Understanding of Freemasonry

Two approaches regarding the understanding of Freemasonry

There are two approaches – to call it ‘general’ – regarding the understanding and presentation of Freemasonry as a historical, economic, social, and cultural phenomenon.

The first attempts to ‘explain Freemasonry through Freemasonry’ [1] – which means that it methodologically addresses the study of the genesis and evolution of this organization through the very internal structure inherent in the Organization itself – which it considers sufficient and autarchic [2].

The main areas on which research is directed in this type of approach are: ritual, symbolism, founding myths and doctrine (the corpus of laws); and these areas are studied through disciplines such as hermeneutics, ethics and historiography.

The whole universe of the Masonic Temple is reduced in this case to the living and the interpretation of the ritual – which becomes a mnemotechnical exercise – the understanding of symbolism, the unaltered transmission of arcanas of the Archaic Grades, the founding of myths and the deepening of the doctrine.

Any analysis undertaken in such a context is self-reflexive, perpetual reporting to the same landmarks in Craft’s entire tradition.

From this perspective, no action outside the Organization is necessary because everything that can be said about its origins and history is already contained in the old manuscripts.

The interpretation of these documents – known in the literature as Old Charges – and the realization of various conjectures between the assumptions thus obtained are necessary and sufficient steps to construct some theories of justification of the historical and doctrinal continuity of Freemasonry.

This is Harry Carr‘s analytical approach, which resulted in the so-called Transition Theory, first published in 1968, in volume 81 of the Ars Quatuor Coronatorum under the title: 600 Years of Craft Ritual [3].

On the 5 November 2007 at the meeting of the Grand Masters of Europe, Lord Northampton, as Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, expressed as clearly as possible this self-reflective vision, stating that:

Freemasonry has no role except Freemasonry, and the only influence it should seek is on itself and on its own members.’

‘In any case, commenting on this statement by Andrew Prescott in A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, such a perspective can indeed be valid within the ethical system of Masonry, but from the historical point of view it is not rather than an oxymoron.’ [4]

If we are thinking of ‘developing knowledge’ [5], this approach leads to a horizontal evolution of the increase in the quantity and quality of knowledge, which is, in fact, a perpetual recapitulation of the ritual and doctrine.

Harry Carr
Masonic author

Image via: Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon

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Andrew Prescott
Masonic scholar and author

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Francis Bacon
Author of
The Advancement of Learning (1605)

Image via: Wellcome Collection

 

Therefore, we cannot speak of genuine progress, which would involve transitions from one stage to another in the process of knowledge, but only an endless centripetal movement in which the most advanced ensemble of interpretation – irrespective of the nature of knowledge – will invariably be reported to the set of axioms contained in the doctrinal body.

Such a view of the foundations of Freemasonry will be particularly useful to the members of this organization in the process of personal training, acquiring knowledge and broadening the informational horizon, but from a methodological point of view, it will be a non-criticalway of working.

For those who live in such a paradigm, Freemasonry is a perfectly calibrated mechanism that moves after immutable laws, and in which each individual has his predetermined role in this process of preservation and permanent recapitulation of the doctrinal body.

However, the representatives of the second approach consider that ‘Freemasonry cannot be explained by Freemasonry’ [6].

For this reason, Andrew Prescott says;

‘it is imperative to establish a general [interpretation] framework for [the whole] history of Freemasonry, and only then to continue researching the neglected documentary material.

A historian tries to describe the changes that societies, cultures, and institutions are going through overtime.

Freemasons are often eager to proclaim that they are the depositories of an esoteric truth: Pure and Accepted Freemasonry, which has been transmitted unaltered to them throughout the ages.

Here we are dealing with a fundamental conflict, which refers to the fact that, in a Masonic context, too often history does not find its place.’ [7]

This second approach treats Freemasonry as an open space for investigations, considering the Organization’s heritage as a common and important domain for research – multidisciplinary.

Which must be made accessible to academia and specialists in disciplines such as history, archaeology, sociology, economics, architecture, philosophy, ethics and aesthetics, art history, cultural anthropology, social psychology, hermeneutics, heraldry and others.

This approach is in fact a way of professionalizing scientific research within the profile lodges and a way of raising knowledge at the Craft level.

By comparison with the first approach presented above, the second one is characterized by a vertical development, which implies the increase of knowledge and the use of scientific research methods whose first purpose is to broaden the knowledge sphere by discovering and the presentation of new information, resulting from the application of the specific methods of each mentioned discipline.

We, therefore, have an open system of rational investigation and academic research, whose critical analysis attempts to present the realities of Freemasonry as objectively as possible in their historical and factual development.

Their approach was to integrate the Masonic phenomenology into a broader vision, encompassing the entire socio-political, historical and religious sphere of the sixteenth- nineteenth centuries in a coherent ensemble, in which historiography intertwined with the critical analysis of events, the cultural traditions and the biographical markings of the personalities who marked – for good or evil – the historical and doctrinal evolution of the Masonic Order.

This is especially the case of the Research Lodges of the Great Regular Obedience, being the only ones that can lead to a qualitative increase in knowledge and can interconnect Freemasonry with the fields of interest of the main scientific disciplines, removing it from isolation and giving it a well-deserved place alongside those organizations that have often traced the events of history.

Footnotes
Resources

[1] Andrew Prescott, A History of British Freemasonry 1425-2000, Centre for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism (CRFF), Sheffield University, Sheffield, 2007.

[2] In this case, the meaning is ‘autarchic organization’, that is self-governing (αυταρκεια).

[3] Harry Carr, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. 81, 600 Years of Craft Ritual, 1968, pp.153-279.

[4] Andrew Prescott, op.cit., p.3.

[5] According to Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Oxford University Press, London, 1906.

[6] In the original text, according to Andrew Prescott, op.cit., p.3.

[7] Andrew Prescott, op.cit., pag.3,4.

Article by: Cosmin Dumitrescu, Ph.D

Bro. Cosmin Dumitrescu, Ph.D.
Professor and Scientific Secretary of the Center of Excellence in Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, Romania, specializing in the History of Ancient Greek Philosophy, Hermeneutics and Ancient Greek Language.

President of the Byzantine Cultural Society, Editor-in-Chief of the biannual magazine Byzantine Studies.

Numerous scientific research articles were published in the Journal of Philosophy of the Institute of Philosophy, Romanian Academy.

Published books: The Logic of Religion (Bucharest, 2005), Sophia's Avatars (Bucharest, 2006).

Past Master in Lodge Hermes Trismegistus No.242, Bucharest, within the National Grand Lodge of Romania; Worshipful Master of Lodge of Research Gnosis C3, Sibiu.

Numerous participation in conferences and symposia as part of the annual activities of the National Grand Lodge of Romania.

Masonic books published: The Royal Art (Bucharest, 2013), Anabasis (Bucharest, 2016), Sol Invictus (Bucharest, 2018).

Numerous scientific studies were published in the Gnosis yearbook of the Gnosis Research Lodge in Sibiu, Romania.

The Advancement of Learning

By: Francis Bacon

The Advancement of Learning (full title: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human) is a 1605 book by Francis Bacon.

It inspired the taxonomic structure of the highly influential Encyclopédie by Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Denis Diderot, and is credited by Bacon’s biographer-essayist Catherine Drinker Bowen with being a pioneering essay in support of empirical philosophy.

 

The Freemason at Work

By: Harry Carr 

This is one of the most successful Masonic Publications in recent times due to the immense knowledge of the late Harry Carr and his entertaining writing style.

If you enjoy your masonry then this book will bring a new delight to all that you see and hear in lodge.

When Harry Carr became secretary and editor of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, the answering of lodge questions became a major part of his duties.

In a style that became a hall mark of all his masonic writing, he always answered a little more than the original question.

In response to hundreds of requests from all over the world, the answers he gave to questions during his twelve years office as editor of Quatuor Coronati Transactions have been collected together in this book.

Only the best and most interesting subjects are included and every question will be relevant to most brethren in the course of their work in the lodge ? hence the title The Freemason at Work

This book was substantially revised by Frederick Smyth, the eminent Masonic author and Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, in 1992; brining the text right up-to-date for much had change since the book was first published in 1976.

This is a book to be treasured, one that will provide a wealth of knowledge in an easy to read style.

A collection of more than 200 questions with comprehensive answers to all manner of masonic subjects. 390 pages,

 

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