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The word is from the Latin Sublimis, meaning lofty, an allusion properly expressive of the teaching in the final symbolic ceremony of our ancient Craft. The Third Degree is called the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, in reference to the exalted lessons that it teaches of God and of a future life. The epithet is, however, comparatively modern. It is not to be found in any of the rituals of the eighteenth century. Neither Hutchinson, nor Smith, nor Preston use it; and it was not, probably, in the original Prestonian lecture. Hutchinson speaks of "the most sacred and solemn Order" and of "the Exalted," but not of "the Sublime" Degree. Webb, who leased his lectures on the Prestonian system, applies no epithet to the Master's Degree. In an edition of the Constitutions, published at Dublin in 1769, the Master's Degree is spoken of as "the most respectable" and forty years ago the epithet "high and honorable" was used in some of the instructions of the United States.
The first book in which we meet with the adjective sublime applied to the Third Degree, is the Masonic Discourses of Dr. T. M. Harris, published at Boston in 1801. Cole also used it in 1817, in his Freemasons' Library; and about the same time Jeremy Cross, the well-known lecturer, introduced it into his teachings, and used it in his hieroglyphic Chart, which was, for many years, the text-book of American Lodges. The word is now, however, to be found in the modern English lectures, and is of universal use in the rituals of the United States, where the Third Degree is always called the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason.
The word sublime was the password of the Master's Degree in the Adonhiramite Rite, because it was said to have been the surname of Hiram, or Adonhiram. On this subject, Guillemain, in his Recueil Prcieux, or Choice Collection (i, page 91), makes the following singular remarks: "For a long time a great number of Masons were unacquainted with this worth and they erroneously made use of another in its stead which they did not understand, and to which they gave a meaning that was doubtful and improbable. This is proved by the fact that the first knights adopted for the Master's Password the Latin word Sublimis, which the French, as soon as they received Masonry, pronounced Sublime, which was so far very well. But some profanes, who were desirous of divulging our secrets, but who did not perfectly understand this word, wrote it sublime, which they said signified excellence. Others, who followed, surpassed the error of the first by printing it Giblos, and were bold enough to say that it was the name of the place where the body of Adonhiram was found. As in those days the number of uneducated was considerable, these ridiculous assertions were readily received, and the truth was generally forgotten."
The whole of this narrative is a mere visionary invention of the founder of the Adonhiramite system; but it is barely possible that there is some remote connection between the use of the word sublime in that Rite, as a Significant word of the Third Degree, and its modern employment as an epithet of the same Degree. However, the ordinary signification of the word, as referring to things of an exalted character, would alone sufficiently account for the use of the expression.
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