The Lesson of the Second Degree



THE LESSON OF THE SECOND DEGREE
W. Bro. F. B. BROOK, M.A., LL.B.

BEFORE we commence our study of the second degree,
please take a piece of paper, draw a line from one edge to
the other. At each edge put an arrow head to show the line is
unfinished. At one edge write alpha, at the other omega.
This unfinished line indefinitely prolonged represents infinity.
Mark off a centre portion with two lines. At one write "Birth";
at the other write "Death," and along the centre portion so
marked off write "Life."

For many years I have felt a sense of disappointment in
thinking of the 2nd degree. There seemed to be something
lacking - something out of balance. I know it is said that
formerly there were but two degrees, that of the Apprentice
and that of the Master, and that the present second degree
was carved out of a larger ritual to make a separate degree,
but that explanation is not satisfying. It is not the form but the
idea of anything that counts. Ritual is but the form. We have
to find the essential idea. Now what is the essential idea of
the 2nd degree? We are told emphatically that it is the
"hidden mysteries of nature and science" and then not a
word is said about them. So possibly one of the lessons is
"Search that you may find" - "Knock that the door may be
opened." In other ways the ritual seems to balance, the
degrees and ceremonies form regular steps in the ladder of
knowledge, they have an ordered sequence as parts of a
plan, composite but complete.

For instance, when you study the chief officers you find that
their respective offices have a distinct bearing on the whole
of the ceremonies.

The sun rises in the East to open the day and give life to all
animate creation and the W.M. is placed in the East to open
his Lodge, to give Masonic life to a candidate and to employ
and instruct the brethren in Freemasonry.

In the South, in the Meridian, where J.W. calls the Brethren
to refreshment and labour, the sun gives life and
preservation to the human race, and in the West it sets to
close the day; and there the S.W. is placed to close the
Lodge and to remind us of that great Power in whose charge
is the close of life itself.

In thinking of these offices, we see three main things, first
the luminary, a moving mass of matter, the created and its
function, then second the officer, a man, a living soul, a
creature and his duty, and third behind both created and
creature, their Creator and His attributes. So in the W.M.,
J.W. and S.W. we are taught to consider the opening of the
lodge, work during lodge hours, i.e. labour and refreshment
and the closing of the Lodge, sunrise, noontide, and
evening, birth, life and death, the creative, preservative and
transmuting powers of the Deity.

The 1st and 3rd degrees give their lessons in extenso, but of
what of the 2nd? What of the degree of life? I know we have
ears of corn to remind us of physical sustenance. I know we
have pillars, squares and roses to remind us of sex; but what
of life during its course - life here in this world, considered
not from the point of commencement or of end but of
duration and purpose?

We know that in the Egyptian mysteries the study of natural
science took years before a student was qualified to
advance. Where were my seven years to understand their
message?

I tried and I tried hard, but the more I tried the harder the
puzzle became, for me the cry oft repeated was, "What
about the hidden mysteries of nature and science?" And like
Fabre in a like difficulty I thought of d'Alembert's advice to
young mathematical students - "Have faith and go ahead."

So I tried hard to have faith or rather keep my faith in the
ceremony and I said, "There is something there. The reason
you do not see it is your lack of vision. Now why don't you
see it?" and I said to myself "The vital thing in the degree
must be life - and the essential part of life - What is it? Why
is it?" and then I realized that I could not understand life
because I spent all my energies grubbing round for means to
live. I was confusing means and end. I could not see the
picture for the frame. I had no time - no leisure. What chance
had the hidden mysteries of nature and science of meaning
anything to me? I should lose my place in the human river
crossing London Bridge if I stopped to look at the waters
below. What chance had I to see the stars in the artificial fog
that hid even the crowded chimney pots? Obsessed with
haste, what thought had I for speed? The nightmare of a
traffic jam in the Strand prevented me from thinking of the
majestic sweep of the earth in its ordered course around the
sun. The fever of the rise and fall on the Stock Exchange
made me forget the sea beating a regular, never ending
pulse along the coast. The press hot pages of Fleet Street
smeared my fingers and paralyzed my brains; the mad jazz
band of the City drowned the message of universal rhythm
that nature gives her children.

I had no time for anything - not even eternity. So I said "I
must make time. This seems more important than income
tax forms. They talk a lot about the sciences teaching us the
hidden mysteries. Geometry is one of the sciences. What do
they tell us about it?" And I read "It is a science by which we
ascertain the contents of bodies unmeasured by comparing
them with those already measured." 2nd sec. 2nd lect. and I
thought of Fabre's definition. "The progressive march of the
known towards the unknown." And as I made time to read
about things we call knowledge I found that we knew quite a
little which in its turn seemed to be quite a lot, and that in all
sciences we seemed to come across Geometry, so that we
were marching progressively from the known to the
unknown. I found a good deal of Geometry in Chemistry.

When I read about the periodic Law I found there were 92
known elements which when compared with hydrogen, the
lightest of them had different relative weights.

When the elements were arranged in a table according to
those weights, they seemed to have likenesses in properties
which occurred at regular stated intervals and that from
studying the known elements chemists had been able to
anticipate the finding of elements hitherto unknown. This to
my mind showed the existence of a definite plan which was
far removed from mere coincidence. This in turn led to the
conclusion - if a plan, then a power that made the plan.

Again led by Geometry, I read about the world outside us.
The time units of the scientists were quite beyond my
comprehension but I found that known movements of the
planets had enabled astronomers to prophesy the finding of
planets yet unknown and that after many years actual
photographs had proved the accuracy of mental calculations.
Again a plan and again the Maker of the Plan.

 From the worlds outside, I turned to read of our own earth.
Here too the units of time were unthinkable, but somehow
they seemed comparatively small compared with those of
the outside worlds. The following table may help us. At first it
is only in million years.

The Earth's independent existence       - 2,000
History as shown in rocks               - 1,600
Rocks without life                      - 1,600 - 800
Rocks with traces of early life                 - 800 onwards
Backbones begin in the earliest fishes  - 500
Coal, swamps, woody tissue, reptiles, isolated
individuals                             - 200 to 80
Birds and Early Mammals, teachable
individuals
Primitive Monkeys                       - 40
         Ice Ages
         Eoliths, flints used by animals          1 to
         Java Ape man    -               1/2
         Sub-humans      -               1/4

Now we get to years in thousands
Almost men                              - 50
First true men                          - 30
A very imperfect me             - A.D. 1930

and it seemed that there had not only been a plan and its
Maker but a very long road, but I said "If all those years have
been taken in reaching what is Master of these animals, if
that Master is still at the mercy of the smallest microbe, if
that Master is still imperfect as I know him to be, how long
before perfection?" And I looked at those years gone by and
I thought of the years to come and I got frightened. And I
saw a lot of other pilgrims and I said "With such a lot of years
for the journey, how long will it take me to shake hands with
the next man?" and it did not take a second. And when I
helped him on a bit I found I had helped myself for I was not
so lonely - and I chatted things over with him and got more
heart to tackle the problem again. So I had another try - and
I did not say me this time, but us.

The hidden mysteries of nature and science have taught us
a lot but what is beyond them? They cannot be the end, they
must still be only the means.

They have shown us an orderly march and in company, but
where are we all going? Does not this 2nd degree really
show us what is the end to which the mysteries of nature
and science are but the means? Does it show not only the
known but also the unknown? So I read our history once
again and there I found the answer right before my eyes -
"When the Temple of Jerusalem" (it does not say in the
desert but there in the heart of a busy city) "When the
Temple of Jerusalem was completed "our ancient brethren
passed into the middle chamber without scruple or diffidence
(after effort and surmounting difficulties) and when there
their attention was particularly arrested by certain Hebrew
characters which are here depicted by the letter " G." . . .
and further that the square pavement was for the High Priest
to walk upon who alone was permitted to enter the sanctum
sanctorurn but once a year after many washings and
purifications.

And there I found the lesson of the 2nd degree.

As the 1st teaches from the travail of physical birth how to be
born masonically in the spirit, and as the 3rd teaches us how
to prepare for the closing of this our earthly lodge, so the 2nd
teaches us from the contemplation of the laws that govern
our physical universe to see that even in our crowded city of
Jerusalem there is a temple and in that temple an inner
chamber in which is found not a graven image of gold that
can be stolen but the realization of the Everlasting in the
midst of the Mortal, the peace of the infinite in the tumult of
the Finite, the power of the Spirit in the Frustration of matter,
the glory of the Unseen in the obscurity of the Seen and the
presence of the Divine is dwelling in the Temple of the Spirit
of Man.

So that even to-day in the midst of our puny troubles, our
hurry and unrest, here may be found in the inner-chamber of
the heart, the majestic calm of the infinite, and the healing
peace of a Presence that awaits our understanding.

Now at the end of our study of the 2nd degree, write over the
centre of our line of life the letter "G."

And in the Temple are the genuine secrets of Freemasonry
inscribed on a plate of gold reading:-

"Man - son of mine - prince of My House. This is the Plan
and the Law.

I have taken thee part of Myself and placed thee in flesh.
There to learn the way of man. The way of man with all
created things - The way of man with men - the way of a
prince in a far country - the way of Spirit in Matter.

After long travel in the wilderness of ignorance thou shalt
desire to climb the mountains of knowledge. So shalt thou
study the hidden mysteries of nature and science and be
amazed at the light of thy learning and find all thy learning
but darkness visible.

Then shalt thou learn the way of man with Me.

For in that darkness when travail learning and reason fail,
lest thou be utterly lost, from time to time thou shalt look
within thyself and there in the inner chamber of thy heart
which thou shaft keep as a temple for Me alone - thou shaft
find Me.

And in my temple thou shaft think of Me and find my peace
so that thy strength may be renewed for this Our search and
Our finding.

Learn then the lesson of weakness and of strength for be it
remembered that though thou seemest to be in a far country,
ever art thou Prince of My House and in My appointed time
Our Search shall end in finding and thou shaft return to Me.

This is the Plan and the Law."