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Puerility of Freemasonry

"The absurdities and puerilities of Freemasonry are fit only for children, and are unworthy of the time or attention of wise men." Such is the language of its adversaries, and the apothegm is delivered with all that self-sufficiency which shows that the speaker is well satisfied with bus o an wisdom, and is very ready to place himself in the category of those wise men whose opinion he invokes. This charge of a puerility of design and object of Freemasonry is worth examination. Is it then possible, that those scholars of unquestioned strength of intellect and depth of science, who have devoted themselves to the study of Freemasonry and who have in thousands of volumes given the result of their researches, have been altogether mistaken in the direction of their labors, and have been seeking to develop, not the principles of a philosophy, but the mechanism of a toy? Or is the assertion that such is the fact a mere sophism, such as ignorance is every day uttering, and a conclusion to which men are most likely to arrive when they talk of that of which they know nothing, like the critic who reviews a book that he has never read, or the skeptic who attacks a creed that he does not comprehend?

Such claims to an inspired infallibility are not uncommon among men of unsound judgment. Thus, when Gall and Spurzheim first gave to the world their wonderful discoveries in reference to the organization and the functions of the brain discoveries which have since wrought a marked revolution in the sciences of anatomy, physiology, and ethics--the Edinburgh reviewers attempted to demolish these philosophers and their new system, but succeeded only in exposing their own ignorance of the Science they were discussing. Time, which is continually evolving truth out of every intellectual conflict, has long since shown that the German philosophers were right and that their Scottish critics were wrong.

How common is it, even at this day, to hear men deriding Alchemy as a system of folly and imposture, cultivated only by madmen and knaves, when the researches of those who have investigated the subject without prejudice, but with patient learning, have shown, without any possibility of doubt, that these old Alchemists, so long the objects of derision to the ignorant, were religious philosophers, and that their science had really nothing to do with the discovery of an elixir of life or the transmutation of the baser metals into gold, but that they, like the Freemasons, with whom they have a strong affinity, concealed under profound symbols, intelligible only to themselves, the search after Divine Truth and the doctrine of immortal life Truth was the gold which they eliminated from all mundane things, and the immortality of the soul was the elixir of everlasting life which perpetually renewed youth, and took away the power of death. So it is with Freemasonry. Those who abuse it know nothing of its inner spirit, of its profound philosophy, of the pure religious life that it inculcates.

To one who is at all acquainted with its organization, Freemasonry presents itself under two different aspects:

First, as a Secret society distinguished by a peculiar ritual. Second, as a society having a philosophy on which it is founded and which it proposes to teach to its disciples.

These by way of distinction may be called the ritualistic and the philosophical elements of Freemasonry. The ritualistic element of Freemasonry is that which relates to the due performance of the rites and ceremonies of the Order. Like the rubrics of the church, which indicate when the priest and congregation shall kneel and when they shall stand, it refers to questions such as these: What words shall be used to such a place, and what ceremony shall be observed such an occasion? It belongs entirely to the inner organization of the Institution, or to the manner in which its Services shall be conducted, and is interesting or important only to its own members. The language of its ritual or the form of its ceremonies has nothing more to do with the philosophic designs of Freemasonry than the rubrics of a church have to do with the religious creed professed by that church. It might at any time be changed in its most material points, without in the slightest degree affecting the essential character of the Institution.

Of course, this ritualistic element is in one sense portent to the members of the Society, because, by a due observance of the ritual, a general uniformity is preserved. But beyond this, the Masonic Ritual makes no claim to the consideration of scholars, and never has been made, and, indeed, from the very nature of its secret character, never can be made, a topic of discussion with those who are outside of the Fraternity.

But the other, the philosophical element of Freemasonry is one of much importance. For it, and through it, we do make the plea that the Institution is entitled to the respect, and even veneration, of all good men, and is well worth the careful consideration of scholars. A great many theories have been advanced by Masonic writers as to the real origin of the Institution, as to the time when and the place where it first had its birth. It has been traced to the Mysteries of the ancient Pagan world, to the Temple of King Solomon, to the Roman Colleges of Artificers, to the Crusades for the recovery of the Holy Land, to the Gilds of the Middle Ages, to the Stone-Masons of Strasburg and Cologne, and even to the revolutionary struggle in England in the time of the Commonwealth, and to the secret efforts of the adherents of the House of Stuart to recover the throne. But whatever theory may be selected, and wheresoever and whensoever it may be supposed to have received its birth one thing is certain, namely, that for generations past, and yet within the records of history it has, unlike other mundane things, presented to the world an unchanged organization.

Take, for instance, the theory which traces it back to one of the most recent periods, that, namely, which places the organization of the Order of Freemasons at the building of the Cathedral of Strasburg, in the year 1975. During all the time that has since elapsed, full six hundred years, how has Freemasonry presented itself? Why, as a Brotherhood organized and controlled by a secret discipline, engaged in important architectural labors, and combining with its operative tasks speculations of great religious import If we see any change, it is simply this, that when the necessity no longer existed, the operative element was laid aside, and the speculative only was retained but with a scrupulous preservation--as if it were for purposes of identification--of the technical languages the rules and regulations, the working tools, and the discipline of the Operative Art. The material only on which they wrought was changed.

The disciples and followers of Erwin of Steinbach, Master Builder of Strasburg, were engaged, under the active influence of a profoundly religious sentiment, in the construction of a material edifice to the glory of God. The more modern workers in Freemasonry are under the same religious influence, engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple. Does not this long continuance of a Brotherhood employed in the same pursuit, or changing it only from a material to a spiritual character, but retaining its identity of organization, demand for itself some respect, and, if for nothing else, at least for its antiquity, some share of veneration? But this is not all. This Society or Brotherhood, or Confraternity as it might more appropriately be called, is distinguished from all other associations by the possession of certain symbols, myths, and, above all else, a Golden Legend, all of which are directed to the purification of the heart, to the elevation of the mind, to the development of the great doctrine of immortality.

Now the question where and when these symbols, myths, and legends arose is one that is well worth the investigation of scholars, because it is intimately connected with the history of the human intellect. Did the Stone-Masons and Building Corporations of the Middle Ages invent them? Certainly not, for they are found in organizations that existed ages previously. The Greeks at Eleusis taught the same dogma of immortal life in the same symbolic mode, and their legend, if it differed from the Masonic in its accidents, was precisely identical in its substance.

For Hiram there was Dionysus, for the Acacia the Myrtle, but there were the same mourning, the same discovery, the same rejoicing, because what had been lost was found, and then the same ineffable light, and the same sacred teaching of the name of God and the soul's immortality. So an ancient orator, who had passed through one of these old Greek Lodges-- for such, without much violence of language, they may well be called--declared that those who have endured the initiation into the Mysteries entertain better hopes both of the end of life and of the eternal future. Is not this the very object and design of the legend of the Master's Degree? And this same peculiar form of symbolic initiation is to be found among the old Egyptians and in the island of Samothracia, thousands of years before the light of Christianity dawned upon the world to give the seal of its Master and Founder to the Divine Truth of the Resurrection.

This will not, it is true, prove the descent of Freemasonry, as now organized, from the religious histories of antiquity; although this is one of the theories of its origin entertained and defended by scholars of no mean pretension. But it will prove an identity of design in the moral and intellectual organization of all these institutions, and it will give the Masonic student subjects for profound study when he asks the interesting questions--Whence came these symbols, myths and legends?

Who invented them? How and why have they been preserved? Looking back into the remotest days of recorded history, we find a priesthood in an island of Greece and another on the banks of the Nile, teaching the existence of a future life by symbols and legends, which convey the lesson in a peculiar mode. Now, after thousands of years have elapsed, we find the same symbolic and legendary method of instruction, for the same purpose, preserved in the depository of what is comparatively a modern institution. Between these two extremes of the long past and the present now, we find the intervening period occupied by similar associations, succeeding each other from time to time, and spreading over different countries, but all engaged in the same symbolic instruction, with substantially the same symbols and the same mythical history

Does not all this present a problem in moral and intellectual philosophy, and in the archeology of ethics, which is well worthy of an attempted solutions How unutterably puerile seem the objections and the objurgations of a few contracted minds, guided only by prejudice, when we consider the vast questions of deep interest that are connected with Freemasonry as a part of those great Brotherhoods that have filled the world for so many ages. So far back, indeed, that some philosophic historians have supposed that they must have derived their knowledge of the doctrines which they taught in their mystic assemblies from direct revelation through an ancient priesthood that gives no other evidence of its former existence but the results which it produced. Man needs something more than the gratification of his animal wants. The mind requires food as well as the body, and nothing can better give that mental nutriment than the investigation of subjects which relate to the progress of the intellect and the growth of the religious sentiment.

Again, man was not made for himself alone. The old Stoic lived only for and within himself. But modern philosophy and modern religion teach no such selfish doctrine. Man is but part of the great brotherhood of man, and each one must be ready to exclaim with the old poet, Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto. This means in the Latin I am a man, and I deem nothing relating to mankind to be foreign to my feelings.

Men study ancient history simply that they may learn what their Brother men have done in former times, and they read the philosophers and poets of Greece and Rome that they may know what were the speculations of those old thinkers. They strive to measure the intellect of man as it was then and as it is now, because the study of the growth of intellectual philosophy and the investigation of the mental and moral powers come home to us all as subjects of common interest. Looking then, upon Freemasonry as one of those associations which furnish the evidence and the example of the progress of man in intellectual, moral, and religious development, Doctor Mackey concludes by saying we may well claim for it that its design, its history, and its philosophy, so far from being puerile, are well entitled to the respect of the world, and are worth the careful research of scholars.

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