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Ethics of Freemasonry

There is a Greek word, Sos, ethos, which signifies custom, from which Aristotle derives another word Pros, ethos, which means ethics; because, as he says, from the custom of doing good acts arises the habit of moral virtue. Ethics, then, is the science of morals teaching the theory and practice of all that is good in relation to God and to man, to the state and the individual; it is, in short, to use the emphatic expression of a German writer, "the science of the good." Ethics being thus engaged in the inculcation of moral duties, there must be a standard of these duties, an authoritative ground-principle on which they depend, a doctrine that requires their performance, making certain acts just those that ought to be done, and which, therefore, are duties, and that forbid the performance of others which are therefore, offenses.

Ethics, therefore, as a science, is divisible into several species, varying in name and character, according to the foundation on which it is built.

Thus we have the Ethics of Theology, which is founded on that science which teaches the nature and attributes of God; and, as this forms a part of all religious systems, every religion whether it be Christianity or Judaism, Brahmanism or Buddhism, or any other form of recognized worship, has within its bosom a science of theological ethics which teaches, according to the lights of that religion, the duties which are incumbent on man from his relations to a Supreme Being. And then we have the Ethics of Christianity, which being founded on the Scriptures, recognized by Christians as the revealed will of God, is nothing other than theological ethics applied to and limited by Christianity.

Then, again, we have the Ethics of Philosophy, which is altogether speculative, and derived from and founded on man's speculations concerning God and himself. There might be a sect of philosophers who denied the existence of a Superintending Providence; but it would still have a science of ethics referring to the relations of man to man, although that system would be without strength, because it would have no Divine sanction for its enforcement.

Lastly, we have the Ethics of Freemasonry, whose character combines those of the three others. The first and second systems in the series above enumerated are founded on religious dogmas; the third on philosophical speculations. Now, as Freemasonry claims to be a religion, in so far as it is founded on a recognition of the relations of man and God, and a philosophy in so far as it is engaged in speculations on the nature of man, as an immortal, social, and responsible being, the ethics of Freemasonry will be both religious and philosophical.

The symbolism of Freemasonry, which is its peculiar mode of instruction, inculcates all the duties which we owe to God as being his children, and to men as being their Brethren. "There is," says Doctor Oliver, "scarcely a point of duty or morality which man has been presumed to owe to God, his neighbor, or himself, under the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, or the Christian dispensation, which, in the construction of our symbolical system, has been left untouched." Hence, he says, that these symbols all unite to form "a code of moral and theological philosophy" the term of which expression would have been better if he had called it a "code of philosophical and theological ethics." At a very early period of his initiation, the Freemason is instructed that he owes a threefold duty to God, his neighbor, and himself--and the inculcation of these duties constitutes the ethics of Freemasonry.

Now, the Tetragrammaton, the letter G. and many other symbols of a like character, impressively inculcate the lesson that there is a God in whom "we live, and move, and have our being," and of whom the apostle, quoting from the Greek poet, tells us that "we are His offspring." To Him, then, as the Universal Father, does the ethics of Freemasonry teach us that we owe the duty of loving and obedient children.

And, then, the vast extent of the Lodge, making the whole world the common home of all Freemasons, and the temple, in which we all labor for the building up of our bodies as a spiritual house, are significant symbols, which teach us that we are not only the children of the Father, but fellow-workers, laboring together in the same task and owing a common servitude to God as the Grand Architect of the universe --the Algabil or Master Builder of the world and all that is therein; and thus these symbols of a joint labor, for a joint purpose, tell us that there is a brotherhood of man: to that brotherhood does the ethics of Freemasonry teach us that we owe the duty of fraternal kindness in all its manifold phases.

And so we find that the ethics of Freemasonry is really founded on the two great ideas of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.

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