The Builder - 1923


LECTURES on the "Philosophy of Freemasonry" by Roscoe

Pound, of the Law School of Harvard University, is the book

wherewith to begin a study of the Philosophy of Masonry in a

technical and systematic manner. The book is not bulky, and

the language is simple, so that a novice need have no

difficulties in reading it. I value this little manual so highly that

I shall bring this series of studies of the Great Teachings of

Freemasonry to conclusion by giving a rapid review of its

contents, the same to be followed by reference to two or

three schools not canvassed by Brother Pound, and by a

suggestion of my own concerning Masonic philosophy.

The eighteenth century in England was a period of

comparative quiet, despite the blow-up that came at the end

of it, and men ceased very generally to quarrel over

fundamental matters. It was a period of formalism when

more attention was paid to manner than to matter.  Also, and

this is most important, it was everywhere believed that

Knowledge is the greatest thing in the world and must

therefore be the one aim of all endeavor.

William Preston was a true child of his century in these

things, and he gave to Freemasonry a typical eighteenth

century interpretation. This is especially seen in our second

degree, most of which came from his hands, or at least took

shape under his influence, for in that ceremony knowledge is

made the great object of Masonic endeavor. The lectures

consist of a series of courses in instruction in the arts and

sciences after the fashion of school-room discourses. "For

what does Masonry exist?   What is the end and purpose of

the order?  Preston would answer: To diffuse light, that is, to

spread knowledge among men." In criticizing this position

Brother Pound has the following provocative words to say:

"Preston of course was wrong knowledge is not the sole end

of Masonry.  But in another way Preston was right.

Knowledge is one end - at least one proximate end - and it is

not the least of those by which human perfection shall be

attained.  Preston's mistakes were the mistakes of his

century - the mistake of faith in the finality of what was

known to that era, and the mistake of regarding correct

formal presentation as the one sound method of instruction.

But what shall be said of the greater mistake we make today,

when we go on reciting his lectures - shorn and abridged till

they mean nothing to the hearer - and gravely presenting

them as a system of Masonic knowledge? ... I hate to think

that all initiative is gone from our Order and that no new

Preston will arise to take up his conception of knowledge as

an end of the Fraternity and present to the Masons of today

the knowledge which they ought to possess."


Of a very different cast, both as to intellectual equipment and

moral nature, was Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, born near

Leipzig in 1781, the founder of the great school of Masonic

thought of which Ahrens afterwards became so powerful an

exponent. In the period in which Krause grew up

conceptions of the human race and of human life underwent

a profound change:  thinkers abandoned their allegiance to

the Roman Catholic theological leaders of the Middle Ages

with their dependence on supernatural ideas and resumed

the principal idea of the classical Greek and Roman

scientists and jurists which was that man must be known for

what he is actually found to be and dealt with accordingly.

The goal of all endeavors, according to this modern way of

thinking, is the betterment of human life in the interest of

men and women themselves - a vastly different conception

from that of the Middle Ages, which was that human life must

be twisted and hewn to fit a scheme of things lying outside of

human life. Krause believed that Freemasonry exists in order

to help perfect the human race. Our Fraternity should work in

cooperation with the other institutions, such as Government,

School, Church, etc., all of which exist for the same purpose.

According to what principles should Masonry be governed in

seeking to attain this end? "Krause answers: Masonry has to

deal with the internal conditions of life governed by reason.

Hence its fundamental principles are measurement and

restraint - measurement by reason and restraint by reason -

and it teaches these as a means of achieving perfection."

Contemporaneous with Krause, but of a type strikingly

different, was the Rev. George Oliver, whose teachings so

universally influenced English and American Masonic

thought a half century ago. Romanticism (understood as the

technical name of a school of thought) was the center of his

thinking, as religion was the center of his heart. Like Sam'l

Taylor Coleridge, the most eloquent interpreter of Oliver's

own period, he rebelled against the dry intellectualism of the

eighteenth century in behalf of speculation and imagination;

he insisted that reason make way for intuition and faith; he

attached a very high value to tradition: and he was very

eager to reconcile Christianity with philosophy.

"What then are Oliver's answers to the three fundamental

questions of Masonic philosophy?

"1. What is the end of Masonry, for what does the institution

exist? Oliver would answer, it is one in its end with religion

and with science. Each of these are means through which

we are brought into relation with the absolute. They are the

means through which we know God and his works.

"2. How does Masonry seek to achieve its end? Oliver would

answer by preserving, handing down and interpreting a

tradition of immemorial antiquity, a pure tradition from the

childhood of the race.

"3. What are the fundamental principles by which Masonry is

governed in achieving its task? Oliver would say, the

fundamental principles of Masonry are essentially the

principles of religion as the basic principles of the moral

world. But in Masonry they appear in a traditional form.

Thus, for example, toleration in Masonry is a form of what in

religion we call charity; universality in Masonry is a traditional

form of what in religion we call love of one's neighbor."

Albert Pike was, during a large part of his life

contemporaneous with Oliver and Krause, and consequently

grew up in the same thought world, but for all that he worked

out an interpretation of Masonry radically different from

others. In spite of all his studies in antiquity and in forgotten

philosophies and religions Pike, at the bottom of his mind,

attacked the problems of Masonic thought as though no

other man before him had ever heard of it. He was impatient

of traditions, often scornful of other opinions, and as for the

dogmas and shibboleths of the schools he would have

nothing of them. What is genuinely real? that was the great

question of his thinking: and accordingly his interpretation of

Freemasonry took the form of a metaphysic. He was more

interested in nature than in function.

"1. What is the end of Masonry? What is the purpose for

which it exists? Pike would answer: The immediate end is

the pursuit of light. But light means here attainment of the

fundamental principle of the universe and bringing of

ourselves into harmony, the ultimate unity which alone is

real. Hence the ultimate end is to lead us to the Absolute -

interpreted by our individual creed if we like but recognized

as the final unity into which all things merge and with which

in the end all things must accord. You will see here at once a

purely philosophical version of what, with Oliver, was purely


"2. What is the relation of Masonry to other human

institutions and particularly to the state and to religion? He

would answer it seeks to interpret them to us, to make them

more vital for us, to make them more efficacious for their

purposes by showing the ultimate reality of which they are

manifestations. It teaches us that there is but one Absolute

and that everything short of that Absolute is relative; is but a

manifestation, so that creeds and dogmas, political or

religious, are but interpretations. It teaches us to make our

own interpretation for ourselves. It teaches us to save

ourselves by finding for ourselves the ultimate principle by

which we shall come to the real. In other words, it is the

universal institution of which other spiritual, moral and social

institutions are local and temporary phases.

"3. How does Masonry seek to reach these ends? He would

say by a system of allegories and of symbols handed down

from antiquity which we are to study and upon which we are

to reflect until they reveal the light to each of us individually.

Masonry preserves these symbols and acts out these

allegories for us. But the responsibility of reaching the real

through them is upon each of us. Each of us has the duty of

using this wonderful heritage from antiquity for himself.

Masonry in Pike's view does not offer us predigested food. It

offers us a wholesome fare which we must digest for

ourselves. But what a feast! It is nothing less than the whole

history of human search for reality. And through it he

conceives, through mastery of it, we shall master the



Brother Pound, it seems to me, might well have included in

his survey two other well defined schools, one of which, it is

probable, is destined to out-do all its predecessors in

influence. I refer to the Historical School, and to the Mystical

School, neither of which thus far has developed a leader

worthy of conferring his own name on his group, though it

may be said that Robert Freke Gould and Arthur Edward

Waite are typical representatives.

The fundamental tenet of the historical school is that

Freemasonry interprets itself through its own history. This

history is not broken into separate fragments but is

continuous and progressive throughout so that the unfolding

story of Masonry is a gradual revelation of the nature of

Masonry. Would you know what Masonry actually is, apart

from what in the theory of men it appears to be? read its

history. Would you know what is the future of Masonry?

trace out the tracks of its past development, and from them

you can plot the curves of its future developments. Would

you discover what are the ideals and possibilities of the

Fraternity? study to learn what it has been trying to do in the

past and is now trying to do.

This philosophy makes a profound appeal to men in this day

when science, with its interest in history, development and

evolution, rules in the fields of thought, and I have no doubt

that more and more it will be found necessary for the leaders

of contemporary Masonry to master the history of past

Masonry, especially because Masonry, more than most

institutions, derives from and is dependent on its own past.

Nevertheless, in Masonry as in all other fields, philosophy

cannot be made identical with history for the reason that

such a method does not provide for new developments.

What if some mighty leader - another Albert Pike, for

example - were to arise now and give the course of Masonic

evolution an entirely new twist, what could the historians do

about it? Nothing. They would have no precedents to go by.

An adequate philosophy must understand the nature of

Masonry by insight and intuition as well as by history. Also,

Masonry must not shut itself away from the creative genius

of new leaders, else it petrify itself into immobile sterility, and

condemn itself to the mere repetition of its own past. A great

public institution must ever-more work in the midst of the

world and constantly learn to apply itself to its own new tasks

as they arise in the world; otherwise it becomes no institution

at all, but the plaything of a little coteric.

Of the school of Masonic Mysticism it is more difficult to

speak, and this partly for the reason that mysticism itself, by

virtue of its own inner nature, cannot become clearly

articulate but must utter itself darkly by hints and symbols.

On the one side mysticism is ever tending to become

occultism; on the other side it has close affinities with

theology. All three words - mysticism, occultism, and

theology - are frequently used interchangeably in such wise

as to cause great confusion of thought. Owing to this

shuffling of use and meaning of its own ideas and terms the

school of Masonic mysticism has thus far not been able to

wrest itself free from entangling alliances in order to stand

independently on its own feet as an authentic interpreter of

the Great Teachings of the Craft. But in spite of all these

handicaps a few of our scholars have been able to give us a

tolerably consistent and, in some cases, a very noble

account of Freemasonry in the terms of mysticism. Notable

among these is Bro. A.E. Waite, whose volume, "Studies in

Mysticism," is not as widely known as it should be.

To Brother Waite - unless I have sadly misread him, a thing

not at all impossible, for he is not always easy to follow - the

inner and living stuff of all religion consists of mysticism; and

mysticism is a first-hand experience of things Divine, the

classic examples of which are the great mystics among

whom Plotinus, St. Francis, St. Theresa, Ruysbroeck, and

St. Rose of Lima may be named as typical. According to the

hypothesis the spiritual experience of these geniuses in

religion gives us an authentic report of the Unseen and is as

much to be relied on as any flesh-and-blood report of the

Seen; but unfortunately the realities of the Unseen are

ineffable, consequently they cannot be described to the

ordinary non-mystical person at all except in the language of

ritual and symbolism. It is at this point that Freemasonry

comes in. According to the mystical theory our Order is an

instituted form of mysticism in the ceremonies and symbols

of which men may find, if they care to follow them, the roads

that lead to a direct and first-hand experience of God.


If I may come at last to speak for myself I believe that there

is now shaping in our midst, and will some day come to the

front, a Masonic philosophy that will not quarrel with these

great schools but will at the same time replace them by a

larger and more complete synthesis. I have no idea what this

school will be called. It will be human, social, and pragmatic,

and it will exist for use rather than show. It will not strive to

carry the Masonic institution to some goal beyond and

outside of humanity but will see in Freemasonry a wise and

well-equipped means of enriching human life as it now is and

in this present familiar world. We men do not exist to glorify

the angels or to realize some superhuman scheme remote

from us. Human life is an end in itself, and it is the first duty

of men to live happily, freely, joyously. This is God's own

purpose for us, and, unless all modern religious thinking has

gone hopelessly astray, God's life and ours are so bound up

together that His purposes and His will coincide with our own

great human aims. When man is completely man God's will

then be done.

As things now are we men and women have not yet learned

how to live happily with each other, and there is a great rarity

of human charity under the sun. Why can't we learn to know

ourselves and each other and our world in such wise as to

organize ourselves together into a human family living

happily together? That, it seems to me, should be the great

object of Freemasonry.




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