Ashlar Chippings

From time to time, the new Mason, or any other for that matter, may ask why the lodge’s Master has an apron with ‘levels’ on it.

An innocent and simple enough question you would think but as we know, nothing in Freemasonry is as straightforward as first appearance would have us suppose!

The first hurdle is why ‘levels’, when we know and can see that the insignia of the Master is the Square. 

Later we discover during the installation ceremony that ‘there is scarcely a case of difficulty can occur in the Lodge in which reference to that Book [U.G.L.E. Book of Constitutions] will not set you right’.

Off we go then to rule 265 for the answer, wherein we are told that Masters and Past Masters of lodges have on their apron: ‘in the place of rosettes perpendicular lines upon horizontal lines, thereby forming three several sets of two right angles’.

There, then is the official and authoritative answer but what on earth does it mean and why is the description framed in that abstruse way?

At this point we usually give up and have another refreshing pint!

Having long since retired and amassed a significant library, I thought it was about time to dig a little deeper and this is the journey I travelled to what I believe to be a fruitful outcome.

To clarify and focus the quest, we are here concerned with those who have been at some time installed into the Chair of a Craft lodge and therefore bear this emblem on their aprons as a mark of rank

Each of the current officers of the lodge wears his collar with the insignia of the office to which he has been appointed or elected: a Square for the Master, a Level for the Senior Warden, a Plumb-rule for the Junior Warden and so on.

So the Master of a lodge cannot possibly be expected to have the insignia of the office of Senior Warden as an emblem of rankon his Master’s apron; that just wouldn’t make sense at all.

He who has duly served his term as Master of a lodge wears an apron similar to a currently serving Master to denote his rank but as there is no office of Past Master, the Square of his collar insignia is varied by the addition of a representation of Euclid’s (c. 325 – c. 270 B.C.) 47th Proposition of the First Book, as a distinction (see Plate 32 B of C).

Moreover, rule 250 relates to what is worn on the collars of ‘Officers and Past Masters’ thus drawing a distinction between officers and Past Masters.

Euclid’s 47th Proposition features in the Frontispiece to James Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions, beneath which is the exclamation eureka, in Greek script. 

Was this a mistake? I believe so, because that exclamation was famously attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 – c. 212 B.C.), not Euclid, on discovering a method of determining the volume of any irregular shaped solid – no connection with the Proposition illustrated.  However, be that as it may.

Looking again in his First Book we find that the 13th Proposition contains the words: ‘if a straight line stands on a straight line, then it makes either two right angles or angles whose sum equals two right angles’. 

If that sounds familiar in relation to the statement in our rule 265 quoted above, I believe that to be no coincidence.

Here, then, is a clue to overcoming that first hurdle – Euclid. 

Now, the words: ‘if a straight line stands on a straight line’ appear to me to reflect the passage in the Book of Amos Ch. VII, v. 7-8 which is used in the ‘extended’ working of the Craft installation ceremony.

So there we have a positive link to an installed Master.

Finally, as to why the description of the Master’s badge emblem is presented in such an arcane manner, we may turn to Euclid’s (again!) predecessor whereby one of the principal rules of the Pythagorean followers says:

‘One should not have the teaching and knowledge of the gods quickly at hand and visible [for everyone], nor communicate them to the masses’.

This I feel points not only towards the mysteries restricted to the office of the lodge Master but also fits very well with our view of Freemasonry as related to the outside world.

If any brother has another view, then I think we should hear it; I would certainly welcome any other considered interpretations.

Article by: Hugh O'Neill

Hugh O'Neill

Past Master of Craft lodges under the constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Member (Senior Warden 2021-2022) of Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076,  the world’s premier Masonic research lodge.

Masonic historian and orator on Masonic topics.

 

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