Temperance. She pours a measured amount of refreshment into a cup. It may be water or wine, but her careful attention displays temperance, reserve, and moderation.
– Bro. Richard D. Marcus, P.M.
A Freemason will often say that he comes to lodge so he can “learn to rule and subdue [his] passions”. This is a vital part of being a Freemason, especially when in open lodge. It is expected that every mason will have a “modest and correct demeanor” when sitting in lodge. Temperance is taught to the candidate when he is initiated as having restraint and moderation. A good example is moderation of alcohol, but it goes well beyond that. We must learn to temper not only our actions but our thoughts as well. A lodge can be temperate by conducting business within its own by-laws and through the strict investigation and initiation of candidates as well. As Freemasons we must constantly practice temperance and guard ourselves from undesirable passions:
Temperance is that due restraint upon our affections and passions, which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice. This virtue should be the constant practice of every Mason; as he is thereby taught to avoid excess, or contracting any licentious or vicious habits, the indulgence of which might lead him to disclose some of those valuable secrets which he has promised to conceal, and never reveal, and which would consequently subject him to the contempt and detestation of all good Masons. (Sickels, 1868)
The Freemason must show restraint and control his passions and desires. He should avoid excess and always exercise caution in everything – actions, words, thoughts, feelings, judgements and life in general.
Temperance means restraint, but in a Masonic sense it’s really talking more about the moderation of all things, in both body and spirit. In order to live a balanced life we should avoid excessive habits and control our tempers. Indulging in drink can cause lapse in judgment and cause us to be controlled by emotions. Observing temperance allows us as Freemasons to freely share with each other, confident that everyone can be trusted and that no one will judge harshly:
The temperance of every Freemason is in this respect of importance to the Order as well as to himself; but far more important even to the Order — to the maintenance and advancement of its honour — is the temperance of every brother, which gains for him the respect and esteem of his fellow-men, and most beneficial it is to him who practises it, greatly contributing to his happiness ; for without it a man can have no feeling of self-respect ; he cannot enjoy the sweets of domestic life ; he cannot enjoy the true and pure delights of social intercourse; he cannot possess serenity of mind or have peace of heart, and he must be subject to cares and anxieties of the most distressing kind, whilst even his worldly prosperity is likely to be marred, if indeed he does not sink into irretrievable ruin. (Paton, 1873)
As we must be cautious and always in control of ourselves, we should put conditions on what our habits and passions are. To “tame the passions” allows our minds to be free from the allurements of vice, so that we will be more open to the reception of truth and wisdom. A true Freemason doesn’t use foul language, boasts or is rude, but is tempered with humbleness, politeness and reservation.
Someone who is temperate will always ask themselves if something they do will properly express their true dignity as a rational human being. Remember that temperance doesn’t mean abstinence, but moderation rather. It’s up to each individual to decide how to temper their actions:
In a general sense it means that one must exercise a degree of self-restraint and self control at all times, in all the activities of life, including both words and deeds. The key idea is “moderation in all things.” The idea is well illustrated in the old statement: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It does not mean abstinence except in matters which are inherently bad or harmful.
The word “temperance” comes to us from the Latin, which means to temper or harden according to the use intended. As a consequence, we must recognize that there cannot be hard and fast rules in this subject. Each person must decide for himself how much restraint and self-control must be exercised in a particular situation. (Cerza, 1977)
There’s nothing wrong with food, drink or sex, but in excess they can be escapes from our responsibilities and therefore should be tempered. To desire is human, but to moderate and control those desires is virtuous. The temperate Freemason practices moderation in all things, and has a balanced life. Our passions may also include our personal goals in life, but a Freemason will not allow himself to get caught up in the pursuit of those goals at the cost of neglecting other things, like his family.
Being over-emotional can affect one’s health; however keeping one’s emotions under too much control can also affect said health. This is why we say “due” restraint, as in properly measured – and not complete suppression. Indeed, practicing moderation can be difficult but it is also necessary in order to achieve a healthy mind, body and spirit that will enjoy all the blessings Deity has bestowed upon us. Freemasonry can only make recommendations, and in the end it’s up to us:
But the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrong. (Mackey, 1878)
Someone who isn’t able to exercise restraint might lose sense of their judgement, be unable to keep any promises they’ve made, and thus be “scorned and detested” for it. Loss of judgement can also lead to dangerous situations, situations that could have been avoided if we just tempered our thoughts and actions:
The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon his memory. (Mackey, 1878)
Some condemn intemperance to the point of preaching abstinence. However, Freemasonry leaves it to every brother to allow him to indulge himself within his own limits, demanding not abstinence, but rather moderation and temperance. Take the compasses. They are used to determine limits and proportions and remind us to do the same with all things in our day to day lives:
The Compasses remind us of His unerring and impartial justice, who, having defined for our instruction the limits of good and evil, will reward or punish us as we have obeyed or disregarded His divine commands. They remind us to so limit our desires in every station of life, that, rising to eminence by merit, we may live respected and die regretted. (Henderson, 1996)
A lot of people think of abstaining from alcohol when they hear the word temperance. But in the Masonic sense it’s really about the moderation of our thoughts, words and actions. People prefer those who are like a calm day without any crazy weather, that is, temperate weather. Part of that is also learning to tolerate others who we might not necessarily agree with, and never losing our temper.
Toleration is being respectful of others – their beliefs, opinions and even disposition. As Freemasons, we are part of a society that promotes the right to opinion and belief. No lodge or grand lodge has the right to dictate matters of religion or politics. However, remember that being tolerant does not mean accepting things that are in conflict with divine law. As Freemasons, we must always practice toleration in our dealings with others in regards to their beliefs and opinions and also defend this important principle.
From ancient times Freemasonry has stood against tyranny, which is why in many cases it has been banned in some countries where people might not have the same liberties. Freemasons believe that no one has the right to tell another what to think or do. We all have the right to political, economic, spiritual and intellectual freedom. This is given not by man, but by the Deity alone. Oppression in any form is never considered to be legitimate.
Freemasons can be passionate about anything – political, religious or whatever. But rather than risk a heated argument in a place where Masons are meeting (open lodge or not), it’s much better to resign and simply respect the opinion of a brother than pressing a disagreement. This is one of the many reasons why men have come to enjoy our society.
It’s all a matter of self-control, opening our hearts to receive divine wisdom rather than giving into our human passions. This is not done with ease. A violent man must not get angry, a selfish man must be charitable, a quitter must persevere, a hated man must love, and a foolish man must be taken seriously – because he is human and entitled to respect and dignity.
In the 18th century temperance played a big part in Freemasonry, as lodges were also considered schools for gentlemen, teaching decorum and virtue. They saw these as tools for peace and harmony between class and religion, because at that time not all denominations were recognized and there were also various political views. Early on they decided that religion and politics not be discussed in open lodge, which is also why temperance is the first of the four cardinal virtues:
A group of men constantly meeting together are only too prone to indulge in idle chatter and mild scandal-mongering. It is not necessary to assume that when Bro. A relates to Brother B the latest stories he has heard about Bro. C he is actuated by malice. As likely as not he is merely passing the time between lodge and refreshment, and hardly realises that he may be doing a real injury to a brother by passing on some tale which reflects no credit on the victim. It is clear that the reorganisers of Freemasonry in the 18th century realised how easy it was for petty scandals to pass from month to mouth, to the detriment of real brotherly affection, for there is little doubt that the moral lesson that you should speak well of a brother or else remain silent is dramatically taught on two occasions during the ceremony. (Ward, 1926)
Above all, we should never lose our tempers in open lodge. Way too many lodges have had fractures and schisms over trivial things when someone has acted with intemperance, causing certain brothers never to return. And often enough, brothers are threatened with charges of unmasonic conduct. There are ways to get your point across without attacking a person. If you don’t have anything nice to say, simply don’t say anything at all:
While there may be good reasons for reproving a brother to his face, there are none for telling tales about him behind his back, and the very school boy’s code which lays it down that one must not sneak shows that Masonry is not unique in stressing the fact that we should speak well of a brother absent or present, but when that is unfortunately impossible should adopt that excellent virtue of the Craft, which is silence. If this were always done much bitterness and bickering which at present disfigures the social life of the world would automatically vanish. (Ward 1926)
Our brothers put their trust in us, so it’s up to us not to lose our tempers and blurt something revealing out in the heat of the moment that might cause them to lose faith in us. How can we trust one who is intemperate in his words and actions? If you’re entrusted with something in confidence, you are expected to keep it concealed – no matter what or how you’re feeling at the time.
As we should moderate what we eat and drink, we should also moderate what we think. Every day we come across choices which may lead us to doing good, or tempt us to engage in vice. In this sense, vice can be anything that will lead us off the path to becoming better men. To have a temperate mind means not choosing a path that can be harmful to yourself or family.
If earlier Freemasons like the founding fathers of America were aware of the importance of temperance not only in the lodge but also the world, we as Freemasons should also conduct ourselves as such within our own lodges and in our everyday lives. We are taught that this virtue should be our “constant practice”.
Happiness is a goal central to everyone, everywhere. To be happy we must lead productive lives, therefore it makes sense that we gain control of our passions and vices that are within our nature in order to accomplish that goal. Only by liberating himself from the temptations of vice, conquering extravagance, and checking his actions can man gain knowledge, wisdom and light:
Men of intemperate passions cannot be free; passion forge their fetters. It is passions in the larger sense; intemperance, excess temper, unjust judgement, intolerance, selfishness, that the spiritual compass circumscribes.
– Edmund Burke, date uncertain.
As mortar must be properly mixed or “tempered” in order to hold up a temple wall, so should we as Freemasons practice combination and balance in the right proportions. Everyone is different, so each must choose what is appropriate for them and act accordingly. Actions reflect upon us, our brothers, our lodges, and the Craft in general. Therefore temperance is taught in the first degree and should become a habit of moderation, restraint and discretion.
Temperance is only the beginning:
All of us are human, and all of us, therefore struggle against the same enemies. All of us have within us a Something to subdue as well as a Something which subdues. As Freemasons we are taught that we came here to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry; we accomplish the former only as we succeed in the latter. “Passion,” my brother, does not mean merely anger or lust. The passion of selfishness, the passion of self interest, the passion of avarice, of deceit, of unneighborliness, of cruelty, of carelessness; these, as well as all the other enemies against which man’s spirit struggles are to be subdued and conquered; the more easily as we bring the fighting ranks of Freemasonry’s militant teachings to engage them. (Unknown, 1925)
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