The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences

By W. Brother Stephen Dafoe

Every Fellowcraft Mason learns of the importance of the liberal arts and sciences, of which he is instructed they are seven; namely, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Unfortunately few Freemasons today take this instruction with any degree of seriousness and make no further effort to examine the nature of these arts.

Like much of Freemasonry, the liberal arts and sciences come to us from the Medieval period, when they were believed to be the sum total of all knowledge that was worth while to a complete education. They were known as "artes liberales" from the Latin "liber" meaning Free. In this sense they were the subjects available to free men and were a contrast from the "artes illiberales", which were taught for purely economic reasons that a man may earn a living. These arts were the operative arts of the workmen and were considered less desirable educational pursuits. While we have adopted the seven liberal arts and sciences from the Medieval era, they were known in the Pythagorean and Platonic eras.

The seven liberal arts and sciences were broken into two groups. One concerning language and the other concerning mathematics.

The first was the "Trivium" or road of three paths and included grammar, rhetoric and logic. Grammar is that portion of language that allows us to fine tune our speech like the ashlars and remove all barbarous expressions. Rhetoric is the art, which allows us to persuade and have an effect upon the listener. The last and perhaps most important art of the Trivium is logic, which permits us the gift of reasoning. In a purely Masonic sense it allows us to understand our duties to God and towards each other.

The second was the "Quadrivium" or path of four roads and included arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Arithmetic is the process by which we are able to calculate all weights and measures, but in a speculative and philosophical sense can be best summed up by the following quotation:

"For the Freemason, the application of this science is that he is continually to add to his knowledge, never to subtract anything from the character of his neighbor, to multiply his benevolence to his fellow-creatures, and to divide his means with those in need."

From Mackey's Masonic Encyclopedia

Geometry is so fundamentally a part of Freemasonry as to almost require no explanation, suffice to say it is the science upon which our very fraternity is founded. It allows us to create right angled triangles, the symbol of our uprightness and square actions towards God, one another and our fellow creatures.

Music is a mystery to the Freemason and a mystery as to its connection to mathematics, but as anyone, who practices this art, the connection is apparent. Our ancient brother Pythagoras was perhaps the first to notice the mathematical correlation between music and numbers.

Astronomy is that art by which we can trace the great symmetry of the hand of the deity throughout the heavens. Many of our symbols, the sun, the moon the stars are borrowed from the science of astronomy.

While to our ancient brethren aimed at a blending of all knowledge, the modern freemason can apply to the seven liberal arts and sciences a special and appropriate metaphor for a life of self-improvement and mental growth. This goal is symbolized in our lodges by the rough and perfect ashlars and by the Masonic agenda of taking a good man and making him better.