Vol. XXXV No. 11 — November 1957

Masonic Education and Culture

The Standard Dictionary defines education as “the systematic cultivation of the normal powers of the intellect, feeling and conduct, so as to render them efficient in some particular form of living, or for life in general.”

Synonyms and correlative words are schooling, study, training, instruction, learning, information, background. The word is also defined as culture, refinement, discrimination, skill, wisdom, etc., so that the line to be drawn between culture and education is fine and not always plain.

The word culture is from the Latin, cultus, to till. The Standard Dictionary defines it “the training, developing or strengthening of the powers, mental or physical, or the condition thus produced; improvement or refinement of mind, morals or tastes; enlightenment or civilization.”

Books of synonyms contribute manners, breeding, refinement, gentility, finish, taste, fashion, nobility, kindness, etc., as correlative words.

Actually, culture as a noun is difficult of definition, although all who read know instinctively its meaning!

He who is well-educated, in the meaning of the word that goes with our combination of gentle man into gentleman, has a broad, not necessarily accurate or complete knowledge of those things in life that add to joys by broadening outlook; specifically, art, literature, music. The knowledge of the literature of the world will include, of course, both poetry and history and the latter will include, a knowledge of the religious thought of mankind, not only now but in times past.

The educated man will have at least a smattering of science; he may not be a scientist but he has some knowledge of mathematics (the base of all sciences), some conception of natural history, and his knowledge of the greater divisions of science — chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology — are sufficient for him to have a wide, even though not detailed, knowledge of the earth and its geography.

The educated man may or may not have traveled; if his travel has not been physical, it has been by reading and study; mankind to him is not merely his own race, country, city, and habitat, but those of the whole world.

The educated man may live in an ivory tower, but has an outlook as broad as the universe in which he fives and knows enough of economics to understand the political situation of the times.

Masonic journals are full of writing about Masonic education. Every grand lodge does something about trying to educate its members, especially its new ones, in Freemasonry. The Masonic world has several educational conferences. Masonic libraries supply all sorts of books on all kinds of Masonic subjects that the student may explore.

Just what is an educated Mason? Of what does Masonic education consist? Where is the demarcation between the educated and the uneducated Mason?

Is it possible to state that a Mason must know, for instance, something of the five major divisions of Masonic knowledge — history, jurisprudence, ritual, symbolism, principles — in order to be Masonically educated? Is it possible to say truthfully that he who knows much about these matters and nothing about anything else Masonic is or is not an educated Mason?

Of course no such statements can be justified. It is no more possible to confine Freemasonry within any one set of topics or divisions than it is so to divide an academic education.

But a beginning may be made and a tentative classification attempted — indeed; such an exposition is essential — before Masonic culture, as an extension of Masonic education, can be considered at all.

The well-educated Mason has a knowledge of Masonic history; he is familiar with the chronicles of the Craft from its inchoate and unknown beginnings to the present day. He is necessarily familiar with some if not all of the “Old Charges," the manuscript constitutions, and the researches of the standard authorities on Masonic history — Mackey, Gould, etc. He is familiar with many of the transactions of some research lodge, probably Ars Quator Coronatorum. Masonic history is not necessarily to be defined in terms of dates. Many Masons can envision the Masonic happenings that go with 1717, 1723, 1738, 1751, 1813, just as any schoolboy today knows the Fourth of July as the date of American Independence and February 22nd as a school holiday because Washington was then born. But “date knowledge” does not necessarily connote real education.

What caused the Declaration of Independence? What did Washington accomplish for this country? Such questions may take years of study to answer; in the same way, the causes of the formation of the grand lodge in 1717 and the union of Antients and Moderns in 1813 may require a long period of study before the fully educated Mason maybe so described.

The Constitution of the United States is the fundamental law of our country. It has been subject to many interpretations that differ as the years go by, the Supreme Court having more than once reversed its own interpretation of its definitions of American liberties.

The fundamental laws of Freemasonry are found in the landmarks and in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723. And no one has as yet defined or listed the landmarks, or been able to set forth their boundaries satisfactorily to all.

Hence the well-educated Mason has had a great hurdle to surmount in his study of Masonic jurisprudence. “When doctors disagree, who shall decide?” When Masonic lawgivers cannot agree on the substance and extent of Masonry’s fundamental law, to whom shall the student turn for enlightenment? The best he can do here is to be familiar with the subject, to know the diversities that exist in Masonic authorities’ pronouncements and to be able to steer a clear course for himself and his lodge and grand lodge in the troubled sea of disagreement on its judicial foundations!

Certainly it is not essential to any concept of Masonic education that its possessor be a ritualist. Some men simply cannot memorize words; few the poets who can recite their own efforts! Ritualism is its own reward and many find those rewards great, who know ritual and only ritual. But the well-educated Mason knows of ritual, its history, its beginnings, and of course is familiar with the old (and some of the new!) exposes and their influence on our studies of the beginnings and development of ritual.

The Masonic student has read Jachin and Boaz and Masonry Dissected and is familiar with the labors of Webb and Cross, to mention only two. He knows something of the spread of ritual throughout the United States and the causes of the differences in the wordings of rituals in our grand lodges. He is familiar with the influences of the Antients and the Moderns.

Ritual, to the student of Masonry, is not merely the mode and manner of conferring degrees, as it is to the brother who is a ritualist and only a ritualist; it is a rich wellspring of historical information and its study is a rewarding experience, tracing, as it does, the present Fraternity back through its formative years to its unknown beginnings.

Ritual and symbolism are so intimately connected that the study of one is essential to the study of the other. The educated Mason has read much of the interpreters of Masonic symbolism; notably Mackey, Hunt, Newton, and Haywood, to mention but a few.

Masonic education leads to individual interpretation of symbols; it is not given to everyone to write a Symbolism of the Three Degrees (Oliver Day Street) but any student has as much right as had Street to make his own excavations into the subject and dig up what meanings he finds most natural. A square can be a dozen things to a dozen students and all are correct at least for the individual.

Unfortunately, many study Masonic symbolism as purely and solely a Masonic subject. No real understanding of Masonic symbolism can be had without a deep understanding of the importance that symbols play in every day life and their development through the ages. The most common symbols of everyday life — the cross of Christianity, the dollar bill, the postage stamp, the business system of credit, banking, checks, etc. — all have long histories, not to be familiar with which is a handicap to the student of that symbolism that is purely Masonic.

Symbolism and the teaching of Masonic symbols is so intimately bound up also with Masonic principles that the study of one must include the other.

It is assumed — often too confidently — that anyone who has received the three degrees of Symbolic Masonry is thoroughly familiar with what are usually referred to as “the Masonic principles.” But he would be a brave man indeed who attempted to fist these and so state that his list was all-inclusive.

The Masonic principles, of course, are those of the good life; they are all that is subscribed to in “the moral law” and are among the fundamentals in the teaching of religion, although religion instructs in much that is extraneous to principles.

Little is heard of Masonic culture, as distinct from Masonic education. Yet culture and education are not the same, though one may be needed before the other can be had, whether it is culture in everyday life, or culture in Masonry that is being discussed.

The cultured man is, first of all, the educated man. While he may be highly educated in one field and yet uncultured, he cannot well be cultured without being educated, which would seem to make good education a foundation stone for culture.

Where is the line to be drawn that marks the cultured off from the educated?

It is easily possible to find in history the names of finely educated men who were treacherous to their country, who broke its laws, who were thieves, rascals, even murderers — such men could hardly be considered cultured, no matter how much they knew, from how many schools they had graduated, how many university degrees they may have held.

Culture, then, as a development of education, would seem to involve the moral values; the cultured man is, first, educated, but from that education has developed character. Culture demands that its possessor be tolerant, broad-minded, kindly, understanding, bear his part in human relations, be an active, not passive participant in the life of his community and in friendships and associations. Thus a man may be educated without developing culture, but cannot be cultured without first being educated.

While it is necessary for a well-educated Mason to know the Masonic principles, it is only when he can be described as cultured as well as educated that he must subscribe to them; as has been stated, a man may be educated, either in civil or Masonic life, and still be a rascal!

Masonic culture means “a good Mason,” just as culture in civil life connotes “a good man.” But definitions of what constitutes a good Mason will differ widely. In general the good Mason is that brother who not only lives his Masonry in his daily life, but helps the Fraternity by attendance and efforts.

Masonic culture, then, must include a wide experience in the Craft. The cultured Mason does not sit at home on lodge nights and muse about his membership; he attends!

A brother who aspires to Masonic culture should have some experience of other lodges than his own. After visiting some lodges in his own jurisdiction he also “travels in foreign countries” and sees and hears how brethren in other jurisdictions conduct their meetings. A cultured Mason will have been present at one or more of his own grand lodge annual communications; few experiences can add more to Masonic culture than visiting Grand Lodges of other jurisdictions.

It is not possible for every man to travel as much as he may desire. It is equally not possible for every Mason to pursue Masonic culture by travel. But every Mason who will make the effort can read the Proceedings of his own and of other grand lodges; they are to be found in public libraries or can be obtained from Grand Secretaries. Not to know the activities of other Masons than his own immediate group is stultifying to Masonic culture; a study of the acts, thoughts and conclusions of the Fraternity in other states than his own is a sine qua non for Masonic culture.

In civil life culture presupposes familiarity with art, music, literature. Alas, there is little Masonic art and less Masonic music, but the literature of the Craft makes up for these deficiencies in its extent.

Masonic culture may include visits to and use of some of the greater Masonic libraries: Cedar Rapids, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., are but a few of the largest. These old and honorable institutions are the breeding grounds of Masonic education and culture; to work and study in them is an inspiration worth much time and effort to experience.

Masonic culture may, but not necessarily does, include officership in a lodge. Ayear’s mastership is a rich and ennobling experience but only fifteen thousand brethren out of four million (approximately) may have this each year. He who pursues Masonic culture for its own sake may find great impetus for his ambitions in such service and the status of being a past master is a lifelong satisfaction to those who possess it.

The cultured Mason has doubtless at one time done some committee work, both on admission of visitors to lodge and in the important activity of investigating petitioners. Whatever may or may not be necessary for culture, certainly it presupposes a majority of all possible Masonic experiences.

Masonic culture is difficult to describe, as are all intangibles. It exists, as do the intangibles of life. It is a treasure to him who has it, a goal worth seeking, a satisfaction and a joy.

Masonic culture is Masonic education — plus!

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry

Why is a lodge meeting called a “communication”?

In Old English “communication” was “to common — to share with others. In the church “communion” is the common partaking of a sacrament. In a Masonic lodge “communion,” “to common,” is to gather in a “communication,” signifying not just a meeting of men to legislate, but a gathering of men with a common purpose, governed by a common idea, believing in a common ideal. It is one of the precious and delightful ways in which Masonry keeps alive an old, old idea in the words of long ago.

Define hele; hail; hale; heal.

The first three words are pronounced alike, but with different meanings. Hele (Anglo-Saxon) is an old word meaning to cover, conceal. Hail is to greet. Hale means hearty, well. Heal means to make well. “Hele and conceal” is one of the many word pairs in ritual that go back to the growth of the English language, when two words were often used to insure that the hearer understood the meaning of at least one.

When is a lodge clandestine? What is a clandestine Mason?

In general, a lodge or a Mason is clandestine when not legally constituted or made. But “not legally constituted” may not necessarily mean “clandestine.” A Fellowcraft receiving the Master Mason Degree in a lodge in which the Charter has been lost is not “legally” made and must be reobligated to be “healed,” but such a making is not “clandestine.” The clandestine lodge today is one that is set up by an unrecognized grand lodge that is spurious, unlawful. Any group of men — even men not Masons — might declare themselves a lodge and “make Masons,” but all these actions, being illegal, would produce only a clandestine lodge and clandestine Masons.

Modern scholarship distinguishes between the “clandestine” and the “not recognized.” For instance, for reasons not necessary to go into here, the Grand Lodges of Ireland and of Utah are not in fraternal relations each with the other. But no Utah Mason would term the Irish grand lodge “clandestine”; he would say merely that it is “unrecognized.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America