Belief in the
Great Architect of the Universe
A Historical Tenet of Freemasonry
By BRO. GILBERT W. DAYNES, England
TODAY, Freemasons, in almost every Grand Lodge, recognize that an abiding belief in God, the Great Architect of the Universe -is the solid foundation upon which the Masonic edifice rests. These brethren regard all those who own allegiance to the isolated Grand Lodges that have broken away from this standpoint as renegade-beyond the pale; and rigorously exclude such backsliders from their Lodge Meetings, as being unworthy of the name of Freemason.
This belief in God is no new tenet of the Craft: records demonstrate that it is a Landmark in Masonry co-eval with its birth. Let us therefore dig into the past and, by means of such documents as have survived to the present day, establish the truth of this statement. The connection between Speculative Masonry and Operative Masonry of the Middle Ages having been largely verified, it is essential that the documents of the Mediaeval Masons should be considered before attempting those relating to Freemasonry under the Grand Lodge of England, the premier Grand Lodge of the world.
The earliest Masonic document to which we can thus refer is the Regius Poem of about A. D. 1390. In this MS. King Athelstan is said to have made "hye templus of gret honowre," in order to "worschepe hys God with alle hys mygth." We are also told, when dealing with the points to be observed by Masons:
That whose wol conne thys craft and com to astate,
He most love wel God, and holy churche algate.
The second document of importance is the Cooke MS., a document of a somewhat later date, but supposed by many Masonic students to be a copy of a MS. even older than the Regius Poem. The Cooke MS. commences thus:
Thonkyd be god our glorious ffadir and founder and former of heuen and of erthe, and of alle thyngis that in hym is that he wolde fochesaue of his glorious god hed for to make so mony thyngis of diuers vertu for mankynd.
Also, at line 835, where the points to be observed by Masons are set out, all Masons are exhorted to love "god and holy chyrche & alle halowis."
Throughout these two MSS. there are clear indications that it was the duty of every Mason to worship God in accordance with the doctrine of the then established church: and it would be difficult to imagine any deviation from this rule when we remember that these were the Craftsmen to whom we are indebted for those wonderful sacred edifices--those poems in stone -which still are the glory and veneration of the whole world.
The next documents in chronological order are those Masonic title deeds known to the brethren of today as the MS. Constitutions, or Old Charges. There are now about 100 texts in existence, all of them slightly varying, but nevertheless so similar as unquestionably to point to a derivation from one common original. These MSS., except when following the opening sentence of the Cooke MS., invariably commence with an invocation, or prayer, addressed to the Trinity. One of the earliest dated copies of the Old Charges is the Grand Lodge, No. 1, MS., of 25th December, 1583. In it the Invocation runs as follows:
The Mighte of the ffather of Heaven and the wysedome of the glorious soonne through the grace & the goodnes of the holly ghoste yt been three psons & one god be wth vs at or beginning And give vs grace so to gou'ne vs here in or lyving that wee maye come to his blisse that neu' shall have ending. Amen.
That this Invocation originally was, or in the 17th century became, the opening Prayer of the Lodge is supported by the evidence of the Buchanan MS. (1660 1680), and the Atcheson-Haven MS. (1666), in both of which the Invocation commences "O Lord God, Father of Heaven." The Aberdeen MS. (1670) goes even further, and this Invocation to the Trinity is expressly termed "A Prayer befor the Meeting." In the Freemasons' Pocket Companion, published by J.Scott, in 1754, this Invocation is given as "A Prayer to be used of Christian Masons at the empointing of a Brother: Used in the Reign of Edward IV." We may thus feel assured that the Speculative Mason of the 18th century had no doubt as to the character of the opening sentence of the Old Charges, and the use to which it was put at the making of their Operative Ancestors.
After setting out the Legendary History of the Craft of Masonry in some detail the Old Charges recited certain Articles and Points, or Charges, which were binding upon all Masons; and also some further Clauses which were binding on the Masters and Fellows. In the very forefront of these charges came a Charge concerning belief in God as a requisite for all Masons. This Clause, as given in the Grand Lodge, No. 1, MS., is as follows:
The fyrst Chardge ys this That ye shall bee trewe men to god and holly Churche and you vse no Errour nor heresye by yor vndrstanding or discreacon but be yee discreet men or wyse men in eache thing.
This Clause, with but trifling alterations, appears in all the copies of the Old Charges. It would, with the other Articles and Points, invariably be read to all who were made Masons; after which an Oath to observe the Articles, etc., would be administered.
Again, throughout the Middle Ages, there were in most towns of England and Scotland Gilds of Masons, and many of their Ordinances have been preserved. From these Rules and Regulations it is clear that the Mason was no Atheist but was required to profess the religion of the Established Church. For instance, in the Regulations for the Masons Company of the City of London, passed in 1481, attendance at Church to hear Mass was compulsory on certain Feast Days. Nor, with regard to this Company, must we forget that their Motto was "God is our Guide." Although disused for some centuries the substituted one--"In the Lord is all our Trust"--does not suggest any departure from the Masons' standard of belief.
Such was the condition of affairs when the Grand Lodge of England was brought into being, in London, in 1717. For how long after this date the Christian Faith was requisite we cannot with certainty state. In 1722 the Roberts Print of the Old Charges was published, with its Invocation to the Trinity, and its clause concerning belief in God. It was not, however, an authorized production, under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of England. Concurrently with the issue of this work Dr. James Anderson was completing the first Edition of the Book of Constitutions, and the Grand Lodge was widening its portals by dropping the definite and distinctive Christian character of the Craft.
The Book of Constitutions was published in February, 1723, and in it, amongst other things, Anderson inserted "The Charges of a Free-Mason, extracted from the ancient Records of Lodges." The first is headed "Concerning God and Religion," and reads as follows:
A Mason is oblig'd, by hiS Tenure, to obey the moral Law and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance.
This Charge might certainly have been worded more clearly, and has led some people to believe that even a belief in God had ceased to be obligatory. But it should be recollected that the Charge was probably drawn up by Anderson, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, and was approved by, amongst others, the Rev. J.T. Desaguliers, a French Protestant Divine. It is inconceivable that either of these Clergymen would have acquiesced in the removal of that Landmark-the belief in God--from the Constitutions of the Craft; but we must remember that both of them would desire to emphasize that the Craft was open to others than those whose religion was that of the Established Church of England. Anderson's accuracy in transcription has been found at fault on several occasions, and his wording of this Charge need not be construed with minute exactness. A careful perusal of contemporary evidence will aid in its true construction, and negative the assumption of atheistic principles. The correct interpretation seems to be that the phrase "Irreligious Libertine" was intended to designate the Freethinker of the present day; and that Anderson, in framing the clause, wanted to make it as wide as possible without including the man with no belief in God. It was not to admit the Atheist, but to enable brethren with different religious opinions to meet together in amity.
In the Second Edition of the Book of Constitutions Anderson alters the wording of the first Charge, and gives it in the following words:
A Mason is oblig'd by his Tenure to observe the Moral Law, as a true Noachilla; and if he rightly understands the Craft, he will never be a Stupid Atheist, nor an Irreligious Libertin, nor act against Conscience. In antient Times the Christian Masons were charged to comply with the Christian Usages of each Country where they travell'd or work'd: But Masonry being found in all Nations, even of divers Religions, they are now only charged to adhere to that Religion in which all Men agree (leaving each Brother to his own particular Opinions) that is, to be Good Men and True, Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Names, Religions or Persuasions they may be distinguish'd: For they all agree in the 3 great Articles of Noah, enough to preserve the Cement of the Lodge.
In the Third Edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1756, a return was made to the wording in the First Edition, irrespective of its precise meaning; but the so-called Exposures of that period show that a belief in God was requisite. The wording remained thus until after the Union of the premier Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodge of the Antients in 1813.
If we turn to the Grand Lodge of the Antients we find that the First Edition of Ahiman Rezon was published in 1756. The Old Charges are given, and the first one "Concerning God and Religion" follows the wording in Anderson's Second Edition of the Book of Constitutions. But earlier, when dealing with the principles of the Craft, Laurence Dermott has no doubt as to the meaning of this First Charge, and states:
A Mason is obliged by his Tenure to believe firmly in the true Worship of the eternal God, as well as in all those sacred Records which the Dignitaries and Fathers of the Church have compiled and published for the Use of all good Men: So that no one who rightly understands the Art, can possibly tread in the irreligious Paths of the unhappy Libertine, or be induced to follow the arrogant Professors of Atheism or Deism; neither is he to be stained with the gross Errors of blind Superstition, but may have the Liberty of embracing what Faith he shall think proper, provided at all Times he pays a due Reverence to his Creator, and by the World deals with Honour and Honesty ever making that golden Precept the Standard-Rule of his Actions, which engages, To do unto all Man as he would they should do unto him: For the Craft, instead of entering into idle and unnecessary Disputes concerning the Different Opinions and Persuasions of Men, admits into the Fraternity all that are good and true.
Also, when dealing with the duties of a Mason, Laurence Dermott states:
At his leisure Hours he is required to study the Arts and Sciences with a diligent Mind, that he may not only perform his Duty to his Great Creator, but also to his Neighbour and himself: For to walk humbly in the Sight of God, to do Justice, and love Mercy, are the certain Characteristics of a Real Free and Accepted Ancient Mason.
With the Union of 1813 came an amalgamation of the Constitutions of the two Grand Bodies thus united. An Edition of the Book of Constitutions was published in 1815, and the wording of the first Charge, "Concerning God and Religion," assumed its present form, as follows:
A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understand the art he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that GOD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but GOD looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality.
Turning to the Grand Lodge of Ireland for a moment we know that John Pennell published The Constitutions of the Free-Masons in Dublin, in 1730. He copied very extensively from Anderson's earlier work, including the Charges. There is, however, a paragraph by Pennell, which is very illuminating. He says:
Let all Free Masons so behave themselves, as to be accepted of God, the Grand Architect of the Universe, and continue to be, as they have ever been, the Wonder of the World: And let the Cement of the Brotherhood be so well preserved that the whole Body may remain as a well-built Arch.
It is also in Pennell's Constitutions that we have the earliest dated Prayer, other than the Invocation to the Trinity which commenced the Old Charges. This Prayer is entitled "A Prayer to be said at the opening of a Lodge, or making of a Brother," and runs thus:
Most Holy and Glorious Lord God, thou great Architect of Heaven and Earth, who art the Giver of all good Gifts and Graces; and hast promis'd that where two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt be in the Midst of them; in thy Name we assembie and meet together, most humbly beseeching thee to bless us in all our Undertakings, to give us thy Holy Spirit, to enlighten our Minds with Wisdom and Understanding, that we may know and serve thee aright, that all our Doings may tend to thy Glory, and the Salvation of our Souls.
And we beseech thee, O LORD GOD, to bless this our present Undertaking, and grant that this, our new Brother, may dedicate his Life to thy Service, and be a true and faithful Brother among us. Endue him with Divine Wisdom, that he may, with the Secrets of Masonry, be able to unfold the Mysteries of Godliness and Christianity.
This we humbly beg in the Name and for the sake of JESUS CHRIST our LORD and SAVIOUR. AMEN.
There is a marginal note, that the second paragraph was "To be added when any man is made." This Prayer subsequently appeared in Scott's Pocket Companion for Freemasons of 1754.
Contemporary with the Prayer just quoted there are three others to be found in the Rawlinson MSS., at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Two of these are in script, and one in type print. These Prayers possess much similarity, and probably point to a common origin. The Printed Prayer commences thus:
O Most Glorious and Eternal God, who art the Chief Architect of the Created Universe! Grant unto us, thy Servants, who have already enter'd our selves into this most noble, antient, and honourable Fraternity, that we may be solid and thoughtful, and always have a Remembrance of those sacred and holy things we have taken on us, and endeavour to inform and instruct each other in Secrecy; and that this Person, who is now about to be made a Mason, may be a worthy Member; and may all of us live as Men, considering the great End for which thy goodness has created us; Etc.
Other Prayers of a somewhat later date are also preserved: they all refer to the Grand Architect of the Universe, and leave no doubt that throughout the whole period a belief in God was a prerequisite to entrance into Freemasonry.
Somewhat analogous to the Prayers -as being Ritualistic in character -the following Charge may be cited. It was printed by William Smith in his Freemasons' Pocket Companion, published both in Dublin and London, in 1735, and is headed "A Short Charge to be given to new admitted Brethren." In it the following occurs:
The World's great Architect is our Supreme Master, and the unerring Rule, he has given us, is that by which we work. Religious Disputes are never suffered in the Lodge; for as Masons, we only pursue the universal Religion or the Religion of Nature. This is the Cement which unites Men of the most different Principles in one sacred Band, and brings together those which were the most distant from one another. There are three general Heads of Duty which Masons ought always to inculcate, viz., to God, our Neighbours, and ourselves. To God, in never mentioning his Name but with that Reverential Awe which becomes a Creature to bear to his Creator, and to look upon him always as the Summum Bonum which we came into the World to enjoy; and according to that view to regulate all our Pursuits.
Let us now direct our attention to a further class of evidence, and see what individual brethren have to say concerning this fundamental belief in God. Francis Drake, in a speech to the Grand Lodge of all England, held at York on the 27th December, 1726, in concluding, states:
Let us so behave ourselves here and elsewhere, that the distinguishing Characteristics of the whole Brotherhood may be to be called good Christians, Loyal Subjects, True Britons, as well as Free Masons.
Another early Freemason, Edward Oakley, in a Speech to the Lodge at The Carpenters Arms, Silver street, Golden Square, London, on the 31st December, 1728, said:
I therefore, according to my Duty, forewarn you to admit or even to recommend to be initiated Masons, such as are Wine-Bibbers or Drunkards, witty Punsters on sacred Religion or Politicks, Tale-Bearers, Bablers, or Liars, litigious, quarrelsome, irreligious, or prophane Persons, lew'd Songsters, Persons illiterate and of mean Capacities; and especially beware of such who desire Admittance with a selfish View of gain to themselves; all which Principles and Practices tend to the Destruction of Morality, a Burden to Civil Government, notoriously scandalous, and entirely repugnant to the Sacred Order and Constitutions of Free and Accepted Masons.
Later on in his Speech, when dealing with false brethren, Bro. Oakley remarks that these,
not having the Fear of God before their Eyes, value no sacred Obligations, turn Rebels, and endeavour to defame the Craft.
These brethren have set out in unmistakable language their ideas as to the Character of the Craft and its vital tenets.
There still remains another class of evidence of varying value. I allude to certain early MSS., and the many so-called exposures, which have been written and published during the first half of the 18th century and even later. Some of these undoubtedly indicate Masonic customs with more or less truth. In the examination known as the Sloane MS. the following occurs:
Q. From whom do you derive your principal?
A. From a greater than you.
Q. Who is that on earth that is greater than a Freemason?
A. He yt was caryed to the highest pinnicall of the Temple of Jerusalem.
In the same examination, a little further on, we have:
Q. How stood your Lodge? A. East and west as all holy Temples stand.
And yet again there is this Question and Answer:
Q. What were you sworne by ?
A. By god and the square.
Next in chronological order comes A Mason's Examination, which first appeared in print in. 1723. In the course of this examination the following sentence occurs:
Then one of the Wardens will say--God's greeting be at this Meeting.
Shortly after this last named Exposure appeared The Grand Mystery of the Free Masons Discovered was published. In it we have the following:
Q. How many make a Lodge?
A. God and the Square, with Five or Seven right and perfect Masons, on the highest Mountains, or the lowest Valleys in the World.
A little later comes the following:
Q. How many Lights?
A. Three; a Right East, South, and West.
Q. What do they represent?
A. The Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
At the close comes "The Free Masons' Oath," which runs thus:
You must serve God according to the best of your Knowledge and Institution, and be a true Liege Man to the King, and he'p and assist any Brother as far as your Ability will allow; By the contents of the Sacred Writ you will perform this Oath. So help you God.
There is also reference to God's greeting, and the position of holy temples, to which reference has already been made.
In 1730, two further so-called exposures made their appearance. The later one - Masonry Dissected, by Samuel Prichard -contains much that is germane to our inquiry. In the Entered Prentice's Part, when dealing with the Furniture of the Lodge, the following questions are asked and answered:
Q. What is the other Furniture of a Lodge?
A. A Bible, Compass and Square.
Q. Who do they properly belong to?
A. A Bible to God, Compass to the Master, and Square to the Fellow Craft.
Then, in the Fellow-Craft's Degree, referring to the letter G, the under-mentioned questions and answers are given:
Q. What did that G denote?
A. One that's greater than you.
Q. Who's greater than I, that am a Free and Accepted Mason, the Master of a Lodge?
A. The Grand Architect and Contriver of the Universe, or he that was taken up to the Top of the Pinnacle of the Holy Temple.
Also, in the same Degree, reference is made to "God's good Greeting be to this our happy Meeting." Lastly, in the Master's Degree, there is the following:
Q. How came you to be passed Master?
A. By the help of God, the Square, and my own Industry.
In many of the subsequent so-called Exposures we have still further proof of the necessity of a belief in God in every Mason. Thus we find, that the Lodge is opened "in the name of God"; the brethren pray "O Lord God, thou great and Universal Mason of the world, and first builder of man, as it were a temple"; the Initiate is required to put his trust "in God"; and the Bible is explained as one of the three great lights in Masonry "to rule and govern our faith." These references are by no means exhaustive, but they will suffice clearly to demonstrate that a Belief in God was recognized as a Masonic essential.
In conclusion, I think it may safely be affirmed that, although there was undoubtedly some ambiguity in the wording of the Charge "concerning God and Religion" in the First Edition of Anderson's Constitutions, yet the mass of contemporary evidence available indicates an adherence at all times, by the Craft in the British Isles and elsewhere, to a Belief in God as one of its inflexible, unquestionable and unalterable tenets. The redrafting of this Charge in the Constitutions of 1815 removed such ambiguity as may then have existed, and a faithful belief in God was once more clearly shown to be a fundamental, or Landmark, in English Craft Masonry. May it ever so continue.
If you have any questions or comments, we would be pleased to hear from you.
© The Regular Grand Lodge of England 2005