Part 3 of a 16 part series regarding morals and conduct.
In antient times, stonemasons protected the secrets of their trade so that only qualified, skilled workers were employed. They also developed passwords and signs so that members could travel to other guilds, even without knowing anyone. Those traditions are still practiced by today’s Freemasons. The idea of keeping a handshake or a password a secret is to prove trustworthiness and honor.
Things like honor and integrity are important in life. Life doesn’t mean much without them.
A candidate will take an oath of silence, reflective of trust and faith. As he goes through the degrees, he is exposed to more knowledge and more secrets. The teachings are universal and therefore are subjective, which is why it’s important not to rush through. The craft promotes learning and can help a man to uncover numerous amounts of secrets, although this should be done on his own. Freemasonry is about self-improvement and self reflection is private by nature. Therefore, we should remember that secrecy and silence are not simply for the benefit of others:
Among the ancients, silence and secrecy were considered virtues of the highest order. The entire fabric of the universe is founded on secrecy, and the great life force which vivifies, moves and beautifies the whole, is the deepest of all mysteries. We cannot fix our eyes on a single point in creation which does not shade off into mystery and touch the realms of eternal silence. In this respect, as in all others, we see that our institution conforms to the Divine Order of things. (Church, 1880)
A candidate is charged to look at himself through self-reflection and contemplation. That’s not something that can be done on a public platform. True secrecy consists of things like intimacy, emotions, aspirations and private opinions between brothers who have grown closer through the support and strength that Freemasonry imparts. Many different kinds of men are able to call each other Brother. Some of them truly do become like brothers, forming lifelong friendships through trust, sharing trials and tribulations, accepting one another and making, sharing and keeping secrets all the while. That’s life. That’s the secrecy of Freemasonry.
When an operative mason hews a stone it must be made square to support other stones placed around it. That way it can play its part as a piece of the temple. To check the work, he will use a tool called a square to determine if the stone is perfect. As Freemasons we use the term “on the square” to refer to our trust in one another. Any man who is on the square is honest and reliable and has a strong character to those around him. Sometimes “on the square” can also be used to describe a Mason telling another Mason something in confidence.
Masonic lodges often have matters which are private or personal and that are not disclosed outwith the lodge. These can often concern matters of members. For example: embarrassment about attendance, a tiff between two members, financial difficulties or difficulty in coming to lodge. As lodge brothers, we make these matters our personal business as well. Although in the case of rejecting an applicant, privacy is of the utmost importance; members may state their reasons for black-balling someone, but only to another brother in private, not in open lodge and never in public. Even though they were black-balled, we still respect and protect their privacy.
In Freemasonry we often use the word “fidelity,” which is Latin for keeping one’s word. Practicing fidelity helps a man to build character, because it’s only through honesty and promise keeping that others can trust him or that he will even be able to trust himself. Faith in others and ourselves is built on the virtue of fidelity, as is human society as a whole. Freemasonry takes fidelity to a new level, not only through trust of each other, but also the loyalty and faithfulness involved in that trust to make a bond that cannot be broken. This bond is often symbolized by the joining of two right hands – a handshake.
The way the craft is structured gives us opportunity to exercise fidelity and trust among the brethren. That may be something difficult to understand for someone who isn’t a mason. It would seem almost unnatural for secrecy to be a virtue, but the secrets themselves aren’t what are important. Handshakes and passwords are actually of little value, it’s the act of keeping those secrets that is important.
A man is considered rich if he has true character. Not all men can become well known leaders, but each man can have a pure heart and be faithful to his principles. One of the greatest influences the craft has is that of integrity. It has always taught self-respect and fidelity towards our convictions and standards, while giving spiritual strength and moral fortitude. Freemasonry wouldn’t be what it is without its principles; therefore we have the right to those principles and integrity rather than indifference and betrayal.
We see truth as divine and the basis for all virtue, so being a true person is more than just a charge – it’s a command. The Masonic teachings of fidelity are so frequent that it’s commonplace to refer to them, as we are supposed to be “inflexible in our fidelity.” We shouldn’t ignore rules, but rather learn and uphold them in our actions. We should always use reason and conscience when setting a good example for others, and it will also make us feel better about ourselves.
Freemasons believe in honor and integrity, as men of character who act morally and keep their word. We are a family. We rely on and trust each other through time honored values to live by. We should not say unkind things about a brother behind his back if we are to uphold the tenet of brotherly love:
The explanation is surely that Masonry aims at developing Brotherly Love and in order that this may be achieved one of the first essentials is confidence in each other. If one brother finds that another has been passing on unkind remarks about him, the fact is sufficient to mar the harmony of the lodge and destroy mutual confidence. It is not merely that a trifling incident passed by word of mouth from man to man tends to be distorted and exaggerated, although this is a fact which cannot be denied, but even more that as brothers we ought to avoid doing anything which may harm another’s reputation or hurt his feelings. (Ward, 1926)
If we are given information “on the square” about another brother then we should hold it in the repository of our faithful breast. But what if danger is approaching? Should we warn that brother or keep it secret? And what if it concerns the lodge? Should we warn them as well? Some serious questions indeed. Simply put, we need to remember that if we are trusted with a secret then we should not violate that trust, otherwise we will have violated our obligation and will no longer be considered trustworthy. Remember that a properly run lodge will work things out according to Masonic traditions and rules.
If the only fidelity we keep is handshakes and passwords then non-masons will see that trust as purely superficial. In order to show them what true fidelity and trust are, we must act accordingly towards ourselves and anyone we might endow that trust upon. We must reinforce our determination to keep our promises ever bearing in mind that we made such an obligation in the presence of God and our brothers. How are we supposed to be trustworthy in life if we can’t be trusted within the lodge?
Hiram Abiff is a great example of fidelity. Even in the face of death, he kept his promises and remained loyal. There are times when we are pressured or even tempted to break a promise or reveal a secret, but we must remember that no matter what the consequence may be, someone trusted us – and that trust must not be betrayed:
There is one important lesson on this subject which is apt to be overlooked, namely, that the opportunity for the display of this virtue seldom occurs except in times of sorrow and defeat. It is when the foemen ring the castle round, the last food is eaten, the last water drunk and the walls are crumbling before the assaults of the attacking party, that the soldier is able to prove his loyalty. It is when false friends forsake a man, when troubles creep in on every side, that the true friend shows himself in his real colors.
It is when a cause is lost, when victory rests on the banners of the enemy, when cowards fly and false friends prove traitors, that loyalty shines out as a glimmering ray amid the darkness. It is tragic, but true, to say that the real test of loyalty is usually on the brink of an open grave, and often the loyal man does not live to receive the reward of his virtue in this life, It is, therefore, in some ways one of the most unselfish of virtues, but it leaves behind it a fragrance sweeter than myrrh and a crown which is truly celestial. (Ward, 1926)
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