Who Are Fit and Proper Persons to Become Freemasons?
R.W.Bro. L. H. Bergstrom
This theme raises in the minds of Masons a crucial question which must be faced by Lodge members every time a prospective candidate presents itself. As desirable as it is to have a regular expansion of membership, the well-being of Masonry has always depended far more upon the quality than upon the quantity of its in-take. Unfortunately, in our anxiety to demonstrate growth we may lose sight of the extreme importance of maintaining the highest possible standards in admitting new members. It should be reassuring to us to remember that the Masonic institution has never suffered, and in fact has been much stronger, when admission qualifications have been maintained rigorously.
In common with our Brethren of older days we must be concerned with two conditions:
- that the Masonic edifice remains sound in structure, and indeed, that it be strengthened wherever possible;
- that Masonic membership will have full value for all who come into it.
While we are primarily concerned with the first point at this time, both conditions are dependent on the quality of those admitted into Masonry. If Masonry admits unsuitable materials, it undermines its own foundations, just as surely as the builder who builds on sand or who accepts subgrade bricks for the superstructure. In the same process it would render itself unfit to contribute to the building of the human edifice of man. Fortunately, Masonry has always been able to attract men strong in righteousness, justice, purity, character, faith in God and love of man. Had it not been so, our institution would have crumbled generations ago.
Now then, who are fit and proper persons to become Masons? Every Lodge member is called upon to pass judgment on a fellowman when a new candidate is proposed. However hazardous the task of appraising a candidate, it must be done, and always with enough objectivity that the welfare of the lodge and of Masonry itself are kept clearly in view. Mistakes will be made and possibly occasionally a qualified petitioner may be rejected. However, to err in this way seems preferable to admitting unsuitable material by relaxing requirements.
In assessing a petitioner's qualifications, we are first of all governed by constitutional provisions. He must be free-born, of mature age and under the tongue of good report. The first two are clear-cut in their application, while the question of 'good report' can offer serious difficulty. In passing, we might note that on the question of 'free-born' we should interpret this as having to do with the candidate's freedom to make his own decisions in matters affecting his personal welfare, including the decision to seek admission to a lodge. He must come of his own free will and accord.
The age limitation provides us with some assurance of the maturity of the candidate, not only in decision-making, but also in the sense that by age twenty-one a man's character patterns are fairly clearly defined and developed, for others to observe and judge.
We come now to the much greater problem of evaluating the petitioner's fitness, usually thought of under the heading 'tongue of good report.' Not only the character committee but every voting member as well, must judge the fitness of the petitioner in this sense. For purposes of clarity, I suggest we look at this in terms of:
- Belief in God.
- Character: what is he like as a person?
- Motives: why does he want to become a Mason?
- Innate capacity to contribute to the good of the institution and to profit from its teachings.
Broadly speaking, character is revealed by what a man thinks, says and does. Oliver describes a man of good character, by alluding to Psalm XV, as "He that leadeth an uncorrupt life and useth no deceit in his tongue . . . if he swears unto his neighbour he disappointeth him not." He goes on to describe such a man as one who " . . . to a well-informed and accomplished mind adds elegance of manners and a conduct guided by principle . . . who contracted no debts he could not pay." Questions of a man's prosperity, popularity, prominence, social standing or business acumen should have little bearing on his claim to membership, at least in so far as judging character is concerned. As Masons, men meet 'on the level.' Rather then, the petitioner's fitness of character must be judged in terms of his standards of conduct in relation to himself, his family, his fellowmen and his God. His everyday activities and relationships should be able to stand examination in the light of day and reflect creditably upon him. Is he honest, fair and generous in his dealings with his fellow-men? Does he set a good example in meeting his family obligations? As a citizen, does he live circumspectly as regards law and established custom, and at the same time, does he apply himself diligently to civic responsibilities so essential to the orderly progress and development of community living and society in general? Does he guard his own reputation jealously and at the same time avoid anything which might harm the good name of others? Has he discernable qualities of sincerity, fidelity, humility and obedience? The sincere man knows where he stands, is not confused by worthless purposes and unworthy and unworthy ends. He is genuine in his words and acts, the man who can be trusted. This matter of sincerity is extremely important and it is easy to agree with Confucius who observed, "I do not see how a man without sincerity can be good for anything." Fidelity is essential in good character, because it ensures in the candidate that he is the kind of person who is solid, whose word is his bond, who can be counted on and who will be faithful in carrying through on all his undertakings. Humility is that quality which makes a man able to avoid over-confidence in himself, enables him to keep an open mind and be willing to learn, and ready to seek help and guidance from a greater strength and power than himself. He is the kind who truly come 'humbly soliciting to be admitted' to what Masonry has to offer. While it would be unrealistic to expect the ideal of these qualities in every candidate, unless they exist in clearly observable degree, his claim for membership should be regarded as a doubtful one. They are not likely to appear later, and since it is not the basic purpose of Masonry to reform men, these qualities should be at the outset of his Masonic career.
Possibly almost as important as his character qualifications are the motives which bring the prospective candidate to the point of petitioning for initiation. Why does he want to be a Mason? I suggest that we need to scrutinize his motivation very closely, because this knowledge will afford us useful insights into the kind of member he is likely to become. We stress this point of motives when we ask the candidate to assure us that he has not been biased by improper solicitation of friends, has not been influenced by mercenary or other unworthy motives and that he has been prompted only by a favourable opinion of the Order. We endeavour to draw from him further assurance that he is motivated by a desire to gain further knowledge and to make himself more generally serviceable to his fellow-men. However, at the stage when we seek this assurance, matters have progressed rather a long way, and it seems to me that the candidate's fitness in the matter of motives should be examined earlier. Surely there is some urge or drive which brings him to the point of seeking admission, something that he feels desirable about being a Mason. We must discover beforehand what that something is.
The word solicitation has a somewhat evil connotation, possibly because we usually associate with it the adjective 'improper'. Suffice it to say, on the one hand, that deliberate recruitment of candidates cannot be tolerated. On the other hand, a candidate may have been influenced by the knowledge of his better friends being Masons. It would be natural for him to consult one or more of them about the possibility of his joining. If those who are consulted by him are convinced that he would be a credit to the Lodge and that Masonry would be good for him, mild encouragement would seem to be in order providing the first move came from him. His motive to become associated fraternally with his better friends should not be held against him. At the same time, friendship alone would not necessarily be enough to ensure that he would become a good Mason. Further, a man of good basic character encouraged by his friends to become a Mason would not perforce be a good Mason. He becomes a 'fit' person only when he feels within himself the desire to join, when he has come to the conclusion on his own that there is something of inherent worth in Masonry with which he wishes to identify himself and become himself a part.
Occasionally a prospective candidate believes it will be to his business or social advantage to be a Mason. He may even wish to trade on the prestige value of Masonic membership. Few motives could be less worthy, and such a person should not be considered 'fit and proper.'
It has been the experience of some lodges to receive a candidate only to discover later that he has gone through the motions of the degrees for the prime purpose of being eligible for admission to other Orders having Blue Lodge membership as a prerequisite. Without inferring any criticism in any way of these Masonic groups, the motives of such a candidate are definitely questionable. His first duty and obligations are to the lodge which initiated him. He has no right to use the craft lodge as a stepping stone to other degrees if he has no intention of honouring the undertakings he gives when taking the three degrees. These are solemn obligations which cannot be given with 'tongue in cheek' or in the sense of meeting a technicality. If a prospective petitioner for initiation is known by his own declaration to be seeking membership only with a view to proceeding to other Orders and is without sense of responsibility toward Craft Masonry, he should not be considered a fit and proper person to be made a Mason. He would probably do credit neither to his Lodge nor to the other Orders.
Some petitioners for membership are motivated by the mistaken notion that a Masonic Lodge is a social club or some such organization where men join together for their pleasure or amusement. Unless his mind can be disabused of this misapprehension, and the real purposes of Masonic intercourse and participation made meaningful and acceptable, he is not yet properly ready for admission to the lodge.
What motives then mark the fit and proper person? In brief, he is the man who, from what he has been able to learn legitimately about what Masonry is, and from what he has observed of what Masons are like, has become convinced that he wants to become a part of it, to share in its privileges and mysteries, to learn what it has to teach, and to contribute of himself to its growth and perfection. He is motivated by a genuine desire to cultivate in himself those ideals which Masonry approves and encourages.
Closely linked with character and motives is the question of the potential of the prospective candidate to grow and mature within Masonry. If we can agree with Newton that the mission of Masonry is to "ennoble the souls of men" we must also conclude that something should happen to men when they come under Masonic influence. In the 'fit and proper' person we should look for a sufficient degree of intelligence which will enable him to profit from the educational aspects of Masonic activity. We would look for evidence of that humility and obedience needed by every person who sets out on the quest for knowledge, truth and light. He must be able to discipline his mind and learn to see and hear objectively. While it may not be the lot of every initiate to become a serious student of Masonry, there is something in it for every man who strives for it, and whose head and heart are so disposed as to live his Masonry as best he is able to discover its teachings.
And finally, the man who would be a Mason must have a philosophy well-rooted in that cornerstone of Freemasonry, the existence of a Supreme Being. When he enters the Lodge every candidate professes his faith in God as the G.A.O.T.U. This is a solemn declaration of faith basic to the whole Masonic philosophy. Abviously without this faith as his starting point a person could not be made a Mason.
We might now in retrospect summarize our thoughts in a more generalized way on our present theme. Who are fit and proper persons to be made Masons?
- Men free and mature in mind and nature;
- Men whose character, judgment and morals measure up to the highest standards in our society;
- Men whose daily living is exemplary;
- Men who are motivated to be Masons by a personal desire based on a sincere belief in the inherent worth of Freemasonry;
- Men who have the necessary sincerity, humility, fidelity and obedience to become willing and active subjects of the Masonic institution;
- Men who have an abiding faith in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Men.
It is not within the scope of this paper to deal with the functioning of the character committee, the W.M., or the ballot in relation to who may or may not be admitted into Masonry, at least in the technical sense. To every lodge member nevertheless falls a heavy responsibility in assessing the qualifications of a candidate in order to decide who is 'fit and proper.' Each time a new member is admitted, one thing is certain, something for the good or ill of Masonry has been done.
"Through wisdom is an house builded, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with pleasant and precious riches."