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The Builder

The Builder February 1915

Old Landmarks of Masonry

By The Late Theodore S. Parvin

Founder of the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa

(Among many MSS left by Mr. Parvin--some of which we shall publish as occasion may offer--was the following paper, written in the forthright and pungent style characteristic of a man who had positive convictions, and knew how to express them. Recent students are not so sure, as Brother Parvin seems to have been, that there was only one degree in Craft-masonry. But no matter, the paper speaks for itself- and the editor ventures to add a brief discussion as showing its importance in view of the present situation in world-Masonry.)

"Every annual Grand Lodge has the inherent Power and Authority to make new Regulations, or to alter those for the real Benefit of this ancient Fraternity; provided always that the Old Landmarks be carefully preserved."--Art. XXXIX, General Regulations of the Grand Lodge of England, 1723.

The term "Landmarks" does not occur in the Charges of a Freemason which are universally regarded as of bin ling authority upon all Grand Lodges. The quotation above made is from the "General Regulations," binding only upon those Grand Lodges which by enactment have made them so. These By-laws of the Grand Lodge of England--- for such they are--are no more binding upon the Grand Lodge of Iowa than are our By-laws upon any other Grand Lodge of the land.

Save the one subject of the History of Freemasonry, there has been more nonsense written upon the subject of Ancient Landmarks than upon any other Masonic subject. Neither the Charges of a Freemason nor the General Regulations, together usually styled Ancient Constitutions; anywhere define what a Landmark is, nor do the historians of Freemasonry, or anyone else endowed with authority, enumerate them. Dr. Mackey, a learned Mason--though not so learned as Findel, Lyon, Hughan, or Gould--in his Lexicon of Freemasonry, as also in his Encyclopedia, gives a list of Landmarks which he made and promulgated as "the" Landmarks of the Order. His judgment, when based upon historic or legal truth, is entitled to weight, but he followed his prejudices or speculations, as he did, he commands no more respect than others. one Mason in ten gives adhesion to his Sched Landmarks.

A writer of equal ability, if not so learned, a few years ago tried his hand at enumerating the Landmarks, and almost doubled Mackey's last list; I say list, because Mackey two and his second contained some not in the first. Thus every writer has his ipse dixit. For many I have invited, urge and begged Grand Master and Grand Reports to furnish me with a list of Landmarks. None have ever essayed to do so--further than to refer me Dr. Mackey, as if a man who was born, lived and died in this century could make an "ancient" Landmark.

Quite recently a Masonic editor has told us that "every Mason ought to understand exactly what the Old Landmarks are." How can everybody be expected to know what nobody knows, ever has known, or ever will know; because there is no supreme authority to declare what they are. Scarcely any two jurisdictions, or any two men in the same jurisdiction, agree on the question.

Again hear a learned brother: "The Old Landmarks are those customs of the fraternity which became fixed rules at a time so remote that even their origin is lost, but which have been handed down as the fundamental laws of Freemasonry." Then he gives a list of twenty-five rules which he calls Landmarks. His second rule is "the division of symbolic Masonry into three degrees." Every schoolboy in Masonry knows that until the eighteenth century--this is only the nineteenth--there was only one degree. His third is, "the legend of the Temple Builder in the Third Degree." As a fact, neither the Temple Builder nor the legend was ever known or heard of two centuries ago in connection with Freemasonry. And so I might go on.

Such Landmarks are like ten-pins; knock one over and many others fall with it. Talk about rules established in 1700-1799 as having been "fixed at a time so remote that even their origin is lost !" It is too ridiculous to merit sober refutation. Yet the good brother says that "these twenty-five unalterable rules are now accepted as Landmarks." Accepted by whom? Not by the Grand Lodge of Iowa. In the number of her Lodges, in the intelligence of her membership, in enterprise and true devotion to the genuine principles of Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of Iowa is the peer of the oldest, the largest and the best Grand Lodge, but she does not accept this list, nor the half of it. She refuses to bow at the altar of this modern Baal.


So far Parvin. As showing the wide divergence of opinion both as regards the nature and number of the Old Landmarks--the latter varying from six to sixty, and usually fixed at twenty-five--the article is interesting. Its criticisms of the lists of Landmarks proposed are as sound as they are keen. Nevertheless, the essayist leaves us still up in the air with little hope of getting down to the land, much less of finding our landmarks. Nor does it take due account of the injury done to the order, and the impediments put in the way of a wider fellowship and a mutual understanding by this uncertainty and confusion.

Hence we have the spectacle of Masons in one part of the world refusing to recognize their brethren in another part, because, forsooth, they do not use exactly the same words, when the differences in the most important Masonic principles, or their form, is so slight that they could never stand in the way of a greater and closer fellowship. Such bigotry--for it is nothing else --reminds one of the exclusiveness of the ecclesiastic who holds that the sacrament is only valid when administered in a certain way, when certain words are accurately recited, and when a certain person set apart and properly ordained by recognized authorities, is there to administer it.

Moreover, we accuse our brethren abroad--in France, for instance-- of having departed from the ancient Landmarks of Masonry, but we have not yet defined what a Landmark is. Instead, we take some Tradition, Custom or Usage, of comparatively recent date, and erect it into a barrier with which to exclude our brethren--forgetting that a Landmark is one thing and a high board fence is another. Not only so, but we actually take some detail of organization, of whose antiquity no one dare make claim, and use it in the same way. What a queer outcome of the gracious and free spirit of Masonry whose genius it is, or should be, to make men friends and fellow-workers.

For example, in 1858 Mackey made his list of "ancient" Landmarks, twenty-five in number--that seems to be the sacred number in respect of Landmarks--one of which was as follows: "The Bible, being an indispensable symbol, must be present in every Lodge." If that be so, then a Mohammedan or a Buddhist, who reveres other sacred books than our own, cannot be a Mason. Even a Hebrew is in part disqualified, for he does not accept all of the Bible. Confronted with this glaring absurdity, Mackensie modified the Mackey article on this wise: "The Bible is indispensable in Lodge, but it need not be the Bible in all cases. It can be replaced by the Koran, by the Zend-Avesta, or by the Vedas, according to the religious faith of the Lodge." That is to say, the Bible is indispensable but it may be dispensed with!

Now ye editor is a firm believer in Christianity and the Bible, of which he is an humble teacher, but he does not make his Christianity a test of his Masonic fellowship. To do so would be to make Masonry sectarian-- that is, something utterly alien to itself, only one more atom in a world of factional feud and ferment. Instead, he welcomes to his Masonic fellowship his brother Masons of every faith, Catholic or Protestant, Hebrew or Hindu, thanking God the while for one altar where men of all faiths may meet without reproach and without regret.

Obviously, any other attitude is un-Masonic, and a violation of the fundamental, far-shining principle of Freemasonry set forth by the Grand Lodge of England in 1723, and reaffirmed in 1815; the cornerstone from which we must begin our survey if we are ever to find the Landmarks of the Order; the forever memorable words:

"But though in ancient times, Masons were charged in every country or nation to be of the religion of that country, 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 denominations or persuasions 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."


What, then, are the Landmarks of Masonry? Manifestly, by a Landmark we must mean, if it is to have any meaning at all, a limit set beyond which Masonry cannot go, some boundary within which it must labor; a line drawn as against any innovation subversive of the spirit and purpose of the Order. So, and naturally so, the Landmarks of Masonry are its great fundamental principles, not any usage or custom, much less mere details of organization, save in so far as these are identical with the spread of its spirit and the fulfillment of its purpose and mission in the world. Since this is so, there has never been a better attempt to state the Landmarks of the Order than that made by Findel in his "Spirit and Form of Freemasonry," the sum and substance of which is as follows:

First, and chiefly, its universality, and the obligation of every Mason to believe and practice that universal religion in which all men agree and understand each other, and the avoidance of such debates as mar its fellowship.

Second, the organization of a secret society, a centre of fraternity, an alliance of men of good repute, without regard to the distinctions made by the outside world, such as rank, position, religion, nationality, race, or political party; and the right of every initiated Mason to be admitted on a footing of friendship in all regular Lodges--Masonry being universal, and all Masons forming a single Lodge in which all are equal in the sight of each other.

Third, the requirement of certain qualifications for the reception of neophytes, such as moral independence, a sufficient degree of general education, a certain age, and good repute; and the injunction that no external circumstances, but only moral value and service to the Order, entitles any one to distinction or honor. Fourth, the immutable necessity for the Lodges to teach their members to exercise brotherly love, relief, and truth, to work for their moral advancement and the betterment of mankind, and to keep strict discretion towards all outsiders regarding Masonic usages, and especially the signs and symbols of the Order.

Upon such a broad basis as this the Masons of all the world may unite in mutual recognition and goodwill for the advancement of the Order, and that is what our European brethren ask us to do. How can we refuse to listen to their appeal, the more so when all that they ask is that we return to the original platform as laid by the Grand Lodge of England from which we derive. No one has stated their plea with more point and force, or in a better spirit, than William Conrad, in his paper setting forth the aims of the International Bureau for Masonic Relations:

"We do not ask our American brethren to relinquish their opinions or their Landmarks; all that we wish them to do is to recognize us as good Freemasons, faithful to the traditions laid down by the Grand Lodge of London in the year 1717. We desire them to enter into fraternal relations with us, to inquire, in a benevolent spirit, into our History, our leading principles, our activity and our deeds, and to convince themselves that we have the same right to be acknowledged as good and true Freemasons, as they claim for themselves."

- Source: The Builder February 1915

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