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Masonic Encyclopedia

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Supports of the Lodgers

The symbolism connected with the Supports of the lodge is one of the earliest and most extensively prevalent in the Order One of the Catechisms of the eighteenth century gives it in these words:

What supports your Lodge? Three great Pillars. What are their names? Wisdom, Strength. and Beauty Who doth the Pillar of wisdom represent? The Senior Master in the East. Who doth the Pillar of Strength represent? The Senior Warden in the West Who doth the Pillar of Beauty represent? The Junior Warden in the South. Why should the Master represent the Pillar of Wisdom? Because he gives instructions to the Crafts to carry on their work in a proper manner, with good harmony. Why should the Senior Warden represent the Pillar of Strength? As the Sun sets to finish the day, so the Senior Warden stands in the West to pay the hirelings their wages which is the Strength and support of all business. Why should the Junior Warden represent the Pillar of Beauty? Because he stands in the South at high twelve at noon, which is the beauty of the day, to call the men from work to refreshments and to see that they come on again in due time, that the master may have pleasure and profit therein .

Why is it said that your Lodge is supported by these three great Pillars--Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty?Because Wisdom Strength and Beauty is the finisher of all works, and nothing can be carried on without them. Why so, brother? Because there is Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and beauty to adorn.

Preston, repeats substantially, but, of course, with an improvement of the language, this lecture; and he adds to it the symbolism of the three orders of architecture of which these pillars are said to be composed. These, he says, are the Tuscan, Doric and Corinthian. The mistake of enumerating the Tuscan among the ancient orders was corrected by subsequent ritualists. Preston also referred the supports symbolically to the three Ancient Grand Masters. This Symbolism was afterward transferred by Webb from the First to the Third Degree.

Webb, in modifying the lecture of Preston, attributed the supports not to the Lodge, but to the Institution: an unnecessary alteration, since the Lodge is but the type of the Institution. His language is: "Our Institution is said to be supported by Wisdom, Strengths and beauty because it is necessary that there should be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings He follows the ancient reference of the pillars to the three officers, and adopts Preston's symbolism of the three Orders of Architecture, but he very wisely substitutes the Ionic for the Tuscan.

Hemming, in his lectures adopted by the Grand Lodge of England in 1813, retained the symbolism of the pillars, but gave a change in the language. He said: "A Mason's Lodge is supported by three grand pillars. They are called Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty. Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and beauty to adorn. Wisdom to direct us in all our undertakings, strength to support us in all our difficulties, and Beauty to adorn the inward man ."

The French Freemasons reserve the same symbolism. Bazot (Manuel , page 225) says: "'three great pillars sustain the Lodge. The first, the emblem of Wisdom is represented by the Master who sits in the East, whence light and his commands emanate. The second, the emblem of Strength, is represented by the Senior Warden, who sits in the West, where the workmen are paid, whose strength and existence are preserved by the wages which they receive. The third and last pillar is the emblem of Beauty; it is represented by the Junior Warden, who sits in the South, because that position typifies the middle of the day, whose beauty is perfect at this time the workmen repose from work; and it is thence that the Junior Warden sees them return to the Lodge and resume their labors."

German Freemasons also use them in lectures. Schrder, the author of the most philosophical ritual, says: "The universal Lodge, as well as every particular one, is supported by three great invisible columns-- Wisdom, Strengths and beauty; for as every building is planned and fashioned by Wisdom, owes its durability and solidity to Strength, and is made symmetrical and harmonious by Beauty, so ought our spiritual building to be designed by Wisdom, which gives it the firm foundation of Truth, on which the Strength of conviction may build, and self-knowledge complete the Structure, and give it permanence and continuance by means of right, justice, and resolute perseverance; and Beauty will finally adorn the edifice with all the social virtues, with brotherly love and union, with benevolence, kindness, and a comprehensive philanthropy."

Stieglitz, in his work on the Old German Architecture (I, page 239), after complaining that the building principles of the old German artists were lost to us, because, considering them as secrets of the Brotherhood, they deemed it unlawful to commit them to writing, yet thinks that enough may be found in the old documents of the Fraternity to sustain the conjecture that these three supports were familiar to the Operative Masons. He says: "Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty were honored by them as supporting pillars for the perfect accomplishment of the works; and thence they considered them symbolically as essential pillars for the support of the Lodge. Wisdom, which, established on science, gives invention to the artist, and the right arrangement and appropriate disposition of the whole and of all its parts; Strength, which, proceeding from the harmonious balance of all the forces, promotes the secure erection of the building; and Beauty, which, manifested in God's creation of the world, adorns the work and makes it perfect."

We can hardly doubt, from the early appearances of this symbol of the three supports, and from its unchanged form in all countries, that it dates its origin from a period earlier than the Revival in 1717, and that it may be traced to the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages, where Stieglitz says it existed. One thing is clear, that the symbol is not found among those of the Gnostics, and was not familiar to the Rosicrucians; and, therefore, out of the three sources of our symbolism---Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, and Operative Masonry it if most probable that it has been derived from the last.

When the advanced Degrees were fabricated, and Christianity began to furnish its symbols and doctrine to the new Freemasonry, the old Temple of Solomon was by some of them abandoned, and that other Temple adopted to which Christ had referred when he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

The old supports of Wisdom, ,Strength, and Beauty, which had sufficed for the Gothic builders, and which they, borrowing them from the results of their labors on the Cathedrals, had applied Symbolically to their Lodges, were discarded, and more spiritual supports for a more spiritual temple were to be selected. There had been a new Dispensation, and there was to be a new Temple. The great doctrine of that new Dispensation was to furnish the supporting pillars for the new Temple. In these high Christianized Degrees we therefore no longer find the columns of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, but the spiritual ones of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

But the form of the symbolism is unchanged. The East, the West, and the South are still the spots where we find the new, as we did the old, pillars. Thus the triangle is preserved; for the triangle is the Masonic symbol of God, who is, after all, the true support of the Lodge.

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