Tag Archives: Lionel Vibert

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 1 of 6

The Development of the Trigradal System

The Prestonian Lecture 1925


 by Bro. Lionel Vibert P.A.G.D.C.

Prepared in this format by Bro. Mike Lawrence

The Three Degrees, as we have them in the Craft today, are a development at the hands of speculative craftsmen of a Gild system which consisted originally, as far as we can ascertain, of a simple oath of admission for the apprentice, a lad in his teens, and a formal ceremony of admission to full membership, with possibly a secret rite associated with the mastership. By the days of Grand Lodge this had come to be a system of two degrees only, the Acceptance and the Master’s Part. In, or just before 1725 the Acceptance was divided up to form the E.A. and F.C. degrees, and by 1730 the trigradal system was definitely established. But the form of working which we practice today cannot be said to have come into existence until after the ritual had been agreed on by the Lodge of Reconciliation. That ritual was rehearsed at the Especial Meeting of Grand Lodge, held on the 20th May, 1816, but it is probably the case that the Lodge of Reconciliation did not arrange a set form of words for the whole of each ceremony and did not intend to do so.

It was not till 1838 that Claret published his first ritual (his name was first appended to the edition of 1840) he having been present at two meetings of the Lodge of Reconciliation as a visitor acting as candidate. He was P.M. of Lodges 12 and 228, and the work appeared in successive editions till 1866. The most that can be claimed for it is that it represents the form into which the working had settled down by this time in Claret’s own Lodges.

For all practical purposes it is our present‑day working, as taught in the Lodges of Instruction, and the statement that the system as we have it today is the system as agreed on after the Union of the two Grand Lodges is after all sufficiently accurate for most people, for we are pretty safe in assuming that such modifications as were introduced after the Lodge of Reconciliation had ceased to function were all addressed to matters of detail; but there were subsequent modifications, and the claims put forward today to an absolutely exact knowledge of the ceremonies as they were rehearsed in 1816 were not unfairly described by Bro. Hextall, is A.Q.C. in 1910, as illusory, for the very reason that in 1816 they were not stabilised in their entirety.

And it should be clearly understood that the Ritual as rehearsed in 1816, with or without later modifications, was not by any means universally adopted, and it is not universal under the United Grand Lodge today. It was not enjoined by Grand Lodge, although the contrary is frequently asserted.

At the present time the two leading schools of Instruction, differ in their version of the Obligations, while in the Provinces the phraseology is often still further departed from, and was probably never adopted verbatim, nor was it taken that it was intended to be so adopted. Variations in the opening ceremonies exist in many Provinces which are of considerable interest, as a wording is often preserved which is to be found in mid‑eighteenth century exposures, and has clearly been maintained unaltered from pre‑Union days.

The phrase of the official record of the meeting of Grand Lodge in June, 1816, when the final result of the labours of the Lodge of Reconciliation was dealt with, is that the several ceremonies recommended are with two alterations approved and confirmed; not by any means enjoined. The Lodge of reconciliation were strongly opposed to any part of them being reduced to writing and an attempt to do so by a certain Bro. L. Thompson was visited with severe censure. And the Craft as such was by no means unanimous in approval.

Certain brethren declared that the Lodge of Reconciliation had not done what they were directed to do by the articles of Union, and had altered all the ceremonies and language of Masonry and not left one sentence standing. And while this is no doubt the language of controversy, it is clear, if pre‑Union exposures are at all to be relied on, that the ceremonies were not merely recast but were substantially varied in material particulars; and the phraseology used by the members of the Lodge of Reconciliation themselves certainly suggests that they considered they had been given a free hand with regard to the material at their disposal.

It was in 1730 that Samuel Prichard published his Masonry Dissected, the first occasion when the Third Degree purported to be exposed; and this was the commencement of a whole series of these exposures, many of which were reprinted over and over again in edition after edition. It would be misleading to accept these publications at their face value; but we can avail ourselves of them as affording some indication of what may have been the practice of the Lodges of the period, correcting them by our own experience.

We have then, in Masonry Dissected, first published in 1730, Jachin & Boaz 1762, Hiram 1764, Shibboleth 1765, and Tubal Kain 1777, a series in which, except for certain changes in the Third Degree, the text is preserved, almost verbatim from 1730 right up to just before the Union, and it purports to be the working of the Grand Lodge of the Moderns.

Jachin & Boaz also specifies certain points in which the Antients and Moderns differ, and gives the Antient working as well. Another exposure, Three Distinct Knocks, first published in 1760, expressly claims to give the Antient ritual, but is practically identical with Jachin & Boaz, except with regard to the words of the two first degrees and the prayers used by the Antients. These two also give an Installation Obligation, with a word and grip for the Master; the Wardens take the Obligation but are not given the word and grip. It is generally understood that this ceremony was practised by the Antients but neglected by the Moderns.

Other alleged exposures are translations from the French, such as Solomon in all his Glory, and yet others are manifestly mere catchpenny productions of no validity, such as the Master Key to All Freemasonry of 1760. All these need not detain us.

But with this body of evidence in our possession we can gather a very good idea of the practice in both Grand Lodges before the Union, and we can appreciate that what then took place was more than a mere reconciliation of two systems not in themselves really very dissimilar, as far as the Craft degrees were concerned.



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