When a candidate has received the Third Degree, he is said to have been raised to the sublime Degree of a Master Mason. The expression refers, materially, to a portion of the ceremony of initiation, but symbolically, to the resurrection, which it is the object of the Degree to exemplify.
A curious sidelight upon the use of the expression is that obtained by considering the word as also meaning the acceptance or adoption of the candidate officially by the Fraternity. There is an ancient and striking parallel for this understanding. Among the Roman customs connected with the birth of children that was the most remarkable which left it to the arbitrary will of the father whether his new-born child should be preserved or left to perish. The midwife always placed the child on the ground. If the father wished to preserve its life he raised it from the ground and this was said to be tollere infantem, the raising of the child. This was an intimation of his purpose to acknowledge and educate it as his own If the father did not choose to do this, he left the child on the ground, and thus expressed his wish to expose or abandon it, exponere. This exposing of a newborn child was an unnatural custom borrowed from the Greeks by which children were left in the streets and abandoned to their fate (see Fiske's Classical Antiquities, page 287).
Some highly significant pictorial instances of resurrection are found in old churches. The altar picture from Holyrood at Edinburgh, Scotland (see illustration), is a good example. Here the First Person of the Trinity supports or raises the Son. Usually the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, is also represented symbolically in such cases, the dove being as a rule selected to indicate the complete threefold unity of the Godhead. The altar symbolism from Holyrood is therefore a typical specimen of the Trinity portrayal and of the resurrection occurrence.
Brother J. E. Barton discusses the symbolism of the other illustration, the Trinity Boss in the West Porch of Peterborough Cathedral in England. This porch is from architectural details dated about 1375. Old writers would call the porch a "Galilee," a ritualistic provision for such occasions as Palm Sunday, and for processions generally on the Sabbath. The promise to the disciples, that the risen Christ should go before them into Galilee, is no doubt the origin of the name; for the chief ecclesiastical dignitary, who brought up the rear of the procession, here went first, and entered the porch through the ranks of his subordinates, as a Master in taking his seat in the Lodge.
Three probabilities are to be taken into account in considering this boss. It is the central ornament of a porch having special reference to the feast of the Resurrection. It was designed by a Gild-itself probably dedicated to the Holy Trinity, as at the Newark Parish Church, which would naturally wish the porch dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Its designers were inspired by a desire to connect, in a manner not unnatural to Freemasons with their own grades and ritual, the two ideas of the Holy Trinity and of the Resurrection.
Presumably the Masonic Gild, perhaps the chief Gild in Peterborough, was about to vault the porch it had given, and looked about for a suitable composition for its main boss. The first and inevitable suggestion was a Trinity subject, so common in sculptures stained glass, and on monumental brasses The usual Trinity is a design of God the Father sups porting the Son upon the Cross, with the Holy Spirit added in the form of a Dove. Next it was suggested that the Trinity should here be modified in form, so as to deplete a Risen, not a Crucified Lord, as being suitable to a Galilee Porch.
Last came the unifying suggestion that by the use Of a Masonic symbol the Resurrection of Christ, in the Trinity subject, should be marked at the point where Our Lord is about to be raised to Heaven by the hands of the Father; one hand gripping, and the other blessing. Hence the Second Person in the Trinity, who has already passed from the earthly Incarnation, is here at a singular position. His pierced hands show Him already crucified and rising from the grave, with the attitude common to medieval paintings of the Resurrection and the loin cloths still about Him. He is about to be raised to the sublime Degree, and God the Father, in order more expressly to note the Masonic idea, is figured like the Sun at its meridian.
What more appropriate than two figures typical of the Elect, redeemed by Christ, and raised and crowned with Him? Hence the two crowned figures, one apparently an ecclesiastic with an amice, whose diadems have the Trinity symbol of the trefoil, like the Father's crown in the Chester boss. In this Peterborough boss, indeed, each foil of the trefoil is itself trefoiled, as if to insist on the threefold notion.