Teaching From Lip to Ear the Secrets of Freemasonry
That the Stonemasons of the Middle Ages had in their possession certain very important secrets, which they religiously abstained from, communicating to any other Masons who were not of the fraternity, is a fact of which there cannot be a doubt.
But, to discover what these secrets were is a task that has puzzled the brains of more than one investigator. We have seen that there were passwords, signs, and other methods of recognition which were established to enable the members of the Craft to make themselves known in strange places and to strange brethren, and which were simply matters of convenience forming the part of a system not peculiar to the Masons, but which has, in all ages, been practiced by every association of men who desired to preserve an exclusive organization. But these modes of recognition did not constitute the secrets of the Freemasons, which bound them together as a united sodality having in every country the same aims and objects.
Such secrets were of far more value and importance than any arbitrary code of signals adopted as a means of communication and mutual recognition. The evidence is very patent, in all the old Constitutions and Regulations that the Freemasons were in possession of secrets which the members of the fraternity were strictly forbidden to communicate to outsiders.
Thus, the Strasburg Constitution forbids any Master or Fellow Craft to instruct anyone who is not of the Craft in any part belonging to Masonry. There was in the lodge a certain book which was kept by the Master under an oath that he would permit no part of it to be copied. It is evident that this book must have contained something besides the Statutes, because a book of mere regulations would hardly have been invested with such a character of sanctity. But the earliest of the English Constitutions, that known as the Halliwell MS., is still more explicit on this subject.
The third point - tercius peonctus - is an admonition to Apprentices to keep the secrets of the Craft which have been entrusted to them. He was to keep close the counsel of his Master and his Fellows; he was to reveal to no man matters which had been privately discussed (the prevystye of the chamber), nor what had been done in the lodge.
The thrydde poynt most be severele,
With the prerites knowe hyt wele.
Hys Mayster cownsel he kepe and close
And bys felows by hys goode purpose;
The prevystye of the chamber tell he no man,
Ny yn the logge whatsever they done;
Whatsever thou heryst or syste hem do,
Telle hyt no mon, whersever thou go;
The cownsel of halle and yeke of boure,
Kepe hyt wel to gret honoure
Lest hyt wolde torne thyself to blame,
And brynge the craft unto gret shame.[i]
It seems scarcely capable of a doubt that these secrets were of an architectural nature. The architects and builders who invented the Gothic style of architecture, and built all the religious edifices of the Middle Ages, and who, as Mr. Hope says, whatever might be the locality in which they were placed, either north, south, east, or west, derived their science from a central school, must have been in possession of certain principles of their art, which they kept exclusively to themselves.
From the most distant points, whither these "Traveling Freemasons" might have wandered, they maintained, with their brethren of the Craft, a constant correspondence, and communicated to each other the minutest improvement in their art.[ii]
It was in the 10th century that the science of geometry is supposed to have first given its aid to architecture by the learned Gerbert, who from the archbishopric of Ravenna had been advanced, in the year 999, to the papacy, under the name of Sylvester H. Mosheim says of him that his genius was extensive and sublime, embracing all the branches of literature, but more particularly mathematics.
His studies in geometry were so far beyond the attainments of the age in which he lived that his geometrical figures were regarded by the monks as magical operations, and he himself considered as a magician and a disciple of Satan. To him, Europe is said to have been indebted for the introduction of the Arabic numerals, which he brought from Cordova, in Spain, where he spent several years in acquiring the language and the learning of the Arabians.
I am not ready to subscribe to the opinion of some writers who suppose that the builders of the 10th century were placed in possession of the method of applying geometric science to the secrets of architecture. But, I think it highly probable that by his learning as a mathematician he gave the first impetus to the study of geometry by the monkish and the lay architects of his times.
This led to the application of the principles of that science at a little later period to the art of building, so as to develop into the system of geometrical secrets, which distinguished the builders of the Gothic style, or the Freemasons of the Middle Ages.
Lord Lindsay, in his Sketches of the History of Christian Art, significantly alludes to this possession of architectural secrets as an important element in the strength of these medieval Masons.
His language is well worth quotation. Speaking of the symbolic style of architecture - an architecture in which everything was made subservient to the expression of religious ideas by means of symbolism, which, beginning in Lombardy, had been diffused over all Europe, both north and south of the Alps - Lord Lindsay assigns the following as the cause of that diffusion:
What chiefly contributed to its diffusion over Europe, was the exclusive monopoly in Christian architecture, conceded by the Popes toward the close of the 8th century, to the Masons of Como, then, and for ages afterward, when the title of Magistri Comacini had long been absorbed in that of 'Free and Accepted Masons,' associated as a craft or brotherhood in art and friendship. A distinct and powerful body, composed eventually of all nations, concentrating the talent of each successive generation, with all the advantages of accumulated experience and constant mutual communication - imbued, moreover, in that age of faith, with the deepest Christian reverence, and retaining their advantages unchallenged till their proscription in the 15th and 16th centuries - we cannot wonder that the Freemasons should have carried their art to a pitch, which now that their secrets are lost, it may be considered hopeless to attempt to rival. [iii]
Mr. Paley, in his Manual of Gothic Architecture, touches rather tenderly on this subject, for he thinks that little or nothing has ever transpired of the secret system which the Freemasons adopted in building, nor of the organization of their body, except that it was ecclesiastical and under the jurisdiction and benediction of the Pope. He supposes, however, that there was some central school whence emanated all the rules which were developed in a positive identity of architectural details in the minutest points; or if there were no such school that the Master Masons went about like missionaries teaching these principles.[iv]
Elsewhere, in the same work, he becomes more explicit in respect to these secrets, and thinks that they consisted in an application of the principles of geometry to architecture. It is, he says, certain that geometry lent its aid in the planning and designing of buildings, and the methods of application were, he thinks, evidently "profound secrets in the keeping of the Freemasons."[v]
He expatiates on this theory and supposes that the equilateral triangle was probably the basis of most formations, as it is exhibited in a majority of pointed arches as well as in the vesica piscis, a prominent mystic symbol of the medieval Masons.
And this theory is greatly strengthened by the fact - which was probably not known to Mr. Paley, or at least he does not refer to it - that the equilateral triangle is one of the most important and significant of the symbols of the Speculative Masons, who indeed have founded most of their symbolism on geometrical principles borrowed from or suggested by the practices of the medieval Operative Masons, who were their predecessors.
Michelet, in his History of France,[vi] has some very profound remarks on this subject of the secret of the medieval Masons. He shows that it was geometrical and consisted in an application of the science of numbers, used in a mystical sense to the art of building according to the principles of Gothic architecture, which was the peculiar style of the Freemasons. He illustrates this view from examples furnished by cathedrals built by the fraternity from the 11th century onward. His views are worth consideration.
He says that this geometry of beauty, as he calls it, is conspicuous in the type of Gothic architecture as exhibited in the Cathedral of Cologne. This is a regular body which has grown in its appropriate proportions with a regularity equal to that of the formation of crystals. The cross of this church is strictly deduced from the figure by which Euclid constructs the equilateral triangle. The numbers 10 and 12, with their divisors and their multiples, were the numbers which guided and controlled all the measures of the edifice.
Of these, 10 was the human number, because it was that of the fingers; 12 was the divine number, being astronomical in its relations. To these 7 were added as the number of the planets. The inferior parts of the building are modeled on the square, and subdivided into the octagon; the superior are modeled on the triangle and are developed in the hexagon and the lodecagon.
The arcade, thrown from one pillar to another, is fifty feet wide, and this number is repeated throughout the building in some of its multiples. Thus, the side-aisles are 25 feet, or one-half the width of the arcade; the facade is thrice its width, or 150 feet.
The entire length of the church is three times its entire breadth, or nine times the width of the arcade. The breadth of the whole church is equal to the length of the choir, of the nave, and to the height of the middle of the roof. The proportion of the length to the height is as 2 is to 5.
Finally, the numbers of the arcade and the side-aisles are repeated externally in the counter-foils and buttresses. There are seven chapels of the choir, which is the number of the gifts of the Holy Ghostand of the Sacraments, according to the Catholic Church, and the choir is supported by twice seven columns. This predilection for mystical numbers occurs in all the churches of the medieval period. Thus, the Cathedral of Rheims has 7 entrances, and both it and the Cathedral of Chartres have 7 chapels around the choir. The choir of Notre Dame, at Paris, has 7 arcades. The cross-aisle is 144 feet long, which is 16 times 9, and 42 feet wide, which is 6 times 7. The towers of Notre Dame are 204 feet high, which, is 17 times 12, the astronomical number.
The length of the church of Notre Dame at Rheims is 408 feet, or 34 times 12. The Cathedral of Notre Dame has 297 columns; but 297 divided by 3 gives 99, and this divided by 3 again produces 33. The naves of St. Ouen at Rouen, and of the Cathedrals of Strasburg and Chartres, are of the same length, or 244 feet.
The Saint Chapelle, at Paris, is 110 feet long and 27 feet wide, but 110 is 10 times 11, and 27 is 3 times 9. In these few examples, we have developed the numbers 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12, all of which have been retained in the mystical system of the Speculative Freemasons, and their appearance among the medieval Masons could have been neither by an accident nor a coincidence but must have arisen from a predetermined selection. "To whom, then," says Michelet, "belonged this science of numbers, this divine mathematics? To no mortal man, but to the Church of God."
Under the shadow of the Church, in chapters and in monasteries, the secret was transmitted together with instruction in the mysteries of Christianity. The Church alone could accomplish these miracles of architecture. She would often summon a whole people to complete a monument. A hundred thousand men labored at once on that of Strasburg, and such was their zeal that they did not suffer night to interrupt their labors, but continued them by the light of torches. The Church would often expend centuries and the slow accomplishment of a perfect work. Renaud de Montauban, for instance, bore stones for the building of the Cathedral of Cologne, and to this day it is still in process of erection.[vii]
Michelet has found, in the geometrical proportions observed in the construction of religious edifices, a conformity to the principles of art laid down by Vitruvius and by Pliny, and thus in the Gothic style of architecture the Freemasons have preserved the traditions of antiquity.[viii]
Here, then, we see, apparently, another link in the chain which connects the Middle Age Corporations of Craftsmen with the Roman builders of the Collegia Artificum.
In defining the secret or secrets of the medieval Masons to have consisted in an application of the principles of geometry to the processes of building, M. Michelet has taken that view of the subject which is now very generally accepted by Masonic and archaeological writers. Findel says that the secrets of the Stonemasons consisted of instruction in architecture and in mystical numbers; of these he says that 3, 5, 7 and 9 were especially sacred. But, Michelet has shown that while the numbers mentioned by Findel were venerated, the numbers 10 and 12, or the human and divine numbers, were deemed the most important, and were the most used in symbolization.
He says, also, that the colors gold or yellow, blue and white, were sacred as having especial allusions to the art. The symbolization of colors, as well as of the implements of the Craft, which have been described by Findel and some other German writers, did not constitute any part of those secrets of the Craft the knowledge of which distinguished the members of the Guild or Fraternity of Freemasons from the common workmen, to whom these secrets were never communicated, and to whom they never could be imparted except by a positive violation of the Guild law. It is therefore a matter of but very little importance - in fact of none at all - whether M. Michelet is or is not correct in assigning to the Church the office of inventing the architectural symbolism which pervaded all the religious edifices of the Middle Ages. It is true that the Christian Church had scarcely emerged from the chrysalis state in which it had existed during the apostolic age, when dogmas were taught without figurative illustration, before it began to impress its religious instructions upon its disciples by means of symbols.[ix]
But as early as the 12th century, at least, the Freemasons had begun to cut adrift from their monastic and ecclesiastic connections, and had established themselves as an independent body of Craftsmen. It would be safe to suppose, as Boisseree contends, that both geometrical architecture and architectural symbolism were the invention rather of skilled professional architects than of monks or prelates who were not practical Masons.
The Church, however, must have undoubtedly exuded some influence in early times in molding the system. At first, in the earliest periods of the rise of ecclesiastical architecture, the abbots and bishops, taking, as Fergusson says, some former building as a model, made their designs and verbally corrected its mistakes or suggested their improvements to the builder.[x]
But, afterwards, the professional architects and Masons usurped to themselves the task of designing as well as erecting the churches and other buildings. The methods of geometrical and mathematical construction became arcana, to be confined to the members of the Guild of Freemasons and to constitute those secrets, so often spoken of, which were lost at the dissolution of the fraternity. The gradual disseverance of the professional Masons from their ecclesiastical relations, and the improvement in the science of architecture which - of course, developed that geometrical system which the wiser craftsmen kept to themselves - has been described by Mr. Whittington in his Historical Survey of the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of France; and though what he says has direct reference to that kingdom, it can, with perfect correctness, be applied to Germany.
The ancient writers often mention instances of an abbot giving a plan which his convent assisted in carrying into execution, and this was certainly the case in the beginning of the revival of learning after the decadence of the Roman Empire, when the arts were almost exclusively cultivated by the clergy.
But it is equally certain that the ecclesiastics patronized the professors of the arts among the laity, and especially in the arts of building there were men of superior skill and intelligence who, being brought from distant places by the liberality of the prelates, were added to the common Masons and carpenters who were found in the different cities, and whose mere manual labor was made use of by the monks in the construction of religious edifices. This association, elevated by the intermixture of the superior intelligence of the more skilled workmen, and patronized by the authority of the Church, secured employment and protection. The members gradually increased in numbers and improved in science until, at length, they produced the most able artificers among themselves.
Thus, it was that the builders were, about the 12th century, enabled to withdraw altogether from their dependence on, and from their connection with, the ecclesiastics. They formed that fraternity of Freemasons who were distinguished in every country where they appeared, from the common herd of craftsmen - the Maurer of the Germans and the "rough Masons"[xi] of the English - by the possession of important secrets connected with the art of building.
"So studiously," says Mr. Halliwell, "did they conceal their secrets, that it may be fairly questioned whether even some of those who were admitted into the Society of Freemasons were wholly skilled in all the mysterious portions of the art."[xii]
Doubtless in this, as in every association of men, must have been a diversity of skill and talent. But, the fraternal spirit of the Craft led to a willingness on the part of the best instructed to supply the needs of their less informed brethren. Thus, in one of the earliest of the old English Constitutions it is provided that if a Mason be wiser and more subtle than his fellow working with him in his lodge or any other place, and he perceives that he must leave the stone upon which he is working for want of skill, and he can teach him how to work the stone better, he shall instruct him and help him, that the more love may increase among them, and that the work of the Lord be not lost.[xiii]
A similar regulation will be found in the Constitutions of Strasburg. Thus, though there were of course some workmen more skilled than others, and though they were strictly exclusive in confining their knowledge of the secrets of their art to their own fraternity, yet those secrets were freely imparted to every member who desired the knowledge. The theory that the secret of the medieval Freemasons consisted in an application of the principles of geometry to architecture enables us to explain many things otherwise inexplicable in the old records of the Operative Masons and in the modern rituals of the Speculative Free and Accepted Masons.
We are thus enabled to understand all the allusions made to geometry as the most important of the sciences and as the synonym of Masonry. Dr. Anderson, most probably with some old manuscript before him, the suggestions of which he followed, commenced the Book of Constitutions with a eulogium, not on Masonry, but on Geometry, which he declared was the foundation of Masonry and Architecture.
In the second edition of the Constitutions, he says that the Masons always had a book in manuscript which, besides the Charges and Regulations, contained the history of architecture, in order to show the antiquity of the Craft or Art, "and how it gradually arose upon its solid foundation, the noble science of Geometry."[xiv]
The discovery since his time of many copies of this manuscript book of Constitutions confirms what he here says of the connection of Geometry with Masonry. Elsewhere he writes in the same strain of Geometry and Masonry as identical arts. Thus, he says: "No doubt Adam taught his sons Geometry," and "Seth took equal care to teach Geometry and Masonry to his offspring."
But the best illustration in the work of Anderson, of the theory that the secret of the Freemasons consisted in the application of the principles of Geometry to Architecture, is his statement that Noah's ark "was certainly fabricated by Geometry and according to the rules of Architecture."
All the old English manuscript Constitutions maintain the same idea of the very close connection, and, indeed, identity, of Geometry and Masonry. Thus, in the earliest of them, the Halliwell MS., whose date is supposed to be about the year 1390, it is said:
In that time through good Geometry,
The honest craft of good Masonry Was ordained and made in this manner.
In the Cooke MS., whose date is about a hundred years later, we are told that:
Isidore saith in his Etymologies, that Euclid calleth the craft geometry.
In the York MS., of the date of 1600, we are still more distinctly told that:
Euclid was the first that gave it the name of Geometry, the which is now called Masonry.
But it is hardly necessary to multiply the instances in which the old Constitutions have referred to Geometry as the foundation of Masonry, or as an art indeed identical with it. All of these references to Geometry are but corroborating proofs of what has been already said, that the great secret of the medieval Masons consisted in the application of the principles of Geometry to the art of building by methods known only to themselves, and which they developed in the Gothic style of architecture which they invented.
This secret perished with the dissolution of the Operative Fraternity, or by its transmission into the Speculative Association. Yet this Speculative Association, the Free and Accepted Masons of the present day, have retained the memory of their descent from these Operative Masons of the Middle Ages by a sacred preservation in their ritual of a reference to Geometry as the "fifth and noblest of the sciences and the one on which the superstructure of Masonry is founded."
The retention in the ritual of the letter G, the earliest and the most extensively propagated of all the symbols of Speculative Masonry, is an ever-present and a loudly speaking testimony in every lodge that the brethren there congregated have not forgotten that the great secret of their predecessors was a geometrical one.
Indeed, if there were no other proof that the medieval Freemasons did all their work according to certain principles of Geometry, the method of applying which was known only to themselves, and that therefore the science of Geometry was to them a most important and indispensable part of their Craft, and which entitled it peculiarly to the appellation of a "mystery," a word applied indifferently to designate a trade or a secret.[xv]
But the very fact that these Freemasons were possessed of important secrets in reference to the art and practice of building, and to preserve their own preeminence, it became necessary that they should have some method of securing these secrets to themselves and of preventing the intrusion of strangers and workmen who were not of their guild or fraternity into a community of labor with them and the acquisition of any part of their mystical knowledge.
Now the only method by which these ends could be attained was that of a code or system of signs and words by which any one of these Freemasons could make himself known to the others, when he might be in a strange place, and thus secure to himself a participation in the benefits of the association.
A form of reception or initiation would also, probably, be adopted, either for further security or for the purpose of giving solemnity to the admission of new members. We have the best historical records to prove that modes of recognition were adopted for the purpose named by the medieval Freemasons, and that they had a form of initiation, though what that form precisely was I am disposed to think we are ignorant of, notwithstanding the authority of recent German writers, some of whom have pretended to give it in full.
The English and Scottish authorities - that is to say, the contemporary manuscript records - certainly supply us with no information on that subject, save that there was some formula of reception for an Apprentice, a Fellow, and a Master, the authorities indicating that the same formula was used on each occasion, or perhaps that one form of reception only was used, and on only one occasion.
There is a great amount of obscurity on this subject which can be removed only by future investigations and by the discovery of more explicit manuscripts, which, if any such exist, have not yet been brought to light.
The German writers, however, have furnished from documents in their possession many almost minute details of the usages of the Traveling Freemasons of that country and which in the course of time must have extended into other lands.
In the Book of Constitutions of the Lodge Archimedes, at Altenburg, is contained an examination of a German Steinmetzen, which has been copied by Krause, by Findel, and by other writers, and which is declared by all of them to be a genuine document. I do not see any reason to doubt its genuineness and I give it as it has been published in Findel's History of Freemasonry, with a few alterations or amendments, on the authority of Krause's copy of the same document.
When a Fellow, traveling in his "Wander Year," or at any time in search of employment, arrived at a strange Huttle or Lodge, he approached, says Findel, by three regular steps, and knocking three times was admitted, when, the brethren all standing around, their feet placed at right angles, he saluted the Master, or in his absence, the Parlirer or Warden, with the following salutations, which were, "God greet you - God guide you - God reward you - Master, Parlirer and Fellows." After some other mutual courteous greetings, the examination proceeded as follows:
Worthy Fellow-craftsmen, are you a letter Mason (ein Briefer) or a salute Mason (ein Grasser)?
I am a salute Mason.
How shall I know you to be such?
By my salute and the words of my mouth.
Who has sent you?
My worshipful Master, the worshipful townsmen, and the worshipful Craft of Masons at N.N.
For what purpose?
For honorable advancement, instruction, and honesty.
What are instruction and honesty?
The customs and usages of the Craft.
When do they begin?
As soon as I have honestly and faithfully finished my Apprenticeship.
When do they end?
When death breaks my heart.
How shall we know a Mason?
By his honesty.
What kind of a Mason are you?
A Mouth-mason (ein Mund-Maurer).
How shall we know that?
By my salute and mouth speech.
Where was the worshipful Craft of Masonry in Germany instituted?
In Magdeburg, at the Cathedral.[xvi]
Under what monarch?
Under the Emperor Charles II, in the year 876.
How long did that Emperor reign?
How was the first Mason called?
Anton Hieronymus, and the working tool was invented by Walkan.
How many words has a Mason?
What are for the Words?
Riganische, Riganse, Rigaische.
How do they run?
God bless honesty. God bless honorable wisdom. God bless a worshipful Craft of Masons. God bless a worshipful Master. God bless a worshipful Parlirer (or warden). God bless a worshipful Society. God bless an honorable advancement here and there and everywhere, on the water and on the land.
What is secrecy in itself?
Earth, fire, air, and snow, through which to a Worshipful Master's advancement I go.
What do you carry under your hat?
A praiseworthy wisdom.
What do you carry under your tongue?
A praiseworthy truth.
Why do you wear an apron?
To do honor to the Worshipful Craft and for my profit
What is the strength of our Craft?
That which fire and water cannot destroy.
What is the best for a Mason?[xvii]
Water. Such was according to the Konstitutions Buch of the Altenburg.
Yet it is the language of Krause, who quotes the "Konstitutions Buch" in his "Drei Altesten Kunsturkenden," and it is from him that I have made my translation. Lodge of "Archimedes of the three Tracing Boards," the catechism or examination of a Freemason in the Middle Ages in Germany.
It is very evident that its only design was to establish a system of questions, the capacity of giving the correct answers to which were to prove the just claim of the person questioned to be a member of the guild. In this respect, this catechism resembles that which was in use among the English Masons at the time of the organization of Speculative Masonry.
One of the answers in this medieval catechism presents the doggerel form of verse which is so common in the early English catechisms, and hence we find another resemblance. In the original German Catechism we find this answer:
Was ist Heimlichkeit an sich selbst? Erde, Feur, Luft, und Schnee, Wodunt ich auf eines Ehrbaren Maisters Beforderung geh."
Which may be translated: "What is Secrecy in itself? Earth, Fire, Air, and Snow, Through which to a worshipful Master's advancement I go.
This must strongly remind us of the doggerel verses in the English catechisms. So, common indeed was this practice of doggerel versification in all the old rituals that its presence may be deemed a proof of relative antiquity, as its absence would be a proof of want of genuineness. The long ritual of the Royal Order of Scotland, which is among the oldest of the High Degrees, is made up almost entirely from beginning to end of doggerel verses, which even for doggerel are for the most part very inferior in structure.
The secret words in this catechism are also worthy of remark. Of Rikanse, with its variations, it is impossible to trace the origin. The supposition in the Constitution Book that it is a corruption of the English "wriggle," is too puerile for consideration. It is said that the number of the letters being seven is significant, and hence Krause, who admits that this is a mutilated word, thinks the letters may be composed of the initials of the names of the seven liberal arts and sciences. But this hypothesis is, I think, wholly untenable, and it must remain as another instance of the numerous irreparable corruptions of the old Masonic manuscripts. Not so, however, with the other words in this catechism, Adon Hieronymus and Walkan.
The former, evidently, is a corruption of Adonhiram, who, Krause says, has been confounded with either Hiram, the King of Tyre, or with Hiram Abif; I think most probably the latter, because the person described by that name in the Books of Kings and Chronicles is called "Adon" in some of the English Constitutions.
The word Walkan, evidently, is a corruption of Tubal Cain. Mossdorf thinks it was meant for Vulcan. But this is untenable. Vulcan is never mentioned in any of the old Masonic records, and it is not probable that the Freemasons were at all acquainted with this pagan god of blacksmiths. On the other hand, the old Constitutions had made them familiar with the name of Tubal Cain, whom the Legend of the Craft had placed with the other children of Lamech as the founders of Masonry.
We see, therefore, the close connection between the Steinmetzen of Germany and the Freemasons of England. They were both, evidently, branches of the same common body of artists, and had, if we may judge from these two words, the same legend.
The Altenburg Constitution Book asserts, indeed, that the forms of initiation and the ritual used by the German Stonemasons came originally from England. This may have been so, though we have no direct or distinct proof of the fact. If it were so it would not militate with the fact that the other and greater secret of the Craft, that of building in the Gothic style and on geometric principles, came to both England and to Germany from the school of Lombardy and the Masters of Como. We have thus seen that the Freemasons of the Middle Ages - the Steinmetzen, Stonecutters or Stonemasons, as they have been indifferently called, were in possession of and were distinguished by two classes of secrets.
One of these classes consisted in the possession of certain methods of recognition by which one Mason might know another, as the modern rituals say, "in the dark as well as in the light."
Now this class of secrets is not of any historical importance, nor was it peculiar to the fraternity of Masons. At all times and in all countries, men, when they unite into a brotherhood for the pursuit of any special object, certain details of which they desire to conceal from the world, protect their exclusiveness and their secrecy by some method of signs or pass-words which will secure them from the intrusion of those who are not of their sodality, and are therefore to them as profanes.
We have ample proof that those who practiced the Pagan Mysteries of antiquity had this secret method of protecting their ceremonies and the dogmas which they taught from the uninitiated. "Every trade, art, and occupation," said Harris, "has its secrets, which are not to be indiscriminately communicated to all who seek to obtain them without having undergone the necessary probation, and have not thus become members of the sodality, guild, or craft."
The Freemasons of the Middle Ages did not, therefore, differ in this respect from other associations of a similar kind. Their possession of signs and words, by which they made themselves known to each other, is of no special importance in the history of the Craft, except insomuch as that if there can be shown to be any similarity or analogy between those used by the Freemasons of the present day and those which were practiced by the medieval Masons, we should have another proof of the descent of the former as a fraternity from the latter. Such a similarity or analogy has, I think, been already shown in the course of our present investigations.
The use among the German Stonemasons of such words as Walkan and Adon Hieronymus, which are evidently corruptions of "Tubal Cain" and "Adon Hiram" or "Adoniram," together with some similar analogies among the English and the Scotch Stonemasons, render it very probable that the secret methods of recognition which were in use among the Stonemasons or Masonic Corporations of the Middle Ages, have for the most part been preserved, and are to this day employed by their successors, the Speculative Freemasons.
But the real secrets of the medieval Masons were those whose loss are still deplored, and whose importance is testified to by the fact universally admitted, that from the knowledge of them, and from their practical application, have resulted the magnificent architectural works of the Middle Ages, some of which, as the Cathedrals of Cologne and Strasburg, still remain, while of others, though time worn and dilapidated, the ruins still attest the skill and the taste (unsurpassed in modern times) of their builders.
These secrets, which were the application of Geometry to the art of building, intimately connect the history of Freemasonry with the history of Gothic architecture, and thus they acquire an importance far surpassing that of the former class, or the methods of recognition. The use by the Masons of the Middle Ages of Geometry in the practice of their profession as architects gave rise to geometrical symbols, the preservation of many of which by the Speculative Freemasons of our day is another proof of the succession of the later from the older society, and is in this way again of great historical importance in the history of the institution. The geometrical symbols which are found in the ritual of modern or Speculative Freemasonry, such as the triangle, the square, the right angle and the forty-seventh problem, may be considered as the debris of the "lost secrets" of the medieval Stonemasons.
As these founded their operative art on the application to architecture of the principles of Geometry, of which they were wont to say that "there is no handicraft that is wrought by man's hand but it is wrought by Geometry," so the modern Freemasons, imitating them in their reverence for that science (though not possessing the same knowledge of its principles), have drawn from it their most impressive symbols.
Thus, we may easily explain the origin and the meaning of the phrase, "Geometrical Masons," which was applied in the beginning of the 18th century to the Speculative Freemasons, who thus claimed to be considered as the successors of the Masonic Guilds of the Middle Ages, who had called themselves Freemasons and whose secrets were of a geometric character. This claim, too often rejected or laid aide for the sake of seeking a more ancient but wholly mythical origin of Freemasonry, either from the Pagan Mysteries or from the Temple of Solomon, is rapidly gaining ground among the Fraternity.
It is evident that the Speculative Freemasons of the last century sought to strengthen the claim by applying to themselves the title of "Geometrical Masons," by which they intended to distinguish themselves from the Operative Masons of their own time, just as the old Freemasons of the Middle Ages distinguished themselves, by the possession of geometrical secrets, from the "rough layers" or "rough Masons" - workmen who were not entitled to be called, and who were not called, "Freemasons" because they were not freemen of the Guild, were not in possession of those geometrical secrets, and were not therefore admitted into the brotherhood.
There are, however, between the Speculative Masons, who date their organization from the year 1717, and the Freemasons of the Middle Ages some very significant differences and some equally significant resemblances. The consideration of these differences and of these resemblances will come into view when treating, in another chapter, of the transition of Operative into Speculative Masonry.
[i] “Halliwell MS.," t. 275-286.
[ii] Hope, "Historical Essay on Architecture," p. 238. The whole object of this part of Mr. Hope's work is to show that the Masons who issued from Lombardy and spread over Europe after the 10th century were in possession of rules of construction which constituted the secrets of the great Fraternity which they formed.
[iii] "Sketches of the History of Christian Art," ii., p. 14.
[iv] "Manual of Gothic Architecture," chap. vi., p. 210.
[vi] "Histoire de France," par M. Michelet. Bruxelles, 1840. The same views had been previously announced by Boisseree in his description of the Cathedral of Cologne, and Michelet acknowledges his indebtedness to that writer.
[vii] "Histoire de France," liv. iv., chap. ii., p. 369. (The Cathedral of Cologne has since been completed.
[ix] This is not the place to discuss the question of how much the Freemasons were indebted to the Church for their symbolism. It will be hereafter treated on a more appropriate occasion.
[x] "History of Architecture in all Countries," i., p. 480.
[xi] Called also "roughlayers."
[xii] "Archaeologia," vol. xxviii., p. 445.
[xiv] Anderson's "Constitutions," second edition, 1738, P. vii. Krause says "Kunsturkunden," i., 23. that Geometry is to be here taken in a double sense: 1, as the foundation of architecture, and, 2, as the social design of the brotherhood of Freemasons. But this appears to be really a "distinction without a difference." Architecture and the design of the Masons are, in the present view of the subject, one and the same thing.
[xv] There is doubt among philologists whether "Mystery" is derived from the French "mestier," a trade, or from the Latin "mysterium," a secret. The word has always been used in both senses. Thus, Chaucer says the reeve had learned "a good mester, he was a well good wright a carpenter" ("Canterbury Tales," Pro. 613), and Wiclif speaks of "the mysterie whych was kepte secrete since the worlde beganne." The legal term, at this day, for an art, trade, or occupation is "Mystery."
[xvi] It was a tradition of the German Masons that they were first formed into a brotherhood at the building of the Cathedral of Magdeburg, which was commenced about the year 1211. Bishop Lucy, a few years before, in 1202, created a company of builders for the construction of the Cathedral of Winchester. Hence Findel suggests that they were most probably the founders of the Fraternity of Freemasons in England. We have no positive authority for this, but the coincidence of time is, at least, remarkable.
[xvii] Findel gives this last question and answer thus: Q. What is the best part of a wall? A. Union." There is certainly more sense apparently in this than in the formula as I have given it.
- BROTHER ISAAC NEWTON
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