Roy A. Wells, P.J.G.D. (England)

This Paper is addressed to Brethren to whom the Royal Arch is an obscurity or to whom this part of Freemasonry has been misrepresented as a extraneous Degree and one in which they need not to be greatly concerned. Master Masons are continually arriving at a point when they ask—"Why the Royal Arch?"—"What has it to do with the Craft?"—and it has to be recognized that their Masonic development is either encouraged or arrested according to the nature of the reply that is given. If the questions are raised with those who are fully enlightened the Brother will benefit from proper guidance and instruction, but too often they will be addressed to Brethren who are not competent to answer adequately and their limitation could have adverse influence for all time upon one who might well have found an inspired fulfillment in the Royal Arch, or maybe a path in that direction.

A short answer to those questions could be—"The Royal Arch is a completion of the Third Degree" -- but that is an understatement. The Royal Arch is certainly a natural progression in Freemasonry in that it provides 'genuine secrets' following 'substituted' ones that had been granted earlier on and in that role it forms an integral part of English Freemasonry, or of where it is based upon similar lines. Freemasonry, basically, is a biblical exercise concerning itself with the rise and fall of successive Temples at Jerusalem. The one built by Solomon was the first fixed place of worship of the God of Israel and was inspired by the pronouncement to King David -- "He shall build a house for my Name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever." It was intended to be the permanent resting place of the Ark of the Covenant which had been brought into being by Moses after the commencement of the Wanderings in the Wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt.

Biblical History informs us that shortly before King Solomon died a rebellion occurred which eventually resulted in the Twelve Tribes being split into two Kingdoms, Israel in the north composed of ten tribes with the capital in Samaria, and the remaining two tribes forming the Kingdom of Judah with their capital in Jerusalem. The northern Kingdom disappeared from history after it had been conquered by Sargon, King of Assyria, and those members who had not been taken into captivity merged with the surrounding nations. Judah, however, retained its identity, first as a tributary Kingdom under the dominion of Egypt and later in a similar capacity under Babylon.

Following a default in payment of the tribute, the city of Jerusalem and the "House for my Name" were both destroyed by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Jehoiakin, the tributary King of Judah, and all likely leaders of the people together with their families were taken into exile thus preventing any form of leadership for the peasants who were left behind.

During the period of exile in Babylon, Judah survived as a religious community and when Babylon fell to the Persian conquerors under Cyrus they were encouraged to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their City and the Holy Temple.

The Royal Arch has two themes, one dated before the Exile in Babylon dealing with the finding of a Scroll of the Scriptures when repairs were being carried out in the Temple, and the other which has a recovery theme in a sequence of events when the Jews returned from Babylon to build the Second Temple which is the one used in the English system.

From the writings of the prophet Haggai we learn that the Second Temple was not to be compared with the First one but his report, "The Glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former and in this place will I give peace" implied that the material splendour of Solomon's Temple would be replaced by a spiritual development resulting in more exalted ideas of the God of Israel; but it was not to be.

The Craft and the Royal Arch in conjunction span the whole period of the Old Testament dealing with the First and Second Temples in their entirety, continuing to the 70th year of the Christian era when the destruction was repeated, this time by the forces of Rome under Titus.


If it were possible to summarize the teachings of the three Degrees in a few words, in order to appreciate the parts played by each in relation to the Royal Arch, it might well be said:

(a) The First Degree emphasizes the primary necessity for a complete faith in the Supreme Being—the Father of All—who permits entrance to mortal existence. In it we learn the duty that we owe to our neighbour in his time of need.

(b) The Second Degree stresses the duty we owe to ourselves, fully to develop our talents and skill in the arts and sciences and thus to play a useful part in life.

(c) The Third Degree provides an opportunity to contemplate the closing hour of existence, however untimely that may appear to be for some of our Brethren and colleagues.

Thus we have an obvious sequence of Birth, Maturity, and Death, but to what purpose? If the 'Word' has been lost for succeeding generations are they to be left with the blank finality of death and no more? Alternatively, does the expression—'until time or circumstances restore the genuine' - begin to take on a new meaning?

The Royal Arch embraces the whole programme and illustrates in a most colourful setting that divine and human affairs are indeed interwoven throughout all these stages and afterwards. It helps us to widen our knowledge, to a full appreciation of the nature and the work of the Almighty, and leads to an understanding that "the Soul or Spirit will return to the Father who gave it life". The loss and recovery theme is completed by the Royal Arch and so, in that sense, it is a completion of the Third Degree; it is the conclusion of an exercise. That it has become severed from the Craft may even be deemed an advantage for its members. The separation tends to ensure that the 'light' which it contains is shed upon those who came to it 'properly prepared'; that is to say, with an understanding that among the favours that are given or received in the Craft, not the least is an opportunity, to increase our spiritual philosophy in an area where humility and contrition are demonstrated as clear indications of merit.


The well-defined ceremonies in the Craft, as we have them today, are the result of evolution and changes that have occurred since the beginning of the 18th century.

The form of the three Degree system in the Craft cannot be dated much before 1724 having been developed from a two-Degree plan. Masonic students feel that the actual ceremonial was simple but a catechetical programme for the purpose of instruction developed in a social setting. Much of what was contained in that form was later moulded into scenario. The most common reference for the Royal Arch has been from Dr. Fifield D'Assigny's book—A Serious and Impartial Enquiry into the cause of the present Decay of Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Ireland - which was published in 1744. It is clear that the Royal Arch was well established by that date although not freely available as the following extract will show:

Some of the Fraternity have expressed their uneasiness at the Royal Arch being kept a secret from them, since they had already passed through the usual degrees of probation; but I cannot help being of opinion that they have no right to any such benefit until they make a formality as having passed the chair and given undeniable proofs of their skill.

Here we have evidence that the Royal Arch was reserved as a step beyond that of Master, or in that writer's view should be kept such. However, it is worth bearing in mind that even today the Master is referred to as 'an experienced Craftsman chosen to preside over the Lodge'. D'assigny's report makes it plain that the Brethren in Ireland, at that time, were agitating for an easier entry to the Royal Arch for it was certainly not as it is today available for a Master Mason of four weeks and upwards.


When the four old Lodges in London set themselves up as a Grand Lodge in 1717 they did not represent the total of Lodges in London and Westminster by any means, and they had no intention of imposing jurisdiction outside those boundaries. The establishment soon made itself felt and its Roll of Lodges grew quite rapidly, Laws and Regulations came into being and in 1723 the first book of Constitutions was published. The organization attracted broadsheets against itself and so-called exposures of ritual were circulated. It was from one of those -- Prichard's Masonry Dissected published in 1730—we have the earliest evidence of the Hiramic legend which was then printed in narrative form. Because of the amount of material that had been made available in such publications the premier Grand Lodge made certain changes in the conduct of ceremonial in order to detect and then reject Freemasons who had been irregularly made in the various clandestine Lodges that had sprung into existence. The changes they made were unacceptable to those Brethren who had remained independent from the Grand Lodge throughout that period. In due course initiative was taken by some Irish immigrant Freemasons, whose employment as artisans accounted for their appearance in this country, and in 1751 a Committee was organized for the purpose of bringing together those who were anxious to preserve former traditions. That Committee developed into a second Grand Lodge styling itself "The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons" and became known as 'The Antients". They practiced ceremonials that had progressed to include the Master's part, the Installation of Master, with the Royal Arch Degree to follow, all work under the authority of the Warrant of the Lodge. So firmly was it all established that Laurence Dermott, their Grand Secretary, described the system thus:

"Antient Masonry consists of four degrees—the first of which are that of Apprentice, the Fellow-Craft, and the sublime degree of Master; and a Brother, being well versed in these degrees, and otherwise qualified, as hereafter will be expressed is eligible to be admitted to the Fourth Degree, the Holy Royal Arch. This Degree is certainly more august, sublime and important than those which precede it and is the summit and perfection of Ancient Masonry. It inspires in our minds a more firm belief of the existence of a Supreme Deity without beginning of days, or end of years, and justly reminds us of the respect and veneration due to that Holy Name." (Ahiman Rexton, 1756)

and he also said:

"The Royal Arch I believe to be the root heart and marrow of Masonry."

The attitude of the premier Grand Lodge, however, was vastly different and we need take only one incident to illustrate this. In 1759, a Brother from Ireland applied to them for relief and, it is thought, sought to strengthen his claim by stating he was a Royal Arch Mason. Samuel Spencer, the Grand Secretary, gave this as his reply:

"Your being an Antient Mason you are not entitled to any of our charity. The Antient Masons have a Lodge at the Five Bells, in the Strand, and their Secretary's name is Dermott. Our Society is neither Arch, Royal Arch, or Antient so that you have no right to partake of our charity."

Within a few years many members of Moderns Lodges, having visited Antients Lodges and developed interests in the Royal Arch and its ceremonial, set up meetings of their own. Lord Blaney, Grand Master, was exalted in the one held at the Turks Head, Gerald Street, Soho, but still the non-recognition continued. Despite his statement a few years earlier Samuel Spencer the Grand Secretary was also exalted in the Royal Arch and is on record as having visited the Chapter at the Turks Head. Whilst firmly rejecting the Royal Arch in their official capacity Grand Officers of the premier Grand Lodge also appreciated the convenience of wearing two hats!

Under a Charter of Compact granted by Lord Blaney in 1766 a separate administration was created for this one Degree and thus an atmosphere of respectability was produced, nevertheless the Royal Arch was not to be officially recognized for another 50 years.

For the Antients the administration of the Royal Arch was by a Committee of those in their Grand Lodge who were duly qualified. Later on, influenced by the rise of the Moderns' Grand Chapter, they called that Committee a Grand Chapter but its work remained unchanged as the Royal Arch was still a Fourth Degree conferred under the authority of a Lodge Warrant and within the overall framework of a Craft Lodge.


When the two Grand Lodges united in 1813 the document setting out the terms agreed by both was called the Act of Union and it contained the following item:

It is declared and pronounced, that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more; viz. those of Entered Apprentice, the Fellow-Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. But his article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a Meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitutions of the said Orders.

The first part of that item is reprinted as the Preliminary Declaration in the book of Constitutions, a copy of which is presented to each Brother following his initiation. In all probability that statement inspired the explanation given to a Companion at the conclusion of the Exaltation ceremony:

"You may perhaps imagine that you have this day taken a Fourth degree in Freemasonry, such however is not the case, it is the Master Mason's completed."

An interesting Regulation governing Antients' Chapters appeared in 1807:

No Chapter shall act without the Charter of Constitution from Grand Chapter which is to be specially entrusted to each First Principal at his Installation, to be held by him in safe custody on behalf of Grand Chapter. The first Principal shall produce it at every Convocation of the Chapter.

However, an unresolved difficulty still exists because in the wording of the Charter there is an injunction that it is "to be held with and attached to the Warrant of the Lodge". To find an instance of where the Warrant of the Lodge and the Charter of the Chapter are attached would be quite a challenge, indeed extremely unlikely. The only possibility of both being in possession of one person would be if a Past Master of the Lodge were to be installed for a second time and whilst occupying the First Principal's Chair.

Chapters do not of necessity carry the same name as the Lodge to which they are attached but they do take the same number. Unlike the List of Lodges where seniority has been determined by number this cannot be applied to Chapters. Chapters cannot come into existence except through a Resolution and Petition from members of a Lodge.


As we have seen, in the early period only those who had occupied the Chair of a Lodge could be exalted to the Royal Arch. In those days election for Mastership was held every six months from one St. John's Day to the next, i.e., St. John the Baptist on 24 June, or St. John the Evangelist on 27 December. In some Lodges, however, the Chair remained almost the prerogative of one Brother.

To avoid an evitable decay through lack of qualified Candidates for the Royal Arch a modified form of Installation, minus certain details, was introduced to enable Brethren who had not been in the Chair to enter. This process created "virtual" Masters, and by such means they were 'Passed the Chair' without having ruled over a Lodge. Subsequently, amendments were made that permitted Master Masons of twelve months standing to enter without recourse exercised by Grand Chapter is on record where an application for a Royal Arch Certificate was refused as the Candidate had not been registered as M.M. for twelve months. Even the resourceful plea that twelve lunar months had expired proved unacceptable and before the Certificate was granted the Candidate had to be re-obligated!


The stated intention in opening a Master Masons' Lodge is to seek that which was lost but there is always the admission of failure in the closing. The substituted secrets that are regularly communicated are declared to be sanctioned and confirmed until time or circumstances shall restore the genuine. Until what time and in what circumstances? Many Brethren have pondered upon the reply given to certain ruffians that without consent and cooperation of two colleagues he neither could nor would divulge the details demanded but that patience and industry would in due time entitle the worthy Mason to a participation of them. When is 'due time' and how does one become a 'worthy Mason' in this respect? The attempt to obtain the proper secrets without due title to them, or as we would term it today the attempt to get something for nothing must lead to tragedy of a sort for somebody.

The Third Degree has proved to be a breaking-off point for many Brethren who find ample fulfillment in Lodge affairs; it has been a convenient a halt for many reasons and in same cases a proper one. The enrichment and reward for the truly Speculative Mason is determined entirely by the limit of his own capacity or ability. For him the Royal Arch is yet another storehouse that awaits.


Whether or not to enter the Royal Arch is a question that each Brother must answer for himself but surely he is entitled to know something of the subject beforehand. His attention should be directed to that excellent publication by Bernard Jones, Freemasons' Book of the Royal Arch, which is so informative, a useful book of reference, and very easy reading.

A Brother does not have to make the first approach himself he may be invited to join; it seems proper that Royal Arch members should be entitled to choose their Companions.

When a Candidate for Freemasonry first appears he affirms that his trust is placed in God, that he has a genuine desire of knowledge, and a sincere wish to render himself more extensively serviceable to his fellow creatures. When he appears in a Chapter it is with a desire of improving in Freemasonry and directing that improvement to the glory of God and the good of man. Such a desire to improve can only arise if his interest in Freemasonry thus far has been carefully tended and fostered by those upon whom such responsibility rests, including his Proposer, his Seconder, the Officers of the Lodge, the Preceptors of the Lodge of Instruction; all those whose duty to him is so obvious that so easily it gets overlooked. If the Lodge of Instruction is just a Lodge of Rehearsal, without the leavening of Masonic Instruction, then ritual becomes the focal point and dominates all other aspects of Freemasonry and the Brethren become affected by this. If the Lodge business has nothing but successive ceremonies it becomes a stage for ritual prowess and word perfection.

We all accept that Freemasonry is a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols and that alone calls for some effort to understand not only what the ritual says but what it sets out to do. It certainly provides the tools but the application rests entirely with ourselves. The building of a Temple within ourselves commences when we begin to understand exactly what is veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The search for 'that which was lost' began after Adam fell from favour and bequeathed to mankind that everlasting quest, for in every age there is that fall from grace.

The building of the First Temple at Jerusalem was an ideal subject for the builders in stone to moralize upon; not so much for the detail of its construction but for the purpose of its construction—'a house for my Name'—reverence to the Almighty. Biblical history records the fall from grace leading to destruction of that Temple and the loss of the Word. The legend that is built into the Craft conveys the principle of a loss which, in turn, is complemented by a recovery theme set into the Royal Arch. It is that ceremonial which has been aptly described as 'the very essence of Freemasonry' from as long ago as 1756 by Laurence Dermott.

In conclusion, I can think of no worse condemnation for any senior Freemason than that he should hear the plea from a junior Brother—"Why doesn't someone tell us these things"—and then fail to respond. From the time of his appointment as a Warden it became his responsibility to communicate light and impart knowledge to those who came under his direction.

Delivered at the Greater Atlanta York Rite Festival, May 13, 1989.