Vol. XLII No. 2 — February 1964


Conrad Hahn

The Pocket Masonic Dictionary published by this Association defines speculative as “Non-operative: All Freemasons now are speculative, not actual builders with stone.”

Masons are generally familiar with the phrase, “We work as speculative Masons only.” It is probably true that most new Fellowcrafts get the meaning of “non-operative” out of the word speculative because of the language of the ritual and the lectures.

If they ponder the meaning of the verb work in the quotation above, they probably conclude: “Oh, that’s what we do in lodge.” Consequently, a speculative Freemason comes to mean “a man who doesn’t work with stone anymore, a man who joined the lodge to do what Masons do there.”

Are you satisfied with the definition? Don’t be, brother. That’s one of the things that are wrong with Freemasonry right now. We use the words of the ancient ceremonies, but we pay little attention to their special Masonic meanings. As a result, we have a lot of members who can tell you what a Freemason doesn’t do any more; but they can’t tell what a speculative Mason is supposed to be.

In the United States the adjective, speculative, has acquired a tainted, pejorative meaning because it was so closely associated with a great national tragedy — the Stock Market Crash of 1929. That debacle led to the passage of much state and federal legislation prohibiting trustees and other conservators of wealth from investing funds entrusted to them in “speculative shares.” But that meaning of the word has no application to Freemasonry. A speculative Mason is not a man who takes risks for a financial gain.

The root of the word speculative is the same as that of spectacle. They both come from a Latin word meaning “to see.” A spectacle is something exhibited, to be seen. Speculative originally meant “to be suitable for observation,” or “to be observant, curious.” Today it means “contemplative,” i.e., to observe broadly and to think theoretically about the things one sees or observes.

In Masonry, by further development of the idea of seeing and observing, speculative has come to mean philosophic. A speculative Mason is one who philosophizes.

Webster’s New International Dictionary, second edition, defines “speculative Masonry” as “an application of moral principles to the implements and emblems of operative Masonry.” The dictionary makers have taken Masons at their word. That definition is one that the great teachers of Freemasonry always emphasized.

Obviously, however, a speculative Mason is something more than a “non-operative, who no longer works with stone.” An organization cannot prosper with no other purpose than not to be something. We are now ready for a less negative, a more positive definition of speculative, as the term is used in Freemasonry today.

Speculative means

to be observant; to see the moral principles which the working tools of Masonry symbolize; to ponder their applications and uses; to study effective means of building good human relationships by means of the moral principles observed; to acquire moral knowledge through study and contemplation; to speculate on ways to establish genuine brotherhood; and to seek the Light.

Every ritualistic exemplification, every lecture, every charge is intended to make an initiate speculate.

This definition certainly has brought us a considerable distance from the definition in the third paragraph of this essay. It suggests that “what the Masons do there” is not the most important job of a speculative master builder. That lies outside the lodge, because the major business of a speculative Master Mason is to observe, to study, and to apply in practical ways the moral wisdom that it is hoped he has acquired through his Masonic experiences. He goes to lodge to speculate; he goes out into the world to work!

Men are always “speculating,” somewhat in the sense of the classical dictum, “God is always geometrizing.” They hear reports or make studies themselves; they try to evaluate their new-found knowledge; they propose or take individual or group action as the result of their “speculations.” Just now this nation has been shocked into some serious speculating about the habit of smoking.

Always, of course, there are those who see the profit to be made from a frenzied speculation like the current one about the “menace to health.” The Surgeon General’s Report about the relationship between cancer and smoking is not yet a week old. Already two advertisements have reached my desk about books that will (by implication at least) cure me of the habit!

’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. As a philosophical craftsman, however, I have speculated too long on one Mason’s moral nature to believe that reading one little book will cure him of the habit of smoking. The speculative man will have to be conquered by the moral man first.

The idea of a speculative man, however, comes to us from an earlier period, the age of Shakespeare and the stormy seventeenth century. That was the gestation period of speculative Freemasonry, when professional men and men of leisure consciously practiced the art of speculating, out of which grew the Royal Society and the impetus to scientific thinking and research.

As an example of the consciously practiced speculation of a seventeenth century gentleman of leisure, consider the following fable that he wrote out in long hand when replying to a friendly letter. The writer is troubled by the disturbances in England just before the regicide of King Charles I.

Doubtless this tempest is according to the usual operations of nature, and the succession of mundane effects by contrary agents will turn at last into a calm, though many who are yet in their nonage may not live to see it.

Having said, “Things will improve by and by,” in such an ornate manner, the author may be expected to express himself similarly in the little tale he tells “to justify the ways of God to man.” It is a medieval story; but in 1645 as today, speculative men were not necessarily original men. Of Masonic interest may be the caption that the letter writer attached to the first part of his epistle: “Cosmos out of chaos.”

A noble speculative knight hath in his late Conceptions to his son told how a holy anchorite in a wilderness fell to admire the method of Providence, how out of causes which seem bad to us He produceth often-times good effects, and how He suffers virtuous, loyal and religious men to be oppressed, and others to prosper.

A goodly young man appeared before the hermit and told him, “Father, your thoughts are distracted, and I am sent to quiet them. Therefore, if you will accompany me a few days, you shall return very well-satisfied of those doubts that now encumber your mind.”

So going along with him they passed over a deep river whereon there was a narrow bridge. Meeting another passenger, the young man jostled him into the water and so drowned him.

The old anchorite, much astonished there-at, would have left him, but his guide said, “Father, be not amazed, because I shall give you good reasons for what I do; you shall see stranger things than this before you and I part, but at last I shall settle your judgment and put your mind in full repose.”

So going that night to lodge in an inn where there was a crew of banditti and debauched ruffians, the young man struck into their company and reveled with them until morning, while the anchorite spent most of the night fingering his beads.

The next day they came to a gentleman’s palace, where they received all courteous hospitality; but in the morning as they parted there was a child, the only son of the gentleman, in a cradle and the young man, spying his opportunity, strangled the child and then got away.

The third day they came to another inn, where the man of the house treated them with all civility, and gratis, yet the young man embezzled a silver goblet and carried it away, which increased the amazement of the anchorite.

The fourth day in the evening they lodged at another inn, where the host was very sullen and uncivil to them, exacting much more than the value of what they had spent. Yet at parting the young man bestowed upon him the silver goblet he had stolen from the kindly host.

The fifth day they made towards a great rich town, but some miles before they reached it, they met with a merchant, who had a great charge of money about him, and asking the nearest way to the town, the young man put him in a clean contrary way.

The picaresque style of this “speculation” reveals its medieval origin, as does the explanation of the young man’s vile behavior: “I know your heart is full of horror and your head is full of confusion. But know that I am an angel sent from heaven to rectify your judgment, and to correct a little your curiosity about the ways and acts of Providence.

That man whom I tumbled into the river was an act of Providence. He was going on a most mischievous design that would have destroyed another person and damnified his own soul. Therefore I prevented it.

I caroused all night with that crew of rogues, for they intended to go a-robbing all that night. I kept them there purposely so that the hand of justice might seize upon them the next morning.

Considering the kind host from whom I took the silver goblet and the knavish host to whom I gave it, let this demonstrate to you that good men are liable to crosses and losses whereof bad men oft times reap the benefit, but it commonly produces patience in one and pride in the other.

It was also an act of Providence that I strangled that hospitable man’s child, for that nobleman was so indulgent and doting that it lessened his love to Heaven. So I took away the cause.

Touching the man whom I misguided, that was also an act of Providence. Had he gone the direct way to town, he would have been robbed and his throat cut.

This fantastic “speculation” from a by-gone era raises some rather obvious questions as well as some speculative eyebrows about the nature of angels. Concerning that last “act of Providence,” for example — why wouldn’t it have been simpler, kinder, and more “angelic” just to tell the traveler the truth? Angels apparently got away with murder as a matter of course.

The modern reader is also led to wonder what kind of God his ancestors believed in if His angels could teach men truth and justice in such cruel and diabolic ways. Much more helpful and instructive is a modern Mason’s “speculation” about God in this concluding paragraph from the Grand Prior’s (Dr. John G. Fleck) editorial in the January 1964 News-Letter of the Northern Jurisdiction Supreme Council 33°, A.A.S.R.:

The Heart of Freemasonry is neither being good nor doing good. These are by-products. The heart of it is our knowledge and love of the universal Father because of whom we can be and do what we cannot by ourselves.

"Doing good” suggests another important area for Masonic speculation. "We work as speculative Masons only.” Doing is an action word. So is work. What is Masonic labor? Is it “just what we do in lodge”? Is there perhaps a connection between some of our fraternal problems and insufficient speculation and exemplification of the meaning of the word work? A perusal of Brother Harry L. Haywood’s essay on this subject, in Volume 3, a Supplement to Mackey's Encyclopedia, could be a most helpful “speculation” for lodge officers and members today. “No other subject is less understood,” says Brother Haywood.

The word grand as used in Masonry needs some speculating over, if there is to be a clear understanding of masonic organization and authority. A grand lodge is not a brilliant or glittering social assemblage of distinguished masons; it is a supreme or principal governing body of Masonry in each geographically defined jurisdiction. A grand master is not a resplendent, magnificently dressed ceremonial figure; he is the chief or foremost executive officer of an association of Symbolic Lodges of speculative freemasons.

The tenets of our order should be given plenty of speculation. A tenet is something that one holds on to. But it is not merely a belief, or guiding principle. It is a sine qua non, a necessity. It is that to which one clings for assurance and certainty. It is the thing you hang on to in preference to all other possessions and keepsakes. Without brotherly love, relief, and truth, Freemasonry cannot be Freemasonry, because these are the tenets of our profession.

“We work as speculative Masons only,” so let us speculate.

The Masonic Service Association of North America