The word illiteracy, as signifying an ignorance of letters, an incapability to read and write, suggests the inquiry whether illiterate persons are qualified to be made Freemasons. There can be no doubt, from historic evidence, that at the period when the Institution was operative in its character, the members for the most part that is, the great mass of the Fraternity were unable to read or write. At a time when even kings made at the foot of documents the sign of the cross, pro ignorantia litterarum. because they could not write their names, it could hardly be expected that an Operative Mason should be gifted with a greater share of education than his sovereign. But the change of the Society from Operative to Speculative gave to it an intellectual elevation, and the philosophy and science of symbolism which was then introduced could hardly be understood by one who had no preliminary education. Accordingly, the provision in all Lodges, that initiation must be preceded by a written petition, would seem to indicate that no one is expected or desired to apply for initiation unless he can comply with that regulation, by writing, or at least signing, such a petition.
The Grand Lodge of England does not leave this principle to be settled by implication, but in express words requires that a candidate shall know how to write, by inserting in its Constitution the provision that a candidate, "previous to his initiation, must subscribe his name at full length to a declaration." The official commentary on this, in an accompanying note, is, that "a Person who cannot write is consequently ineligible to be admitted into the Order," aid this is now the very generally accepted law. The Latin words "ne" varies in Masonic diplomas, which follows the signature in the margin, indicates that the holder is required to know how to sign his name.