By Bro. Benjamin Wellington Bryant, California
ST. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist! What was their connection with Freemasonry? Is the Monitorial tradition supported by historical fact? Why does our Fraternity, firmly committed as it is to that regulation in the Constitutions of 1723 which obliges its members only to "that religion in which all men agree," dedicate its lodges to the memory of two Saints belonging distinctly to the Christian calendar? Whence came the tradition? When was it adopted? Why the St. Johns rather than St. Thomas whom tradition denominates the patron of architecture? Such are a few of the questions frequently asked and seemingly no Masonic Question Box is complete without one or more of them. Much has been written on the subject, but unfortunately little of it appears to have any real value, or to lead us nearer to a solution of the mystery. The excuse for the present paper is not the hope that anything can be added to the accumulation of data, so much as it is an attempt to gather and arrange the available material, and possibly give some hints that may lead to a feasible interpretation.
There appear to have been bat two attempts at a serious and extended consideration of the subject in Masonic literature. The first, and among English-speaking brethren, the only readily available publication, is Dr. Oliver's "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," (1) originally published in England in 1848, as a protest against the action of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813 when the Johannine dedication was discarded by that body when it adopted the Hemming lectures. Dr. Oliver collected and made accessible a great mass of material which he arranged and discussed in most readable form albeit his conclusions are too evidently biased by his own peculiar theological views to have much real value for present day Masonic scholarship. However we must acknowledge our debt of gratitude for him for his indefatigable labors as a pioneer in what, in his day, was an unknown field. We cannot read his writings or look upon his portrait which so clearly reflects his benign nature without loving him for his sincere and upright character and his fearless stand for the right as he saw it, even while we take exception to the eighteenth century orthodoxy which appears in almost every page of his Masonic writings.
The second work in which the Johannine claims are discussed at some length is the "Kunsturkunden," or "Three Oldest Professional Documents of the Brotherhood of Freemasons," which Krause published about 1810. Although antedating Oliver's work, I have placed this second because it is little known to the English-speaking Craft, due to the fact that, so far as I have been able to determine, no translation has been published. This is the work the publication of which was so violently opposed by the German brethren, and for which the author was suspended by the Dresden lodge. Having access only to the meager quotations and references given by a few Masonic writers, I am not prepared to discuss its contents.
To these two extended works upon the subject we should perhaps add Mackey's Encyclopoedia (2) which gives many references and considerable data upon the Sts. John, as well as several versions of the tradition as it appears in different systems of lectures. Most of them are evidently quoted from Dr. Oliver's work. However, he has given us a hint of a broader and seemingly a truer interpretation by tracing the St. John Festivals back to the solstitial celebrations of the Ancient Mysteries. (3) Except for these three writers I have been unable to find any extended works which attempt a detailed consideration of the matter.
To arrive at an intelligent understanding of this rather obscure subject it seems necessary first to examine into the origin of the two festivals which are far older than Christianity. They appear to have originated in that ancient wisdom- or light-religion in which so much of that which we now know as Freemasonry had its origin; and of which we catch some comparitively latter-day glimpses in what is commonly referred to under the general name of Ancient Mysteries. Writers and historians are notably unanimous in their agreement that the rituals of many of those ancient ceremonials included festivals in observance of the equinoxes and solstices. This was true, not merely of one or two of the pagan lands of antiquity, but of many, for they appear to have been very widely diffused in the ancient world wherever any great degree of civilization had been attained. The Egyptian, Phoenician, Dionysian, Adonisian, Phrygian, Eleusinian, Scandinavian and Druidical mysteries, each in its own land and time, appear to have introduced the astronomical features and all celebrated dramas and festivals in which the phenomena of nature were veiled in myth and allegory. Thus the priests of each of those faiths of olden time celebrated, each in his own peculiar, and usually beautiful and poetical symbolism, the passing of the equinoxes and solstices as well as other natural phenomena; and hence must have possessed a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the contents of "the great book of nature and revelation"; of astronomy and its vital influence upon the rotation of the seasons. In the mysteries of Eleusis the story of Ceres and her search for her daughter Prosperine, when divested of its mythological setting, becomes the tale of the seasonal rotation. In Egypt the thought was the same, but veiled in the allegory of Isis, Osiris, and Horus. Bear in mind that this is intended to refer only to those aspects of the mysteries which were held less secret and were consequently better understood and more frequently discussed, and about which considerable data has been preserved. Of the inner secrets of those Greater Mysteries celebrated in some localities, little is known with certainty. However there is good reason to believe that when the novice proven himself and won past the ordeals of the liminary initiation, he was rewarded with instruction in the eternal verities of life and its relation to Deity. Here, it is believed, he was led on from the consideration of the simpler and more evident truths of visble nature, which were embodied in his earlier initiation, to the contemplation of the more abstract truth of one God? (4)
Some of those early mystery-systems with their attendant festivals, were still celebrated in the early centuries of the Christian era, and while their original meaning had, to some extent perhaps, been obscured, the festival days still played an important part in the life the people among whom Christian missionaries were seeking converts, much as do our own public holidays present day social and religious life. They were therefore a difficult problem with which the mission and church fathers had to contend. Of the customs prevailing in the Roman Empire at this period one author has written:
"And as the entire State, so also every community, every city, every circle of cities, had its special cult, well founded institutions, rich and distinguished colleges for priests and special feast days and sacrifices. Every province, every city, every village, honored with local rites its protecting divinity, and everywhere the various religious observances were most intimately connected with the civil constitution of the community and sustained by local patriotism." (5) Such was the system with which missionaries had to compete for recognition. As a parallel situation, let us suppose that a people alien thought as well as blood were to come among us here in America and in the fire of their zeal seek to engraft their religious faith upon our thought. It would be a difficult, nay, an almost impossible task, to wean away from the observance of Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Years, and perhaps most difficult of all to from our memories the events and traditions as ciated with the Fourth of July; and while the memory of these days persisteed in the thought-life of our people, the missionaries' success could not be complete. Such was the problem confronting the early progagandists of Christianity. So long as the older festivals remained, the memory of the older faith remained. So as the "heathen" retained a ghost of the memory of the original meaning of those festivals there was a weak link in the chain that bound them to Christianity.
It appears that the officials of the early church about the solution of the difficulty in a thoroughly diplomatic way. Numerous authors from Sir Isaac Newton in 1733 (6), to the new volume of the Encyclopaeda of Religion and Ethics' just off the press, have given up a picture of the transition from the pagan to Christian observances. It appears that during the third century or thereabouts, the missionaries having with the above mentioned difficulty, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and after him St. Augustine, and St. Gregory the Great, each advised that an attempt be made to Christianize rather than to extirpate the popular observances. If a certain day had been previously observed as a pagan holiday, let it be changed into a Christian festival. Thus the Christmas observances succeeded those of the Bacchanalia and Saturnalia; the Floralia gave way to the floral ceremonies of May day, and festivals to the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and various of the apostles took the place of the zodiacal observances. Gregory Thaumaturgus, to whom Sir Isaac Newton gives credit for the institution of the movement, died in 265, hence the change began to take place very early in the history of the church. In the fifth century, Theodoret speaks of the change of the festivals of the old heathen gods into those of Peter, Paul, Thomas, and other saints, but mentions no other names of apostles. (8) According to Gregory of Nyssa, writing about 379, the church was then observing the festivals of Stephen, Peter, Jaines, John and Paul between Christmas and New Years, on the principle that "the prodse of the proto-Martyr should be followed by a commemoration of the apostles." (9) The author of "Greek Religion" gives a picture of the transition in Greece:
"That in Greece itself ancient rites should persist under cover of the new religion, and that ancient deities or heroes should reappear as Christian saints is hardly surprising to one who considers the summary method by which Christianity became the established religion. It was not so difficult to make the Parthenon a Christian church when the virgin goddess of wisdom was supplanted by a St. Sophia (Wisdom), then by the Virgin 31axy- Siniaarly Apollo was more than once supplanted by St. George, Poseidon by St. Nicholas the patron of sailors, Aselepius by St. Michael and St. Damian, and in grottos where nymphs had been worshiped, female saints received similar worship from the same people." (10)
The connection of the Baptist's day with the ancient midsummer rites of the Teutonic, and Scandinavian peoples also seems well established. (11)
Thus we are able to trace quite clearly some of the influences which finally crystallized in the observance of the Baptist on Midsummer's day, June 24, and of the death of the Evangelist on December 27. But much odf it still remains a mystery. It is enough to note here that the nature of the festivals - the one of birth, coming in the summer and on the longest day of the year; and the other of a death falling upon the shortest day and at the season when the hand of death seems laid upon all nature - is particularly fitting. The peculiar character and history of the men themselves as shown in records and traditions also seems to coincide with the same thought. The Baptist is reputed to have been a member of the sect of Essenes, who were mystics and celibates and held all property in common. He is frequently characterized as a "Seeker of Light." He was a man of stern integrity and unshakable fidelity, and bravely met death in the full bloom of his strength in the service of the Cause to which he had devoted his life. In marked contrast to his short life and tragic martyrdom is the long life and peaceful end of the Evangelist. While the life and teachings of the one are veiled in obscurity and can scarcely be verified with certainty, the work of the other stands out in clear colors. The Evangelist appears to have come of a well-to-do family, his mother being one of those who contributed to the support of the work of Jesus and to have been a man of considerable learning. Truly, he seems to have been well equipped to "finish by his learning what the other began by his zeal." In marked contrast to the simplicity of the message attributed to the Baptist is the finished and scholarly Gospel credited to the Evangelist. Opening with the mystic doctrine of the Logos- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," he has given us a work notably at variance with that of the other Apostles. Again, his name appears in connection with the mystic and apparently esoteric book of the Apocalypse. At every point, in their history, their circumstances, their messages, and their methods we find the same sharp contrast that has its analogy in the extremes of the seasons in which their festivals fall.
Having considered the genealogy of the festival, it may be of interest briefly to note that of dedications. "Among the ancients," says Bro. Mackey, "every temple, altar, statue, or sacred place was dedicated to some divinity." This, in Rome at least, was required by law, and the necessary proceedings were definitely defined. In the laws governing the Collegia, a fundamental legal requirement for organization was that the College should select a patron divinity. It served in the Roman legal process as a means of identification. Among the Jews there was a distinction between consecration and dedication; sacred things being both consecrated and dedicated, while profane things were dedicated only. (12) This custom was practiced as early as the time of Moses, the Tabernacle being both consecrated and dedicated, and the same is true of the Temple of Solomon. (13) The practice has been continued among Christians; and it is probably needless to call attention to the fact that Masonry has done the same.
Just where or when the Craft became connected with these saints and when it began to dedicate its lodges to them cannot be traced with any degree of certainty. A writer in THE BUILDER asserts that our dedication to them finds a counterpart in the recognition accorded them by the Comacines. Many of their churches were dedicated to one or the other of them. The Island of Comacina was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and his festival is still celebrated annually by the inhabitants with much pomp and ceremony. (14) This is particularly significant, for many authorities now believe that the Comacines form an important link in the history of our Fraternity. James I of Scotland in 1424 passed a statute legalizing trade societies, and provided for the dedication of each to some patron saint. The early craft guilds of England appear to have followed the same custom, practically all of them being similarly dedicated, usually to some Saint connected with their calling, and frequently the guild was namned after him. (15)
"None of the Londan trades appear to have formed fraternities without ranging themselves under the banner of some saint," says Bro. Gould, "and if possible they chose one who bore some fancied relation to their trade. Thus the fishmongers adopted St. Peter; the drapers chose the Virgin Mary, mother of the 'Holy Lamb' or 'Fleece' as the emblem of that trade. The goldsmiths' patron was St. Dunstan, represented to have been a brother artisan. The merchant tailors, another branch of the draping business, marked their connection with it by selecting St. John the Baptist who was the harbinger of the 'Holy Lamb' so adopted by the drapers.... Eleven or more of the guilds ... had John the Baptist as their patron saint, and several of them, while keeping June 24 as their head day, also met on December 27, the corresponding feast of the Evangelist." (16)
Toulmin Smith examined the records of some six hundred of these guilds and found few cases where the patron saints were omitted.
Other than the Comacine recognition, which cannot strictly be considered as that of a guild, inasmuch as it was their churches and their island home which were the subjects of dedication, the earliest Masonic connection of these particular saints of which we have record, appears in a, guild of Stone Masons and Carpenters at Cologne in 1430 called the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist. (17) On the other hand, the "Quatuor Coronate," or "Four Crowned Martyrs," are invoked in the Strassburg Ordinances of 1456 and those of Torgau of 1462, while in neither of these, nor in the Brotherbook of 1563, is there any reference to the Baptist." (18) Bro. Mackey says that the earliest festivals of the Operative, or Stonemasons of the Middle Ages were those of St. John the Baptist on June 24, and of the "Four Crowned Martyrs," on November 4. (19)
Dr. Oliver quotes a bit of doggerel verse which he says "it is confidently affirmed" was a part of the O. B. of a system in use in the fourteenth century:
"That you will always keep, guard and conceal, And from this time you never will reveal, Either to M. M., F. C., or apprentice Of St. John's Order what our grand intent is." (20)
The learned brother neglects, however, to cite his authority for the above, and Mackay, who has evidently copied the stanza from him, adds the comment, without giving reason or authority, that it is doubtful if it can be traced to an earlier date than the beginng of the eighteenth century. (21) I have been unable identify it among the MSS. listed in Gould's History. Of a similar character is the reputed antiquity of so-called Charter of Cologne, which purports to date from 1535, and which contains these Articles:
"E. That the society of brethren began to be call 'the fraternity of Freemasons' A.D. 1450 at Valenciennes Flanders, prior to which date they were called 'the brethren of St. John.'"
"K. Every year a feast is held in honor of St. John the patron of the community." (22)
The authenticity of this, like the former quotation is gravely questioned by almost every Masonic scholar so we may dismiss them both without further comment. Among the Craft in Great Britain the earliest definite date of a Johannine reference appears to be "St. John's day in Christmas," 1561, when it is related that Queen Elizabeth sent an armed force to break up the annual Grand Lodge at York. But the Masons, as it were, executed a counter-attack and initiated a number of the officers of the force, who returned to the Queen with so favorable an account of the objects and nature of the society that the Craft remained unmolested during the remainder of her reign. (23) This appears to the earliest reference to the festival of the Evangelist in connection with the Fraternity to which a semblance of credence can be given. Gould gives a list of early dates which he has succeeded in verifying, where the festival of the Evangelist is mentioned in the lodge minutes, as follows: Edinburgh, 1599; Aberd 1670; Melrose, 1674; Dunblane, 1646; Atcheson Haven 1700, while the earliest notice of the Baptist's day appears in the York minutes of June 24, 1713. These are the earliest references appearing in the records of any exclusively Masonic organization. There is mention of the feasts of both saints in the records of Gateshead Sodality in 1671, but that was an organization of mixed trades. (24) The earliest date, that of Edinburg, 1599, is entry in the minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh No 1, providing that annually on St. John the Evangelist's day the Wardens shall be chosen. (25) A ritualistic notice appears in the Sloane MS. of 1646, the date of the initiation of Elias Ashmole, which contains the question and answer: "Where did they first call their Lodge? A. At the holy chapel of St. John." (26) In a copy the Gothic Constitutions exhibited before Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans, at an assembly held on John the Evangelist's day, 1663, it was strictly joined that the Grand Festivals should be held on John's day in commoration of a custom which existed from time immemorial. (27) Both Anderson Preston refer to that meeting, but the Roberts MS states that it was held December 8. (28) According the Alnwick MS. the members were required to attend the parish church of that town each "St. John's day in Christmas", - "Clad in aprons and carrying common squares." (29) In a charter granted by the Bishop of Durham, April 24, 1671, it is directed that the incorporated body "shall upon the fower and twentieth day of June, comonly called the feast of St. John Baptist, yearely for ever, assemble themselves together before nine of the clock in the forenoone of the same day, and there shall, by the greatest number of theirs voices, elect and chuse fouer of the said fellowshippe to be there wardens, and one other fitt person to be the clarke . . . and shall vpon the same day make Freemen and brethren; and shall vpon the said fover and twentieth day of June, and att three other feasts or times in the yeare - that is to saie, the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, St. John Day in Christeninas, and the five and twentieth day of March, . . . for ever assemble themselves together." (30) This was the Gateshead Sodality mentioned above.
The Four Old Lodges of London having constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro tem in 1716 or early in 1717, set the date for the formal revival of the quarterly communications for St. John the Baptist's day of 1717. It is related in Anderson's Constitutions that "Accordingly on St. John the Baptist's day in the 3rd year of King George I., A. D. 1717, the ASSEMBLY and Feast of the Free and Accepted Masons was held at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house." "The ASSEMBLY and Feast" was held on the same date in 1718, 1719, and 1720; but there appears no record of the observance of the Evangelist's day under the Grand Lodge until 1720 when a quarterly communication or Grand Lodge was held on that day. This was under the Grand Mastership of George Payne. The festival of St George the patron saint of England, which falls on April 23, was later adopted as the principal feast of the Grand Lodge.
The earliest known minutes of the Craft in Ireland show a meeting of the Grand Lodge of Munster on the Evangelist's day, 1726. The annual meeting was held on the same date in 1727. The meetings for 1728, 1730, and 1731 were dated on the Baptist's day. In 1732, that day falling on Sunday, the Grand Lodge met on Saturday and adjourned until Monday the 25th. The year 1729 shows no record of a meeting. The General Regulatians incorporated in the same minutes are dated as having been adopted on the Evangelist's day, 1728, but there is no other record of that communication. They provide "In due Honour, Respect, and obedience to ye right Worshipful the Grand Master, that his Worship may be properly attented for the more solemn and proper holding our Grand Lodge on St. John the Baptist's day, annually, for ever . . . . "(31) The minutes of the Munster Grand Lodge do not continue beyond 1733. The present Grand Lodge of Ireland was established in 1730, but its earliest minutes have been lost, and Gould gives no dates of the early communications. According to Mackey, however, the present custom includes the observance of both the Baptist's and the Evangelist's festivals. (32)
The Scottish Grand Lodge was established in 1736, the minutes showing a preliminary meeting on September 30, which suggests the festival of St. Michael though Gould makes no reference to it in his account of the formation of that body. The actual organization took place an St. Andrew's day, November 30, and that day is still observed as the principal feast of Scottish Masons, thus concurring in the celebration of the feast of the patron of their country. Bro. Mackey, however, quotes Lawrie to the effect that Scottish Masons always observed the festival of the Baptist until 1737 when the change was made to St. Andrew's day. This statement is in marked variance with Gould, who, I believe, is the safer guide. The Johannine dedication still prevails under the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the three degrees are officially designated "St. John's Masonry."
Enough evidence appears, therefore, to indicate that the two festivals had already attained an immemorial status in the customs and traditions of the Craft long before the dawn of the Grand Lodge era. Even during the Middle Ages there is sufficient evidence to warrant a belief that they were quite widely recognized. Indeed, if we may accept the Comacine theory now gaining ground among our Masonic scholars, there is, in the peculiar attention accorded these two saints and their festivals by those architects and builders, another link in the chain of Masonic evolution. Through them the line leads back to the Roman Collegia, and thence to the ancient pagan solstitial observances. The change from the pagan to the Christian nomenclature would have been a natural result of the Christianization of the Empire. Thus, apparently we have in our Johannine dedication and festivals a direct line of descent from the most ancient observances known to man, and from the evidence at hand, I am inclined to believe that in remarkably few instances have their celebration been entirely neglected by the Craft. That this is not far-fetched will be realized when we remember that many a recognized and time-honored historical or genealogical tree has little more to support it.
WE NOW COME to the era of Grand Lodges, and the resultant crystallization of ritual. Here it will be interesting to follow the growth of the Johannine idea through the various rituals and ritualistic revisions of the eighteenth century. The collection of ritualistic and Monitorial allusions which I have been able to gather is probably far from complete, but I, believe that they are fairly representative and hence sufficient for the purpose of the present paper. Possibly some brother having access to other Johannine formulae may be able to add further items of interest. From a bare reference in the earliest catechisms, we find it developing into the historical extravagances of the tradition in its full flower. Thence, with the broadening of Masonic thought bringing better understanding of the true import of the Regulation of 1723, we see it finally declining to the less pretentious form in use at the present time. Here we have an excellent opportunity to follow the sectarian tendency which held the Fraternity in so firm a grasp during the eighteenth, and well into the nineteenth century. This tendency, it appears, was at last checked largely through the labours of Bro. Pike and Bro. Mackey, the latter drawing much of his inspiration from the former. (We are prone to think of Albert Pike as distinctively the exponent of the high degrees, but we should not forget the debt of gratitude we owe to him and to those brethren whom he gathered about him for their influence in extending the horizon of thought in Blue Lodge Masonry, for what Bro. Roscoe Pound denominates "Masonic Protestantism." (33))
In the earliest lectures in use under the "revived" Grand Lodge after 1717 we find the formula: "From whence came you? A. From the holy Lodge of St. John. Q. What recommendation do you bring from thence? A. A recommendation from the brothers and fellows of that right worshipful and holy lodge of St. John from whence I came, who greet you thrice heartily." (34) In 1721 we find a hint of the developing sectarian tendency in the lecture, which nevertheless still retains the pleasant ring of goodfellowship expressed in the earlier form: "God's good greeting be to this happy meeting. And all right worshipful brothers and fellows of the right worshipful and holy Lodge of St. John. Q. Why do you denominate it the holy Lodge of St. John? A. Because he was the forerunner of our Saviour, and laid the first parallel line to the Gospel." (35) The Chetwoode Crowley Ms. quotes allusion from the Catechism of 1723: "Here am I, the youngest and last entered apprentice, as I am sworn by God and St. John, by the Square and Compass and common judge." (36) (Possibly "common judge" is a corruption of "common guage"). "The Grand Mystery" published in 1725 gives the following in the Catechism: "Q. What Lodge are you of? A. The Lodge of St. John," and later in the same: "How many angles in St. John's Lodge? A. Four, bordering on Squares." (37) In the ritual as improved by Desaguliers and Anderson, both of whom were clergymen, we find a further sectarian development of the reference, for it is explained that the lodges were called St. John's Lodges because: "he was the baptizer and forerunner of our Saviour; and announced him as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world." This corresponds with the French ritual of 1730: "D. Comments appele cette Loge? R. La Loge de S. Jean," and the passage was thus explained: "Il fait toujours repondre ainsi que c'est le nom de toutes les Loges." (38) Dr. Oliver also quotes from the second edition of Anderson's Constitutions of 1738 as follows: "In France these festivals are celebrated on the same days but they are call 'Fetes Solstitiales; hommage au G. A. D. l'U." (39), which would seem to indicate that the French brethren still retained a solstitial form of the tradition at a time when the Craft in Britain were abandoning it in favour of a more theological version. In the year 1732 Martin Clare prepared a revision of the ritual, but I have not been able to find any quotations from it. Oliver credits him with a continuance of the Johannine tradition, but Dr. Mackey sees in this revision the beginnings of an attempt to counteract the sectarianizing or Christianizing tendency which had hitherto been on the ascendant. (40) Evidently some of the brethren were beginning to awaken to the real spirit of the Regulation of 1723, but there was yet a long road ahead, as we shall see.
The Clare lectures appear to have prevailed with some revision until the adoption of those of Dunckerley in 1770. Dunckerley's lectures give the earliest example where an allusion is incorporated in the O.B. which I have been able to locate. It is as follow s: "In the presence of God and this right worshipful and holy lodge dedicated to God and Holy St. John," and the asseveration corresponded to it, "so help me God and Holy St. John." (41) To Dunckerley is also ascribed the first introduction of the "lines parallel." (42) His formula runs thus: "This code is embordered by two perpendicular parallel lines, representing St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist who were perfect parallels in Christianity as well as in Masonry." (43)
In what is known as the "Old York Lecture," used about the same time, we find a most elaborate catechism of a type which must have delighted the heart of Dr. Oliver:
"Q. Our Lodges bong finished, furnished and decorated with ornaments, furniture and jewels, to whom they were consecrated?"
"A. To God.
"Q. Thank you, brother, and can you tell me to whom they were first dedicated?"
"A. To Noah, who was saved in the Ark."
"Q. And by what name were the Masons then known?"
"A. They were called Noachidee, Sages, or Wise Men."
"Q. To whom were the lodges dedicated during the Mosaic dispensation?"
"A. To Moses, the chosen of God, and Solomon, the son of David."
"Q. And under what name were the Masons known during that period?"
"A. Under the name of Dionysiacs, Geometricians, or Masters in Israel."
"Q. But as Solomon was a Jew, and died long before the promulgation of Christianity, to whom were they dedicated under the Christian dispensation?"
"A. From Solomon the patronage of Masonry passed to St. John the Baptist."
"Q. And under what name were they known after the promulgation of Christianity?"
"A. Under the name of Essenes, Architects, or Freemasons."
"Q. Why were the lodges dedicated to St. John the Baptist?"
"A. Because he was the forerunner of our Saviour, and by preaching repentance and humiliation, drew the first parallel of the Gospel."
"Q. Had St. John the Baptist any equal?"
"A. He had; St. John the Evangelist."
"Q. Why was he said to be the equal of the Baptist?"
"A. Because he finished by his learning what the other began by his zeal, and thus drew a second line parallel to the former; ever since which time Freemason's lodges in all Christian countries, have been dedicated to the one, or the other, or both of these worthy and worshipful men." (44)
To understand the next version of the tradition we must return to the year 1740, when Chevalier Ramsey, as Orator of the Grand Lodge of France, promulgated the Templar theory in an oration delivered before that body. Mackay and Gould both quote from that oration, the part referring to the subject under consideration being as follows: "During the time of the holy wars in Palestine, several principal lords and citizens associated themselves together, and entered into a vow to re-establish the temples of the Christians in the Holy Land; and engaged themselves by an oath to employ their talents and their fortune in restoring architecture to its primitive institution.(?) They adopted several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from religion by which they might distinguish themselves from the infidels and recognize each other in the midst of the Saracens. They communicated these signs and words only to those who had solemnly sworn, often at the foot of the altar, never to reveal them. This was not an oath of execration but a bond uniting men of all nations into the same confraternity. Some time after our order was united with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Hence our lodges are, in all Christian countries, called Lodges of St. John." (45)
That oration must have created a profound sensation among the Craft in England as well as in France, and we find in this extract from a lecture in use in the north of England late in the century, a reply to it: "Our lodges are untruly said to be dedicated to St. John because the Masons who engaged to conquer the Holy Land chose that saint for their patron. We should be sorry to appropriate the Balsarian sect of Christians to St. John as an explanation of this principle. St. John obtains our dedication as being the proclaimer of that salvation which was at hand by the coming of Christ; and we as a set of religious men, assembling in the true faith, commemorate the proclamations of the Baptist. In the name of St. John the Evangelist, we acknowledge the testimonies which he gives, and the divine Logos which he makes manifest." And again in the same lecture: "Our beauty is such as adorns all our actions; is hewn out of the rock, which is Christ; raised upright by the plumb-line of the Gospel; and squared and levelled by the horizontal of God's will in the holy Lodge of St. John; and as such becomes the temple whose maker and builder is God." (46)
Dr. Oliver also cites another version of similar import which he ascribes, rather indefinitely, "to our transatlantic brethren," and which is certainly an ingenious attempt to propitiate all parties and sects:
"The dedications are made to these Saints, not as Christians, but as eminent Masons; and if we are gratuitous in bestowing such a character upon them, this does not affect the merit of the argument, because the dedication is made under the supposition that such was their character. They are honoured by us, not as Saints, but as good and pious men - not as teachers of religion, but as bright examples of all those virtues which Masons are taught to reverence and practice. And if it incidentally happens that they were also Christians, such a circumstance should, with a tolerant Jew, be objection to the honours paid to them; but with th sincere Christian a better reason." (47)
The Ramsey idea was adopted by the notorious imposter Finch, who incorporated a passage upon the oration of 1740 into one of his rituals: "What is the chief reason why our lodges are dedicated to St. John? A. Because in the time of the Crusades, the Masons having united themselves with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem to fight against the infidels, they adopted that Saint as their tutelary protector and being victorious in their conflicts with the Saracens, they unanimously agreed that all Masonic lodges should in future be dedicated to him." (48)
There is another version which Mackey quotes from an old lecture adopted into the Prestonian system, which, while it bears some resemblance to the old York lecture, is less ambitious in its historical claims. It is said that a group of early Christians did actually send a deputation to the Evangelist, who was then at Ephesus, requesting him to give them a code of rules for their observance, "that the identity of their faith might be preserved as an exclusive society" (49) and the story of that event may have inspired some eighteenth century ritualist to compose this beautiful bit of Masonic fiction:
"From the building of the first temple at Jerusalem to the Babylonish captivity, Freemason's lodges were dedicated to King Solomon; from thence to the coming of the Messiah they were dedicated to Zerubbabel the builder of the second temple; and from that time to the final destruction of the Temple by Titus, in the reign of Vespasian, they were dedicated to St. John the Baptist; but owing to the many massacres and disorders which attended that memorable event Freemasonry sunk very much into decay; many lodges were entirely broken up, and but few could meet in sufficient numbers to constitute their legality; and at a general meeting of the Craft, held in the city of Benjamin, it was observed that the principal reason for the decline of Masonry was the want of a Grand Master to patronize it. They therefore deputed seven of their most eminent members to wait upon St. John the Evangelist, who was at that time Bishop of Ephesus, requesting him to take the office of Grand Master. He returned for answer, that though well stricken in years (being upwards of ninety), yet having been initiated into Masonry in the early part of his life, he would take upon himself that office. He therefore completed by his learning what the other St. John effected by his zeal, and thus drew what Freemasons term a 'line parallel'; ever since which time, Freemasons lodges in all Christian countries have been dedicated both to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist." (50)
The Preston lectures were the standard in England until the reconciliation between the "Ancient" and "Modern" factions in 1813, when the Hemming lectures were adopted as a compromise ritual. In the Hemming system the Johannine dedication was eliminated, the parallel lines were said to represent Moses and Solomon, and the lodges dedicated "to God and his service." (51) Thus our English brethren silenced, so far as these two Saints were concerned, all possibility of a charge of sectarianism. The change was not made without protest however; many brethren withdrew from the Fraternity rather than accept the new lectures, and as previously noted, even as late as 1848, Dr. Oliver was inspired to write and publish his "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," which would indicate that the change was still rankling in the hearts of numbers of the English brethren.
This concludes our review so far as European Masonry is concerned. In this country Thomas Smith Webb had already published his Monitor, which was based on the Prestonian system, prior to the Reconciliation, and by the time that event took place his system had evidently gained sufficient foothold largely to counteract whatever influence the Hemming system might otherwise have exerted, and, supported by the, anti-British feeling engendered by the then recent Revolution and by the troubles which the young Republic was still having with the motifer country, was sufficiently strong to prevent the young American Grand Lodges from abandoning the Johannine in favour of the Solomonic formula. The first edition of Webb's Monitor appeared in 1797, coincident with the movement to sever the Royal Arch from the Blue Lodge system, in which he was a leading spirit. In 1813, while the Reconciliation was being consummated in England, he was serving as Grand Master of Rhode Island, thus, perhaps unwittingly, adding the weight of that dignity to the side of the balance against any change that might have taken place.
The edition of the Webb Monitor to which I have access is the fifth, published in 1866, but does not appear to have been revised to any extent. In it the formula is as follows:
"By a recurrence to the chapter upon the dedication of lodges it will be perceived, that although our ancient brethren dedicated their lodges to King Solomon, yet Masons professing Christianity dedicate theirs to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, who were eminent patrons of Masonry." (52)
Webb also uses the phrase: "who were perfect parallels in Christianity as well as in Masonry."
I have also a copy of the Macoy Monitor of the middle nineteenth century which gives a version apparently based upon the Ramsey theory as enunciated by Finch:
"Lodges in ancient times were dedicated to King Solomon ... and continued to be so dedicated until after the Crusades. Among the various orders of knights engaged in those chivalric wars, none were more conspicuous than the magnanimous order of the Knights of St. John. Many brethren of our ancient Craft also went forth to aid in redeeming the sepulchre of the Saviour from the hands of the infidel; between these and the Knights of St. John there existed a reciprocal feeling of brotherly love. On the plains of Jerusalem they entered into a solemn compact of friendship, and it was mutually agreed between them that henceforth all lodges whose members acknowledge the divinity of Christ, should be dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, who were two eminent patrons of Freemasonry." (53)
Finally, and to us most interesting of all, is the "Manual of the Lodge," by Dr. Mackey, published in 1862, wherein we find the earliest publication of the version which seems to be most generally in use among American Grand Lodges at the present time:
"Our ancient brethren dedicated their lodges to King Solomon because he was our first Most Excellent Grand Master; but modern Masons dedicate theirs to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist who were two eminent patrons of Masonry." (54)
To this Bro. Mackey adds a note in which, as in his Encyclopedia, he lays particular stress upon the solstitial character of the Johannine festivals and dedication. It was as follows:
"The two parallel lines, which in the modern lectures represent St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, really allude to particular periods in the sun's annual course. At two particular points in this course, the sun is found on the zodiacal signs, Cancer and Capricorn, which are distinguished as the summer and winter solstices. When the sun is at these points he has reached his greatest northern and southern limit. These points, if we suppose the circle to represent the sun's annual course, will be indicated by the points where the parallel lines touch the circle. But the days when the sun reaches these points are the 21st of June and the 22nd of December, and this will account for their subsequent application to the two Sts. John, whose anniversaries the Church has placed near these days." (55)
Thus we find that, while the Johannine tradition cannot be accepted as based on veritable historical fact in the sense of regarding the Baptist and the Evangelist as having been personally connected with the Fraternity, yet its recognition by the Craft, in one or another of its varied forms, dates from most remote antiquity. In modern speculative Masonry there are no missing portions in the line of descent from the "revival" of 1717 until the present time. In the words of Dr. Oliver:
"In the original lectures compiled by Sayer, Payne, and Desaguliers, and as improved by Anderson, Desaguliers and Cowper; in the revisions of Dunckerley and Martin Clare, twice repeated, and in the extended rituals of Hutchinson, Preston and others, the St. Johns occupy their place as patrons of Masonry. In no one ritual, whether ancient or modern, in use during the 18th century, have they been omitted." (56)
We must remember that the centuries prior to the birth of speculative Masonry knew little or nothing of the almanac and the calendar as popular conveniences, and hence the annual festivals of pagan times and the Saint's days which took their places under Christian influence were indispensable aids in marking the years and the seasons. In Britain, even long after 1534 when the yoke of the Vatican was thrown off, the religious thought remained strongly under its influence and there was little change from the church customs of the earlier allegiance. What more natural then, than that our brethren of that period should preserve the midyear and midsummer festival of the Baptist as the date for their annual assemblies. Later when the need for more frequent fraternal communication became manifest, the Evangelist's day in midwinter was the most logical companion date.
But in spite of the narrow and almost iron-clad theology of the time, the close of the sixteenth century, as Bro. Waite notes in his "Real History of the Rosicrucians," beheld a great wave of mysticism spreading over central Europe, and thence into England, France, Italy, and Denmark. (57) In England this movement found its chief expression through the Rosicrucian school of thought and we find that the influx of speculatives during the seventeenth century brought in the Fraternity such men as Ashmole, Vaughn, Sir Robert Moray (or Murray), Wren, Locke, Boyle, and others of strong Rosicrucian tendencies, and of sufficient learning and prominence to be Fellows of the Royal Society. The Rosicrucian philosophy embodied much of that universal religion which is the basis of Freemasonry, but its adherents found it wise to conceal its broad principles under a veil of Christian mysticism in that age when any open and free statement of such doctrine would have subjected them to persecution or ostracism. These men must have understood, as possibly the operatives of their day did not, the astronomical origin of the Johannine festivals, and from the standpoint of that knowledge, might very possibly have lent their influence to the more regular observance of those dates. Coming upon the scene during the period when the stage was unwittingly being set for the "revival" or "revolution of 1717," they must have lent a very considerable influence to the shaping of the circumstances which led up to that event. Viewing the Johannine dedication and festivals in the light of solstitial observance which had been celebrated from most remote antiquity, and thus truly in harmony with the liberal spirit, not only of Rosicrucian, but also of Masonic faith, it seems even more probable that we are indebted in considerable measure to those early mystics for the perpetuation of this custom of the Craft.
With the revival in 1717 the ritual fell into the hands of such orthodox ministers of the Gospel as Dr. Anderson and Dr. Desaguliers, who would, of course, see the observances in their Christian, rather than in their solstitial and mystical aspect. Under their hands it was shaped into a Christian tradition, and the ritualists who followed them apparently adopted their lead and further developed it as we have seen. It is most fascinating to trace, through the early meager references and the later wild fabrications of tradition, the development from the early dedication and festival observance, through the full bloom of a sectarian legend down to our modern unassuming and inoffensive version. It is not surprising, when this one item could develop into such full flower that many other fabulous statements could gain circulation and credence among the brethren. Bro. Gould quotes and condemns a number of these. According to one, "27,000 Masons accompanied the Christian princes in the Crusades." Another was the statement that Martin Luther was received into the Society on Christmas night, 1520, just fifteen days after he had burned the Pope's Bull; and still other, and even more absurd were that the Craft was introduced into Britain, A. M. 2974, by "E-Brank, King of the Trojan race, and into Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah." (58)
According to Bro. Mackey, a reaction from the sectarian influence and the flights of imagination of the earlier ritualists began to become manifest in the Clare revision, (59) though I have found no quotations from it bearing upon the subject of the present paper. Neither have I found any from the ritual used by the Dermott or "Ancient" faction unless the "old York lecture" above quoted belonged to them. However, the opponents of the Christianizing tendency apparently finally made their voices heard and gained a signal victory in the adoption of the Hemming lectures. I am not prepared to discuss the wisdom of that change other than to remark that one argument in its favour is that it removed one point of temptation beyond the reach of those susceptible to its influence. Here in America we seem to have gradually receded from the more sectarian versions to the unassuming one in general use at present which apparently gives no offence to our brethren of the Jewish faith.
We have long since abandoned the belief that the two Johns in person were patrons of the Fraternity. Both Gould and Mackey recognize their symbolical character. (60) Dr. Mackey thus defines a symbol in the Masonic acceptance of the word: "A symbol is defined to be a visible sign with which a spiritual feeling, emotion or idea is connected." (61) This thought should be ever borne in mind in the study of Masonic ritual and symbolism, for in no other way can much of our system of speculative Masonry be interpreted. As the operative art of our ancient brethren was deemed a high and noble science, so their organization, well worthy of so noble a fate, has been bequeathed to us as a Speculative Fraternity, and has become, by some yet unexplained method, the repository of a wonderful science of symbols based partly upon the builder's art and partly upon ancient mystical religion and philosophy.
It is well to remember that the whole purpose of symbolism, in the sense used by Bro. Mackey, in the ages which saw its origin as a development of the earlier picture writing, was to convey or reveal truth only to such as were duly and truly prepared, worthy and well qualified; and that its early authors were remarkable adepts in the art of so concealing those truths which they held to be too sacred for the unworthy profane. It is well to remember these facts in approaching the study of Masonry, for we may thus, if we in our turn "are duly and truly prepared," open the way to clues which will lead to the discovery of some of those vast treasures of hidden truth which modern Freemasonry has inherited from those schools of the secret wisdom of antiquity, - the Ancient Mysteries, and from some of their later successors.
Nowhere in the ritual or monitors of the Craft is there a more perfect example of this, nor one more easily demonstrated when we find its key, than in the great natural truths so carefully hidden behind the meager references remaining in our work to the two characters which are the subjects of the present paper. I would not minimize the importance of the moral which the monitor attaches to them, but would emphasize my belief that this represents only a fraction of the real lesson. Their festivals, engrafted as we have seen, upon the old solstitial festivals which were so prominent in the Light-religions of antiquity, give us a miniature statement of the whole philosophy of Masonry, which is a mystery-drama of human life. Falling upon June 24th and December 27th, dates so close to the summer and winter solstices as to leave no doubt as to their origin, they give us more than a hint of the close relation of man with the phenomena of the visible universe, - "the microcosm in the macrocosm. For our Masonic purposes, it matters little what particular story we ascribe to these dates; the fact of our observance of them as ancient festivals of the Fraternity preserves the spirit of the symbolism; and whether we observe them as the midsummer and midwinter solstices under the beautifully poetical phraseology of the Osiric, Eleusinian or Druidic Mysteries, or as the feast days of Christian saints traditionally alleged to have lent their patronage to our Fraternity, the fundamental lesson is the same.
The reputed character of the Baptist and of the Evangelist adapts their festivals very readily to the symbolism. The feast of the Baptist recalls to our memory his inflexible fidelity and martyrdom for his faith, and thus, while reminding us of another martyrdom for similar high principles which is familiar to all Masons, furnishes a worthy ideal for Masonic consideration. In the rite of baptism from which his distinctive title is derived is symbolized the cleansing of the heart from the dross of selfishness and vice, and the spiritual initiation of the soul into the knowledge of the mysteries of eternal life. Thus the festival of his birth very appropriately coincides with the summer solstice, when all visible nature is at the zenith of life, light, and joy. On the other hand, the festival of the Evangelist who is so fortunately represented as a man in the winter and wisdom of life; who so insistently proclaimed the gospel of brotherly love; and whose writings teem with allegories of the mystical initiation into the secrets that lie beyond the veil of material vision, is very properly assigned to that period of the year when life has reached its full maturity and seems about to depart from the earth. Considering all this he too becomes a worthy and appropriate figure for Masonic recognition.
We therefore find in these two figures, so peculiarly and even mysteriously connected with Masonry, that broad symbolism which admits of universal interpretation and appreciation. It is truly in harmony with the spirit of "that religion in which all men agree" and is therefore really Masonic. Their festivals falling upon the two extremes of the year well represent the cycle of nature and of human life, and thereby give us a key to the whole philosophy of Masonry. Though of Christian derivation, their Masonic interpretation carries the same lesson for the Jew and the Theist as for the Christian brother. They tell of the eternal cycle of existence, of manifestation and disappearance, of activity and repose, which is the eternal and immutable law of God, and which is so fittingly expressed in our familiar phrase: "From labour to refreshment and from refreshment to labour again."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Rev. George Oliver; J.W. Leonard & Co., New York, 1855; included in vol. 5, Universal Masonic Library., Rob. Morris, Lodgeton, Ky., 1856.
- "Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry," A. G. Mackey, see articles on "Dedication," "Parallel Lines," "St. John the Baptist," "St. John the Evangelist," "Festivals," etc.
- Ibid, article on "Dedications."
- "History of Freemasonry," Robert Freke Gould, vol. 1, p. 15.
- "Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism," Uhlhorn, p. 31.
- "Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John," Sir Isaac Newton, 1733, Chap. XIV, pp. 204-5.
- "Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics," Ed. by Dr. Jas. Hastings, vol. 11, p. 58; New York, 1921.
- "Dictionary of Christian Antiquities," vol. 2, p. 1907.
- "Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics," vol. 5, p. 847.
- "Greek Religion," Fairbanks, pp. 285-6.
- "Encyclopaedia Americana," New York, 1904, Article on "Eve of St. Johns."
- "Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry," article on "Dedications."
- "THE BUILDER," vol. 3, CCB. May.
- "THE BUILDER," vol. IV, p. 262.
- Essay on "History and Development of Gilds," Brentano, 1870.
- History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 3, p76
- Ibid. p. 79
- "Encyclopeadia of Freemasonry," article on "Festivals."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," p. 32.
- "Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry," article on "St. John's Order."
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 2, p. 117.
- "Some Account of the Schism," etc. Oliver, p. 7; Universal Masonic Library, vol. 5. Also "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 2, p. 179.
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 3, p. 75.
- "Ibid, vol. 2, p. 79.
- "Encyclopeadia of Freemasonry," article on "Lectures."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 102.
- "Encyclopeadia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Saint Albans, Earl of"
- Ibid, article on "Alnwick Manuscript."
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 2, p. 275.
- Ibid, vol. 3, pp. 282-3-4.
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Festivals."
- "Philosophy of Freemasonry," Pound, p. 66.
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 26.
- Ibid, p. 34.
- "Essays," Gould, p. xix
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 4, pp. 281-2.
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 27.
- Ibid, p. 67.
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Martin Clare."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver; p. 27.
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Dunckerley."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 35.
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 27; also "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Dedications."
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 3, p. 341; also "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Ramsey."
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 29.
- Ibid, p. 20.
- "Annot. on John," Kitto.
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Dedication."
- Ibid, article on "Parallel Lines."
- "Freemason's Monitor," Webb, P. 31, 5th Edition, republished, Cincinnati 1866.
- "Masonic Manual," Robert Macoy, 15th Edition, New York 1858.
- "Manual of the Lodge," Mackey, New York, 1862.
- Ibid, p. 57.
- "Mirror for the Johannite Masons," Oliver, p. 32.
- "Real History of the Rosicrucians," Waite, p. 39, New York 1888.
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. P. 127.
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Lectures."
- "History of Freemasonry," Gould, vol. 3, p. 79; also "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," article on "Dedication."
- "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry," Mackey, article on "Symbols."