The Builders Part 2 Chapter 4


The Builders
CHAPTER IV – Grand Lodge of England


Previous: The Builders - Part 2 Chapter 3

Note to the reader doing research:
Many Masonic Texts make reference to Bro. Newton’s book. I have been fortunate to lay my hands on a hardcopy volume printed by ‘The Torch Press’, Cedar Rapids, Fifth Edition 1921. (31300 copies in print)
To facilitate the look-up of page references given in other texts, I have inserted the original page-breaks in the form of a page number in square brackets like this: [77]

The doctrines of Masonry are the most beautiful that it is possible to imagine. They breathe the simplicity of the earliest ages animated by the love of a martyred God. That word which the Puritans translated CHARITY, but which is really //LOVE, is the key-stone which supports the entire edifice of this mystic science. Love one another, teach one another, help one another. That is all our doctrine, all our science, all our law. We have no narrow-minded prejudices; we do not debar from our society this sect or that sect; it is sufficient for us that a man worships God, no matter under what name or in what manner. Ah! rail against us bigoted and ignorant men, if you will. Those who listen to the truths which Masonry inculcates can readily forgive you. It is impossible to be a good Mason without being a good man.//

– Winwood Reade, The Veil of Isis.


CHAPTER IV – Grand Lodge of England

The great importance of 1717 to organized Masonry and to the world in which Masons live; the origin of the Third Degree

While praying in a little chapel one day, Francis of Assisi was exhorted by an old Byzantine crucifix: “Go now, and rebuild my Church, which is falling into ruins.” In sheer loyalty he had a lamp placed; then he saw his task in a larger way, and an artist has painted him carrying stones and mortar. Finally there burst upon him the full import of the allocution – that he himself was to be the corner-stone of a renewed and purified Church. Purse and prestige he flung to the winds, and went along the highways of Umbria calling men back from the rot of luxury to the ways of purity, pity, and gladness, his life at once a poem and a power, his faith a vision of the world as love and comradeship.

That is a perfect parable of the history of Masonry. Of old the working Masons built the great cathedrals, and we have seen them not only carrying stones, but drawing triangles, squares, and circles in such a manner as to show that they assigned [174] to those figures high mystical meanings. But the real Home of the Soul cannot be built of brick and stone; it is a house not made with hands. Slowly it rises, fashioned of the thoughts, hopes, prayers, dreams, and righteous acts of devout and free men; built of their hunger for truth, their love of God, and their loyalty to one another. There came a day when the Masons, laying aside their stones, became workmen of another kind, not less builders than before, but using truths for tools and dramas for designs, uplifting such a temple as Watts dreamed of decorating with his visions of the august allegory of the evolution of man.


From every point of view, the organization of the Grand Lodge of England, in 1717, was a significant and far-reaching event. Not only did it divide the story of Masonry into before and after, giving a new date from which to reckon, but it was a way-mark in the intellectual and spiritual history of mankind. One has only to study that first Grand Lodge, the influences surrounding it, the men who composed it, the Constitutions adopted, and its spirit and purpose, to see that it was the beginning of a movement of profound meaning. When we see it in the setting of its age – as revealed, for [175] example, in the Journals of Fox and Wesley, which from being religious time-tables broadened into detailed panoramic pictures of the period before, and that following, the Grand Lodge – the Assembly on 1717 becomes the more remarkable. Against such a background, when religion and morals seemed to reach the nadir of depredation, the men of that Assembly stand out as prophets of liberty of faith and righteousness of life.1

Some imagination is needed to realize the moral declension of that time, as it is portrayed – to use a single example – in the sermon by the Bishop of Litchfield before the Society for the Reformation of Manners, in 1724. Lewdness, drunkenness, and degeneracy, he said, were well nigh universal, no class being free from the infection. Murders were common and foul, wanton and obscene books found so good a market as to encourage the publishing of them. Immorality of every kind was so hardened as to be defended, yes, justified on principle. The [176] rich were debauched and indifferent; the poor were as miserable in their labor as they were coarse and cruel in their sport. Writing in 1713, Bishop Burnet said that those who came to be ordained as clergymen were “ignorant to a degree not to be comprehended by those who are not obliged to know it.” Religion seemed dying or dead, and to mention the word provoked a laugh. Wesley, then only a lad, had not yet come with his magnificent and cleansing evangel. Empty formalism on one side, a dead polemical dogmatism on the other, bigotry, bitterness, intolerance, and interminable feud everywhere, no wonder Bishop Butler sat oppressed in his castle with hardly a hope surviving.

As for Masonry, it had fallen far and fallen low betimes, but with the revival following the great fire of London, in 1666, it had taken on new life and a bolder spirit, and was passing through a transition – or, rather, a transfiguration! For, when we compare the Masonry of, say, 1688 with that of 1723, we discover that much more than a revival had come to pass. Set the instructions of the Old Charges – not all of them, however, for even in earliest times some of them escaped the stamp of the Church2 – in respect of religion alongside the [177] same article in the Constitutions of 1723, and the contrast is amazing. The old charge read:

“The first charge is this, that you be true to God and Holy Church and use no error or heresy.”

Hear now the charge in 1723:

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 Denomination or Persuasion they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.

If that statement had been written yesterday, it would be remarkable enough. But when we consider that it was set forth in 1723, amidst bitter sectarian rancor and intolerance unimaginable, it rises up as forever memorable in the history of men! The man who wrote that document, did we know his [178] name, is entitled to be held till the end of time in the grateful and venerative memory of his race. The temper of the times was all for relentless partisanship, both in religion and in politics. The alternative offered in religion was an ecclesiastical tyranny, allowing a certain liberty of belief, or a doctrinal tyranny, allowing a slight liberty of worship; a sad choice in truth. It is, then, to the everlasting honor of the century, that, in the midst of its clashing extremes, the Masons appeared with heads unbowed, abjuring both tyrannies and championing both liberties.3 Ecclesiastically and doctrinally they stood in the open, while Romanist and Protestant, Anglican and Puritan, Calvinist and Arminian waged bitter war, filling the air with angry maledictions. These men of latitude in a cramped age felt pent up alike by narrowness of ritual and by narrowness of creed, and they cried out for room and air, for liberty and charity!

Though differences of creed played no part in Masonry, nevetherless it held religion in high [179] esteem, and was then, as now, the steadfast upholder of the only two articles of faith that never were invented by man – the existence of God and the immortality of the soul! Accordingly, every Lodge was opened and closed with prayer to the “Almighty Architect of the universe;” and when a Lodge of mourning met in memory of a brother fallen asleep, the formula was: “He has passed over into the eternal East,” – to that region whence cometh light and hope. Unsectarian in religion, the Masons were also non-partisan in politics: one principle being common to them all – love of country, respect for law and order, and the desire for human welfare.4 Upon that basis the first Grand [180] Lodge was founded, and upon that basis Masonry rests today – holding that a unity of spirit is better than a uniformity of opinion, and that beyond the great and simple “religion in which all men agree” no dogma is worth a breach of charity.


With honorable pride in this tradition of spiritual faith and intellectual freedom, we are all the more eager to recite such facts as are known about the organization of the first Grand Lodge. How many Lodges of Masons existed in London at that time is a matter of conjecture, but there must have been a number. What bond, if any, united them, other than their esoteric secrets and customs, is equally unknown. Nor is there any record to tell us whether all the Lodges in and about London were invited to join in the movement. Unfortunately the minutes of the Grand Lodge only commence on June 24, 1723, and our only history of the events is that found in The New Book of Constitutions, by Dr. James Anderson, in 1738. However, if not an actor in the scene, he was in a position to know the facts from eye-witnesses, and his book [181] was approved by the Grand Lodge itself. His account is so brief that it may be given as it stands:

King George I enter’d London most magnificently on 20 Sept. 1714. And after the Rebellion was over A. D. 1716, the few Lodges at London finding themselves neglected by Sir Christopher Wren, thought fit to cement under a Grand Master as the Centre of Union and Harmony, viz., the Lodges that met,

1. At the Goose and Gridiron Ale house in St. Paul’s Church-Yard.
2. At the Crown Ale-house in Parker’s Lane near Drury Lane.
3. At the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles-street, Covent-Garden.
4. At the Rummer and Grape Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster.

They and some other old Brothers met at the said Apple-Tree, and having put into the chair the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge) they constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro Tempore in Due Form, and forthwith revived the Quarterly Communication of the Officers of Lodges (call’d the GRAND LODGE) resolv’d to hold the Annual Assembly and Feast, and then to chuse a Grand Master from among themselves, till they should have the Honor of a Noble Brother at their Head.

Accordingly, on St. John’s Baptist’s Day, in the 3d year of King George I, A. D. 1717, the ASSEMBLY and Feast of the Free and Accepted Masons was held at the foresaid Goose and Gridiron Ale-house. [182]

Before Dinner, the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge) in the Chair, proposed a List of proper Candidates; and the Brethren by a majority of Hands elected Mr. Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, Grand Master of Masons (Mr. Jacob Lamball, Carpenter, Capt. Joseph Elliot, Grand Wardens) who being forthwith invested with the Badges of Office and Power by the said oldest Master, and install’d, was duly congratulated by the Assembly who paid him the Homage.

Sayer, Grand Master, commanded the Masters and Wardens of Lodges to meet the Grand Officers every Quarter in Communication, at the Place that he should appoint in the Summons sent by the Tyler.

So reads the only record that has come down to us of the founding of the Grand Lodge of England. Preston and others have had no other authority than this passage for their descriptions of the scene, albeit when Preston wrote, such facts as he added may have been learned from men still living. Who were present, beyond the three officers named, has so far eluded all research, and the only variation in the accounts is found in a rare old book called Multa Paucis, which asserts that six Lodges, not four, were represented. Looking at this record in the light of what we know of the Masonry of that period, a number of things are suggested:

First, so far from being a revolution, the organization of the Grand Lodge was a revival of the old quarterly and annual Assembly, born, doubtless, of a felt need of community of action for the welfare [184]
Second, it is clear that, instead of being a deliberately planned effort to organize Masonry in general, the Grand Lodge was intended at first to affect only London and Westminster;7 the desire being to weld a link of closer fellowship and coöperation between the Lodges. While we do not know the names of the moving spirits – unless we may infer that the men elected to office were such – nothing is clearer than that the initiative came from the heart of the order itself, and was in no sense imposed upon it from without; and so great was the necessity for it that, when once started, link after link was added until it “put a girdle around the earth.”

Third, of the four Lodges8 known to have taken part, only one – that meeting at the Rummer and Grape Tavern – had a majority of Accepted [185] Masons in its membership; the other three being Operative Lodges, or largely so. Obviously, then, the movement was predominantly a movement of Operative Masons – or of men who had been Operative Masons – and not, as has been so often implied, the design of men who simply made use of the remnants of operative Masonry the better to exploit some hidden philosophy. Yet it is worthy of note that the leading men of the craft in those early years were, nearly all of them, Accepted Masons and members of the Rummer and Grape Lodge. Besides Dr. Anderson, the historian, both George Payne and Dr. Desaguliers, the second and third Grand Masters, were of that Lodge. In 1721 the Duke of Montagu was elected to the chair, and thereafter members of the nobility sat in the East until it became the custom for the Prince of Wales to be Grand Master of Masons in England.9

Fourth, why did Masonry alone of all trades and professions live after its work was done, preserving not only its identity of organization, but its old emblems and usages, and transforming them into instruments of religion and righteousness? The cathedrals had long been finished or left incomplete; the spirit of Gothic architecture was dead and the style treated almost with contempt. The occupation [186] of the Master Mason was gone, his place having been taken by the architect who, like Wren and Inigo Jones, was no longer a child of the Lodges as in the old days, but a man trained in books and by foreign travel. Why did not Freemasonry die, along with the Guilds, or else revert to some kind of trades-union? Surely here is the best possible proof that it had never been simply an order of architects building churches, but a moral and spiritual fellowship – the keeper of great symbols and a teacher of truths that never die. So and only so may anyone ever hope to explain the story of Masonry, and those who do not see this fact have no clue to its history, much less an understanding of its genius.

Of course these pages cannot recite in detail the history and growth of the Grand Lodge, but a few of the more salient events may be noted. As early as 1719 the Old Charges, or Gothic Constitutions, began to be collected and collated, a number having already been burned by scrupulous Masons to prevent their falling into strange hands. In 1721, Grand Master Montagu found fault with the Old Charges as being inadequate, and ordered Dr. Anderson to make a digest of them with a view to formulating a better set of regulations for the rule of the Lodges. Anderson obeyed – he seems to have been engaged in such a work already, and may [187] have suggested the idea to the Grand Master – and a committee of fourteen “learned brethren” was appointed to examine the MS and make report. They suggested a few amendments, and the book was ordered published by the Grand Master, appearing in the latter part of 1723. This first issue, however, did not contain the account of the organization of the Grand Lodge, which [188] does not seem to have been added until the edition of 1738. How much Past Grand Master Payne had to do with this work is not certain, but the chief credit is due to Dr. Anderson, who deserves the perpetual gratitude of the order – the more so if he it was who wrote the article, already quoted, setting forth the religious attitude of the order. That article, by whomsoever written, is one of the great documents of mankind, and it would be an added joy to know that it was penned by a minister.10 The Book of Constitutions, which is still the groundwork of Masonry, has been printed in many editions, and is accessible to every one.

Another event in the story of the Grand Lodge, never to be forgotten, was a plan started in 1724 of raising funds of General Charity for distressed Masons. Proposed by the Earl of Dalkeith, it at once met with enthusiastic support, and it is a curious coincidence that one of the first to petition for relief was Anthony Sayer, first Grand Master. The minutes do not state whether he was relieved at that time, but we know that sums of money were voted to him in 1730, and again in 1741. This Board of Benevolence, as it came to be called, became very important, it being unanimously agreed in 1733 that all such business as could not be conveniently despatched by the Quarterly Communication should be referred to it. Also, that all Masters of Regular Lodges, together with all present, former, and future Grand Officers should be members of the Board. Later this Board was still further empowered to hear complaints and to report thereon to the Grand Lodge. Let it also be noted that in actual practice the Board of Charity gave free play to [189] one of the most admirable principles of Masonry – helping the needy and unfortunate, whether within the order or without.


Once more we come to a much debated question, about which not a little has been written, and most of it wide of the mark – the question of the origin of the Third Degree. Here again students have gone hither and yon hunting in every cranny for the motif of this degree, and it would seem that their failure to find it would by this time have turned them back to the only place where they may ever hope to discover it – in Masonry itself. But no; they are bound to bring mystics, occultists, alchemists, Culdees or Cabalists – even the Vehmgerichte of Germany – into the making of Masonry somewhere, if only for the sake of glamor, and this is the last opportunity to do it.11 Willing to give due credit [190] to Cabalists and Rosicrucians, the present writer rejects all such theories on the ground that there is no reason for thinking that they helped to make Masonry, much less any fact to prove it.

Hear now a review of the facts in the case. No one denies that the Temple of Solomon was much in the minds of men at the time of the organization of the Grand Lodge, and long before – as in the Bacon romance of the New Atlantis in 1597.12
Broughton, Selden, Lightfoot, Walton, Lee, Prideaux, and other English writers were deeply interested in the Hebrew Temple, not, however, so much in its symbolical suggestion as in its form and construction – a model of which was brought to London by Judah Templo in the reign of Charles II.13 It was much the same on the Continent, but so far from being a new topic of study and discussion, we may trace this interest in the Temple all through the Middle Ages. Nor was it peculiar to the Cabalists, at least not to such a degree that they must needs be brought in to account for the Biblical imagery and symbolism in Masonry. Indeed, it might with more reason be argued that Masonry explains the interest in the Temple than otherwise. For, as James Fergusson remarks – and there is no higher authority than the historian of architecture: “There is perhaps no building of the ancient world which has excited so much attention since the time of its destruction, as the Temple of Solomon built in Jerusalem, and its successor as built by Herod. Throughout the Middle Ages it influenced to a considerable degree the forms of Christian churches, and its peculiarities were the watchwords and rallying points of associations of builders.14 Clearly, the notion that interest in the Temple was new, and [192] that its symbolical meaning was imposed upon Masonry as something novel, falls flat.

But we are told that there is no hint of the Hiramic legend, still less any intimation of a tragedy associated with the building of the Temple. No Hiramic legend! No hint of tragedy! Why, both were almost as old as the Temple itself, rabbinic legend affirming that “all the workmen were killed that they should not build another Temple devoted to idolatry, Hiram himself being translated to heaven like Enoch.”15 The Talmud has many variations of this legend. Where would one expect the legends of the Temple to be kept alive and be made use of in ceremonial, if not in a religious order of builders like the Masons? Is it surprising that we find so few references in later literature to what was thus held as a sacred secret? As we have seen, the legend of Hiram was kept as a profound secret until 1841 by the French Companionage, who almost certainly learned it from the Free-masons. Naturally it was never made a matter of record,16 but was [193] transmitted by oral tradition within the order; and it was also natural, if not inevitable, that the legend of the master-artist of the Temple should be “the Master’s Part” among Masons who were temple-builders. How else explain the veiled allusions to the name in the Old Charges as read to Entered Apprentices, if it was not a secret reserved for a higher rank of Mason? Why any disguise at all if it had no hidden meaning? Manifestly the motif of the Third Degree was purely Masonic, and we need not go outside the traditions of the order to account for it.

Not content to trace the evolution of Masonry, even so able a man as Albert Pike will have it that to a few men of intelligence who belonged to one of the four old lodges in 1717 “is to be ascribed the authorship of the Third Degree, and the introduction of Hermetic and other symbols into Masonry; that they framed the three degrees for the purpose of communicating their doctrines, veiled by their symbols, to those fitted to receive them, and gave to others trite moral explanations they could comprehend.”17 How gracious of them to vouchsafe even trite explanations, but why frame a set of degrees [194] to conceal what they wished to hide? This is the same idea of something alien imposed upon Masonry from without, with the added suggestion, novel indeed, that Masonry was organized to hide the truth, rather than to teach it. But did Masonry have to go outside its own history and tradition to learn Hermetic truths and symbols? Who was Hermes? Whether man or myth no one knows, but he was a great figure in the Egyptian Mysteries, and was called the Father of Wisdom.18 What was his wisdom? From such fragments of his lore as have floated down to us, impaired, it may be, but always vivid, we discover that his wisdom was only a high spiritual faith and morality taught in visions and rhapsodies, and using numbers as symbols. Was such wisdom new to Masonry? Had not Hermes himself been a hero of the order from the first, of whom we read in the Old Charges, in which he has a place of honor alongside Euclid and Pythagoras? Wherefore go elsewhere than to Masonry itself to trace the pure stream of Hermetic faith through the ages? Certainly the men of the Grand Lodge were adepts, but they were Masonic adepts seeking to bring the buried temple of Masonry to light and reveal it in a setting befitting its beauty, not cultists making use of it to exploit a private scheme of the universe.
Who were those “men of intelligence” to whom Pike ascribed the making of the Third Degree of Masonry? Tradition has fixed upon Desaguliers as the ritualist of the Grand Lodge, and Lyon speaks of him as “the pioneer and co-fabricator of symbolical Masonry.”19 This, however, is an exaggeration, albeit Desaguliers was worthy of high eulogy, as were Anderson and Payne, who are said to have been his collaborators.20 But the fact is that [196] the Third Degree was not made; it grew – like the great cathedrals, no one of which can be ascribed to a single artist, but to an order of men working in unity of enterprise and aspiration. The process by which the old ritual, described in the Sloane MS, was divided and developed into three degrees between 1717 and 1730 was so gradual, so imperceptible, that no exact date can be set; still less can it be attributed to any one or two men. From the minutes of the Musical Society we learn that the Lodge at the Queen’s Head in Hollis Street was using three distinct degrees in 1724. As early as 1727 we come upon the custom of setting apart a separate night for the Master’s Degree, the drama having evidently become more elaborate.

Further than this the Degree may not be discussed, except to say that the Masons, tiring of the endless quarrels of sects, turned for relief to the Ancient Mysteries as handed down in their traditions – the old, high, heroic faith in God, and in the soul of man as the one unconquerable thing upon this earth. If, as Aristotle said, it be the mission of tragedy to cleanse and exalt us, leaving us subdued with a sense of pity and hope and fortified against ill fortune, it is permitted us to add that in [197] simplicity, depth, and power, in its grasp of the realities of the life of man, its portrayal of the stupidity of evil and the splendor of virtue, its revelation of that in our humanity which leads it to defy death, giving up everything, even to life itself, rather than defame, defile, or betray its moral integrity, and in its prophecy of the victory of light over shadow, there is not another drama known among men like the Third Degree of Masonry. Edwin Booth, a loyal Mason, and no mean judge of the essence of tragedy, left these words:

In all my research and study, in all my close analysis of the masterpieces of Shakespeare, in my earnest determination to make those plays appear real on the mimic stage, I have never, and nowhere, met tragedy so real, so sublime, so magnificent as the legend of Hiram. It is substance without shadow – the manifest destiny of life which requires no picture and scarcely a word to make a lasting impression upon all who can understand. To be a Worshipful Master, and to throw my whole soul into that work, with the candidate for my audience and the Lodge for my stage, would be a greater personal distinction than to receive the plaudits of people in the theaters of the world. [[/size]]


Continued: The Builders - Part 2 Chapter 5


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