Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 248 p. 249
The moment one steps into the Third Degree he finds himself in an atmosphere very different from that of the First and the Second: the opening and closing ceremonies are similar to theirs, but the architectural symbolism which was in them the predominant feature is here crowded into the background by a symbolism of a very different order; for whereas the first two degrees deliver their message in the terms of building, the Third speaks of a living and a dying and a rising again. And so compact is it of profound meanings that it furnishes many of the suggestions, as many scholars have noted, from which the higher grades have developed their magnificent teachings.
By what men the Degree was made, or when, are questions on which our authorities differ so widely that one student—Brother Robert I. Clegg—has collected no fewer than twenty different theories, while another—Brother Hextall—has found fourteen different interpretations. Where so many scholars have failed to discover a satisfactory hypothesis it would require some temerity to offer a theory of one's own, and I must content myself to state, as nearly as I can, such positions as the majority have agreed on.
It is believed that in the beginning of the Grand Lodge period there were at most but two degrees, these being known, as I have already described, as the Apprentice
and Fellow Craft or Master Mason parts, the latter being convertible terms. But during this same period so much new material—new, at least, to the ritual of initiation—was introduced that it became necessary to break up the old Apprentice Degree into two parts, leaving the old Second to become the new Third. This was done for the sake of convenience, as the ceremonies had grown too long for only two evenings. This division was made some time between 1723 and 1738.
The new arrangement was a long time in gaining a foothold among the brethren. At first only a few were made Masters and then only in Grand Lodge; in fact, so few knew how to "put on" the degree that for some time special "Masters’ Lodges" were organised for the purpose. The progress of the tri-gradal system was even slower in countries other than England; Gould notes that the Third did not become common in Scotch Lodges until after 1770.
Why was the Third so slow in "taking on" if it was the old Second Degree? The explanation of the problem seems to be that so much new material had been added to it that it had become practically a new ceremony. There is even some reason to believe that it was this new material which among many other things gave offence to many old Masons living at a distance from London, who were thereby led to form the rival Grand Lodge of "the Ancients."
By whom was this new material introduced? Some attribute the innovations to Anderson, others to Dr. Desaguliers; others, of whom Pike was one, have held to the theory that at the time of the Revival certain groups of Speculatives seized the opportunity to graft some of their own ideas upon the Ritual. Another theory, more reasonable than these, it seems to me, will be brought out when we seek to answer the next question.
What was the new material introduced between 1723–1738? Many of our scholars, perhaps a majority, would answer, "The Hiram Abiff legend." As we are to devote a section to this I cannot go into that matter here except to say that it seems unreasonable, on the face of it, that so elaborate a drama, occupying the greater part of one whole degree, could have been bodily imported into the Ritual as a wholly new thing; the conservative "old Mason," of whom many were remaining in the Revival period, would not have tolerated so huge an innovation. The more reasonable theory is that the substance of the legend, and materials appertaining thereto, had long been a part of the floating tradition of the Craft if indeed, as there is some evidence to show that it was, it was not a part of the old Operative Ritual. This would answer the question, Who imported the new materials? No one man or group of men imported it; "The Third Degree was not made, it grew—like the great cathedrals, no one of which can be ascribed to a single artist, but to an order of men working in unity of enterprise and aspiration." To this it nay be added that the degree has not ceased to grow, in America at least, for it is more elaborate here than in England, even as it is more elaborate there than in other countries—more elaborate, and different.
By whom the degree was made, and when, will furnish material for many debates in years to come, and in the lap of that future must the problem be left; but of one thing we can be very sure—the idea enshrined in the ceremony is so old that we find it serving as the motif of initiatory dramas long before the dawn of history. In a majority of the Ancient Mysteries, to judge by such memorials as we have of them, the action centred in the violent death of some person and his being raised again. In various
guises was this idea presented but always did it convey the same truth—that in men there is something that cannot die, that this "something" is akin to the divine, that it can be given the rule of a man during his earth pilgrimage, and that it is the purpose of initiation to discover and to develop this divine element in human life. This is nothing other than Regeneration; it is nothing other than Eternal Life, the life of God in the soul of man lived in the bounds of time and space and under human conditions. Such, I take it, is the secret of our Third Degree.