Vol. XXX No. 6 — June 1952

Ethos of Freemasonry

ETHOS: the characteristic spirit, disposition or tendency of a people or community regarded as an endowment and as expressed in their customs and tastes; the genius of an institution or system.

— Standard Dictionary

To find and understand the cause of anything material or pertaining to matter is the aim of science.

To find and understand the cause of the causes is the aim of both religion and philosophy.

That there are hundreds, if not thousands of religious systems, and almost as many sciences, is the world’s confession that humanity has had as yet but small success in establishing what all men can regard as the truth.

No thoughtful man learns anything of the long history of Freemasonry without asking what has been the cause of its long life; what has been the spirit behind the thing which has kept alive this form of “The Men’s House” in spite of war, persecution, misunderstanding, ridicule, fanaticism, and spread it over the world.

It is easy to ask a question - easy to write "what is light, or gravity, or time, or space?” and as easy to find a thousand answers. To find the one right answer is still the unsolved problem of science.

To ask “What has kept Freemasonry alive?” is easy. To reply categorically is impossible. To guess is futile. But to explore some ideas may be helpful.

Over-simplification of any subject may be more confusing than complexity. This Bulletin offers no authority, nor attempts to determine any man’s thinking. It but brings to a short focus those causes which many thinkers of the Ancient Craft believe to contain its secret of indefinite life.

Freemasonry was the first of the world’s nonsectarian organizations to stand up four-square for the dignity of labor and the dignity of the laborer in a day when workers, serfs, villains, and slaves were considered menials; when work was plebeian and luxury and idleness only for the learned and the noble.

No finer paragraphs have been written of this cause of Freemasonry’s vitality than the following by the noted Masonic scholar, H. L. Haywood:

Work means that a man makes use of himself to produce those necessaries without which men cannot continue to be; that this belongs to the order of things for ever; that it can never be otherwise; and Masons therefore gave God the attribute of work along with His other attributes.

This was one of the most revolutionary of all possible doctrines in the Middle Ages; it is no longer revolutionary but it is still far from a sincere and general acceptance; and it will be centuries before Freemasonry’s own work is completed because to teach that truth, to build it into young men, to make it prevail and to bear witness to it, is Freemasonry’s mission in the world. It is for this reason that a body of Freemasons calls itself a lodge, because a lodge is a group organized for work; and calls it teachings, symbols, and ceremonies not a ritual but work.

Second of the great cements which have held men happily bound together by the mystic tie is love.

It is difficult to be sure this word will be understood in the sense in which it is important to Freemasonry. There are many varieties of love; perhaps our language is too restricted in that we make these four letters stand for so much. Love between a mother and father is one kind; love of children is another; love of ones country is a third. The man who loves his dog, his child, his job, his health, his skills, does so each in a different way.

As Freemasonry uses the word it is the spirit of brotherhood, the idea of the good neighbor, to help because of the desire to help, and not for gain or thanks or hope of a favor in the future.

Freemasonry’s brotherly love, as developed between men not blood-brothers, began in the close tie of mutual work. Those who cut and tried and set the stones and saw a mighty cathedral slowly rising high spires to the skies could hardly have labored successfully without a spirit of mutual helpfulness. Living together, working together, planning together, soon made men learn to love together - to act each towards the other as a blood-brother might.

Quarrels were more quickly composed because of this; injuries became less painful when one’s fellow gave of his time to wash and bandage them; sickness and unhappiness were more easily survived when others provided the many hands which made light work in a stricken household.

The Fraternity is not the only organization which has taught and believed in brotherly love. But it is the one which has woven it tightly with the teaching of and the belief in the dignity of work and workers.

This dual strand of work and love was then braided into a three-fold cord and here indeed must be oversimplification on how a Supreme Being came into man’s thought and lives which has inspired the writing of thousands and multiplied thousands of books. Here can be but briefly outlined how the third thread became a part of the ethos of the Ancient Craft.

We live in a universe, a cosmos. More particularly we live on a world - a ball of substance some eight thousand miles in diameter. The surroundings of mankind on this ball he calls nature. On the ball are things; animals, birds, plants, oceans, lakes, streams, fish, storms, calms, varying temperatures - all making up what man calls nature.

Of the cosmos we know what the mathematicians and the astronomers and physicists tell us. By telescope, camera and spectroscope man sets forth the composition of the stars; he discovers distances which he calculates in incredible and non-comprehensible billions of miles; he theorizes about the causes which resulted in the solar system of which the earth is a part, predicts the return of comets, and knows to a split-second when the sun will rise and set anywhere over the earth.

From this he deduces that the solar system and the cosmos work by what he calls “laws of nature.” These laws are always consistent with themselves. If two contradict, he knows one to be wrong. All scientists agree that the universe runs and works according to a plan which is partially understood and by which predictions of the future can be made.

In the familiar world of the ball on which he lives, man finds more of nature’s laws. Some of these he partially understands; others are yet mysterious. He can predict the weather to some extent. He can succeed reasonably well in predicting coming temperatures. He knows the times of high and low tides. He is confident that all substance is composed of certain “elements’ - he reduces these to molecules, atoms and finally to electrons and protons and from their behavior can predict the result of applying some of “nature’s laws” to her several substances. For instance, he knows that sufficient heat applied to certain kinds of earth will produce fluid iron, which, mixed with certain coils of wire in a certain way will produce a force which he calls electricity. By different applications of that force he makes telephones and electric lights and performs miracles, such as sending impulses he doesn’t understand, through a space filled with he knows not what, which a thousand miles from the point of origin become a television picture or a radio voice!

And to these phenomena - and many other aspects - he gives names and deduces laws and finds that what he understands of nature proceeds according to plans which permit prediction.

The scientist classifies all living things. Among the classifications is that of the mammals - those living organisms of flesh and warm blood which bring forth their young from within the mother’s body and which suckle the young at the mother’s breast.

In this classification the scientist puts man, even while he agrees that man has certain functions, powers and potentialities possessed by no other animal. The scientist who believes the universe runs by a plan also admits that charity, creativeness, ingenuity, philosophy, music, mathematics, speech, writing and progress are products of man and not of any other mammal.

Whether looking at a cosmos too great in extent for the mind to comprehend, the small ball of earth revolving around a minor star, the forces of nature on that ball or the (to him) principal mammal, the most matter-of- fact, irreligious and unbelieving atheist has to admit that everything material within his ken is subject to some law.

In the words of the ancients, he admits - because he cannot deny - that there is an ethos — the genius of a system - behind or within all that of which he is conscious.

While this maybe the foundation of religious thought, it can be held as true by those who have no religion; the plan, the ethos are as much/acts as the sun or the tide.

Man’s investigation of his surroundings has been going on for thousands of years. Each generation has usually believed in the essential truth of what it observed, deduced and made into laws. Each succeeding generation has found that the old laws were wrong and the new ones were right! Doubtless coming generations -will discover that much if not all of what we “know” about the universe is all wrong and that the truth lies elsewhere!

This has been rather shocking to mankind. Man is so made he wants something to tie to. He wants not only a plan but a Planner. From the beginning of man on the earth, he has sensed a cause behind the ethos, a Something Beyond. He has called this by a thousand names; God, Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, Osiris, and Great Architect of the Universe.

But the very “thing to tie to” divided man from himself. “My god is the only true god - your god is a false god” has been the cause of untold wars, cruelties, tortures, oppressions, divisions, schisms in mankind

For that in which man believes, what is for him the truth, for that he will fight. In the name of that he will revile and hate all who disagree!

For a while it seemed that Christianity might unite those who were so divided. But the church which began with the Man of Galilee was too soon hundreds of sects; more than a hundred varieties of Christian churches flourish in America today. The One True God may be the same for all, but the practice, the dogma, the beliefs are different. True it is that the sects no longer war with steel and gunpowder, but war they do!

Came Freemasonry into the world, let him who knows say when. For purposes of discussion let it be in the nine or ten hundreds. There was already division in churches then and spirit of revolt against ecclesiasticism, which was to flower in the Reformation of the sixteenth century and give rise to the many sects of today, was being bom.

Men who worked on cathedrals came from many countries, with many beliefs. They hungered for spiritual peace, whether or not they could have spiritual unity in worship. In the gentle Speculative Craft of Freemasonry they found an answer - an altar before which Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Confucianist happily might kneel side by side, each reaching the god he knew through the universal title of Great Architect.

Pitifully enough - and Oh, so happily, unsuccessfully - from time to time enthusiasts for Christianity have tried to make Freemasonry into a Christian organization. But the tide of tolerance on the one side and the dire human need of a place in which, and a spirit by which, a man could kneel and worship with his neighbor, were too strong. Those who would Christianize Masonry were gently repulsed and Freemasonry remains now, as it has been from the beginning, wholly non-sectarian. It belongs to all men of all religions. It has no one religion of its own “save that natural religion in which all men agree” as the Old Charges put it - the belief in a Planner who makes the Plan and whose children all men are.

He will bean excellent logician who can demonstrate that the vitality which has carried Freemasonry through more human cataclysms than can be cataloged is at least a large part in its monotheism without doctrine.

It is ingrained in man; he cannot help that knowing himself a part of nature, he can explain himself only in the terms with which he explains nature. From infinite cosmos to smallest anthill, these explanations result in the consciousness of a predetermined plan, which can only mean a Planner. To many, perhaps to most men on earth, the Planner is given a name. To others, doubtless a minority, the Planner is but a Great First Cause, the Absolute of the philosopher.

Regardless of the name, that which men mean is the same.

It is because Freemasonry recognizes this that Freemasons recognize it - and remain about her altars though nations rise and fall, states are destroyed, wars demolish temples.

Within the simple framework of three causes, then, and with full recognition of the dangers to truthful thinking inherent in over simplification, the causes of Freemasonry’s vitality may be listed as the conviction of the dignity of labor and of the laborer, the expression of mans character in love for his neighbor, and of an ethos so broad that all men of all religious beliefs may kneel at a common altar to worship each the god each knows, and each with his neighbor remain at peace.

The Masonic Service Association of North America