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In entering into the Covenant of Freemasonry, the candidate makes a promise to the Order; for his covenant is simply a promise where he voluntarily places himself under a moral obligation to act within certain conditions in a particular way.
The law of promise is, therefore, strictly applicabie to this covenant, and by that law the validity and obligation of the promises of every candidate must be determined. In every promise there are these two things to be considered: the intention and the obligation.
As to the intention: of all casuists, the Jesuits alone have contended that the intention may be concealed within the bosom of the promiser. All Christian and Pagan writers agree on the principle that the words expressed must convev their ordinary meaning to the promisee. If we promise to do a certain thing to-morrow, we cannot, when the morrow comes, refuse to do it on the ground that we onlv promised to do it if it suited us when the time of performance had arrived. The obligation of every promiser is, then, to fulfil the promise that he has made not in any way that he may have secretly intended, but in the way in which he supposes that the one to whom he made it, understood it at the time that it was made. Hence all Masonic promises are accompanied by the declaration that they are given without equivocation or mental reservation of any kind whatsoever.
All voluntary promises are binding, unless there be some paramount consideration which will release the obligation of perforrnance. It is worth-while, then, to inquire if there be any such considerations which can impair the validity of Masonic promises. Doctor Wayland (Elements of Moral Science, page 285) lays down five conditions in which promises are not binding:
1. Where the performance is impossible2. Where the promise is unlawful. 3. Where no expectation is voluntarily excited by the promuser. 4. Where they proceed upon a condition which the promiser subsequently finds does not exist. 5. Where either of the parties is not a moral agent.
It is evident that no one of these conditions will apply to Masonic prornises, for, 1. Every promise made at the altar of Masonry is possible to be performed. 2. No promise is exacted that is unlawful in its nature; for the candidate is expressly told that no promise exacted from him will interfere with the duty which he owes to God and to his country. 3. An expectation is v oluntarily excited bv the promiser, and that expectation is that he will faithfully fulfil his part of the covenant. 4. No false condition of things is placed before the candidate, either as to the character of the Institution or the nature of the duties which would be required of him. 5. Both parties to the promise, the candidate who malies it and the Craft to whom it is made, are moral agents, fully capable of entering into a contract or covenant. This, then, is the proper answer to those adversaries of Freemasonry who contend for the invalidity of Masonic promises on the very grounds of Wayland and other moralists. Their conclusions would be correct, were it not that every one of their premises is false.
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