Masonic Articles and Essays
The Genius of Masonry
A Royal Arch Mason
Written under the anonymous pen name of "A Royal Arch Mason" and Published in the 1855 edition of The Masonic Review this article attempts to describe the particular genius - the peculiar animating spirit - of Freemasonry
Our object in this article will be to show not only what is peculiar to Masonry, but in what respects it differs from all other associations of a kindred character. Many have grossly misjudged of Masonry, by regarding it in the light of a Divine institution. By thus investing it with a sanctity which never belonged to it, and to which it never made any claims, the members of the fraternity have been held responsible for purity of life and an integrity of deportment even greater than that which has been required of professors of religion. Though it has its altar and its priests, its rites and its ceremonies, yet it does not invade the sanctuary of religion, nor assume an organization based upon the recognition of areligious creed, requiring faith therein as a condition of membership.
It requires no religious tests, save a belief in God and his revealed will, of any who enter its hallowed courts. Founded in a belief of the existence of God the great Jehovah, the supreme Architect and Ruler of the Universe, a firm and unwavering trust in his goodness and mercy, united with a belief in the Revelation which he has made to man, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, it leaves intact the right of private judgment, thus bringing all men of all creeds upon one common platform of faith, and uniting them together in a pure spiritual worship. In the Masonic fraternity an Atheist isa monster, for whom there can be found no name or place in all her records.
We can only discuss the principles of Masonry in the light of a human institution, subjecting those principles to the common and universal standard of morality. It is only in contrast, or rather we should say, in comparison with institutions of a similar character that we can judge of its peculiarity in respect to all those things which pertain toman's happiness in the moral and social state. In all matters pertaining to Church and State regulations concerning man’s faith or politics, the Order stands entirely aloof, exhibiting its genius only in whatever bears a relation to his moral and social life. While it embraces the idea of a universal liberty, universal equality, and a universal fraternity, it at the same time wisely guards these greatest of earthly blessings, and by an ordination peculiar to the Craft, prevents them from degenerating into an unbridled licentiousness on the one hand, a wild anarchy on the other, and infidel socialism on the third. It takes men as they are, in their rude, native, depraved state - as rough, misshapen blocks from the quarry of nature - and by the application of those great rules of social and moral life, upon which the institution is founded, reduces the human character to a symmetry and beauty of form such as will make them pillars in the fabric of society. It claims to "improve the manners and to mend the heart," not, however, by a divine or superhuman agency, but by the inculcation of a rule of life drawn from the holy Scriptures, most beautifully and impressively symbolized by the plumb, the level, and the square. Human actions are not left to the guidance and control of a naked faith, but are reduced to a science, at once purifying and ennobling.
This is Masonry, and whoever teaches to the contrary does not deserve to be dignified with the title of an apprentice to an art whose characteristics are wisdom, strength, beauty, temperance, prudence, justice and truth.
But it may be asked, in what respect does Masonry differ from other institutions of a social character? and this brings us to a consideration of the genius of the Order. In reply to this, we remark that the Masonic Institution differs from all other human institutions both in its letter and in its spirit. Its peculiarity, in regard to the letter, consists in, and is exhibited by its ancient constitutions and landmarks. It has outlived all other human constitutions, and as it regards its landmarks, though thousands of centuries have passed away, during which empires and nations have risen, flourished, fallen, and passed away from the memory of man, or at most, only live upon the page of history, it may be said in reference to everything essential to the integrity of the institution, that they have not been removed, but remain unchanged and unchangeable. Other institutions that have come down from antiquity, through the ever varying progress of human events, have lost their original character, and been merged into the spirit of the age, assuming new forms as the genius of the times have dictated; but Masonry, like the granite pyramids, with base deeply imbedded in the plain, and apex pointing to heaven, has stood the shock of centuries, and towers sublimely over the wrecks of time. The effacing fingers of decay have not swept one line of beauty from its calm, benignant features; pediment and plinth and shaft and capital, arch and keystone, corner-stone and cap-stone, remain as entire as when first placed by the architect, and no symptoms of decay or dissolution are to be found in the whole temple of the mystic art.
But what were the temple without the presiding genius? What were the body without the soul? As the temple of Solomon, on Mount Moriah without the Divine Shekinah, whose glory illumined, and whose presence inspired its priests and prophets, was drear and desolate, so the temple of Masonry, though standing in all its strength and beauty -
"With cornice and frieze and lofty sculptures graven,"
would be like the rock excavated temples of Petra, "habitation for dragons, and a court for owls." If over the wide arched gateway was not inscribed in letters of light, “Brotherly love, Relief and Truth," if a masonic faith, masonic hope, and a masonic charity did not pervade the minds and hearts of those who entered and dwelt in her courts, then would the order exist only in name, a solemn mockery, a hiss and a bye-word, provoking only the contempt of the world and the reprobation of heaven.
The love of others may fail, but a Mason's is lasting as life and stronger than death. In the day of prosperity multitudes will flit and flutter around, like the light winged insects of a summer’s day, but no sooner does the dark, stormy hour of adversity come, than they disappear, and leave the unfortunate to sadness and despair. The fidelity of others may fail, and the most solemn asseverations may prove to have been falsehoods, designed to deceive; but truth, the foundation of every virtue, is the guiding star of every upright Mason, and no fear or fraud or favor will for a moment cause him to swerve from the unerring line.
The faith of others may falter and their trust in God be shaken by the waywardness of the world, the uncertainty of earthly events, and the assaults of infidelity; but the firm foundations of a Mason's faith can never be moved; founded upon the "rock of ages," the powers of destruction shall not prevail against it.
The hopes of others in the dark and trying hour, may yield, and the heart, sickened by a sad delay, may turn distrustingly away from the object of its pursuit, but the hope of a Mason is like an anchor to the soul amid the storms of life, secured by which he outrides the tempest, and glides peacefully into that harbor, "where the wicked cease to trouble, and the weary are forever at rest."
The charity of others may fail, and the tongue of slander may blast with its sirocco breath the fairest fame; but a Mason’s charity faileth never. "It believeth all things, hoped all things, endureth all things;" and when the storm of execration and hate would come, and with merciless violence sweep away the last redeeming remnant of good, it casts its broad mantle over the vices and follies of the erring, and though it justifieth not, in the midst of wrath, it remembers mercy, and refers to the decisions of the last day.
While the tongue of detraction would invade the sanctuary of home, and ruthlessly disturb even the aches of the dead, by dragging forth its victim to the floating gaze of the vulgar crowd, outraging all the principles of a common humanity, the spirit of Masonry forbids the invasion, and points its anathema against such cowardly acts; dictating a forbearance and charity which leaves the departed to his God, and shielding the innocent from the coarse and vulgar taunts of monsters in the form of men.
Such is the genius of Masonry. Over all the departments of life it casts a bright and genial sunshine, seeking with its kindly, voice to sooth the sorrows and mitigate the woes of mortals. By its soft hand it wipes away the tear from the helpless widow, takes the distressed and unprotected orphan into its fold, and wherever misery lifts its voice of sadness, hies on rapid wings to its relief. Under its banners may we live, possessed by its spirit may we die, and with its generations past, may we be gathered to our fathers, - softly and gently as the night winds fall to the earth may we pass away.
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