A LECTURE GIVEN TO THE BRETHREN OF LODGE 76
Bro.T.W.R. JOHNSTON. P.M.
(given to the Brethren of the Lodge in 1927)
The casual remarks concerning Masonic Education, which I made when proposing the Toast of Grand Lodge of Scotland and Provincial Grand Lodge of Stirlingshire at our recent St.John's Festival, has apparently, met with some degree of sympathetic reception among our own Brethren. Although reminded now of those old sayings about your chickens coming home to roost, and your sins finding you out. I am pleased to see : judging by the number of Brethren who have spoken to me on this subject : that we have in Lodge 76 a large proportion of Members who are more than superficially interested in Freemasonry.
The idea of the R.W.M. in the meantime, is to devote say 15 to 20 minutes at the close of a Second Degree to a short paper, or discussion, on some topic of Masonic interest : provided of course that there is a general desire for the scheme : From my knowledge of the capabilities of a number of our Brethren I can assure him of ample material within the confines of his own Lodge.
In order to give the scheme some kind of a start, and as I suppose as a judgement upon me for raising the question, the R.W.M. commanded me to prepare something to inflict upon you tonight. I think however that, purely as an introduction to the intended scheme, but forming no part of it, I should confine myself to an amplification of my original remarks at St.John's Festival and examine the question from the following standpoints :-
1. The Lack of Masonic Education.
2. The responsibility for that Lack.
3. A few suggestions as to how that lack might be made good
1. One of the most claimant needs of the present day throughout the whole domain of Freemasonry is a properly regulated Masonic Education, not only for those who are newly admitted into the Craft, but as well for those who claim to be 'old' masonically. This demand has been voiced very emphatically within recent times in our own country, in the U.S.A. and in New Zealand. A clipping from an American publication which I received recently appears to me to be an accurate reflection of the opinion of a great many of our own Brethren on this subject : 'Our Brethren in England', (by which I presume the Editor means Britain), " the younger group especially, are becoming concerned about the problem of Masonic Education. Facts show that a great number of men who came into the Craft during the war period, hardly one-third have retained their interest in it. The Ritual is not enough to hold them. There are signs however of a new spirit arising, and of a desire to know the meaning of Masonry and an intent to make practical use of it."
Another writer, this time from New Zealand, gives expression to the feeling of dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, in these words : " The pressure of business in most Lodges is usually so great that members have but few opportunities of increasing their knowledge of Masonic principles and practice. Initiates are enjoined to make a daily advancement in Masonic Knowledge, but the majority, treat the injunction rather lightly, and it is disappointing to find how much indifference exists even among Brethren who spend much time memorising the Ritual without endeavouring to comprehend its meaning". I think the same condemnation could, with full justice, be applied to a very large number of Lodges under our own Constitution.
Some Brethren might be inclined to question the absolute necessity of this idea of further Masonic Education, to pigeon-hole the subject as being one of those passing phases which every institution and every organisation of note experiences, especially in slack periods of their history. I am definitely opposed to that view and, without unnecessarily labouring the point would argue, that as one of the objects of our Ancient and Honourable Order is the enlightenment of mankind, this can only be promoted to the degree of knowledge possessed by its members.
2. Taking it for granted we are convinced that there does exist a lamentable lack of Masonic Knowledge among Brethren these days and an equally lack of any attempt on the part of the Lodges to educate members, the question which naturally arises is ' Who is responsible for this state of affairs?'
I know that I am treading a delicate, if not dangerous, ground here, but after viewing the question from every angle I fail to place the blame on any one particular section of our organisation. I am however prepared to attribute the responsibility to every section - Grand Lodge, Prov. Grand Lodges, Daughter Lodges and Individual Members - and even to apportion that responsibility in a ratio corresponding to the relative importance of each of these sections to the Craft as a whole.
While yielding precedence to no one, either in appreciation of the work performed by Grand Lodge and Prov. Grand Lodge, or in my unqualified allegiance and submission to these bodies, I feel justified in laying a great portion of the responsibility on their shoulders, and in support of this would contend myself with one quotation; It is the considered opinion of that well known Scottish Masonic scholar and historian, the late Bro. D. Murray-Lyon who for close upon a quarter of a century was the predecessor of our present Grand Secretary, Bro. David Reid. In his History of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No.1. which embraces an account of the rise and progress of Freemasonry in Scotland, Bro. Lyon writes :- (of Grand Lodge)
"Devoting itself almost entirely to legislation and to the administration of its Laws, to the settlement of differences between brethren on Masonic points and the management of its finances, Grand Lodge does little of nothing to instruct in the practise and History of Masonry."
and my point is that so far as instruction in the practise and History of Freemasonry is concerned, Grand Lodge has not progressed one step since the days of Bro. Lyon. One more reference before leaving this point :- A committee of the Grand Lodge of Texas, U.S.A. on Foreign Correspondence recently reviewed the proceedings of no fewer than 64 sister Grand Lodges and the members concluded from their survey that the danger to Freemasonry did not lie in active numerical growth, even though that growth be considered abnormal, but in the want of attention and care accorded to the newly-made Master Masons.
I am prepared to acknowledge that in as so far as the majority of Lodges under the Scottish Constitution are concerned, the rendering of Ritual ceremonial has reached a very high standard of perfection, but, in these Lodges, the candidates after receiving congratulations on their admission to the full benefits of the Order cease to become objects of attention. They are dismissed with the half-understood words of the final charge, and on receipt of the Grand Lodge Diploma are considered fully-fledged Freemasons, and herein lies a danger. The candidate may likewise consider themselves full Masons when in reality they are such but in name, not having as yet appreciated the great moral truths underlying our signs and symbols.
For the purpose of my remarks I have divided all those admitted to the Craft very roughly into two classes.
1. Those who found nothing in the Degrees to sustain their interest in Freemasonry - if real interest did exist at any time - this class does not come under my review.
2. The second class, with which I am more concerned tonight, consists of Brethren who are regular attendees at our meetings but remain quite content with the simple, but accurate, rendering of the Ritual. Among this section there are a number of Craftsmen who, intellectually and financially, are well able to pursue research work, and give the Craft - through their Lodges - the benefit of their labours. To these Brethren, however, I apportion the least share of the blame, as in the past, their only encouragement to delve below the surface has been their own individual interest and enthusiasm in that abundant store of tradition and lore with which Freemasonry abounds, but as regards encouragement from Lodges (I refer particularly here to Lodges under the Scottish Constitution) they have received practically none.
3. Thus far I have indulged in what might be termed distinctive criticism, but with a definite object, Viz., to try and prove that the apathy which exists among Brethren generally regarding the acquisition of further Masonic Knowledge makes for a decided and even dangerous weakness in our system.
What alternative then have I to offer that would tend to eliminate this weakness?
Let us consider what is the mission of Masonic Education, and what field of labour that term offers. Briefly I would say that the mission is :-
(1) To educate Brethren to use their Masonry, beyond the limits of a Lodge room.
(2) To help Brethren to understand the true meaning of our signs, symbols and customs.
(3) To kindle a general desire for Masonic Knowledge, which would lead Brethren to study the history of Freemasonry and thereby appreciate their noble heritage more fully, the symbolism of Masonry by which they can understand its teachings, and the philosophy of Masonry, which is the chief reason for its existence.
And its Scope:-
(1) Education in fundamentals, is the essential elements in Freemasonry.
Under that heading might come e.g.
(a) The ideals of the Order.
(b) The Ancient customs and usage’s of the Craft.
(c) The Ancient Landmarks of the Order. (just a word in passing on that last point)
Each one of us has had the Ancient Landmarks of the Order entrusted to his care with the injunction to keep them sacred and inviolable, how many of you have ever given a thought as to what exactly was entrusted to your care? I'll even go further and ask, how many Masters and Past Masters if asked by an inquisitive Brother to enumerate the Ancient Landmarks could do so? Try and see if you can get the same list from any two!
(2) Education in Ritual work.
This is essential not only for elected or active office-bearers but also for prospective office-bearers. In this connection much more liberal use could be made of the Lodge of Instruction. I would suggest for instance that any Brother aspiring to office should be trained before hand so that no new office-bearers would be an apprentice but rather a trained Craftsman.
(3) Education in the History and Lore of Freemasonry.
Here we have an extremely wide and interesting field for research. For instance, why not a lecture some evening by Bro. Bruce on the Association of the Ancient Craft Guilds with Freemasonry, another, Freemasons as Cathedral Builders, we are told that we are not operative but Free and Accepted or Speculative Masons. Why should Bro. McDougall not undertake the task of explaining to us when, how, and under what circumstances did Operative Masonry give place to Speculative Masonry and do we as Speculative Masons retain any of the Ancient Landmarks of our Operative predecessors?
And Lastly, How this type of work could be assisted.
In England there are Lodges of Research, in the U.S.A. the Masonic Service Association. These organisations publish the lectures that are delivered by eminent Masonic Scholars at their occasional meetings. Why can not the Grand Lodge (they are in amity) come to some arrangement whereby these lectures would be published and circulated to every Lodge, say with the Quarterly Communications. I have already indicated how individual members might render useful work, but as the source of information on most of these subjects is scattered through many volumes and these expensive to acquire, the Lodge could assist by a gradual formation of Masonic Libraries. The added knowledge which the Brethren would thereby be able to glean would be ample compensation for the expenditure involved and above all we could then make claim to be doing something to produce the sound stones so essential to the building of our magnificent structure.
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