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Masonic History

The Chapter: What It Stands For


By Bro. Asahel W. Gage, Illinois

The following paper was delivered by Gage at the installation of Evanston Chapter's officers in 1917.

BROTHER Robert Burns in an epistle to a friend wrote:

"Perhaps it may turn out a song,

Perhaps turn out a sermon."

To be real frank, I am a little worried as to just how my talk will be looked upon by you. The Chapter means so much to me that I feel deeply the responsibility of trying to show what it stands for. I will, however, do my best.

It must be remembered that what I say is only my own conviction. I speak with no official tongue. I am confident, however, that where I fall short or err,-- there you will exercise that great Masonic virtue, Charity.

Does the Chapter stand for higher wages, larger salaries, more prosperous business, for a better and greater service to our fellows? In other words, for a more complete knowledge and fuller practice of Masonry ? Let us see:

"Masonry is a progressive, moral science."

Anything which is progressive, cannot be fixed, it must change, and this change must be for the better, it must grow.

Morality cannot be confined to questions of sex. A thing is moral or immoral as it agrees with or violates the experience of the past as to what is good for an efficient human society. The term moral differs from "ethical," "religious" and similar terms, in that it refers to truths gathered from the experiences of life.

A science is a system or regular arrangement of the elements of knowledge relating to some subject.

Masonry then is a growing system of the knowledge of the experiences of life.

The value of this study cannot be over estimated for as we understand these experiences and- learn their causes, we are able to control the forces that bring them about. If we have this control, we can regulate the experiences of life. With this control our lives are a succession of events of our own choice. That is, we are able by Masonic knowledge to control the circumstances in which we live.

Let us look for a moment at some of these forces. In a community where there is much poverty and want, ignorance and superstition abound. Vice and crime we see are the necessary results. Thus we learn the worth of wealth and prosperity, and rejoice in, and work for their possession by others as well as by ourselves.

Where there is abundant employment and much well compensated hard work, we always find a clean, strong moral people.

Think about these things, brethren, and you will not wonder at the great emphasis that Masonry places upon work. You will not wonder that Masonry has selected the working tools of the laborer for jewels and symbols. You will understand why Masonry makes a Master Workman, the companion and intimate associate of a King.

I might dwell upon and develop the meanings of this symbolism, if I did not realize that by doing it for yourself, you will get a result both more profitable and more satisfactory,--to yourself.

I am reminded of an incident related in "The Builder," the Journal of the National Masonic Research ,Society, for this December.

King James I, of England, desiring to play a trick on the Spanish Ambassador, a man of great learning, but with a crotchet in his head for symbolism, informed the Ambassador that there was a distinguished professor of the science of sign language in the University of Aberdeen. The Ambassador set out for Aberdeen, preceded by a letter from the King, and in compliance with this letter, one Geordy, a butcher, blind of one eye, but a fellow of much wit and drollery, was gowned and wigged as a professor and placed in a chair of the University. Geordy was instructed to play the part of a professor with the warning not to speak a word. The Ambassador was shown into his presence and they were left alone. Very shortly the Ambassador came out, greatly pleased with the experiment claiming that his theory was demonstrated. He said: "When I entered the room I raised one finger to signify there is one God. He replied by raising two fingers to signify that this Being ruled over two worlds, the material and the spiritual. Then I raised three fingers, to say there are three persons in the Godhead. Then he closed his fingers evidently to say these three are one." The butcher was then sent for and asked what took place in the room. He was very angry and said, "When the crazy man entered the room, where I was, he raised one finger as much as to say I had but one eye, and I raised two fingers to signify that I could see out of my one eye as well as he could out of both of his. Then he raised three fingers as much as to say there were but three eyes between us. I doubled up my fist, and if he had not gone out of the room in a hurry, I would have knocked him down."

Whether that incident ever happened or not, it is true, in that it illustrates how you can get from the occurrences of this life just what you are looking for, either God and his attributes or an abuse of yourself and trouble.

But let us get back to Masonry, for the Chapter stands solely for a fuller understanding and practice of Masonry.

In addition to its teaching of the respectability, dignity and necessity of labor, both mental and physical, Masonry has another characteristic distinguishing it from other societies:

This second characteristic is illustrated by a Talmudic legend which I again quote from "The Builder":

Enoch, fearful that the Name of God would be lost in the impending world deluge, caused it to be inscribed upon a triangular plate of gold and placed in a secret vault for safe keeping. The flood, however, completely obliterated this vault with mud and silt so that it could not be located.

There is also another legend that Hiram, a builder, in order that the Master's word might not be lost, wore it engraved on a triangular plate of gold suspended around his neck. Upon his death ardent search was made and great anxiety felt lest the word should be forever lost.

The word itself every Mason knows to be of little importance, but every Mason also feels the power of the knowledge of which that word is but a symbol.

Labor, the loss and the search are peculiar Masonic precepts, which can best be understood by a careful study of the Blue Lodge degrees by the aid of the peculiar light of the Chapter.

As to the significance of a mere name or word, I would quote from one of our patrons, St. John the Evangelist: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and THE WORD WAS GOD." My brethren, the great mystery of Masonry is the lost word and in the Lodge it is not found; we are there required to be content with a substitute. The Lodge stands for an earnest, honest search which may never be successful. The Chapter stands for a more intelligent continuation of this search which must lead to success.

Perhaps I can illustrate and make you see what I mean by the old symbolism of the Name of God:

Among the ancients to call by name signified to know the quality. By the name was understood the essence of a thing. Names were given having a peculiarity similar to and designating the thing named.

How a name referred to qualities or characteristics is illustrated by the instances of changing the name when the character was changed. For instance, in the great light, we learn how Abram was changed to Abraham, and of particular interest to Masons as well as the descendants of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel, is the change of Jacob's name to Israel. Jacob meant "Supplanter" and you will remember how he supplanted his brother Esau, but when Jacob abandoned his mean characteristics and wrestled with the Spirit of God and conquered, his name was changed to Israel, meaning "Soldier of God."

The Name of God is but a symbol of the acts, or expressions, of God which are in the world around us. Remember, to know the name is to know the nature.

To the Orthodox Jew, the Name of God included all things. It governed the world by its power. Other names and surnames ranged about it like officers and soldiers about their sovereign. The Christian will realize the importance of this Name when he reflects upon the benefit to humanity accomplished by the Galilean "in the Name of the Father." He healed the sick, multiplied food and administered charity, in the Name of the Father.

The Name of God is symbolized by a word. Masonry is not interested in ancient superstitions or idle speculations in reference to this Name or word, but grasps every thought that may assist and help us to acquire a broad knowledge and understanding of that which is symbolized by THIS "WORD."

The Chapter stands for the key to Masonic Knowledge and Understanding. It would unlock the symbolism of the Blue Lodge. It would show the Craftsman, how by honestly working for his fellow men, he himself profits. How the little task, conscientiously and apparently unobservedly done is not in vain. How the moral quality apparently destroyed with its possessor, is not lost. How the kindness done or service rendered apparently unnoticed or forgotten is sacredly preserved. How the hard labor, performed apparently without fee or reward, must inevitably be fully compensated. The Chapter stands for an ample wage for an honest service. It stands for a knowledge of the Master Mason's Word that will enable us to travel in foreign countries, work and receive Master's wages.

- Source: The Builder March 1917

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