Vol. XL No. 3 — March 1962


Conrad Hahn

Perspective is defined as the appearance to the eye of objects in respect to their relative distances and positions. In the arts perspective is the technique of representing, on a plane or curved surface, natural objects as they appear to the eye.

Painters create aerial perspective by gradations of color, brightness, and shadows to suggest space. Linear perspective is achieved by architects, artists, mathematicians, and designers by reproducing on a surface anywhere in space the actual dimensions of an object as they appear to the human eye.

The principal device in creating linear perspective is to relate the dimensions of an object to a distant point representing “infinity,” at which all parallel lines seem to converge. The simplest illustration of this kind of perspective is the apparent meeting of railroad tracks in the shimmering haze of the horizon, as one gazes down the roadbed. The distance between the rails at any distant point is still four feet, eight and one-half inches, exactly as it is at the feet of the beholder, but to the eye the rails seem to come closer and closer together.

The architects of ancient Greece discovered the artistic principle of fattening a column in the middle, so that its lines would appear parallel to the eye as it gazed upward along the column, instead of seeming to come together.

In these definitions the repeated emphasis on the phrase, “as they appear to the eye,” suggests the universally significant feature of perspective. We might redefine our subject by borrowing the language of psychology, and say, "Perspective is a habit of the human mind resulting from the binocular parallex of human vision,” i.e., man sees things in space in their relative positions because his two eyes combine images on his brain which come from different angles and produce the effects of solidity and depth. This is the principle involved in the nineteenth-century device for entertainment, the stereoscope, and in the modern stereoscopic camera.

It is interesting to speculate on the kind of perspective that some insects are capable of realizing, for we know that some of them have eyes that can see around an arc of 180° in any direction — actually “hemispheric vision.” Imagine being a gunner in a modern bomber and being able to spot the approach of enemy fighters from any direction except down! (Some schoolteachers are accused of having such inclusive vision.)

Perspective as created by our own two eyes is of tremendous importance. We take it for granted, unless our vision has been damaged or destroyed; but we couldn’t drive a car or even walk along a crowded street in safety, if our perception of depth and solidity were taken away from us. This gift of the Great Creator we share with most of His mundane creatures.

The human mind, however, is apparently capable of more complex activity than that of other animal species. All animals probably have some kind of memory. Certain smells may arouse fear or pleasure. “Instincts” are probably glandular or muscular memories at the sensory level.

But, in its ability to retain in the brain images produced by the physical senses, the human mind is differentiated from the “lower animals.” Memory is truly one of the most remarkable gifts bestowed on man.

His ability to combine images and to create new images or concepts from such data endows man with the special tool that has given him “dominion over the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air” (Genesis 1:26), the gift of reason. Because of it, he can discern the interrelationship between images and thoughts, symbols and ideas, as well as between the spatial relationships of things and objects. He is capable of perspective in time as well as in space or dimension. He is capable of perspective in thinking and feeling. He can achieve such understanding as historical, moral, and spiritual perspective.

The cathedral builders were operative masons who employed perspective in all their designs. The youngest “Entered ’Prentice” had to perceive the size and shape of the stone he was “squaring,” the better to fit it for the builder’s use. He may have been able to read the designs upon the trestleboard, so far as they applied to the particular section of a wall or column for which he was preparing a stone, but it is doubtful if he could understand the more complex drawings that explained the interrelationships between a buttress and vault or the mullions of a clerestory window. Such perspective required further training and experience.

The Master Mason was a builder who had learned not merely the manual skills of the operative stonemason but by experience and further study, the application of perspective to the whole design. Through his experiences as a journeyman and a Fellow of the Craft he had acquired the knowledge and the insight that enabled him to envision the building “completed in all its gorgeous splendor,” but also to set to work laboriously designing every detail of the structure, from the foundation stone to the tip of every spire. His was the perspective of the operative builder, who could shape and place each ashlar in its preconceived position. His was also the perspective of the spiritual designer, who could visualize the finished temple for “the greater glory of God,” that point representing “infinity,” toward which all the lines of his designs converged.

When modern Speculative Freemasonry evolved from the operative craft masonry of the Middle Ages, it lost the close and immediate contact with the techniques of perspective that were required of actual architects and builders. When Freemasons laid aside the tools of operative stonemasons, they also surrendered the practical everyday experience of handling and using those implements to create a physical, tangible reality. They also lost contact with the daily application of the laws of perspective to the objectives for which they labored.

While it is true that the mason’s tools have been retained as symbols and that they are “used” for the more noble and glorious purposes of benevolence, morality, and brotherly love, it may be seriously questioned whether the laws of perspective have enjoyed as successful a transfer to the moral and spiritual designs of Speculative Freemasonry. And here we may be touching on the source of some of the modern “problems of the Craft.”

Poor attendance at meetings has been lamented in every generation; but no real lodge of Master Masons would trade a hundred dynamic members who are leaders in the community because of their outstanding activities to promote charity, harmony, and brotherly love for a hundred members who never miss a meeting, but who are not really missed in the community. Masonic perspective focuses on individuals, not masses or numbers of members.

Declining membership is a present concern, as it has been at times in the past; but no real lodge of Master Masons is troubled by declining membership if its craftsmen are active, enthusiastic Masons, even though they come to lodge but rarely. Declining membership is a problem of survival where the emphasis in Masonry has been placed on organizational and physical structures, instead of on the individual ashlar. Are we interested in quantity or quality? Masonic perspective is related to a more “infinite” spiritual point.

It is also a problem created by “a world in chaos,” where materialistic values are enthroned not only in the marketplace, but also in seats of learning, in houses of worship, and in the very hearts of men. To solve the problem of declining membership by discarding Masonry’s ancient principle that the initiate “comes of his own free will and accord,” and to substitute therefore a vigorous campaign for new members, is to suggest a materialistic solution for a problem created by materialistic values. The techniques of Masonic perspective must be violently distorted to contemplate that kind of selection of the ashlars for “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

“Public relations” is another subject that is widely discussed today, as a cure for Masonry’s problems. The Fraternity has always had public relations, sometimes good and sometimes bad, as in the days of the Morgan excitement. Public relations are not the same thing as public notice, or “publicity,” which is frequently the real topic under discussion when Freemasons talk about public relations.

Publicity in modern America has actually become a marketable commodity. A motion picture actress at the beginning of her Hollywood career announced frankly that she “would do anything to get her name in the paper,” but then shed naive tears when her account of a boating accident was cynically described as “a publicity stunt.” News stories, we know, are sometimes “planted,” bought, and paid for. One modern essayist has described the verbal wizardry of Madison Avenue advertisers as “the use of superlatives to induce us to buy mediocrities.” That kind of “public relations” no longer inspires confidence or respect. The symbolic perspective of Speculative Freemasonry requires a critical appraisal of the ends to be gained by any program of public relations that ignores the essential image created by the individual brother. He is, or is not, good public relations for the Fraternity.

A younger Mason, trying to explain some of his concern over the present “state of the Craft,” had this to say about the problems of the Fraternity: “I hesitate to be enthusiastic about Freemasonry to those who ask about it, because I fear they will soon become disillusioned, then derelict in their attendance, then demitted.”

Even if we make allowances for the local conditions that influenced the speaker, we must admit that he has laid his finger on one of the modern shortcomings of the Craft; for he is not merely commenting on the apathy of fellow members, or the lack of zeal of the Masonic leaders of his acquaintance, he is really pointing to the fact that Freemasonry as he knows it lacks perspective. Many Freemasons have failed to see Masonic principles and Masonic enterprises in their proper relationships and value.

What is Freemasonry? This is a question that every Mason must ask himself from time to time. Then in the light of new knowledge and serious endeavors to practice “the tenets of our profession,” he must arrive at an answer that can be properly represented in the perspective of universal and historical Freemasonry. We live in an age in which nothing can be taken for granted.

When Speculative Freemasonry was formally organized in 1717, it set its objectives in the perspective of a universal effort to educate mankind in the ideal of humanism, to create an appreciation of the moral and spiritual aspirations of every individual, and to harmonize the differences that language, customs, dogma, and nationality necessarily bring about. This was the significant achievement of the Constitutions of Freemasonry adopted in 1723.

But the ultimate point of its perspective was higher, more spiritual than that. It was the ancient ideal of the secret brotherhoods, to make each individual aware of his spiritual identification with the Holy One - of the immortal nature of his spirit — and because of that, to realize his kinship with his fellowman. This is the “infinity” of Masonic perspective, the great ideal of the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. This is the point to which we must refer our modern problems, if we would see them in genuine Masonic perspective.

New times require new methods. Days of fear and danger require stronger efforts and convictions. But Freemasonry can solve its problems only if its labors are designed to bring about “the finished temple,” the universal Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. That conception alone can give us the perspective that we need.

The Masonic Service Association of North America