Freemasonry and Fraternalism

Don Sargent, Gray Lodge No. 329

San Antonio, Texas

July 1993

I make no pretense that it is a piece of scholarly research. It surely is not. This paper is, however, my thoughts and opinions on the topic of fraternalism as it relates to the Fraternity. These thoughts and opinions, if not those of a scholar, have been arrived at after much thought and soul searching. Perhaps they will be of some benefit.

I shall not dwell upon the mere forms of Masonry, but I shall endeavor to emphasize some of the deep significance of the truths which these forms represent. For let me say to you, my brethren, with all the earnestness of a profound personal belief in what I say, that no organization, whatever its antiquity, whatever its pretensions and ostensible purposes, whether it be church or state or fraternal order, has any valid reason for existence, any just claim upon the consideration of any man, unless it exist not merely as an end in itself, but as a living vital means of some worthy end. If, therefore, our beloved order has and shall continue to have any valid reason for existence, that reason must be found in the vast membership of Masonry grasping, practicing, and exemplifying in their daily lives as men and citizens the true spirit of fraternalism which gave birth to Masonry and which every symbol of Masonry is intended to typify. For after all, fraternalism is a spirit rather than a method. And it is not the peculiar privilege but the very duty of Masonry, as the dean of fraternal orders, to preserve, develop, and exemplify this spirit of fraternalism as a vital reality in the shaping of lives of men.

What is this spirit of fraternalism? It is too big for definition, for surely it is impossible to define a spirit. Every definition implies something of an analysis. But one cannot analyze a spirit any more than it is possible to paint a sunbeam or mark the limits of infinity. But we do recognize the glory of sunbeams when we see them, and when we look forth into limitless space, we recognize the boundless immensity of the infinite. And so it is with this spirit of fraternalism. While it is so vast and all pervasive as to defy adequate definition or analysis, we are able, never-theless, to recognize and appreciate its manifold manifestations in every relationship of life. It involves mutual respect and mutual toleration. As has been well said by one of my mentors, "it involves mutual respect of class for class, race for race, church for church, individual for individ-ual." It involves mutual toleration for each other's views, mutual respect for each other's feelings, mutual regard for each other's rights, mutual interest in each other's welfare, mutual desire for each other's prosperity, mutual regret for each other's misfortune. It involves helping the weak, needy and oppressed, as well as counseling, forgiving, and redeeming the erring. It is exemplified in the observance of every commandment of the decalogue amplified by the broader injunction of Jesus "that ye love one another" Fraternalism is the parable of the Faithful Steward, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is the golden rule-that we do unto others as we would that others do unto us. It is to be just, but it is to temper justice with mercy. It is to be merciful, but it is to supplement mercy with justice.

These are a few of the things involved in this spirit of fraternalism as it ought to be exemplified in the simple relationships of man to man. But it is not confined to these the simpler relationships of life. It involves also the relationships of the individual to the community, the state, and the nation. Just to the extent that the individual citizen shall come to grasp the true spirit of fraternalism as a guide to his own person conduct, just to that extent will he meet the duties and responsibilities of citizenship in that exalted spirit which recognizes the common wel-fare as paramount and superior to his own personal ends. Just to the extent that a decisive majority of the people of any community shall become imbued with the spirit of fraternalism, just to that extent will that community give evidence of the high civic spirit which unhesitatingly subordinates the interests, or the supposed interests, of any particular class to the promotion of the common good. Just to the extent that the citizenship of any state shall come to think in terms of fraternalism, just to that extent will the institutions and laws of that state reflect as a prevailing motive the greatest good to the greatest number. Just to that extent will its penal laws and institutions embody the idea of social protection through social reformation rather than through social vengeance. Just to the extent that the nations of Earth shall come to recognize this spirit of fraternalism as the only sure and safe guide, not only in their own internal affairs, but in their rela-tionships with each other, by grasping its basic thought in the common brotherhood of man through the common fatherhood of God, just to that extent will international injustice, jealousy, hate and warfare with all of its bitterness, brutality, and bloodshed, want, waste and wrong tend to vanish from the face of the Earth. When we consider the all persuasive force and movement of this spirit of fraternalism, is it any wonder that it deifies adequate definition or analysis? And is it any wonder that we find ourselves forced back to the simple but all comprehensive words of the Man of Galilee when turning to his followers-simple fishermen and others of the lowly to whom no system of ethics, no scheme of life up to that time promulgated had offered an incentive or unveiled a hope-and said, "All ye are brethren."?

And now, what is the meaning of this spirit of fraternalism to us as Masons? In pursuing this inquiry it behooves us ever to bear in mind that not only every symbol of our order but its very name is derived from a purely constructive science. Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to how far back into the shadows of remote antiquity we may or may not be able to trace our origin, it is obvious that our fraternity is based on ties, real or invented, to practical builders-architects and artificers. Whether we trace this beginning back to the Dionysian Architects who were, according to legend, transplanted from Egypt to the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon and from there to a body of workmen under the direction of Hiram, the widow's son, sent by another Hiram (King of Tyre) to aid King Solomon of Israel in the construction on Mount Moriah of the first great temple to the one living God; or whether we trace them to the architec-tural guilds of the middle ages; or whether we trace them to Knights Templar fleeing an unjust persecution, it makes no difference. In any event, today's Masonry is based on the builder's trade and the legends surrounding it. Today's Masonry is no longer concerned with the building of actual buildings, but with the building of character and self respecting manhood. That is what Masonry means and has meant for more than two hundred years. (We know that the Fraternity has stood for since it "went public" in 1717). That broadly is what the true spirit of fraternalism ought to mean to every Mason today. Ever Mason should be as distinctively a builder now as were the Masons that built the great Gothic buildings. He should be a builder of manhood and character, a builder of that self-respecting self-reliant citizenship which is the true foundation of collective effort without which no nation long can stand. The Lodge should be the school of manhood and citizenship, the school of patriotism. It should be the school of democracy and equality. For in the lodge room men from every walk of life, rich and poor, the exalted and the lowly, meet on the common plane and square of pure democracy. Of the fact that Masonry has been, indeed, the school of liberty, the history of our own nation furnishes ample evidence. George Washington was a Mason, and of the important generals and commanders who served him, from that battle scarred veteran, Israel Putnam to that beardless stripling, LaFayette, all were Masons. Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the most enlightenedly democratic document every penned by man, many were said to be Masons. Every one of those generals and statesmen was a builder. Not one was a mere iconoclast.

Since the Masons past and present, by past tradition and present purpose were and are builders, there is no room in Masonry for pure negations. While one of the great missions of Masonry is to combat error, that combat should be waged not in any spirit of wanton iconoclasm. Its aim should be to combat error by the constructive process of building up the truth. Faith, hope, and charity should be the cardinal virtues of every man and more especially every Mason. They are positive virtues. They contain no element of pure negation. No atheist can be made a Mason. To be a Mason a man must have faith. Faith in God, faith in his fellow men, faith in the boundless possibilities of human development. No Mason can be a pessimist. He must have hope. Hope for mankind. No Mason can be a misanthrope. He must have charity. Charity which covers and excuses the weakness of his fellow men born of a conscious need for charity for his own shortcomings, charity which covers a multitude of sins. No man can be a builder, and therefore no man can be a true Mason, unless he possess these three cardinal, positive virtues. For without faith he will have no incentive to build either in the field of material or of ethical things. Without hope he will have no reason to build for the present or the future. Without charity he cannot build even for himself, and much less for others, for selfishness fur-nishes too narrow and mean a foundation to sustain any lasting superstructure.

So long as the spirit of fraternalism as exemplified in Masonry shall find its well springs in these cardinal virtues with their inexhaustible incentive to high achievement, Masonry cannot die. It will live because it ought to live. For whatever may be said as to the truth or falsity of the postulate of the survival of the fittest, as taught in the doctrine of material evolution, the truth must be granted as to things ethical, else there is no faith, no hope, no charity. Unless we can believe in the final survival of truth, justice, and morality-simply because they are the fittest and most enduring of the incentives of human action-we must abandon our faith in God, our hope for mankind, our charity and love for our fellow man.

But if Masonry is to survive it must live up to its constructive traditions. It must be forward-looking and progressive. Progressive but not in that radical and iconoclastic spirit which would break completely with the past. Such a course would be to cancel that greatest as-set of civilization found in the accumulated experience and knowledge of the ages. Forward-looking, but measuring every step against the example of the past.

Civilization may well be likened unto a vast edifice not yet completed but which has been in process of construction throughout all the ages since man's creation. It has progressed thus far through infinite labor. Its component parts have been shaped in the toil and cemented by the blood and tears of countless generations. Its foundations lie deep rooted in the experience of the past. Its topmost pinnacle must pierce the distant future. Every age must contribute to its con-struction. No age can ignore this foundation without marring or wrecking the whole edifice. There can be no constructive progress without cooperation. There can be no true cooperation without an observance of law and order and a proper regard for duly constituted authority which is the very corner stone of the social compact. The spirit of fraternalism in its all pervasive ram-ifications is a spirit of cooperation. If, therefore, the Masonic order is to fulfill its high mission as the great exponent and exemplar of that spirit, every Mason must be taught not only to be a law abiding citizen but that he should cast his influence on the side of law and order.

No age has ever offered such vast possibilities for usefulness through the application of the constructive principles of Masonry as the does the present. The edifice of civilization is now being shaken to its very foundations by the most relentless, ruthless, and destructive contest that the world has every known. If peace, blessed and lasting peace, is ever to come after that great conflict it must come under Almighty God through a final recognition of the spirit of fraternalism as the great constructive and cohesive principle which is the true mission of Masonry to teach, practice, and exemplify.