Lessons of the Master's Degree
Chas. A. Merz
THAT matchless lesson of the Master's Degree! When one contemplates its sublimity, its beauty, its majesty, well may he exclaim with the illustrious Fichte, "I raise my head to the threatening rock, the raging flood and the fiery tempest, and cry, 'I am eternal, and defy your might; break all upon me; and thou Earth, and thou Heaven, mingle in the wild tumult; and all ye elements, foam and fret yourselves, and crush in your conflict the last atom of the body I call mine; my WILL, secure in its own firm purpose, shall soar unwavering and bold over the wreck of the universe; for I have entered on my vocation and it is more enduring than ye are — it is eternal, and I am eternal like it!"' In that hour of darkness and dread, when pride is humbled, when fear of unknown and untried depths lays bare all of human frailty, its lesson comes to the ever hungry soul of man with the promise of eternal life and advancement. It is here that immortality is presented, not as a general truth, but as one individualised.
God sits serene and unchangeable beyond that awful and mysterious veil; and man, in humble faith and submission, must yield up the germ of immortality within him, to Him in whom the dead live and to whom all flesh shall come.
When his courage and fortitude must need be tried by Miolner's murderous representative, with its impartial, resistless, crushing force, and the chamber of longest tarrying yawns for his reception; in the hour of death, of judgment, of retribution, he must tread the wine-press alone! In its own strength or weakness, clothed or unclothed, in its own robe of submission and penitence, must the soul wage this dreadful conflict. Alone in the Judgment of Amenti, must the soul, unveiled and self-knowing; its depths of memory and consciousness broken up; the secrets of the heart laid open, advance toward the Goddess Thumme, while Anubis and Horus weigh the actions and mete out the sentence which consigns it to unknown woe or to joy unspeakable. This latter we read on an inscription: "Found favor before the great God; they dwell in glory, where they live a heavenly life; the bodies they have quitted will forever repose in their tombs, whilst they rejoice in the life of the supreme God." On the one side, the ostrich feather; on the other the human heart.
The lesson of the Master's Degree is burdened with symbolic meanings of the most sublime and exalted character, It teaches "the hope of a blessed abode, where the sun grows not dim, where the shadows gather not; where there is a sea of glass, a great white throne, the marriage supper of the Lamb, white robes and golden harps-all imagery that brings over the soul multitudinous and transporting thoughts of splendor, glory, joy and praise.
"In this definite outline does the hope of Heaven end? Nay — it does not here begin. Not in the hope of a blessed abode — not in the hope of eternal rest by houris fanned — but in the hope of the glory of God — in the hope of eternal advancement — yea, even in the knowledge that there is no home, nor stay, nor station on the wild bright way we know not whither, we shall spurn these heavens of the dull imagination. From the colonnades and temples, in gardens Elysian, where fancy hears the footfalls of the loftiest of time, past thrones, principalities and constellations, past crowns whose jewels win the lifted eyes of Gabriel and Michael, up through laws and harmonies which it hath not entered into the heart of man or angel to conceive-which are to music as is music to the grating of a dungeon hinge, shall rise the flying soul — and the blessed air shall echo in her shouting, far o'er the lost ideals of this world, Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving to the Lord God Almighty, who calls and calls us through the Universe of Glory."
Save for the avowal of his belief in a Supreme Being, Masonry asks nothing, demands nothing. She seeks to enforce no dogma, no theology. Each has his conscience, his reason, will and understanding, to make diligent search for himself; to choose, to reject, to believe, to consider, to act — each must answer for himself alone.
God made man perfect, but not immutable. His heritage is to persevere. His will is ordained, by Nature, free and untrammelled by inextricable fate or any necessity whatsoever.
The future life, clearly revealed as a reward, not alone to the philosopher, but to every humble, pious and enquiring soul, means far more than the mere prolongation of conscious existence in the form of human life. Deep down in the heart it is written, "If a man die, he shall live again." A voice within us whispers the words, "Man shall never die." All around is change, revolution and dissolution, but no death.
Day follows night, stars set and rise; the Summer fades into Autumn; Winter with his icy blasts, blows golden Autumn away and melts into Spring. Can it be that man alone, for whom all else revives, shall know no evolution?
Immortality banishes all pain, all fear, all time, all tears and hymns into our souls the enchanting words, "Thou livest forever."
Wondrous and alluring to man is this question of immortality, with its correlative speculation upon his inability to pass beyond the region of matter and space.
With all his reason and logic, man has never been able to demonstrate that physical phenomena can be explained by the mere external elements presented. Furthermore, there must always be acknowledged the existence of a force or power outside of the physical or material. Matter cannot spring spontaneously into being — for no matter how fundamental or microscopic the ultimate subdivision from which it springs — there remains unexplained the mystery of its existence. Man is compelled to fall back upon the Creator of Matter and the Giver of those laws, in obedience to which it assumes its manifold forms. Without this Creative force, he is in the open sea of Logic and Geometry — very remote from the world of realities. Every Religion and Philosophy has shown a constant tendency to soar away into realms of absolute idealism or to grovel in the grossest of materialism,
What, after all, is human life — knocking every hour at death's door — closing at last in darkness and despair?
There can be found no more pathetic nor genuine record of human existence than that which the Book of Ecclesiastes offers. Its story is wrung from the very heart of one who had followed the round of worldly pleasures, who had revelled in the resources of knowledge and fame, power and wealth, the feast and the dance, in laughter and mirth, but who sums up the whole as "vanity and vexation of spirit." In his gloomy retrospect, there was nothing upon which he could gaze with satisfaction-nothing in all that paegantry of greatness. He was a slave, in bondage and dependence, and he reviled the weakness that made him such a slave. He had strayed from his integrity. There was in his past of sensual dreams noth- ing upon which his eye could repose with satisfaction, naught that filled his soul with pleasure or left a fragrance behind. What tears, what blots when finis comes.
What, after all, is man's life but a series of definite and successive changes of structure and composition, taking place within him without destroying his identity-the twofold internal movement of composition and decomposition, at once continuous and general?
Our inability to consider Matter as being or becoming non-existent, is an immediate consequence upon the nature of thought. Thought itself consists in the establishment of relations. It is as impossible to think of something becoming nothing as it is to think of nothing becoming something-for the reason that "nothing" can never become an object of consciousness. The annihilation of Matter is unthinkable for the same reason that the creation of Matter is unthinkable. Nothing of all that dies, dies forever. Neither has anything that is born received a fundamentally new existence. Nothing which is dead can ever begin to live, and nothing which lives can begin to die. Life cannot die any more than can Matter be destroyed. What then is death? Nothing! Death can make an end of life, but not of existence. It has been said that the man who thinks his existence is limited to his present life is an animated nothing. We say "I am" but in saying this, we express only onehalf of the sentence, the other half of which is "I am not." It is utterly impossible for man to have a thought of "being" apart from its opposite of "non-being." Also it is utterly impossible for a man to know that he is alive-without at the same time distinguishing, in thought, the opposite of life, and, "knowing the one equally as well as the other, and, so far as being is in knowing, being one as well as the other." In our acceptation of the term Life, Death would be the very opposite of it, but he who has not perceived that Life and Death are equal, has not rightly understood his philosophy.
This, the Master's Degree, is then the transcendent Degree in Ancient Craft Masonry, than which there is and can be no higher. To live by Faith, looking beyond manifest good and evil in this life of unceasing change. To live by Hope — the hope of a future existence which serves to equalize human conditions as to their capacity for happiness and enables man to cast aside doubt and fear. To live by Charity — with a ready heart and hand for the needy, the suffering and the erring. To be conscious of an inward longing and desire after things that are true and excellent. Faith, Hope and Charity, their gifts sealed by a conscience void of offense-it is by these things that man should live — in these alone is to be found the consummation of and the highest Degree in Masonry.
The day must come when Nature's trust will fail. This Earth and Heaven now in their age-long Spring, will have their Autumn and Winter; when the stars will fade and fall like leaves; when the Sun will cut short his circuits; when the visible monuments of Creative Power will cease to be; when all things fashioned by man for his comfort and pleasure will decay as the current of time sweeps on, undermining and engulfing him and all his plans, but "Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences, the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected," will remain unchangeable, eternal. Its truths are the same yesterday, today and forever, and they will exist though the earth be removed and the Heavens be no more. Its truths are immortal and eternal. Geometry does not concern itself with the essence of natural bodies; it fixes upon the notion of extension, a notion independent of the senses and with this perfectly ideal and abstract datum, developes the vast series of its constructions and theorems. The object of Geometry is not any being in itself-it is an idea. This constitutes the peculiar solidity and uncontested certainty of the science. We learn from the Harleain Manuscript — "The fifth Science is called Geometry and it teaches a man to mete and measure of the earth and other things — which Science is Masonrie."
There are objects which appear to defy the boldest doubt, supposing that doubt to be sincere. Such are Mathematical and Geometrical truths, Extension in general, Number, the Angle, Time and the like. "For whether I wake or sleep, two and three always make five and the square never has more than four sides; and it does not scam possible that truths so clear and apparent can be suspected of any uncertainty or falsehood."
"The opposite of straightaway is return. But return on the same line were not so opposite as on a different line, if it be the least different; the record of this is the acutest angle. But to effect return, we must make another angle to the point of departure. Perpendicular departure and return are now recorded in three angles. We find the result justified — a triangle contains two right angles. Euclid is for us; who can be against us?"
In the Old Constitutions of the Medieaval Freemasons, the most prominent place of all the Sciences is given to Geometry and it was made the exponent of its principles and the key to its mysteries, thus making it synonymous with Masonry. It is the Science of exact relations and its truths are unchanging and ever and forever reproducible.
"The lapse of time, the ruthless hand of ignorance and the devastations of war have laid waste and destroyed many valuable monuments of antiquity on which the utmost exertions of human genius have been employed. Even the Temple of Solomon, so spacious and magnificent, escaped not the unsparing ravages of barbarous force. Freemasonry, notwithstanding, has still survived. The attentive ear receives the sound from the instructive tongue and the mysteries of Masonry are safely lodged in the repository of faithful breasts. Yet all these must fade as the leaf fades and die as the flowers die. When all that is mortal has perished, Geometry will remain as unerring and eternal as the truths that it upholds."
Religion plants itself upon the fundamental principle that the Books of the Old and New Testaments are inspired and are the ONLY infallible rule of faith and conduct. From the Scriptures, it deduces a system of doctrine controlled at every point by the idea of the sovereignty of God. Human freedom and divine love are affirmed and all deep and ethical truths are either affirmed or taken for granted, but foremost of all, God controls beforehand all His creatures and their actions. It teaches the trinity of the God-head; man morally depraved by nature; Christ an atoning Saviour; justi- fication by faith in the Redeemer; eternal happiness in the other world for believers and eternal punishment for unbelievers or the impenitent.
Masonry teaches a belief in God as a necessary qualification for admission; the acceptance of the "Book of the Law" as a revelation of his will. Its fundamental principle is the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man. Beyond this belief in a Supreme Being and the "Book of the Law," no religious test is allowed. The laws governing Masons obliges them to "that religion in which all men agree," leaving their particular opinions to themselves; but if a Mason "rightly understand himself, will never be a stupid atheist or irreligious libertine."
Masonry enforces all rules of conduct growing out of this fundamental principle. It has been called a "system of ethics, moral, religious and philosophical, which relate to the social, ethical and intellectual progress of man." "A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law" while brotherly love "is the foundation and copestone, the cement and glory of this ancient Fraternity." Masons are taught "that every human being has a claim upon your kind offices, so that we enjoin it upon you to do good unto all, while we recommend it more especially to the household of the faithful." The Mason is taught that his duties to the Fraternity do not conflict with, but are subordinate to his duty "to God, his Country, his Family, his Neighbor and Himself." The tenets of Masonry are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, and the Cardinal Virtues, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. He is charged to be "a good man and true" to be "a peaceful citizen," to "work diligently, live creditably and act honorably by all men." It makes the law of God the rule and guide of its works as well as of its faith. Most impressively does it teach the immortality of the soul and the resurrection to a future life where the Great Architect of the Universe presides.
Masonry presupposes this avowal of a belief in the existence of the Supreme Architect.
On several of these fundamental principles, Masonry and Religion are in full accord. The laws of Masonry are founded upon the idea of the nature and perfection of God and the promulgation of this idea has ever been the object and design of the Institution. It has been declared a substitute for Christianity, which it is not. It teaches religious truths but this is not to be confounded with the Christian religion as a form of worship. For the most part, it is believed that Masons hold very positive religious ideas; they stand by the broad facts of human consciousness; they maintain the existence and unity of a personal God and affirm the perfect order of the Universe, This order lies at our very door. The Heavens, the mountains, the valleys are filled with it. The eye and the heart only are wanting. Every object in Nature brings the Supreme Architect near and displays his order.
No poetry is so sublime as that of the Psalmist, Prophet and Apostle who connects the Great Architect with the green pastures and the still waters, draws lessons from the courses of Orion and Arcturus and gather material from every portion of the visible Universe to portray the Divine order and beauty. What are the creations of man but copies of the thoughts of God? Truth to Nature is the sole test of beauty. That which has no counterpart in God's actual world, has no favor in man's ideal world. Whatever departs from the plan of the Supreme Architect and his order, does violence to human taste and must be rejected as violent and repulsive "Man the Creator is but man the copyist." Order is Heaven's first law. Go where we will we cannot escape it. It reigns su- preme.
Masonry encourages action rather, than profession. It looks more carefully to deeds than to words. It inculcates only that which is wholesome in its tendency, healthful in its influences and of sound as well as of practical importance. As far as anything can, short of Inspired Wisdom, it meets the necessities of social life, throws restraints about the passions of man, cheers the dreary path in which he travels on this earth and arouses his noblest feelings in behalf of his brother man. It does not provide for our spiritual welfare, but, in every manner possible, it prepares us for the reception of those higher and nobler truths which God has and is ever revealing to us, which truths themselves are sufficient to direct us in the path which leads to a glorious immortality.
Masonry has always been of assistance to Religion and has done much to elevate it to its present spiritual plane. By its mode of teaching, it has assisted in emancipating Religion from formalism and from many opinions and propositions existing in the form of positive assertions, the truth of which are supposed to have been previously shown as founded on the Scripture and which are not for discussion but for acceptance. Such teachings as these are prone to degenerate into mere assertions of opinion, without ground and without regard to the aspect they may present to others. Religion is not necessarily fundamentally distinguished from morality, for it is contained entire in the precept: "Love your fellow man and God." Reason may pacify our passions by elevating them to their true object, but Reason is not enough. It is the love of God that is the principle at once of morality, religion and society. It tends to unite all men into one family and "to make one soul of all souls by the community of one only love."
While the imperfections of Religion have been touched upon, these imperfections have been gradually diminishing and are such only as measured by an absolute standard. Speaking in a general way, the religions that have been current in each age and among each people, have been as near an approximation to the truth as it was then possible for men to receive. The more or less concrete forms in which it has embodied the truth, have simply been the means of making thinkable what would otherwise have been unthinkable. ' So, for the time, they have served to increase its im- pressiveness. The consciousness of an Inscrutable Power, manifested to us through many and varied phenomena, shows a constant tendency to grow clearer, and to free itself from many imperfections. There is the certainty that such a power exists and it is equally certain that its nature transcends intuition and imagination. Towards this point all intelligence has ever been progressing. Science must eventually reach it as she nears her limits and Religion is relentlessly impelled toward it by comment and criticism. This is the conclusion that we are bound to reach finally, without reserve or qualification, for the reason that it satisfies the most rigorous demands of logic and it grants to Religion the widest possible sphere of action.
Masonry came not with observation. We are not concerned with the precise moment when it sprang into existence. Its growth has been silent and gradual, step by step. Thousands have found it a help to their daily life and action. This silent establishment, without any of the usual paraphernalia of great revolutions and radical changes, this steady growth from generation to generation, is a conclusive token of its grandeur and stability. No other institution has or ever could have marshalled and put in motion the compre- hensive array of means, motives and influences for the betterment of mankind and held forth to the astonished eyes of the world so finished and complete a system of order and perfection in its work.
Ours is an age of the greatest intellectual activity. Mental at- tainments, skill, power and achievements were never so highly esteemed as now. In former times, under different degrees of culture, physical strength, accident of birth and hereditary rank and wealth have successively been the measures of greatness and the objects of ambition and desire, But today the aristocracy of the world is the aristocracy of intellect and the gifts of the mind are everywhere deemed the beet gifts and for this reason, Masonry is being better understood and appreciated and a keener interest is being taken in all of her esoteric teachings.
More than six thousand years of research have failed to reveal to man the latest forces of nature and to lay bare her hidden springs. Composition, decomposition, crystallization, cohesion, gravitation — are but names for our ignorance — the boundaries and confines of our knowledge. The statement that the apple falls by gravitation remains unchallenged today, but we know no more than did the wise philosopher who ascribed its fall to gravitation. The utmost that we can say is that Nature pursues her course and that events occur under certain favoring conditions. We are utterly unable to conceive of any innate or permanently inherent force in Matter, but by all the laws of thought we are driven to attribute all power to mind, intelligence, volition. It is just here that the Master's Degree with its beautiful symbolism helps us scale the heights and fathom the depths of these mysteries. It gives us glimpses between the leaves of the immeasurable volume where God has unloosed the seals.
It teaches us that where Reason fails, Faith must usurp its place; that what we know not now, we shall know hereafter; that the Great Architect is ever actively present in the Universe, upholding all things by the word of his power, guiding the course of events by his own perpetual flat, ordaining the seeming evil no less than the seeming good. This Master Mason's degree is the summum bonum of Ancient Craft Masonry in that it affords us, as can no other Degree, that sublime faith which looks within the veil, which has not a lingering doubt or fear, but can say — "I know in whom I have believed; I know that my Redeemer liveth.