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The Builder

Graphic courtesy of Stephen McKim
Graphic Courtesy of
Stephen McKim

The Builder was published by the National Masonic Research Society from 1915 - 1930. It stands, nearly a century later, as one of the greatest Masonic publications.

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The Builder February 1915

The Fourth Degree

By William F. Kuhn
PGHP of Missouri

The Royal Arch stands as the rainbow of promise in the Ritual; it stands as the promise of the resurrection; of that which was lost and that it shall be recovered. The question arises as to whether the Master's Word was originally communicated in the Third Degree? On this point there is some diversity of opinion. In our present Ritual of the Third Degree the Master's Word is lost. Dr. Oliver, a noted Masonic historian, says: "The True Word was never lost but transferred to the Royal Arch," and in corroboration of this statement further says: "I have before me an old French engraving of the Ground Work of the Master's Lodge, dated in 1740, containing the usual emblems and on the coffin is the 'True Word' in Roman capitals." This would tend to prove that before the legend of Hiram Abiff was introduced into the Master's Degree, the True Word was communicated in the Master's Degree and not a Substitute Word. It necessarily followed that when the legend of Hiram became a part of the Ritual of this degree, the "loss" of the "Word" followed, as the "loss" is a part of the Hiramic legend. But the "loss" without a "recovery" would be an absurdity; to complete the symbolism of Freemasonry, the "Word" must be recovered, hence the necessity for a Fourth Degree, the Royal Arch.

In 1738, or earlier, the story of the loss of the Word and the new legend, the Royal Arch, were gradually introduced into the lodges, and when the division occurred, (1751) dividing the Freemasonry of England into the "Moderns" and "Ancients," the latter organized a Grand Lodge and adopted a Ritual of Four Degrees, the fourth being the Royal Arch.

The Grand Lodge of "Moderns" evidently continued to use the old Ritual, without the legend of Hiram Abiff, while the Grand Lodge of "Ancients" used the new Ritual containing the Hiramic legend and the Fourth Degree, until the year 1813, when the two Grand Lodges united and formed the present Grand Lodge of England, known as the United Grand Lodge of England. It is therefore to the Grand Lodge of Ancients that we owe the Master's degree as found in our Ritual and also the preservation of the Royal Arch Degree. One of the Articles of union of the two Grand Lodges of England in 1813 was the retention of the degrees as formulated by the Grand Lodge of "Ancients;" hence, among the articles of agreement of this union, we find the only declaration made anywhere or at any time as to what constitutes "Ancient Craft Masonry." This article declares that "Ancient Craft Masonry shall consist of the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, together with the Holy Royal Arch."

We see, therefore, that the Royal Arch is merely the evolution of a truth contained in the early Third Degree. It is not a "Higher Degree," but the last volume of the series in a sublime story revealed through symbolism. The Master's Degree without the Royal Arch is a story half told, a song unsung and a promise unfulfilled. The candidate is promised that he should receive, but is put off with a "Substitute." He is left in darkness, in doubt, and to the thoughtful one in a condition of disappointment. Yet, there is a purpose behind this seeming deception. Light and revealed Truth come only through toil and willing service. This lesson must be learned before any Mason is qualified to know and appreciate the Truth, The Master's Word. It is, possibly, unfortunate that the Royal Arch Degree was separated from the "Blue Degrees;" but whether fortunate or unfortunate, the Royal Arch stands as the last of the degrees in Ancient Craft Masonry. It is the summit and no Master Mason is in possession of all that Freemasonry teaches without the Royal Arch. The series of four degrees continued to be conferred under a lodge charter until about 1750, in America at least. The earliest history that we have of the Royal Arch in this country was in 1758, when it was conferred under a lodge charter in Philadelphia. It was introduced into New York about the same time by an English military lodge, in Massachusetts in 1869, where it was conferred by St. Andrew's Lodge.

Since that time the Royal Arch Degree has remained secure in its superior place. "The term Royal Arch Lodge was succeeded by Chapter and Royal Arch Chapter. The word Chapter was used in Connecticut as early as Sept. 5, 1783; in Pennsylvania, Sept. 5, 1789, in New York, April 29, 1791; in Massachusetts, December 19, 1794. The word Chapter took the place of Lodge in England, for the first time, April 29, 1768. The word Companion, used in the Chapter in place of Brother, was first used in England in 1778. These terms, Chapter and Companion, were soon carried to America where they flourish as elements in the Capitular system of degrees."

Such, in brief, is the history of the Royal Arch Degree; its parentage is as legitimate as any of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry; it sprang from the introduction of Speculative Freemasonry into Operative Masonry--the fruit of symbolism and allegory. To be a Master Mason is the highest and most honorable degree that any man can attain; it entitles him to all the rights and privileges of the Craft; all the accumulated so-called higher degrees do not add anything to his Masonic stature. The Royal Arch is a part of the Master's degree--the summit of its excellency. It is the privilege and should be the duty of Master Mason to complete the Masonic story, told in allegory and revealed in symbolism by receiving the Royal Arch.

Would you be enrolled as one living in that future generation that shall discover IT? Act now.

The Mark Master Degree.

The degrees of the Chapter are: Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch. The origin of the Mark Degree is veiled in obscurity, like all Masonic degrees, but, like the others, it sprang into existence in the earlier period of Speculative Freemasonry.

It was customary for the operative Masons to select for themselves a Mark, to be placed upon every piece of work wrought by them. This was done in order to keep a check on each operative's work by the Overseers, and to facilitate the payment of wages. Each Mark was distinctive and the same Mark frequently descended from father to son through several generations.

These Marks may be seen today on the stones in the old cathedrals of Europe. Fac-simile copies are reproduced in all Masonic histories. In Scotland, the operative Mason was required to register his Mark by the Shaw's Statutes issued in 1598. From this requirement of registration of the Mark, the Degree was evidently evolved.

The earliest record of the Mark Degree being conferred in Scotland bears the date of January 7, 1778. Yet this does not prove that the degree was not conferred at a much earlier date. These records also contain the information that the Mark Degree could not be conferred upon any one not having received the degree of Fellowcraft and Master. A report made to the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England states: "There is probably no degree in Freemasonry that can lay claim to greater antiquity than those of Mark Man or Mark Mason and Mark Master Mason."

The degree was conferred in Nova Scotia in 1784; in Connecticut in 1791; in New York in 1791 and in Boston in 1793. Like the Royal Arch, the Mark Degree was originally conferred in the Lodge. In the United States, the General Grand Chapter, R.A.M., issued Mark Lodge Charters up to 1853, when it was prohibited and the degree passed under Chapter control. In England the degree is under the control of the Grand Lodge of Mark Masons; in Canada and in Scotland the control is vested as in the United States.

The lessons of the degree are intensely practical, emphasizing the great requirement in life, viz.: Qualification and service.

The Degree of Past Master.

The general use of the term, Past Master, by the Craft, means one who has been elected, installed and served for twelve months over a regular Lodge. The general use of the term does not imply a separate degree, although in many lodges and formerly in Missouri, the honorary grade of Past Master is conferred upon Masters elect as a part of the ceremony of installation. This grade or degree was or is conferred only in the presence of Past Masters. The degree is the second in the series of the Chapter; hence arose the terms, Actual Past Master and Virtual Past Master, the latter meaning one who had received the degree in a Chapter but who had not been elected or served as Master over a Lodge. A Virtual Past Master is not entitled to recognition by the Grand Lodge as a Past Master.

The degree is an old one. We find the expression of Past Master used in 1771 and implied as one who "having passed the Chair through some ceremony." The Constitution of the Grand Lodge of England, 1723, speaks of the installed Master passing through certain "significant ceremonies." There can be no doubt as to the antiquity of the degree. It dates from the birth of speculative Freemasonry. The introduction of the degree into Capitular Masonry rests on the fact that, originally, the Royal Arch was conferred only on those who had been elected and presided over a Lodge as Master, but it was manifestly unjust to a large portion of the brethren to have such a restriction placed upon them and the Royal Arch; the following law of 1789 illustrates this fact: "No brother can be exalted until he has been at least three years a Master Mason and has presided six months as Master of some regular warranted Lodge or has passed the Chair of Dispensation." This law shows the old restriction and the modification that was assuming shape, permitting others than actual Past Masters to receive the Royal Arch. An old law found in Harmony Lodge, No. 52, Philadelphia, 1799, states: "That every brother who has not passed the Chair shall pay fourteen dollars, out of which the Dispensation shall be paid for; if he has passed the Chair for being exalted, eight dollars."

That is, an actual Past Master could receive the Royal Arch Degree for eight dollars, but one who has not received the Past Master's Degree must obtain a Dispensation from the Grand Master to receive it before he could be made a Royal Arch Mason and it cost fourteen dollars.

When the Royal Arch Degree passed from under the control of the Lodge and became a separate system, known as the Chapter, the prerequisite to the Royal Arch remained, viz.: The Past Master's Degree. The Virtual Past Master Degree became a part of the Chapter series. The reason for this prerequisite becomes apparent when the Lessons of this much abused, but beautiful, degree are studied and understood. The lesson of obedience to authority is proof against anarchy, and he who would teach must first learn to obey.

Most Excellent Master Degree.

A lie well told and repeated constantly becomes a truth to credulous people. This applies to the oft repeated statement that Thomas Smith Webb fabricated the American system of Capitular Degrees and the Orders of the Commandery of Knights Templar. Any man having an ounce of brains, and will use that ounce, will find that the degrees of the Chapter and the orders of the Commandery were in existence and conferred nearly fifty years before Webb was born. The Most Excellent is frequently credited to his fertile brain, and so stated by some Masonic writers, but fortunately there is on record in Massachusetts and New York the date of Webb's birth and the dates on which he received all the Masonic Degrees. The dates go to show that the Most Excellent was known and conferred before Webb became a Royal Arch Mason.

The latter half of the eighteenth century was prolific in Masonic Degrees in France and England. The degrees of all Rites can date their birth from 1723 to 1760, and in the maze of names and titles of degrees we find a veritable jungle. In this period we find the Irish System embraced The Chair, The Excellent, The Super Excellent, The Royal Arch, The Knight Templar and the Prince Rose Croix. The Scottish System embraced: The Mark Master, The Past Master, The Excellent Master and the Royal Arch. St. Andrew's Chapter, Boston, worked the Irish System, except The Chair, from 1769 to 1797. After 1799 the Mark, Past, Most Excellent and Royal Arch were conferred. A prominent Masonic writer says of the change: "This transition indicates and suggests that the Super Excellent Degree contained the marrow and something of the bone of the Most Excellent Degree."

From 1791 the Most Excellent was a well known degree and a part of the Capitular system. The Super Excellent of this period must not be taken for the Super Excellent appendant to the Council of Royal and Select Masters of today. The Most Excellent Degree is a fitting prelude to the Royal Arch, one of the most impressive degrees in its ceremonies and sublimely spiritual in its symbolism.

What of the Hour?

What of the hour in Freemasonry? Brighter, stronger, clearer. We often become discouraged and are inclined to be pessimistic; but amid all the errors and stumbling, a better day is dawning, when we shall see the beneficent labors of Freemasonry shinning in effulgent splendor. Freemasonry is growing in power and beneficence. As its immortal principles take root in the fallow soil of the human heart and mind, it buds and blossoms into the foliage of kindness and the Hesperidean fruit of charity toward all mankind. While the Masonic tramp may be seen on the beautiful highway of Freemasonry, there are many more today than ever, who are toiling in mind and heart in the treasure strewn mines of Freemasonry's realm.

Freemasonry today means more than negative plaudits and negative principles; but she stand preeminently as a living, growing, resistless power, whose end and aim is the exaltation of man and the glory of "The I Am That I Am." Our ancient brethren journeyed from Babylon to Jerusalem--out of bondage into freedom--with one strong purpose in view. What was the desire so pre-eminent in their hearts? What was the foundation of the zeal that actuated them to undergo the trials and hardships of that weary journey? Let them speak: "To aid in the noble and glorious work of rebuilding our City and Temple of the Lord." It was Work, Work, Work. Not idleness and ease.

- Source: The Builder February 1915

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