The Doctrine of the Perfect Youth

(A Meticulous Point of View!)

Jerry Marsengill

We note from the proceedings of other Grand Jurisdictions that they have again been examining the problem of physical qualifications of candidates. The "doctrine of the perfect youth," long a point of contention has again been raised, and the solons of Freemasonry are again fomenting their particular ideas. As my friend, John Harris Watts, once said, "They sit, looking through their bifocals, and state 'to be made a Freemason, a man must be whole in all his parts."

Here in Iowa, we have not been troubled with such a painstaking observation of this doctrine as have many states. Our Grand Lodge code (Iowa) states: "A man to be eligible for the degrees must be able to conform to all of the ceremonies required in the work and practice of Masonry. The substitution of artificial parts of limbs for portions of his natural person, shall not be a bar; provided such arts or limbs are under practical control of the petitioner. Deformities or blemishes of the natural person may or may not be disqualifications, depending on the nature and extent of same. Masters and lodges will be held strictly accountable for the observance of this law." (Code, Grand Lodge of Iowa, Section 259 (b). Ed Note: The Oregon code states, page 229 (Reprinted 1970. Sec. 229, part 7, (a); Possess the physical ability to conform substantially to the requirements of, and receive and give instructions in, the Arts and Mysteries of Freemasonry; provided, that the Grand Master may issue a dispensation to a Lodge to accept the Petition of a person physically maimed but otherwise qualified." (Over the years this has been done many times in Oregon, and reported in this magazine).

In the book of Decisions of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, this is again stated since Decision No. 113, page 21 states: "The responsibility of determining the physical qualifications of the petitioner rests with the Master and the Lodge. The Grand Master is not authorized to pass on such qualifications (Pro. 1940 pp. 47, 155) (a) The laws of Masonry, ancient and modern, make the Lodge the sole judge of the qualifications of the candidate under the requirement of the landmark. The Grand Master, no Grand Lodge, can receive a member or order his dismissal in any other way than the methods universally observed and from the beginning. (Proc. 1874, page 102).

Consequently, here we have no problem with physical qualifications since, supposing artificial aids can be substituted, they can take the place of the missing parts of the body, in order to enable the candidate to conform to the regulations. However, there is an extremely difficult problem which exists in many of the Grand jurisdictions in the country. Even though they proclaim fidelity to the "doctrine of the perfect youth," they permit great abuses when it comes to actually applying that doctrine. Even those Grand Lodges which pride themselves on being sticklers for the "letter of the law" are guilty of this abuse. They claim that a man is not allowed to petition for membership if he has lost any limb, or any part of his body, even if it has been replaced by a prosthetic device. Yet, they allow men to yes, even accept such men, every day who have had part of their natural organs replaced with prosthetic devices. They are not true to their own laws! They are making a mockery of the doctrine of the perfect youth! They are not properly guarding our beloved fraternity from those who are maimed!

The oldest, or at least one of the oldest, prosthesis known, is the ordinary set of false teeth. Are these lodges doing justice to our fraternity when they let men join who cannot perform one of the most important requirements of the order without the aid of this device? Can we, in good conscience, and while retaining our veracity, state that teeth are not absolutely necessary to be a "perfect youth?"

Take but one minute to consider the plight of this poor unfortunate brother at the time when the craft is called from labor to refreshment. He will be denied an opportunity to participate in one of the most important duties of a Master Mason because he is unable to perform that duty without the aid of an artificial device. Even were he permitted to petition with missing teeth, he could definitely not be allowed to use such a prosthetic device to make him a whole man.

Certainly he can never perform at a Masonic banquet, at least not in the proper fashion. When the Masonic dinner flag, (consisting of two green beans crossed on a field of mashed potatoes), is run up, this poor, unfortunate maimed, brother, without the aid of artificial devices will not be able to do justice to the fried gristle. (The aforementioned meat usually appears in our Masonic periodicals as a "delicious baked steak dinner.") Neither will he be able to tear into the fried chicken, nor get the corn off the cob without the aid of a sharp pocketknife. Consequently, if we deny him the aid of these artificial members of his body, which, by our own admission we must, however capable the brother may be while-the craft is at labor, he will be a "drone in the hive of nature" during the other half of his Masonic life, when the craft is called from labor to refreshment.

Thus, it should be a matter of particular care for each and every lodge to examine each prospective Mason, carefully, paying particular attention to checking his teeth, to be absolutely certain that he will not become a source of embarrassment to the fraternity, and that he can properly perform the arduous tasks of a speculative Masons during the ceremonies of the "6:30 P.M. Degree."

Final Note: If anyone takes this seriously, I feel deeply for them. And in case anyone thinks that this is an original raving, the same subject was debated in the correspondence committee reviews of the proceedings of the various Grand Lodges over one hundred years ago.