Secrecy: Is It Necessary?
Henry C. Clausen
PSGC Scottish Rite
Ever since the Grand Lodge of England was organized in 1717 it has jealously guarded the privacy of Freemasonry, with strict orders to subordinates against outside disclosures. As a result there has been created in the minds of the public an air of mystery and fantastic claims of opponents. Hence, secrecy has been a controversial point although any enterprising investigator could readily discover that the teachings, meetings and achievements were essentially disclosed over the years in periodicals, literature and reports. Methods of operations were no more secret than executive sessions of corporate directors.
True, Masonry's authorities have been reluctant to boast of its selective recruitment process, impact upon character development, humanitarian achievements, charitable contributions and moral, patriotic and spiritual programs. Opponents of Freemasonry have unfairly exploited this desire for privacy, especially those with axes to grind, curiosity to satisfy, enemies of freedom who seek to impose spiritual and tyrannical political despotism, or rejected candidates who vent their spleen. We do not claim, as some of our religious critics do, a monopoly on the way to salvation. there are many roads to a destination.
The Grand Lodge of England, therefore, for the first time in its long and low-profile history, now has gone public to improve its image. This had become tarnished from charges that Masonic membership of the judiciary and police resulted in special privileges; also as a backwash from a so-called P-2 Lodge scandal that toppled the Italian Government. (That's another story.) A recent book charged that groups kept a lid on exposures of their Lodge Brothers. Hence, senior Masonic officials have been conducting a series of cautious press and radio briefings that stress the traditional charitable activities, the high standing of their members, their strong support of private enterprise, character building and patriotic programs.
Masonry in England traditionally had enjoyed royal favour. Her Majesty the Queen of England is Patron or Grand Patron of several English Masonic charitable institutions, although these are constitutionally independent of the Grand Lodge. The Duke of Edinburgh is a member. The Duke of Kent is the Grand Master. Many historians claim that members had helped William of Orange ascend the British Throne as William III.
The present situation has pinpointed secrecy and the ability to insure privacy and to remain exclusive as the heart of the problem. Hence, despite the traditional ban on advertising, the leaders seek in proper cases to dispel malicious speculation and harmful suspicion. In so doing, they hope to erase the erroneous spectre of fear. Everett B. Clinchy detailed in his book All in the Name of God, how ecclesiastical tyranny and political despotism often arise from fear of the unknown, and that secrecy breeds fear. Consequently, the key to an improved image of Freemasonry and a concurrent increase of wholesome membership is greater visibility.
How can we mobilize the forces of Freemasonry toward greater visibility? Perhaps further historical research will show the derivation of reasons against disclosure.
Actually, Mason-bashing is not recent nor confined to Great Britain. Masonry, as the world's oldest Fraternity, has been talked of and written about long before and ever since its organization in 1717. Countless men in every country have been persecuted. Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini made it the first object of extermination.
Yet, it still grows and flourishes as no other fraternity does on Earth today. Anyone can read of its teachings, symbols, and ambitions. those practices are open as a beacon light to its members and as an ideal way of life for all to see and emulate. Its precepts are not the dogma of a religious cult. The rituals offer profound moral and philosophical lessons. It is a refuge of comfort for those in sorrow, of hope for those in despair, of wise counsel for those who might otherwise be criminally inclined and it gives joy, peace and contentment to all. Great men of every clime have been loyal and devoted members, and have contributed many years of study and of meditation to its humanitarian causes.
Yet, for reasons that are as illusive as they are unreal, Freemasonry, in every year of its long existence, has been the object of vulgar ignorance to abuse what it cannot comprehend, to charge with faults what it has not the capacity to judge and, when united with bigotry and virulent cruelty, power to persecute and extirpate (destroy completely).
We are not surprised when these attacks occur, although we lament the ignorance or malice. After all, "the penalty of excellence is criticism." Therefore, we know what to expect, but sometimes when men of elevated understanding, extensive information and liberal sentiments adopt the familiar forums of abuse, we are astonished and unable to fathom the suppositions and conjectures. We also lose patience in contending against mean, contacted and intolerant attacks.
These observations are reached through reflecting on the historic dimensions to which our Craft has been subjected and therefore we are justified in defense of our injured Brethren and or Order to refute the calamities and show the admirable purity of sentiments of the Order to which we have the honour to belong. This defense is not only advisable but truly laudable in support of an Order that inspires its members to noblest conceptions of God, render them obedient to the laws of the land, and faithful followers of every virtue that endears us to a community of fidelity, equity, industry, justice, fortitude, hospitable brotherly kindness and charity.
The structure of Freemasonry is as sacred as it is secret and as venerable in its purposes of application as it is in its piety and social virtues. They support that structure of beauty and solemnity. These arguments are well-known to our Brethren but aperiodic review affords everyone an opportunity to inquire whether we are Masons in name only and not in deeds and truth. There is historic purpose behind what is called secrecy. We have pledged ourselves to observe inviolable (sacred) but symbolic oaths concerning disclosure of esoteric information. It should be made clear that historically many sublime and important truths often were concealed beyond the veil of allegory and symbols. More often than not the truths imparted are beyond ordinary language. the wisdom and learning of ancient Egypt were conveyed in this mysterious and emblematical fashion. the symbolical science of the ancient mysteries of which the Scottish Rite is a part required painful rites of preparation and obstacles to test the sincerity and courage of an applicant's artier to become a philosopher or lover of wisdom. There was also a probationary silence of years before there was revealed the full knowledge of the doctrines.
Every fifth year celebrations were held at Eleusis, a city of Attica in Greece from which the Eleusinian Mysteries derived. The festivities sometimes declined through the acceptance of dissolute members. Before these destructive causes, however, the meetings were a means of checking impiety and licentiousness through impressing the mind with the sublime revelations of the Deity and gratitude for His providential kindness that results in a desire to excel in virtue. Consequently, from the time of the great lawgiver Solon, to that of Cicero, spanning 500 years, there were scarcely any persons of learning who were not associated with this form of esoteric wisdom which can be called the Freemasonry of its day. Clean hands and a pure heart were indispensable. Cicero said that "among other things derived from Athens" were the mysteries as the "greatest — that it has not only taught us to live cheerfully, but to die in the hope of a more happy futurity." ("Cicero de Legibus," Lib. 17.) Nero, reminded of his atrocious crimes including the murder of his mother, voluntarily withdrew after seeking admission to the sacred mysteries when he learned the requirements.
Initiation was both awful and splendid. In one initiatory ceremony, after vows and assumptions of the strong penalties for violations of secrecy, the candidate was presented with a crown upon which he trampled. then the Grand Officiating Master drew a scared knife and stuck the candidate apparently dead. Soon he revived and entered into a new existence and a renovated conduct.
But it is not from those ancient mysteries alone that Masonry derives its traditional secrecy, for other institutions that conducted their practices in secrecy also have been subjected to calumny (defamation) and abuse. In the first age of the Christian church the adherents were obliged to celebrate and commemorate in privacy, although Pliny the Younger, who investigated their meetings, concluded they were perfectly innocent. But their adversaries still claimed the symbolic eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of Christ actually were devouring children.
It is clear, therefore, that Masonic secrecy stems from a system that conceals its principles and practices from the profane or public and for the best interests of humanity. But it would appear now that other disclosures should be liberalized in our more enlightened age.
The operative nature of our Craft enforces the constant practice of industry as most useful virtue. the opiate of sloth stupefies the mind into lethargic insensibility. Industry, on the other hand, is the prime virtue upon which all the rest depend. It is active and alive. It binds political union and men and produces happiness and comfort to its possessor as gaining him the companionship and relief of his more prosperous Brethren, or the eventual happiness that comes from a turn of events, crowning his efforts with the most exquisite rewards of success. Thus, the Deity gave His followers a pattern of industry, humility and patience, although employed in a laborious occupation.
Masonry with precept and example, suggests the importance of industry and strengthens this bond which unifies men in society and displays virtues and values of health, character and fortune. Nor does Masonry confine its views only to this transitory world, for it enlarges its range into a higher direction of the invisible eternity. Subject to lawful authority it is also a recommended duty of good citizenship that should endear this virtue to the community. It is taught in the Lodges through obedience to the superiors in office. These attributes and principles are not confined within the walls of a Lodge room but are diffused into general society as law-abiding citizens. Similarly, the government checks democratic excesses so that all may enjoy the advantages of a republic.
The symbols and practices of Freemasonry also stimulate conduct within the compass of frugality and temperance and the rule and square regulate our integrity and justice. The Golden Rule is uppermost as an equitable guide of action toward others that should reside in every man's breast and be observed as law that a writer said: "should be engraved on every heart, as, by the command of the emperor Severus, it was engraved upon his palace and public buildings."
It needs no further comment that a society of such benevolence, that includes men of every language, climate, complexion, and diversity of opinion is also generous to every kind and philanthropic impulse. These derive from the veneration it inspires of the Deity so we are not warranted in concluding that Freemasonry deserves not reproaches or malicious treatment, but merits the highest regard and praise of the community.
It is suggested that to be a Mason in name as well as in deeds, you should uphold your membership and impress its natural sublimity and strength upon all who are ignorant. Our Order is great, not in the number or splendour of its constituents or Temples, but in the dignity and sentiments of the heart, in the foundation of principle and purity of virtues and values, in the devotion to charity, temperance and integrity, in its love of truth and guidance from the Deity and in the indispensable attribute of Brotherly Love which is the soul of our society.
How pleasant it is to dwell in a land where the winds of freedom blow gently across a country that owes its genesis to leaders of our Order. Let us also dwell in unity, for it is like the precious ointment of Aaron, as refreshing as the dew of Hermon, or as that which fell upon the mountains of Zion. We also thereby prepare for that time when all things terrestrial have been dissolved and we seek to enroll in the Immortal Society of which ours is faintly emblematical — -the Society of just men made perfect in the Kingdom of Heaven — -where all is peace, harmony and love, illuminated in the splendour of the Divinity.