The Spirit Of Masonry

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This address suggests to us the most beautiful principle in Masonry and becomes the Keystone of the structure, serving both as an element of strength and ornamentation.

Most Excellent Grand High Priest and Companions of the Grand Chapter:

THERE is hardly a word in our language which embodies a greater variety of meanings than the word Spirit. Originally signifying breath, from Spiro, to breathe, it ascends higher and higher in its scope until, in Christian theology, it reaches the throne of Deity himself and is used to designate the third Person of the Triune God. As referring to man it means the “intelligent immaterial and immortal part of him, the soul as distinguished from the body,” that part “which shall survive the grave and which will never, never, never die.” So, too, institutions have their spirit, which is their essence, their true and real intent. We speak of a line of action or a piece of legislation as being either in harmony with or as opposed to the spirit of our institutions.

When we speak of the spirit of Masonry we are thinking of something apart from its membership, organization or ritual, and yet inseparably connected with them, as the soul with the body. We are thinking of the essential principle of Masonry, that which is its real life and true intent, .that which like the ancient landmarks is constant and unvarying and abiding, the same from age to age. The Spirit of Masonry is indeed the soul of the Institution, and it is its salt, that which has preserved it through all the centuries, through the mutations of empires and kingdoms, through all the storms of popular prejudice, from the time it was first set up upon the Eastern plains down to our own day.

Far the Spirit of Masonry is that influence which, breathing forth from its ritual, its ceremonies and its teachings, and from the lives of its true and loyal Sons, ever makes for the uplift of humanity, ever stands for truth and justice, religion and piety, law and order in society at large. How should we define it? While we speak of it as a single entity, it has many characteristics, many manifestations; yet they are all summed up in the Principle Tenets of our Institution, which are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, and as Brotherly Love springs from the Brotherhood of Man, and the Brotherhood of Man involves the Fatherhood of God, we may reverently say that the Spirit of Masonry in its last analysis is but the reflection on earth of those divine attributes of Love, Mercy and Truth, which make up the very being and essence of God Himself. Not, however, to dwell on this high and August phase of our subject, but to descend to the practical, to that which has to do with our lives and conduct as Masons, we may further define the spirit of Masonry as a certain attitude toward men and measures which is seen in the true Mason, that is, in one who has really absorbed and assimilated the teachings of the Order.

And first, it is a spirit of sober, wholesome conservatism. Masonry is strictly conservative in one aspect of its life, first in the conditions of admission to its membership. Its doors are not flung wide to all the world. Those who seek to pass its threshold must be men, and selected men. They must be believers in the ever living and true God; they must be of lawful age and freeborn; they must be well recommended, of good character and standing in the community. Second, Masonry is conservative as to its secrets and ancient landmarks. Its constant admonition and law is; “Hold that fast which thou hast; keep that which is committed to thy trust.” Is there anything in all human engagements more solemn and binding than the obligations to keep and preserve the  secrets of Freemasonry? Immovable as the rock-ribbed hills are its Ancient Landmarks. Every Master, and inferentially every High Priest, at his installation is solemnly charged to preserve them inviolate, and to “permit no innovation on the principles or rites of the order.” And as with the secrets and Ancient Landmarks of Masonry, so with its ritual and the very language in which it is expressed. What careful provision is made, what agencies are employed, that no change or innovation shall creep in, that unauthorized shoots shall be pruned away as soon as they appear; that all shall be handed on in the quaint dignity and simplicity and beauty in which we receive it from the fathers. No branch of the historic Churches, whether Greek, Roman or Anglican, is more conservative of its ritual than the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons. Not trivial or useless is this characteristic of strong and uncompromising conservatism. we need the spirit which it symbolizes and fosters in this age and country, perhaps, as never before. For, indeed, it is an age of recklessness in act and speech. Recklessness in taking chances, in the lust for excitement of one kind or another - in the speed mania for instance, the victims of which each year run into the thousands, and of which the last year furnishes one frightful example at which the whole world shuddered with horror; recklessness of speech, as far as many boldly proclaimed theories and doctrines are concerned. When in some pulpits, alas that I should say it! the integrity, the inspiration and the authority of God’s Holy Word, that Great Light of Masonry, are assailed; when from the chair of the university professor the sacred institution of the home, the cornerstone of the State, is attacked; when there are some high in office who seem to want to un-write our Nation’s history; when the Federal Constitution, the Magna Charts of our liberties as a free people, the Palladium of equal rights and equal opportunity for all, is made the object of profane and contemptuous reference, when a Governor of one of our States, with the oath of office fresh upon his lips, uses language like this in a public address: “To hell with the Federal Constitution!” do we not need, my Companions, such a nation-wide prevalence of the conservative spirit, such loyalty to the Ancient Landmarks of our country’s history, as will give to such doctrines and such utterances the only answer they deserve, deprive them of their poison and all their sting, and relegate them to the scrap heap of human folly?

Such a spirit of conservatism Masonry fosters, and he who is imbued with that spirit will be conservative in the best sense of that word. The habit will be bred in him. Not to speak of his obligation to keep the secrets of Masonry, which all Masons, even the expelled and outcast from the Order, observe, he will keep all the affairs of the Lodge and Chapter to himself and it will never be his fault if those affairs are made the subject of conversation and gossip outside. He will not only be conservative in speech, ever keeping a tongue of good report, maintaining secrecy with regard to the faults and failings of his fellow men, save where the ends of justice compel him to speak, but further, as is his attitude toward the Ancient Landmarks of the Craft, such will be his attitude toward the Ancient Landmarks of organized society as embodied in the Home, the Church and the State, and he will do all in his power by his example, his voice and his vote, if need be, to preserve them. The spirit of Masonry is a spirit of wise and wholesome conservatism.

But next, the spirit of Masonry is that of true progress and evolution. There is no conflict here with what has just been said. Masonry is conservative as to foundations, but progressive as to the superstructure; conservative as to fundamental principles and institutions, but progressive as to their application and development. How strikingly is this symbolized in the successive Degrees, and in the preparation required before each Degree! Light, and yet more Light, and still further Light! Knowledge from knowledge, knowledge built on foundations of knowledge already laid. Such the law of Masonic Evolution. The Mason is initiated, he is passed, he is raised, he is advanced, he is tested, he is received and acknowledged and finally exalted, and if he absorbed the Spirit of Masonry in these successive steps, he will be a Progressive. I do not mean that he will necessarily belong to the political party which goes by that name, for Masonry is impartial to all political and religious creeds. I mean that, while loyal to his ideals, while conservative as to the foundations of his beliefs, everything that makes for the true progress of society, for the uplift of humanity, everything which stands for equal rights and equal opportunity for all, will have his cordial approval and support.

And next, the spirit of Masonry is one of profound and sincere reverence. Indeed, how could it be otherwise with an institution whose cornerstone is belief in the ever living and true God, and whose rule and guide for faith and practice is God’s most Holy Word? How could it be otherwise with an institution whose ceremonies, ritual and teaching are so deeply religious that there is nothing more so in all the world, save the creeds and services of God’s Holy Church? Need I remind you, my Companions, of the s till higher and more significant meaning of that to which our attention is called in the Second Degree, when finally we arrive at a place representing the M.C.O.K.S.T., or of the lesson of reverence of heart and body then and there inculcated? Recall your impressions, your emotions, when first you passed through those solemn ceremonies. Recall again, is a later Degree, the representations of the awful sanctities attending the Consecration of the Temple; think of the sacred quest, the knightly enterprise, like that of the Holy Grail, symbolized in the Royal Arch Degree, and lastly, my Companions, reflect on the ceremonies of your own consecration and anointing as High Priest, and then say if the spirit of Masonry is not one of the deepest reverence, reverence toward God, toward His great and sacred Name, toward His Holy Word, His Day and His Church. Indeed, the spirit of Masonry must be one of reverence, otherwise what were some of its ceremonies but a travesty on things most holy and divine? I remember a number of years ago, one who had just received the Order of Anointed High priest said to me, “That ceremony seems to me sacrilegious.” My reply was, “That depends on the spirit in which you receive it;” and the same thing is true of the ceremonies of the Church itself. And as the spirit of Masonry is one of profound and sincere reverence, so will the Mason who has absorbed that spirit be reverent and will manifest his reference in his language, his conduct and his life, by being “steadfast in the faith of his acceptance;” by “never mentioning God’s name save with that reverential awe which is due from the creature to his Creator, by imploring His aid in all laudable undertakings and in esteeming Him as the highest good.” The true Mason will ever be the man of faith, the man of reverence and the man of prayer. But the corollary of true reverence toward God is respect for man. To look for the good in human nature, rather than the evil; nay, to conquer the evil by developing the good, is of the very essence and spirit of Masonic charity, self-respect and respect for others, the acknowledgment and the commendation of what is good and worthy in our fellow men, no matter what difference of opinion, of creed or caste may divide us, constitutes a distinctly Masonic virtue, and belongs to the spirit of our Order. Furthermore, under this head we class that spirit of chivalry which to us honors and reverences womanhood, and ever makes for the purity and dignity of the home, and thus the permanence and highest welfare of the State itself.

Once more, the spirit of Masonry is one of loyalty to the civil authority. Its faith and practice here is expressed in the words of its Greatest Light, “The Powers that be ordained of God,” therefore “Honor ail men, love the Brotherhood, fear God, honor the King,” i.e., the Supreme Authority. Paraphrasing its own language we may say of Masonry, “Adopting no party cry, forbidding political discussion in its Lodge rooms, encouraging each one to be faithful to the duties of citizenship, Masonry takes all good men by the hand and pointing to those in whose hands the people have placed the reins of government, bids them to ‘honor and obey the civil authority,’ not with the blind submission of slaves, but with that intelligent and loyal service which is indeed the truest freedom.”

Companions, much more might be said, and far better said, on this subject of the Spirit of Masonry, but I feel I have detained you long enough. It has not been my purpose to speak of that spirit as illustrated by its direct teachings, its plain precepts, its watchwords, so much as by its indirect, its incidental lessons. Not to speak of the mission of Masonry, or of the avowed purposes of its existence, its spirit as far as I have described it, that influence which breathes from its ceremonial, its teachings and its best exponents, that spirit of wholesome conservatism, of sane progress, of deep reverence, and of intelligent loyalty, is a mighty power in the world today and always a power for good. During the political campaign of last fall we heard much of the “invisible forces of government.” Well, there is another invisible force, silent, yet powerful, working in society today, ever appealing to the hearts, the consciences of men, ever making for purity and peace in the home, the Church and the nation; ever standing for the square deal, for honor and honesty as between man and man, and for civic righteousness in all matters of public concern. That invisible force is the spirit of Masonry.

Permit me, in closing, to remind you, my Companions, that we are each one of us called to be contributors to that spirit; that as each Mason strives earnestly to exemplify the sublime teachings of the Order in his daily life and conduct, so will the spirit of Masonry and its consequent power for good be more and more commensurate with its Body, with the wonderful growth and prosperity wherewith God has blessed it in the years that are gone.

Delivered Before the Grand Chapter, New York, February 6, 1913

I regard the Masonic institution as one of the means ordained by the Supreme Architect to enable mankind to work out the problem of destiny; to fight against, and overcome, the weaknesses and imperfections of his nature, and at last to attain to that true life of which death is the herald and the grave the portal.  

John W. Simons.