Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
To many outsiders it may seem that Freemasonry demands too much of a petitioner by way of qualifications, as if it were actuated by some exclusive or aristocratic motive. Masons themselves, occasionally, ask that the bars be let down a little. But those who know the Fraternity FROM THE INSIDE, and who understand well its purposes, are of the opposite opinion, many of them, and believe that the bars should be put up higher still. The Fraternity is not a social club, an insurance society, or a charitable institution, but a body of picked men consecrated to a certain set purpose; therefrom it follows that only those who possess the qualifications for such a fellowship and the abilities for such a work should be permitted membership. The receiving of unfit candidates foredooms the temple now building to future collapse, as was the fate of so many buildings erected by the old Norman architects in England which went down because "they used poor stone, and scamped with the trowel." A wise business manager will not employ inefficient help. A sensible church will not accept unworthy members. For like reasons Freemasonry must guard well its own portals else it fail of its high mission, which God forfend! In his "War and Peace"—a great work that every Mason should read—Tolstoy makes the old Mason say:
"The first and foremost aim and chief foundation of our order, upon which it rests, and which no human
power can destroy, is the preservation of a certain mystery and its transmission to posterity, a Mystery which has reached us from the most remote times, even from the first man, and on which, perhaps, the fate of the human race depends. But since this Mystery is of such character that nobody can know it or make use of it who has not been prepared by a prolonged and thorough purification of himself, not everybody may hope to come into its possession."
The earliest of the Old Charges, or Manuscript Constitutions, is the Regius, sometimes called, after its discoverer, the Halliwell, believed to have been written late in the fourteenth century, and to have been based on yet older materials: it specifies that the "apprentice be of lawful blood [I modernise the spelling] and have his limbs whole"; and, that the lodge "shall no thief accept, lest it would turn the Craft to shame." It would be of interest to us in this connection, did space permit, to make a careful analysis of the qualifications required by this and other ancient constitutions; fortunately they were embodied, in substance at least, and for the most part, in the Constitution published by James Anderson in 1723. This Andersonian document, one of the most famous of all Masonic productions of any kind whatsoever, has been employed as a model by nearly all our Grand Lodges in writing their own Constitutions. It is important to study carefully the list of qualifications laid down in it. They are as follows:
"The Persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age, no Bondmen, no Women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good Report."
Note first in this catalogue the DISQUALIFICATIONS.
In the earlier days of Operative Masonry, slavery, or some form of serfdom, was common in all countries where Masonry flourished. Inasmuch as these slaves or serfs were uneducated and had no legal status and were not permitted to move away from their place of bondage, they were unfit for membership in such a society. As the old Greeks were wont to say, "A slave has slave manners"; such manners could not be tolerated in a Masonic lodge.
Women were freely admitted to a majority of the old craft guilds, of which, says Robert Freke Gould, "not one out of a hundred but recruited their ranks from both sexes"; but to this the Freemason's Guild was an exception, many tales to the contrary notwithstanding. There is one case on record in which the widow of an operative Mason was permitted to carry on her husband's trade, but she was given none of the secrets of the Craft. "Some writers have expressed the opinion," writes Brother A. S. MacBride, in his "Speculative Masonry"—a most noble work—"that women were admitted into the old operative lodges, but so far they have not advanced a single proof of their theory."
3.—"No immoral or scandalous men." On this there is no need to make comment; a child can see that an immoral man cannot qualify for adeptship in a moral art.
Note in the next place what QUALIFICATIONS are demanded.
1.—"Good and true men." How simple yet how profound are these time-worn adjectives! they are not qualities that glitter but they are, in their completeness, as rare as many that do! If it be asked why Masonry does not accept bad men in order to make them good, it replies that such is not its function, for it has a unique purpose of its own to carry out, and its demands are made with that in view. One organisation cannot attempt everything. The reformation of men is left to other agencies.
2.—"True men." Many a Mason has been troubled by the question, If I am fit to be a Mason why not also my wife? Freemasonry had its origin in guilds of men engaged in erecting buildings, a work for which women were not fitted. The customs, laws, traditions, regulations, and ritual evolved by these men continue to form the core of Freemasonry. Modern constitutions are modelled on the ancient constitutions; the ritual of to-day is in outline the ritual of many centuries ago; our laws are of long standing; and so are the usages and customs inside the tyled lodge. To admit women, the entire organisation, from the spire to the basement, would need to be torn down and built anew and in a manner wholly different. Freemasons do not object to women as such: they object to the revolutionising changes that would have to be made in the Craft in order to admit them.
The exclusion of women has offered opportunities for the Masonic humourist times without number and often, one is happy to remark, tempted our heaviest writers to a lighter vein. (Why do so many writers make Freemasonry so funereal and so solemn!) An old French author facetiously remarked that the presence of "the sex" would distract men from the work of the lodge: whilst the old London "Pocket Companion and History of Freemasons" (1764) furnished reasons which may
sometimes be in a Mason's mind but which (except behind the Tiler) he wouldn't dare express!
"This difficult task
Is the least we can ask,
To secure us on sundry occasions;
When with this they comply,
Our utmost we'll try
To raise Lodges for Lady Freemasons!"
After slavery had been abolished in England by Act of Parliament the old demand that a candidate be "free born" was changed to "free man." In this country, and owing to the longer continuance of slavery, "free born" has been longer retained, and is still found, I believe, in several Constitutions. But now the term is given a more liberal interpretation and is made to mean that the man is not an inmate of a penal institution, and that his mind is free from enslaving superstitions. As we may read in Gibson's "Masonic Problem": "Is he free? Not free in common law only, but also free from hostile and absorbing interests subversive to Masonic influence?" Of this, more anon.
4.—"Of mature and discreet age."
"Regarding the question of age," remarks MacBride, "the old Manuscripts do not, so far as we have noticed, particularise. They, in some cases, use the phrase 'of
full age,' but nothing beyond that. Each lodge, in the old days, evidently settled this point for itself." As the operative custom varied in England, so has the speculative. The Grand Lodge Regulations made it 25 years in 1721; this was changed to 18 and thus remained "until a very recent period"; it is now 21, though some other countries have clung to 18. "Under these circumstances," MacBride comments, "the practice of obligating a candidate not to be present at the initiation of any one under the age of 21 years, is most reprehensible. It debars him while visiting a lodge working under a constitution in which the full age is 18, from remaining during the ceremony of initiation, if the candidate is under 21 years." The point is well taken. It would be well if Grand Lodges were to specify that by "full age" is meant the minimum age required of a candidate by any given Grand Lodge, and thus the member of one jurisdiction, while visiting in another, would not be put to the annoyance described by Brother MacBride; and the Grand Lodge itself could set its own minimum at the age declared legal by the state in which it operates. It must be remembered in these premises that a lodge sustains legal relations with a candidate; this makes it absolutely necessary that a candidate be of legal age.
The matter of physical qualifications has long been a storm-centre, and that for the reason that the "doctrine of the perfect youth" appears to be a landmark, and Masons are obligated to maintain inviolate the ancient landmarks.
Since the ancient builders performed difficult manual labour it is easy to understand why they found it necessary to demand of a candidate soundness of limb; besides,
an infirm member was supported usually out of "the common chest" and that worked a hardship on his fellows. Accordingly, one may read in the Regius Manuscript—it was cast in poetic form—as follows:
After the speculative régime came into full blast in England these physical qualifications were greatly modified, so that we find lodges initiating the blind, deaf, and dumb, and persons otherwise defective or maimed. In this land, on the contrary, a majority of the jurisdictions still cling to the ancient doctrine of "the perfect youth," for what reason it is difficult to understand, seeing that what was so necessary in operative days is no longer needed in a symbolic Craft which requires of its members work with head and heart rather than with hands and feet. "It would be better for us," as Brother Louis Block, P.G.M., of Iowa, once exclaimed, "to admit a man with a wooden leg than with a wooden head!"
It would be quite easy to fill a book with quotations from eminent Masonic leaders and from Grand Lodges which have argued in behalf of a modification of the ancient rule. Three such quotations will suffice as being typical:
In 1875 the Board of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of England issued a circular in which the writer said: "I am directed to say that the general rule in this
country is to consider a candidate eligible for election who although not perfect in limbs is sufficiently so to go through the various ceremonies." It was left to the masters and members of subordinate lodges to determine whether the candidate was thus able.
Dr. George Oliver, who was once the mightiest influence in Masonic literature and whose influence is still felt everywhere, and who was always conservative, writes to this effect in his "Treasury": "It would indeed be a solecism in terms to contend that a loss or partial deprivation of a physical organ of the body could, by any possibility, disqualify a man from studying the sciences, or being made a Mason in our own times, while in possession of sound judgment, and the healthy exercise of his intellectual powers."
The veteran Masonic scholar of Iowa, Theodore Sutton Parvin, was of similar opinion, as when he contended that "it is the sole right of each and every lodge to act upon these qualifications, even as it is universally conceded that they are the sole judges of the 'moral' qualifications of all candidates."
Such other qualifications as are required will receive consideration in later connections; there remains here only to remark that perhaps, after all, the chief essential qualification in any candidate is a right motive; that is, a full and sincere inward determination to take Freemasonry seriously. "The vast increase of late years," wrote Brother W. J. Hughan, one of the giants of modern Masonic scholarship, "both of lodges and members, calls for renewed vigilance and extra care in selecting candidates, that numbers may not be a source of weakness instead of strength." The man who enters out of
mere curiosity, or to gain social standing, or business advantages, the "watch-fob Mason," he is the real cowan, and a subtle source of weakness inside the body of the Craft, which will surely sap the life from the Fraternity if we do not have a care!