."

Save for the avowal of his belief in a Supreme Being,
Masonry asks nothing, demands nothing. She seeks to
enforce no dogma, no theology. Each has his conscience,
his reason, will and understanding, to make diligent search
for himself; to choose, to reject, to believe, to consider, to act
- each must answer for himself alone.

God made man perfect, but not immutable. His heritage is to
persevere. His will is ordained, by Nature, free and
untrammelled by inextricable fate or any necessity
whatsoever.

The future life, clearly revealed as a reward, not alone to the
philosopher, but to every humble, pious and enquiring soul,
means far more than the mere prolongation of conscious
existence in the form of human life. Deep down in the heart it
is written, "If a man die, he shall live again." A voice within us
whispers the words, "Man shall never die." All around is
change, revolution and dissolution, but no death.

Day follows night, stars set and rise; the Summer fades into
Autumn; Winter with his icy blasts, blows golden Autumn
away and melts into Spring. Can it be that man alone, for
whom all else revives, shall know no evolution?

Immortality banishes all pain, all fear, all time, all tears and
hymns into our souls the enchanting words, "Thou livest
forever."

Wondrous and alluring to man is this question of immortality,
with its correlative speculation upon his inability to pass
beyond the region of matter and space.

With all his reason and logic, man has never been able to
demonstrate that physical phenomena can be explained by
the mere external elements presented. Furthermore, there
must always be acknowledged the existence of a force or
power outside of the physical or material. Matter cannot
spring spontaneously into being - for no matter how
fundamental or microscopic the ultimate subdivision from
which it springs - there remains unexplained the mystery of
its existence. Man is compelled to fall back upon the Creator
of Matter and the Giver of those laws, in obedience to which
it assumes its manifold forms. Without this Creative force, he
is in the open sea of Logic and Geometry - very remote from
the world of realities. Every Religion and Philosophy has
shown a constant tendency to soar away into realms of
absolute idealism or to grovel in the grossest of materialism,

What, after all, is human life - knocking every hour at death's
door - closing at last in darkness and despair?

There can be found no more pathetic nor genuine record of
human existence than that which the Book of Ecclesiastes
offers. Its story is wrung from the very heart of one who had
followed the round of worldly pleasures, who had revelled in
the resources of knowledge and fame, power and wealth,
the feast and the dance, in laughter and mirth, but who sums
up the whole as "vanity and vexation of spirit." In his gloomy
retrospect, there was nothing upon which he could gaze with
satisfaction-nothing in all that paegantry of greatness. He
was a slave, in bondage and dependence, and he reviled the
weakness that made him such a slave. He had strayed from
his integrity. There was in his past of sensual dreams noth-
ing upon which his eye could repose with satisfaction,
naught that filled his soul with pleasure or left a fragrance
behind. What tears, what blots when finis comes.

What, after all, is man's life but a series of definite and
successive changes of structure and composition, taking
place within him without destroying his identity-the twofold
internal movement of composition and decomposition, at
once continuous and general?

Our inability to consider Matter as being or becoming
non-existent, is an immediate consequence upon the nature
of thought. Thought itself consists in the establishment of
relations. It is as impossible to think of something becoming
nothing as it is to think of nothing becoming something-for
the reason that "nothing" can never become an object of
consciousness. The annihilation of Matter is unthinkable for
the same reason that the creation of Matter is unthinkable.
Nothing of all that dies, dies forever. Neither has anything
that is born received a fundamentally new existence. Nothing
which is dead can ever begin to live, and nothing which lives
can begin to die. Life cannot die any more than can Matter
be destroyed. What then is death? Nothing! Death can make
an end of life, but not of existence. It has been said that the
man who thinks his existence is limited to his present life is
an animated nothing. We say "I am" but in saying this, we
express only onehalf of the sentence, the other half of which
is "I am not." It is utterly impossible for man to have a
thought of "being" apart from its opposite of "non-being."
Also it is utterly impossible for a man to know that he is
alive-without at the same time distinguishing, in thought, the
opposite of life, and, "knowing the one equally as well as the
other, and, so far as being is in knowing, being one as well
as the other." In our acceptation of the term Life, Death
would be the very opposite of it, but he who has not
perceived that Life and Death are equal, has not rightly
understood his philosophy.

This, the Master's Degree, is then the transcendent Degree
in Ancient Craft Masonry, than which there is and can be no
higher. To live by Faith, looking beyond manifest good and
evil in this life of unceasing change. To live by Hope - the
hope of a future existence which serves to equalize human
conditions as to their capacity for happiness and enables
man to cast aside doubt and fear. To live by Charity - with a
ready heart and hand for the needy, the suffering and the
erring. To be conscious of an inward longing and desire after
things that are true and excellent. Faith, Hope and Charity,
their gifts sealed by a conscience void of offense-it is by
these things that man should live - in these alone is to be
found the consummation of and the highest Degree in
Masonry.

The day must come when Nature's trust will fail. This Earth
and Heaven now in their age-long Spring, will have their
Autumn and Winter; when the stars will fade and fall like
leaves; when the Sun will cut short his circuits; when the
visible monuments of Creative Power will cease to be; when
all things fashioned by man for his comfort and pleasure will
decay as the current of time sweeps on, undermining and
engulfing him and all his plans, but "Geometry, the first and
noblest of sciences, the basis on which the superstructure of
Masonry is erected," will remain unchangeable, eternal. Its
truths are the same yesterday, today and forever, and they
will exist though the earth be removed and the Heavens be
no more. Its truths are immortal and eternal. Geometry does
not concern itself with the essence of natural bodies; it fixes
upon the notion of extension, a notion independent of the
senses and with this perfectly ideal and abstract datum,
developes the vast series of its constructions and theorems.
The object of Geometry is not any being in itself-it is an idea.
This constitutes the peculiar solidity and uncontested
certainty of the science. We learn from the Harleain
Manuscript - "The fifth Science is called Geometry and it
teaches a man to mete and measure of the earth and other
things - which Science is Masonrie."

There are objects which appear to defy the boldest doubt,
supposing that doubt to be sincere. Such are Mathematical
and Geometrical truths, Extension in general, Number, the
Angle, Time and the like. "For whether I wake or sleep, two
and three always make five and the square never has more
than four sides; and it does not scam possible that truths so
clear and apparent can be suspected of any uncertainty or
falsehood."

"The opposite of straightaway is return. But return on the
same line were not so opposite as on a different line, if it be
the least different; the record of this is the acutest angle. But
to effect return, we must make another angle to the point of
departure. Perpendicular departure and return are now
recorded in three angles. We find the result justified - a
triangle contains two right angles. Euclid is for us; who can
be against us?"

In the Old Constitutions of the Medieaval Freemasons, the
most prominent place of all the Sciences is given to
Geometry and it was made the exponent of its principles and
the key to its mysteries, thus making it synonymous with
Masonry. It is the Science of exact relations and its truths
are unchanging and ever and forever reproducible.

"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, 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
Masonry are safely lodged in the repository of faithful
breasts." Yet all these must fade as the leaf fades and die as
the flowers die. When all that is mortal has perished,
Geometry will remain as unerring and eternal as the truths
that it upholds."

Religion plants itself upon the fundamental principle that the
Books of the Old and New Testaments are inspired and are
the ONLY infallible rule of faith and conduct. From the
Scriptures, it deduces a system of doctrine controlled at
every point by the idea of the sovereignty of God. Human
freedom and divine love are affirmed and all deep and
ethical truths are either affirmed or taken for granted, but
foremost of all, God controls beforehand all His creatures
and their actions. It teaches the trinity of the God-head; man
morally depraved by nature; Christ an atoning Saviour; justi-
fication by faith in the Redeemer; eternal happiness in the
other world for believers and eternal punishment for
unbelievers or the impenitent.

Masonry teaches a belief in God as a necessary qualification
for admission; the acceptance of the "Book of the Law" as a
revelation of his will. Its fundamental principle is the
Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man. Beyond this
belief in a Supreme Being and the "Book of the Law," no
religious test is allowed. The laws governing Masons obliges
them to "that religion in which all men agree," leaving their
particular opinions to themselves; but if a Mason "rightly
understand himself, will never be a stupid atheist or
irreligious libertine."

Masonry enforces all rules of conduct growing out of this
fundamental principle. It has been called a "system of ethics,
moral, religious and philosophical, which relate to the social,
ethical and intellectual progress of man." "A Mason is
obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law" while brotherly
love "is the foundation and copestone, the cement and glory
of this ancient Fraternity." Masons are taught "that every
human being has a claim upon your kind offices, so that we
enjoin it upon you to do good unto all, while we recommend
it more especially to the household of the faithful." The
Mason is taught that his duties to the Fraternity do not
conflict with, but are subordinate to his duty "to God, his
Country, his Family, his Neighbor and Himself." The tenets
of Masonry are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, and the
Cardinal Virtues, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and
Justice. He is charged to be "a good man and true" to be "a
peaceful citizen," to "work diligently, live creditably and act
honorably by all men." It makes the law of God the rule and
guide of its works as well as of its faith. Most impressively
does it teach the immortality of the soul and the resurrection
to a future life where the Great Architect of the Universe
presides.

Masonry presupposes this avowal of a belief in the existence
of the Supreme Architect.

On several of these fundamental principles, Masonry and
Religion are in full accord. The laws of Masonry are founded
upon the idea of the nature and perfection of God and the
promulgation of this idea has ever been the object and
design of the Institution. It has been declared a substitute for
Christianity, which it is not. It teaches religious truths but this
is not to be confounded with the Christian religion as a form
of worship. For the most part, it is believed that Masons hold
very positive religious ideas; they stand by the broad facts of
human consciousness; they maintain the existence and unity
of a personal God and affirm the perfect order of the
Universe, This order lies at our very door. The Heavens, the
mountains, the valleys are filled with it. The eye and the
heart only are wanting. Every object in Nature brings the
Supreme Architect near and displays his order.

No poetry is so sublime as that of the Psalmist, Prophet and
Apostle who connects the Great Architect with the green
pastures and the still waters, draws lessons from the
courses of Orion and Arcturus and gather material from
every portion of the visible Universe to portray the Divine
order and beauty. What are the creations of man but copies
of the thoughts of God? Truth to Nature is the sole test of
beauty. That which has no counterpart in God's actual world,
has no favor in man's ideal world. Whatever departs from the
plan of the Supreme Architect and his order, does violence
to human taste and must be rejected as violent and repulsive
"Man the Creator is but man the copyist." Order is Heaven's
first law. Go where we will we cannot escape it. It reigns su-
preme.

Masonry encourages action rather, than profession. It looks
more carefully to deeds than to words. It inculcates only that
which is wholesome in its tendency, healthful in its
influences and of sound as well as of practical importance.
As far as anything can, short of Inspired Wisdom, it meets
the necessities of social life, throws restraints about the
passions of man, cheers the dreary path in which he travels
on this earth and arouses his noblest feelings in behalf of his
brother man. It does not provide for our spiritual welfare, but,
in every manner possible, it prepares us for the reception of
those higher and nobler truths which God has and is ever
revealing to us, which truths themselves are sufficient to
direct us in the path which leads to a glorious immortality.

Masonry has always been of assistance to Religion and has
done much to elevate it to its present spiritual plane. By its
mode of teaching, it has assisted in emancipating Religion
from formalism and from many opinions and propositions
existing in the form of positive assertions, the truth of which
are supposed to have been previously shown as founded on
the Scripture and which are not for discussion but for
acceptance. Such teachings as these are prone to
degenerate into mere assertions of opinion, without ground
and without regard to the aspect they may present to others.
Religion is not necessarily fundamentally distinguished from
morality, for it is contained entire in the precept: "Love your
fellow man and God." Reason may pacify our passions by
elevating them to their true object, but Reason is not
enough. It is the love of God that is the principle at once of
morality, religion and society. It tends to unite all men into
one family and "to make one soul of all souls by the
community of one only love."

While the imperfections of Religion have been touched upon,
these imperfections have been gradually diminishing and are
such only as measured by an absolute standard. Speaking
in a general way, the religions that have been current in
each age and among each people, have been as near an
approximation to the truth as it was then possible for men to
receive. The more or less concrete forms in which it has
embodied the truth, have simply been the means of making
thinkable what would otherwise have been unthinkable. ' So,
for the time, they have served to increase its im-
pressiveness. The consciousness of an Inscrutable Power,
manifested to us through many and varied phenomena,
shows a constant tendency to grow clearer, and to free itself
from many imperfections. There is the certainty that such a
power exists and it is equally certain that its nature
transcends intuition and imagination. Towards this point all
intelligence has ever been progressing. Science must
eventually reach it as she nears her limits and Religion is
relentlessly impelled toward it by comment and criticism.
This is the conclusion that we are bound to reach finally,
without reserve or qualification, for the reason that it satisfies
the most rigorous demands of logic and it grants to Religion
the widest possible sphere of action.

Masonry came not with observation. We are not concerned
with the precise moment when it sprang into existence. Its
growth has been silent and gradual, step by step.
Thousands have found it a help to their daily life and action.
This silent establishment, without any of the usual
paraphernalia of great revolutions and radical changes, this
steady growth from generation to generation, is a conclusive
token of its grandeur and stability. No other institution has or
ever could have marshalled and put in motion the compre-
hensive array of means, motives and influences for the
betterment of mankind and held forth to the astonished eyes
of the world so finished and complete a system of order and
perfection in its work.

Ours is an age of the greatest intellectual activity. Mental at-
tainments, skill, power and achievements were never so
highly esteemed as now. In former times, under different
degrees of culture, physical strength, accident of birth and
hereditary rank and wealth have successively been the
measures of greatness and the objects of ambition and
desire, But today the aristocracy of the world is the
aristocracy of intellect and the gifts of the mind are
everywhere deemed the beet gifts and for this reason,
Masonry is being better understood and appreciated and a
keener interest is being taken in all of her esoteric teachings.

More than six thousand years of research have failed to
reveal to man the latest forces of nature and to lay bare her
hidden springs. Composition, decomposition, crystallization,
cohesion, gravitation - are but names for our ignorance - the
boundaries and confines of our knowledge. The statement
that the apple falls by gravitation remains unchallenged
today, but we know no more than did the wise philosopher
who ascribed its fall to gravitation. The utmost that we can
say is that Nature pursues her course and that events occur
under certain favoring conditions. We are utterly unable to
conceive of any innate or permanently inherent force in
Matter, but by all the laws of thought we are driven to
attribute all power to mind, intelligence, volition. It is just here
that the Master's Degree with its beautiful symbolism helps
us scale the heights and fathom the depths of these
mysteries. It gives us glimpses between the leaves of the
immeasurable volume where God has unloosed the seals.

It teaches us that where Reason fails, Faith must usurp its
place; that what we know not now, we shall know hereafter;
that the Great Architect is ever actively present in the
Universe, upholding all things by the word of his power,
guiding the course of events by his own perpetual flat,
ordaining the seeming evil no less than the seeming good.
This Master Mason's degree is the summum bonum of
Ancient Craft Masonry in that it affords us, as can no other
Degree, that sublime faith which looks within the veil, which
has not a lingering doubt or fear, but can say-"I know in
whom I have believed; I know that my Redeemer liveth."