Return to main page

Masonic History

Capitular Masonry - The Royal Arch

By Bro. Asahel W. Gage, Illinois

THE Masonic Truths taught by the Chapter Degrees are practical, and applicable to the problems of our everyday lives. The instruction is not dogmatic, but is so broad that any good Mason can find in it personal help and encouragement. From time immemorial Biblical Stories have been used to illustrate Masonic Truth which can not be written. No credit is claimed for the following thoughts. On the contrary it is claimed that their antiquity, the fact that they have stood the test of time, proves their truth and their value.


Tradition teaches that the order of Mark Masters, at the building of the temple of Solomon, was selected from the great body of Fellow Crafts.

There were two classes of Fellow Crafts engaged in the work. The larger division was composed of the younger and inexperienced men who were not in possession of a mark. They proved their claim to reward by another token and after the middle chamber was completed, they were there paid in corn, wine and oil, agreeeable to the stipulation of King Solomon with Hiram King of Tyre.

The smaller division was composed of the higher class of workmen who labored in the quarries. They finished the stones, or as we say, "hewed, squared and numbered them." In order that each might be enabled to designate his own work, he was in possession of a mark which he placed upon the stones prepared by him. Hence, this class of Fellow Crafts were called Mark Masters and they received their wages from the Senior Grand Warden supposed to have been Adoniram; the brother-in-law of Hiram and the first of the Provosts and Judges. These Fellow Crafts received their pay in metal, at the rate of a half shekel of silver per day, equal to about twenty-five cents. They were paid weekly at the sixth hour of the sixth day of the week, that is to say on Friday at noon.


The degree of Mark Master is, historically considered, of the utmost importance since by its influence each operative mason at the building of King Solomon's temple was known and distinguished. The disorder and confusion, which might otherwise have attended so immense an undertaking, was completely prevented not and not only the craftsmen themselves, but every part of their workmanship was distinguished with the utmost nicety and perfect facility. If defects were found, the overseers by the help of this degree were enabled to ascertain the faulty workman and remedy all deficiences, without injuring the credit or diminishing the reward of the industrious and faithful.

The Mark Master degree is also important in its symbolical signification. It is particularly directed to the inculcation of order, regularity and discipline. It teaches that we should discharge all the duties of our several stations with precision and punctuality; that the work of our hands, and thoughts of our minds and the emotions of our hearts, should be good and true, such as the Great Overseer and Judge of Heaven and earth will see fit to approve as a worthy oblation.

The Fellow Crafts degree is devoted to the inculcation of learning. The Mark Master's degree clearly shows how that learning can most usefully and judiciously be employed for our honour and the profit of others. It holds forth to the despondent the encouraging truth that although our motives may be misinterpreted, our attainments underrated, and our reputation traduced, there is One who will make the worthy stone which the builders reject the head of the corner.


In the Masonic revival of 1717, men of remarkable learning and ability removed much of the rubbish which had accumulated through the dark ages. Their luminous minds and searching labors brought to light old truths and disclosed new beauties in Masonic symbolism.

In order that the Three Degrees might be more generally understood, higher degrees were gradually developed which explain and apply the moral lessons taught in the original degrees, but leave ancient landmarks unchanged. These new or higher degrees were conferred only upon those who had proved that they would appreciate and honor them. To be eligible for the Royal Arch Degrees a brother must have been installed into the office of Master "and fulfilled the duties thereof with the approbation of the brethren of his lodge."

Interest in the Masonic Fraternity grew, and many brethren seeking further light in Masonry had not passed the chairs. This requirement to advancement was not removed but a new degree was established wherein the candidate elected to the Royal Arch Degrees, is symbolically instructed in the important lessons of the Master's Chair.

The Past Master's Degree teaches that he who would rule, whether over a nation, a family, or even himself, must embrace every opportunity for development so that he may be qualified; for he that thoughtlessly assumes a task for which he is not prepared, must necessarily share in the unhappy consequences.


The Hebrew Scriptures say little about the actual completion of the Temple of Solomon, although their accounts are very complete of the dedication. As an illustration of the growth of man or a character, the completion and the dedication may be treated as one ceremony.

The allegorical figure of the completion is broadened and its application extended to details by substituting the keystone, which simply locked or "completed" one of the component arches for the copestone which completed the temple.

When the temple was completed and, amid music and rejoicing the ark safely seated under the wings of the Cherubim; then the Lord manifested himself as a soft cloud, and in his pleasure descended as a fire out of heaven and consumed the offerings. The assembled multitude were wildly enthusiastic in their exultation. Naturally King Solomon was pleased with the Masters who had so successfully completed his work and in his gratitude received and acknowledged them as Most Excellent Masters. He empowered them to travel, receive master's wages and charged them to dispense light and Masonic knowledge or, if they chose to remain, offered them continued employment.

The Most Excellent Master's degree develops in a wonderful manner this great Masonic lesson:--Our own temple must be erected, a fit and proper abode for divine good and truth, then after we have deposited therein these sacred treasures, we will be filled with exaltation and joy and be received and acknowledged as Most Excellent Masters.


The wonderful Scriptural story of the Temple for the manifestation and worship of God, is of intense interest and immeasurable value to the builder of individual character.

The children of Israel possessed only a temporary tabernacle from the Egyptian captivity until the reign of Solomon. David, the Second King of Israel, desired to build a temple as a fixed place of Worship, but being a man of war, with hands stained by blood, he and his people were compelled to continue in the use of the portable tabernacle.

Solomon, David's son, a wise and good King, was allowed to build an abode for the ark and a fixed place of worship, a magnificent Temple to God's Holy Name. In later years, however, Solomon became conceited and placed his reliance in his own wisdom and power and neglected the One True God. He loved the things and pleasures of the World. This love of pleasure and comfort, this following after "strange Gods," this worship of practical things, resulted in strife, discord and dissension among the Twelve Tribes of the children of Israel.

Upon the death of King Solomon, ten tribes revolted and they were led by idolatry to destruction. The two remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin, although almost as faithless, still had a succession of Holy Men and Prophets, who labored earnestly to bring the people back to the One True God.

Some years later, about 602 B. C. the people and their Kings, having persisted in their sins and refusing to humble themselves before God, were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. Thousands of the people were carried captive to Babylon and the country required to paytribute.

The rulers placed over the Israelites left at Jerusalem were faithless. The people continued in their sins. They refused to pay tribute as agreed and renounced the authority of the Chaldeans over them. About 586 B. C., Nebuchadnezzar again descended on Jerusalem and after an eighteen months siege, captured, sacked and destroyed the city, tore down its walls, burned its temples and carried the surviving Princes, Priests and Master Builders captives to Babylon.


There is a tradition which tells how the conquerors, as an insult to the Israelites and in derision of their God and the potence of their religion, bound the prisoners in triangular chains. History indicates that instead of suffering all manners of humiliation at the hands of the Chaldeans, the Israelites had many opportunities for advancement and enlightenment. A great many of their wonderful symbols and fascinating legends are the result of their contact with the learning and the culture of Babylon. Many of the captives attained High Rank and great influence in the Chaldean government. They were allowed to own and hold property and some acquired considerable wealth. When Cyrus liberated the Israelites, after seventy years of captivity, many preferred to remain with their possessions in Babylon.

Large numbers however returned to Jerusalem and began the rebuilding of the Temple. The conditions and prospects were most discouraging. Zerubbabel the Prince of Royal Blood, Jeshua the High Priest and Haggai the Prophet, directed and encouraged the people as they labored when occasion permitted and fought when necessity required. As the work progressed, many of the Israelites, who had been unwilling to make the ]ong trip from Babylon, repented and struggled into Jerusalem in small parties. On account of the enemies' efforts to get in and ruin the work, it was necessary that these journey stained sojourners be most care-fully examined, in order that none but the true descendants of Israel be admitted.

While this work was going on and the rubbish and the ruins of the First Temple were being cleared away, many interesting and valuable discoveries were made.

One not trained to think according to the principles of geometry might thoughtlessly pass over the fascinating details of thiS wonderful story. But to those interested in discovering the great principles and truths of every day experiences, these details are full of meaning and are of intense interest.

- Source: The Builder - August 1916

more chapter history

more masonic history