Masonic Education

W.Bro. Arthur H. Bentley, P.P.G.D. (Surrey)
Secretary of the Circle

Some months ago I became conscious of the urge to give expression to certain thoughts which were passing through my mind on the subject of Masonic Education and the opportunity came my way to express these thoughts in more concrete form when I was invited to give a Paper on this subject at the Inaugural Meeting of the Bromley and District Masonic Study Circle and also at the Annual Meeting of the Federation of Schools Lodges. The reception which this Paper received at these meetings was so gratifying that I was persuaded to give similar Papers before the East Surrey Masters Lodge, the South West Surrey Masters Lodge and the Masonic Study Society.

This is the first time that I have attempted to give a Paper before the Dormer Masonic Studio Circle, although I have been associated with the Circle almost since its inception and for fourteen years have served as its Secretary. As one, however, who is in close touch with the members, indeed my office serves as the link between the member and the Circle itself, I have for some time been aware of the need in our Transactions for a Paper which deals, not so much with the interpretation of our Rites and Ceremonies, but one which seeks to give some practical assistance to the members of the Circle in order to enable them to make use of what they learn here to the advantage of their respective Lodges and for the benefit of their fellow Lodge members.

It therefore seemed that what I had already written would serve most admirably as the basis on which I could give a Paper to the Brethren of the Dormer Masonic Study Circle and, therefore, I now propose to offer you a Paper which, although it will not aim to provide you with any deep esoteric knowledge, will, I hope, help to impress upon your minds the need for the better Masonic Education of the Brethren of our Lodges and the manner in which we, as members of the Circle, can assist in making the education available.

Whilst reading copies of some Masonic journals a short while ago I came across a remark which I would like to quote to you. I found it in the Freemasons' Chronicle and it had been reprinted from the Ashlar, which is the official organ of the Grand Lodge of Queensland, Australia. It read as follows:

"Masonic education in our respective Lodges stops too often with mere learning of the required lectures and we do not adequately impart to our initiates the wealth of knowledge and inspiration and Masonic Light which they are seeking and to which they are by right entitled."

There is quite a large body of thought within the Craft today which would echo the sentiments expressed in this quotation and a perusal of the Masonic Press, both in this country and also overseas, will provide many similar statements of belief.

The purpose of this Paper, therefore, is to examine the criticism raised in this statement of opinion and to see whether there is anything which we can do, not only as individual members of the Craft, but more particularly to us as Masonic Students, to remedy the state of affairs which is alleged to exist.

First, however, we must see whether the criticism is fair and whether it does actually portray a state of affairs which really exists. Most of us, I think, will agree that very little investigation is necessary to realise that we do indeed do little to enlighten the minds of our candidates in Freemasonry upon a knowledge and understanding of the Ceremonies through which they pass. In most cases the candidate is passed through his Three Degrees as quickly as the Book of Constitutions will allow and all he is required to do is to answer a set of formal questions to which he gives formal replies which he has learned to repeat by heart without really understanding one word of what he is saying.

Very few lodges ever devote any of their meetings to the work of Masonic Instruction; usually they are far too busy in Initiating, Passing and Raising candidates and the so-called Lodge of Instruction is seldom anything more than a Lodge of Rehearsal.

I would not say that a Lodge of Instruction does not serve a useful purpose, but its usefulness is usually restricted to providing the Brethren with an opportunity of rehearsing the Ritual and making themselves accustomed to hearing themselves speak. Here and there one occasionally finds a Preceptor who will attempt to give explanations of some of the Ceremonial and the Symbols used in our Lodges, but such instances are far too rare.

We find, therefore, that Lodges themselves have not the time to devote to educational work and that in practice, the Lodges of Instruction have failed to fill the gap. As a result our Lodges are full of Brethren, many of whom are most anxious to learn something more of the meaning and purpose of the Craft, but have neither the facilities within their Lodges to gratify this desire, nor the knowledge to know where these facilities can be obtained.

I propose to examine this question of Masonic Education in some detail and, for the purposes of this enquiry, I have divided my Paper into three parts:

  1. Why is Masonic Education necessary?
  2. What is the subject matter involved?
  3. How can the Masonic Education of the Brethren be best achieved?


The more thoughtful of the members of the Craft have at all times urged the importance of giving the Brethren a greater instruction. Probably one of the most quoted of Masonic statements of recent years is that attributed to the late Lord Ampthill — "What we require is to put more Masonry into men and not more men into Masonry."

This statement, however, is so broad in its possible interpretations that without a more precise definition it is not easy to determine what is intended.

I think that Lord Ampthill was inferring that the teachings of Masonry should become better known among men generally — that the principles of our Craft should be the guiding principles of all men, but I believe that his words are also capable of the interpretation that those who have already been formally Initiated into our Order should become more fully aware of the real meaning and purpose of Masonry. In other words, put more Masonry into Masons. Accepting it in this interpretation it would seem to indicate that the teachings of Masonry must be instilled into the Brethren and, in order to do this, some form of education is obviously not only desirable but very necessary.

The First Section of the First of the Craft Lectures contains this question: "What is a Lodge of Freemasons?" The answer is stated: "An assembly of Brethren met to expatiate on the mysteries of the Craft."

To "expatiate" means, I think, something more than a recital of Ritual and "the mysteries of the Craft" would, I think, indicate that there is something more important than the surface meaning of the Ritual to be studied and sought after. I would suggest, therefore, that the answer to the question, "What is a Lodge of Freemasons?" would indicate that there is definitely something which has to be taught to the Brethren at the Lodge Meeting.

In the third of the Antient Charges given in the Book of Constitutions we find a statement worded in very similar terms. It states, "A Lodge is a place where Freemasons assemble to work and to instruct and to improve themselves in the mysteries of the antient science."

Again, that word "mysteries." I shall refer to this again later in my Paper, but for the moment wish only to draw your attention to the fact that in these words there is a definite charge that the work of the Lodge shall consist in "instructing and improving" the Brethren.

The references which I have just made refer to the work of the Lodge generally, but if we consider the various charges which are given personally to the candidate we find that:

  1. In the First Degree it is suggested that he should feel himself "called upon to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge."
  2. In the Second Degree he is expected "to extend his researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science."
  3. In the Third Degree he is invited to reflect on a certain awful subject. (May I here interpolate a desire that Masters should be careful how they pronounce that word "awful." It is a word which in modern terminology has become debased. According to the Oxford Dictionary the word means "inspiring awe" or "worthy of profound respect." Let us therefore remember this when we speak of the subject of our reflections in the Third Degree)

Now Brethren, whether it be the daily advancement of the First Degree, the researches of the Second Degree or the reflections of the Third Degree, a candidate must have assistance in his labours, his efforts must be guided. In other words, he needs to be educated.

In the charge given to the newly Installed Worshipful Master on the night of his Installation, it is stated,

"In like manner, it will be your province to communicate light and instruction to the Brethren of your Lodge."

There can be no misunderstanding of the duty contained in these words. It is a direct instruction given to the Worshipful Master at the most important moment in his whole Masonic career. It places on him a responsibility to give proper instruction to all the Brethren of the Lodge and also to see that each new candidate, is he passes through his Degrees, is given that light and understanding which is so vitally necessary to make his progress not only possible, but fully justified.

A Brother writing in an Australian Journal, the New South Wales Freemason, states the position very clearly when he writes:

It is not the primary function of Masonry to initiate candidates or to enlarge its membership. Were it so, there would be no basis for our laws against proselytising. The ordinary function of a Masonic Lodge — indeed the primary function of our Craft, is to train its members to an understanding of the truths which its rituals and its ceremonies are calculated to inculcate. Therefore it should be the duty of every Masonic Lodge to put into action a plan for the education of its members in Masonic history, symbolism and philosophy, devoting more of its meetings to this much neglected function.

Within the time available I cannot deal more fully with this aspect of the problem, but I hope that I have said sufficient for you to appreciate the reasons why Masonic Education is necessary.

I feel too that on this occasion a greater emphasis is unnecessary because, as Students who have already received a considerable amount of Masonic Education, I am sure that you already hold similar views,

We now come to the second part of our problem, perhaps the most important —


In other words, what is it that we have to teach our Brethren?

Candidates come into our Order ignorant of the Craft and its teachings both material and spiritual, largely because there appears to be a mistaken impression that one must not tell a prospective candidate anything about the Craft before he is Initiated. In my opinion, there is quite a lot which can be said; in fact, I think that it is quite true to say that Masonic education should commence before Initiation. It has been my privilege to serve on the Standing Committee of more than one Lodge. I have often asked the prospective candidate what his Proposer has told him about the Craft and I have been amazed to find that in a large number of cases information has been practically nil. The reason for this is probably not difficult to find because the Proposers themselves, in many cases, are uninstructed Masons and obviously incapable of giving the required information to the candidate. Usually the limit of their teaching is to fill in the blanks in the candidate's question card and, later on, in his Ritual book.

Remember Brethren that there are scores of books written about Masonry and there are many Masonic journals, any of which can be purchased by members of the public, or borrowed from lending libraries, or read the reading rooms of reference libraries.

Therefore, do not let us delude ourselves into feeling that it is impossible for anyone outside the Craft to know anything of Masonry and that we must not tell the candidate anything until he is Initiated. For the very reason, however, that the public are enabled to discover something about the Craft, it is vitally necessary that a prospective candidate should receive certain instruction in order that he may not enter our Order with ideas based on some of the misconceptions which exist in the public mind.

So, often a prospective candidate's ideas of the Craft are based purely on the social activities of the Brethren, usually because he has probably met many of them at Ladies' Festivals, or other similar social functions. A prospective candidate must be made to realise that Masonry has a spiritual foundation. This might prevent some from joining, but it would ensure that those who do join are of the right material.

I would suggest therefore, that the Grand Lodge pronouncement, entitled Aims and Relationships of the Craft, which was issued in August 1938 and re-issued in September 1949, should form the basis upon which information can be given and this, supplemented with perhaps a paraphrase of some of the Antient Charges, should then enable a candidate to have some idea of the type of Institution to which he is seeking admission.

Listen Brethren to the first of these Charges — "Concerning God and Religion":

A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understand the art he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive, by the purity of their own conduct, to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess. Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

There is nothing in that charge which you could not tell a prospective candidate and I think there is much in it that you should. Incidentally, I would remind you that in the Book of Constitutions on the title page where the Antient Charges are printed it is stated that they are "For the use of Lodges, to be read at the making of new Brethren or when the Master shall order it." Few of us, I am afraid, have ever heard them so read.

Having considered some of the things which might be mentioned to a prospective candidate, we now come to considering the matters which might form the basis of instruction after he has become a member of the Craft.

Broadly speaking, Masonic Education can be divided into three aspects:

  1. The Material Aspect.
  2. The Ritual.
  3. The Spiritual Aspect.

Taking these in turn the Material Aspect will obviously include information regarding the organization and administration of the Craft. It will deal with its recorded history from the period of the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1717 down to the present time. It will instruct the candidate of the manner in which the Provincial and District Grand Lodges operate. It will explain the nature and importance of the Masonic Institutions and the part played by them in the cause of Masonic Charity. These things may seem obvious to you, but usually the younger Brethren are left to obtain this information for themselves, whereas it should form the basis of the elementary education of candidates.

With regard to the second division of our subject — the Ritual itself — there is little that I need say here. This aspect of Masonic Education is the only one which at present really receives any attention — normally it is well covered by the Lodge of Instruction. Suffice it to say that every Brother entering the Craft should be encouraged to make himself as proficient as possible in the Ritual at the earliest possible moment, otherwise any real progress in Masonic knowledge is impossible.

The third aspect of study, the spiritual aspect, is the most important and to this aspect I want to give more serious consideration. Much ink has been spilled by Masonic writers, many of them men of great erudition, in endeavouring to prove that Modern Speculative Masonry has developed out of the old Operative Craft. They have spent considerable time in research work in order to discover how the transition from Operative to Speculative came about and who were the first to become Speculative Masons.

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