Vol. XIX No. 7 — July 1941

Treasures of Inheritance

Master Masons possess treasures by inheritance beyond much fine gold in value, beyond cataloging in print. So many and so varied they are, appealing to so many men of so many different minds, that no two brethren would list them alike.

But all will agree on some; that all who will listen may restate them to themselves, these pages are written.

Chief among the treasures of inheritance of Masons is the fact that we have an inheritance from the dim and distant past. A new, just-formulated society of men might borrow all the teachings of church and Ancient Craft; might use all the symbols of all religions; might teach all that moralists and philosophers have taught and yet lack the force and fire and even awe with which they are surrounded — as the Shekinah of old surrounded the Ark of the Covenant — because of their age and their transmission, unimpaired, from generation to generation.

Be not shocked at the statement that the moral teachings of Freemasonry are not its greatest treasures of inheritance. Dr. Joseph Fort Newton — he of the golden pen and brotherhood — has expressed a poetic conception of the Landmarks of Freemasonry as five in number: the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, the moral law, the Golden Rule, and the hope of a life everlasting.

Beautiful and beyond description in value though they are, these are not exclusively the Fraternity’s. Church after church has taught and is teaching the same fundamental verities. All were made plain in Vulgate and Septuagint, long before the King James version of the Bible was made or the art of printing invented. One must look longer and dig deeper to find the treasure of inheritance purely Masonic.

One of our treasured inheritances needs but little digging to find, nor need one enter a dark place to find “the hidden riches of secret places” as Isaiah 45:3 phrases it.

Religions and church all teach of a God, and of a future life. Without dogma, creed, or form of worship, Freemasonry teaches of God and future life.

Does it seem a distinction without a difference? Think it through! Religions teach of Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, Muhammad, Vishnu of a thousand different Dieties and as many forms of a future life, from the happy hunting ground of the American Indian to the fabled land of Houris in Paradise of the Muslim; the golden streets and milk and honey of the Biblical literalist to the Nirvana of the Buddhist.

Freemasonry teaches only of The Great Architect of the Universe. Call Him by what name you will, and worship Him by what ceremonies you will, you may still stay within the framework of Freemasonry. That there is a life beyond the grave and that man does rise from the dead is a belief no more Freemasonry’s own than it is the church’s own. It is of the certainty of the life beyond, not any specified form or kind or character of life beyond, which is one of Freemasonry’s inheritances from that wonderful day in the unknown past when toleration arose from intolerance and men’s minds began to free themselves from dogmatic teaching and a “one true doctrine” which excluded all others as false.

Dig deeply enough, and the searcher will come actually into the treasury of his past. Here he will find, if not the Landmarks of the order — for who is wise enough definitely and with finality to state just what they are and what they are not? — he will find at least that there are Landmarks; certain unchanged and unchangeable fundamentals which make Freemasonry and prevent it from ever being anything else.

It matters not that scholars quarrel over the Landmarks; that Mackey listed them only to be widely disputed; that some jurisdictions call many Masonic truths Landmarks which are obviously not; that others refuse to compile at all. That there are Landmarks all Freemasons know. Just how deep they go, just where they begin and end, is for each of us to determine for himself. But the possession of this right so to determine and the resulting necessity thus to study in order to determine, surely are among the treasures of Freemasonry’s inheritance from the dim and distant past.

Not least among these treasures is the sense of oneness with the millions of men who have knelt before our altar, making the same vows, moved by the same urge, led by the same Light as are we. Unknown and forever to be unknown; unsung and never to be storied in this world; merely for the little space of a man’s life members of a brotherhood which has girdled the world and turned mens hearts from self to selflessness, the unknown brethren who have made Freemasonry what it is and passed it on to us, even as we keep it what it has been to pass on to our sons and their sons’ sons forever — truly this is a treasured inheritance without money and without price!

In the treasury of antiquity from whence the eager searcher may bring forth his inheritance will be found an expert and effective development of the art of teaching, the more remarkable that it came into being through men unlettered and unlearned. Reference is made to the setting of moral laws, rules of conduct, principles of character and a successful road of travel for character through life, within the frame of builders’ tools and terms and truths.

To all the world Freemasonry has given “on the square,” a “square man,” “on the level,” so that in every land and tongue the words mean the same. To her own world Freemasonry has given all her teachings by means of symbols derived from builders’ art: the ashlars, rough and perfect; the compasses, which scribe and circumscribe; the level, square, and plumb; the cornerstone; the wardens’ pillars; the Lesser Lights; and of course the ascent of the Winding Stairs and the Legend of Hiram Abif.

Does it seem a matter little and undistinguished that the great teachings of Masonry should have been transmitted by symbols derived from the builders’ art? It is indeed a matter over which to marvel!

For it came into being in an antiquity no man knoweth how great; long before the public school, the invention of printing, and the dissemination of knowledge made ignorance a matter of choice or indifference, no longer one of necessity.

In the days when the master builders erected the great cathedrals of Europe education was confined to the priests of the church and a few rare spirits who became the teachers, the artists, the engineers and scientists of their time Those were days in which no man could read, had ever seen a book, or gone to any school other than those simple classes designed to teach men how to act towards and in church. On the great building project the King’s Master Mason — who might be symbolized today by the Engineer-in-Charge — indeed had knowledge, otherwise some artist’s dream in stone had never come into being. The craftsmen cut their stones and placed them by direction; they knew nothing of mathematics, of stress and strain, of strength of materials, of weight of stone (and so the size of flying buttress) or how a roof should be made so that it would not push the walls apart.

They knew only their craft, and this they learned through long apprenticeship and of learning to do by doing.

And yet, somehow, somewhere, in some way, these same simple and ignorant men began to associate ideas of morality, right living, decent thinking, and honest character with those things with which they worked. Gradually through the years ideas became attached to tools; soon the tools began to express the ideas. In the course of centuries a philosophy of life grew and intertwined and became a part of the practice of stone cutting and setting, building and wall making, construction and plan, until in the late fifteen-and early six- teen-hundreds, Freemasonry was no longer an organization only of artisans, but of men who thought and taught by their tools as well as worked with them.

From this came the practice of admitting “Speculatives” to the Craft. Gentlemen of wealth, wanting the culture and the education which was by now an inheritance of the stone Masons, sought membership in lodges. Fellowship developed between worker and lord of the manor; the teachings of the one were gladly accepted by the other, and the miracle of Freemasonry’s development from an operative craft to a speculative science was accomplished.

In this lies a part of the treasure of inheritance which is wholly Freemasonry’s, shared with no other organization, no religion, no philosophy, but all our own.

He engages in wishful thinking who contends that Freemasonry has come down through the ages without change or development. It has changed and developed much, and to think that the Craft today is as the Craft of a few hundred years ago is without real foundation. Everything human changes with the years. Those matters which change not are more than human; they are the eternal verities.

Does some brother arise to say “the church does not change?” Ah, but it does! Go to a cathedral today; see its proportions, listen to its service, its organ, its choir; think of the wealth invested in it; imagine its influence. Then think back to a day more than nineteen centuries ago when the Christian church was one Teacher and twelve Apostles, whose church was a hillside, whose service was a parable, whose music was only that from birds; whose poverty was evident, whose influence was as yet nothing — and you will not say “the church does not change.” What has NOT changed is the life within the church, nor the Character of Him on Whom it is founded the eternal verities in church, as in Masonry, change not.

Freemasonry has changed much in recent years and must have changed more in those that are past. The taking into the Craft of Speculatives was a change. The formation of the mother grand lodge was a change. The development of the old and simple ceremonies into three degrees (not to mention the Royal Arch!) was a change. Some of our very symbols themselves have changed; the Point Within a Circle anciently was crossed by one, now it is embordered by two parallel lines. The Virgin Weeping over the Broken Column is modern, American, recent. Masonic homes, orphanages, foundations, hospitals are all a change from a day when alms from pocket to hand represented the only charity.

But the spirit inside has not changed, and it is this not the form of its manner of teaching, which represents the real treasure of inheritance. Speculatives mixing with the Operatives merely enlarged the audience which was taught. The first grand lodge did but bring order out of chaos in government; the lodges had always been governed in one form or another. The legend of the master builder is as old as man; whether taught in one or in three or more elaborate degrees, the heart of the ceremony is unchanged. One line across or two on the circumference, the point and fine and circle still circumscribe effort and teach restraint The statued emblem of the broken column but puts in a modern guise what has been revered for ages; Masonic institutions but enlarge the spirit of mutual helpfulness which has descended from the beginning.

The human body has within it organs no longer of use to our present living machine; the appendix is only a trouble-causer today, and nipples on a man’s breast and the coccyx which seems to be the vestigial bone of a onetime human tail are both useless. The human mind holds much that is of no present worth; human conduct does much for which mind holds no reason. Why do we remove the glove before shaking hands, doff the hat in greeting, insist that the tailor make a cut in the lapel of our coat and sew buttons on our sleeves?

One in a hundred, perhaps, remembers there was once a time when a man’s hand was clothed in mail; he removed his gauntlet as he doffed his helmet, to show he was in the presence of a friend. The bare hand can conceal no dagger; the bare head fears no mace. Our ancestors carried heavy pikes resting in sockets hung on leather straps which were hung from the neck. The cut in leather coat collar prevented the strap from hurting! Our Colonial forefathers buttoned lace cuffs to their silken sleeves. And so we have cuts in our cloth coats though we carry no pikes and wear buttons on our sleeves though we wear no lace cuffs!

We will do the act, but forget the reason. And thus it is with much that is deeply symbolic in Freemasonry — we use much without ever thinking of the why, or how it came to be! Hence it is — sadly, if one stops to think — that compasses are to many just a tool to draw a circle, a square but an implement to try a stone, and the great Legend of Hiram but a fairy story with which to pass an evening!

The treasure of our inheritance is to be had for the taking. It was presented to every man who ever received the degrees. It is to be found in a thousand books. It is as much woof to the warp of Freemasonry as the wave to the water of the ocean.

Lucky the Freemason who knows that which is his to cherish, for of such as he was it anciently written:

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America