Vol. XL No. 1 — January 1962

The Trinity of Masonic Education

Charles A. Hansen, GrStew

This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of Reverend and Brother Charles A. Hansen, grand steward of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, who has graciously consented to the Association’s publication of this paper, which he prepared for the twelfth Midwest Conference on Masonic Education held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, October 20—21, 1961. Brother Hansen had been asked to present the negative side of a proposed debate.

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This is the second time I have attended the Midwest Conference on Masonic Education. The first time was in the fall of 1955, which was the last meeting of this kind that Brother Haywood was to be among us. I recall with deep pleasure and gratitude my good fortune to have made even such a brief contact with that scholar.

My second observation has to do with the discovery that I am a “Con” man on a panel of Masonic experts. I would rather think of myself as an “old Pro” in anything pertaining to the good of Masonry. I am reminded of the two mosquitoes sitting on the forehead of Robinson Crusoe. One said to the other, “Well, I must be going now; I’ll see you on Friday.” This may be my predicament. You now see me on the “Con” side; but before my few remarks have been concluded, you may see me on the “Pro” side!

Let me begin by striking the negative note that is expected of me. As we seek for a unified base for Masonic education, there are at least two things we need not to be doing. We do not need to create a means of communication. To hear the give-and-take that often goes on between brethren discussing the “appendant bodies” on Freemasonry might lead one to conclude that we live on separate planets, or at least in lands divided by great bodies of water. But in actual fact, a great number of the appendant bodies are represented here this afternoon. Most of us are related in some capacity to many of these groups.

So, if we were going to talk about creating channels of communication, I think we would be wasting valuable time, for all we need to do is break down some of the partitions of our thinking, to get out of our pigeonholes, so to speak, and the obvious will become clear. Pigeonhole thinking is a type of mental and spiritual isolationism. I suggest that you take out all of those dues cards and meditate over them for a moment. Those are symbols of a relationship that exists in a single unity you call yourself. Can’t you communicate with your different selves as members of various bodies? We are being unrealistic if we think we need to create channels of communication.

My second negative note is that we do not need to create a structure for Masonic Education, any more than we need to create channels of communication. This may be another facet of the same thing. Kaj Munk, the Danish preacher-patriot, who died a martyr at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, used to poke ridicule at the sweating, ranting preachers who were always trying to build bridges where none were needed, who would expend their energies on a Sunday morning hauling bags of cement up the mountainside, but on Monday would be too helpless and exhausted to negotiate some of the bridges in the valley already in place.

Brethren, there may be an important point here for us. We have a structure. It is sound and attractive, and even more, it is timeless in its style. Perhaps we shall have to confess that we have not been as attentive to this as we should have been. We have been so busy building additions, cupolas, look-outs, play rooms, and so on, that we have neglected the central edifice, and may even be unaware of how basic it still is to Masonry. To me, the first three degrees of Freemasonry are the fundamental structure that we have already been given. This is the unified base of Masonic Education; these degrees are what I choose to designate in our discussion as “The Trinity of Masonic Education.”

Now, please meet me over on the “Pro” side, as I make a few positive statements on why these three degrees are of such basic and timeless importance, why I believe that this trinity of Masonic Education is the cornerstone of our structure for enlightening brother Masons.

There are three things with which each man in his more serious and reflective moments knows himself to be concerned: GOD, MAN, and DESTINY. Our first three degrees deal with these great concerns in the order given. Permit me to amplify these concepts briefly.

The foundation of the First Degree is the answer to the question, “In whom do you put your trust?” Indeed, the basic teachings of all of Freemasonry pivot on this answer. If the answer is wrong, the candidate cannot penetrate farther into our mysteries, for he would be unable to understand them or to appreciate them. The importance of this is universally apparent, as we see over half of our world enmeshed in the atheistic philosophy of dialectical materialism. We have discovered how difficult it is to deal with the advocates of the godless state.

The great weakness of the regimented life of totalitarian communism is its denial of the spiritual impulses of man. It kills the human desire to demonstrate the divine attributes of mercy, harmony, and love. It is most significant, is it not, that in the degree that seeks the answer to the question, “In whom do you put your trust?” charity is emphasized dramatically as one of the principal Masonic virtues.

In America, we may observe another kind of danger as we witness our society being taken over by the godless machine. The first message sent over the telegraph was one of awe and reverence: “What hath God wrought?” Recently, upon the completion of another experiment in communication every bit as significant and wonderful, the first message sent was: “The machine works.” Indeed, it works very well. Nevertheless, while the efficiency of our machines may lend us the aura of security and stability, we shall still have to confront that time in the future when neither the state nor the machine can do anything for us. Then the question will really have to be answered: “In whom do we put our trust?”

The Second Degree points out the unique and unified relationship of mankind in our world. The journey through the Middle Chamber of life is an introduction to man and his achievements. It is the lifting up of man, not only as a creature who uses his hands, who creates design, and contrives intricate structures and machines, but as a creature who thinks, who visualizes his place in the company of mankind, and who seeks to coordinate his relationships by those processes that create character in the individual. The true Fellowcraft is a man who uses knowledge and intelligence to achieve a harmony of life.

Here, we are struck with the universality of Masonry. For when a man, whoever he is, and wherever he is, forgets his heritage as a creature of God, the return to savagery and bestiality is headlong. So, regardless of our politics or our creed, we cannot help but be in accord with our president in his affirmation that the proper business of mankind is not to wage war, but to wage peace! Peace, however, can never be a static condition. It is a harmonious adjustment of conflicting needs and interests. It requires the steady devotion of intelligent Fellows of the Craft.

In the Third Degree, we find emphasis upon the destiny of man. Framed in a legend of action and climax, the great teachings of this degree have everywhere captured the imagination ofmen. True, they have sometimes been impressed for the wrong reasons; but whatever their preoccupation with this degree, if they reflect long enough upon it, its deeper implications seep into their souls.

The most important implication is this: that mans noblest efforts are worthwhile, and his highest hopes have an answering response from God. Perhaps our crude legend, our imperfect rationalizing, leave much to be asked for; but this we know, that no man can long live after a sense of worthiness has been taken away, when he has lost his sense of dignity and destiny. I have had many men say to me that they cannot visualize a life of immortality. My response to them has been: “Can you visualize complete nothingness?” Try it, but beware! In that direction lies insanity.

Our basic error is in thinking that we can systematize and catalog the mysteries of God, but with Alfred, Lord Tennyson we need to remember:

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, o Lord, art more than they.

With this rapid survey, I trust that I have at least made clear my basic thesis, which is: that we need not seek to create channels of communication, or to erect an edifice, so much as we need once again to become poignantly aware of our foundations, and the nature of the edifice in which we are now operating. This is both a heritage and a challenge.

What happens to a man when he kneels at the altar of Freemasonry? When he is challenged to commit himself to an active exemplification of the spiritual virtues that lead to man’s right relationship with God through his brother Man?

This is the fundamental goal of Masonic initiation, the basic structure of Masonic education. This is what the three degrees are for, and to this end we must dedicate all our educational devices: the solemnity of the beautiful language of the ritual, expertly and inspiringly given; the warmth of sincerity that must shine through every spoken word and gesture; the noble aspiration that should characterize every action and performance in the labors of the lodge.

Let me close with a quotation from Jeremiah Burroughs, a sixteenth and seventeenth century divine, far in advance of his times. His words came after witnessing the action of trees in a storm:

You shall see the boughs beat one upon another as if they would beat one another to pieces, as if armies were fighting; but this is but while the wind, while the tempest lasts; stay awhile, you shall see every bough standing in its own order and comeliness; why? because they are all united in one root; if any bough be rotten, the storm breaks it.

The Masonic Service Association of North America