The Book of the Law or Holy Book is the name given to sacred revelations inspired by beings worthy of veneration, transcribed by chosen people, or even the compilation of doctrines that deal especially with the relationships between human beings, the spirit and the universe.
When we apply to join Freemasonry, we are informed that, although it is not a religion, it requests as necessary that the candidate believe in a creative principle, which later, after the candidate’s initiation, will be called the Great Architect of the Universe.
After initiation, as soon as we know the Landmarks, we see that this belief is extremely important and that this vestment is indispensable in a shop, placed on the Altar, next to the Square and Compass.
The reading of the Book of the Law is done in all sessions and has the purpose, although the omnipresence of God is certain, to invoke the blessing of the Great Architect of the Universe for the works to be performed, as we have in our Ritual, remembering in particular the memory that Freemasons do not undertake work without invoking the Divine presence, in addition to such reading promoting fraternity and love among the brothers:
‘Oh, how good and how sweet it is that the brothers live in unity. It is like the precious oil on the head, which runs down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, and which runs down to the hem of his garment.
As the dew of Hermon, which descends on the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commands blessing and life forever’.
– Psalm 133
Landmark 21 of Albert Mackey’s classification provides that a Book of the Law must be an indispensable part of the store’s furniture.
In its exact terms we have: ‘a Book of the Law as an indispensable part in the ornament of the Lodge’ (SOUSA, 2016), together with the Square and Compass constitute the three Great Lights of Freemasonry.
It is considered an integral part of Masonic utensils, being indispensable in the work of a lodge.
In Jean-Pierre Berthelon’s classification, Landmark 6 reads: ‘The Book of the Sacred Law on the Altar’.
Joaquim Gervásio de Figueiredo adopts the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compass, as the three Great Lights that must be on the Altar, the Volume of the Sacred Law being the Holy Scripture adopted by the local store.
However, other authors, such as Albert Pike, Enrique A. Lecerff and Findel, do not have the book of the law as a Landmark, nor do they even mention it. (SOUSA, 2016)
The Book of the Law is the symbol of the supreme will and moral conduct that each Freemason follows, which imposes the spiritual beliefs established by religions and is not only translated by the Old and New Testaments, but according to the religious philosophy of each person.
The United Grand Lodge of England, in a letter addressed to the Grand Lodge of Uruguay, on October 18, 1950, expressed its thoughts in this way:
The true Freemasonry is not a philosophical movement admitting all orientation or opinion… True Freemasonry is a cult to preserve and spread the belief in the existence of God, to help Freemasons to regulate their life and conduct on the principles of their own religion, whatever it may be… but it must be a monotheistic religion that requires belief in God as a supreme Being… and it must be a religion having a sacred book on which the initiate can swear the oath to the Order (SOUSA, 2016).
In Brazil, the Bible is used as the Book of the Law due to the fact that, in this matter, it is necessary to work with generalities.
Our country is composed of a population where 81% identify themselves as Christians, for this reason the Bible will be there on the Altar of Oaths.
This does not mean that an initiate who has another creed must swear his oath before the Bible, but before the book that he believes to be Sacred to him, for example, in the case of a Muslim initiate, the Bible will be open on the Altar of Oaths and beside it the Qur’an.
In addition, there are Masonic researchers who defend that it is possible to use any of them, respecting the religion of the initiate, since Freemasonry is tolerant and open to men, regardless of their religion.
As stated in Mackey’s Landmarks 21: ‘The existence of a ‘Book of the Law’ is indispensable at the altar.
Freemasonry not taking care to intervene in the peculiarities of the religious faith of its members, this book may vary according to creeds.
This Landmark speaks of the Book of the Law, but in fact it is the Holy Book or Book of the Moral Law: Bible, Quran, Torah, Talmud, Vedas etc., because later in the same Landmark, religious faith and creeds are mentioned, therefore , according to Mackey’s reading, it is not about books such as the Federal Constitution of our country or even the Constitution and General Regulations of the Grand Lodge.
Each people will have the presence of the Holy Book that represents their faith, because the presence of the Holy Book (Book of the Moral Law) is proof of freedom of worship, because in each country Freemasonry will have the Book of faith of the majority of its members.
The reading of the Book of the Law inside the Temples has always been an important part of the ritual, because the ‘word’ was given to be obeyed and the renewal of its daily reading takes on new aspects, thus awakening man to a quiet and peaceful path. drawn out for your benefit by the Great Architect of the Universe.
Even so, during part of history, there were divergences regarding the application of the texts of the Book of the Law in the Masonic Works, due to the freedom of use, through the ages.
We see, for example, that in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, there is nothing about its use, nor in the declaratory reform that Anderson carried out in 1738.
The Grand Lodge of England, considered the Mother Lodge of Universal Freemasonry, recommends the use of the Bible and not from any other book, because Freemasonry has its origins in the ancient guilds of master stonemasons who built churches and cathedrals formed under the influence of the Church in the Middle Ages.
It is interesting to point out that the theistic character has always been in Freemasonry, moving away in a way after the anti-Masonic encyclical In Eminenti, written by Pope Clement XII in 1738.
Then, there is then a distance between Masonic ritualistic practices and religion, in especially monotheists.
It was only after the efforts of the Anglican Church to reconnect both parties, Freemasonry, and religion, that in the year 1760, through William Preston, of the Grand Lodge of England, did the Bible acquire the category of ‘light’ of the Lodge.
It is important to remember that at the time of workers’ Freemasonry, only the working tools were found in the workshops: the ruler, the square, and the compass, and these were their lights.
In Brazil, the Symbolic Lodges, obeying the decision of the General Assembly of the Confederation of Symbolic Freemasonry of Brazil, of June 1952, follow the same orientation and use to open the Book of the Law in Psalm 133 (in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite), proceeding with the Reading by the Orator, at the opening of the Apprentice Degree Works.
In view of the above, even though there is no evidence prior to the year 1760 on the use of the Book of the Law as the Light of a lodge, its existence is defined through the Grand Lodge of England, considered the Mother Lodge of modern Freemasonry, in its landmarks, which are the uses and customs.
Because it is directly linked to the religious character and every Freemason has a religiosity, in addition to being a mostly Christian country, in Brazil the use of the Holy Bible is adopted as the Book of the Law, read in all its meetings, which does not prevent that during its Initiations candidates use the book of their belief, as this religious universalist character of Freemasonry respects the religion of each newcomer to the order.
Grande Oriente do Brasil (GOB) https://www.gob.org.br/
ALBERTON, Valério. O Conceito de Deus na Maçonaria: 2. Ed. Recife: Aurora, n/d.
SIQUEIRA, Francisco Mello. Jesus e a Moral Maçônica. São Paulo: Método, n/d.
SOUSA, Ailton Elisiário de. O Livro da Lei Sagrada um Símbolo que divide. O Buscador, Campina Grade, Ano 1, N° 4, pág. 01 – 10, out/dez – 2016.
MASÓNICO, Diário. El Libro de la Ley Sagrada en masonería. Disponível em: <https://www.diariomasonico.com/opinion/libro-sagrado-masoneria/>. Acesso em: 20 out. 2019.
Article by: Fernando Rodrigues de Souza
Religion researcher, specialist in Philosophy and History of Religions; Orator during the biennium (2021-2023) of the Virtue and Bondade Lodge 146 and Junior Warden of the Acácia Alagoana Lodge 2640, federated to the Grande Oriente do Brasil and under the jurisdiction of the GOB/AL;
Member of the Correspondence Circles of the Dom Bosco Research Lodges 33, affiliated to the Masonic Grand Lodge of the Federal District (GLMDF), and Quatuor Coronati 2076, under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
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