What is Freemasonry?
There have been a great many definitions offered, but one of the simplest and most direct is this:
"Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated with symbols."
What is "peculiar" about our system of morality? Why is it "veiled" in allegory? Our system of morality is perhaps peculiar in that it is not dogmatic. We do not have precise rules which tell us what kind of conduct is immoral, or what kind of conduct is moral. We do have very exact standards of rectitude by which we can judge what our action should be in every kind of situation where moral principles are involved, and we are told that the V.S.L. sets out our duties clearly.
"Veiled in Allegory". A veil is a very flimsy cover, but it does not permit a clear picture to the casual viewer. One must earnestly want to see the hidden moral of the allegory. To the casual onlooker a square may simply be two solid sides bounding a right angle, a very necessary tool for builders. To a Mason, the square is also an emblem of rectitude in conduct. The compass is a useful instrument for, among other things, making circles. As a symbol the compass serves as a reminder to us of our relationship with God - "the centre of all" - and how necessary it is for us to keep our lives in constant contact with that centre as we move through our daily activities.
An allegory is then simply a figurative story or statement. Its purpose is to illustrate some moral principle. That principle is represented by a symbolic figure that clarifies and emphasises the message of the allegory. The idea of teaching by symbols and allegories is not new; all great teachers have more or less followed this system.
The system of morality to which we have just referred is that which every Mason is bound to profess and practice. If it includes principles with which he was familiar before he became a Mason, he will nevertheless find these presented here in new ways and under forms different from those with which he was previously familiar.
If he does not find in Masonic teachings anything surprisingly new, he should remember that in many respects at least there is "nothing new under the sun"; and that the essence of morality is to be found in the utter simplicity (though not ease) of its requirements.
Freemasonry is neither a religion, a political organization, nor a social club. It has for its foundation the basic principles of theBrotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. It teaches a belief in a Supreme Being, in the immortality of the soul, and that the Volume of Sacred Law (the Holy Teachings and Writings of his Faith) is the inestimable gift of God to man as the rule and guide for his faith and practice.
It is a Fraternity or brotherhood pledged to the building of character- thoughts, words, motives, and deeds being the materials used. It strives to teach man the duty he owes to God, his country, his neighbor, and to himself. It inculcates the practice of virtue and morality in daily conduct, and it conveys its teachings through ceremonies and symbols.
What is the Mission of Freemasonry?
No one knows with certainty how or when the Masonic Fraternity was formed. A widely accepted theory among Masonic scholars is that it arose from the stonemasons' guilds during the Middle Ages. The language and symbols used in the fraternity's rituals come from this era. The oldest document that makes reference to Masons is the Regius Poem, printed about 1390, which was a copy of an earlier work. In 1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England, and records from that point on are more complete.
Within thirty years, the fraternity had spread throughout Europe and the American Colonies. Freemasonry became very popular in colonial America. George Washington was a Mason, Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity in Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in Massachusetts. Other well-known Masons involved with the founding of America included John Hancock, John Sullivan, Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Stuben, Nathanael Greene, and John Paul Jones. Another Mason, Chief Justice John Marshall, shaped the Supreme Court into its present form.
Over the centuries, Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy. During the late 1700s it was one of the organizations most responsible for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the right of all persons to worship as they choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education. Masons supported the first public schools in both Europe and America.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, Freemasonry grew dramatically. At that time, the government had provided no social "safety net". The Masonic tradition of founding orphanages, homes for widows, and homes for the aged provided the only security many people knew. Today in North America, the Masonic Fraternity continues this tradition by giving almost $1.5 million each day to causes that range from operating children's hospitals, providing treatment for childhood language disorders, treating eye diseases, funding medical research, contributing to local community service, and providing care to Masons and their families at Masonic Homes. The three million Masons worldwide continue to help men and women face the problems of the 21st century by building bridges of brotherhood and instilling in the hearts of men ideals for a better tomorrow.
The mission of Masonry now is to teach men to curb their intemperate passions and to reconcile conflicting interests; to extend those principles of humanity, benevolence, and virtue which should move individuals; to overcome the pride of conquest and the pomp of war; to destroy local prejudices and unreasonable partialities; to banish from the world every source of enmity, hatred, and hostility; and to introduce those voluntary social dealings among men which can preserve peace and good order better than penal laws or political regulations ever could.
A Mason is at home in every country and with his friends in every lodge. On the level of Masonry, we know only God and man. We know neither rich nor poor; neither royal blood nor peasant stock. Men of wealth, men of simple toil, philosophers, royal heirs and hard-handed peasants meet here upon the level, upon a common ground as brothers; and God is the Father of them all.