Masonic Random Thoughts

A place for Masonic news, thoughts, discussion and education

Masonry in the Era of Covid19

In this new normal of self-isolation, quarantines and many Grand Jurisdictions shutting down Lodge operations, it can seem like Masonry is on the back burner. However, I believe this is a tremendous opportunity for Masonry to shine!

Just because we can’t get together as a group doesn’t mean that we can’t live our Masonic values and show our support for our communities. There are many things we can do while still protecting ourselves and our families from the Covid19 virus (always follow CDC guidelines) that will benefit our communities and allow us to continue to practice the tenets of our Craft!

Here is a list of just a few things that you and your Lodge could try:

  1. Masonic Delivery Service — There are many people who fall into the high risk category that are unable to leave their homes to do grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions or do other essential errands. Offer to do this for them!
  2. Donate Blood — There is an urgent need for blood in the health care system at this time. Donating blood is quick, safe and each pint of blood can save up to 3 lives! Call your local Blood Bank, Hospital or American Red Cross office and set up an appointment. Encourage your Brothers to do the same! (For those of you in the Nebraska area, stand by for more information!)
  3. Call your at-risk members — Nearly all Lodges have a fair number of members that are 60 years of age or older or have a health issue that put them in the at-risk category and restricts them from going out right now. Call them and do a welfare check, offer to run errands for them and just be a Brother! Many would probably enjoy having someone to chat with for a few minutes.  Do this on a regular basis, this crisis is likely to last for several more months.
  4. School Lunches — Many schools also provide lunches for the less fortunate and with schools being closed this has become an issue. Contact your local schools to see how you can help by delivering lunches, donating money to pay for the lunches or some other activity.
  5. Make Masks — Sounds funny but if you can sew or know someone who can sew, join the 100 Million Mask challenge. Instructions on how to make useful masks can be found on their website at 100 Million Mask Challenge.
  6. Contact your local Hospital, Police, EMS services and Fire Stations and ask if they need meals or other comfort items. These brave souls are working overtime to keep us safe in this dangerous time. Let’s show them some support!
  7. Outdoor Concert — Are you musical? Do you have a band? Contact your local rest home and offer to set up in the parking lot and play a concert. The residents can open their windows to listen or come out on their balconies. This has been successfully done in many locations.
  8. Learn a new lecture or part — You’ve got lots of time on your hands and you are staying home a lot more. Perfect time to work on improving your ritual by learning a new lecture or part. When our Lodges get back to work, this will be a very welcome bonus!
  9. Practice ritual with a Brother — You can still practice one on one with a Brother by phone, online or just sit in the yard more than 6 feet away from each other (non-esoteric work only, please). There are many ways this can be done and still maintain social distancing.
  10. READ A BOOK — Remember that stack of books you’ve been building of books recommended by the Masonic Education Committee? Now is the perfect time to pick one and start reading. When you are done, write a little report and share it with your Lodge Brothers. You might even end up learning something!

There are certainly many more things that could be done to keep you and your Lodge active in Masonry and support the community. Every effort counts no matter how big or small. The most important thing is that you take action and do something!

Step and show your community and your peers what Masonry is all about!

If you have any other ideas for things to do during this time or use any of these ideas, please share with me in the comments.

Masonry is a Progressive Science

The title of this piece is a well known and well worn line in our ritual, having existed since the earliest versions of our work.  We also often hear the line “…as you increase in knowledge, you will improve in social intercourse.”   Both of these lines speak to the idea that continual learning and adaptation is key to truly being  a Mason.

Often times in our zeal to hold on to the past and venerate the founders of Masonry, we cling to the mistaken idea that the Craft cannot change and that any idea labeled an “Ancient Landmark” cannot be changed regardless of how the world around us has changed.  This is a grave mistake.

While I deeply appreciate that much of what Masonry teaches are fundamental truths that have been held since time immemorial, the history of the Craft shows that we have often been slow to learn as a Craft what we were mistaken about and what was once acceptable can now be an embarrassing part of our history.

I was reminded of this while working on a project for the Nebraska Masonic Education web site that would honor our Past Grand Masters from our beginnings in 1857 forward.  In reading through the proceedings of these Brothers, there are often things that happened that by today’s standards would seem unthinkable.  A good example is the doctrine of the perfect youth.  According to the “Ancient Landmarks”, no man could be made a Mason who did not have all of his physical extremities and senses.  While this might have made sense in the operative days, the fact that our jurisdiction followed this discriminatory practice well into the 20th century is indeed a sad part of our history.  How many good men did we lose because they were missing a finger or hand or leg?  Or perhaps they were blind or hard of hearing?  Many of these men we rejected were in this condition because they had served our country in war.

There are also too many examples of other kinds of discrimination based on skin color, ethnicity, being an immigrant and so on.  It makes one question how on the one hand we could make claims to being a universal system of morality for all men while still exhibiting the common biases of the general public.

But the good news is that Masonry as a practice did change and often time in advance of the general society!  We see a shift in thinking about many of the discriminatory practices of the late 19th and early 20th century brand of Masonry.  Often these practices were challenged again and again until the Craft “came to Light” and made the needed changes. If we take the long view of history we see that Masonry has been and still is constantly changing, improving and tossing off mistaken beliefs of the past.  It is in this sense that Masonry is still a living practice today for many men.  This also teaches us the important lesson that we should ever be cognizant of our own biases and mistaken beliefs, and be ready to “learn” what is being taught to us every day by life.

Masonry is a progressive science…are you progressing daily?

Video Tour of the Nebraska Masonic Foundation Museum & Library

Tour the Museum and Research Library in a video on the Grand Lodge Facebook site.

The Nebraska Masonic Foundation has made great progress the past couple years cataloging more than 2,000 books, and is about ready to begin the same process with the artifacts in the Museum. You can also learn how to find online the books that are in the Library. The Foundation continues its efforts to preserve and protect valuable Masonic books dating back 150 years to more than 200 years ago.

Go to the Museum & Library database page to search the book collection or to make an appointment to tour the museum or do research in the library.

Masonry Vindicated

From the very beginning of speculative Masonry, the stated aim of the Craft has been to improve lives and to promote moral progress.  The lives of its members, the community they live in and even the country in which they live and work.  The values imbedded in Masonry closely follow the values of the period of time we refer to as the Enlightenment.  In fact, reading a list of values and goals from both, they are nearly identical.

Masonry attempts to promote these values by encouraging learning and education, equality of people, reason over superstition, being a participant in the welfare of others and many other ideas that for their time were quite revolutionary.  Many of these values seem to be commonplace in our time and sociologists even have a term for these values.  They are referred to as emancipative values or liberal values (liberal being used in the original sense of liberty or freedom; not in the political sense we often use it today.)

Emancipative values are those values that can aid a society and a person in flourishing.  Emancipative values can break down the oppressive hierarchies that can build up in governments and societies and level the playing field for all members of a given society. Emancipative values help a country grow and be successful in the world. 

So how can we tell which countries have these emancipative values and how are they affecting the success of that country?  The World Bank did years of research into this idea and discovered that the more a country has these emancipative values the more successful they are.  This has resulted in the World Bank Knowledge Index, which has proven to be the best predictor of emancipative values in a country.

The index is made up of many measurements, each of which measures a different aspect of a country’s citizens’ access to certain knowledge or knowledge resources.  The higher a country ranks in each category, the better off they seem to be as a society.  In fact, this Index has proven even more accurate at predicting a country’s success than measuring GDP.

The Index categories are (per capita measures from the World Bank Report):

  • Economic and institutional regime
    • The country’s economic and institutional regime must provide incentives for the efficient use of existing and new knowledge and the flourishing of entrepreneurship.
  • Education and Skills
    • The country’s people need education and skills that enable them to create and share, and to use it well.
  • Information and communication infrastructure
    • A dynamic information infrastructure is needed to facilitate the effective communication, dissemination and processing of information.
  • Innovation system
    • The country’s innovation system – firms, research centers, universities, think tanks, consultants and other organizations – must be capable of tapping the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilating and adapting it to local need, and creating new technology.

Each of these four pillars are then mapped onto the Knowledge Economy by measuring such things as:

  • Tariff and non-tariff barriers
  • Regulatory quality
  • Rule of law
  • Adult literacy, high school and college enrollment
  • Access to telephone, computer and the Internet
  • Researchers, patents granted, technical journal articles, royalty payments

(There are 83 structural and qualitative variables that serve as proxies for the four pillars above.)

Using this Index, the World Bank discovered that the values rated by the Index account for seventy percent of the variation in the emancipative values across different countries!

This statistical data vindicates a key point of Freemasonry: knowledge and sound institutions lead to moral progress.  In other words…the desired outcome of Masonry!

Knowledge Economy Index Top 10

  1. Denmark
  2. Sweden
  3. Finland
  4. Netherlands
  5. Norway
  6. Canada
  7. Switzerland
  8. United States
  9. Australia
  10. Germany

Irreligious Libertine

The Masonic ritual was devised in the early 18thcentury and underwent refinement into the ritual we now use during the first half of the 19thcentury. While there have been some minor changes, on the whole, it remains written in the language and style of the early 17thcentury.  We often joke about how hard it is to get the rhythm and meaning of English from this time period but we resist the urge to update the wording and syntax to 21stcentury standards.  It is felt that changing that language would risk losing some or all of the original intent of the authors.  And this is true, particularly when we look at word definitions.

An often forgotten or ignored fact about the English language is that it is very fluid and constantly evolving.  From a little used “commoner” language it has spread worldwide and dominates many areas of business and everyday life in many different countries.  The challenge with English is that often the definition of a word and its use can and does change depending on the period of history in which it was used.  An obvious example of this is the word “Charity” which now a day is mostly connoted to mean giving of money or support but in the 17thand 18thcentury had a much different meaning.  Examples of words changing their meanings based on societal changes abound both in our ritual and in everyday life.

In the obligation of the Master Mason’s degree, one of the landmarks stated is that there is a certain class of people that cannot be made a Mason.  The list is very specific and for the most part, pretty common sense if you understand the history and intent of Masonry.  But there is one class of person that most people are likely misinterpreting and that is the irreligious libertine.  When most of us hear or read that phrase, we think of a person of questionable morals, a party animal, or a low class person and on top of that behavior they seem to have no faith in Deity.  And in fact, if you look up the two words irreligious and libertine, that impression of this person would be confirmed.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines these two words as follows:

Irreligious

1neglectful of religionlacking religious emotions, doctrines, or practices

2indicating lack of religion

Libertine

1disparaginga freethinker especially in religious matters

2a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality specificallyone leading a dissolute life

So as people that were born in the 20th or 21st century, we feel well grounded in our opinion that an irreligious libertine is a pretty poor character to associate with and it makes sense we would not want to make them a Mason.

But is a morally questionable, dissolute, faithless man really what the authors of ritual were describing?  A closer look at the history and use of the word libertine will reveal that there may have been a much different reason for including such a person in the list of non-acceptable candidates.

The hunt for what might be the original intent begins in the 17thcentury.  This was a time of much upheaval in Europe and England. The Reformation and the resulting religious wars, especially the 30 years war, were quickly breaking the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church over thought, philosophy and science.  Great minds such as Newton, Huygens, Descartes and Pascal were openly proposing ideas, asking questions and conducting experiments that less than a century before would have gotten them burned at the stake by the Church.  The adoption of the scientific method, the weakening of the Church’s ability to suppress thought and investigation and the efforts of these new pioneers in thought to share and distribute this information despite the constant upheaval of war lead to the development of a new term to describe these men.  Liberty of the mind was now a recognized shift in society and these men were described as having a “free mind”.  This meant that they were thinking outside of and often rejecting the dogmatic ideas of the Church including taking a view of the Bible as being more allegory than literal fact.

The word libertine is borrowed from the Latin libertinus,which meant freedman and was used to denote a freed slave or the son of a freed slave.  In the case of the men of the 17thcentury that were expanding the boundaries, the “liberty” in libertine referred to freedom from two very important constraints: the constraint of religious orthodoxy and the constraint imposed by the authority of the ancients (e.g. Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo).

Soon the term libertine came into use to describe these freethinkers and natural philosophers (the term scientist didn’t come into use until 1833) and it was a generally positive term! Times were changing and the people of Europe and England were shaking off the chains of intellectual bondage imposed by the Church and the men doing so were seen as leaders into a brave new world by many.

(n.b. This term was also used to describe various Protestant sects in France that believed that under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law was of no use or obligation, that faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation and nothing is sinful.  This is known as antinomianism.  The followers of this theology fully lived this idea to the disapproval of everyone else and were associated with debauchery, sensuality and depravity.  Thus, the term libertine began to take on its negative definition.)

The Church however, did not see these new freethinkers in such a positive light.  In addition, many of the new natural philosophers had talked themselves out of their faith and so after some years, nearly all freethinkers were assumed to be atheist or labeled as atheist by the Church.  While this was true for some, it was certainly not the norm of men working in these fields at that time.  It was felt (and still is by many scientist today) that you could question the theology of the Church but still have a faith in a Deity.

Nonetheless, as time went by the term libertine became more and more derogatory and associated with atheism, debauchery, sensuality and depravity which led to rumors and gossip about the morals of a libertine or freethinker, and the word became synonymous with a person of low morals and few limits as we use it today.  By the middle of the 19thcentury, libertine was no longer a sought after or welcomed sobriquet.

However, at the time our ritual was being authored, the word libertine would still have been a positive moniker and as much of Masonic ritual is about learning (the Fellowcraft degree especially) and what are often seen as Enlightenment ideas such as religious tolerance, charity towards all mankind, and associated liberal ideas. Why wouldn’t you want to make a libertine a Mason?  It would seem like a libertine as defined at that time would be a natural for inclusion in the Craft.

The answer lies in the word irreligious.  If the phrase irreligious libertine were dissected using modern definitions, then it would seem to be a redundant phrase.  It would hard to be “religious” if you were a man of compromised morals as the modern definition of libertine states, so adding the word irreligious doesn’t give a better or sharper definition of the person you want to exclude.

Now look at that phrase and the word libertine from the understanding of its definition in the 17thand 18thcentury.  This is a completely different story!  The problem isn’t that the person is a libertine. In fact it would seem to be an advantage. Being a freethinker and seeker of knowledge is part of the Masonic fabric.  The problem is having no faith…being irreligious.

While thematically, Masonry promotes learning, self-reasoning and innovation, it is always with an eye to remembering that everything is owed to Deity in whatever form you wish to perceive it.  Atheism is an anathema to the Masonic philosophy!  The authors of ritual appear to have been trying to make sure that the concept of debt to Deity was not lost as men moved forward with the new and exciting quest for knowledge that was taking place at that time. We are first introduced to this idea of faith plus reason in the Entered Apprentice charge where we are told:

There are three great duties, which as a Mason, you are charged to inculcate – to God, your neighbor and yourself.  To God, in never mentioning His name but with that reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator…

This is merely one place that this obligation to Deity is taught.  Ritual is full of overt and covert examples of this important basic tenet. So it wasn’t that Masonry didn’t want intelligent, inquisitive, self-reasoning men, it was that Masonry didn’t want men with those characteristics that had no faith!  This phrase was a safety stop to separate out the growing number of philosophers and scientists that had abjured or lost their faith in the face of the new knowledge.  It preserved one of the basic concepts of Masonry that man can think and grow and learn but still have a foundation in faith.

Nebraska Masonic Relief Historic Flooding and Storm Activity, March 2019

Nebraska has experienced historic flooding in the eastern part of the state and devastating blizzards in central and western Nebraska with major loss of farm and ranching assets and income in the month of March 2019. Many of our Nebraska Masonic family members have no doubt been affected by these catastrophic events and will need assistance to get back on their feet. Here’s how you can help.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Nebraska Masonic Relief Fund is collecting monetary donations that will be dispersed to Masonic family members affected by the floods and storms through an application process. If the donations exceed the needs of our Masonic family, the funds will be donated to other flood and storm relief efforts. Those interested in making a financial donation to support relief efforts can do so by clicking the Donate button below.

DONATE NOW

Donations can also be mailed to Grand Lodge of Nebraska, 301 N Cotner Blvd., Lincoln, NE 68505. Checks should be made payable to Grand Lodge Relief Fund, with flood/storm relief in the memo field.

Thank you so much for your support of this relief effort.

Grand Lodge Online Book Store Open!

Good News for Masonic Bookworms!

The Grand Lodge of Nebraska’s Annual Communication was only a few short weeks ago, but the Education Committee is already implementing one of its objectives for the coming year: putting a Masonic Education bookstore online!

There you’ll find many of the books that have been reviewed by Education Committee members in recent years, plus many more that have been recommended by your brethren. There’s something for everyone. Those just beginning their journey might be interested in the guilty-pleasure, “Freemasonry for Dummies,” while those further down the path may prefer “The Cave and the Light,” a fascinating history of the two greatest philosophers of the western world – Plato and Socrates.

For those brethren looking for something more adventurous, there are works of fiction, to include “The Lost Symbol” and “Crown of Serpents.” Anyone not averse to a little speculation (and what Speculative Mason is?) might enjoy the “The Rosslyn Hoax,” “The Masonic Myth,” and “Solomon’s Builders.” There are literally dozens of books included on the new books site, accompanied by helpful descriptions.

Importantly, the purchase of books from the GL website actually benefits Nebraska Masons because they are linked to the GL affiliate account.  The price of the books remain unchanged, of course, but a small percentage of all sales goes directly back to the Grand Lodge to support our many Masonic endeavors and causes.

Check it out by going to the Grand Lodge website (www.glne.org) and click on the “Book Store” button!

Paden Cottage Opens at Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont, Nebraska

On January 3, 2018 Paden Cottage opened with the first six children moving in!

It’s been a long construction cycle but the outcome is fantastic! The girls each have their own room with a private bathroom, a study desk and plenty of room to grow and become the person they are meant to be.  And thanks to Mrs. Lindly, they each get their own quilt to brighten up their room.

A big thank you from the Director, his staff, the children and the Board of Directors of the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children to all the wonderful donors that helped us make this vision a reality!

Special thanks to MWB Ivan Vrtiska for designing a wonderful building that feels like a cozy, welcoming HOME!

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Living the Dream in 2018

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As I thought about what to blog about as the new year starts, I thought that it’s that time of year when the holidays are over, the New Year is just starting and we are still stuck in the doldrums of winter. It’s easy during this time of year to lose sight of all the wonderful things and people in our lives. So I took some time to look at my situation and I decided that in fact I’m living the dream!

In fact, I would submit that we are all living the dream life and it is in great part due to the influence of Masonry on society. We need to recognize that fact and not only celebrate it but understand the roots of that dream.

Where did Masonry get these ideas from and what was their purpose? We need to go back to the ancient Greeks to find the beginning of the dream. Many Greek philosophers from Socrates to Aristotle to the Epicureans and Stoics spend a great deal of time thinking about what they called “the good life”. They thought that the purpose of man was to live “the good life” but defining what the good life should be is not easy and many different methods were offered. In the end, however, there are some common components that they all agreed on that would be part of living the “good life”. Among these are:

  1. Moderation

  2. Kindness to others or living in harmony with all mankind

  3. Examining your life and engaging in your life

  4. Reasoning and thinking for yourself; self-determination

  5. Know thyself – Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses

  6. And a spiritual component.

 

It was these basic core values that the Greeks dreamed of becoming the normal state of man and society. But history shows us that the dream of the “good life” was not always attainable.

Society was often brutal and repressive to those trying to follow these principles. Sometimes that repression came from the Church, which attempted to control thought, education, the progress of science and everyday living.   Sometimes that repression came from governments that have also attempted to control what their citizens can think or read or say and how they may live out their lives.

However, in the early stages of the Enlightenment, in the 1700’s, some very intelligent men came together and created the philosophy of Freemasonry. They plucked the best of the ideas from the Greeks and wove those values into allegorical lessons that could be studied and understood by all men. They then combined this with the best of the ideas from the VSL.  More importantly, by concealing the lessons in allegory, Masonry could do its work on men’s minds and souls without directly opposing either Church or State.

Masonry directly paralleled the teachings of the Greeks, whereby Masonry teaches us to:

  1. Learn to circumscribe our desire and subdue our passions – or Moderation

  2. Live within due bounds of all mankind – or Kindness to others

  3. Be lifelong lovers of the Sciences and be always busy building or helping – or examining your life and engaging.

  4. Reason and decide for ourselves.

  5. Improve ourselves in Masonry – or learning to know thyself

  6. And Masonry teaches us to offer up our adoration to our Creator and to never forget the Creator as the source of all that is around us. Thus giving us a spiritual life as well.

Thus the goal of Freemasonry was and is to change men and create a dream society where all could prosper and live the “good life”.

The biggest step towards that dream society came on July 4th, 1776 when a group of men, which were undoubtedly influenced by the Masons among them, issued a Declaration of Independence. This amazing document contained one of the most powerful and important sentences ever written:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

What an incredibly succinct way to sum up Masonic philosophy!

 

Life – Owed to our Creator and no other power

Liberty – The condition of being free, free to think, to reason, to worship and to be independent.

The pursuit of Happiness – note that the founders did not want to define happiness for all of us. They knew that happiness is different for everyone but that what was important was having the right, the ability to pursue that happiness as you see fit.

 

Each of these three “unalienable rights” can be traced directly back to our Masonic ritual and from there to the early Greek philosophers. At long last, the dream of the “good life” was about to become a reality. One of Masonry’s greatest triumphs.

It is because of the influence of Masonry on our founding fathers and many who came after them that I believe we are living today in a dream world that previous generations could barely imagine. We have the right to worship as we wish, read and speak freely, and live our lives as we wish. It doesn’t take much of an examination of the world around us to see that this is not the case everywhere and that there is still much work to be done.

So, as you look out that window at the grey skies and are counting your worries, instead, take time to count your blessings that you were born in a time and place that allows you to live the dream!

Obligations and Charges Part 3

As we’ve looked at the obligation and it’s construction in connection to obligations that were common to our founding brothers, we’ve found that there is generally a preamble where the obligant admits that he is not being coerced, that it is being witnessed by some authority or group and invokes Deity. The end of obligation then contains a further admission that there is no mental, philosophical or theosophical trickery being employed to abrogate the obligation, followed by a much more serious appeal to Deity to assist the obligant in fulfilling the obligation.

So now it’s time to turn our attention to the core of the obligation. The specific things that your obligation is binding you to do and are worth risking the penalties both secular and spiritual.

At this point, I had originally thought to take each of the “I further more promise and swear” statements and examine it’s meaning and how it would still apply over 300 years later to modern day Masons. But as I was reviewing these clauses and comparing them to other secular and religious obligations, I was struck by a difference that is so important it literally defines Masonry and why it has had such a powerful effect on man and society, and why our obligations have often been the source of much disapproval by outside groups.

First let’s look at the obligations in common use during the 1700’s that our Brothers would have to have taken and therefore would have been very familiar with when creating the obligation for Masonry

As the various families battled for the crown and the Catholic and Protestant faiths became embroiled in a battle to be the state religion, it became common for someone living in England and Scotland to have to take various oaths of allegiance to the King and abjure the Catholic church in part or in whole. Obligations became a tool for the crown to control the church and it’s subjects simultaneously.

Here are four very common obligations that span the formative years of Masonry:

 

To James I (1603- 1625  / Also James IV of Scotland

King James I

I, A.B. do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify, and declare in my conscience before God and the world, that our Sovereign Lord King James, is lawful and rightful King of this realm, and of all other in his Majesties Dominions and Countries; And that the Pope neither of himself, nor by any authorities of the Church or See of Rome, or by any means with any other hath any power or authority to depose the King, or to dispose any of his Majesty’s kingdoms, or dominions, or to authorize any foreign prince to invade or annoy him, or his countries, or to discharge any of his Subjects of their allegiance and obedience to his Majesty, or to give any license or leave to any of them to bear arms, raise tumult, or to offer any violence, or hurt to his Majesty’s royal person, state, or government, or to any of his Majesty’s subjects within his Majesty’s dominions. Also, I do swear from my heart that, notwithstanding any declaration or sentence of excommunication or deposition made or granted, or to be made or granted by the Pope or his successors, or by any authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him, or his See against the King, his heirs or successors, or any absolution of the said subjects from their obedience: I will bear faith and true allegiance to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, and him or them will defend to the uttermost of my power, against all conspiracies and attempts whatsoever, which shall be made against his or their persons, their crown and dignity, by reason or color of any such sentence or declaration or otherwise, and will doe my best endeavor to disclose and make known unto his Majesty, his heirs and successors, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies, which I shall know or hear of to be against him or any of them. And I do further swear, that I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure, as impious and heretical, this damnable doctrine and position, that princes which be excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any whatsoever. And I do believe and in conscience am resolved, that neither the Pope nor any person whatsoever, hath power to absolve me of this oath, or any part thereof, which I acknowledge by good and full authority to bee lawfully ministered unto me, and do renounce all pardons and dispensations to the contrary: And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mental evasion, or secret reservation whatsoever: And I doe make this recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian: So help me God.

 

To Charles I (1625 – 1649 / Son of James 1 / Executed by Cromwell

King Charles I

I A. B. doe truely and sincercly acknowledge, professe, testifie and declare in my conscience before God and the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King CHARLES, is lawfull King of this Realme, and of all other His Majesties Dominions and Countreyes: And that the Pope neither of himselfe, nor by any Authority of the Church or See of Rome, or by an other meanes with any other, hath any power or Authority to depose the king, or to dispose of any of his Majesties Kingdomes or Dominions, or to Authorize any Forraigne Prince, to invade or annoy Him or His Countreyes, or to discharge any of his Subjects of their Allegiance and Obedience to His Majestie, or to give Licence or leave to any of them to beare Armes, raise Tumults, or to offer any violence or hurt to His Majesties Royall person, State or Government, or to any of His Majesties Subjects within His Majesties Dominions. Also I doe sweare from my heart, that, notwithstanding any Declaration or Sentence of Excommunication or Deprivation made or granted, or to be made or granted, by the Pope or his Successors, or by any Authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him or his Sea, against the said King, His Heires or Successors, or any Absolution of the said Subjects from their Obedience; I will bear faith and true allegiance to His Majestie, His Heires and Successors, and Him and Them will defend to the uttermost of my power, against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatoever, which shall be made against His or their Persons, their Crowne and Dignitie, by reason or colour of any such Sentence, or Declaration or otherwise, and will doe my best endevour to disclose and make known unto his Majesty, His Heires and Successors, all Treasons and Traitorous Conspiracies which I shall know or heare of to be against Him, or any of them. And l do further sweare, That I do from my heart abhor, detest and abjure as impious and Hereticall this damnable Doctrine and Position, That Princes which be Excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be Deposed or Murthered by their Subjects, or any other whatsoever. And I doe beleeve, and in conscience am resolved, that neither the Pope, nor any person whatsoever hath power to absolve me of this Oath, or any part thereof; which I acknowledge by good and full Authority to bee lawfully ministered unto me, and do renounce all Pardons and Dispensations to the contrary. And all these things I doe plainely and sincerely acknowledge and sweare, according to these expresse words by me spoken, and according to the plaine and common sence and understanding of the same words, without any Equivocation, or mentall evasion or secret reservasion whatsoever. And I doe make this Recognition and acknowledgement heartily, willingly, and truely, upon the true Faith of a Christian. So help me GOD.

 

Oath of Abjuration / Test Act (1660 into the 1700’s)

Near the start of the English Civil War, on 18 August 1643 Parliament passed “An Ordinance for Explanation of a former Ordinance for Sequestration of Delinquents Estates with some Enlargements.” The enlargements included an oath which became known as the “Oath of Abjuration”:

I ..; Do abjure and renounce the Pope’s Supremacy and Authority over the Catholic Church in General, and over my self in Particular; And I do believe that there is not any Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lords Supper, or in the Elements of Bread and Wine after Consecration thereof, by any Person whatsoever; And I do also believe, that there is not any Purgatory, Or that the consecrated Host, Crucifixes, or Images, ought to be worshipped, or that any worship is due unto any of them; And I also believe that Salvation cannot be Merited by Works, and all Doctrines in affirmation of the said Points; I do abjure and renounce, without any Equivocation, Mental Reservation, or secret Evasion whatsoever, taking the words by me spoken, according to the common and usual meaning of them. So help me God.

To George IV (1820 – 1830)

King George IV

I A.B.do sincerely promise and swear, That I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fourth, and will defend him to the utmost of my Power against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatever, which shall be made against his Person, Crown or Dignity; and I will do my utmost Endeavour to disclose and make known to His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, all Treasons and traitorous Conspiracies which may be formed against Him or Them: And I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my Power, the Succession of the Crown which Succession, by an Act, intituled An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the Heirs of her Body, being Protestants; hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any Obedience or Allegiance unto any other Person claiming or pretending a Right to the Crown of this Realm: And I do further declare, That it is not an Article of my Faith, and that I do renounce, reject, and abjure the Opinion, that Princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any other Authority of the See of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their Subjects, or by any Person whatsoever: And I do declare, That I do not believe that the Pope of Rome, or any other Foreign Prince, Prelate, Person, State, or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Temporal or Civil Jurisdiction, Power, Superiority, or Pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this Realm. I do swear, That I will defend to the utmost of my Power the Settlement of Property within this Realm, as established by the Laws: And I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any Intention to subvert the present Church Establishment, as settled by Law within this Realm: And I do solemnly swear, That I never will exercise any Privilege to which I am or may become entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant Religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom: And I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare That I do make this Declaration, and every Part thereof, in the plain and ordinary Sense of the Words of this Oath, without any Evasion, Equivocation, or mental Reservation whatsoever. So help me God.

 

Do you notice anything similar in each of these obligations? They are constructed to subsume the individual to the needs of whomever or whatever group is demanding the obligation! There is no wiggle room, no shades of gray, no situational ethics. They all very clearly demand absolute obedience to the obligation and therefore the person requiring the obligation. It does not say you will always support the King unless his policies are not productive for the people he rules then you reserve the right to effect changes. It says I will support the King and do nothing against him…period, full stop, black and white.

This is typical of all of the obligations I could find from this time and nearly all of them since. The key is always for the obligant of the obligation to give up their right to think for themselves and have independent actions.

Now let’s look at the Master Mason’s obligation. The 10 “I further mores” plus the preamble, state a desired condition or state of some interaction with the world or your own conscience and also end with instructions that require that you think about the situation, gather data and make the best decision based on YOUR knowledge, abilities, experience and situation; to be active in and a part of the decision. In other words, free will, free thought and no blind obedience!

I used to think of these as “escape clauses” but now see that that was a very immature way of looking at them. They are, in my opinion, valuable lessons and the unique things that set us apart from religions, cults or oppressive regimes or political systems.

Let look at each clause and see how this works:

  1. Secrets of Master Mason: Very clearly explains to whom they can be revealed but puts the onus for making sure those people are qualified to receive them on the obligant.
  2. Stand to and abide by: Binds you to the rule of the organization and it’s leader but only insofar as you are aware of the what the rules are. Ignorance can be a defense in this case.
  3. Answer and obey: Binds you to your Brothers and the Organization for taking action but also allows you to make the decision to do or not if doing so causes you harm.
  4. Help, Aid and Assist: This is a very laudable duty to take care of others but you are not to force yourself on them and you decide if they are worthy of your help.
  5. Keep the secrets of: Again we are back to secrets and again for two very specific cases, you need to make your own choice.
  6. Not be Present at: Here we delineate quite clearly several classes of people who cannot become Masons under any circumstance. However, this rule allows for the fact that you might not realize that the candidate you propose is in one of these categories. Allows for humanity.
  7. Not visit a: This clause instructs us about the company we keep but like the last one allows for the fact that you might not know you are in bad company at the time. Again, think!
  8. Cheat, Wrong or Defraud: How we treat each other on a personal basis is important and the standard is set in this clause again with the caveat that you must have knowledge that you are dealing with a Brother.
  9. Not have illicit: This clause creates a protected class of people and implies that if you know them to be such, there is a certain standard of protection expected. It also calls upon you to not allow harm of a specific type to happen to them IF you can do something about it. This demands that you make a decision, i.e. think for yourself.
  10. Masonic Word: Only one without an exception? Again, if they can’t come up with the proper position to receive it, then you don’t give it. No just taking their word that they are a Mason.
  11. Grand Hailing Sign: How far should I go to save a Brother from harm of any kind? When do I use it? It’s a decision that is left up to you to make within a framework of certain dangers. No individual of the organization is a more important life then your own. Not King, not Dictator…no one!

This is why the Masonic obligations were so radical for their time and still are to a great extent. The obligations forced upon the masses by Church and State all reduce man to an unthinking, blindly obeying cog in a greater machine. You are not to think for yourself, just do what the “Authority” tells you without question.

Living in a society of such unparalled freedom of thought, expression and self-awareness, it is nearly impossible for us to imagine how mind boggling the Masonic obligation was and how threatened the established power structures would have been; and still are. For example, while we take for granted that the government governs by the consent of the people, it was certainly not the case for most of history. This need to control thought and action so minutely has been the downfall of Religions and political systems throughout history and because of this, change has often come about through very violent and disruptive means.

Yet the designers of Masonry realized that true power, true knowledge can only be gained through each person making their own decisions within a framework of accepted standards. So they gave us a framework that shows us the perfect example but at the same time allows us to be human (self directed and make mistakes) and takes into account that we have to work hard to learn how to master this great power. And once learned, these lessons can be applied to all of your interactions with the world, leading eventually to a more ordered and peaceful society.

Having the kind of power to make the kinds of decisions that we are obligated to make is a difficult task and a tremendous responsibility. That may be why we say that Masonry is a progressive science and that it takes a lifetime to understand. It may be why the obligations go from the very simple to the quite complex and were meant to be learned over a long period of time, and that the study of the 7 liberal arts figures so prominently in our ritual. The obligant needed the time and experience to build up their abilities and knowledge to be able to fulfill the obligations.

This feature / construction  of the obligation should also give us pause to consider more carefully the kind of men we bring into the Craft. Those candidates that we propose must have the ability, the temperament and spiritual and mental maturity to take on or learn to take on weighty responsibilities such as making life and death decisions.

Once again, we see how serious an undertaking it really is for a man to take the Masonic obligations. If he understands their true purpose and strives to uphold/complete the obligation, he will by natural consequence, have to live life carefully, thoughtfully but also with a freedom that is beyond the common man.

 

Questions:

  1. Do you agree or disagree that the obligations are stated such that we have to make value or situational judgments?
  2. Do you think this is part of the “training” or education that Masonry professes to offer?
  3. If you agree, how will you change your behavior knowing that these things in the obligation are not just symbolic but are real situation that you may have to face someday?
  4. Is there ever a time when blind obedience is the right strategy as a person or as a Mason?
  5. Do you think all 11 are freethinking?