The two virtues which it is particularly the symbolical design of the Select Master’s degree to inculcate, are secrecy and silence. They are, indeed, called the cardinal virtues of a Select master, because the necessity of their practice is prominently set before the candidate in the legend, as well as in all the ceremonies of the degree. But these virtues constitute the very essence of all Masonic character they are the safeguard of the institution, giving to it all it’s security and perpetuity, and are enforced by frequent admonitions in all the degrees, from the lowest to the highest. The Entered Apprentice begins his Masonic career by learning the duty of secrecy and silence. Hence it is appropriate that in that degree which is the consummation of initiation, in which the whole cycle of Masonic science is completed, the abstruse machinery of symbolism should be employed to impress the same important virtues on the mind of the neophyte.
The same principles of secrecy and silence existed in all the ancient mysteries and systems of worship. When Aristotle was asked what thing appeared to him to be the most difficult of performance, he replied, “To be secret and silent.”
“If we turn our eyes back to antiquity,” says the historian Calcott, “we shall find that the old Egyptians had so great a regard for silence and secrecy in the mysteries of their religion that they set up the god Harpocrates, to whom they paid peculiar honour and veneration; who was represented with the right hand placed near the heart, and the left down by his side, covered with a skin before, full of eyes and ears; to signify that of many things to be seen and heard few are to be published.”
Apuleius, who was an initiate in the mysteries of Isis, says: “By no peril will I ever be compelled to disclose to the uninitiated the things that I have had intrusted to me on condition of silence.”
Lobeck, in his “Aglaophamus,” has collected several examples of the reluctance with which the ancients approached a mystical subject, and the manner in which they shrunk from divulging any explanation or fable which had been related to them at the mysteries under the seal of secrecy and silence.
And lastly, in the school of Pythagoras these lessons were taught by the sage to his disciples. A novitiate of five years was imposed upon each pupil, which period was to be passed in total silence and religious and philosophical contemplation. And at length, when he was admitted to full fellowship in the society, an oath of secrecy was administered to him on the sacred tetractys, which was equivalent to the Jewish tetragrammaton.
Select Masters therefore work in secrecy and silence, that they may prepare and preserve the sacred deposits of truth until the time shall come for its full revelation. And so should all men do, working now, yet not for the present time alone, but that their labour may bring forth fruit in the future; labouring here amid the foundations of the first temple of this transient life, that when their hours of work are finished on earth, the deeds which they have done may be brought to light, and the reward be bestowed in the second temple of eternal life.
This is the true symbolism of the Select Master’s degree.
The circumstances referred to in the degree of Royal Master occurred during the building of the first temple, and at a period of time which lies between the death of the Builder and the completion of the edifice. Those referred to in the degree of Select Master also occurred during the construction of the Solomonic temple, but anterior to the Builder’s death. Hence in the order of time the events commemorated in the Select Master’s degree took place anterior to the occurrence of those which are related in the degree of Royal Master, although in the Masonic sequence the latter degree is conferred before the former. This apparent anachronism is however reconciled by the explanation, that the secrets of the Select Master’s degree were not brought to light until long after the existence of the Royal master’s degree had been known and acknowledged. In other words to speak from only the traditional point of view, Select Masters had been designated, had performed the task for which they had been selected, and had closed their labours, without ever being openly recognised as a class in the temple of Solomon. Their occupation and their very existence, according to the legend, were unknown in the first temple. The Royal Master’s degree, on the contrary, as there was no reason for concealment, was publicly conferred and acknowledged during the latter part of the construction of the temple of Solomon; whereas the degree of Select Master and the important incidents on which it was founded are not supposed to be revealed to the craft until the building of the Temple of Zerubbabel. Hence the Royal Master’s degree is always conferred anterior to that of the Select Master.
OPENING OF THE COUNCIL
A Council of Select Masters consists of the following eight officers :-
Thrice Illustrious Grand Master
Illustrious Hiram of Tyre
Principal Conductor of the Works
Captain of the Guards
Conductor of the Council
Of these officers the first three represent respectively the Grand Masters at the first temple. The Steward, who acts as Sentinel or Tiler, represents Achisar, who is mentioned in 1 Kings iv.6, as being “over the household” of Solomon, or as Adam Clarke calls him, “the Kings Chamberlain.” It is a mere fancy to suppose, as some ritualists do, that the treasurer represents Adoniram; the Recorder, Jehosophat; and the Captain of the Guards, Ahazariah, merely because corresponding officers are said, in the fourth chapter of the first book of Kings, to have been held by persons bearing those names. But as none of them were inhabitants of Gebal, the legend of the degree forbids us to believe that these persons could have been Select Masters.
The position of these officers differs, in some respects, from those of the officers of a council of Royal Masters. The Thrice Illustrious sits in the East before a triangular table, clothed in royal robes of purple, with a crown on his head and a sceptre in his hand. The King of Tyre sits on his right, clothed in the same manner with purple Robes, crown and sceptre, and also before a triangular table. The Principal Conductor of the Works sits on his left, clothed in yellow robes, with a gavel in his hand and before a triangular table, on which is a triangular plate of gold, on which the Ineffable Name is inscribed. On each of the tables is also placed a small trowel. The Treasurer is seated in the north, the Recorder in the South, and the Captain of the Guards, the Conductor of the council, and the Steward, respectively, occupy the positions and perform the duties of the Senior and Junior Deacons and the Tyler of a symbolic Lodge.
The symbolic colors of a Select Master, like those of a Royal master, are black and red, but the symbolism is different. The black is significant of the secrecy, silence and darkness in which the Select Masters performed their labours, and the Red, of their fervency and zeal. Hence the apron and colors of a select master must be black, lined and edged with red. The apron must be of a triangular form, in allusion to the sacred delta. In some Councils it is decorated with nine starts, three placed in each angle of the apron, and in the centres the letters I.S., or what would be better, if shown in Hebrew letters. The jewel of a Select Master is a silver trowel within a triangle of the same metal, and this worn suspended from the collar by every officer and member.
The place of meeting represents a secret vault or crypt beneath the temple: and hence that part of the Masonic system which refers to the degrees of Royal and Select Master is usually called “Cryptic Masonry.”
A Council of Select Masters is supposed to consist of neither more nor less that twenty-seven, although a smaller number, if not less than nine, is competent to proceed to work or business. The nine should be exclusive of the Steward, who is not considered as one of the Council.
A candidate is said to be “chosen as a Select Master.”
At the opening of the Council use is made of the following.
May the Supreme Grand master graciously preside over all our counsels, and direct, approve, and bless all our labours . May our professions as Masons be the rule of our conduct as men. May our secret retreat ever be the resort of the just and merciful; the seat of the moral virtues, and the home of the select. So mote it be. Amen.
The following passages of Scripture are deemed to be applicable to the reception into this degree, as explanatory of the events which it records:-
1 Kings iv, 5, 6
So King Solomon was King over all Israel. And Azariah, the son of Nathan, was over the officers, and Zabud, the son of Nathan, was principal officer and the King’s friend: and Ahishar was over the household: and Adoniram, the son of Abda, was over the tribute.
1 Kings v. 17, 18
And the King commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house. And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders did hew them, and the stone-squarers:
 so they prepared timber and stones to build the house.
1 Kings vii, 13, 14
And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow’s son, of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon and worked all his work.
THE CIRCLE OF PERFECTION
The ceremonies of reception into the degree of Select Master are of a compound nature, because they refer to two entirely distinct events. The earliest monitorial instruction that was given to the public on the subject of this degree, states that it rationally accounts for the concealment and preservation of those essentials of the craft which were brought to light at the erection of the second temple, and which lay concealed from the Masonic eye for four hundred and seventy years.
The inculcation of this doctrine – the imparting of this knowledge – undoubtedly constitutes the important object of the degree. It is because of its thus rationally accounting for the concealment and preservation of these fundamental mysteries of Freemasonry, filling up an hiatus between the Master’s and the Royal Arch degrees, that the initiates into the Select Masters degree are said to have “passed the circle of perfection.”
The idea of comparing the progress of Masonic science to a circle, with whomsoever it originated, is a good one, The true signification of the phrase may be readily illustrated. Let us, then, suppose that the science of Freemasonry, or, in more definite words, the science of Masonic symbolism, is represented by a circle. This circle will be divided into three portions or arcs: One arc will be occupied by the degrees of the Lodge, or Ancient Craft Masonry; another by the degrees of the Chapter, or Royal Arch Masonry(including Mark); and the third by the degrees of the Council, or Cryptic Masonry. Now, if a Neophyte begins at any point of the circle and passes over one third of its circumference, he will arrive at the Master’s degree, and will then discover that, so far, the consummation of his Masonic labour is to know that, that for which he has been striving has been LOST, and, instead of the key to all Masonic science, he receives only a substitute for truth.
Dissatisfied with this, let him, in his future search, proceed through another arc, or third of the circumference of the Masonic circle, and he will arrive at the Royal Arch degree. Here, in this second arc, that key which had been LOST in the first arc is FOUND.
But the circle has not yet been completed. It is true that the neophyte now knows that the lost has been found. He is perhaps even put in possession of the sacred treasure. But the process by which the restoration was accomplished is still unknown to him, and all the events of Masonic mythical history which forms the link between the loss and the recovery, and all the blind symbolism which is connected to these events, are withheld from him. He knows what he has obtained, but he knows not why nor how he obtained it. To acquire this knowledge he passes through the remaining arc, and, by arriving at the degree of Select Master, consummates and perfects his knowledge of the representative symbol of Divine Truth, and thus passes the circle of perfection in Masonic science.
But the same early monitorial instruction informs us that in this degree is exemplified as instance of justice and mercy by our ancient patron, towards one of the craft who was led to disobey his commands by an over-zealous attachment for the institution. The event here referred to, however striking may be its dramatic effect, is really totally unconnected with the true symbolism of the degree. It is merely an interesting episode, which was introduced into the body of the Masonic epic but some ingenious but modern ritualist. So little is it really connected with the mythical symbolism of the degree, that it might actually be dismissed from the ceremonies of initiation without in the slightest manner affecting the great design of the degree, or in any way impairing the completeness of that circle of perfection to which we have just alluded. The science of the degree, as connected with the loss and the recovery of the truth, would not be at all impaired by its removal from the ritual. But it has been so long retained and a part of the ceremonial observance, that it could not at this late day be dispensed with, and it must therefore remain, like a superfluous stone in the edifice, which adds no strength to the building; a ceremony in Masonry without symbolism, or at least only intended to exemplify the union and the practice of the two virtues, mercy and justice.
The Altar, in a council of Royal and Select Masters, represents the celebrated Stone of Foundation in the temple. It should, therefore, unlike other Masonic altars, be constructed to represent a cubical stone without other ornaments, and on it should be deposited the Substitute Ark. As the Masonic legend places the Stone of Foundation in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the second temple, but immediately beneath it in the first, and as that point is represented by the ninth arch in a council of Select Masters, it is evident that during a reception, at least, the altar should be placed within that arch, and not, as is too often done, outside of it, or even in the centre of the room.
THE SECRET VAULT
Considered simply as an historical question, there can be no doubt of the existence of immense vaults beneath the superstructure of the original temple of Solomon. Prime, in his book “Tent Life in the Holy Land” and other writers who in recent times have described the topography of Jerusalem, speak of the existence of these structures, which they visited, and, in some instances, carefully examined.
After the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Roman Emperor Hadrian erected on the site of the “House of the Lord” a temple of Venus, which in its turn was destroyed, and the place subsequently became a depository of all manner of filth. But the Caliph Omar, after his conquest of Jerusalem, sought out the ancient site, and, having caused it to be cleaned of its impurities, he directed a mosque to be erected on the rock which rises in the centre of the mountain. Fifty years afterwards the Sultan Abd-el-Meluk displaced the edifice of Omar, and erected that splendid building which remains to this day and is still incorrectly called by Christians the mosque of Omar, but known to Mussulmans as El-kubbet-es-Sukhrah, or the Dome of the Rock. This is supposed to occupy the exact site of the original Solomonic temple, and is viewed with equal reverence by Jews and Mahommedans, the former of which, says Mr Price, “have a faith that the ark is within its bosom now.”
Bartlett in his book “Walks about the City of Jerusalem” in describing a vault beneath this mosque of Omar, says: “Beneath the Dome, at the south-east angle of the temple wall, conspicuous from all points, is a small subterranean place of prayer, forming the entrance to the extensive vaults which support the level platform of the mosque above.”
Dr Barclay, in his book “City of the Great King” describes in many places of his interesting topography of Jerusalem, the vaults and subterranean chambers which are to be found beneath the site of the old temple.
Conformably with this historical account is the Talmudical legend, in which the Jewish Rabbins state that, in preparing the foundations of the temple, the workmen discovered a subterranean vault sustained by seven arches, rising from as many pairs of pillars. This vault escaped notice at the destruction of Jerusalem, in consequence of it being filled with rubbish. The legend adds, that Josiah, foreseeing the destruction of the temple, commanded the Levites to deposit the ark of the covenant in this vault, where it was found by some of the workmen of Zerubbabel, at the building of the second temple.
In the earliest ages the cave or vault was deemed sacred. The first worship was in cave temples, which were either natural, or formed by art to resemble the excavations of nature. Of such great extent was this practice of subterranean worship by the nations of antiquity, that in many of the forms of heathen temples, as well as in the naves, aisles, and chancels of churches subsequently built for Christian worship, are said to owe their origin to the religious use of caves.
From this, too, arose the fact, that the initiation into the ancient mysteries was almost always performed in subterranean edifices; and when the place of initiation, as in some of the Egyptian temples, was really above ground, it was so constructed as to give to the neophyte the appearance, in its approaches and its internal structure, of a vault. As the great doctrine taught in the mysteries was the resurrection from the dead, as to die and to be initiated were synonymous terms, it was deemed proper that there should be some formal resemblance between a descent into the grave and a descent into the place of initiation. “Happy is the man,” says the Greek poet, Pindar, “who descends beneath the hollow earth, having beheld these mysteries, for he knows the end as well as the divine origin of life;” and in a like spirit Sophocles exclaims, “Thrice happy are they who descend to the shades below after having beheld these sacred rites, for they alone have life in Hades, while all others suffer there every kind of evil.”
The vault was, therefore, in the ancient mysteries, symbolic of the grave; for initiation was symbolic of death, where alone divine truth is to be found. The Masons have adopted the same idea. They teach that death is but there beginning of life; that if the first or evanescent temple of our transitory life be on the surface, we must descend in the secret vault of death before we can find that sacred deposit of truth which is to adorn our second temple of eternal life. Looking, therefore, to this reference of initiation to that subterranean house of our last dwelling, we significantly speak of the place of initiation as “the secret vault, where reign silence, secrecy, and darkness.” It is in this sense of an entrance through the grave into eternal life, that the Select Master is to view the recondite but beautiful symbolism of the Secret Vault. Like every other myth and allegory of Masonry, the historical relation may be true or it may be false; it may be founded on fact or the invention of imagination; the lesson is still there, and the symbolism teaches it exclusive of the history.
This is the person named in the First Book of Kings, iv 6, under the name of Ahishar, and there described as being “over the household” of King Solomon. Adam Clarke describes him as “the Kings Chamberlain,” but the original title of al-bait
properly signifies, as Gesenius remarks, “the dispenser or steward who had charge of the household affairs and of the other servants.” The very same words are used in Genesis xliv.1, and there translated “the steward of his house.” Achishar is therefore properly described in this degree as the steward of the household.
As to the legend of his conduct and his punishment, it has no known foundation in history, and may be considered as a mythical symbol.
This, like Achishar is an historical personage, although the events recorded of him as peculiar to this degree are altogether legendary. The word is one of those corruptions of Hebrew names unfortunately too common in Masonry. The true name is Zabud; and he is mentioned in the First Book of Kings iv 5, where it is said, “Zabud, the son of Nathan, was principal officer and the King’s friend.” Kitto, in his Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, says of Zabud and of his brother Azariah, that their advancement in the household of King Solomon “may doubtless be ascribed not only to the young king’s respect for the venerable prophet (their father), who had been his instructor, but to the friendship he had contracted with his sons during the course of education. The office, or rather honour of ‘friend of the King’ we find in all the despotic governments of the East. It gives high power, without the public responsibility which the holding of a regular office in the state necessarily imposes. It implies the possession of the utmost confidence of, and familiar intercourse with, the monarch, to whose person ‘the friend’ at all times has access, and whose influence is therefore often far greater, even in matters of state, than that of the recognised ministers of Government.”
It is scarcely necessary to say how closely all this has been observed in the legend of the Select Master’s degree . It is time, however, that the word Zabud should be substituted for the corrupt form Izabud, now constantly used.
This word, which is most generally corrupted into IIesed signifies mercy. Hence it very appropriately refers to that act of kindness and compassion which is commemorated in this degree.
This expression is composed of the two Hebrew words, ISH and SOD. The first of these words, ISH means a man, and SOD signifies primarily a couch on which one reclines. Hence ISH SODI would mean, first a man of my couch, one who reclines with me on the same seat, an indication of great familiarity and confidence. Thence followed the secondary meaning given to SOD of familiar intercourse, consultation, or intimacy. Job (xix.19) applies it in this sense when, using MATI, a word synonymous with ISH, he speaks of MATI SODI in the passage which the common version has translated thus; “all my inward friends abhorred me,” but which the marginal interpretation has more correctly rendered, “all the men of my secret.” Ish Sodi, therefore, in this degree very clearly means, a man of my intimate counsel, a man of my choice, one selected to share with me a secret task or labour. Such was the position of every Select Master to King Solomon, and in this view those are not wrong who have interpreted Ish Sodi as meaning a Select Master.
THE SUBSTITUTE ARK
The Ark or Coffer which necessarily constitutes a apart of the paraphernalia of a Council of Select Masters, is the same as that which forms a partt of the furniture of a Chapter of the Royal Arch. But it must be distinctly understood that neither of these represents that Ark of the Covenant which had been constructed in the wilderness by Moses, Aholiab and Bezaleel, which had been placed in the tabernacle, and afterwards, at the dedication of the Temple of Solomon was removed to the Holy of Holies. The later history of this Ark is buried in obscurity. It is supposed that upon the destruction of the first temple by the Chaldeans, it was carried to Babylon among the sacred utensils which became the spoil of the conquerors. But of its subsequent fate all traces have been lost. It is, however, certain that it was not brought back to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel. The Talmudists say that there were five things which were the glory of the first temple that were wanting in the second; namely the Ark of the Covenant, the Shechinah, or Divine Presence, the Urim and Thummim, the holy fire upon the altar, and the spirit of prophecy. The Rev. Salem Towne in his book, System of Speculative Masonry has endeavoured to prove, by a very ingenious argument, that the original Ark of the covenant was concealed by Josiah or by others, at some time previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, and that it was afterwards, at the building of the second temple, discovered and brought to light. But such a theory is entirely at variance with all the legends of the degree of Select Master and of Royal Arch Masonry. To admit it would lead to endless confusion and contradictions in the traditions of the order. It is besides in conflict with the opinions of the Rabbinical writers and every Hebrew scholar. Josephus and the Rabbins allege that in the second temple the Holy of Holies was empty, or contained only the stone of foundation which marked the place which the ark should have occupied.
But Prideaux, in his book, Old and New Testament Connected, on the authority of Lightfoot contends that as an ark was indispensable to the Israelitish worship, there was in the second temple an ark which had been expressly made for the purpose of supplying the place of the first or original ark, and which, without possessing any of its prerogatives or honours, was of precisely the same shape and dimensions, and was deposited in the same place.
These are historical problems which it would be vain for us to attempt at this late day to solve. The Masonic legend, however, whether authentic or not, is simple and connected. It teaches that there was an ark in the second temple, but that it was neither the Ark of the covenant, which had been in the Holy of Holies of the first temple, nor one that had been constructed as a substitute for it after the building of the second temple. It was that ark which is presented to us in the Select Master’s degree, and which, being an exact copy of the Mosaical ark, and intended to replace it in case of its loss, is best known to Freemasons as the
This is peculiarly a Masonic form for the more usual word Giblites. It designates the inhabitants of Gebal, a city of Phoenicia, on the shore of the Mediterranean, and under Mount Lebanon. The Hebrew word is Giblim, and is to be found in Kings v.18, where it is translated, in our own common version, “stone-squarers” in the following passage: “And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders did hew them, and the stone-squarers; so they prepared timber and stone to build the house.” The translation would be more correctly thus: “And Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Giblemites did hew them.”
The Giblemites, or inhabitants of Gebal, were subject to the King of Tyre, and were distinguished for their skill as builders. The town of Gebal was called Byblos by the Greeks, and was celebrated as the principal seat of the worship of Adonis, whose mysteries, and the initiation accompanying it, more nearly resembled, in its symbolism and allegorical teaching, the initiation into Masonry than any other of the ancient rites. It is not, therefore, unnatural to suppose that the Giblemites held a higher place in the confidence of King Solomon than any other of the temple builders.
THE NINE ARCHES
Of all the superstitious notions which prevailed among the ancient philosophers, there was none more prevalent than that which attributed a mystical meaning and a divine virtue to numbers. Nor did the idea die with antiquity. It was a favourite theory of many of the Christian Fathers, and even so late as the sixteenth century we find Cornelius Agrippa in his Three books of Occult Philosophy asserting that “there lies wonderful efficacy and virtue in numbers, as well as for good as for evil.” The doctrine was especially taught in the school of Pythagoras, and afterwards by the Cabbalists, whence it has evidently descended to Freemasonry, of whose symbolical science it constitutes an interesting portion. But the numerical symbolism of Masonry very materially differs from that of the Pythagoreans as well as the Cabbalists.
With the Masons, odd numbers alone are considered mystical, which was according to the ancient doctrine, where it was taught that odd numbers were pleasing to the gods, or as Virgil put it Numero deus impare gaudet . – The Divinity loves the odd number. Hence three, five, seven and nine, are deemed Masonic numbers. Three is the foundation of the Masonic symbolism of numbers, because it is the first odd number after unity and it is particularly applicable to the lower degrees. When we ascend to the higher grades, nine comes into play as the square of three, and twenty-seven, which is the cube of three, and lastly eighty-one which is the square of nine.
The number nine is the sacred number of the Select degree, which, however, also refers to
twenty-seven, simply because that is the product of nine multiplied by three.
Nine was called by the Pythagoreans τεϊειοѕ, or the number of completion, and as such it is appropriate to that degree which professes to complete the circle of Masonic science. But the lecture of the Select Master teaches us that the number
nine alluded to the nine attributes of the Diety, which are said to be: 1. Beauty. 2. Wisdom. 3. Power. 4. Eternity. 5. Infinity. 6 Omniscience. 7. Justice. 8. Mercy. 9. Perfection.
THE STONE OF FOUNDATION
The Stone of Foundation, which in this degree is represented by the altar on which is placed the Substitute Ark, constitutes one of the most important as well as abstruse of the symbols of Freemasonry. It is, it is true, scarcely alluded to, except in a very general way, in the primitive degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry, but it is peculiarly appropriate to the Royal Arch, and especially to the degree of Select Master, where it is really the most essential symbol of the degree.
The Stone of Foundation must, however, be distinguished, both in its symbolism and in its legendary history, from other stones which play an important part in the Masonic ritual, but which are entirely distinct from it. Such are the corner-stone
which was always placed in the northeast corner of the building to be erected, and to which such a beautiful reference is made in the ceremonies of the first degree; or the keystone, which constitutes an interesting part of the Mark Master’s degree; or, lastly, the cape-stone, upon which all the ritual of the Most Excellent Master’s degree is founded. These are all, in their proper places, highly interesting and instructive symbols, but have no connection with the Stone of Foundation, whose symbolism it is our present object to discuss. Nor, although the Stone of Foundation is said, for peculiar reasons, to have been of a cubical form, must it be confounded with that stone called by the continental Masons the cubical stone – the pierre cubique of the French, and the cubik stein of the German Masons, but which in the English system is known as the perfect ashlar. This has a legendary history and a symbolic signification which are peculiar to itself, and which, differing from the history and meaning which belong to these other stones, particularly connect it to the degree of Select Master.
The Stone of Foundation is supposed, in the science of Masonic symbolism, to have been a stone placed at one time within the foundations of the first temple, or that od Solomon, and afterward, during the building of the second temple, transported to the Holy of Holies. It was in form a perfect cube, and had inscribed upon its upper face, within a delta or triangle, the sacred tetragrammaton, or Ineffable Name of God.
Oliver, speaking with the solemnity of a historian, says that Solomon thought that he had rendered the house of God worthy, so far as human adornment could effect, for the dwelling of God, “when he had placed the celebrated Stone of Foundation, on which the sacred name was mystically engraven, with solemn ceremonies, in that sacred depository on Mount Moriah, along with the foundations of Dan and Asher, the center of the Most Holy Place, where the ark was overshadowed by the shekinah of God.”
The Hebrew Talmudists, who thought as much of this stone and had as many legends concerning it as the Masonic Talmudists, called it eben shatijah, or “Stone of Foundation,” because, as they said, it had been laid by Jehovah, as the foundation of the world, and hence the apocryphal book of Enoch speaks of the “stone which supports the corners of the earth.”
The Masonic legends of the Stone of Foundation are very numerous, and many of them contradictory and unsatisfactory. The series of legends which is now very generally adopted by Masonic scholars is that which commences with the patriarch Enoch, who is supposed to have been the first consecrator of the Stone of Foundation.
This legend in full is as follows: Enoch, under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions which he had received in a vision, built a temple under ground on Mount Moriah, and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although he was not acquainted with his father’s motive for the erection. This temple consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and communicating by apertures left in each vault.
Enoch then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones, and encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the tetragrammaton, and, placing it on a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arch.
When this subterranean building was completed, he made a door of stone, and attaching it to a ring of iron, by which it might be occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so covered it that the aperture could not be discovered. Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it but once a year, and on the deaths of Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech, and the destruction of the world by the deluge, all knowledge of the vault or subterranean temple and of the Stone of Foundation with the Ineffable Name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.
At the building of the first temple of Jerusalem the Stone of Foundation again makes its appearance. According to the legend, when King Solomon was digging the foundations of the temple he discovered this stone of Enoch, for which wise purposes he deposited in a secure and secret place, that the Ineffable Name upon it might be preserved for future times.
The Foundation Stone of Masonry appears to be intimately connected with the stone worship of the ancients. History affords abundant examples which prove that the worship of a cubical stone formed an important feature of the religions of the primitive nations. But Cudworth, Bryant, Faber and all other distinguished writers who have treated the subject, have long since established the theory that the Pagan religions were eminently symbolic. Thus to use the language of Dudley, the pillar of stone “was adopted as a symbol of strength and firmness – a symbol, also, of the divine power, and, by a ready inference, a symbol or idol of the deity himself.” And this symbolism is confirmed by Phurnutus, whom Toland quotes as saying that the god Hermes was represented without hands or feet, being a cubical stone, because the cubical figure betokened his solidity and stability.
Profane and Masonic history combined seem to establish the following series of facts; First, that there was a very general prevalence among the earliest nations of antiquity of the worship of stones as the representative of Deity; secondly, that in almost every ancient temple there was a legend of a sacred or mystical stone; thirdly, that this legend is found in the Masonic system; and, lastly, that the mystical stone there has received the name of the “Stone of Foundation.”
Now, as in all the other systems the stone is admitted to be symbolic, and the tradition connected with is mystical, we are compelled to assume the same predicates of the Masonic stone. It, too, is symbolic, and its legend a myth or an allegory.
The fact that the mystical stone in all the ancient religions was a symbol of the deity, leads us necessarily to the conclusion that the Stone of Foundation was also a symbol of Deity. And this symbolic idea is strengthened by the tetragrammaton or sacred name of God that was inscribed upon it. This Ineffable Name sanctifies the stone upon which it is engraved as the symbol of the Grand Architect. It takes from it its heathen signification as an idol, and consecrates it to the worship of the true God.
The predominant idea of the Deity, in the Masonic system, connects him with his creative and formative power. God is to the Freemason Al-Gabil, as the Arabians called him, that is, The Builder; or, as expressed in his Masonic title, the
Grand Architect of the Universe, by common consent abbreviated in the formula G A O T U. Now, it is evident that no symbol could so appropriately suit Him in this character as the Stone of Foundation, upon which He is allegorically supposed to have erected His world. Such a symbol closely connects the creative work of God, as a pattern and exemplar, with the workman’s erection of his temporal building on a similar foundation-stone.
But this Masonic idea is still further to be extended. The great object of all Masonic labour is
divine truth. The search for the lost word is the search for truth. But divine truth is a term synonymous with God. The Ineffable Name is a symbol of truth, because God, and God alone, is truth. It is properly a Scriptural idea. The Book of Psalms abounds with this sentiment. Thus it is said that the truth of the Lord “reacheth unto the clouds,” and that “His truth endureth unto all generations.” If, then, God is truth, and the Stone of Foundation is the Masonic symbol of God, it follows that it must also be the symbol of divine truth.
When we have arrived at this point in our speculations, we are ready to show how all the myths and legends of the Stone of Foundation may be rationally explained as parts of that beautiful “science of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” which is the acknowledged definition of Freemasonry.
In the Masonic system there are two temples; the first temple, in which the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are concerned, and the second temple, with which the higher degrees, and especially the Royal Arch, are related. The first temple is symbolic of the present life; the second temple is symbolic of the life to come. The first temple, the present life must be destroyed; on its foundations the second temple, the life eternal, must be built.
But the mystical stone was placed by King Solomon in the foundations of the first temple. That is to say, the first temple of our present life must be built on the sure foundation of divine truth, “for other foundation can no man lay.”
But although the present life is necessarily built upon the foundation of truth, yet we never thoroughly attain it in this sublunary sphere. The Foundation Stone is concealed in the first temple, and the Master Mason knows it not. He has not the true word. He receives only a substitute.
But in the second temple of thee future life we have passed from the grave, which had been the end of our labours in the first. We have removed the rubbish, and have found that Stone of Foundation which had been hitherto concealed from our eyes. We now throw aside the substitute for truth, which had contented us in the former temple, and the brilliant effulgence of the tetragrammaton and the Stone of Foundation are discovered, and thenceforth we are the possessors of the true word – of divine truth. And in this way the Stone of Foundation, or divine truth, concealed in the first temple, but discovered and brought to light in the second, will explain that passage of the Apostle: “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known,”
And so we arrive at this result, that the Masonic Stone of Foundation, so conspicuous in the degree of Select Master, is a symbol of divine truth, upon which all Speculative Masonry is built; and the legends and traditions which refer to it are intended to describe, in an allegorical way, the progress of truth in the soul, the search for which is a Mason’s labour; and the discovery of which is to be his reward.
TO A NEWLY INITIATED SELECT MASTER
Companion : – Having attained to this degree, you have passed the circle of perfection in ancient Masonry. In the capacity of a Select Master, you must be sensible that your obligations are increased in proportion to your privileges. Let it be your constant care to prove yourself worthy of the confidence that has been repose in you, and of the high honour that has been conferred upon you in admitting you to this select degree. Let uprightness and integrity attend your steps; let justice and mercy mark your conduct; let fervency and zeal stimulate you in the discharge of the various duties incumbent on you.; but suffer not an idle and impertinent curiosity to lead you astray or betray you into danger. Be deaf to every insinuation which would have a tendency to weaken your resolution, or tempt you to an act of disobedience. Be voluntarily dumb and blind when the exercise of those faculties would endanger the peace of your mind or the probity of your conduct; and let
silence and secrecy, those cardinal virtues of a Select Master, on all necessary occasions be scrupulously observed. By a steady adherence to the important instructions contained in this degree, you will merit the approbation of the select number with whom you are associated, and will enjoy the high satisfaction of having acted well your part in the important enterprise in which you are engaged; and after having wrought your regular hours, may you be permitted to participate in all the privileges of a Select Master, and to enter the Celestial Council, where you will behold that divine Stone of Foundation on which rests Eternal Truth.
CLOSING OF A COUNCIL
In closing a Council of Select masters use is made of the following: –
Companions ;- Being about to quit this sacred retreat to mix again with the world, let us not forget, amid the cares and vicissitudes of active life, the bright example of sincere friendship, so beautiful illustrated in the lives of the founders in this degree. Let us take the lesson home with us, and may it strengthen the bands of fraternal love between us, unite our hearts to duty, and our desires to wisdom. Let us exercise Charity, cherish Hope, and walk in Faith. And may that moral principle which is the mystic cement of our fellowship remain with and bless us.
Response ; So mote it be. Amen
The ceremonies of the degree of Royal Master are very brief and simple – briefer and simpler, indeed, than those of the preceding degrees. Symbolically, however, they present one great idea – the truly Masonic one – of the labourer seeking for his reward. Throughout all the symbolism of masonry, from the first to the last, the search for the Word has been considered but as a symbolic expression for the search after truth. The attainment of this truth has always been acknowledged to be the great object and design of all Masonic labour. Divine Truth – the knowledge of God – concealed in the old Cabalistic doctrine, under the symbol of his ineffable name, and typified in the Masonic system, under the mystical expression of the True Word, is the reward proposed to every mason who has faithfully wrought his task. It is, in short, the “Master’s wages.”
Now all this is beautifully symbolised in the degree of Royal Master. The reward had been promised, and the time had now come, as Adoniram thought, when the promise was to be redeemed and the true word – Divine Truth – was to be imparted. Hence, in the person of Adoniram, or the Royal master, we see symbolised the speculative mason, who, having laboured to complete his spiritual temple, comes to the Divine Master that he may receive his reward, and that his labour may be consummated by the acquisition of truth. But the temple that he has been building is the temple of this life; that first temple which must be destroyed by death, that the second temple of the future may be built on its foundations. And in this first temple the truth cannot be found. We must content with its substitute.
This then, is the symbolism of the Royal Master’s degree.
The events recorded in the degree of Royal Master, looking at them in a legendary point of view, must have occurred at the building of the first temple, and during that brief period of time after the death of the Builder which is embraced between the discovery of his body and its “Masonic internment.” In all the initiations into the mysteries of the ancient world, there was, as it is well known to scholars, a legend of the violent death of some distinguished personage, to whose memory the particular mystery was consecrated; of the concealment of the body and of its subsequent discovery. That part of the initiation which referred to the concealment of the body was called the aphanism, from a Greek verb which signifies “to conceal,” and that part which referred to the subsequent finding was called the “euresis” from another Greek verb, which signifies “to discover.” It is impossible to avoid seeing the coincidences between this system of initiation and that practised in the masonry of the third degree.
But the ancient initiation was not terminated by the euresis or discovery. Up to that point the ceremony had been funereal and lugubrious in their character. But now they were changed from wailing to rejoicing. Other ceremonies were performed by which the restoration of the personages to life or his apotheosis or change to immortality was represented, and then came the autopsy or illumination of the neophyte, when he was invested with a full knowledge of all the religious doctrines which it was the object and design of the ancient mysteries to teach, – when, in a word, he was instructed in Divine Truth.
Now a similar course is pursued in masonry. Here also is an illumination, a symbolical teaching, or, as we call it, an investiture with that which is the representative of Divine Truth. The communication to the candidate in the Master’s degree of that which is admitted to be merely a representation of or a substitution for that symbol of Divine Truth, the search for which, under the name of the true word, makes so important a apart of the degree, however imperfect it may be, in comparison with that more thorough knowledge which only future researches can enable the Master Mason to attain, constitutes the
autopsy of the third degree. Now the principal event recorded in the degree of Royal master, the interview between Adoniram and his two Royal masters, is to be placed precisely at the juncture of time which is between the euresis, or discovery, in the Master Mason’s degree, and the autopsy, or investiture with the great secret. It occurred between the discovery, by means of the sprig of acacia, and the final internment. It was at the time when Solomon and his colleague Hiram of Tyre, were in profound consultation as to the mode of repairing the loss which they then supposed had befallen them.
We must come to this conclusion, because there is abundant reference, both in the organised form of the Council and in the ritual of the degree, to the death as an event that had already occurred; and, on the other hand, while it is evident that Solomon had been made acquainted with the failure to recover, on the person of the Builder, that which had been lost, there is no reference whatever to the well-known substitution which was made at the time of the internment.
If, therefore, as is admitted by all Masonic ritualists, the substitution was precedent and preliminary to the establishment of the Master Mason’s degree, it is evident that at the time when the degree of Royal Master is said to have been founded in the ancient temple by our ”first Most Excellent Grand Master,” all persons present, except the first and second officers, must have been merely Fellow-Craft Masons. In compliance with this tradition, therefore, a Royal Master is at this day supposed to represent a Fellow-Craft in the search of, and making his demand for, that reward which was to elevate him to the rank of a Master Mason.
OPENING OF THE COUNCIL
A Council of Royal Masters consists of the following eight officers;-
Thrice Illustrious Grand Master.
Illustrious Hiram of Tyre.
Principal Conductor of the Works.
Master of the Exchequer.
Master of Finances.
Captain of the guards.
Conductor of the Council
Of these the first three represent, respectively, Solomon, king of Israel; Hiram, king of tyre; and Adoniram, the Chief of the Fellow-Crafts, who, after the death of the Builder, was promoted to the position of Principal Conductor of the Works.
The Thrice Illustrious Grand master is seated on the throne in the east; the Illustrious Hiram of Tyre is on his right, seated at a triangular table, a similar table on the right being unoccupied. The Principal Conductor of the Works is in the West; the Master of the Exchequer is in the South; the Master of Finance is in the North; the Captain of the Guards in front and to the right of the throne; the Conductor of the Council on the right of the Principal Conductor of the Works; and the Steward, who acts as Tyler in the usual place of that officer.
The symbolic colors of a Royal Master are black and red. The black is significant of the grief of the Craft for the loss of their Operative Grand Master, and the red, of his blood, which was shed in defense of his integrity. Hence the apron and collar of a Royal Master should be black, lined and edged with red. The apron must be triangular in form, in allusion to the sacred Delta.
The place of meeting is called the “Council Chamber,” and represents the private apartment of the king of Israel, in which he us said to have met his two colleagues during the erection of the temple, for the purpose of consultation on all matters relating to the craft.
When a candidate is initiated, he is said to be “honoured with the degree of Royal Master.”
On opening a council of Royal Masters.
Almighty God, thou art from everlasting to everlasting; unchangeable in thy being; unbounded and incomprehensible. Thou didst speak into being this vast fabric of the Universe. We adore and bow before thee with reverential awe, and acknowledge our sins and misdeeds, for thou has promised to heal our backslidings and to love us freely. Look down from thy holy habitation and bless us with thy approbation. Teach us to praise thy holy Name aright, for thou art the God whom we fear, and to whom we bow with humble submission. Lord, hear our prayer, and accept our sacrifice of thanksgiving. So mote it be. Amen.
The following passages of Scripture are appropriate to the reception of the candidate in this degree:
1 Kings vi. 27
And he set the cherubim within the inner house; and they stretched forth the wings of the Cherubim, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall., and the wing of the other Cherub touched the other wall, and their wings touched one another in the midst of the house.
Revelation xxii. 12-14
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in though the gates into the city.
THE EXTENDED WINGS OF THE CHERUBIM
The Cherubim were certain figures conspicuous in the ceremonial of the Jewish tabernacle and temple. There is much diversity of opinion among the learned as to their form, but all agree in this: that they were furnished with wings, and that their wings were extended. Two of them were placed in the tabernacle of Moses, in a stooping attitude, at each end of the mercy-seat or covering of the ark, which they overshadowed with their extended wings. They were afterwards transferred, with the Ark of the Covenant, of which indeed they formed a component part, to the Holy of Holies of King Solomon’s Temple. In the intervening space, above the ark and beneath the extended wings, were the Schechinah or sacred flame, that symbolised the Divine Presence, and the letters of the ineffable name of Jehovah. From this is derived that peculiar phraseology of the sacred writers, who always speak of the Diety as dwelling between the Cherubim; and whenever the Almighty is described as sitting on a throne, or riding in a triumphal chariot, the Cherubim constitute an important part of the description.
The Cherubim were eminently and purely symbolical. But although there is great diversity of opinion as to their exact signification, yet there is a very general agreement that, under some one manifestation or another, they allude to and symbolise the protecting and overshadowing power of the Diety. When therefore the initiate is received beneath the extended wings of the Cherubim, we are taught by this symbolism how appropriate it is, that he who comes to ask and to seek Truth, symbolised by the True Word, should begin by placing himself under the protection of that Divine Power who alone is Truth, and from whom alone Truth can be obtained.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
Alpha is the first and Omega is the last letter of the Greek Alphabet, equivalent to the beginning and the end or the first and the last of any thing. The Jews used the first and last letters of their alphabet, Aleph and Tan, to express the same idea, but St John, although a Hebrew, used the Grecian letters in the Apocalypse, because he was writing in the Greek language.
Alpha and Omega are adopted as a symbol of the Diety, and are found repeatedly in Mediaeval paintings attached to representations of Christ as God. Prudentius, in his 9th hymn gives expression to this idea:-
“Alpha et Omega cognominatur ipse; fons et clausula,
Omnium quae sunt, fuerunt, vel post futura sunt.”
“Alpha and Omega is He called, the source and end
Of all Things which are, which were, or will hereafter be.”
The passage from the Apocalypse, which is read during thee circumambulation, is therefore exceedingly appropriate in referring, by this symbol, to the eternal nature of God, since that is the great truth for which, under the form of the WORD, the candidate is in search.
THE HOLY OF HOLIES
Previous monitorial writers on this degree have given long descriptions of the Holy of Holies, and of the Ark of the Covenant which was placed within it. But the truth is (if we are guided by the tradition which the degree itself relates), that at the tome that the incidents which it describes occurred, the Holy of Holies had not been finished, and the Ark had not yet been deposited in it. The Holy of Holies was still the resort of workmen who were engaged in its construction, and was, as we learn from the very words of the legend, as related by Adoniram, the place where the Builder prepared his designs; and the Ark was not deposited until the temple was completed and dedicated, neither of which circumstances had taken place at the time commemorated in the ceremonies and legend of the degree.
With the Ark of the Covenant the degree of Royal Master has no connection.
The first notice that we have in Scripture of Adoniram is in the Second Book of Samuel (xx.24), where he is referred to by the abbreviated form Adoram, as having been “over the tribute” in the house of David, or as , Gesenius translates it, “prefect over the tribute service, or tribute master,” that is to say, in modern phrase, he was the chief receiver of the taxes. The historian Clarke accordingly calls him “Chancellor of the Exchequer.” Seven years afterwards we find him exercising the duties of the same office in the household of King Solomon, for it is said (1 Kings iv. 6), that “Adoniram, the son of Abda, was over the tribute.” And lastly we hear of him as still occupying the same station in the household of King Rehoboam, the successor off Solomon. Forty-seven years after his first mention in the Book of Samuel, he is stated (1 Kings xii. 16) to have been stoned to death while in the discharge of his duty, by the people, who were justly indignant at the oppressions of his master. Although commentators have been at a loss to determine whether the tax-receiver under David, under Solomon, and under Rehoboam, was the same person, there seems to be no reason to doubt it, for, as Kitto says, “it appears very unlikely that even two persons of the same name should successively bear the same office, in an age when no example occurs of the father’s name being given to his son. We find also that not more than forty-seven years elapsed between the first and last mention of the Adoniram who was “over the tribute,” and as this, although a long term of service, is not too long for one life, and as the person who held the office in the beginning of Rehoboam’s reign, had served in it long enough to make himself odious to the people, it appears on the whole most probable, that one and the same person is intended throughout.” All of this however is merely conjectural. Even if the tax-receiver of Solomon was the man who held the same office under Rehoboam, we still have no means of knowing whether the odium he incurred was to be attributes to the unpopularity of the office or to the oppressive conduct of the officer. In a Masonic point of view, we can only consider Adoniram as the incorruptible labourer in the temple and the diligent searcher after truth. He is to the Mason, simply a symbol.
Adoniram occupies an important position in the Masonic system, but the time of action in which he appears is confined to the period occupied in the construction of the temple. The legends and traditions which connect him with that edifice derive their support from a single passage in the First Book of kings (v.14), where it is said that Solomon made a levy of thirty thousand workmen from among the Israelites; that he sent these in courses of ten thousand a month to labour on Mount Lebanon, and that he placed Adoniram over these as their superintendent. From this brief statement the Adoniramite Masons have deduced the theory that Adoniram was the Architect of the temple, while the Hiramites, assigning this office to Hiram Abif, still believe that Adoniram occupied an important post in the construction of that edifice. He has been called “the first of the Fellow-Crafts;” is said, in one tradition, to have been the brother-in-law of Hiram Abif, the latter having demanded of King Solomon the hand of Adoniram’s sister in marriage, and that the nuptials were honoured by the kings of Israel and Tyre with a public celebration; while another tradition, preserved in the Royal Master’s degree, informs us that he was one to whom the three Grand Masters had intended first to communicate that knowledge which they had reserved as a fitting reward to be bestowed upon all meritorious craftsmen at the completion of the temple.
Adoniram is the Masonic symbol of the seeker after truth.
THE TRIPLE TRIANGLE
The triple triangle is one of the oldest symbols of mystical science. It is perhaps better known as the Pentalpha, from the Greek pente, “five,” and
Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, whose form is precisely that of the English letter A. It is so called because its peculiar configuration presents the appearance of that letter in five different positions.
In the school of Pythagoras it was adopted as the symbol of health, and each of the five salient points was represented by one of the five letters of the Greek word γΓΕΙΑ
“health.” Hence the Pythagoreans placed it at the beginning of their epistles as a form of salutation. The early Christians referred it to the five wounds of the Saviour, because, when properly inscribed upon the representation of a human body, the five points will respectively extend to and touch the side, the two hands, and the two feet. Among the Druids the figure of the Pentalpha was worn on the shoes as a symbol of the Deity, and they esteemed it as a sign of safety. It was drawn on cradles, thresholds, and especially on stable doors, in order to keep away wizards and witches., and has been used even at the present day as a protection against demoniacal powers, and is probably the origin of the well-known superstition of the horseshoe among the lower orders. Thus Aubrey, the antiquary, says that “it is a thing very common to nail horseshoes on the thresholds of doors, which is to hinder the power of witches that enter into the house.” The mediaeval Freemasons considered it a symbol of deep wisdom, and it is found among the architectural ornaments of most of the ecclesiastical edifices of the middle ages.
It is, in Masonic symbology, sometimes called the “Shield of David,” and sometimes the “Seal of Solomon,” and it is said to have been inscribed with the tetragrammaton in the center, upon the celebrated Stone of Foundation.
But as a Masonic symbol it peculiarly claims attention from the fact that it forms the outlines of the five-pointed star, which is typical of the bond of brotherly love that unites the whole fraternity, and alludes, therefore, to the five points of fellowship. It is in this view that the Pentalpha or triple triangle is referred to in the Royal masters degree, as representing the intimate action that existed between our three Ancient Grand Masters, and which is commemorated by the living Pentalpha at the closing of every Royal Arch Chapter.
THE BROKEN SQUARE
The square, containing four equal sides and four equal angles, is the most perfect figure in geometry. Hence in Masonry it is the universally acknowledged symbol of perfection. And as that condition of perfection was so pre-eminently exhibited in the mystical union of our three Grand masters, whose Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty devised, erected and adorned the temple, so the Broken Square, by the dismemberment of the perfect figure, is emblematic of that imperfection and loss which ensued upon the untimely death of one of the three.
If, therefore, the Triple Triangle is peculiarly appropriate to the Royal Arch, as symbolic of the perfect union of the Illustrious Three, so is the Broken Square equally appropriate to the Royal master, as symbolic of the unhappy dissolution of that union by death. The Broken Square is pre-eminently the symbol of this degree.
CLOSING OF THE COUNCIL
A Council of Royal Masters is closed with the following: –
Incomprehensibly holy, supremely good and All-wise God, thou art our father and our friend; we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture. Prostrating ourselves before thee, we acknowledge our unworthiness to appear in thy presence. But thou has said that thou art the Lord God, mercifully forgiving sin and transgression. Pardon, we beseech thee, what thou has seen amiss in us at this time. Confirm and strengthen us in every good work, and take us henceforth under thy holy protection. For thine is the power and the glory, forever and ever. So mote it be. Amen.
Let brotherly love continue. Be ye careful to entertain strangers. And may the God of peace and love be with us always. So mote it be. Amen.
MOST EXCELLENT MASTER
The sixth degree, or that of Most Excellent Master, is as intimately connected with the third or Master Mason’s as the Mark Master’s is with that of the Fellow Craft. The Master Mason’s degree is intended, in its symbolic design, to teach the doctrines of the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul. But this corruption can only put on in-corruption, and this mortal put on immortality by a passage through the portals of the grave. And here the degree of Most Excellent Master comes forward with its beautiful symbolism, to represent the man prepared to enter upon that eventful passage. In the preceding degrees the duties of life have been delineated under various types – the virtuous craftsman has been assiduously labouring to erect within his heart a spiritual temple of holiness, fit for the habitation of Him who is the holiest of beings. If the moral and religious precepts of the order have been observed, stone has been placed upon stone – virtue has been added to virtue – and the duties of one day have been scrupulously performed, only that the duties of the next may be commenced with equal zeal.
And now all is accomplished – the spiritual edifice which it was given to man to erect – “that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” – upon the construction of which he has been engaged, day by day and hour by hour, from his first entrance to the world – has become a stately and finished building, and there remains no more to be done, save to place the cape-stone, DEATH, upon its summit.
This – the last condition of man on earth, when all his labours have been completed – when he is about to lay aside for ever all his projects of ambition, of pleasure, or of business – to dissolve the ties which have bound him to the companions of his toils, and to go forth a wanderer on the unknown shores of eternity – to abandon, as useless, the implements of this worlds work, and to leave the temple of life – is the solemn scene which is symbolically celebrated in the impressive ceremonies of the Most Excellent Masters Degree.
The legend or tradition upon which the degree of Most Excellent Master is founded, is thus recorded in Anderson’s Constitutions, second edition 1738, page 14.
“The temple was finished in the short space of seven years and six months, to the amazement of the world; when the cape-stone was celebrated by the fraternity with great joy. But their joy was soon interrupted by the sudden death of their dear master Hiram Abif, whom they decently interred in the lodge near the temple, according to ancient usage. “After Hiram Abif was mourned for, the tabernacle of Moses and its holy relics being lodged in the temple, Solomon, in a general assembly, dedicated or consecrated it by solemn music and costly sacrifices past number, with the finest music, vocal and instrumental, praising Jehovah, upon fixing the holy ark in its proper place between the cherubim; when Jehovah filled his own temple with a cloud of glory”.
The ceremonies commemorated in this degree, refer, therefore, to the completion and dedication of the temple. It is reasonable to suppose that, when this magnificent edifice was completed, King Solomon should bestow some distinguished mark of his approval upon the skilful and zealous builders who had been engaged for seven years in its construction. No greater token of that approbation could have been evinced than to establish an order of merit, with the honourable appellation of “Most Excellent Master, “ and to bestow it upon those of the craftsmen who had proved themselves to be complete masters of their profession. It was not conferred upon the whole body of the workmen but was confined, as Webb remarks, to the meritorious and praiseworthy – to those who, through diligence and industry, had progressed far beyond perfection. Such is the traditional history of the origin of the degree. And it is still retained as a memorial of the method adopted by the wise King of Israel to distinguish the most faithful and skilful portion of his builders, and to reward them for their services by receiving and acknowledging them as Most Excellent Masters, at the completion and dedication of the temple.
THE TEMPLE OF SOLOMON
As this degree refers to that important period when the temple erected by King Solomon for the worship of Jehovah was completed, and presented in all its glory and beauty to an admiring people, it is proper that the Masonic student should here receive some brief details of this magnificent structure.
Mount Moriah, on which the foundations of the temple were laid, was a lofty hill, situated almost in the very north-east corner of the city of Jerusalem, having Mount Zion on the south-west, with the city of David and the King’s palace on its summit, and Mount Acra on the west, whereon the lower city was built.
The summit of the mountain on which the temple was built, which, although not very high, was exceedingly steep, occupied a square of five hundred cubit, or two hundred and fifty yards on each side, being encompassed by a stone wall one thousand yards in extent, and twelve yards and a half high.
King Solomon commenced the erection of the temple on the second day of the Hebrew month Zif, in the year of the world 2992, which date corresponds to Monday, the first of April , 1012 years before the Christian era.
Foundations were laid at a a profound depth, and consisted, as Josephus informs us, of stones of immense size and great durability. They were closely mortised into the rock, so as to form a secure basis for the superincumbent structure.
The building does not appear to have been so remarkable for its magnitude as for the magnificence of its ornaments and the value of its materials. The historian Lightfoot gives us the best idea of its size and form when he says that the porch was one hundred and twenty cubits, or two hundred and ten feet high and that the rest of the building was in height but thirty cubits, or fifty two feet and a half, so that the form of the whole house was thus: It was situated due east and west, the holy of holies bring to the westward, and the porch or entrance toward the east. The whole length from east to west, was seventy cubits, or one hundred and twenty two feet and a half. The breadth, exclusive of the side chambers, was twenty cubits, or thirty five feet; the height of the holy place and the holy of holies was thirty cubits or fifty two feet and a half, and the porch stood at the eastern end, like a lofty steeple, one hundred and twenty cubits, or two hundred and ten feet high. In fact the temple much resembled a modern church, with this difference, that the steeple which was placed over the porch was situated at the east end.
Around the north and south sides and the west end were built chambers of three stories, each story being five cubits in height or fifteen cubits, twenty six feet nine inches on all – and these were united to the outside wall of the house.
The windows, which were used for ventilation rather than for light, which was derived from the sacred candlesticks, were placed in the wall of the temple that was above the roof of the side chambers. But that part which included the holy of holies was without any aperture whatever, to which Solomon alludes in the passage “The Lord said that He would dwell in the thick darkness.”
The Temple was divided, internally, into three parts – the porch, the sanctuary, and the holy of holies: the breadth of all these was of course the same, namely, twenty cubits, or thirty five feet, but they differed in length. The porch was seventeen feet six inches in length, the sanctuary seventy feet, and the holy of holies thirty five feet, or, in the Hebrew measure, ten, forty, and twenty cubits. The entrance from the porch into the sanctuary was through a wide door of olive posts and leaves of fir; but the door between the sanctuary and the holy of holies was composed entirely of olive wood. These doors were always open, and the aperture closed by a suspended curtain. The partition between the sanctuary and the holy of holies partly consisted of an open network, so that the incense daily offered in the former place might be diffused through the interstices into the latter.
In the sanctuary were placed the golden candlestick, the table of shew bread, and the altar of incense. The holy of holies contained nothing but the ark of the covenant, which included the table of the law.
The framework of the temple consisted of massive stone, but it was wainscoted with cedar, which was covered with gold. The boards within the temple were ornamented with carved work, skilfully representing cherubim, palm leaves and flowers. The ceiling of the temple was supported by beams of cedar wood, which, with that used in the wainscoting, was supplied by the workmen of Hiram, King of Tyre, from the forest of Lebanon. The floor was throughout made of cedar, but boarded over with planks of fir.
The temple, thus constructed, was surrounded by various courts and high walls, and thus occupied the entire summit of Mount Moriah. The first of the Courts was the court of the Gentiles, beyond which Gentiles were prohibited from passing. Within this, and separated from it by a low wall, was the Court of the Children of Israel, and inside of that, separated from it by another wall, was the Court of the Priests, in which was placed the altar of burnt offerings. From this court there was an ascent of twelve steps to the porch of the temple, before which stood the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz.
For the erection of this magnificent structure, beside the sums annually appropriated by Solomon, his father, David, had left one hundred thousand talents of gold and a million talents of silver, equal to nearly four thousand millions of dollars (1850’s value).
The time occupied in its construction was seven years and about six months, and it was finished in the year Bul, in the year of the world 3000. The year after, it was dedicated with those solemn ceremonies which are alluded to in this degree. The dedicatory ceremonies commenced on Friday, the 30th of October, and lasted for fourteen days, terminating on Thursday, the 12th of November, although the people were not dismissed until the following Saturday. Seven days of this festival were devoted to the dedication exclusively, and the remaining seven to the Feast of the Tabernacles which followed. The eighth chapter of the First Book of Kings contains an account of the solemnities of the occasion, and to that the reader is referred.
THE DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE.
The celebration of the cape-stone is a phrase which really signifies the dedication of the temple, the ceremonies of which are commemorated in this degree.
A dedication is defined to be a religious ceremony, whereby anything is dedicated or consecrated to the service of God. It appears, states the historian Kitto, to have originated in the desire to commence, with peculiar solemnity, the practical use and application of whatever had been set apart to the Divine service. Thus Moses dedicated the Tabernacle in the wilderness; Solomon his temple; the returned exiles theirs, and Herod his.
Not only, says the same author, were sacred places dedicated, but some kind of dedicatory solemnity was observed with respect to cities, walls, gates, and even private houses. We may trace the continuance of these usages in the custom of consecrating or dedicating churches and chapels, and in the ceremonies connected with the opening of roads, markets, bridges, &etc, and with the launching of ships. To that, of course, we must now add Masonic Buildings.
OPENING OF THE LODGE
A Lodge of Most Excellent Master consists, besides the Tyler, of the following seven officers;
Most Excellent Master
These offices are filled by the officers of the Chapter under whose warrant the lodge is held, in the following order:
The High Priest, King, and Scribe, act as Master and Wardens; the Treasurer and Secretary occupy the corresponding stations; the Principal Sojourner acts as Senior Deacon, and the Royal Arch Captain, as Junior Deacon.
The Most Excellent Master represents King Solomon, and should be dressed in a crimson robe wearing a crown, and holding a sceptre in his hand.
The symbolic colour of the Most Excellent Master’s degree is purple. The apron is of white lambskin, edged with purple. The collar is of purple edged with gold. But, as lodges of this degree are held under warrants of Royal Arch Chapters, the collars, aprons and jewels of the Chapter are generally made use of in conferring the degree.
Lodges of Most Excellent Masters are “dedicated to King Solomon.”
A candidate receiving this degree is said to “received and acknowledged as a Most Excellent master.” This alludes to the reception into the degree by King Solomon, and his acknowledgement of the skills and merits of those upon whom, at the completion and dedication of the temple, he is said to have originally conferred it.
The following psalm is read at the opening:
The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world, and they that dwell within.
for he hath founded it upon the seas and established it upon the floods.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul into vanity nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of them that seek him, That seek thy face, O Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, you everlasting doors,
and the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory? The Lord of Hosts, he is the King of Glory.
This psalm is peculiarly appropriate to the opening ceremonies of the Most Excellent Master’s degree. One of the most important events referred to in this degree is the bringing forth of the ark of the covenant “with shouting and praise, “ and depositing it in the holy of holies, which was done at the dedication of the temple by King Solomon. So the twenty-fourth psalm was originally composed and sung when David brought up the ark, with great pomp and procession, from the house of Obed-edom, and placed it in the tabernacle on Mount Zion. The two events were analogous, and hence the appropriateness of selecting the sacred song used on the one occasion as a preface to the ceremonies of a degree which commemorates the other.
The following Psalm (122) is read during the ceremony of reception:
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall
stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up , the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say,
Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
A MOST EXCELLENT MASTER
The Hebrews had three titles of honour, each differing from the other in degree, which they bestowed upon their teachers and eminent men, and which Kitto compares to the modern collegiate designations of Bachelor, Master and Doctor:
1) Rab, which signified a great one, a chief, a master.
2) Rabbi, which, by the addition of the suffix i to the former, literally denotes, “my master,” but, as a title of higher dignity, may be said to signify, “an Excellent Master.”
3) Rabbboni, “my great master,” from raban, a great master, still higher then rabbi,
and to be translated most appropriately as “ a Most Excellent Master.”
This was the title given in John xx.16, by Mary to the Saviour: “She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni.”
David Hoffman says, in his Chronicle of Cartaphilus, that Rabboni imports a higher title of respect than Rab or Rabbi, and confers the highest possible distinction in respect to wisdom and learning – so much so, that it is said to be conceded only to seven persons recorded in all Jewish history.
THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon is recorded in the tenth chapter of the First Book of Kings, where we are told that “when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions;” and we are further informed that when she “had seen all Solomon’s wisdom and the house that he built, there was no spirit in her,” which expression the historian Dr. Clarke properly interprets as meaning that “she was overpowered with astonishment”.
The Masonic legend coincides with this account, although there are one or two circumstances detailed in the tradition which have not been preserved in the written record.
According to the Masonic tradition, we learn that the wide-spread reputation of king Solomon induced the Queen of Sheba, a country supposed to be situated in the southern part of Arabia, to visit Jerusalem, and inspect the celebrated works of which she had heard so many encomiums. And we are informed that when she first beheld the magnificent edifice, which glittered with gold, and seemed, from the nice adjustments and exact accuracy of all its joints, to be composed of but a single piece of marble, she raised her eyes and hands in an attitude of admiration, and exclaimed, “Rabboni,” which, being interpreted, means “a Most Excellent Master.”
According to the received Bible chronology, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon took place thirteen years after the dedication of the temple, and objection has hence been made to any allusion to her in the ceremonies which refer to that dedication. But the objection is an unreasonable one, and is founded on an erroneous of the nature of Masonic degrees. The ceremonies of the degree, as we now have them, are not to be supposed to be the invention of King Solomon, or to have been known in his day, They are but a memorial, subsequently established, (to what later period we know not,) of the events which occurred at the temple. The Queen of Sheba, if Scripture is to be believed, must of expressed her admiration of the temple when she first beheld it, though many years after its completion: and it is allowable that that admiration should be afterwards referred to when the memorial ceremonies were adopted, and that it should even supply the basis of a means of recognition, which it is by no means necessary to believe was contemporary with the dedication. In all such cases, it must be remembered that all Masonic degrees are but memorial ceremonies of the events which actually occurred at the temple, and which, by means of these subsequently adopted ceremonies, have been orally handed down to the craft. This rational theory will meet all such objections as the allusion to the Queen of Sheba in this degree, the use of a New Testament parable in the Mark Master’s, or the reading of a passage from Ecclesiastes in the Master Mason’s. By this theory these apparent anachronisms are easily explained, and they cannot be otherwise.
THE DAY SET APART FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE CAPE-STONE OF THE TEMPLE
The CAPE-STONE, or, as it would more correctly be called, the cope-stone, (but the former word has been consecrated to us by universal Masonic usage,) is the topmost stone of a building. To bring it forth, therefore, and to place it in its destined position, is significative that the building is completed, which event is celebrated, even by the operative masons of the present day, with great signs of rejoicing. Flags are hoisted on the top of every edifice by the builders engaged in its construction, as soon as they have reached the topmost post, and thus finished their labours. This is the “celebration of the cape-stone” – the celebration of the completion of the building – when their tools are laid aside, and rest and refreshment succeed for a time to labour. This is the event in the history of the temple which is commemorated in this degree. The day set apart for the celebration of the cape-stone of the temple, is the day devoted to rejoicing and thanksgiving for the completion of that glorious structure.
Masonic teachers have not agreed in determining what was the particular stone referred to in this degree. A few suppose it to have represented the last and highest stone placed in the temple. If this were the case, the Mark Mason’s keystone would be very improperly made use of on this occasion, for it by no means represents the highest stone in the temple. A majority of scholars have, however, adopted the more consistent theory that the keystone was appropriately used in this degree, and that it was deposited on the day of the completion of the temple in the place for which it was intended, all of which relates to a mystery not unfolded in this degree, but reserved for that of Select Master. In either case it was a cape-stone – in one, the cape-stone of the whole temple; in the other, only of an important part of it.
In my own recollection, a promise of secrecy was exacted of all Most Excellent Masters respecting the place where the keystone was deposited, and, although this usage has now very generally been abandoned, I have the most satisfactory reasons for knowing that such a promise constituted a part of the original OB. of the degree.
BRINGING FORTH THE ARK OF THE COVENANT WITH SHOUTING AND PRAISE
Previous to the building of the temple, David had brought the ark of the covenant from the house of Obed-edom to his palace on Mount Zion, where it remained until the temple was completed.
As soon as Solomon had completed his work, he assembled the people, with their rulers and elders, at Jerusalem, that they might dedicate it with appropriate ceremonies. The ark was then taken from the palace of David and removed to the temple. The king himself and all of the people and Levites went before, rendering the ground moist, days Josephus, with sacrifices and drink offerings, and the blood of a great number of oblations, and burning an immense quantity of incense, and thus with singing and dancing was it carried into the temple. But when it was ready to be transferred to the holy of holies, the rest of the multitude departed, and only those priests who bore it by its staves entered within the sacred place, and set it between two cherubim, which, embracing it between their wings, covered it as with a dome. It is this bringing of the ark into the temple with shouting and praise, and depositing it in the holy spot where it was thenceforth to remain, that is commemorated by a portion of the ceremonies of the Most Excellent Master’s degree.
The following, which is a portion of the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the temple, may be used during the part of the ceremony:
And now, O God of Israel, let thy word, I pray thee, be verified, which thou spakest unto thy servant David, my father. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built. Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer which thy servant prayeth before thee today: that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place. And hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant, and of thy people, Israel, when they shall pray toward this place; and hear thou in heaven, thy dwelling place; and when thou hearest, forgive.
So mote it be. Amen
The following is read with solemn ceremonies:
11. Chronicles v11. 1-4
“Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And the priest could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house.
And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good for his mercy endureth forever.
THE FIRE FROM HEAVEN
The following passages from “The Analogy of Ancient Craft Masonry to Natural and Revealed Religion” by Charles Scott, may be advantageously read by the Masonic student in reference to this period of the ceremonies:
It was when Solomon had made an end of praying, that the fire came down from heaven; but it was before the fire came down that the cloud of god’s glory descended, and that the Almighty was made manifest in the sanctum sanctorum. It was on the day of dedication, and the year of dedication was a jubilee. The silver trumpets had ushered it in amidst the rejoicing of all the people. The elders of Israel had been assembled in the devoted city of Jerusalem. Solomon had summoned them to meet together for a holy purpose. The stately temple was completed. It towered in all its grandeur. It was the wonder and admiration of the world. The craftsmen were all present at the dedication.
They had no more occasion for level or plumb-line, For trowel or gavel, for compass or square.
Their work was all finished, and the ark of the covenant was about to be brought up ’out of the city of David, which is Zion.’ How sublime and surpassingly grand were the ceremonies of dedication. ’And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark.’ And the tabernacle was carried up also, and all the holy vessels that were in it. Then the sacrifices commenced. All the congregation of Israel took part in the ceremonies. The sheep and the oxen to be sacrificed were numberless. When the ark was borne into ‘the oracle of the house, to the most holy place,’ the cherubim spread forth their wings over the place and covered the ark and the staves thereof. And when it was safely seated, Almighty Jehovah descended and filled the house with his glory. Yes, the Lord was visible there; and well might the wisest of men, in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, pour out a fervent and most eloquent prayer to Him for his multiplied blessings. What a mighty assembly had gathered together! The Lord of heaven and earth was there. And never before had such eloquence fallen from the lips of Solomon. His prayer is a specimen of pure devotion, and of what a wise man can do and say, ‘when out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’
That ever memorable occasion is celebrated in our lodges. It is the ground-work of one of its most beautiful degrees. It has been celebrated for thousands of generations, and is hallowed in the memory of the craft. And may we not, with propriety, say that the splendid and eloquent prayer of our Grand Master, although it is not expressly incorporated into the regular body of masonry, constitutes, by implication, a portion of our institution. If we are correct in the opinion that our order was perfected at the completion of the temple, or even established after that period, but associated with the progress of that building and dedication, then we may very reasonably contend that every rite and event connected with it affords a subject for Masonic study and investigation.
THE RECEPTION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Masonic tradition informs us that when the temple had been completed and dedicated, and the cape-stone celebrated, King Solomon received and acknowledged the most expert of the craftsmen as Most Excellent Masters; he invested the with power to travel into foreign countries in search of employment, and charged them to dispense light and truth to all uninformed brethren; but to those who chose to remain he furnished employment in keeping the temple in repair.
CHARGE TO BE READ TO A MOST EXCELLENT MASTER AFTER HIS RECEPTION
Brother, your admission to this Degree of Masonry is a proof of the good opinion the brethren of this Lodge entertain of your Masonic abilities. Let this consideration induce you to be careful of forfeiting, by misconduct and inattention to our rules, that esteem which has raised you to the rank you now possess. It is one of your great duties, as a Most Excellent Master, to dispense light and truth to the uninformed Mason; and I need not remind you of the impossibility of complying with this obligation without possessing an accurate
acquaintance with the lectures of each degree. If you are not already completely conversant in all the Degrees heretofore conferred on you remember that an indulgence, prompted by a belief that you will apply yourself with double diligence to make yourself so, has induced the brethren to accept you. Let it, therefore, be your unremitting study to acquire such a degree of knowledge and information as shall enable you to discharge with propriety the various duties incumbent on you, and to preserve unsullied the title now conferred upon you of a Most Excellent Master.
CLOSING OF THE LODGE
The following is read at closing:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”–Psalm xxiii. 1
HISTORY AND SYMBOLISM
The degree of Super-Excellent Master certainly has no connection, in its history or its symbolism, with the Royal and Select degrees, nor was it ever, until it was very recently introduced by a few Councils in some of the Northern and Western States, considered as forming any part of the work of a Council. I do not myself acknowledge its legitimacy as a degree of Cryptic Masonry, and I seriously object to its introduction into the council, because it destroys the symmetry of the rite which very properly closes with the ninth degree. A description of it is, however, inserted in this Manual, because, although I deem it misplaced, it has nevertheless been adopted, and is worked by many councils, and is withal, an interesting degree, and conveys some valuable information.
But although the introduction of the degree, into the Council work is of very recent date, being unnoticed by any writer who has hitherto compiled a Masonic monitor, the degree itself can boast of a much longer existence. It has always been in possession of the Supreme Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, and was frequently conferred by the Inspectors-General as a “detached” or honorary degree. It is not, however, a degree that has been very generally known to Masonic writers. The German historian Friedrich Mossdorf makes no allusion to it in his very copious “Encyclopadie der Freimaurerei,” nor is it to be found in the catalogue of several hundred degrees given by Thory in his “Acta Latomorum.” But, on the other hand, Dr Oliver, in his Historical Landmarks of Freemasonry describes the degree with such completeness as to demonstrate that he must of seen or been in possession of its ritual precisely as it is practiced in this country.
The Masonic legend of the degree of Super-Excellent Master refers to circumstances which occurred on the last day of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan, the captain of the Chaldean army, who had been sent by Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the city and temple, as a just punishment of the Jewish king Zedekiah, for his perfidy and rebellion. It occupies, therefore, precisely that point of time which is embraced in that part of the Royal Arch degree which represents the destruction of the temple, and the carrying of the Jews in captivity to Babylon. It is, in fact, an exemplification and extension of that part of the Royal Arch degree.
As to the symbolic design of the degree, it is very evident that its legend and ceremonies are intended to inculcate that important Masonic virtue, fidelity to vows. Zedekiah, the wicked king of Judah, is, by the modern ritualists who have symbolised the degree, adopted very appropriately as the symbol of perfidy, and the severe but well-deserved punishment which was inflicted on him by the king of Babylon is set forth in the lecture as a great moral lesson, whose object is to warn the recipient of the fatal effects that will ensue from a violation of his sacred obligations.
OPENING OF THE COUNCIL
A Council of Super-Excellent Masters consists of the following eleven officers:-
Most Excellent King
First Keeper of the Temple
Second Keeper of the Temple
Third Keeper of the Temple
Catpain of the Guards
The Most Excellent King represents Zedekiah, the twentieth and last king of Judah. He is seated in the East. Gedaliah is sated in the West, except during a reception, when he assumes a station in front of the King. The First Keeper of the Temple is seated in front of the West. The Second and Third on the left of the West and near the door of preparation. The Captain of the Guards is seated on the right hand of the King: The Three Heralds are on the outside of the door, and the Treasurer and Secretary occupy the usual positions of those officers in other Masonic bodies. There are also three Guards who attend the King as an escort, but they are not permanent officers, and are assigned no definite position.
The following passages of Scripture are appropriately read in the course of a reception into the degree.
Lamentations 1. 1.
How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people: how as she become as a widow! She that was great among the nations and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she has none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
In many Councils, during a part of the reception the following hymn is sung, accompanied with appropriate and impressive ceremonies.
By Babel’s stream we sit and weep,
Our tears for Zion flow;
Our harps on drooping willows sleep,
Our hearts are filled with woe.
Our walls no more resound with praise,
Our Temple foes destroy;
Judea’s courts no more upraise
Triumphant songs of joy.
Here Mourning toil and captive bands,
Our feasts and Sabbaths cease;
Our tribes dispersed through distant lands
And hopeless of release.
But should the ever-gracious power
To us propitious be;
Chaldeans shall our race restore,
And Kings proclaim us free.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
The destruction of the temple which had been built by King Solomon is the important event that is recorded in the legend of this degree. This was not the result of a single hostile act, but was brought about after a series of wars and sieges, which, with brief intervals of peace and prosperity, lasted for one hundred and fifty years, and finally culminated not only in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, its holy temple, and all it’s magnificent palaces and dwellings, but also in the annihilation of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. About the year 741 BC., which was two hundred and sixty-three years after the building of the temple, and in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, an invasion of Palestine was made by Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, who carried off the pastoral population that lived beyond the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali. His successor, Shalmanezer, continued these predatory incursions, after having Hoshea, the king of Israel, tributary to Assyria, when the tribute was withheld he attacked and reduced Samaria, in the year 721 BC, and carried the remnants of the ten tribes, which constituted the Israelitish monarchy, into Assyria and Media, whence they never returned. This was the end of the kingdom of Israel.
But the kingdom of Judah still remained, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the capital of which was the city of Jerusalem.
Less than a century after the extinction of the kingdom of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean monarch, commenced those hostile aggressions upon the kingdom of Judah, which only terminated in its meeting with a similar fate.
In the reign of Jehoiakim, in the year 599BC, Jerusalem was besieged and taken by Nebuchadnezzar, who carried away many of the people as captives to Babylon, and despoiled the temple of a large proportion of its treasures and sacred vessels.
In the reign of Jehoiachin, who succeeded his father Jehoiakim on the throne of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar again laid siege to Jerusalem. On its surrender, for it made but little resistance, Jehoiachin was carried to Babylon, where he remained a prisoner until his death. Nebuchadnezzar, on this invasion, took away ten thousand Jewish captives, consisting of all the remaining artificers and effective inhabitants, leaving behind only the poorer people and the unskilled labourers. He also placed Zedekiah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, upon the throne, having first exacted from him an oath of fidelity and allegiance.
The third and last invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar was in the reign of this king, who proved treacherous to his Babylonian master. Nebuchadnezzar accordingly marched upon Jerusalem with a mighty army, and, having taken up his own residence in Riblah, a town of Syria, he despatched Nebuzaradan, his general, or, as he is called in Scripture, “captain of the guard,” to the city, which he took by storm after a twelve month siege.
On this occasion, the King of Chaldea was resolved to inflict signal vengeance on his unfaithful tributaries, and to leave no means for a renewed revolt. He accordingly directed Nebuzaradan , after having taken possession of all the vessels and treasures of the temple which had escaped the former pillage, and all the riches that he could find in the king’s house and the houses of the other inhabitants, to set fire to the temple and the city, and completely to consume them; to overthrow the walls, the towers, and the fortresses, and in short to make a thorough desolation of the place, in which condition it remained for fifty-two years, until the restoration of the captives by Cyrus.
This is the calamitous event which is briefly referred to in a portion of the ceremonies of the Royal Arch, and which is the sole object of the Super-Excellent Master’s degree to commemorate.
Zedekiah was the twentieth and last king of Judah. When Nebuchadnezzar had in his second siege of Jerusalem deposed Jehoiachin, who he carried as a captive to Babylon he placed Zedekiah on the throne in his stead. By this act Zedekiah became tributary to the King of the Chaldees, who exacted from him a solemn oath of fidelity and obedience. This oath he observed no longer than till an opportunity occurred of violating it. In the language of the author of the Books of Chronicles., “he rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God.”
This course soon brought down on him the vengeance of the offended monarch, who invaded the land of Judah with an immense army. Remaining himself at Riblah, a town on the northern border of Palestine, he sent the army under his general Nebuzaradan, to Jerusalem, which was invested by the Babylonian forces. After a siege of about one year, during which the inhabitants endured many hardships, the city was taken by assault, the Chaldeans entering it through breaches in the northern wall.
It is very natural to suppose, that when the enemy were most pressing in their attack upon the devoted city, when the breach which was to give them entrance had been effected, and when perhaps the streets most distant from the temple were already filled with Chaldean soldiery, a Council of his princes and nobles should have been held by Zedekiah in the temple, to which they had fled for refuge, and that he should ask their advice as to the most feasible method of escape from the impending dangers. History, it is true, gives no account of any such assembly, but the written record of these important events which is now extant is very brief, and as there is every reason to admit the probability of the occurrence, the original compiler of the degree was authorised to make the meeting of such a council a part of its legendary ceremony. By the advice of this council, Zedekiah attempted to make his escape across the Jordan. The result is so succinctly told in the simple language of the prophet Jeremiah, who was present at the siege and at the capture, that no other words could give as good a description.
“And it came to pass that when Zedekiah the King of Judah saw them (the princes of Babylon) and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of he city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt the two walls: and he went out of the way of the plain. But the Chaldeans’ army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah, where he gave judgement upon him.
“Then the King of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes: also the King of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover, he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with chains, to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.
“Then Nebuzaradan, the Captain of the Guard, carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzaradan, the Captain of the Guard, left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.”
There are five persons of the name of Gedaliah who are mentioned in Scripture, but only two of these were contemporary with the destruction of the temple.
Gedaliah the son of Pashur is mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah (xxxviii. 1) as a prince of the court of Zedekiah. He was present at its destruction, and is known to have been one of the advisers of the king. It is through his counsels, that Zedekiah was persuaded to deliver up the prophet Jeremiah to death, from which he was rescued only by the intercession of a eunuch of the palace.
The other Gedaliah was the son of Ahikam. He seems to have been greatly in favour with Nebuchadnezzar, for after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the deportation of Zedekiah, he was appointed by the Chaldean monarch as his satrap or governor over Judea. He took up his residence at Mizpah, where he was shortly afterwards murdered by Ishmael, one of the descendants of the house of David.
The question now arises, which of these two is the one referred to in the ceremonies of a Council of Super-Excellent Masters? I think there can be no doubt that the founders of the degree intended the second officer of the Council to represent the former, and not the latter: Gedaliah the son of Pashur, and not Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam: the Prince of Judah, and not the Governor of Judea.
We are forced to this conclusion by various reasons. The Gedaliah represented in the degree must have been a resident of Jerusalem during the siege, and at the very time of the assault, which immediately preceded the destruction of the temple and the city. Now, we know that Gedaliah the son of Pashur was with Hezekiah as one of his advisers. On the other hand it is most unlikely that Gedaliah the son of Ahikam could have been a resident of Jerusalem, for it is not at all probable that Nebuchadnezzar would have selected such an one for the important and confidential office of a satrap or governor. We should rather suppose that Gedaliah the son of Ahikam had been carried away to Babylon after one of its former sieges; that he had there, like Daniel, gained by his good conduct the esteem and respect of the Chaldean monarch; that he had come back to Judea with the army; and that, on the taking of the city, he had been appointed governor by Nebuchadnezzar. Such being the facts, it is evident that he could not have been in the council of Kind Zedekiah, advising and directing his attempted escape.
The modern revivers of the degree of Super-Excellent Master have, therefore, been wrong in supposing that Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, and afterwards Governor of Judea was the person represented by the second officer of the Council, He was Gedaliah, the son of Pashur, a wicked man, one of Zedekiah’s princes, and was most probably put to death by Nebuchadnezzar, with the other princes and nobles whom he captured in the plains of Jericho.
It may be said that it is not important to decide which Gedaliah is referred to, because the whole legend of the degree is apocryphal, not founded on history, but simply intended as an allegory or symbolic lesson.
To this I reply, that even in the composition of a fictitious work we should observe consistency, respect probabilities, and by all means avoid absurdity.
CHARGE TO THE CANDIDATE
Companion: – As Masonry is a science of morality vailed in allegory and illustrated by symbols, it is proper that, as a Super Excellent Master,, you should be instructed in the moral design of the degree into which you have just been initiated, It is intended, in the first place, to inculcate a sincere devotion to the Great I Am, in contradistinction to an idolatrous worship, which is, in other words, but a symbolical expression for a reverence of truth and an abhorrence of falsehood.
It also impresses on us the necessity of a faithful fulfilment of our several vows, and the fearless discharge of our respective duties; and teaches us, by its legends and its ceremonies, that the violation of our solemn vows, as in the instance of the last king of Judah, will not only cause us to forfeit the respect and friendship of our companions, but will also most surely destroy our own peace of mind.
Let us, then, labour diligently and faithfully in the cause of TRUTH, doing with all our might whatever our hands find to do, so that, when at the time of the third watch our work is finished, we may be greeted as Super-Excellent Masters, and me be released from our captivity in the flesh, to return over the rough and rugged way of the Valley of the Shadow of Death to our abiding-place, eternal in the heavens, there to erect our second moral and Masonic temple, that house not made with hands, there to adore the Holy one of Israel throughout the endless circle of eternity.
 Candid disquisition of the Principles of Freemasonry.
 The word here translated, in the original Hebrew is better known as Giblim.
 This charge, which has never before been published, is I think, the conclusion of Cushman’s historical lecture on the degree. Its appropriateness has induced me to adopt it, with some slight variations of language, as the charge to the candidate; and as such it should be used.