Extracted and abridged from The Mystic Tie: Or, Facts and Opinions, Illustrative of the Character and Tendency of Freemasonry
by Albert Mackey, Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co, New York, 1867
In the present state of Freemasonry, dispersed as it is over the whole face of the Labitable globe, and distinguished by an anxious inquiry, whether its reputed origin be well founded, and whether its philosophy and the evidences on which its claims to public notice are entitled to the implicit credence of mankind; it is the duty of every Brother, so far as his influence may extend, to furnish the means of satisfying this ardent curiosity.
Rev. Dr. George Oliver, Introduction to the Landmarks
Definitions of Freemasonry
As a further reply to the question which has been the subject of discussion in the preceding article, the views of other writers, advanced in the form of definitions of our Order, may be added.
They will show the concurrent opinions of distinguished writers as to the excellence and usefulness of the institution.
Hutchinson, who was one of the earliest philosophical writers on Freemasonry, defines it to be at once a religious and civil society, and declares that the corner-stone on which its foundations are placed, is “the knowledge of the God of nature, and that acceptable service where-with he is well pleased”.
Calcott, another early writer, defines a Mason to be one who, by gradual advances in the sublime truths, and various arts and sciences which the principles and precepts of Freemasonry tend to inculcate and establish, raised by regular courses to such a degree of perfection, as to be replete with happiness to himself, and extensively beneficial to others.
The amiable and unfortunate Dr Dodd has beautifully described Freemasonry as;
“an institution founded on eternal reason and truth; whose deep basis is the civilization of mankind, and whose everlasting glory it is, to have the immovable support of those two mighty pillars, science and morality”.
“The Masonic system”, says Stephen Jones, in 1796, “exhibits a stupendous and beautiful fabric, founded on universal piety. To rule and direct our passions; to have faith and love in God and charity towards man, I consider as the objects of what is termed speculative Masonry”.
Preston’s definition of speculative Masonry has been so highly approved, as to have been adopted by common consent, as a part of the modern ritual.
It is, that it is an institution so far interwoven with religion, as to lay us under the strongest obligations to pay that rational homage to the Deity, which at once constitutes our duty and our happiness.
It leads the contemplative to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation and inspires them with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of the Divine Creator.
The Duke d’Antin, who was in 1740 the grand master of France, has thus defined Freemasonry:
The whole world is only a republic, of which each nation is a family, and every individual a child. The sublime art of Masonry, without interfering with the various duties which the diversities of condition demand, tends to create a new people, who, being composed of
several nations, are all in some way cemented by the bond of science, morality, and virtue.
But one of the best definitions is to be found in the first article of the Constitution, promulgated in 1849 by the Grand Orient of France:
Freemasonry is an institution essentially philanthropic, philosophic, and progressive, which has for its basis I the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.
I It has for its object the exercise of benevolence, the study of universal morality, and the practice of all the virtues.
The Rev. Daniel Turner, in 1787, defined Freemasonry to be a mystic science, wherein, under apt figures, select numbers and choice emblems, solemn and important truths, naturally tending to improve the understanding, to mend the heart, and to bind us more closely to one another, are most expressly maintained.
But none of these definitions appears to me to convey with sufficient emphasis the idea of the scientific and philosophical design of Freemasonry.
Looking, then, to this view more than either its moral, charitable, or, least of all, its social tendencies, I should be disposed to define Freemasonry to be a science of symbols, in which, by their proper study, a search is instituted after truth— that truth consisting in the knowledge of the divine and human nature, of God and the human soul.
Freemasonry and Religion
If Masonry be not an universal religion, it forms a most beautiful auxiliary to every system of faith, which man’s freedom of thought has projected, to carry him to the one happy bourne, which is the common object of all our hopes and wishes.
— Oliver’s Landmarks ii. 87.
Freemasonry is not religion. It does not claim to possess any of the renovating efficacy, or consoling influences, of that necessary ingredient in the moral constitution of man.
When, therefore, the enemies of our Order charge the fraternity with endeavoring to make Masonry a substitute for religion, they know, if they know anything at all about the matter, that the claim is one that has never been advanced, or attempted to be supported by the craft.
To the honest inquirer, our lectures would indeed remove every doubt upon this subject. Through them, an early opportunity is seized to inform the candidate, in the course of his instruction, that speculative Masonry is only so far interwoven with religion, as to lay the Mason under obligation to pay that rational homage to the Deity, which should at once constitute his duty, and his happiness.
But the Ancient Charges — the written and unchangeable law of our institution— not local, but universal in their application, extending their authority to all parts of the world, and governing and directing Masons wherever they meet, are still more explicit.
They teach us what is the connection between Masonry and religion, in these emphatic and unmistakable words:
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 it is 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 centre of union, and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons, which must have remained at a perpetual distance.
– The Old Charges. See Book of Constitutions, Ist Edition, p. 50 (U.M. L., vol. XV., book 1, p. 50).
Masonry, then, is not a religious sect. It has no creed, except that simple one of theism, in which all good and sensible men agree; no “saving ordinances”, which must not be neglected at the peril of the soul; no decrees of councils to regulate its faith; no articles of belief which require an unconditional subscription.
It selects for no man, the mode and manner in which he must worship his Maker; designates no peculiar church in which he must offer up his devotions; directs no form of altar on which he must make bis oblations; and institutes no liturgy for his form of prayer: but leaves the religious tenets of each member, as a matter for his own conscience to prescribe.
But although Masonry is not, in itself, either religion, or a substitute for it, it is evidently a religious institution.
If it be the object of religion, to bind us to the performance of our duties, by the sacred obligations which we owe to God ; to point us to the hopes and expectations of another and a better world ; and to direct us in the conduct of the present, by a standard which is to be applied to the future— then, in such a sense as this, Freemasonry is emphatically a religious institution.
It teaches the existence of a God. It demands, as an imperative prerequisite to admission, a belief in that Omnipotent Being, whose wisdom devised the universe, whose strength continues to support the vast design, and the beauty of whose holiness covers it as with a mantle.
It points to the celestial canopy above, as the eternal Lodge in which he presides. It instructs us in the way to reach the portals of that distant temple, and reminds us of that faith which should never doubt — that hope which should never sicken — that charity which should never weary in well doing.
The existence of a revealed religion, is a dogma which Freemasonry continually inculcates.
It is true, it does not enter into the speculations of polemical theology, but leaves to each one’s conscience the question of what that revelation is, and to God to judge whether that conscience has determined rightly.
Yet does it teach, that He who made man in his own image, and claimed, for this gracious boon, a blind obedience to his will, would not, in his mercy and justice, have made this exaction, unless he had revealed to man the laws by which he was to be governed.
Hence the revealed will of God, which, in Christian and Jewish Lodges, is admitted to be the volume of Holy Scripture, is emphatically said to be that great light of Masonry, whose bright effulgence, like a friendly beacon, warns us of the perils that surround us and points us to the haven of security.
And it may sur prise those who know nothing of the institution, to learn that, by the laws of the fraternity, no Lodge can legally proceed to business, until the sacred volume is opened upon the altar.
With these views of the Deity, it is to be expected that a reverence for his holy name must form a part of the Masonic creed.
No Mason will readily forget that solemn moment in the course of his initiation, when the name of the Grand Geometrician of the Universe was first invoked, and when he was taught, ever at that name, to bow with humble submission and fearful awe.
And so deeply is this lesson of reverence impressed, and so stringent are the laws which prescribe its enforcement, that instances of profanity are never known within the precincts of the Lodge.
Men, reckless in their language in other places, and at other times, become, in that sacred asylum, religiously respectful in all their expressions.
Thus, in all its sayings and doings. Masonry seeks the counsel and support of religion, and strives to unite itself with that holy institution.
Yet not, as I have said already, with the religion of a sect; for Masonry, to be effective for good, must be a universal system, and sectarianism would destroy that universality.
The Jew, the Muslim, the Pagan, or the Christian, must be permitted to enter our Lodges without the fear of theological controversy, or the risk of dogmatical insult.
Hence, to quote the language of the Rev. Dr Oliver, Oliver,
“all our charges, all our regulations, assume as a foundation that cannot be moved, a belief in the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments; and inculcate the necessity of moral purity as a qualification for future happiness; and this, according to our definitions, forms the sum and substance of religion, in its most universal acceptation.”
Article by: Albert G. Mackey
Albert Gallatin Mackey (1807 – 1881) was an American medical doctor and author.
He is best known for his books and articles about freemasonry, particularly the Masonic Landmarks.
In 1849 he established The Southern and Western Masonic Miscellany, a weekly masonic magazine.
He served as Grand Lecturer and Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of South Carolina, as well as Secretary General of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States
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