GEOMETRY OF GOD: A MASONIC SERMON
By Bro. Joseph Fort Newton
"According to the measure of man, that is of the angel." Rev. 21:17
FEW realize the service of the science of numbers to the faith of man in the morning of the world. It was almost his first hint of law and order in life when he sought to find some kind of key to the mighty maze of things. Living in the midst of change and seeming chance, he found in the laws of numbers a path by which to escape the awful sense of life as a series of accidents in the hands of a capricious Power. Surely it was not unnatural that a science whereby men obtained such glimpses of unity and order in the world should be sacred among them, imparting its form to their faith. Having revealed so much, numbers came to wear mystical meanings in a way quite alien to our prosaic habit of thinking-- faith in our day having betaken itself to other symbols.
One of the first men to follow this hint was Pythagoras, of whom we know so little and would like to know so much. He was a lofty and noble figure, albeit half-hidden in myth, and only a few of his words have floated down to us. He saw in all the multiplicity of experience, to which Heraclitus had borne witness, a rhythmic march--a movement, but with disciplined step and the reasonable soul of music in it. One of his few sayings that remain sums up his vision: "All things are in numbers, the world is a living arithmetic in its development--a realized geometry in its repose." Take a snowflake and look at it under a glass, and you will see what filled that ancient thinker with wonder. It is an exquisite example of the geometry of God--squares, circles, triangles, pentagons, hexagons, parallelograms, more exact and delicate than the deftest hand could trace. Throw a stone into a still sheet of water, and immediately there arises an ever-widening series of concentric circles. The mountains in their strength stand fast forever, held in their places by a parallelogram of forces, and the stars swing round their vast orbits as noiselessly as a dewdrop is poised on a flower.
Such is the structure of the universe, and it is no wonder that Pythagoras saw in these signs and designs, everywhere present, the thought-forms of the Eternal Mind; else they would not be the natural, selfsought forms of matter. Nature is a realm of numbers, and the frolic architecture of a snowflake is a lesson in geometry. Music moves with measured step, using geometrical figures, and cannot free itself from numbers without dying away into discord. From Pythagoras this insight passed to Plato, whose opulent genius gave eloquent exposition to the Doctrine of Numbers. When asked by a pupil what God does, he replied, "God geometrizes continually," and he was often wont to say that Geometry, rightfully understood, is the knowledge of the Eternal. Over the porch of his Academy at Athens he inscribed the words, "Let no one who is ignorant of Geometry enter my doors," meaning that his teaching rested upon the science of numbers. What Plato and Pythagoras saw modern science confirms in myriad ways, as we may read, for example, in the researches of Henri Fabre. In the last chapter of his book on "The Cufic of the Spider," he wrote:
"Geometry, that is to say, the science of harmony in space, presides over everything. We find it in the arrangement of a fir-cone, as in the arrangement of an Epeira's living web; we find it in the spiral of a snail shell, in the chaplet of a spider's thread, and in the orbit of a planet; it is everywhere, as perfect in the world of atoms as in the world of immensities. And this universal geometry tells us of a Universal Geometrician, whose divine compass has measured all things."
How interesting it is, revealing the infinite ingenuity of the Divine imagination and the measured movements of its labors. Naturally we find hints of this science in the Bible, in which certain sacred numbers recur, indicating words, suggesting thoughts, and revealing truths. Nowhere is this more manifest than in the book of the Apocalypse, which, instead of being a series of clouded and confused visions, is a work of spiritual mathematics. In that book Three is the signature of Deity. Four indicates the world of created things. Seven denotes peace and covenant, while Ten is the symbol of completeness. Even numbers symbolize earthly things, odd numbers heavenly things, and the odd and even added unite the two. With this ancient science in mind, the vision of the City of God, with its geometrical design, takes a new meaning, albeit we should add to it the vision in the prophecy of Zachariah in which the young man is told that the holy city is not to be measured in cubits of human reckoning. Some hint of the paradox of the measurable and the immeasurable must have been in the mind of the Seer of Patmos, as if some one had asked him how our earthly cubits can form a calculus for that which knows not the gauge of time or space. Hence his parenthesis, to resolve the doubt, "according to the measure of man, that is, of the angel."
Man is a citizen of two worlds, but he has no skill to realize the world of spirit apart from the aid of the world of sense. If he asks, wistfully, about the life to come, the only answer is one expressed in the images and colors of the life that now is. As often as he tries to ponder, reverently, what is the essential nature of God, he finds himself thinking of the Eternal in terms of those moral qualities which he sees, dimly enough, in the noblest men. He cannot help himself; there is no other way for him to think. Truth, justice, mercy, goodness in man must be of the same nature as truth, justice and goodness in God, however they may differ in degree, else they mean nothing to us. Long ago Ovid said that "our measure is in our immortal souls," and our faith not less than our philosophy rest upon the fact that there is an angel in man, something akin to the Eternal, making our highest thought and vision valid. No doubt that was what Plato meant when he said that by the art of measurement the soul is saved-- that is, by measuring up to the Angel within us we attain to the truth; by reading the reality of life through the highest, we learn its meaning and value. If so, we have our marching orders and the path of attainment is made plain even to the humblest, and no one need err therein or lose his way.
Just as in nature, from snowflake to star certain designs are found everywhere--circles, cubes, triangles --so, among all races and in all ages, certain ideas, ideals, faiths and hopes are held and trusted. Socrates made the discovery--one of the greatest ever made--that humanity is universal. By asking questions. which was the business of his life, he found that when men, whether they be artists or artisans, think round a problem and go to the bottom of it, they disclose a common nature and a common system of truth. After this manner the concensus of human insight, thought and experience confirms the fundamental truths of faith, like a problem of geometry, and we are justified in taking these basic ideas as the thought-forms of the Eternal Mind reflected in the mind of man. There is also a moral geometry which works itself out in the same way, tested by age-long and sorrowful human experience. Every evil way has been so often tried, that when we see a lad start along a dark path of evil doing we know what the result will be. No prophet is needed to predict the final issue; it is a problem in geometry. As David Swing said, in his noble sermon on "The Idealist," writing in his calm and simple manner:
"Some speak of ideals as if they were mere dreams. On the opposite all high ideals are only life-like portraits seen in advance. It would be much more true to affirm that ideals are the most accurate results reached by the most painstaking calculations. It stands much in their favor that they have come not from the brains of the wicked, but from the intellects that were the greatest. The greatest men of each age have pleaded for Liberty, because only the greatest minds can paint in advance the picture of a free people. Many nations are in the dust and mire today, because they have no minds great enough to grasp a divine ideal. Instead of being a romance, a noble ideal is often the long mathematical calculation of a mind as logical as Euclid. Idealism is not the musings of a visionary; it is the calm geometry of life."
For the rest, let us consider in a practical way the geometry of manhood, its proportions and dimensions. Like the Holy City, which the Seer saw descending from heaven, its length and breadth and height must be equal, as Phillips Brooks taught in his great sermon on "The Symmetry of Life,"--which his church asked him to repeat ever so often. The basis of the triangle of character--that is to say, the length of a man, the extent of his influence and power, is a matter of morality. Purity is the first measure of a man. Lacking a certain simple, sturdy, homely moral quality, he is a man only by the accident of his shape, though he have the learning of Bacon, the grace of Chesterfield, and the eloquence of Webster. Morals are ever the boundaries of liberty and the primary dimensions of manhood. Honesty, purity, truthfulness--nothing can take their place, and without them religion is either a superstitution or a sham. A pure heart may sanctify a creed, but a creed, however true it may be, must bear moral fruit before it can sanctify a life. To give morality any other than the first place is to invert the order of life and upset all its values. It is the foundation of character and of society.
But a man may be moral, and yet mean. He may be clean, but cruel; righteous, but uncharitable; truthful, and yet narrow, bigoted and hard. He may throw a poor family out of his house for lack of rent, and in so doing be honest--and inhuman! If there is anything worse than the wrongs wrought by wicked men, it is the evil done by good men. That which gives beauty, breadth and mellowness to life, melting our morality into goodness, is sympathy. And so to purity we must add pity. Justice runs lengthwise of life, but mercy is width, and is an evidence of nobility, of refinement, of graciousness of spirit. Lacking it, we have a Calvin in the church consenting to the death of Servetus because of a difference of dogma, and a Jaubert in fiction pursuing like a sleuth hound the weary, tangled and sorrowful steps of Jean Valjean. Man is akin to the animal, but God put into his heart an alabaster box of pity out of which, when once it is opened, come the amenities of life, its courtesies, its graces, and those extensions of sympathy which it is the mission of culture, not less than of religion, to promote. And tolerance, too, since heaven is only a village if it is made of only those thinkers who come always to the truth. Blessed be this broad and sunny sympathy in which bigotry and cynicism melt away and reveal to us the measure of man, that is of the angel that is in him.
There is yet another measure of manhood, what William James called "that altogether other dimension of existence," so often forgotten in our day. Some, to be sure, regard it as a kind of fourth dimension, a thing which you may argue exists, but which we can never realize. Not so. No Mason, at least, can think so. It is a natural, normal development of man, without which his life lacks symmetry and is a thing unfinished and imperfect. Call it a mystical faith, if you will, from it we derive most of our ideal impulses, our aspirations that transcend the merely sensible and understandable world. From beyond ourselves comes that ray of white light which can brighten the pale moonlight into a glowing sunlight, give to the light of the sun a sevenfold brightness, and glorify all common things--as De Hooge lets the sunlight fall on the rubbish of a back yard and wakens in us a thrill of joy and wonder.
Men must seek the heights of being, must be tall of soul as well as broad, if they are to see life in the large. Altitude of mind gives new proportions and perspectives, and shows that many things of which men are wont to make much are insignificant, and that other things, like a cup of cool water offered a Brother, are of eternal moment. It is when we add this third dimension that we see that men, when measured by the Angel in him, is immeasurable. Man is the measure of all things, said an ancient sage; but man himself, in the higher reaches of his being, cannot be measured. He is like an inlet of the sea. Looking landward, it is limited; looking seaward, it is linked with the infinite. "I think God's thoughts after him," said Kepler, as he looked through his glass into the sky, which is true of all high human thinking, all noble living, all upwardleaping aspiration. Truly, He that made us hath set eternity in our hearts, and restless we are until we find our rest in reunion with His will in which is our peace.
Let us strive, then, to unite purity, pity and prayer in our lives, revealing the length and breadth and height of life. Also, let us judge life and our fellows by the Ideal of the Angel, that so, at last, when we are tested by the measure of the Angel--that is, by the Angel of Death--we may be found to have attained, in some degree, to the measure of the stature of true manhood. And by as much as we have failed, by so much let us trust the mercy of God which is without measure and knows no end--