What Is Masonry? 2
M.W.B. R. V. Harris
One of the most impressive and touching things in human history is that all peoples have set apart and venerated certain interests. Guilds and societies have been formed to cultivate an interest in art, science, philosophy, fraternity and religion. This interest conserves the hard-won, precious inheritance of humanity; trains men in their service; and sends through the common life of mortals the light and glory of the Ideal. Of such is Masonry which unites all these high interests and brings to their service a vast world-wide fraternity of free and devout men. Built upon a foundation of spiritual faith and moral idealism, its mission is to make men friends, and to refine and exalt their lives. More than an institution, more than a tradition, more than a society, Masonry is one of the forms of Divine Life upon earth.
There is a common notion that Masonry is a secret society because of its secret rites, and the signs and grips by which members recognize each other. Its principles are published in its writings; its purpose and laws are known, as also the time and place of its meetings. When all men shall practise its simple precepts, the innocent secrets of Masonry will be laid bare, its mission be accomplished and its labour done.
Masonry is in no sense a political party, still less a society organized for social agitation. Our generation, like those gone before, is full of schemes for reform and betterment of mankind. Why do these schemes not succeed? Why does the wisest and noblest plan do no more than half what its advocates labour so heroically to bring about? Because there is not sufficient men fine enough in soul, large enough in sympathy and noble enough in nature to make the dream come true. Indolence, impurity, greed, injustice, meanness of spirit, and above all, jealousy, are obstacles that thwart the nobler social aspirations of humanity. Therefore, when Masonry, instead of identifying itself with particular schemes of reform, devotes all her benign energy and influence to ennobling the souls of men, she is doing fundamental work on behalf of all high enterprises. By as much as she succeeds, every noble cause succeeds; by as much as she falls, everything falls! Masonry therefore best serves society by building men up to spiritual faith and character.
Surely the way of Masonry is wise. Against the ancient hostilities and inhumanities of the world, it wages eternal war, not with vengeance nor violence; but by softening the hearts of men and inducing a better spirit. How effective is our individual puny warfare against evil and ignorance compared with the warfare which Masonry has been waging for ages against them.
Masonry is not a religion, but it is religious. Often it had been objected that some men leave the Church and enter the Masonic Lodge, finding there a religious home. That may be so but the fault may be, not of Masonry, but of the Church. While Masonry is not a Church is has preserved some things of highest importance to the spiritual realm - among them the right of each individual soul to its own religious faith. A vast change of heart is now, taking place in the religious world. By an exchange of thought and courtesy and a closer personal touch, the various sects are learning to unite the things most worth-while and least open to debate. They are moving toward the Masonic position; when they arrive Masonry will witness a scene which she has prophesied for ages. High above all dogma that divide, all bigotries that blind, all bitterness that beclouds, will be written the simple words of one eternal religion - The Fatherhood of God, The Brotherhood of Man, the Moral Law, The Golden Rule and the hope of a life everlasting.
What is Masonry? No one may ever hope to define a spirit so gracious, moreover, definitions may be dangerous; but perhaps the following is the best description of Masonry so far given:
"Masonry is the activity of closely united men who, employing symbolical forms borrowed principally from the mason's trade and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble themselves and others, and thereby to bring about a universal league of mankind, which they aspire to exhibit even now on a small scale."
How fitting that the idea and art of building should be made the basis of a great order of men which has not other aim than the upbuilding of humanity in Faith, Freedom and Friendship. Thus Masonry labours, linked with the constructive genius of mankind, and so long as it remains true to its Ideal it cannot be overcome.
This is the first in a series of lectures prepared by Most Worshipful R. V. Harris many years ago and are now reprinted to allow this generation of Masons to benefit from the wisdom of generations gone by.