Vol. XXII No. 1 — January 1944

The Doctrine of Freemasonry

This Bulletin does not speak with authority. It is but an attempt to phrase the doctrine of Freemasonry as one Freemason conceives it to be; any brother has the same right. As no individual has the right to speak for Freemasonry as a whole, no interpretation can possibly be authoritative.

The very richness of the English language as often makes for confusion as for clarity. Two words may, and often do, so nearly express the same idea that a choice is difficult. Some words have so many meanings that without clarification in the text they are difficult to understand (in the Standard Dictionary are twenty-six definitions of the word bear).

Therefore, understanding of terminology is essential if any thought successfully is to be conveyed bywords. Doctrine, dogma, tenet, principle, are cases in point. According to Crabb’s English Synonyms:

A doctrine requires a teacher; a precept requires a superior with authority; a principle requires only a maintainer or holder. A doctrine is always framed by someone; a precept is enjoined or laid down by someone; a principle lies in the thing itself. A doctrine is composed on principles; a precept rests upon principles or doctrines. We are said to believe in doctrines; to obey precepts; to imbibe or hold principles. Doctrine is that which constitutes our faith; precepts are that which directs the practice; both are the subjects of rational assent, and suited only to the matured understanding: principles are often admitted without examination, and imbibed as frequently from observation and circumstances as from any direct personal efforts; children as well as men acquire principles.

Dogma signifies something thought, admitted, or taken for granted; this lies with a body or number of individuals. A doctrine rests on the authority of the individual by whom it is framed; the dogma on the authority of the body by whom it is maintained; a tenet rests on its own intrinsic merits.

Albert Pike’s great work is Morals and Dogma, but he apparently used doctrine interchangeably with dogma in the text. Here, at any rate, the attempt is made to state the doctrine of Freemasonry as one brother conceives it, rather than the dogma of Freemasonry. “A doctrine rests on the authority of the individual by whom it was framed” — “a doctrine requires a teacher” — “a doctrine is composed on principles” — “we are said to believe in doctrines” — “doctrine is that which constitutes our faith.”

Original thinkers have been very few and far between. The vast majority depend on others for the bases of their thoughts. Hence it is with no apology that this discussion opens with what two original thinkers and one great grand lodge have thought of the doctrine of Freemasonry.

Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, of the golden pen and the deep well of brotherhood within him, phrases the doctrine of Freemasonry as:

The Fatherhood of God; the Brotherhood of Man; the moral law; the Golden Rule and the hope of a life everlasting.

Very likely he would happily admit that this was written more with the idea of expressing a thought infinite in magnitude in that variety of poetry which touches the heart before it reaches the mind. In the face of Freemasonry’s positive teachings of immortality “hope” seems a word less than powerful enough to be written into doctrine. As for moral law — who is to frame or phrase it to your satisfaction? The moral law for one man is not the same as for his neighbor and for many whole peoples is not only different but at times opposite. A clearer statement must give greater detail if "moral law” is to be a part of Freemasonry’s doctrine.

Albert Pike reaches as great heights of poetry while being more detailed in his assertions; there is nothing vague in his grasp of ideas as to the doctrine of Freemasonry. After discussing several religious ideas he says:

While all these faiths assert their claims to the exclusive possession of the Truth, Masonry inculcates its old doctrine, and no more! . . . That God is one; that His thought uttered in His word, created the Universe, and preserves it by those eternal laws which are the expression of that thought: that the soul of man, breathed into him by God, is immortal as His thoughts are; that he is free to do evil or to choose good, responsible for his acts and punishable for his sins; that all evil and wrong and suffering are but temporary, the discords of one great harmony, and that in His good time they will lead by infinite modulations to the great, harmonic final chord and cadence of truth, love, peace and happiness, that will ring forever and ever under the arches of heaven, among all the stars and worlds, and in all souls of men and angels.

Reduced to bare essentials Pike’s doctrine is: God created; man is immortal; has free choice; evil is temporary; perfection is to be attained.

The reader will decide for himself if the latter three phrases are within the frame of the doctrine of Freemasonry. Except for the predestinationists, the devotees of almost any religion will freely admit them as truths, but not all truths are doctrines, however much all doctrines may aspire to state truths. That “God created” is hardly a matter to dispute in any faith; because it is so much a matter of universal religious ideas, it may well be excluded from the doctrine of Freemasonry, which should have at least an horizon of its own, and not merely ape the church or borrow from dogmas universally taught.

The Grand Lodge of New York opens its Book of Constitutions with the following:[1]


As an expression of the simplest form of the faith of Masonry, not exhaustive, but incontrovertible and suggestive, the following is the Masonic belief:

  1. There is one God, the Father of all men.
  2. The Holy Bible is the Great Light in Masonry, and the Rule and Guide for faith and practice.
  3. Man is immortal.
  4. Character determines destiny.
  5. Love of man is, next to love of God, man’s first duty.
  6. Prayer, communion of man with God, is helpful.

Recognizing the impossibility of confining the teaching of Masonry to any fixed forms of expression, yet acknowledging the value of authoritative statements of fundamental principles, the following is proclaimed as the Masonic teaching:

Masonry teaches man to practice charity and benevolence, to protect chastity, to respect the ties of blood and friendship, to adopt the principles and revere the ordinances of religion, to assist the feeble, guide the blind, raise up the downtrodden, shelter the orphan, guard the altar, support the Government, inculcate morality, promote learning, love man, fear God, implore His mercy and hope for happiness.

There is great beauty here as well as reason and restraint and toleration and broad vision. But as a statement of doctrine it is open to the same questions written above; it borrows heavily from religion and includes at least one statement which seems to narrow its appeal. The Holy Bible is indeed the Great Light in English and American Freemasonry but actually the Great Light is the Volume of the Sacred Law; Muslim and Confucianist, Buddhist, the Bramin and Jew may have their own sacred books upon Masonic altars.

As for “The Masonic Teaching” as expressed above, all may agree, but all will also agree that these are the teachings of practically all churches and religions, and are by no means individual to Freemasonry.

Yet the points of agreement in Newton, Pike, the Grand Lodge of New York are striking and important.

Newton has “the Fatherhood of God” — which is another way of saying there is but one God; no two men father one child.

Pike states: "God is one.”

New York declares: “There is one God, Father of all men.”

Throughout Freemasonry there is the constant reference to God, to the Great Architect or Great Artificer of the Universe. No one will dispute that there is but one God to Freemasons, although a dozen Freemasons may worship God each under a different name. No Freemason, however, can possibly be such and subscribe to a belief in a plurality of gods.

In all three of these quotations is emphasis upon immortality. Newton has “The hope of a life everlasting.” Pike: "The soul of man breathed into him by God, is as immortal as His thoughts are.” New York: “Man is immortal.”

It seems inescapable, therefore, that the doctrine of Freemasonry must include the oneness of God and the certainty of immortality.

Indeed, these are laid down as universal in the first of the Old Charges; brethren are taught to be only of “that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.” The “religion in which all men agree” of course, is that which begins with faith in one God as Father, all men as brothers.

That God has revealed himself in written words seems inherently a part of the doctrine of Freemasonry. Whether it be the Old Testament or the New; the Vedas, the writings of Confucius, the Koran or any other sacred book purporting to be the revealed will of the Most High, the Volume of the Sacred Law, by whatever name it is called, is a part of the furniture and an essential in all Masonic lodges.

This is not a requirement of all religions, many of which have no written word. Most religions deny that the sacred books of other religions come directly from God. Masonry requires its sons to subscribe to no one Great Light; only to a Great Light which he, the individual, believes to be the revealed Divine pronouncement.

This seems highly important; teachings handed down only by word of mouth may, and often do, change with the years (witness the ritual of Freemasonry!) But that which is written need not change; if it is changed, the changers are known; the original is always available. In subscribing to a belief in the V.S.L., Freemasonry makes the pronouncement that memory is too fallible to be trusted; that only that which is divinely inscribed, written at the command of, or by the inspiration of, the Great Architect, can be considered “the rule and guide of our faith and practice.”

To omit from the doctrine of Freemasonry the Legend of the Third Degree seems impossible. Indeed, it seems to be suggested in Newton, Pike, New York, in their unanimous declaration of immortality as fundamental to Masonic belief. But note that immortality can be, and is, taught by a thousand different legends, dogmas, pronouncements, accounts of miracles, in as many religions. Only in Freemasonry is that teaching begun and ended in the story of the Master Builder.

That story teaches not only immortality but much else which is fundamental to the Masonic life; fidelity to trust, courage in adversity, that truth cannot be slain by error, that right triumphs in the end (see Pike’s final phrases). Agreed that the teachings of any religion and of Freemasonry can and must be far more detailed than their doctrines; therefore, these details which are taught in the story of that Hiram who was of the tribe of Naphtali are not, per se, a part of its doctrine, although their very existence in the Legend makes that Legend necessarily a part of the doctrine.

That we teach by symbolism in preference to words; that allegory is more important than bare fact; that Masonry is for men only and is for Masons only (i.e. secret) are of the vitals of the Craft. A Freemasonry which did not use symbols, included women, was not secret would not be Freemasonry, but something else.

It appears essential that the importance of symbols be included in a statement of doctrine for another reason. For the one great virtue which is inherent in teaching by symbols is that the lessons can be all things to all men according to their ability, their knowledge and their wisdom. Every Masonic symbol has many interpretations; it teaches one thing to one man, more to another; it is an open door to a small vista to a third and a lamp unto the feet of a traveler in the infinite to a fourth. To leave out the essentiality of Masonic symbols from her doctrine seems as unthinkable as to omit the V.S.L.

For all these thoughts, if thoughts they be, and because of these reasons, if they can be so denominated, this writer, reducing his conception of the doctrine of Freemasonry to the fewest words possible, phrases it thus:

For men only and in secret, by symbols, a Legend and the Volume of the Sacred Law, Freemasonry teaches of one God, Father of all men, who are in this life and the life to come, forever brethren.

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  1. The Grand Lodge of New York is not alone in agreeing with Newton and Pike; it is mentioned here only by way of illustration. All grand lodges, whether listing the Landmarks or not consider the teaching of the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, the teaching of immortality, as Masonic fundamentals.

The Masonic Service Association of North America