A tentative reconstruction of a “Standard Original” version of the Old Charges
Taken from the 1986 Prestonian Lecture “The Old Charges”
By Dr. Wallace McLeod
Introduction by Bro. Mike Lawrence
The Old Charges or Gothic Constitutions, to which they are occasionally referred, is the collective name given to a group of hand written (many being copied from even older versions) documents or old manuscripts, which were found mainly in England and dating from about 1390 A.D. There over 110 copies of these old texts, approximately 75 were written before 1717, four date from about 1600, one from 1583, one from 1410 and one, as previously noted, from 1390.
They tend to fall into two categories, with the early versions written, it would appear, for the guidance and instruction of working stonemasons, and the later versions, several of which originate from Scotland and Ireland, which introduce a more ceremonial approach and produced probably to act as an aide memoire for the lodge or lodge Officers.
The early versions have a distinct working mason or operative theme about them and include a legendary history of the art of Geometry, which changes to Masonry, but not in the Masonic sense as we understand the term. However, Freemasons have adopted these documents as their own and many of the words and phrases are familiar to us and can be found in our modern-day ritual.
Finally, as to the historical accuracy of the earlier manuscripts, I can only refer to the words used by Robert Plot in his 1686 work entitled, The Natural History of Staffordshire, when he says in paragraph 88, regarding the author of the “scrole” to which he had been reading: “So very much out was the Compiler of this History of the craft of masonry, and so little skill had he in our Chronicles and Laws”.
This tradition of “enhancing” our history was carried on by no less than Dr. James Anderson himself, for during the Grand Mastership of the Duke of Montagu 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)
Anderson did exactly that and had an absolute field day with the legendary history contained in these old manuscripts and that is more than evident by the fantastic fictional history he produced in the 1738 Book of Constitutions. In fact, by that date, he had secured the history so firmly that the Society of Free and Accepted Masons could now trace it origins from Adam to the 1717 revival. Additionally, any English monarch or historical character that had in any manner patronised architects or masons was listed as a Grand Master or Grand Warden.
But a discourse on the accuracy of these, or subsequent manuscripts and papers is not called for here, but rather a clear and concise demonstration of how one might have been received into the stone mason’s trade in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.
Part One – The Invocation
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 our 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.
Part Two – Purpose and Contents
Good Brethren and Fellows, our purpose is to tell you how and in what manner this worthy Craft of Masonry was begun, and afterwards how it was founded by worthy kings and princes, and many other worshipful men; And also to them that be here we will declare the charge that belongeth to every true mason to keep. For in good faith, an ye take heed thereto, it is well worthy to be kept for a worthy craft and a curious science.
Part Three – The Seven Liberal Sciences
For there be seven liberal sciences, of the which it is one of them, and the names of the seven sciences be these. The first is Grammar, that teacheth a man to speak truly and to write truly. The second is Rhetoric, that teacheth a man to speak fair and in subtle terms. The third is Dialectic, that teacheth a man to discern or know truth from falsehood. The forth is Arithmetic, that teacheth a man to reckon and account all manner of numbers. The fifth is Geometry, that teacheth a man mete and measure of the earth and all other things, of the which science is Masonry. The sixth is Music, that teacheth a man the craft of song, and voice of tongue, organ, harp and trumpet. The seventh is called Astronomy, that teacheth a man to know the course of the sun, moon and stars.
Part Four – Geometry: The Fundamental Science
These be the seven liberal sciences, the which seven be all found by one science, that is to say, Geometry. And thus may a man prove that all sciences of the world be found by Geometry. For it teacheth mete and measure, ponderation and weight, of all manner of things on earth. And there is no man that worketh any craft, but he worketh by some mete or measure; nor no man that buyeth or selleth, but by measure or weight, and all this is Geometry. And these merchants and craftsmen find all other of the seven sciences; and especially the ploughmen, and tillers of all manner of grain (both corn and seeds), vine planters, and setters of other fruits. For Grammar nor Rhetoric, nor Astronomy nor none of all the other sciences, can find a man measure or mete without Geometry. Wherefore me thinketh that science is most worthy that findeth all other.
Part Five – The Two Pillars
How this worthy science was first begun I shall you tell. Before Noah’s Flood there was a man that was called Lamech, as it is written in the Bible, in the fourth chapter of Genesis. And this Lamech had two wives, the one Ada and the other Stella. By his first wife Ada he got two sons, the one Jabel and the other Jubal. And by the other wife Stella he got a son and a daughter. And these four children found the beginning of all the crafts in the world. And his eldest son Jabel found the craft of Geometry; and he departed (divide or share) flocks of sheep, and lands in the field, and first wrought a house of stone and tree, as it is noted in the chapter above said. And his brother Jubal found the craft of Music, song of tongue, harp, and organ. And the third brother Tubalcain found smith’s craft, of gold, silver, copper, iron, and steel. And the sister found the craft of weaving. And these children knew that God would take vengeance for sin, either by fire or water. Wherefore they wrote the sciences that they had found, in two pillars of stone, that they might be found after Noah’s Flood. And the one stone was marble, that would not burn with fire; and the other stone was called laterus, that would not drown in water.
Part Six – How the Pillars were found after the Flood
Our intent is to tell you truly how and in what manner these stones were found, that these sciences were written in. The great Hermarines, that was Chus’s son, the which Chus was son unto Shem, that was Noah’s son (the name Hermarines was afterwards called Hermes, the father of wise men), he found one of the two pillars of stone, and found the sciences written therein, and taught them to other man.