The Real Object of Masonic Education
by Reynold E. Blight.
The Real Object of Masonic Education
by Reynold E. Blight.
Masonic education is the most talked of subject in Masonry. There is scarcely a Grand Jurisdiction in which it is not a moot topic. Nearly every Masonic periodical carries articles concerning it – some in favour of the innovation and others in utter condemnation. The very vehemence with which the subject is being discussed is proof that it is pertinent and important.
Critics are quite outspoken, one writer going so far as to declare unequivocally:
“The elaborate and expensive mechanism devised by Grand Lodges for the furtherance of Masonic education is largely wasted effort.”
Another writer in a western magazine asserts: “The plain truth is that the average Mason does not want so-called Masonic education, and I believe, does not need it.”
The whole trouble seems to lies in the lack of a clear understanding of what Masonic education really is; what is its purpose, and what are its objectives and ideals, what is its spirit?
The intent of this article is to present a definition of Masonic education as one worker sees it, that others may elaborate, improve, and, clarify it, if it is fundamentally correct.
In order that the air may be cleared of misconceptions, let us state what it is not.
Masonic education is not repeating exhortations to morality. A writer already referred to says:
“Your average Mason is sick to death of being preached at.”
The good brother is correct.
Solemn admonitions to be good and kind, generous and forgiving, honest and truthful, while valuable in their place, do not constitute Masonic education. Those somber reminders of our duties grow wearisome when repeated again & again. These reiterations of copybook maxims leave us cold. Commonplace and monotonous, they irk us with their drabness.
Masonic education does not provide opportunity for boring oratory. Too frequently the Master feels he has done his duty to his lodge when he has arranged for an address by a popular speaker.
Often the speaker is an earnest brother, with a glib tongue and a reputation – a spinner o phrases and a dealer in glittering generalities; his speech is well described by Hamlet’s sad plaint: “Words, words, words!” The brethren may be entertained by the verbal presentations, and be much impressed with the orator’s command of the English tongue, but the addition to their Masonic knowledge is nil. The average orator is long on language and minus accurate information. In time the brethren see through the camouflage and realize that behind the verbal fireworks there is a painful paucity of ideas.
Fifteen minutes of simple talk by a brother, who in clear language gives the result of careful research, is worth a dozen orations in which verbosity and flowery rhetoric disguise poverty of thought.
Masonic education does not necessarily consist in explorations into the realms of the mystical and the occult. That there is an esoteric (hidden) meaning to Freemasonry no intelligent Mason will deny, and that this field of research offers rich promise is also apparent.
Enshrined in Masonic ritual is a profound teaching that lures the student who is drawn toward philosophical speculation, but such studies are necessarily restricted to brethren who by training and inclination are qualified to carry on such inquiry for sharing with the brethren and giving them the task and privilege of searching out these deeper truths and interpreting them for the benefit of their fellows, in a “language understood of the people.”
It is a mistake to assume that the generality of the Fraternity will be interested in this particular branch of Masonic research, or that they are remiss in their masonic duty if they take no interest in it.
They simply will have none of it. And as a matter of fact, they believe that the general subject of Masonic Education is only incidentally related to esotericism.
At the same time it is proper to say that it is a mistake on the part of brethren who ridicule and decry esoteric Masonry, and pour contempt upon the work of such men as Ward, Waite, Oliver (to name only English writers), and others, who have revealed to us some of the rich treasures of the masonic world.
For those who are able to appreciate their work they have rendered a splendid service.
Masonic Education is not a bombastic glorification of the Fraternity. While it is eminently proper that the brethren should be informed concerning the greatness and glory of the Craft, its ancient and honourable history, its notable achievements, and the splendid names that add luster to its story, yet modesty and restraint are more in keeping with its character than ostentation and self-praise.
Care must be taken to protect the order from the “go-getters” spirit of that time that with student ballyhoo would play up the Craft like a circus or a political campaign. There is no need to “sell” masonry, either to our members or to the world at large. Freemasonry is not a breakfast food or a quack medicine that is need sensational slogans or screaming type to impress its virtues or its teachings upon its votaries.
Freemasonry is a temple to be entered reverently, a worship to be rendered sincerely, a philosophy to be taught with simplicity and dignity.
We may go further and startle good brethren by declaring that Masonic education is not merely a study of history. Joseph E. Morcombe, the well-known Masonic editor tells us:
The essential facts of Masonic history – a narrow and comparatively barren field – with the symbolism and jurisprudence of the Craft, require no great effort to cover or understand. The requisite knowledge, except for the special student, can be gathered into small compass, and is to be easily retained in memory.”
The purpose of masonic education is the make Masonry such a vivid, vital force in the life of the individual Mason that it becomes an integral part of his very being.
To learn how this may be accomplished it is necessary to ask and answer two questions –
What is Freemasonry and what is education?
The best definition of Freemasonry I know is that formulated by Dr. Joseph Fort Newton. He said: “Masonry is a philosophy of life the depth, breadth, sanity and nobility of which is not matched elsewhere; and not only a philosophy but a way of living, a method of building character, found nowhere else.”
The method by which character is developed is powerfully expressed by Albert Pike:
“Freemasonry is the subjugation of the human that is in man by the divine; the conquest of the appetites and passions; a continual effort, struggle and warfare of the spiritual against the material and sensual. That victory, when it has been achieved and secured, and the conqueror may rest upon his shield and wear the well-earned laurels, is the true Holy Empire.” [Morals and Dogma, p 854]
And the climax of the definition is reached in the avowal of Dr. Newton: “Here lies the great secret of Masonry – that it makes the man aware of the divinity within him.” [The Builder, p 293]
This, then, is the sublime purpose of Masonic education – the revelation of the divinity in each man, the flooding of the soul with light, the release of those spiritual powers that enable a man to triumph over temptation, sin and folly; the evolution of character, and the development of those qualities of the soul that flower naturally into generosity, righteousness and moral force.
The noble objective of Masonic education lies close to the purpose of education as defined by the greatest educators. Says Herbart: “The main business of education is the ethical revelation of the universe.”
Ruskin catches the same thought: “Education is leading human souls to the best by making the best out of them.”
This conception of Masonic education greatly complicates the whole subject. It is no longer possible formally to outline courses of study covering certain topics, the formulation of precise questions to which there may be submitted precise answers. The discussions that are raised many not be settled by appeals to alleged authorities. The results of Masonic study cannot be tested by sets of examination questions such as might be submitted in geography or chemistry.
There is nothing formal or mechanical about it. The distinction is clearly set forth by Dr. E. C. Moore, the noted educator when he says: “Mechanical education is easy, but it accomplished only that which should not be accomplished. Real education is hard, for it is a spiritual ministration. The temptation of substitute mere physical manipulation of living interest, spiritual insight, and comprehension ripening into action is the sin which besets us.”
We commend to the interested Mason the ritual, the symbolism, the history and the philosophy of the Order. He studies the ritual that he may discover the clew, the Ariadne thread that leads unerringly through the labyrinth of human ignorance, delusion and passion.
He scrutinizes the symbols, knowing, as Albert Pike said, that, “symbolism is the soul of Masonry”; the glowing figures, tropes and allegories that hide yet ever reveal the subtle truths by which men live.
The secret of Freemasonry is disclosed to the ardent and persevering student, the seeker after truth, and he who possesses that secret, attains immortality.
He explores the misty origins of our Masonic ceremonial, not for vain purpose of proving the venerable antiquity of the Craft, but that he may feel the heart-throb of aspiring humanity, from the slopes of the Himalayas and the valley of the Nile to the teeming thoroughfares of a modern city. Humanity is one! Human brotherhood is not a rosewater sentiment, it is a palpitating fact compounded of sympathy, understanding, a sense of a common weakness and strength and an all-embracing love.
So we might go on and read a true significance into every subject generally classified under Masonic education.
Could there be a better summing up of the purpose, the objectives, the spirit of Masonic education?
All to the end that a man cast off the rags of triviality, flippancy and self-indulgence, and clothed in the royal raiment of virtue, manliness and self-respect, know himself as a son of the Most High, living a life of conquest and service in a world that is the dwelling place of Deity.
Adapted by V.W. Bro, Norman McEvoy of the Educator website from a paper by Bro. Reynold E. Blight From New Jersey “Masonic Mason”
Published by The Masonic Service Association of USA Vol. II January 1927. No. 7