The Builder January 1915
The National Masonic Research Society
By Joseph Fort Newton
Under the sign of the Square and Compasses--emblems as eloquent as they are ancient --"The Builder" takes up its labors for the advancement of Freemasonry, with malice toward no man, no party, no church, but with a sincere and hearty good will toward all its fellow-workers in the search for truth and the service of humanity. Obviously it is fitting, in this initial issue, that a statement be made as to the Society of which this journal is a spokesman, its purpose, its spirit, its ideals, and the designs on its Trestle-Board.
So enthusiastic, so remarkable indeed has been the response from all over the country to the suggested organization of a National Masonic Research Society, that there is no longer any doubt that such a movement is needed and that it has a fruitful and far-reaching service to render to the Order. Surely he is a poor prophet, and no poet at all, who does not see that this Society, as now organized and working, can easily be made a factor of moment in the life and progress of Masonry in all its rites and activities, and if we give ourselves to it with earnestness, the day of its founding will be looked back upon as one of the significant dates in the recent history of the Craft.
Some things need to be set down plainly, by way of preface, in behalf of a frank and full understanding. Let it be said once for all that this movement has back of it no motive of personal aggrandizement, much less of pecuniary profit. Instead of trying to make money out of Masonry, the founders of this Society are putting time, money and energy into it, thinking little and caring less of any returns other than to find the truth and tell it. They have no axe to grind, no vanity to vent, no fad to air. Were it possible, they would prefer to remain unnamed, and be known only by their work--like the old cathedral builders, whose labors live but whose names are lost. Their solitary aim is to diffuse Masonic light and understanding, and thus to extend the influence and power of this the greatest order of men upon earth.
That is to say, they refuse to think of Masonry as a mere collection of social and faintly beneficent clubs, and they regard such a view of it as a pitiful apostasy from the faith of our fathers. They believe that Masonry is a form of the Divine life upon earth, an order of men initiated, sworn and trained to make righteousness, sweet reasonableness and the will of God prevail. They see in it latent powers and possibilities as yet unguessed, still less realized--a great liberalizing and humanizing fraternity, whose mission it is to soften prejudice, to refine thought and sympathy and service, and so help to prepare the race for a nobler manhood and a juster and more merciful social order. Hence their honorable ambition for its service, not only by interpreting it to the world at large, but by broadening and deepening the interest of Masons themselves in the faith, philosophy, history and practical aims of the fraternity. Surely such a labor may well appeal to men who would fain serve their fellows, and do a little good before they die.
Instead of being a private enterprise, this movement has the official sanction and blessing of the Grand Lodge of Iowa, and is in fact an outgrowth of the labors of that Grand body in training its young men to be intelligent and capable Masons. What the endorsement of such a plan by the Grand Lodge of Iowa means in the Masonic world, is at once evident, as witness these words by Sir Chetwode Crawley, of whose distinguished services to Masonic scholarship in England no student needs to be told:
"Let me begin by expressing my deep satisfaction that the Grand Lodge of Iowa has extended its sanction to Masonic Research by the appointment of so influential and capable a committee as that indicated in your letter. The adoption of such a plan by any Grand Lodge would have secured warm approval from all Brethren concerned for the welfare of the Craft, but there is a peculiar fitness in its adoption by the Grand Lodge of Iowa. For more than a generation, we have been accustomed to see the Grand Lodge of Iowa leading the van in the cultivation of the literature of Freemasonry."
Those words speak a high and sincere tribute, but it is richly deserved and abundantly justified by the record. Seventy-five years ago the Library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa--perhaps the greatest of its kind in the world--was founded by the late Theodore Sutton Parvin, whose long and busy life was devoted, with an industry only equalled by his great ability, to the cause of Masonic light and learning. Today that noble library stands as his monument and memorial, its doors open and its fabulous treasures accessible to all who seek further light in Masonry. Having so splendid a tradition and so inspiring an example, it is only natural that Iowa Masons should make their library the center of enthusiasm and activity for the education of the Craft, whereof detailed report may be read in the proceedings of their Grand Lodge. More recently, by force of necessity, new emphasis has been added to the study side of Masonry, and the reason is not far to seek.
Time was, and not so long ago, when it required courage for a man to be a Mason. Feeling against the Order was intense, often fanatical, and its innocent secrets were imagined by the ignorant or malicious to hide some dark design. How different it is now, when the Order is everywhere held in honor, and justly so, for the benignity of its spirit and the nobility of its principles. No wonder its temple gates are thronged with elect young men, eager to enter its ancient fellowship. But those young men must know what Masonry is, whence it came, what it cost in the sacrifice of brave men, and what it is trying to do in the world. Otherwise they cannot realize in what a benign tradition they stand, much less be able to give a reason for their faith. Every argument in favor of any kind of education has equal force in behalf of the education of young Masons in the truths of Masonry. So and only so can they ever hope to know what the ritual really means, and what high and haunting beauties lie hidden in the of all emblems.
Finding in this necessity an open door of opportunity, the Grand Lodge of Iowa set about, through its Committee on Masonic Research, to work out a well-planned practical program of method, testing it by facts and results. By natural logic, the fruits of that labor suggested a National movement toward the same end, which has now taken form in this Society. While it thus had its origin in Iowa, as the result of actual experience, it is no longer confined to Iowa, but invites the interest and aid of every Grand Lodge in the country, and of Masonic students of every rank and rite, offering them in this journal a medium for closer fellowship and a forum of frank, free and fraternal discussion of every possible aspect of Masonry.
There is no need that any one make argument to prove that such a movement as this is Masonic; it is in accord with the oldest traditions of the Order we turn to the "Old Charges"--the title deeds of Masonry, and a part of its earliest ritual--we learn that the Craft-lodges of the olden time were in fact schools, in which young men studied not only the technical laws of building, but the Seven Sciences and the history and symbolism of the Order as well. Apprentices were selected as much for their mental capacity as for bodily agility, and such as betrayed no aptitude for the intellectual aims of the Craft were allowed to go back to the Guilds and work as "rough masons." No young man, during his term as an Apprentice, was permitted to keep late hours, unless he did so in study, "which shall be deemed a sufficient excuse," as an old Charge relates.
Truth to tell, we have much yet to learn from the old Craft-masonry, and especially in the matter of training young Masons. For one thing, they recited a brief history of the Craft to the candidate at the time of his initiation as an Entered Apprentice, not leaving him bewildered, as we too often do, knowing nothing of a truly great and heroic history. No doubt the history so recited--as we have it in the "Old Charges" was sometimes fantastic and far from the fact. None the less, the principle was right, and had that wise custom been continued there would have been less occasion for Gould to say, what is only too true, that Masons know less about the history of their own order than the men of any other fraternity. Harking back to that old and wise custom, the Grand Lodge of Iowa has had a brief story and interpretation of Masonry written, a copy of which is to be given to each of its initiates on the night of his raising.
Masonic research, as we now use the phrase, may almost be said to have begun with Findel, albeit good work had been done before his day. Still, his "History of Masonry" was one of the very first books of the right kind, and it did much to put the Craft in the path of authentic learning. Others followed, both abroad and in this country--Pike, Fort, Mackey, Drummond, Parvin, to name but a few among us--and their work, which met with little response, was nobly prophetic. An example in point was the brief but brilliant career of the "American Review of Freemasonry," edited by Mackey. It began in 1858, ran two years, and died for lack of adequate support. In his valedictory, Dr. Mackey said:
"It was an experiment, commenced with a view of ascertaining how far a Masonic magazine of a very elevated character would be sustained by the craft in this country. For two years this experiment has been made, and it is plain that the "Quarterly" was in advance of the Masonic age. Doubtless it was supported better than such a work would have been twenty years ago, but not so well as a similar one will be ten years hence, for the literary character of the order is improving. The editor feels some satisfaction in believing that that work, during its brief existence, has done no little in hastening that improvement."
Truly that was a brave optimism, as befitted a pioneer, and its vision has been fulfilled by the facts. By the same token, we who live in a day made better by the labors of such men dare not be less courageous, lest we be found unworthy of our fathers. The men who wrote for the "Review" have now passed to where, beyond these voices, there is peace, but their work remains. One has only to open its yellow pages to read the articles of Pike on the Mysteries, and the essays of Mackey on Symbolism--which afterwards formed the chapters of his book in exposition of the "Symbolism of Freemasonry"--written in style which may well be a model of lucidity. Those men did not fail; they were sowers who did their work and trusted the far off harvest of years. Remembering their faith, their sacrifice, their high devotion, we would build on their foundations, linking the past with a greater tomorrow.
We inherit the past; we create the future. Since the days of the "Review" much has been done, especially by the great Research Lodges of England, and most of all by the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of London, to whose labors we owe an incalculable debt. As in religious scholarship, so in Masonry, the Higher Criticism has come and done its much needed work, testing documents, sifting evidence, unearthing buried treasure, and applying to Masonry the approved methods of historical study. Of necessity, the voluminous processes of this long investigation are known only to the diligent student who has had the time and taste to follow its revealing labors--just as in the field of Biblical Criticism the real results achieved are locked up, for the most part, in huge volumes read by only a few.
Here the National Research Society may render a vital service to the Order, not only by encouraging further original investigation, but also, and not one whit less important, by interpreting to the Craft at large the net results of Masonic scholarship. What Renan called "the grand curiosity" must never be allowed to sleep, and this Society will do all within its power to extend the area of knowledge, bringing new facts to light wherever they are to be found. The field is rich. The labor is fascinating. What has been done only reveals how much remains to be done, while it shows us how to go about it. At the same time, the humblest member of the craft, toiling in office and shop, at the forge and on the farm, is entitled to know the best that has been thought and the latest fact discovered by the greatest Masonic scholar. Therefore, this Society seeks to unite the work of the investigator with that of the interpreter, and to that end it proposes:
First, the publication of a journal devoted to the study and interpretation of the history, philosophy, symbolism and purposes of the various rites, orders and degrees of Freemasonry.
Second, the publication, from time to time, of books, pamphlets and lectures on Masonic subjects, and the collection, preservation and indexing of all material of value to Masonic students.
Third, the arrangement and publication of courses of Masonic study for lodges, or groups of students; the promotion and supervision, when it is desired, of meetings of Masons for Masonic study and discussion; and, ultimately, the foundation and maintenance of a bureau of Masonic lectures.
Fourth, the compilation of lists of names of Masonic students interested in different lines of Masonic study or activity, for the stimulation and guidance of Masonic intercourse--and, it may be added, for the aid of Masonic journals when special articles are desired.
Fifth, the collection and circulation of data bearing upon distinct Masonic activities, such as plans and specifications for different kinds of Masonic buildings; systems for financing of Masonic projects; the results of practical experience upon various phases of Masonic charity, and the like.
Sixth, the foundation and management of funds for the financial aid of Masonic students in special fields of Masonic research; in the form of a Fellowship, it may be, whereby a young man - say, of the Acacia Fraternity--trained for such studies in a university, may be set at work on some period or problem in Masonic history, and thus render a permanent service to the Craft. By endowing a Fellowship in the Society, a man of wealth, who has long had it in mind to do something for Masonry, can leave a living legacy which will go on doing good after he has passed away.
Having thus indicated in what ways the Society seeks to serve Freemasonry, it may not be amiss to point out how the Order can make the Society effective for the high end for which it was founded. First of all, every Mason who becomes a member of the Society adds, by so much, to its usefulness and power. The time has come when every Grand Lodge should have a Committee on Masonic Research--or Masonic Education, if they choose so to name it--and such committees. by co-operating with this Society, may have access to every resource at its command. Also, the various groups of Masonic students, of which there are many in different parts of the country, ought by all means to work with the Society, making use of its journal not only for mutual instruction and inspiration, but the better to share the results of their researches with all the Craft.
Such is the spirit and ideal of this Society, and if to realize it all at once is denied us, surely it means much to set it before us, working the while to make it come true. Manifestly, here is a practical program which, if worked out, will mean a new era in the history of Freemasonry, opening avenues of opportunity and enterprise to which no one can set a limit. It differs from other undertakings of a like kind chiefly in that, instead of being confined to a few, it seeks to enlist the whole fraternity, uniting scattered efforts in behalf of Masonic education into a magnificent movement for the advance of the Order which has no other purpose than the present and future upbuilding of humanity.
Finally, it only remains for ye editor to state, from his point of view, what the spirit and policy of "The Builder" should be. As its name indicates, this journal for the Masonic student--like the Society which it represents--is by its very genius constructive, and in no sense iconoclastic, its sole object being to build up, never to tear down. Anybody can destroy. Even a cow can trample a lily which the warm earth, the fertilizing sun, and the soft witchery of summer air have united to grow. Speaking for himself, the editor holds it to be self-evident that the only way to overthrow error and unreason is to tell the simple truth--tell it simply, vividly, without fear and without resting, in love of God and love of man. Other way to victory there is none, and there never will be.
Masonry is Friendship, and if its benign influence is to prevail upon earth, it must labor in a spirit of will toward all men, seeking not to destroy its enemies, but to win them to the light and dignity of the truth. Nothing is gained by denunciation. Everything is ruined by hate. Love is the one mighty Builder, and they toil in vain who build upon any other foundation. Our task is to let in the light, let in all the light, let the light all the way in, assured that when the light of Truth shines darkness will disappear--and with it, all the vile and slimy things that hide within its shadows. There is no might like the might of Truth, and once the temple of Masonry is made to stand in the sunlight where all men can see its beauty, it will command the homage of all who love their race.
Therefore, "The Builder" will be positive, but not dogmatic; open minded, but never indifferent; considerate of all, but absolutely uncompromising in respect of the principles of Freemasonry--seeking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Critical it must be, since criticism, as Arnold defined it, is appreciation, estimate, "co-operation in the search for truth." Those who write for these pages may expect to have their theories put to the test of reason and fact in the open forum of debate, which is what the seeker after truth most desires. Let the discussion be frank, free and thorough; all that the editor asks is that it be fraternal in spirit, each one keeping an open mind and a kind heart toward all his comrades in the great quest.
For the rest, the editor asks pardon for having taken so much time and space, but it seemed appropriate to exhibit in some detail the designs of the Society, the faith in which it is founded, and the spirit in which it works. Hereafter, his duty will be much like that of a toastmaster--presiding over the feast, introducing the speakers, with occasional interludes of comment- his one desire being to encourage a spirit of fraternal fellowship and intellectual hospitality, of genial, joyous good will which, since the far off days of the old "Regius Poem," has been the reigning genius wherever Masons meet.
- Source: The Builder January 1915