Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 6 of 6



By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

The course of events seems to be that the operative Gild custom was to admit the apprentice by a simple oath, but to make the apprentice out of his indentures a freeman and full member of the Gild by a ceremony which included the imparting of the all‑important secret means of recognition, the conferring of the mark and a moral lecture, and concluding with a feast. The Speculatives made these two occasions into one; they would proceed at once on admission to full membership. They also elaborated the actual ceremony considerably, but it is hopeless now to attempt to dissect out what is in fact accretion due to speculative influence and what is genuine survival from the days of the first cathedral builders.

But in the Master’s Part we are confronted with a ceremony of an entirely different character. We have in the first place a narrative, the story of the murder of the builder; in the second the teaching of a great religious truth, not one, however, that was at any time the special property of builders; and we also have an entirely distinct form of greeting, the five points of fellowship.

It seems to be the case that legends of the murder of a builder, which are widespread in folklore, are to be explained as survivals or reminiscences of original completion sacrifices, sacrifices of a human being with the object of giving the newly completed edifice a soul or a protecting demon; and an individual so intimately connected with the building as its architect would be likely to be selected as peculiarly appropriate for such a sacrifice.

It is probable that building communities generally have had such stories, and we find in fact that in France one has at a very early date crystallised into the narrative of the murder of Maître Jacques, the Master who brought the craft itself from Palestine to France. The existence of similar legends in our own country is attested by stories such as that of the Roslyn Pillar. Palestine and King Solomon’s Temple did not form part of our original legend. But they had been adopted at all events by the 15th, and it would appear that during the 16th and 17th centuries the scribes who copied the various versions of our Old Charges had scruples as to writing the name of Hiram the builder, and substituted Anon or Amon or the like for it.

As had been pointed out by W. Bro. Morris Rosenbaum, the double name Hiram Abif was found in the three first English Bibles of 1535 and the following years, but it disappeared from the Great Bible which superseded them in 1539. In 1723 it would, in the ordinary course, have been known only to Hebrew scholars. Yet it is clear that the craft was familiar with it in that year, and this appears to involve that it had come down as a tradition in the Lodges.

Again the explanation we give of MACH is one that cannot be justified philologically; no Hebrew scholar would arrive at such an interpretation independently. But the word actually occurs in the Bible as the name of a captain of the host. Now to the Geneva Bible of 1580 there was appended a concordance in which the Hebrew names were explained, and in that we read that this word means, among other things, “the smiting of the builder”.

The only plausible interpretation of this fact seems to be that the compiler has met with this meaning in some circle to which he belonged, and inserted it on that ground regardless of the philological question. These various considerations make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that there was not merely a murder legend among the Craft in this country from a very early date, but that for two centuries at least it had been definitely a Hiramic Legend. And as such it was the peculiar property of the Masters; and the ceremonies connected with it, whatever they may have been, constituted the Master’s Pan.

Now, the culmination of the five points of fellowship is the whispering of certain words and they refer to the narrative. But they are today explained in a way that is obviously unsatisfactory. We raise the Candidate from a figurative tomb by their means, which is very well; but what we recite as the narrative is a manifest incongruity. Nevertheless it is in Prichard, so that the mistake, as I suppose we may call it, is one of long standing.

Now the Compagnonnage have two elaborate forms of greeting very similar to each other and to our five points of fellowship and in each, words are whispered. One is gone through between the compagnons at funerals. The true state of affairs appears to me to be that just as the Masters had a special ceremony of a distinct type, they also had an elaborate form of greeting and salutation, with which the newly made Master was received.

The Fellow had his simple grip, part of the means of recognition, and we may be fairly certain that the various forms of it that we meet with today as we proceed in the Order, are but variations of late introduction. But the Masters used the five points of fellowship an essential part of which was the communicating of certain words.

But what was the function of this special ceremony in pre‑Grand Lodge days? By the Gild it was no doubt associated with the Master of the Work; and the Masters of the Gild were men of definite standing and authority. But the speculative Craft in the 17th century was in a different position. The language of Ashmole suggests that he was never more than a Fellow and took only one degree. But the phraseology of the Dublin Tripos of 1688 with its reference to being freemasonized the new way is very suggestive of a special speculative ceremony, and this may have been a Master’s Part.

It would appear as though prior to 1721 there was very little occasion for the ceremony and little use made of it. Stukeley writes: “We had great difficulty to find members enough to perform the ceremony”; and this was in London on January 6th, 1721. He can hardly be referring to the ordinary acceptance. Moreover, it is to be noted that from an allusion in a MS. of 1714 we know that certain features of the ceremony were related to what is today our Installation. What appears to have happened is that in 1721, with the introduction of the hitherto undreamt of feature of new Lodges, Masters were necessarily required for them.

The Master’s Part accordingly became of great importance. The Installed Master was given certain portions of the working, but the Part itself was still the pre‑requisite for the holding of the office. There is undoubtedly a contemporary confusion in the terminology which it is not easy to unravel, but when in 1723 Anderson speaks of making Masters and Fellows only in Grand Lodge he is, as we have already seen, referring not to two degrees, but to the Master’s Part alone.

We are now in a position to assess, at all events roughly, the material brought forward to the Grand Lodge which was to form the basis of all that is contained in our ceremonies today.

In the first place: A body of symbolism and teachings based on architecture, working tools, and other material emblems; representing an apprentice admission and the fellow admission of the operative craftsmen greatly elaborated, but fused into one ceremony of admission or Acceptance in the speculative period that preceded Grand Lodge. This was split up in 1725 to form our present First and Second Degrees, and their subsequent history and development has already been described. Parts of the operative material, such as the conferring the mark, were preserved in Scotland but laid aside in England.

Secondly: A murder legend of great antiquity associated at some date undetermined with King Solomon’s Temple and Hiram Abif; and a peculiar form of greeting including the whispering of words referring to the legend. Both these are restricted to Masters and they came forward as the Master’s Part, but one small detail may have been detached from the ceremony in 1721 to meet the requirements of the new office of Installed Master. This Master’s Part is our Third Degree today. But just when it took the actual form in which we now have it is not ascertainable; it underwent a process of modification to which I have already alluded, which continued right up to the time of the Lodge of Reconciliation.

In this analysis of our wonderful system I have, of necessity, proceeded from the known to the unknown, and much must unavoidably be, and remain, matter of hypothesis and opinion. I fully realise that my various hypothetical suggestions invite criticism; if they do not survive it will be because they do not deserve to. But I shall be at one with my critics if I conclude in the words of that worthy old Master, to whose generous provision of more than a century ago, the very delivery of this lecture is due: “He who has studied our teachings in a regular progress from the commencement of the First to the conclusion of the Third degree must have amassed an ample store of knowledge, and will reflect with pleasure on the good effects of his past diligence and attention.” 

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The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 5 of 6


By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

The Gild which from the first inception of Gothic architecture kept the secrets of the construction of that art as its monopoly must have always been distinct from any other Craft Gild in three material points.

In the first place the usual system was that in each large town there was for each Craft a permanent local Gild, a Gild independent of any other Gilds of the same Craft existing elsewhere in the country. But the work of the freemasons lay outside the towns and, moreover, they were never in any given locality more than the few years required to construct the particular work that had brought them together there. Their organisation must therefore at a very early date have assumed the form of a single Fraternity for the whole Kingdom, with local associations in each locality in which Gothic building was in progress, and these bodies met in the workroom which from its very first appearance in the records is always styled the Lodge. And between Lodge and Lodge the brethren travelled, proving themselves by secret means of recognition; they also convened periodical meetings of the whole craft over large areas for the business of the Fraternity. All this organisation is quite unknown in any other trade in the country.

In the second place the Freemasons alone among Craft Gilds had not merely the consciousness of their own antiquity that would necessarily follow from the very fact that the cathedrals and abbeys built by their predecessors centuries earlier were still there for all men to see, but they had given that feeling concrete form and possessed a regular history of the Order. This, when we first come across it, is to the effect that Masonry was founded in Egypt by Euclid the worthy clerk, that it came to England, and that there, after many years, Athelstan reformed it. In exactly the same way the corresponding association of the building crafts in France, the Compagnonnage, had their legend that Solomon founded their Craft at the Temple, that a certain Maitre Jacques brought them to France, and that a personage known as Pere Soubise organised them in that country.

In the third place, since all the artistic life of the community centered round its church, and all the learning was confined to the ecclesiastic and the monk, the art of the builder of Gothic was the one craft of the period which offered to intellectual men something worthy of investigation. We read accordingly, at a very early date, of persons who, having acquired some theoretical knowledge of the subject, came to the masons to study its practical applications, and these people are already in the 15th century called speculatives. When first they were admitted to be members of the craft we cannot say, but they seem to be suggested in the 13th century, and we can appreciate that they would make their appearance very early indeed in the history of the Gild. The very existence of our Freemasonry today depends on the circumstance that the Gild from its earliest days extended its privileges and communicated its secrets to men who were not masons by profession. The history of the Craft is the history of a body into which a continually increasing number of these speculative members gained admission. We have from the 13th to the 17th century, then, a working trade gild with its own legends and ceremonies, but to it is introduced an element which keeps it in touch with every new development in thought, every accession to knowledge in the country as it arises. And we can appreciate how the ceremonial, in the hands of this speculative element, would tend to take on a deeper and deeper symbolic, moral and philosophic character, and tend to lose its original direct connection with the affairs of a purely operative fraternity.

We next have, from the time of James I or so, a profession that is moribund, but a society that keeps alive because of its non‑operative members, whose aims are now frankly philosophical and ethical, and all trace of actual contact with the trade of building is fast disappearing. It is this society which in 1716 forms the Grand Lodge and then tells us that Freemasonry, despite its external appearance and its terminology, is no longer a trade organisation, but purely and simply a system of morality.

Now, the various influences to which this Fraternity was subjected throughout its career, through its speculative members, have only to be stated, and it will at once be obvious that there must have been constantly at work an irresistible impulse towards accretion, the taking in of further symbols, the further elaboration of the ceremonies, the emphasising of what was eventually to become the principal function of the Fraternity, the teaching of moral duties and truths, to the entire disregard of technical knowledge or skill. We can review these influences very rapidly.

We begin with the Crusades, and we know that architects from Western Europe actually worked in Palestine, and the local knowledge they acquired had a marked influence on contemporary Gothic. Next we have the development of the study of Hebrew and Hebrew literature that heralded the Renaissance; we have for a period that terminates in 1453 a constant intercourse with France and French building fraternities; we have during the days of the Hanseatic League a fairly constant intercourse with Flanders and Lower Germany, where the Vehmgerichte were still flourishing as late as the 16th century; we have next the first appearance of the Bible in English, which took place in 1535; we have from about 1614 onwards the individual philosophers who styled themselves Rosicrucians and Hermeticists, who were still to the fore in the next century and some of whom definitely were Freemasons; we have from 1685, the date of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Huguenot refugees from France; and finally we have right into the days of Grand Lodge itself the political and civil dissensions between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians. All through the centuries there are lesser influences also constantly at work, bringing us learning of one sort or another from Spain or Italy or the East; what  wonder  then that in our system today enthusiasts have traced analogies and claimed identities with every philosophy or religion ever known to civilization or before it.

And yet, while the results of the process are now before us in our Lodges, and the true historical explanation of it seems to be fairly clear, we cannot in fact date our first adoption of any single symbol or interpretation. We do not know in detail what was brought forward into Grand Lodge by the Four Old Lodges and the old masons of 1717, and the two exposures that precede Prichard are so obviously fragmentary that nothing can be founded on them. But the general character of the Admission or Acceptance is fairly clear, and it is preserved in our First and Second Degrees today. They are concerned with the things of this world; the secret means of recognition are an essential part of them, as also the obligation taken in open Lodge; they teach secrecy, obedience, loyalty, and the duty of educating oneself. They moralise the ordinary working tools; their symbols are the two pillars, the porch or entrance, the winding stairway, the middle chamber, the stream of water, the rough and perfect ashlars, and the admission to light. Some of this suggests Rosicrucian ideas, but in some of it we seem to see a reminiscence of the very earliest craft lodge workroom. But it is all available, if not in that lodge room itself, at least in one or other of the sources of possible influence I have detailed.

There is, however, one feature of the ceremonies which can hardly have found a place in the original Gild observances, and that is the penalties. They have their counterpart in actual treason and Admiralty Court punishments of the days of the Tudors and earlier; and the Vehmgerichte were a secret tribunal that did in fact hang and stab its victims.


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The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 4 of 6


By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

At a later date we meet with a constructive degree, introduced to give brethren the qualification then required for the Royal Arch in exactly the same way, I submit, the genesis of the Fellow Craft degree was that it was a constructive degree, introduced to enable the Private Lodges to give their own members the necessary qualification for their Master’s Chair; without involving a recourse to Grand Lodge.

The qualification was that he was to be among the Fellow‑Craft; this is the phrase of Anderson in 1723, at a date when no such degree was in existence. The law of the day was that the Master’s Part was only to be conferred in Grand Lodge. The solution of the difficulty is readily arrived at. We shall in our Lodges confer a chair degree, and we shall call it Fellow‑Craft, and in order to avoid any suggestion of trespassing on Grand Lodge’s province we shall construct it exclusively from material available to us in the existing Acceptance, or associated with it.

The degree itself complies absolutely with this description of what it was necessary it should consist of if it was to serve its purpose. It does not appear that originally it had so much as a separate obligation of its own. It was simply a chair degree arrived at by repeating the Entered Apprentice degree and emphasising one of the two words already associated with it, so that inevitably in a very short time each degree took exclusive possession of one of the two words.

Other differences were introduced as time went on, but with regard to the names we still talk of their conjoint signification; we still re‑assemble the emblems which were in 1725 disrupted to suit the purposes of the Private Lodges of the period. And we can, I think, assume that there was not at this stage either in the Fellow Craft or in the Master’s Part, now become the Third Degree, any introduction of entirely new material.

Had there been any such innovation we may be quite certain not only that the old masons would have been up in arms, but that Grand Lodge would have made it a pretext for condemning the new departure. There was apparently some discontent and we can see the reasons for it, but there was as yet no suggestion of any disunion, nor do we get any accusation of departing from old customs until Grand Lodge itself changes the order of the words in the first two degrees after 1730.

In course of time the Second Degree gained in character and in incident. But it was long before the Third Degree arrived at the position that it now holds in the system.

So late as 1752 it was not required as a step to any rank or promotion, for we find in that year that the first Prov. G.M. of Cornwall was installed, and the Brother who presided on the occasion was only a Fellow‑Craft. At the present day there is nowhere in the Book of Constitutions any direction that the Master of a Lodge or any holder of Grand Rank, except the Tyler and two other officers, shall be a Master Mason. For years, therefore, it was merely a luxury, but fortunately one that gradually became increasingly popular. What happened was that the degree was only conferred for special reasons at special Lodges of Masters summoned by the W.M.

An ordinary Lodge had every right to confer the degree but it would only do so very occasionally. Not all the members took the degree. And as a necessary consequence in a number of Lodges they were unable to work the ceremony, and we find as early as 1738 eleven Lodges in London specifically described as Master’s Lodges.

This does not mean that they alone might work the degree; but it does imply that they specialised in it and apparently conferred it for the benefit of other Lodges who were not familiar with the working of it (Hughan, Origin of the English Rite, page 53). It is not till 1738 that we find the distinction made of speaking of the admission to the Master’s Part as raising. But in course of time the Lodges generally took over the degree and by a natural process it became the rule to select the Master from the brethren with the higher qualification. Preston says: “From this class of the Order the Rulers of the Craft are selected,” and exposures of the years just before the Union say in terms that the first qualification for the office of Master is that he be regularly and lawfully raised. This still suggests that he was only raised when it became a question of having the qualification, because Preston also remarks “The Third Class (i.e., M.M.) is restricted to a selected few,” but we may, I think, take it that by the Union it was the usual practice to take the degree.

The course of development then, apart from any reasons for it, is that in 1721 Grand Lodge recognised two degrees, an Acceptance and a Master’s Part, and that from 1725 there were three, a new degree being dovetailed in. The Master’s Part is the true predecessor of the Third Degree today. The 1723 exposure has the phrase: “I know the Master’s Part full well, as honest Maughbin will you tell.” The allusion is one we can still appreciate, and it involves the inference that the Master’s Part was concerned with the Hiramic Legend. We are often told that both legend and degree were constructed in the early years of Grand Lodge presumably therefore in or before 1721.

But it is to me, at all events, difficult of acceptance that so drastic an innovation‑for such it would assuredly have been‑was not only permitted but was endorsed by the Antients when, in 1751, they came to restore the old systems and remove the alterations introduced by the Premier Grand Lodge. Not only do the minutes of Haughfoot and Kelso, of 1702, unmistakably indicate two degrees, but we have the records of the London Acception which show in 1635 members paying for admission, and making a second payment to become masters. I think we can assert unhesitatingly that the Master’s Part, and therefore the Hiramic Legend, antedates the Grand Lodge era.

Let us therefore move the enquiry yet one more stage further back and endeavour to ascertain what can be said as to the Craft when the Lodge was still the workroom of a gild of working masons, engaged on some great cathedral or abbey of medieval England, and by what process it gathered together that wonderful accumulation of legend, symbolic morality and philosophy that was surely already part of the system when the first Grand Lodge assembled at the Apple Tree in Charles Street, Covent Garden.



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The Development of the Trigradal System – Part 3 of 6


By Bro. Lionel Vibert, P.A.G.D.C.

The Prestonian Lecture for 1925

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

 A consideration of the phraseology used by Anderson in Regulation XIII, and by the Grand Lodge two years later, when they repealed the rule there laid down as to the Master’s Part, makes it certain that when Anderson drew up the Regulations of 1723 there were only two degrees.

There was the admission or acceptance, which made the candidate an apprentice, or as the phrase now became, Entered Apprentice. There was a further degree, the Master’s Part, which conferred on the candidate the rank of Fellow and Master. In order to qualify to be a Master of a Lodge the brother had to be “among the Fellow Craft”.

Of the nature of this further degree in 1723 we have no evidence; the disclosure that was printed in the Flying Post in that year merely refers to the further degree, by the title ‘entered Fellow’, and says that the two test questions are: to an Entered Apprentice, “Have you been in the Kitchen?” and to the Entered Fellow,  “Have you been in the Hall?” These are not framed like test questions, since a simple affirmative is a sufficient answer to either, nor can they be said to give us much information.

It is equally certain that by February, 1725, there were three degrees being worked. We have it definitely on record than an Association which called itself Philo‑Musicae et Architecturae Societas was founded on February 1725, by eight persons, masons, four of whom are recorded in the minute‑book as having been regularly passed Masters in the Lodge at the Queen’s Head in Hollis Street. And, the record goes on: “Before we founded this Society a Lodge was held, consisting of Masters sufficient for that purpose, in order to pass Charles Cotton, Esqr., Mr. Papillon Ball, and Mr. Thomas Marshall, Fellow Crafts.” Here are three degrees clearly indicated. What then is the history of the period in which this momentous change took place? The part of it that is material to our enquiry can be reconstructed with some degree of certainty.

In 1721 Grand Master Payne read over in Grand Lodge a new set of Articles to be observed. The text of these has not come down to us; what we have in their place is the Regulations propounded by Anderson in 1723, which are admittedly a revision of them and also contain additional matter. But we can form a fairly clear idea of the problem for which Payne was legislating.

We know that after a period of no particular distinction and no great increase in numbers the Craft suddenly leapt into popularity and the inevitable result was that the Four Lodges which at this time, with an undetermined number of unattached brethren (St. John’s Masons as they were called), alone constituted Grand Lodge, could not absorb the people who now clamoured for admission.

The question then arose whether it was possible to form new Lodges. To us this is no problem at all; we see it done every week. But it was in 1721 an entirely new departure on the part of Grand Lodge; we must recognise that it was quite definitely an arguable matter with much to be said on the side of the Old Lodges. It is, however, quite clear that from the meeting of June, 1721, Grand Lodge recognised the necessity for new Lodges and legislated for them.

We know the dates of most of those that were now constituted. But the power to form new lodges was narrowly restricted. It was the prerogative of Grand Lodge alone, and each had to be constituted by the Grand Master, if not in person then by a formally authorised deputy. The fact of its having been constituted was notified to all the other lodges, its first Master having been approved by the Grand Master and installed by him on the occasion of the constitution.

And it would seem that that was not the only way in which Grand Lodge kept control over the new accessions. The Master had to be among the Fellows. Grand Lodge now directed that the degree of Fellow and Master could be conferred in Grand Lodge alone. This perhaps did not matter as far as the new Lodges were concerned. It meant in practice that Grand Lodge retained in its own hands all the patronage, since it could if it chose prevent any particular brother in a new Lodge becoming qualified for the Chair. But even if the Degree itself was only now invented, the rule operated to infringe the privileges of the old Lodges. And it was the law of the Craft for at all events four years. We have no record of Grand Lodge actually conferring the degree; but that proves nothing.

But we can, I think, appreciate that in any case the old Lodges would be by no means in sympathy with this piece of legislation. Now it is just while the law stands thus that we find a new degree comes into existence, and it comes in between the Acceptance or Admission and the Master’s Part. Moreover it is, as a consideration of it today at once shows us, not in any way connected with the Third Degree of a later date, but is in every way complementary to the First Degree, the original Admission. In the 1723 exposure the candidate is made to say: “An enterd mason I have been, ‑ and ‑ I have seen,” while the Grand Mystery of Freemasons Discovered, of 1724, speaks of the first of two names as the Universal Word. Prichard’s account of these has already been referred to. Tubal Kain repeats it in 1777. So that it would seem that the new degree appropriated one word of two, both of which had originally been given to the candidate in the admission ceremony, and that this usage persisted for half a century and more.

The rule as to the new Lodge being constituted by the Grand Master or his Deputy was soon found unworkable. The Craft expanded in a way that its rulers had not foreseen, and when there were Lodges coming into existence at Bath, Bristol, Norwich, Chichester, Carmarthen, Portsmouth, and Congleton in Cheshire, as was the case in 1724, the directions as to Constitution had necessarily to be modified. The business of constituting new Lodges was now entrusted to deputations and the Brethren selected were usually local members of the Grand Lodge.

But with regard to the rule that restricted the conferring of the Master’s Part, Grand Lodge took an entirely different course. Instead of delegating its powers in this respect also, which is what we would have expected, it repealed the legislation absolutely on 27th November, 1725. By so doing it purported to restore to all Lodges, new and old alike, the privilege that had been the rule before 1721, that namely of selecting their own Masters. But the concession was an empty one, for while the law still was that the Master must be among the Fellow‑Craft, that was now complied with by his having taken the new intermediate degree that went by that name.

The Third Degree, as it can now be styled, was in fact all but superfluous. It conferred some amount of dignity no doubt, but while not now necessary for the mastership of the private Lodge, it was not as yet a pre‑requisite for any post in Grand Lodge, and indeed ran no small risk of passing entirely out of existence. In 1730 we read: “There is not one Mason in an Hundred that will be at the Expence to pass the Master’s Part.” We have here, I suggest, the key to the reason for the introduction of the Fellow Craft Degree.

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