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Speculative Freemasonry

The lectures of the Symbolic Degrees instruct the neophyte in the difference between the Operative and the Speculative divisions of Freemasonry. They tell him that "we work in Speculative Masonry, but our ancient Brethren wrought in both Operative and Speculative." The distinction between an Operative Art and a Speculative Science is, therefore, familiar to all Freemasons from their early instructions.

To the Freemason, this Operative Art has been symbolized in that intellectual deduction from it which has been correctly called Speculative Freemasonry. At one time each was an integral part of one undivided system. Not that the period ever existed when every Operative Mason was acquainted with, or initiated into, the Speculative Science. Even now, there are thousands of skillful artisans who know as little of that as they do of the Hebrew language which was spoken by its founder. But Operative Masonry was, in the inception of our history, and is, in some measure, even now, the skeleton upon which was strung the living muscles and tendons and nerves of the Speculative system. It was the block of marble, rude and unpolished it may have been, from which was sculptured the life-breathing statue.

Speculative Masonry, which is but another name for Freemasonry in its modern acceptation, may be briefly defined as the Scientific application and the religious consecration of the rules and principles, the language, the implements, and materials of Operative Masonry to the veneration of God, the purification of the heart, and the inculcation of the dogmas of a religious philosophy. Speculative Masonry, or Freemasonry, is then a system of ethics, and must therefore, lice all other ethical systems, have its distractive doctrines. These may be divided into three classes, namely, the Moral, the Religious, and the Philosophical.

1. The Moral Doctrines. These are dependent on, and spring out of, its character as a social institution. Hence among its numerous definitions is one that declares it to be "a science of morality," and morality is said to be, symbolically, one of the precious jewels of a Master Mason.

Freemasonry is, in its most patent and prominent sense, that which most readily and forcibly attracts the attention of the uninitiated; a fraternity, an association of men bound together by a peculiar tie; and therefore it is essential, to its successful existence, that it should, as it does, inculcate, at the very threshold of its teachings, obligation of kindness, man's duty to his neighbor. "There are three great duties," says the Charge given to an Entered Apprentice, "which, as a Mason, you are charged to inculcate--to God, your neighbor, and yourself." And the duty to our neighbor is said to be that we should act upon the square, and do unto him as we wish that he should do unto ourselves.

The object, then, of Freemasonry, in this moral point of view, is to carry out to their fullest practical extent those lessons of mutual love and mutual aid that are essential to the very idea of a brotherhood. There i8 a socialism in Freemasonry from which spring all Masonic virtues--not that modern project exhibited in a community of goods, which, although it may have been practiced by the primitive Christians, is found to be uncongenial with the independent spirit of the present age but a community of sentiment, of principle, of design, which gives to Freemasonry all its social, and hence its moral, character. As the old song tells us: That virtue had not left mankind lier social maxims prove For stamp'd upon the Mason's mind Are unity and love.

Thus the moral design of Freemasonry, based upon its social character, is to make men better to each other; to cultivate brotherly love, and to inculcate the practice of all those virtues which are essential to the perpetuation of a brotherhood. A Freemason is bound, say the Old Charges, to obey the moral law, and of this law the very keystone is the divine precept--the Golden Rule of our Lord--to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. 'I`o relieve the distressed, to give good counsel to the erring, to speak well of the absent, to observe temperance in the indulgence of appetite, to bear evil with fortitude, to be prudent in life and conversation, and to dispense justice to all men, are duties that are inculcated on every Freemason by the moral doctrines of his Order.

These doctrines of morality are not of recent origin. They are taught in all the Ok. Constitutions of the Craft, as the parchment records of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries show, even when the Institution was Operative in its organization, and long before the speculative element was made its predominating characteristic. Thus these Old Charges tell us, almost all of them in the same words, that Freemasons "shall be true, each one to other, that is to say, to every Mason of the science of Masonry that are Masons allowed, ye shall doe to them as ye would that they should doe unto youth

2. The Religious Doctrines of Freemasonry are very simple and self-evident. They are darkened by no perplexities of sectarian theology, but stand out in the broad light, intelligible and acceptable by all minds, for they ask only for a belief in God and in the immortality of the soul. He who denies these tenets can be no Freemason, for the religious doctrines of the Institution significantly impress them in every part of its instructions. The neophyte no sooner crosses the threshold of the Lodge, but he is called upon to recognize, as his first duty, an entire trust in the superintending care and love of the Supreme Being, and the series of initiations into Symbolic Freemasonry terminate by revealing the awful symbol of a life after death and an entrance upon immortality.

Now this and the former class of doctrines are intimately connected and mutually dependent. For we must first know and feel the universal fatherhood of God before we can rightly appreciate the universal brotherhood of man. Hence the Old Records already alluded to, which show us what was the condition of the Craft in the Middle Ages, exhibit an eminently religious spirit. These ancient Constitutions always begin with a pious invocation to the trinity, and sometimes to the saints, and they tell us that "the first Charge is that a Mason shall be true to God and holy Church, and use no error nor heresy." And the Charges published in 1723, which professes to be a compilation made from those older records, prescribe that a Freemason, while left to his particular opinions, must be of that "religion in which all men agree," that is to say, the religion which teaches the existence of God and an eternal life.

3. The Philosophical Doctrines of Freemasonry are scarcely less important, although they arc less generally understood than either of the preceding classes. The object of these philosophical doctrines is very different from that of either the moral or the religious. For the moral and religious doctrines of the Order are intended to make men virtuous, while its philosophical doctrines are designed to make them zealous Freemasons. He who knows nothing of the philosophy of Freemasonry will be apt to become in time lukewarm and indifferent but he who devotes himself to its contemplation will feel an ever-increasing ardor in the study.

Now these philosophical doctrines are developed in that symbolism which is the especial characteristic of Masonic teaching, and relate altogether to the lost and recovered word, the search after divine truth, the manner and time of its discovery, and the reward that awaits the faithful and successful searcher. Such a philosophy far surpasses the abstract quiddities of metaphysicians. It brings us into close relation to the profound thought of the ancient world, and makes us familiar with every subject of mental science that lies within the grasp of the human intellect. So that, in conclusion, we find that the moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines of Freemasonry respectively relate to the social, the eternal, and the intellectual progress of man.

Finally, it must be observed that while the old Operative Institution, which was the cradle and forerunner of the Speculative, as we now have it, taught abundantly in its Constitutions the moral and religious doctrines of which we have been treating, it makes no reference to the philosophical doctrines. That our Operative predecessors were well acquainted with the science of symbolism is evident from the architectural ornaments of the buildings which they erected; but they do not seem to have applied its principles to any great extent to the elucidation of their moral and religious teachings; at least, we final nothing said of this symbolic philosophy in the Old Records that are extant.

And whether the Operative Masons were reticent on this Subject from choice or from ignorance, we may lay it down as an axiom, not easily to be controverted, that the philosophic doctrines of the Order are altogether a development of the system for which we are indebted solely to Speculative Freemasonry.

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