Plumbum was the Latin for lead, and was used also of a scourge with a blob of lead tied to it, of a line with a lead ball at its end for testing perpendicularity, etc., the source of our plumb, plumber, plunge, plump, plumbago, plummet, etc. A plumb-line is accordIngly a line, or cord, with a piece of lead at the bottom to pull it taut, used to test vertical walls with the line of gravity, hence, by a simple expansion of reference, an emblem of uprightness.
Up means up, right means straight; an upright man is one who stands straight up and down, doesn’t bend or wabble, has no crooks in him, like a good solid wall that won’t cave in urnkr pressure.
- Source: 100 Words in Masonry
A line to which a piece of lead is attached so as to make it hang perpendicularly. The plumb-line, sometimes called simply the line, is one of the working-tools of the Past Master. According to Preston, it was one of the instruments of Freemasonry which was presented to the Master of a Lodge at his installation, and he defines its symbolism as follows: "The line teaches the criterion of rectitude, to avoid dissimulation in conversation and action, and to direct our steps in the path which leads to immortality." This idea of the immortal life was always connected in symbology with that of the perpendicular-something that rose directly upward. Thus in the primitive church, the worshiping Christians stood up at prayer on Sunday, as a reference to the Lord's resurrection on that day. This symbolism is not, however, preserved in the verse of the prophet Amos (vii, 7) which is read in the United States as the Scripture passage of the Second Degree, where it seems rather to refer to the strict justice which God will apply to the people of Israel. It there coincides with the first Masonic definition that the line teaches the criterion of moral rectitude.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
Articles On The Plumb Rule On This Page
The Plumb Rule
The jewels of the three principal officers of a Lodge are also the working tools of the fellowcraft degree. They are the: PLUMB, LEVEL, and SQUARE. Why are these jewels given these distinctions? There are two basic reasons: First, in earlier times, the fellowcraft was the ultimate degree. There was no Master Mason degree. The fellowcraft was the Journeyman of today. The working tools of a fellowcraft were the tools of a master craftsman or journeyman. When the master mason degree was instituted, other working tools were selected to fulfill the ritual requirements. Secondly, while masonry makes use of many esteemed working tools, (ie: Gavel, 24" gauge, trowel, skirret, chisel, pencil, setting maul, etc..) it is the square, level and the plumb which are the fundamental tools that are absolutely necessary to erect any edifice be it physical or spiritual.
The plumb or plumb rule is an instrument of antiquity. The earliest craftsmen used a weighted cord as a plumb. The Greeks of yore formed a bob of lead on a cord and they gave it a name: MOLUBDOS, meaning lead. From this working tool evolved the name MOLYBDENUM, the name of a well known metal. The ever practical Romans took the word and latinized it to become PLUMBUM, the tool to measure perpendiculars of structures, walls, aqueducts, and fortifications in every corner of the roman empire. The Gauls adopted the tool, and their successors, the Normans, shortened the word to PLOMB. The Britons added the letter "a" to coin a new word: APLOMB, meaning not easily upset -- not off center. Later, Englishmen revised the spelling to PLUMB and it became a verb as well as a noun. Early English mariners used this tool. Shakespeare called it a plummet: "Deeper than ere a plummet sounded." It was the French who began to call the lead bob a ball. In French BOULE, meaning a ball of lead small leaden balls or boules were the primitive BULLETS. The Latins modified the word to BULLA. They used very small bullas which they compressed into a thin wafer, utilizing it as a legal seal for documents. Thus was born the Papal BULL -- it is definitely not of bovine origins!
While originally a simple lead weight on a string, the plumb, when required by expert craftsmen, evolved into the shape of the Junior Wardents jewel, and specifically adapted for operative stonemasons. It is interesting to note that this jewel or tool is sometimes found to be richly embellished with symbols (sun, moon, all-seeing eye, etc.) and at other times very plain.
Reference to the plumb arises throughout masonic rituals and books and throughout the lore of masonic catch-questions: Examples:
Ques: How long have you been a mason?
Ans: Ever since I was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular on the squares by the hand of a friend, whom later I found to be a brother.
If you were to visit an American York Rite lodges you will find that in the FC degree the VSL is opened on the book of Amos; and it contains an excellent example of the beauty of the plumb: "Behold, the Lord stood upon a wall, with a plumb line in his hand. He said: "Amos, what seeth thou?" Amos replied, "A plumb line." The Lord said, "Behold, I will set a plumb line amidst my people Israel, and I will pass by them nevermore."
To the operative masons, the level and plumb were intertwined, and together they formed a square. Brethren, the plumb rule is an instrument used in architecture by which a building is raised in a perpendicular direction; and it is figurative of an upright and true course of life. It typifies care against any deviation from the masonic upright line of conduct! If you apply the square to the level, you get the PLUMB -- the living perpendicular esteemed by all true craftsmen, and the emblem of growth and immortality. It is a truly magnificient jewel, an indespensible working tool; and when applied to the work with its fellows, the square and the level, it opens the doorway of that middle chamber in those immortal mansions, whence all goodness emanates.
The best logician is our God,
Whom the conclusion never fails;
He speaks - it is; He wills -- it stands;
He blows -- it falls; He breathes -- it lives;
His words are true .-- e'en without proof,
His counsel rules without command,
Therefore can none foresee his end -
Unless on God is built his hope.
And if we here below would learn
By Compass, Needles Square and Plumb,
We never must o'erlook the mete
Wherewith our God hath measur'd us.
Poem: by J.V.A. Andreae, a German and printed in 1623. Translated into English by:- F.F. Schnitger and G.W. Speth
Brethren, I give to you one last reference, from Isaiah XXV, 16-17:
"Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line; and rightness to the plummet."
- Source: unknown
An instrument used by Operative Masons to erect perpendicular lines, and adopted in Speculative Freemasonry as one of the Working tools of a Fellow Craft. It is a symbol of rectitude of conduct, and inculcates that integrity of life and undeviating course of moral uprightness which can alone distinguish the good and just man. As the operative workman erects his temporal building with strict observance of that plumb-line, which will not permit him to deviate a hair's breadth to the right or to the left, so the Speculative Freemason, guided by the unerring principles of right and truth inculcated in the symbolic teachings of the same implement, is steadfast in the pursuit of truth, neither bending beneath the frowns of adversity nor yielding to the seductions of prosperity.
To the man thus just and upright, the Scriptures attribute, as necessary parts of his character, kindness and liberality, temperance and moderation, truth and wisdom; and the pagan poet Horace (Book III, Ode 3) pays, in one of his most admired odes, an eloquent tribute to the stern immutability of the man who is upright and tenacious of purpose.
Iustum et tenacem propositi virum
non civium ardor prava iubentium,
non voltus instantis tyranni
mente quatit solida neque Auster
dux inquieti turbidus Hadriae
nec fulminantis magna manus Iovis;
si fractus inlabatur orbis,
inpavidum Serient ruinae.
The man of firm and righteous will,
No rabble, clamorous for the wrong,
No tyrant's brow, whose frown may kill,
Can shake the strength that makes him strong:
Not winds that chafe the sea they sway,
Nor Jovews right hand with lightning red:
Should Nature's pillar'd frame give way,
That wreck would strike one fearless head.
-Professor John Conington.
It is worthy of notice that, in most languages, the word which is used in a direct sense to indicate straightness of course or perpendicularity of position, is also employed in a figurative sense to express uprightness of conduct. Such are the Latm rectum, which signifies at the same time a right line and honesty or integrity; the Greek word, which means straight, standing upright, and also equitable, just, true; and the Hebrew tsedek, which in a physical sense denotes rightness, straightness, and in a moral, what is right and just. Our own word Right partakes of this peculiarity, right being not wrong, as well as not crooked.
As to the name, it may be remarked that plumb is the word used in Speculative Freemasonry. Webster says that as a noun the word is seldom used except in composition. Its constant use, therefore, in Freemasonry, is a peculiarity.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry