What Is Freemasonry, its Aims and Objectives?
A paper prepared by the Committee of Masonic Education of the United Grand Lodge of NSW and the ACT for presentation at Open Nights or for the information of non-Masons.
In recent years, we have witnessed dramatic social change, when the educational system, the influence of World War Two, Korea and Vietnam, have stimulated students and young people generally to question the speculative theory of the great truth of life and death, a principle on which Masonry stands firm. It seems this highly scientific world has bred an era of distrust of authority, when the values of tradition and the forces of law and order are challenged in the community.
If this is so, then where does Freemasonry stand in the eyes of the community? This is the challenge.
We may justly claim that the story of Freemasonry has developed with the history of people since the dawn of time. When people found an advantage in having shelter and later homes, castles and churches, building skills developed with the human needs and thus we learn how men, working in stone, gradually acquired skills and knowledge and became known as Masons, Craftsmen and Master Masons depending upon their abilities.
Thus we find that in a period when serfdom applied, these Mason builders were granted freedom to travel (by means of Royal Charter) throughout the length and breadth of the land, and so we develop what is probably the strongest of many reasons for the use off the word Freemasons.
This line of progress is recognised amongst the majority of Masonic scholars as being the main line of development of the Order as we know it today, but there are undoubtedly many other branches of development which had their influence.
The groups thus formed quickly realised that unity was essential; unity of purpose, of the rule of authority, and to live within the laws of the land of their residence. They elected to have no military, political or theological ambitions and in fact caused these subjects to be banned within their communications. The groups exchanged trade knowledge and commenced the practice of helping the injured or sick brethren, and this laid the foundation for the forming of the benevolent funds which we have and cherish today.
As the years passed, membership became a valued possession, often envied by outsiders. Because of their envy, great care had to be exercised in the matters of admission of new members as well as the protection of the codes of recognition for the varying levels of skill and, of course, these circumstances gave rise to the introduction of a code of recognition which, when regularly given and received, distinguished a Mason from a non-Mason.
When writing skills began to develop it was declared that secrets of Masons should not be written, in case they should fall into unauthorised hands. These secrets must be passed on by word of mouth from a Master Mason to worthy Brethren, and this from generation to generation.
To do this, stories or lectures were devised to convey the secrets involved and in order to further protect them, allegory was used together with symbolism. Pass-words were introduced which not only identified the man as a Mason, but also indicated his rank, or level of skill and were of particular value in the matter of payment for labour. These secret signs and pass-words had to be guarded by those entitled to them lest impostors should gain access to them.
Social and moral laws had not only to be enforced, they had to be taught. To aid the teaching, stories had to be devised to convey the lesson or requirements. To aid the comprehension and to give reality and relate the meaning, symbolism was used extensively, employing common instruments such as a square or compasses or pencil to hand the story on and which would serve to remind the workman of his social duties as he performed his routine and daily work.
The history of Masonry shows that these early groups remained very much as ‘closed shop’ organizations and restricted to operative masons ONLY, until the 17th century. With influence from education and enlightenment generally, pressures commenced for non-operative Masons to participate in the friendships enjoyed by the operative masons. Slowly the doors were opened and selected men who were not operative masons were introduced and initiated into the arts of Freemasonry and they became known as Speculative Masons.
With the broadening of the membership the precise skills of the operative mason became less important. However, even more emphasis on the moral and social laws became necessary and so a gradual change in the nature of the whole organization came about. No longer was it a ‘trade’ organization, it became a social order.
With this change came the need for the establishment of a fixed form of ceremony and meeting procedure. The form of ceremony varied widely from place to place and great disorder was the outcome. However, order was gradually sorted out of the many forms and customs when groups began fraternising and later amalgamating until 1717 A.D. when the Grand Lodge of England was formed. This gave rise to the system of Grand Lodge overall control in each country where Masonry was being practised.
Soon after the forming of the Grand Lodge of England a Presbyterian Minister, Dr James Anderson, a Mason of great international experience, drew up the first Book of Constitutions in 1723. This book contained the Charges of Masonry, which detailed much of the behavioural requirements expected of a Mason and by them we are instructed in the aims and objectives of Freemasonry.
At the same time and in order to give regularity to the ceremonies, rituals were produced which have remained largely unaltered to this day, despite changes in common word usage, altered meanings of words and grammatical construction changes. The Rituals and Ceremonies are an essential part of the teachings of Freemasonry because as well as conveying important lessons they also impose a discipline upon its members. Since the secrets of Masonry could not be written, an allegoric story, using symbolism, had to be composed and thus the story of Freemasonry is, in fact, an extended metaphor.
To give the story location, background and authenticity, it was decided to use the circumstances known about the building of King Solomon’s temple, in the city of Jerusalem. The characters employed in the story were those mentioned in history and widely recorded in the Bible.
From this background is derived the word ‘Mason’ because our story comes from the activities of builders in stone; Freemasons because only un-bonded and non-slaves could become Masons; Lodge because that was the name given to a room on most building sites used for the storage of plans, worker’s implements, tools, etc.
You may well ask “What is Freemasonry today?”
This question was canvassed of people, selected at random, in Sydney and suburbs quite recently and some surprising answers were obtained.
34% said it was a secret society.
32% said it was a service organization.
12% said that it was a club.
12% said a religious group.
2% said building trade.
8% said that they did not know.
We are comforted, however, that 85% thought that its influence was for good. 15% said it was bad and gave as their reasons that it was anti-Semitic or anti- Catholic.
Let me assure you that although we rightly claim to be a good influence within the community, we most strongly assert that we are none of those other things and certainly not anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic. Many Catholics and many Jews have been, and are, most worthy members of the fraternity of Masons and even held the position of Grand Master.
Let me further assure you that in the teachings of Masonry, there can be found nothing that could be offensive to any man’s mental, moral or religious duties. We, as members of the Order, prefer to say that Masonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
By morality, we embrace man’s dependence on God; our duties to mankind and respect for man, woman and child; our own responsibilities to self in physical and spiritual terms; the principles of benevolence, brotherhood, justice and equality of opportunity, and a constant desire for self-improvement.
We use allegory to paint word pictures, which convey important lessons to develop a Freemasonry of the mind; to teach the Brethren that learning is not restricted to a privileged minority but is the birthright of all who are prepared to make the effort to acquire knowledge, and even more importantly, understanding, the liberal arts and sciences being the symbol of the trained intellect.
By symbols, we mean something that stands for, represents or denotes something else, not by exact resemblance but by a vague suggestion or conventional relation. A perfect example could be our English alphabet and its use to form words to convey meaning.
Referring to the Oxford English Dictionary for a precise definition of the words Freemason and Freemasonry, we learn:
- Freemasonry is the craft of occupation of a Freemason.
- The principles, practices and institutions of Freemasons.
- Secret, tacit brotherhood. (Tacit to mean unspoken, implied and understood).
From the same source we accept Freemason to mean:
- A member of a class of skilled workers in stone.
- A member of the Fraternity called Free and Accepted Masons dating back to early in the 17th century.
To simplify and relate these definitions I submit that “Freemasonry is the activity of closely related men, who, employing symbolical forms, borrowed chiefly from the Mason’s Craft, and from architecture, work for the welfare of mankind, seeking to ennoble themselves and others, in order to bring into being a universal brotherhood of humanity.”
The genius of Masonry is friendship! Perhaps that may sound too simple but it is not simple in the sense of easy achievement or limited application. It is simple only in the sense that all fundamental things are simple. It is also fundamental that we regard Freemasonry and Masonic gatherings as occasions when chosen men, with ideas similar to ours, are brought together in conscious fellowship.
Fundamentally, Freemasonry is a code for living and working together, based on the highest spiritual, ethical and moral standards. In Freemasonry we are NOT taught anything that is unique. The same ethical precepts are part of all religions and most philosophies.
It is not the primary function of Freemasonry to initiate candidates or to enlarge its membership, for if it was so, there would be no basis for our laws against proselytising. We do not canvass for membership and no man is asked to join.
The primary function of a Masonic Lodge is to train its members to an understanding of the truths which its rituals and ceremonies are calculated to inculcate; to develop its members as benevolent men, to cultivate the social virtues among men and to propagate knowledge of the Art. Benevolence, Charity Understanding, Sympathy and Support, must not only be extended to our Brethren and their families, but also, and most importantly, to our neighbour and his dependants, the sick, to the aged, infirm and unfortunate wherever they may be found and irrespective of class, colour or creed.
I submit that the principal aims of Freemasonry are:
- To promote the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God.
- To render practical aid to the less fortunate.
- To develop such behaviour in our daily life as will demonstrate to others that the teachings of the Order have a profound and beneficial effect on all who sincerely embrace its precepts. Freemasonry enjoins the practice of every social and moral virtue. Freemasonry is a way of life. This is the truth of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry not only brings the benefits and rewards of happy fellowship, through participation and being part of the grand design of being happy and conferring happiness, but also – and rightly so – it brings with it the obligations of responsible citizenship.
Humanity has always been calling to good men for help. If men are to be won from hate to love; if those who doubt and deny are to be moved to faith; if bigotry and greed are to be controlled so that no man will ride over the rights of his fellows, it must be done by the art of brotherhood and love.
Therefore, the obligations of responsible citizenship are becoming increasingly important and must rest in the fine art of Brotherly Love, moderation in all things, leadership and the practice of extending the right hand of fellowship wherever possible. Unless good men act, the forces of evil will take over and the dignity of the individual will be no more.
I have outlined what Freemasonry is. It is equally important that I tell you, in even more positive terms, what Freemasonry is NOT. Freemasonry is NOT a secret society. That is not to deny that it has secrets, but there is nothing in any way secret about its meeting places, its membership, its aims, objectives, principles and to some extent, its methods. Our only real secrets are our own personal interpretations of the ritual and teachings of Masonry and how that interpretation affects our lives and the lives of others.
Freemasonry is NOT a religion or religious order, though its ceremonies have a religious character. No religious test is applied to its members or prospective members, except to ascertain that he believes in a Supreme Being. The discussion of religion and politics within the Lodge is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, Freemasonry has always refrained from expressing an opinion on political and theological questions; likewise it does not approve or denounce any movement in the political or religious fields.
Freemasonry is NOT a convivial club. It is true, however, that good fellowship is encouraged and members normally take light refreshments after their meetings. Many Lodges do not have alcohol at their festive boards.
Freemasonry is NOT a reform society. Its aims are to make good men more aware of their responsibilities and, therefore, better able to fill a worthwhile place in the community. To this end, we are highly selective and careful that we accept only worthy and qualified men, without moral blemish, into the Order.
There are about six million Masons in the world today, operating under approximately 100 Grand Lodges. There is no overall control of the Grand Lodges but there is a wide exchange of communications between them, so with proper introduction and recognition Brethren of different countries are enabled to overcome language barriers and establish friendships.
There are nearly three hundred private Lodges in N.S.W., governed by the United Grand Lodge of N.S.W. and the A.C.T., with a Grand Master at its head. It is under this Constitution and Grand master that our Lodges operate. It is the aim of Freemasonry to encourage each brother to develop his finer feelings and in the area of charity he is encouraged to do charitable works of his own choosing and collective charitable works as adopted by his Lodge or the Grand Lodge. To this end Masonicare has been established by the Grand Lodge to oversee the distribution of funds to worthy charities, Masonic and non-Masonic. Grand Lodge and the private Lodges support these charities generously.
The Benevolent Funds are used to assist people over unexpected financial distress, such as funeral expenses, probate charges etc. When a case is investigated and found to be authentic, relief is granted in one payment, or periodic payments as the case merits. The amount paid and the method of payment is not generally disclosed so that the privacy and honour of the recipient is in no way endangered. Masonry is concerned with relief, not the vehicles of relief.
You may recall that I said, “It was fundamental that we regard Masonic gatherings to be occasions when chosen men, with ideas similar to ours, are brought together in conscious fellowship”. Therefore and obviously, Masonry could not ever throw its doors wide open. One would have to agree with the Masonic author Joseph Newton who said, “The Brotherhood of Man depends on the manhood of the Brother.”
Masonry will remind you of all the good things which you have already learned.
Masonry will give you the confidence and courage to defend these principles, that are held dear by every loyal citizen.
It is not given to any of us to know how long we shall live BUT it is given to every one of us, to determine the quality of our lives here on Earth. All of our Masonic landmarks point to a style of life which is founded upon Brotherly Love – Relief – and Truth, and we strive to live to that end.