I am not a Freemason. I therefore speak to
you with respect and gratitude from outside.
I habitually answer those who are critical of
Freemasons that, as a rule, we should judge
every organisation by the best we find in it,
and not the worst.
The best defence of the Masonic tradition
is the people whom I have known, loved
and respected, who have been Freemasons.
They number, for example, an uncle, my
loved parish priest, Bishop Edmund Sara,
Dean Peter Moore of St Albans, who has just
died, among many others.
You cherish long and intricate pedigrees
to very ancient foundations in human
civilisation. The real history of your
movement, where it emerges as an
important force in British life, strikes me is
magnificently 18th century, the age of
common humanity and the Rights of Man.
The sort of people who came together to
found Lodges were typically middling
people. Oliver Goldsmith remarked in the
middle of the century that there were so
many middling people, neither very grand
nor very humble, while on the continent the
classes were too polarised.
That some Lodges are very grand indeed
does not undermine the fact. The freedom to
associate, to combine for the purposes of
Lodge activities and charitable purposes,
was one of the symptoms of social health
in 18th century Suffolk and one of the
means whereby the country was maintained
The Masonic system has made people feel
they belonged. It has encouraged friendship,
and so overcome the curse of loneliness
which stifles so much good in people. The
Lodge provides, if I am not mistaken, the
place where the lines of W H Auden are
shown as true:
Private faces in public places are wiser and nicer
Than public faces in private places
Then again, the Lodges of 18th century
England were godly without being sectarian.
The importance of that can hardly be
exaggerated. When we consider the violence
of religious quarrel in the 17th century, the
century of the Civil War and the struggle of
the religious sects, it is amazing that in the
Masonic Lodges, dissenter and Church of
England men sat down and were brothers
together. What was the secret?
It was that in all classes of society, people
were coming to believe in common
humanity, mankind. They were moved by
what people had in common rather than in
what history had brought to pass. Now, the
idea of human rights and human dignity
have become a cliché, so that we forget what
a new idea this was in 1730.
But it was in England, influenced by the
writings of John Locke, that men and
women first felt their liberties and civil
decency were no more and no less than
merely human. By our standards their world
was unbelievably coarse and class-ridden,
but the founding of Masonic Lodges was a
means whereby they showed how moved
they were by these new ideas and ideals.
They insisted on good behaviour.
In the By-Laws of the Lodge of Antiquity
No. 2 (the old Lodge of St Paul’s), printed in
1760, there is the following rule:
If any Brother Curses, Swears or says anything
Irreligious, Obscene or Ludicrous, Holds private
Committees, Disputes about Religion or Politics,
offers to lay Wagers, or is disguised in Liquor
during the Lodge hours such offending Brother
shall be immediately fined by a private Ballot for
each offence … each fine not to be under one
shilling nor to exceed Five Shillings.
RW Bro Barry Ross, Provincial
Grand Master for Suffolk, the
Dean of York, V. Rev. Keith Jones
and (right) W. Bro. George Pipe,
Provincial Grand Chaplain
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