Vol. XXIX No. 1 — January 1951

Have Pride!

When the average young man is initiated, passed, and raised, he is often too far in time from Sunday school and not yet sufficiently interested in church to have more than a hazy conception of history as told in the Bible. He comes from his raising convinced that he is now a lineal descendant of the builders of King Solomon’s Temple. Solomon and the two Hirams were the first three Most Worshipful grand masters (later he becomes confused when he learns that a grand lodge has only one grand master at a time!). He visualizes the “3300 Master Masons, the 80,000 Fellowcrafts or hewers on the mountains and in the quarries and the 70,000 Entered Apprentices or bearers of burdens,” and seldom asks who actually planned the temple, or accomplished all the work of gold and silver and precious stones and carvings and decorations, being quite satisfied that it was all done by the Hiram who was son of the widow of the tribe of Naphtali.

Later he reads a Masonic book and to his shocked amazement learns of the earliest manuscript of Freemasonry, the Regius Poem, dated approximately 1390, and is instructed that Freemasonry but tells a beautiful myth or allegory in its Master Mason Degree and that actually Freemasons are descended from the builders of the cathedrals of England.

His mental outlook on the Fraternity becomes clouded, his pride is shaken and his admiration, contentment and gratification in his short Masonic dream are minimized.

This is, too often, a true picture. What it should be is so different, and so filled with the materials from which an exultant and solemn if humble pride in the Fraternity can be built that it is difficult to phrase without writing at too great length.

The Masons from whom our Fraternity is descended were not mere workmen; they were far more than carpenters, stone squarers, wall makers, mortar mixers. They were the most highly skilled artists and craftsmen of the Middle Ages.

Almost any man can build a shed of boards with saw, hammer, and nails.

But the average man cannot build his own home. He does not know how to draw plans. He has no knowledge of strength of materials. He knows nothing of building codes. Plumbing and electrical wiring are alike mysteries. To get his house built he must employ an architect and a builder and leave to these the application of the special knowledge needed to erect even a small bungalow.

What, then, would be the problem facing the average citizen who was told to build a great cathedral?

The man of today has electrical tools and prefabricated materials. A builder and contractor can erect almost any building in an incredibly short time because of the thousands of skills that are available through power and modern manufacturers. In the cathedral-building age everything was done by man or at best, beast power. Boards were sawed and planed by hand. Rocks were quarried and squared by hand. Carving was entirely by hand, whether of wood and stone. Excavating was by hand. Design was not from books but from brains and souls. No schools taught architecture, building, engineering, mathematics, surveying.

Yet no modern builder has exceeded in beauty the proportions, strength, magnificence of the cathedrals which were the accomplishments of those master builders from whom Freemasonry is descended.

It was not only cathedrals that they flung towards heaven to declare their reverence. The builders of the Middle Ages were responsible for the public buildings, the abbeys, the monasteries, the castles of the noblemen, the great forts.

No fools did this work. No ignorant men planned these structures. No uneducated artists dreamed the decorations or envisaged the proportions or conceived the nobility of the structures which have outlasted the memories of the men who built them and the vicissitudes of time and wars.

The Masonic Fraternity today picks and chooses from among those who ask to be received as apprentices and eventually to be entered in the books of the lodge. The cathedral builders of the Middle Ages also picked and chose. A youth had to have background, character, and ability to learn. He needed recommendations from friends who would speak for him. For he was to be legally bound to the Master Mason in charge of the work; he was to become a member of the Masonic community, a part of the lives of the builders and often lived in the house of a builder in constant contact with his family.

During World War II, many great plants were hastily erected for the manufacture of munitions, planes, clothing, machine guns, and a thousand other things. The first question the manufacturer had to answer was "Where will the workmen live?” Men must have shelter, food, amusement, schools for their children, stores. Hence arose in this country many new communities, more or less isolated from metropolitan centers, often many miles from the nearest town.

Here was erected not only the great plant but a village — homes by the hundred, parking lots, theaters, stores, restaurants, churches, libraries — a whole town made almost overnight to be inhabited by the workmen in the factory.

Much of the same problem faced those who authorized and financed the building of great cathedrals, castles, government buildings in the Middle Ages. Many workmen came to these communities with the intention of spending a greater part if not all their lives on the one job. Only when a cathedral or other structure neared completion would workmen consider moving. Because they were free of laws restricting the movement of workmen from town to town and country to country, builders could obtain workmen and apprentices in the concluding years of a great building’s construction. He would have been a fool indeed who would indenture himself to a builder if he knew in advance that the structure to be completed in a few years would be his only job!

Any group of men engaged on the same project inevitably become clannish. They not only work together, where harmony must prevail if the work is to be successful, but they must play together. Their families must know each other. There grows up mutual respect in daily contact. Mutual pride comes into being when each can be proud of his fellow workmans labors.

Usually next to — often leaning against the cathedral being constructed — was the lodge. It was meeting place for what military men today call “briefing.” It was a place to keep tools. It was a hall in which to eat. It was a haven for those who would play, talk or sing together. Presiding in this structure would be the Master Mason — often “The King’s Master Mason” — ruling the whole craft, being in fact, as well as in the modern name, master of the lodge.

The clannishness of such a community made it almost a tiled area. Outsiders were not welcomed. Where everyone knew everyone else and all were known to be selected and trained youths and men, those not so vouched for were interlopers. In Scotland such a man was called cowan, a dry wall builder, a Mason without instruction. Later cowan meant any trespasser on the privacy of community life and especially lodge life.

Many different kinds of workmen were employed; quarry workers, builders of piers and layers of walls; tilers laid roofs, sculptors carved, workers in stone made mosaics. Many of these laborers were local; many were not Freemasons but had their own guild or sodality. These workers were not really “in” but only “of” the community and none of these could become members of the builders’ craft, since these latter must start as apprentices and serve their time — usually seven years - to “learn the work” and then make a “master’s piece” to entitle them to become “fellows of the craft.”

That Freemasonry has only one aim, to build character in men, is no modern pronouncement, but a statement of a fact which has existed from the beginning of building as a great and holy craft. Men engaged in the tremendous task of cathedral building could not avoid the implications of their work. It was reflected in their characters as their characters are shown in the principles set forth in the Old Charges and the Legend of the Craft, as told in some hundred and fifty ancient manuscripts.

The square was the foundation of the building; what more natural than that men must also be "square” if he was to stand erect among his fellows? By the plumb, spires were flung towards heaven to the glory of God; by the plumb, man measured his worth in terms of both God and man.

Men would be injured, their families have illnesses, hardships would be suffered — could men engaged on a common task, living a common life, living, loving in a common worship leave such as these to suffer and to die? Mutual aid was inevitable; relief was inevitable; charity was inevitable.

It can easily be imagined that the lad who passed his tests and became an “entered” apprentice did so in a ceremony; that one who successfully made his “master’s piece” and became a “fellow of the craft” also enjoyed a ritual, a pledging, a making. A Fellow was responsible for his tools; sometimes he made them, sometimes they were given him. Our presentation of the working tools in any degree may be the vestigial remains of a ceremony in which the tools were actually those with which the recipient would in the future cut and carve and build.

The early idea of government was that of a king, prince, ruler, dictator, emperor, king, potentate, Pharaoh, who was all-powerful, who could do no wrong, whose word was law. To serve him were thousands of lesser lights in government; soldiers, sailors, tax collectors, masters of the wardrobe, doctors, lawyers, sooth sayers, cooks, retainers, slaves. In the early days of every nation to work was to be menial; to be worked for, to be rich, was to be set apart, raised up, admired and envied.

The idea still persists. Russia, if we are to believe accounts, exists on slave labor. Hitler and Mussolini commanded through terror, pain, fear, murder, torture, concentration camps. Our country began when men and women fled to be free of oppression in matters religious, but a large part of our nation thrived for a while on the labor of slaves.

Slaves were always kept ignorant, not allowed to learn. There was no reason why they should learn. If they did the day’s labor and were given food and raiment and shelter, that was enough.

But it was not enough for the early builders, and it was certainly not enough for the builders of the cathedrals. The Masons who constructed Europe’s “poems in stone” were free men.

Perhaps their greatest contribution was the building of character into a nation, as we try to build character into men; a demonstration that a man who has nothing to contribute to the world is not worth the salt he eats; that only the builder is worthy of his hire and only the workman worthy of respect.

The builder must be accountable for his work. His labors must be worthy of trust. He cannot build a structure which will collapse; he cannot build one which will fail in stormy weather. He must be master of his craft. Not all men can be held accountable for the result of their labors; the doctor may do his best but the patient may die; the fireman risks his life but was not called soon enough or had not water enough so the building burned. Lawmakers enact unworkable statutes which, failing, are repealed. They did their best and if they failed it was not through lack of character.

But the builder cannot fail; he must build successfully or never build again. To build successfully he needs learning and skill and skill and learning require character.

This was the craft to which men who were not builders were attracted; this was the society to which men who never expected to cut or lay stone applied for membership. And it was these non-builders who provided the means by which the operative craft became a speculative art. Speculative Masonry goes back to we do not know what early age, but long, long before the mother grand lodge.

We, today, are all speculative Masons.

We are the lineal descendants of the builders of the Middle Ages.

We are the inheritors of their wisdom, their characters, their teachings. Should this not be to all of us a matter of pride? Should not the pride be far greater than that we could have in the story of Freemasonry originating in the building of a temple constructed by slave labor under the wisdom, no matter how great, of a dictator?

In our real lineage, brethren, let us have pride!

The Masonic Service Association of North America