By R.W.Bro. M.A.R. Howard D.G.M. GLBC

... What is Freemasonry ...         

Freemasonry takes itself seriously. There are no side issues
involved as to benevolent aims or social objects. These, or other
desirable methods of expression, are left to grow out of the more
comprehensive definition quoted.

To the profane who has never been within the walls of a lodge
room Freemasonry is the aristocrat among secret societies. To him
the appeal may be curiosity, admiration for its benevolent
practices, or a desire for social fellowship. I do not know of a
man joining the Masonic order because he understood it to be a
system of morality, or because there was an intellectual appeal
in its philosophy and symbology. It seems a pity this appeal
cannot be made more manifest to the outside world, but no one can
receive knowledge for which he is not prepared. In the practical
working out of our Freemasonry the keynote cannot always be
pitched on the high levels of philosophical exposition, but too
often the degrees are conferred without the emphasis on
instruction, hence the odious term "degree mill" is deservedly
applicable. Freemasons are made, not elected. Freemasonry is not
a benevolent society. That is, the primary aim is not
benevolence, but being a system of morality the virtue of charity
is one of its prominent teachings and a front rank place must be
accorded benevolent practice and charitable conduct. Individual
Freemasons, or Lodges, or even Grand Lodges, should not delude
themselves with the idea that they are functioning to the fullest
degree by the practice of this one virtue.

Neither is Freemasonry a social order. It is not a club for the
enjoyment of social intercourse alone. Man is gregarious in his
instincts, and these instincts ought to be given expression. But
here again the social side of Freemasonry ought to be
subordinated to the main theme. Just as in the harmony of music
there are many parts, the undue emphasis of one of these will
cause discord.

Many Freemasons profess to find in Freemasonry a religion.
Morality is a very good soil out of which spirituality, may grow.
But morality and spirituality are different elements of
ATTITUDE TO DEITY. The recognition of the Fatherhood of God is
only partial in its answer. It has no solution for the problem of
pain, sorrow, and evil in the world. Neither has it a solution
for the problem of the hereafter. It does not seek to make bad
men good unless of course they are Freemasons. In short it does
not function as a religious experience. It is all very well for
the young man in whom abounding physical well-being may obscure
spiritual promptings for a time, to say out of his lack of life's
experience that Freemasonry is a good enough religion for him.
But as he grows older and tastes of some of the bitter
experiences that life holds in its lap for all of us, sooner or
later he will realize that Freemasonry is not a complete answer
to the riddle of existence. What is Freemasonry? And again we
return to his own answer-A system of morality veiled in allegory.
But this simple statement is provocative of further questioning.
It is simply a restatement of the simple moral truths we all
learned from our parents, from our Sunday School teachers or from
the Minister in the pulpit. Or is there in the profundities of
its symbology an intellectual appeal that must be sought through
serious study. Many Masonic students have found in it such an
appeal. What is Freemasonry? - A system of sublime truths,
including those of the natural universe, as well as of moral and
intellectual science and philosophy, raised on the accepted fact
of one Almighty, infinite, and perfect Deity, called by
Freemasons T.G.A. of the U.,-the perfection and completeness of
the order of the universe, its correspondence with itself
throughout; that is, in all its parts and degrees-the
coordination of these last by correspondence, from the first to
last, their correspondence with the degrees found in man, in the
same order-the immortality of the human spirit, a righteous
system of divine government, the enjoining of the practice of all
moral and social virtues and duties, by means of lessons embodied
in symbolic representations of deep significance together with
apt and wisely ordered discourse, all contained in certain
ancient and simple but sublime ceremonies, coordinated in
degrees according to the order of the universe which is the
divine order. And further, that the filling up of this general
scheme is by lessons taught in words so much as by
representations of correspondences actually existing in the
constitution of natural and spiritual things, in their several
degrees, and cognizable by man; that these lessons, in order to
their perpetuation , are embodied in the forms of the lodge and
what may be found therein, and especially in what is termed The
Work, the principal truths and illustrations being set forth by
means of geometry, upon which science, as we are expressly
taught, Freemasonry is founded.

And yet we have not found the answer to the question WHAT IS
FREEMASONRY? Freemasonry is a word used to describe the beliefs
and practices of Freemasons and the way in which local
units, called lodges, are governed and linked together. A craft
rather than an order, it is secret only in having rituals and
other matters not to be divulged to non-members, a society with
secrets but not a secret society. Its places of meeting are
prominently identified, and its governing bodies publish annual
proceedings. The membership is a matter of record and perhaps
sometimes public knowledge. In Communist and completely
totalitarian countries Freemasonry is proscribed. The Roman
Catholic Church forbids its members to be Freemasons, although
many of that faith were active Freemasons in the 18th and early
19th centuries. In Great Britain, the Commonwealth countries,
Scandinavia, the United States and other nations with similar
institutions, heads of government, dignitaries and distinguished
citizens are Freemasons. Men from all walks of life meet together
in their adherence to a moral code whose principles are largely
conveyed through symbols and allegories connected with the art of
building, emphasizing benevolence. A Freemason, it was said in
1734/1735 "is to be a man of Benevolence and Charity, not sitting
down contented while his Fellow Creatures, but much more his
Brethren, are in Want, when it is in his power, without
prejudicing himself or family to relives them."

Is there one amongst us who at some time or other has not asked
himself: What is this Freemasonry? What is it all about? Who of
us has not wondered how it is, that simple as its teachings
appear, it has so gripped the imagination of men and has
retained its appeal and influence throughout the centuries and is
still the greatest moral force, with the exception of Religious
Institutions, the world has known. When we can answer those
questions we will have a clearer vision of our Order and the
purpose of Freemasonry. Far be it from me to suggest that I can
hope to give a complete and satisfactory answer, but rather that
I may express some thoughts on the subject which will assist one
to reach one's own conclusions, also that I may be of some
assistance to our younger Brethren in interpreting the beautiful
symbolism of our Order-the key to our treasure chest which holds
for us the wisdom of the ages. There are many definitions of
Freemasonry, for instance our Ritual defines it as a peculiar
system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
Another definition is "that it is a science which is engaged in
the search after Divine Truth." Still another writer interprets
Freemasonry as Friendship, Love and Integrity. Friendship, which
rises superior to fictitious destruction of Society, the
prejudices of Religion, and the pecuniary conditions of Life.
LOVE, which knows no limit, nor inequality, nor decay.

Integrity, which binds man to the Eternal Law of Duty.

Perhaps the most complete and best definition is that given in
the German Handbuch which states "Freemasonry is an activity of
closely united men, who, employing symbolical forms borrowed
principally from the Masons' trade and from Architecture, work
for the welfare of mankind, striving morally to ennoble
themselves and others and thereby to bring about a universal
league of mankind."

However inadequate these descriptions may be, they all indicate
that Freemasonry has a very noble objective and a purpose, and I
may add that without such a purpose it would long since have
passed into oblivion and could not have survived the ravages of
time. Why is Freemasonry here in this world of strife? Wherefore
has it been developed, amid war and incessant conflict, along
lines of peace and love, and so marvelously moulded and
developed, that in every land it is now known and by every race
made welcome? Has all this been done that it may live for itself
alone? No there on its Trestle board is the plan of the Great
Architect and its mission is to work out that plan. Out of the
rough hard quarries of a quarrelling humanity it has to build a
Temple of Brotherhood and Peace. This Temple is the great
Landmark-the highest and grandest ideal of Freemasonry.

To build, strengthen and beautify it we must exercise all the
powers and gifts with which we are endowed. What nobler work can
we be engaged in? Yet how far we are, as a rule, from
understanding it. Yet it is ignorance more than unwillingness
that hinders the work. That is a noble conception of the purpose
to which Freemasonry is dedicated and if we examine our Ritual
and Symbolical teachings we will find this great idea continually
brought before us, Free and Accepted our symbolic Masonry, as we
know it, emphasizes that we are builders in the Spiritual
sense hence the fact that the working tools of the old operative
Freemasonry occupy a prominent place in our lodges and are used
for the purpose of instructing us in great spiritual and ethical
principles of which they are symbolic. Those tools with which
operative craftsmen earned their living were also, because of the
great moral and spiritual teachings associated with them, used by
him to think out his faith by which to live. The connection
between Operative and Speculative Masonry may be briefly
considered at this juncture as it may be helpful in the
consideration of our subject. For many centuries Lodges of
Operative Freemasons existed and reached their greatest strength
during the cathedral building era in the Middle Ages, when
magnificent cathedrals were erected throughout the Old World. It
was also during that period, known as the Dark Middle Ages, there
set in a decline in moral and spiritual standards, and so it
happened that the most exquisite gems of architecture were
surrounded by hovels in which lived a depraved type of humanity.
The viciousness of human nature formed an appalling contrast to
the creative genius of craftsmanship; was it this that caused the
progenitors of our Order to believe that the principles of
disciplined and devoted craftsmanship productive of such beauty
in architecture could be applied to human affairs and enable men
to build a superstructure, perfect in all its parts and
honourable to the builder? And so with the gradual decline in the
building era and the consequent decline in Lodges of Operative
Masons, modern Freemasonry gradually grew in strength and
inherited the symbolism and teachings to be used to stimulate in
turn the dignity and high purpose of life. And so with our
ancient Brethren, our Freemasonry has much in common-those same
symbols and tokens signify the great spiritual truths underlying
its teachings, and although Freemasonry is no longer engaged in
erecting temples in stone it carries on the teaching that we are
engaged in building a spiritual temple which age cannot affect,
nor death destroy.

Erected on the everlasting foundation of the Fatherhood of God
and the Brotherhood of Man, Freemasonry is not a religion, either
does it refuse membership to men on account of religion they
practice. Christian, Jew, Mohammedan, or Buddhist, it matters
not, worshipping God as the Supreme Being they may enter its
ranks. It respects every religious Faith and Belief and honours
men as men irrespective of their social status. It has no creed
of bigotry and no spirit of intolerance. It makes for morality
and humanity and brotherly love in the widest and noblest
meaning. To ensure happiness man must live with God and man. The
very first requirement of a Freemason is an expression of his
faith in God, and when progressing through the various stages is
impressed with the lessons of charity and mutual help, which
better fit him to take place in the world as a man and a citizen.
The ultimate truth he learnt is, that the real soul of
Freemasonry is to be discovered in its fellowship and service for
God and his fellowmen. Of this great truth we are constantly
reminded and it is conveyed to us in many aspects of our
symbolism. Therefore, What is Freemasonry itself if not a
world-builder, a social architecture on the grand style? With its
fellowships established in every nation under heaven, its
activities never ceasing night or day, its messages uttered in
nearly all the languages of the race but always the same message,
it is one of the mightiest, one of the most benign, one of the
most constructive of all forces in the world. When its work is
finished, which will not be until the end is ended, it will have
proved itself a builder of an unseen cathedral more noble, more
enduring than any ever made of stone.