The Beginnings and Endings
W. Bro. Frank Martin
W.Bro. R. A. L. Harland, P.M. Lodge No. 1679
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations (Psalm 90, verse 1)
I am grateful for the opportunity of writing these words of introduction to this instructive Paper entitled "The Beginnings and Endings" contributed by W.Bro. Frank Martin, the Chairman of our Tanganyika and Zanzibar group. It is quite true, as Bro. Martin says in his opening remarks, that: "In our efforts to discover the meaning of life the difficulty with which we are persistently confronted is the profound mystery which surrounds the beginnings and endings". The first verse of Genesis does, indeed, declare: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth", but let us not overlook the testimony of another first verse: — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (St. John, chapter 1, verse 1) So at the beginning of time something already existed, something for which in itself the term "beginning" has no meaning. There is, then, another World, uncreated, eternally in Being, and that World is God, and there is between the two Worlds a relation. To the Craftsman extending his researches into "the hidden mysteries of nature and science" paradoxically the "beginning" is not the "ending": "For the invisible of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Romans, chapter 1, verse 20).
Between the uncreated World and the created World there exists a nexus, a bridge of likeness "which, like Jacob's ladder, connects heaven and earth"; that bridge is analogy. Thus, neither men nor the world are isolate; it is by means of created things they come in contact with the uncreated World. The first sign that man is not cut off from his Source, but that there is continual contact between God and man is contained in the revelation that God when He made man breathed into his face: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostril the breath of life" (Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7). Man was made as all the other creatures were made, but he was the only one who received the breath of God. This breathing of God upon His creature signifies that He animates his clay by His own breath, and that although man does not touch God, man is held by God in continual communication by the invisible "thread of life" of His divine Breath. The second evidence that tills world is not cut off from the other was revealed in a sign pointed out by God: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth" (Genesis, chapter 9, verse 13); thereby was established a visible sign of the everlasting relationship between God and the earth. The third sign of relationship was manifested in a vision; Jacob saw, in his sleep, a ladder reaching from heaven to earth. Man slept at its foot; the intermediary angels, the luminous message-bearers, descended and ascended upon it. At the top of the ladder God Himself appeared, leaning upon it, not merely looking down upon the earth, but lovingly leaning upon His creation, ceaselessly arrowing it with the fixed glance from the bow of His Eye. Jacob, aroused by the vision, waked from sleep, and leaping cried out: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not" (Genesis, chapter 28, verse 16); he realised in a flash of vision that "wherever we are, and whatever we do, He is with us, and His all- seeing eye observes"; us that the visible intimates the invisible: and that we reach Him by the ladder of created things.
A great deal has been written in exposition of the Masonic Initiation, but notwithstanding a marked forward trend observable within the Order and a corresponding increase in apprehension, it must be conceded that the majority of Freemasons still fail to recognise that the key to the whole Craft system is contained in the Central Legend or Traditional History of the Third Degree. The Craft legend of H.A., although known as "Traditional History" would be better described as "Historical tradition", because it is the Hebrew form of a cosmogonical doctrine expressed in numerous ways and common to all peoples since the beginning of time. It is a doctrine explaining the genesis, fall, and destiny of man, and accounting for the mystery of evil, in and death with which our world is afflicted, by a catastrophe which occurred out of time and space and before we and our planet assumed their present physicalised condition. Under the allegory of a temporal murder and the loss of building plans, the Craft Legend perpetuates the primal doctrine of Cosmic Tragedy; a tragedy committed before time began, and one by reason of which all Nature groans and is in travail, and human society exists in a state of continuous disorder and confusion. The great virtue of the Craft system, however, lies in the fact that the Third Degree not only proclaims the nature of the "heavy calamity" which has befallen Humanity, but it further reveals how "that which is lost" may be recovered. Thus, although the narrative undoubtedly places emphasis upon the fact that man has fallen away from a high estate to the externalised condition in which we now live, its real object is to draw attention to the truth which has been taught in all subsequent ages, viz. that the way of return to our former eminence is that by which we came. The intimation is, in ritual language, that a loss sustained in the "East" is not to be recovered in the "West", by which we are intended to understand that human life having originated in the Mystical "East", and descended into this world, must eventually return again to its source. In the words of verse written by that well-known Masonic authority, W. Bro. A. E. Waite:
"From East to West the soul her journey takes; At many bitter founts her fever slakes; Halts at strange taverns by the way of feast, Resumes her load, and painful progress makes Back to the East ".
Our Masonic doctrine therefore enshrines traditional, universal principles, about the way all Humanity must traverse from this world of time and transiency (the "West") to the eternal "East". It demonstrates conclusively that life is a vast Initiation-process, slowly, patiently, and by law and order, leading an intractable world from darkness to increasing light. But, we also learn from the Volume of the Sacred Law that "times (cycles, time-periods) and seasons" are allocated for the accomplishment of cosmic purposes, and that a definite time-limit is set to the stages of the initiatory process. Hence it is that the benefits of initiation are not only conferred in the individual and personal sense, to be achieved by voluntary self-discipline as envisaged by the Craft system, but there are also occasions when the power is directed to operate upon the collective consciousness of mankind. Freemasons will do well to reflect that this is precisely what is happening today, when under the guidance of the Master of Life, humanity as a whole is in the process of being Passed to the Second Degree in a cosmic and vital sense; we are all working today as "minds", upon the plane of mind, the region of Humanity's Second Degree. Now, as Freemasonry so clearly illustrates, such initiation involves at one and the same time, a renunciation and a gain, or, in other words, a putting away of that which has served its purpose and become effete and unessential with the corresponding attainment of something superior and essential. It also implies the permanent tuning up of consciousness from a lower to a higher pitch, the result of which is, that awareness (whether visual or intellectual) becomes intensified, and the immature reactions of the sense-nature give place to enhanced powers of intelligence. These factors are in evidence today, and despite the fact that at the moment the majority are unable to interpret correctly their feelings, it is becoming increasingly obvious that an organic change is being effected in public consciousness.
I commend to members of the Circle this contribution by Bro. Martin to our Transactions and would express to him my personal thanks and those of the Governing Council for his most interesting Paper.
THE BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
W.Bro. Frank Martin, Dar es Salaam Lodge, No. 5095 E.C.
"In the beginning God created the Heaven and Earth."
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis ii, 7)
In our efforts to discover the meaning of life the difficulty with which we are persistently confronted is the profound mystery which surrounds the beginnings and endings. This applies equally to the infinitely great and infinitely little. How the universe came into being, and what will be its destiny has been the enigma of the ages; and the origin of life — together with its finale — has never ceased to constitute a problem to all mankind.
All the spannings of the heavens, all the researches and discoveries serve only to reveal how much more we have to learn. Perhaps no period in all the history of the world has witnessed such a phenomenal advancement in the intricate galaxy of things around us as has taken place during the past fifteen or twenty years. Yet, neither the most brilliant of our philosophers nor the most advanced of our scientists can tell us with any assurance the origin of life or any more than the biological facts of death.
Naturally, we have knowledge of what goes on between the beginnings and endings, for we are part and parcel of the phenomena. Each one of us is an authority on our own experience. and the extent of our knowledge in this respect varies according to our interest in the material things we see around us. However, the time from the first cry of the newly-born infant passing from the darkness of the womb to the last long silence of the darkness of the grave is short indeed. In that brief space of time our bodies grow in stature and complexity from a minute cell to the marvel of the mature man, then age and decay, and crumble again to dust. In that short space of time, too, our minds and souls, our characters and personalities grow, mature and age also. For a brief space we are of so much importance, then only a fading memory. So the life of man appears, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we remain ignorant. The intellectual conviction that the universe we perceive is not all, leaves us with a sense of void.
Our ideas of the beginning and ending, of the origin and purpose of life, colour and determine the way we lead it. The important thing for everyone is to realise the continuity of life and the way each age of the individual derives from the preceding. When we try to review the cosmic process as a whole, when we envisage the birth of the worlds, the coming of man, the growth of civilisation, when we take account of the value of human freedom, and when we look round and see the achievements of science and art, and the profusion of things that make people happy — it seems blind folly not to appreciate the manifestations and presence of a Divine Creator.
The part played by religion in determining the individual's attitude towards life must be obvious immediately it is mentioned. Religion provides an answer and religion demands a faith, for it tells the believer the meaning and purpose of existence, and his place in the scheme of things. Throughout the ages religion has been a chief bulwark of morals. It is a "discipline as well as faith". It is "morality touched by emotion". Were religion to disappear as a factor in the life of mankind, the whole structure of morality would totter and sway.
Underlying all religions one finds a similar root, and this root is man's instinctive belief that there is a hereafter, and that there is some power in the Universe guiding and controlling his destiny. From this root has sprung the tree from which branches have shot out in every direction, and be he Christian or Jew, Buddhist or Mohammedan, man's beliefs can be traced back to this one origin.
All religions have as a basis of the stories about their Gods the same thread running through them — miraculous birth, light coming to the world, then the descent into darkness of the grave to rise again, and the giving of HE to the world. The religious instinct in man is based on inherent belief that this world does not constitute the sum of all his interests and activities.
Besides the organised religions, mankind has been helped and guided by philosophical teachers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in their enquiries into the mysteries which surround us.
From the earliest days great men have sought to express, in language sufficiently vivid, beautiful, or dramatic, the truths, which they realised within their souls — truths about life and living, about God and man. The history, the philosophers, the mythologies, traditions and religions of mankind all bear traces of this evolution. The living figures and stories of mythology are memories of an ancient consciousness, when man communed with spiritual beings and realities. We have been asked to believe many incredible things, but that there is nothing to be believed would be the most incredible of all.
From time immemorial mankind ever had the most convincing proofs of the existence of a Supreme Being. Almost all the Eastern religions foster a spirit of fatalism. The very word "Islam" means "submission to the will of God". Hinduism and Buddhism regard the world as an illusion, or as something evil, or at the best worthless. They urge spiritual detachment as the way of salvation — salvation by release from human bondage. The Buddha declared, "I teach only one thing, suffering and emancipation from suffering"; and Dhammapada says, "There is no misery like existence". The Hindu religion in its higher forms taught men to emancipate themselves in spirit from a world which was incurably unsatisfactory.
The founders and prophets of the faiths have proclaimed the reality of personal communion with the Divine. Saints and mystics of every creed have proclaimed it and all over the world sects have been founded, practices have been devised, in the hope of apt ways to catch the gleam of heavenly radiance.
As creatures we cannot escape the consideration of various religious theories and systems, and as Freemasons we know there is nothing in our own system which the theosophically-minded Buddhist, or Hindu, or adherent of any other great religions, need reject. Our ritual, lectures and indeed the very principle upon which our Order is founded and which have been derived from the Mysteries of all ages and cults, show in a most beautiful fashion the connection of the great teachers of humanity with the Great Redeemer. Human creeds and customs may alter and be modified by varying conditions; but the Authority of Human Life must be Eternal and Immortal. These conditions involve a Supreme Originator, as well as simple origin, hence no atheist can be tolerated in a system of morality like Freemasonry. Take away the Divine Order, and morality has no sanction. As Masons we are content to live in an atmosphere and speak a language of common theism. To us God is Creator, Architect, Master, and Law-giver. To us He is in the East; and no Masonic Lodge can labour save by His "Life and breath of things".
Freemasonry is a way of considering the riddles of human destiny beyond the frontiers of birth and death. The essential of our striving is not that it should bear some ancient name, but that it should seek the truth. Man has a natural right to indulge speculation, and make researches after truth — a search after truth is the peculiar employment of Freemasons at all their regular meetings and therefore we describe it as a divine attribute, and the foundation of every virtue. To be good men and true, is the first lesson we are taught in Freemasonry.
Truth is eternal and unchangeable. It is always the same, but as we change and advance mentally we can grasp it better. Until we are fully developed mentally, truth will not be fully comprehended, but as we develop, it slowly becomes clearer.
Freemasonry, being the lineal descendant of the ancient Wisdom-Teaching, follows the traditional method of imparting instruction by means of myths. The ceremony of the First Degree is a swift and comprehensive portrayal of the entrance of all men into, first, physical life, and second, into spiritual life; and, as we extend congratulations when a child is born into the world, so also we receive with acclamation the candidate for Masonry who, symbolically, is seeking for spiritual rebirth. Initiation (Initium) means a new beginning and implies a turning away from the pursuit of the popular ideals of the outer world, in the conviction that those ideals are but shadows, images and temporal substitutes for the eternal Reality that underlies them. It means transition from a merely natural state and standards of life towards a regenerate and super-natural state and standard. Thus, as the admission of every candidate into a Lodge presupposes his prior existence in the world without the Lodge, so our doctrine presupposes that every soul born into this world has lived in, and has come hither from, an anterior state of life. It has lived elsewhere before it entered this world; it will live elsewhere when it passes hence, human life being but a parenthesis in the midst of eternity.
Life is a pattern and has a pattern for each of us. The pattern we will strive after is set for us by the ideas of the purpose of it all. There are obstacles, of course. Reverses and tragedy and sorrow have their place in every man's life. Our own characters and personalities themselves present us with difficulties, and the environment, whether material or living, is seldom, if ever, entirely satisfactory, These difficulties and obstacles have a purpose. It is only on the whetstone that the steel grows sharp, only in the fire that gold is refined. So our characters and personalities should be refined by hardship and difficulties and suffering. We should welcome these obstacles as the touch-stone of our characters to go through fire and water and come out triumphant with our faith untarnished and our hope undimmed. But first of all we must make sure of our purpose in life and our purpose in living. We should then re-examine the obstacles, whether they be in ourselves or in our environment or in the people about us, and then live again with courage, with hope, with faith, and with charity, remembering that the reward is not fulfilled to the very end.
Aristotle has been described as "the master of those who knew". He believed in close observation of the phenomena, whether of matter or of mind. He aimed at the discovery of pure truth and believed that his enquiry into practical affairs led to right action. He believed that "the good is that at which all things aim. All men aim at happiness — happiness is the good of man."
To the study of nature Plato prefixes the dogma -
"Let us declare the cause which led the Supreme Ordainer to produce and compose the universe. He was good, and he who is good has no kind of envy. Exempt from envy, he wished that all things should be as much as possible like himself. Whosoever, taught by wise man, shall admit this as the prime cause of the origin and foundation of the world, will be in truth. All things are for the sake of good, and it is the cause of everything beautiful."
Plato believed that for every objective reality there was an ideal reality also — this he called "idea". Hence the word idealism, and whatever each of us may exactly understand when we use the word, it remains tinged with its historical association. When we talk of having an ideal "we may not be thinking of the perfect idea" of something in the Platonic sense, yet surely we imply that there is some objective reality in life which we consider a gross representation which could be perfected — that if the perfect "idea" does not exactly exist it is at least worthy of pursuit and possibly attainable. Plato, lover of limits, loved the illimitable and said, "Our faculties run out into infinity, and return to us thence. We can define but a little way; but here is a fact which will not be skipped, and which to shut our eyes is suicide. All things are in scale; and, begin where we will, ascend and ascend. All things are symbolical; and what we call results are beginnings."
Perfection is the ideal of moral conduct, and like many ideals has the fascination of drawing us on to greater and greater heights. As one ascends a mountain, wider and wider vistas open to view, and what we may at first thought to be perfection we find to be but a type of a higher perfection. To seek perfection in any art however humble, is to pay tribute to a great ideal. Perfection implies a standard. In seeking perfection we approach nearer and nearer to that standard for, as Swedenborg said, "Man in his perfect form is Heaven."
The leading purpose of the First Degree in Freemasonry symbolises man entering into the world and, therefore, is also eminently the degree of preparation, of self-discipline and purification. In the Tracing Board of this degree the candidate finds a pattern emblematical of the Book of Life in which the Great Architect of the Universe has laid down the lines which guider us in our pilgrimage towards Light — a travelling from the uncertain gloom of Time to the radiant sunshine of Eternity.
In a dim primeval past man was not yet individualised as he is today. He had not acquired the faculty of thought; in it's place he had an old clairvoyant picture-consciousness. He lived in a world of dream-pictures; but the pictures which arose within his soul had a relationship to the beings and forces around him. In the course of evolution, this ancient picture-consciousness declined: and in the process, man's Ego-consciousness underwent a metamorphosis, being transformed into the faculties of thought, conception and judgment. In the clairvoyant picture-consciousness man gave himself up to the living pictures that passed before his soul. In thought, he gradually attains the opposite feeling. His thinking becomes active not passive: he has the sense of producing it from within. In the activity of thought, he grasps the inner individuality, his being.
Similarly, the curious sort of composite picture we see in the Tracing Board of the First Degree is a kind of writing to bring to mind not the sound of a word, but directly to symbolise the idea. Each of us, with the faculties we have individually developed, must find our own interpretation, based on our own experience in life; there is no one translation. In a lecture to The Masonic Study Society some years ago the V.W.Bro. F.B. Brook, Past Grand Treasurer, said: "I can but suggest what it means to me. To get at the idea I ask you to think of two things which students of Logic will remember. One is the extension, the extent or breadth of the field covered; the things to which it is applied. The other is the intension or depth, in other words, the qualities and relations of the objects depicted." As we study the Tracing Board, the boundaries recede and we realise we are looking at a Lodge Universal — the Cosmic Lodge. And yet it has a border or edging of triangles to tell us that everything that was or is or will be created, contained and upheld by the presence and power of God. So we must not be satisfied by a cursory glance at the surface of this design, we must look at its extent and then at the depths of its meaning. It is a picture of the whole of our system, and tells us of the three things that matter to man — God, the Universe, himself.
On reflection, to the student of Freemasonry, it is apparent that the universality and uniformity noted by historians are due to the fact that at one time, long back in the world's past, there was implanted in the minds of the whole human family a root-doctrine in regard to the nature and destiny of the soul of man and its relation to the Deity. It is of particular significance to Freemasons to find that tradition affirms that it was under the guidance of the philosophers and sages of the bygone ages that humanity was taught its first notions of all the arts and sciences, and that it was they who laid the foundation-stone of those ancient civilizations which so sorely puzzle our modern generation of scholars. And so, as it is written in the Book of Job, "Inquire, therefore, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers, shall not they teach thee, and utter words out of their heart?"
Nothing is so important in Freemasonry as preparation. Without it is no effective admission to the joy of our system; and, unless preparation be of the heart, failure is assured. What is aimed at is not so much the orderly rite of Initiation as the orderly attitude of the candidate. Hence it is necessary to ensure that candidates are men who ought to be joined to us by this mystic tie, or those to whom we may reasonably look for contributions of labour in the lodge of the Temple. Not only must the Lodge be satisfied with his bona fides, but he must realise his own position. At the mercy of dangers unseen, in deep reverence, he must approach the Mystery and fight his way to the Light. Our approach to Eternal Light is a surrender and yet a striving and a search. In our hearts we shall seek it first. And we must keep our own hearts pure for we cannot debauch our own hearts and minds and souls with vulgarity and still seek beauty there. When we have found the purity and the beauty in our own hearts, we shall see with enlightened vision the beauty outside ourselves. We shall see also our own beauty reflected outside. How well we remember the affirmation "In my heart" when replying to that question "where were you first made a Mason?" The exposure of ourselves to the strength of Freemasonry should mean that we are willing to be guided, and taught, and used for the glory of the Creator.
When the Entered Apprentice is prepared to Fear, to Trust and to Obey, he begins to live, and to work, and to love. Not what he has, but what he is, may be said to constitute his preparation. The white lambskin apron of the Entered Apprentice carries us back to the first conscious act of humanity, to the human preparation by the Creator for the work and sacrifices of life by the gift of leathern aprons or girdles, and finally to the ancient practice of Operative Masons wearing leather or skin aprons. There are here two thoughts — innocence of heart and preparation for sacrifices, and these two ideals are symbolised right through the future Masonic career of the Entered Apprentice. When a Brother is invested he renounces all profane habit and bias, and cleanses himself from the exterior influence and ignorant prejudice. He has turned his back on the darkness, and seeks with a single-hearted loyalty the Light that is from the East. He dons the white apron as a testimony and a reminder.
Having been invested with the symbol sign of innocence, labour and sacrifice, which is more ancient than any of the prized insignia of profane orders, he is taught that inviolate honour is of greater value to a Mason than physical life; and he learns that infidelity is worse than death. He learns how to square every action, and how to take each human step aright. Step by step he may now scale the mysterious ladder. His tools are those by which he may order his time, apportion his hours to occupation or to rest, and make the most of the opportunities which fall to the lot of man. The Volume of the Sacred Law is there in the place of honour to make him wise when in difficulty. So, the Entered Apprentice realises the importance of self-cultivation, of acquiring habits of self- restraint and watchful endeavour, and humility and yet of ambition, of submission of himself for the good of the whole Craft.
As the First degree is that of preparation, of self discipline and purification, so there must follow a period of study, contemplation and enlightenment, which are the special subjects of the Second Degree. To understand the science of the human soul, and to trace these faculties in their development from the elementary stage until he realises that they connect with, and terminate in, the Divine itself. This degree, oft-times regarded by many brethren as somewhat uninteresting and incidental, typifies in reality a long course of personal development requiring the most profound knowledge of the mental and physical side of our nature. The following comments of that prolific Masonic writer, W.Bro. J.S.M. Ward, are well worth repeating: "In the first few years of my Masonic career I utterly failed to realise the tremendous importance of the Second Degree, and used glibly to say that, while the First and Third Degrees impressed me greatly, and had valuable lessons to impart, the Second disappointed me by its lack of depth and mystical teaching. The truth is that the real inner meaning of the Second Degree is less obvious than that of the First and Third, but every whit as important, and until one has grasped its full significance one has no conception of the wonderful symmetry of our Craft rituals. In short, the interpretation of the Second Degree forms the key to the full interpretation of the Third."
It is in this degree that the essential elements of the Craft are revealed. The degree is founded on that symbol which is the basis of Masonry, and the candidate is now enlightened as to the meaning of the "Hieroglyphic bright which none but craftsmen ever saw." He learns that it represents the ineffable name of the Grand Geometrician as written in the four letters of the Hebrew alphabet, to which attention was specially directed in the Middle Chamber.
The Entered Apprentice had no wages, his allowance was in kind. When, however, by good conduct and attention to the lesson and lecture of the Craft, he had been adjudged fit to be passed to the rank of a capable workman, he was furnished with square, level and plumbline, and required to become personally responsible for the accuracy of his own and apprentice work. He was paid in money as one trusted and competent. It is as a craftsman that he became cognisant of the second Pillar placed at the porchway of the Temple and he was taught that stability can only be attained by the significance of both Pillars being conjoined. Herein is contained the Mystery not only of Masonry but of all religions, viz., the Union of Heaven and Earth and the Meditation between God and Man. Numbers now have a meaning to the Fellowcraft which would mean nothing to the Entered Apprentice, especially the numbers 3, 5 and 7, so full of significance in all Freemasonry. He is doing as the Fellowcraft in the Middle Ages did when he went forth to gain experience, and he is learning to obey with his eyes open. He takes notice of the opportunities of life, and uses them with increasing skill. His tools mean the direct responsibility and the abundant power of a Brother who has been passed to the place of power and of influence. The horizontal, upon which alone safely the Temple may be built, is represented in the level — the broad area and condition where is room for every man's life work, and yet where verticals and squares alone are tolerated in principle. The plumbline, which, over from a single point in the very centre of gravity of the earth, draws, a safe line which may be projected to infinity, demonstrating the absolute uprightness of the way of the Creator and the standard of His sacred law, showing the fearless righteousness which alone is safe to Freemasons, and alone leads (it may be by the valley of death) direct to the golden halls of High Heaven. And lastly, the square, by which man and his work are tried as to their fitness for a nobler experience or a grander use !
Thus, the lower degrees having inculcated caution, fortitude, obedience, and a regulation of every part of human life and practice, the Third Degree draws aside the veil and imparts the lesson of the dramas of sacrifice and self-discipline, of death and resurrection. It is truly called a Sublime Degree, for it contains the essence of purity and Light. The Lodge is opened on the Centre — that "point within a circle from which every part of its circumference is equidistant." W.Bro. the Rev. G. Oliver informs us that this significant emblem takes its origin from the Garden of Eden, which was circular — the trees of life and knowledge being placed in the centre, symbolical of the divine Omnipresence, the centre being everywhere, and the circumference nowhere.
The primitive explanation of this symbol did not differ very widely from the elucidation still used in the lectures on Masonry. The circle referred to eternity, and the point to time; for the purpose of showing that time was only a point compared with eternity, and equidistant from all parts of its infinitely-extended circumference; because eternity occupied the same indefinite space before the creation of our system, as it will do when it is reduced to its primitive nothing.
To speak in the technical language of the old lectures, the point represents an individual Brother; and the circle, the boundary-line of his duty to God and man; beyond which he is enjoined never to suffer his passions, prejudices, or interests to betray him.
Another analogy is that of Emerson. He writes:
"The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher world. Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens." He also likens the life of man as a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and without end.
Of the Third Degree, the late W.Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst said, "I sometimes fear that the too conspicuous display of the emblems and trappings of mortality is apt to create the false impression that the death to which it (Third Degree) alludes is the mere physical that awaits all men. But a far deeper meaning is intended. The Mason who knows his science knows that he death of the body is only a natural transition of which he need have no dread whatever; he knows also when the due time arrives, that transition will be a welcome respite from the bondage of this world and from the daily burdens incident to existence in this lower plane of life. What is meant is that complete self- sacrifice and self-crucifixion which, as all religions teach, are essential before the soul can be raised in glory 'from a figurative death to a reunion with the companions of its former toils ' both here and in the unseen world."
The legend of the Third Degree, in which the essence of Masonic doctrine lies, is an adaptation of a very old one and existed in various forms long before its association with modern Masonry. In the guise of a story about the building of a temple by King Solomon at Jerusalem, it promulgates the truth which is generally known as the Fall of Man. According to our legend, with the assistance of another King who supplied the building materials, a skilful artificer whose business it was to put these together according to a preordained plan, and large companies of craftsmen and labourers, it was the purpose of this great King to erect a superb structure. In the course of its erection a conspiracy arose, resulting in the destruction of the chief artificer and preventing the completion of the building which, to this day, remains unfinished.
If we turn to biblical accounts of the building of King Solomon's Temple we will find that temple was not only completed, but it was afterwards destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again on more than one occasion. Moreover, we will find no reference whatever to the conspiracy portrayed in our legend, or to the death of Hiram.
The incomplete and unfinished temple to which Masonic legend alludes is none that can be built with hands. It is that temple of which all material edifices are but types and symbols; it is the temple of the collective body of humanity itself. In the course of the construction of this ideal temple, something happened that wrecked the scheme and delayed the fulfilment indefinitely. This was the Fall of Man; the conspiracy of the Craftsmen to "extort the secrets of a superior degree" which they had not attained. The same subject is related in the allegory of Adam and Eve who, as we know, were intended for perfection and happiness, but by their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge nullified their Creator's project caused their expulsion from Eden, and defeated the divine purpose until they and their posterity should regain the Paradise they had lost. So also the completion of the great mystical Temple was prevented for the time being by the conspirators' attempt to exhort from Hiram the Master's secrets, and its construction is delayed until time and circumstances — God's time, and the circumstances we create for ourselves-restore to us the lost and genuine secrets of our nature and of the divine purpose in us.
The Master Mason's apron is still his Masonic declaration of faith. He still wears a lambskin white apron of innocence and sacrifice, but the triangle of life is completed in the third rosette which appears on the flap. His tools are similarly significant of the altered plane of usefulness of a Master Mason, and these indicate design and responsibility. Having acquired the habit of an artist, the Master Mason is called upon to evolve nobler work, to inspire his fellows with higher ideals, and to pass the veil of form into the secret place of revelation.
In summing up the import of the teaching of the three degrees, W.Bro. Wilmshurst said: "It is clear, therefore, that from grade to grade the candidate is being led from an old to an entirely new quality of life, he begins his Masonic career as the natural man; he ends it by becoming through its discipline, a regenerated perfected man. To attain this transmutation, this metamorphosis of himself, he is taught first to purify and subdue his sensual nature; then to purify and develop bis mental nature; and finally, by utter surrender of his old life and losing his soul to save it, he rises from the dead a Master, a just man made perfect, with larger consciousness and faculties, an efficient instrument for use by the Great Architect in His plan of rebuilding the Temple of fallen humanity and capable of initiating and advancing other men to a participation in the same great work."
When we sit in the Lodge, surrounded by the characteristic symbols which are distributed on all sides, we should feel that we are members of the universal Lodge of Nature; created by the Author and Source of Light and redeemed by divine love or charity, there to reflect in all seriousness on the incumbent duties that bind us to practice the permanent virtue and morality which these emblems embody and recommend; in the hope that when we are finally summoned to give up our accounts, we may be transferred from our Lodge on earth to the Grand Temple above, there to enjoy for ever the bright system of Freemasonry in its perfect and glorified state of ineffable Light, unbounded Charity. and undisturbed Peace.
The soul of man seems to be made, as it were, on purpose to contemplate the works of the Great Architect of the Universe; for this end it can discern, think, and reason; thus, both duty and gratitude oblige us to set forth the glories of our Creator. This should be the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all our enquiries.
SO MOTE IT BE.
LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED
The Volume of the Sacred Law.
WILMSHURST. The Meaning of Masonry.
GIBSON. The Masonic Problem.
FINDLAY. The Rock of Truth.
SAMUEL (Viscount). Belief and Action.
KNOWLSON. The Meaning of Life.
MAXWELL. The Search for Adventure.