Some of the more progressive and “dangerous” ideas in Masonry are quite obvious such as the idea of universal brotherhood, accepting all faiths and the statements in the obligations. Each of these things for their time in the 17th and 18th century were quite dangerous to the status quo of society, political and religious power and so were often veiled in allegory or only transmitted from mouth to ear.
Other progressive and “dangerous” ideas are hidden in plain sight, however, and are just as powerful but as we no longer live in the 17th or 18th century, they often get overlooked.
One such idea is given in the Fellowcraft charge. The newly passed Fellowcraft is told during the charge:
“…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man who Masonry regards…”
While on the surface this may seem like a fancy way of saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but upon further examination, the importance of this short phrase becomes more apparent. (N.B.: this concept was allegorically introduced when the candidate was asked for “…something of a metallic nature…” and found he was destitute)
I believe that there are two possible sources for this revolutionary idea and they may be intertwined and therefore it’s impossible to say with any accuracy, which influenced the creators of our ritual more. Nonetheless, let’s look at this concept from both a Biblical and a 17th/18th century prospective.
The original source of this idea may well have been the book of Samuel. The book of Samuel (divided into two books in Christian theology) tells the story of the rise and fall of David and is not considered historical as there are no extra-biblical sources that confirm the stories. Nevertheless, the book records a critical period in Israelite history, the transition from charismatic leadership, with leaders appointed at times of need, to an established, dynastic monarchy, politically uniting the Israelites. (Shawn Aster / www.myjewishlearning.com).
In 1 Samuel 16:1:13, (N.B.: if you are not familiar with the background of the whole story, I recommend you read the entire book) we find Samuel being directed by God to go to Bethlehem and contact Jesse and that from his sons, a new king will be chosen (Saul hadn’t really worked out). Samuel is reluctant to do so but eventually does as he is bade by the Lord. Samuel finds Jesse and has him present each of his sons, starting at the oldest, to see if one of them is the man whom God will have him anoint as King. Samuel expects it to be the first-born due to traditions surrounding first-born male children and because he is a fine-looking, strong man. But he is rejected! This continues through the other sons of Jesse and Samuel is confused. It is at this point that we find what may be the basis for our admonition to look on the “internal qualification of a man” in Masonry
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)
So here for the first time we find the concept of judging someone by their intentions, actions and inner qualities and not by their physical appearance, birthright or other worldly things! In the big scheme of things, those items matter not. Even for the time of Samuel, this was a very different lesson to learn!
Now how would people in the 17th/18th century have looked at such an idea in the FC Charge?
Life in this time was all about the external as far as how people were judged. If you were born to the “right” family, you could be King or a Lord of a great estate regardless of your moral or personal values. If you were born to a poor family, that is where you would stay with little or no chance of being able to move up in the strata of society. The Church at this time was also, paradoxically, divided in the same manner and looked upon their flock in the same manner. Wealth, position and power controlled the lives of people of this time and had done so for many years. It was even worse for women and people of color, as they were generally regarded simply as property!
However, as England and Europe moved into the time we call the Enlightenment, much of this began to be challenged and change. As philosophers (the first scientists) began to explore and explain the world around us, it became harder to control knowledge and therefore the masses. People began to believe that they could understand the world and the will of God as accurately as the Church if not more so. Understanding physical processes through science gave many an avenue to build an industry and raise themselves out of the dirt. The grip of Church and State was being thrown off and changed to be more in the favor of the common people. The philosophy that all humans had value began to pervade thinking. So it is very likely that our fore brothers interpreted this idea in the charge from the massive changes going on about them in thought and society and boiled it down to the simple phrase “…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards…”
Regardless of the source of inspiration, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how radical this idea was and how dangerous it would have been to the status quo. By meeting on the level, many prejudices can be broken down, ideas can be exchanged freely and if followed purely, the correct man can be chosen for the job at hand, not simply by title, wealth or position. The society becomes more peaceful and therefore more productive and progressive.
It would be nice if we could look at this and say “Well that was then, this is now, we don’t have that issue anymore” but that is patently not the case!
[The need to follow this precept] rings out loudly in our cultural context. We rely for almost everything on our sight, but it often proves untrustworthy. Advertisers know that the quickest way to get their fingers into our wallets is through our eyes–by bombarding us with images of sexuality and excess. Do we really think that wearing the same watch, as Heidi Klum or Tiger Woods will make us more attractive and successful? Apparently, since we buy the watches. And the cars, hamburgers, and light beer. We also tend to pick our leaders–politicians, principals, coaches, celebrities, and so on–based on our society’s norms about appearance. For the last century or more, the taller of the two final presidential candidates has almost always won. (Rolf Jacobsen / www.workingpreacher.org)
Only in the last century, have we as a society began to look at the harm judging by external factors has created in society and every so slowly we are working on adopting a more internal rule by which to measure our fellow-man. Masonry has known this to be an important concept for over 300 years!
In the Fellowcraft degree we are taught about construction of physical objects but also the world and the person. We are introduced to those things that we should study to improve upon ourselves, and the world around us.
If the Entered Apprentice was about youth, and the Fellowcraft about manhood, then you can no longer be excused for the mistakes of youth. Nor have you attained the wisdom of your elders. You must take on the hard work of building yourself and the world around while you can. This means confronting such difficult concepts as Brotherhood based on internal qualities and shared values and not on those temporary things that separate us in the external world.
One the most difficult things any of us will do as a man and a Mason are to try to live up the precepts of Masonry, especially this particular precept. As visual creatures and flawed humans we constantly fall into the trap of judging by external and not the internal qualifications. But as Mason’s it is incumbent upon us to realize that natural failing and work constantly to overcome it. Thereby we will not only be happier and wiser but will set the correct example for the world, thus fulfilling yet another goal of Freemasonry.
Questions / Observations
- Should we put more emphasis on this concept?
- Why is it only in the FC charge and not in the obligation if it is important? (Think of the difference between the goals of each. Charges are hortatory)
- Will we ever truly be able to live in this manner? Why or Why not?
- Read the book of Samuel, it reinforces this idea even deeper. Saul was a choice of the people based on their visual assessment of Saul. Turns out he didn’t really have the right “heart” and so God replaced him.
- The three degrees could be seen as a retelling of the arc of David’s life. EA is his youth and service under Saul, FC is his good days as King of the Israelites and MM would be his downfall (the sword will ever be with the house of David…The lion of the tribe of Judah will prevail (in Revelation it’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (i.e. the Davidic line) that opens the book)