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Masonic Encyclopedia

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Penitential Sign

Called also the Supplicatory Sign. It is the third sign in the English Royal Arch System. It denotes that frame of heart and mind without which our prayers and oblations will not obtain acceptance; in other words, it is a symbol of humility.



There are in the latest of the issues of Wolfsteigs' Bibliographer some 80,000 titles of Masonic books, which statistic proves the correctness of a statement once made by a Librarian of the Library of Congress (or at least was attributed to him) that "more books have been published on Freemasonry than on any other singe subject (italics ours)." The fact is interesting but it is not flattering; it is the opposite of flattery, because though it is a "single subject" in Library classification, Freemasonry is so old, so large, of so much importance in the world, and has had in history a role of proportion so epic, that 80,000 is a pitiably small number of titles; 800,000 would be nearer to what the number ought to be.

Eighty thousand, nevertheless, is a respectable number. One of the puzzling facts about this literature (one among many) is that Craft writers have never developed any criticism for Masonic critics are countable on the hand. Also, it has had almost no literary critics; that is, not critics (or appraisers, or analyzers) of the contents of the books, but critics of the form, the writing, the literary styles in which the books have been written. Had there been an adequate criticism, and in particular a school of literary critics, some publisher by this time would have brought out a set of the literary masterpieces of Masonic literature-- which Masons of taste will continue to pray for, hoping for the day when Brethren of means will discover that a sufficient number of new temples have been erected and will devote their beneficence to that for which the temples were designed to be used.

If ever such a library of literary classics is published it must contain the one work by John Pennell, which was his version of the Book of Constitutions, published by the Grand Lodge of Ireland, in 1730. As literature those Constitutions easily stand far ahead of any other version of them in English or in any other language; and it is a fact in which American Masons ear take a far-off pride because that which is most distinctive of Freemasonry here had its sources not in the (Modern) Grand Lodge of 1717 but in the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and in its spiritual heir, the Ancient Grand Lodge of 1751. Pennell himself wrote the Irish version; he was Grand Secretary; it is called by his name.

The so-called Anderson version of 1723 was not written by Anderson, but was compiled and copied by him; a whole circle of men, twenty at least, took a hand in the composition, nevertheless it will doubtless long continue to be called by Anderson's name. Of it Crawley wrote: '"The advice given and the maxims laid down belong to the great heritage of our Brotherhood, and are of the same weight today as when extracted from our Ancient Records by Anderson, and repeated by Pennell, or when originally built up through centuries of experience by the unremembered Masters of our Craft." That is true; it is also true that in its literary form the famous version of 1723 is uninspired, ambiguous, and with little art in the use of words. The library form of the so-called Anderson Version of 1738 is even more inept and is at points rendered absurd by the introduction of the fable of " the True Noachidae. " If a Mason will set the 1723 version in a column on the left side of the page, the 1738 version in a column on the right side, and the Pennell version between the two, he will see at a glance that as literature Pennell is to the first as the diamond is to concrete, and to the other as diamond is to clay. Pennell is literature, pure and unalloyed; neither Swift nor Dryden could have written better, nor on the subject could either have written as well.

NOTE. The paralleling of the three versions has already been done, and by Crawley himself- see page 5 of his Reprint of 'The Old Charges and the Papal Bulls," from Ars Quatuor Coronaborum; Vol. XXIV; 1911; pp. 47+5.)

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