Part 1 of a 16 part series regarding morals and conduct.
One of the charges of Freemasonry recommends “the practice of every moral and social virtue.”
When I first became a Freemason, I was a lot more interested in science than morality. It probably wasn’t until just this past year that I realized that being a Freemason isn’t just about what you know, it’s about how you act. I have the rest of my life to seek truth and knowledge, but as I’m still so young I figure I should concentrate more growing up and learning to conduct myself properly.
But what I realize even now as I’m writing this is that you can never even find divine truth without first learning about morality:
FREE-MASONRY is a MORAL ORDER, instituted by virtuous men, with the praiseworthy design of recalling to our remembrance the most sublime TRUTHS, in the midst of the most innocent and social pleasures, – founded on LIBERALITY, BROTHERLY LOVE and CHARITY. It is a beautiful SYSTEM of MORALITY, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. TRUTH is its center, – the point whence its radii diverge, point out to its disciples a correct knowledge of the Great Architect of the Universe, and the moral laws which he has ordained for their government. (Macoy, 1867)
As Freemasons, we should constantly be building ourselves up to be beacons of morality. We should be true to our beliefs, conform to Masonic ideals, and resist the temptation to lower our standards. We need to be community leaders and try to educate others to raise their standards and practice good, honest living. Our lives must be built on the corner stone of high principles.
I have had the unfortunate pain of meeting some brothers who are Freemasons “by name only,” who have failed to live up to the precepts our noble society preaches. A real Freemason will wear a Masonic ring not only to be identified by others, but also to constantly remind himself of what it means to be a true Freemason:
The real Freemason is the man in whose everyday life one sees an exemplification of true Freemasonry. The real Mason may be as poor as a church mouse, or he may be the richest man on earth. But poor or rich, destitute or otherwise, the real Freemason demonstrates the teachings of the Fraternity in his daily life, in his business and social dealings with his fellow-men, in his religion and in his politics. The real Mason does not lose his interest in Freemasonry or his interest in his brethren. (Unknown, 1925)
A mason is molded by the lessons of morality and science, and his entire life is spent not only thinking about them but acting on them as well. Because of his life experiences and everything the craft has given him, he is constantly reflecting on and contemplating Masonic virtues. Our human reason assisted by conscience and tempered by the art of Freemasonry allows us to know the difference between right and wrong so that we may live righteously.
Since Freemasonry is a beautiful system full of rituals, symbolism and allegory that gives us lessons of morality, we need to remember that learning a ritual isn’t simply about floor work or memorization, but understanding what that ritual means and how we should apply it to ourselves:
Masonry does not exist for the mechanics of ritual alone. Just as important is the learning, interpretation and exemplification of that ritual and of the basic principles of our Order. Equally important, too, for the candidate and for every member is the need to fully understand these principles, as well as our responsibilities as Masons.
– Grand Master Donald J. Flood at the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, 1985.
Freemasons should be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and also should be able to tell the difference between what is ideal and what is practical. Knowing that, our conscience will tell us what the best choices are so we can restore order out of chaos among the pressures and stresses of daily life. That’s the nature of morality – to do right if we can, not do things that are questionable or may cause harm to others. Rather than simply talking about how to act, we should actually be acting accordingly.
The point within a circle is a good example of morality. It’s a symbol that teaches us how to “bound” our conduct so that we may be upright in our actions:
The point representing an individual brother, and the circle, the boundary line of his conduct beyond which he should never suffer his passions, his prejudices, or his interests, to betray him. Just as the scientist studies the orbit of the satellite spinning around the earth, so should we study this circle that bounds our conduct, so that we will know of what it is composed and how far it extends. (Hemphill, 1999)
By conducting ourselves in a righteous manner, we can do a lot of good in the world and perhaps even attract new members to the lodge. However, we should keep in mind that we are in the business of making good men better, not bad men good. When new members come to the craft we need to make sure that they are moral to begin with and that they have the desire to learn. It will therefore be a lot easier to teach them how to be better men and remind them of their obligations when we see them making mistakes:
First, see that our members are educated Masonically so that they know what is expected of them as Masons. Second, when we find a brother forgetting his teachings, we should remember to whisper good counsel in his ear, gently admonish him of his errors, and endeavor in a friendly way to bring about true and lasting reformation. And finally, we should guard our portals so that only those are admitted to our fraternity who will be receptive to our teachings, and who will find it easy to conduct themselves as Masons. (Hemphill, 1999)
We are taught about equality. That no man is better than another and that we can teach and learn from each other since we are on equal ground. The best way for us to teach Masonic principles is to understand and live by them. We go to lodge to learn all these things, so that in essence the lodge is a symbol of untainted purity:
And now my brethren, in all these things have we seen only a series of unmeaning rites and ceremonies; have we learned our ritual, our mystic words and signs, and there ended the lesson? If so, then to us Masonry is a failure, a delusion and a snare. But no intelligent Mason can take such a view, for in the science of Masonic symbolism the temple represented the world, purified by the Divine presence; and, as every Masonic Lodge is a representative of the temple, it is, therefore, a representative of the world purified. Hence to enter the lodge, to be made a Mason, is to become good, pure and noble. (Church, 1880)
As Freemasons we are charged to “render every kind office of justice or mercy to others, and to practice a prudent and well regulated course of discipline.” We are also reminded to be “directed by Prudence, chastened by Temperance, supported by Fortitude, and guided by Justice in all our actions.” Benevolence and Charity also play a key role in the teachings of our science. We hear these lessons over and over again, but when it comes down to it, it’s up to each one of us to figure out how to actually apply these lessons to our own lives. No one ever said it was going to be easy:
There is little doubt that living the life of a Freemason, according to its principles, is difficult, but it is well worth the effort. What a different world this would be if people followed our Masonic dictates. (Schwartz, 1999)
Even though a true mason will act the same no matter where he is, it certainly is a lot easier to practice morals within the lodge. It is a sanctuary from the profane world without and there is no need for worry when among brethren. Masons believe in several tenets and virtues that allow them to put their differences aside for the sake of what unites them. Not only that, but they also grow into moral characters that can fulfill any duties they might have:
What is required of every single one of us is the dedicated and devoted application of the high moral principles of Masonry. By these simple methods, we develop the character that guarantees our own self-improvement and discharges the duties of God, our country, our neighbors and ourselves.
– Grand Master Donald J. Flood at the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, 1985.
For the sake of the fraternity, to discharge those duties is expected of all masons. A Freemason is told: “To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care.” If we are masons, we should act like it. Otherwise people won’t see any point in becoming a mason. Can we live up to every moral and virtue at all times? Probably not. It’s okay to falter at times, nobody is perfect. Like all other men, we are a work in progress:
Freemasonry – so we truly believe – is one of God’s bright tools for shaping of the rough ashlars which we are. (Unknown, 1930)
We are taught that we are but rough ashlars, waiting to be made into the perfect ashlars that are the ideal in beauty and form to which we hope to aspire to. Rough in the sense that our minds are still developing, and perfect in the sense that it’s how a man of morals should be. If we choose to live thusly, we will build ourselves into good people and will be able to handle any situation. The “temple not made with hands” is something we should constantly be working on:
Each of us are the living stones, which are to form the Temple not made with hands, and so that the Temple may be perfect, each one of us has to be so, for the Temple will only be as good as the stones that form it. Masonry is more than a ritual; it is a way of living. It offers us a method and a plan, by which we may build a character so strong and true that nothing, not even death, can destroy it. If we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God, then we can serenely await the solemn moment when we must quit this transitory scene with a clear conscience and a trust in the mercy of God. (Henderson, 1996)
People join Freemasonry for different reasons: a family history, a willingness to join a charitable organization, interest in esotericism or maybe just the need for brotherly fellowship. There are several organizations out there that offer these things, but Freemasonry is different because it is designed to make us better men. If we don’t see that, then we’ve missed the whole point:
And finally, my brethren, in our estimation of Masonry, let us look beyond its secret works, its rituals, lectures, ceremonies, signs, and symbols, for these are but the garment in which it is clothed – they are the visible body – Masonry is the invisible soul. The promotion of virtue, the practice of morality, and the relief of distress, are but the fruits of the vital active principle within. Masonry is more than mere signs and ceremonies. We may know its history, its traditions, its achievements, and its laws; we may be learned in its lectures and masters of its secret work; we may be able to understand and interpret its symbolism, and be termed “bright Masons,” and yet the whole volume of Masonry be to us a sealed and a silent book. We may admire its spirit, and refuse that spirit a dwelling within our soul; we may admire its wisdom, its strength, its harmony, (which is beauty,) the perfection of its ceremonies, its lectures, and its laws; and yet if we have failed to learn that these are but avenues leading up to the moral edifice beyond; that they are only emblems of like qualifies in the spiritual structure; then, indeed, have we labored in vain, and spent our strength for naught. (Church, 1880)
It’s incredible how vast the science of Freemasonry is with its history, symbolism, esotericism and ritual. I look forward to studying symbolism a lot more someday, but for now I felt that I should dive into the basic lessons that the craft dictates. Let us take an in depth look at some of the things Freemasonry teaches and how we should act accordingly.
Church, Frank. (1880). Freemasonry’s Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. The Voice of Masonry. University of Michigan.
Committee on Masonic Research and Education of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota. (1986). Standard of Masonic Conduct. Short Talk Bulletin.
Hemphill, Kenneth, L. (1999). The Boundary Line of Our Conduct. Southern California Lodge of Research.
Henderson, Kent. (1996). The Working Tools. Excerpted from “Masonic Education Course.” Victoria, Australia.
Macoy, Robert. (1867). The Masonic Manual: A Pocket Companion for the Initiated. New York: Clark and Maynard.
Schwartz, Ray. (1999). The Act of Forgiveness. Newton, New Jersey.
Unknown. (1925). What Has Masonry Done for Me? Short Talk Bulletin, Masonic Service Association.
Unknown. (1930). The Reputation of the Fraternity. Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic Service Association.