In Part 1 of this paper I asserted that the Ancient Landmarks were based around the common definitions of Freemasonry from the early eighteenth century.
- Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
- Freemasonry is dedicated to the brotherhood of man under the All-Seeing Eye of Deity.
- Freemasonry is a progressive science.
- Freemasonry is a natural philosophy, or system of natural philosophy.
We know from existing historical documents the nature of the men who called themselves “Freemasons” and what they were doing both inside and outside the Craft. Since it is human nature to join together with men like your self we can safely assume that some common thread of interests must run through all of these people. I believe that common thread of interest is both spelled-out and veiled by the definitions above.
History would suggest that these men were bonded together by a peculiar or unique system of guiding moral principles that were distinct from those of the common people of the eighteenth century. And, that these moral principles were conducive to joining all people together in peace and harmony into one great brotherhood. Since religion and divine revelation were the framework of morality at the time it is clear that such an ideology would have met stiff resistance from both church and state; thus, the need for absolute secrecy in lodges. In light of this the grisly oaths and obligations begin to make perfect sense.
This new morality is evolving at a time when the Catholic Church in Europe had been weakened by both political and philosophical changes within society, and advancements in science and understanding. During the Middle Ages the church had become tyrannical, and questioning its authority or ideology was a death sentence to those courageous enough to do so. Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno are examples of this behavior. Modern free-thinkers had finally come to realize that divinely revealed systems of morality were incompatible with the advancement of humanity, and that too many people had needlessly died defending one religion from another during the Crusades. Thus, the unique system of morality proposed by the early Freemasons was entirely devoid of religion and instead based on Natural Philosophy. Unlike religious morality the new system would be adaptable to advancements in human understanding and open to a progressive science, thus ensuring that the Galileos of the future would not be silenced for their ideas. This is the dawning of what will become known as "The Age of Enlightenment" and it will be driven by the Light given to mankind by Freemasons.
What were these early brothers really like? What did they do in lodge? Were they really a society of mystics searching for some lost inner truth, or were they a product of the changing times in Europe? By gaining an understanding of this we can better comprehend the true nature of Speculative Freemasonry.
The earliest Speculative Freemasons came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Most were protestants, some devout and others barely religious. There were Pantheists, Atheists, Gnostics, Jews; men of every religious and non-religious persuasion joined the Craft. Most were from the growing middle class, and some were a part of the old aristocracy.
From the minutes of old lodge meetings we learn that Bro. John T. Desaguliers was teaching Newton’s Calculus and the Laws of Motion at their meetings. A brother who was a doctor brought a corpse to lodge and dissected it showing the brothers how the human body worked. From the periodicals of the time we learn that the early Freemasons were the ultimate party club of the eighteenth century. They were notorious for staying up to all hours of the morning drinking and singing. Tavern owners began to hate them for breaking all the glasses. Eventually super thick and difficult to break glasses were created just for the Freemasons. These were known as "firing glasses." On one noted occasion the Freemasons of Savannah, after a night of drinking, commandeered one of the king’s gun boats and took it for a cruise around the harbor. The idea of them being humble introspective mystics just doesn’t seem to fit with the history. If anything they appear to be rebelling against the rigid customs of society and enjoying the freedom of the human spirit.
The early Freemasons were also prolific underground printers circulating various heretical and revolutionary tracts throughout Europe like the "Treatise of the Three Impostures." In a sense they were the first political activists who spawned many of the revolutionary ideas that would help to form both modern Europe and America.
Within sixty years of the founding of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717 Masonic ideology will have pervaded most of Europe and crossed the Atlantic to America. On July 4, 1776 it will move from a “Speculative Art” to an Operative one.
"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...." — The Declaration of Independence
In the very opening words of the American Declaration of Independence we see traces of Masonic ideology. It does not make an appeal to any religious God, but to "the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God." The new world and its laws will not be based on the divinely inspired decrees of pontiffs and priests, but upon the principles of Natural Philosophy. Masonic lodges were democratic in operation as would be the new nation. The Masonic idea of tolerance as the cement of brotherhood will be applied in the American government which protects the freedom of religion.
If you step back and look objectively at the Freemasonry in America today does it resemble that of the past? Were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin humble introspective mystics? Was Freemasonry about self-discovery or the advancement of all of humanity? Perhaps it was a little of both?
— Bro. Jeff Peace
June 7, 2007, Atlanta, Georgia
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