The Christian origin of Freemasonry By Michael Lawrence

A short paper dispelling the suggestion that our ritual is of Jewish origin.

I was very interested to read the following statement found recently on a Masonic Facebook page to which I subscribe, it was followed by the question, “What is your opinion?”

poster

 

Old Gothic Constitutions 1390 – 1690

From the earliest of recognised English Masonic documents, i.e. the Regius Poem c.1390 and the Matthew Cooke MS, c.1450, which were in fact, Trade Documents written for the control and behaviour of Operative Masons, there is a distinct Christian emphasis. This emphasis is repeated in all the later documents generically called the “Old Gothic Constitutions”, which are of a similar nature, This pre-reformation Trinitarian influence which is Catholic in its inference, is soundly and securely based on the religion of the realm at that time, which was Christian.

An example being the Invocation or Opening prayer in each document, which always runs along these lines:

“The might of the Father of Heaven, with the wisdom of the glorious Son, through the grace and goodness of the Holy Ghost, that be three persons in one Godhead, be with us at out beginning, and give us grace so to govern us here in our living that we may come to His Bliss that never shall have ending. Amen.”

Certainly, no Jewish influence there.

The following link may be helpful.

http://www.masoniclibrary.org.au/research/list-lectures/86-gothic-constitutions.html

Having made that statement, an important point to make relates to the Edict of Expulsion. In 1290, Edward 1, issued the edict expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. The edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. The edict was not an isolated incident but the result of over 200 years of persecution of the Jews in England. It is generally accepted that the Middle Ages ran for about 1000 years, approximately from the fall of the Western Roman Empire, to the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

Therefore, initially we can dispute the original statement on two counts because:

1) The Jewish people were expelled from England at that time.

2) The Operative Masons were erecting Cathedrals to the Glory of a Christian God.

So we can say that there was no Jewish influence within these documents and as there is no suggestion or even direction by any of the writers, that the contents should remain secret. I therefore propose that there is no hidden Jewish message found in the same.

Early Masonic Exposures, 1696 – 1730

The main foundation of early ritual in England is based on a group of three Scottish documents dated between 1696 and 1714, written out laboriously by hand and possibly used as a guide or aides-memoir. They are:

 1) The Edinburgh Register House MS, 1696 – Found in 1930, in the Old Register House, Edinburgh, among a number of papers transferred there in 1808 and was in no way related to any of the papers or records which it was stored with.

2) The Chetwode Crawley MS, c.1700 – Found in a collection of volumes purchased as a lot, c.1900, from a second-hand book collector.

3) The Kevan MS, c.1714 – Found in 1954, among a collection of old legal documents belonging to a firm of Solicitors practising in Berwickshire.

The problem with these MS is that without validation, they can only be seen as interesting or curious artefacts of a bygone age. However, by a very rare stroke of luck, an interesting discovery led students to the possibility of validating the previously three mentioned documents.

Haughfoot, was a hamlet near Stow, Galashiels, in the Scottish Lowlands and at the end of the 17th century, it consisted mainly of a staging post for horses and carriages and would have been the most unlikely place for a Lodge to be established as the region consisted mainly of gentry and local land owners, not stone works or masons. But it was in fact, the place where Scotland’s first wholly non-operative Lodge was founded, on 22nd December 1702 and here’s the twist of fate, it would appear that at the commencement of that Lodge, the ceremonies were written in the first several pages of the Lodge minute book to the extent that the last twenty-nine words of the ceremony commenced at the top of a new page and at the completion of the written ritual text we find the following words:

 “The same day”

Indicating that the ritual text was written and completed before the first meeting of the Lodge which was held on the same day.

These four documents agree closely with eleven others, generically known as the “Early Masonic Exposures” and continue the exact same pre-reformation Christian influence.

Dr James Anderson

It was during the Grand Mastership of the Duke of Montagu that when “finding fault with all the copies of the old Gothic Constitutions, order’d Brother James Anderson A.M. to digest the same in a new and better method” (Douglas Knoop and G.P.Jones, The Genesis of Freemasonry, published by Q.C. Correspondence Circle Ltd., 1978 edition, p.160)

One unforeseen problem which also occurred is taken up by Wallace Mcleod in the 1986 Prestonian lecture.

“…At the Annual Festival on 24 June 1718, when the Grand Lodge was one year old, the new Grand Master, George Payne, “desired any brethren to bring to the Grand lodge any old Writings and Records concerning Masons and Masonry in other to shew the Usages of antient Times; And this Year several old copies of the Gothic Constitutions were produced and collated.”

                Even in those early days there were reticent Masons who did not choose to risk disclosure. In a narrative of the incident Anderson wrote, “This Year, at some private Lodges, several very valuable Manuscripts…concerning the Fraternity, their Lodges, Regulations, Charges, Secrets and Usages…were too hastily burnt by some scrupulous Brothers, that those Papers might not fall into strange hands.”

It is generally agreed however, that of the few London lodges that formed part of George Paynes Grand Lodge at that time, between them they would only have held a small amount of texts or paperwork regarding “the Fraternity, their Lodges, Regulations, Charges, Secrets and Usages”.

How valuable to the Craft from an historic stand point they might have been, we shall never know, but the general consensus is that they were more probably one, or possibly two copies of the Gothic Constitutions that were destroyed which in any case would have been hand written reproductions of existing copies.

The main object of Andersons role was to bring some sort of order to the current manuscripts available to him at that time and in doing so he produced the first Book of Constitution, 1723. Anderson, being a Presbyterian Minister his Constitutions were influenced in that manner.

Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures and the necessity of Grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Its roots lie in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

Anderson, refined the basic Christian influence of the existing documents and produced the following statement:

Concerning GOD and RELIGION.

A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid ATHEIST, nor an irreligious LIBERTINE. But though in ancient Times Masons were charged in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished ; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance.

Freemasonry therefore became Deistic, that being the belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe, like that of Natural Religion, which is based on reason rather than divine revelation. It is a system of advocating or emphasizing morality. Morality being one of the founding principles Freemasonry was founded upon.

This now took Freemasonry away from that pre-reformation or Catholic ethos, and all but began the process of de-Christianisation.

Conclusion

The reason why people have give traction to the opening statement,  is because in order to tell the Masonic story and illustrate the message of fidelity, the vehicle chosen was the building of King Solomon’s Temple, but that does not make the story Jewish.

Stories, passwords, quotations and various inferences, were all taken from Christian Bibles, not the Talmud, especially the message of the Third Degree, which has caused some Jewish lodges to make the following change to the ritual:

From – “…lift our eyes to that bright Star, (inferring Jesus. See Revelations 22:16) whose rising brings peace and salvation…”

To – “…and lift our eyes to Him whose divine Words brings Peace and Salvation to the faithful…”

The purpose being the Jewish creed does not recognise the Christian belief that Jesus is their Saviour,

The stories and scriptures of the Old Testament were alogorically used to illuminate salient points of our discipline and no more.

Therefore our Freemasonry is founded on the simple premise, i.e. that we have a belief in a Supreme Being, not what religion or creed we follow and that is why we must be:

“…good Men and true, Men of Honor and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions we may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual Distance.”

Therefore the suggestion that our ritual was influenced by Judaism is incorrect, as is the general belief that Freemasonry in general, is Christian. Our society in multi-denominational, and long so may it remain so.

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Filed under Cathedral Builders, Freemasonry, Gothic Constitutions, Masonic, Masonic History, Masonic Ritual, Masonic Traditions, Old Charges

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