The Precepts of Masonry


One of three messages making up a paper by D. H. B. Falconer, P.M.
Uploaded by Wor. Bro. Ernest Bastow of Sydney Australia.
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       THE PRECEPTS OF FREEMASONRY - IN THE BEGINNING

A study of man's evolution, especially in relation to the development of his
thought and speech concurrently with his growing awareness of things beyond
his day to day existence, reveals an intimate connection with the development
of freemasonry. Having achieved an ability to eke out a frugal subsistence
within their natural environment, the primitive hunter gatherers then turned
their thoughts to improving their personal comfort. With the erection of
their
first rudimentary shelters, the seeds of masonry were sown, heralding the
imminent birth of speculative freemasonry. Articulate speech became an ever
more pressing necessity, as man sought to communicate his thoughts and wishes
to others and his mind strived to fathom the significance of his mortal
existence. From its earliest Stone Age beginnings, operative masonry and its
speculative counterpart have mirrored man's physical and intellectual
progress, as well as the development of his spiritual conception.

As primitive man strived to comprehend his place and purpose in the universe,
the spiritual aspects of his existence began to exercise his mind. He
progressively evolved his perception of a creator, a supreme being, the
controlling force from which all things emanated and upon which they depended
for their continuing existence. In an endeavour to express his thoughts, man
drew on the experiences of his physical existence. When explaining the
concepts he was developing, masonry provided him with many useful examples,
with which he could portray his unfolding appreciation of the spiritual
elements of his life and illustrate the moral principles he was formulating.
The speculative aspects of masonry became a natural extension of man's
vocabulary, enabling him to expound his moral precepts simply and
graphically.

THE FIRST PRINCIPLE

First and foremost among the precepts of freemasonry is a belief in a divine
creator, the one true God. This belief is the foundation of all masonic
teaching, the cornerstone of every branch of freemasonry and the keystone
which unites its many component parts. It is the first principle of
freemasonry, from which all else derives. Thus it is that no man can be
accepted into freemasonry unless he has freely expressed a belief in God.
Whilst a man's religion is immaterial to his acceptance into freemasonry,
being only a factor of his upbringing or a matter of personal choice,
nevertheless his belief in God is of paramount importance. Every degree in
freemasonry acknowledges the existence of a supreme being, whose blessing is
supplicated at the opening and closing of all proceedings. As in all
religions
and the ancient mysteries, the various titles used for God in masonic rituals
reflect those of His attributes relevant to the particular ceremonial.

An essential element of the faith embodied in this first principle is that a
man's spirit does not perish with his mortal frame but, as so eloquently
expressed by the preacher in Ecclesiastes: when "the dust shall return to the
earth as it was, the spirit shall return to God who gave it". The freemason
is
exhorted to contemplate this aspect of his ultimate destiny and to regulate
his life and actions according to God's will, so that at the end of this
transitory mortal life he may confidently hope to be raised to those
"immortal
mansions, eternal in the heavens". Although various moral issues are
expounded
in the three degrees of craft freemasonry, the fundamental substance of their
teachings concerns the immortality of the soul and its ultimate return to the
divine creator.

As did the neophyte in all ancient mysteries, so also in masonry does the
apprentice enter the lodge in a state of indigence, being reminded of his
defenceless condition and of his absolute dependence upon his creator.
Symbolically he is reborn into freemasonry and is exhorted to lead a just and
upright life henceforth. As a fellow of the craft, the freemason is taught
that labour is the lot of man, but that every good and faithful servant in
due
course will receive his just reward. The master mason obtains a fleeting
glimpse of the promised reward, but is told that he must continue his search
for the ultimate truth. A closely related theme is the important concept that
all men are equal in the sight of God. This fundamental tenet of freemasonry
is illustrated in many of its degrees and is the main topic expounded in one
of the Allied masonic degrees, the Knights of Constantinople.

BEHAVIOUR AND RESPONSIBILITY

The crucial importance of obeying God's commands is a central theme in the
teachings of freemasonry, of such importance that it is introduced to the
apprentice. The theme continues with the fellow of the craft and is expanded
in the degree of mark master mason. Strict obedience, the exercise of skill
and ability, careful attention to detail and the importance of being
responsible for one's own actions are impressed on the mark master mason in
a practical example of the operative free mason's work. The candidate is
taught that he alone is responsible for his own actions, but that he will
receive his just reward in the hereafter if he lives in strict accordance
with the divine commands. Obedience to God's commands is of such vital
importance and so closely allied to the belief in the immortality of the
soul, that it merits being ranked as second among the precepts of
freemasonry.

SOCIAL CONDUCT

It will be evident from the foregoing discussions that the fundamental
precepts of freemasonry are so closely interwoven that they cannot be
subdivided into distinct and separable compartments. Nevertheless, brotherly
love, relief and truth must be regarded as third among the important precepts
of freemasonry, being closely interrelated with the principle that all men
are
equal in the sight of God. Indeed, we are taught that brotherly love, relief
and truth are the grand principles on which freemasonry is founded. In this
context the teachings are based on concepts established by the operative free
masons, who were charged with the responsibility of caring for the members of
their fraternity, especially if they were out of work or suffering indigent
circumstances, as well as to respect and protect all members of the families
of their brethren. They also were enjoined to regard their employers with due
deference and to serve them well, in return for which they were promised
regular employment and adequate recompense.

Brotherly love, relief and truth are described as the grand principles on
which freemasonry is founded. They are said to shine with greater splendour
than any other masonic emblems. The concept is introduced to the apprentice
in his impoverished state, when his principles are in some measure put to the
test. He is then admonished to practise brotherly love and relief cheerfully
as a virtue, should a distressed brother fairly claim his assistance.
However,
it is not until he is a master mason that the full implications of the virtue
are clarified in the old operative terms, partly in the obligation and
partly under the five points of fellowship which, in operative days, were
imparted to fellows of the craft. The importance of truth is taught in
various
degrees, but under the Red Cross of Babylon it is the central theme in the
degree of Knight of the East, which is set in the Persian court as
graphically
portrayed in the Bible in the first book of Esdras.

INTEGRITY

Closely allied with truth is integrity, which depends upon truth for its
fulfilment. Integrity and rectitude imply a rigorous compliance with a code
of ethics, based on an undeviating honesty that ascribes virtue to the
subject. Rectitude also signifies a strict adherence to the rules of right
and justice that strongly suggests self-discipline. Both integrity and
rectitude are distinctive features of goodness that also have a close
affinity with morality, righteousness, purity and virtue. None of these
attributes can be considered alone, because each influences the other. Even
benevolence, generosity, good will and kindness, which relate more
specifically to brotherly love and relief, have a bearing on integrity. Thus
there can be no doubt that integrity merits its high standing among the
precepts of freemasonry. It is an important theme in many of the degrees in
freemasonry. In particular the degree of Select Master, in the Cryptic Rite,
teaches that constant care and integrity are essential when carrying out
one's
duties, but at the same time it emphasises that integrity must always be
tempered with justice and mercy.

THE MORAL VIRTUES

Of the many moral virtues fostered by freemasonry, the three principle ones
are said to be faith, hope and charity. Faith has been defined as the
evidence
of things not seen, the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the pillar of
civilised society, being the bond of amity and the foundation of justice.
Hope
has been defined as an anchor for the soul, which enters into that which is
within the veil, suggesting that we may look forward to a positive and
favourable outcome to our lives and actions, if carried out in accordance
with
God's commands. Charity is described as the brightest ornament that can adorn
masonry, because it is lovely in itself and also the best test and surest
proof of sincerity. Charity, or brotherly love in its truest sense, is said
to
comprehend all of the virtues. The principles illustrated in these moral
virtues are essential elements of brotherly love, relief, truth and integrity
and are important precepts that should always activate a freemason's heart in
his relations with others.

THE SOCIAL VIRTUES

Temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice are described as the four
cardinal
virtues of freemasonry. Their close relationship with the three moral virtues
would justify their inclusion among the important precepts of freemasonry,
but
some further comments are worth making. In its correct usage, temperance
indicates a wise moderation in the indulgence of personal pleasures, though
it
is often used to signify their complete rejection. Temperance is the
appropriate restraint of our passions and affections that will ensure proper
self control and overcome immoderate temptation. This virtue ought to be the
constant practice of every mason, enabling him to resist worldly temptation
and to avoid excess. Temperance is an essential element in the exercise of
true justice.

Fortitude signifies that firmness and strength of mind which will enable
obstacles and ordeals to be faced courageously, with a brave and unswerving
resourcefulness that is neither rash nor cowardly. Fortitude is closely
allied
with prudence, which suggests that any action that is taken has due regard to
wisdom gained by experience. Prudence enables us to regulate our lives and
actions with due regard to the dictates of reason. Fortitude and prudence are
both essential elements in the exercise of justice, complementing that
impartiality, rightness, integrity and mercy signified by "justice", all of
which must be maintained when determining what is due in a particular set of
circumstances. The principles of masonic behaviour are unmistakably reflected
in the four cardinal virtues.

THE INTELLECTUAL VIRTUES

The three great pillars that symbolically support a freemason's lodge are
called wisdom, strength and beauty. Wisdom denotes those mental qualities
that enable us to understand situations, anticipate their consequences and
make sound decisions. Wisdom implies the highest and noblest exercise of all
the faculties of the moral nature and the intellect, suggesting a combination
of discretion, maturity, keenness of intellect, broad experience, extensive
learning, profound thought and compassionate understanding. Strength
signifies
power, might, force, solidity, toughness, fortitude, courage and many other
things. Beauty signifies elegance, grace, symmetry, seemliness, fairness and
a wide range of related attributes. The freemason is exhorted to apply wisdom
in all his undertakings, to bring strength of character to bear when in
difficulties and to adorn his inward self with beauty. These precepts provide
a fitting conclusion to this study.

D.H.B. FALCONER, P.M.
08 November 1993.