Then again, the discretion with which
religious argument was avoided in the
Lodge was a great strength, not because
these were people who were lukewarm in
religion, but because the Masonic ideal was
to them an ideal. The God worshipped
at the Lodge was not, and I believe is not
meant to be, a rival to the God worshipped
in church, chapel or anywhere else.
It is not objectionable to a Christian to
worship God, whoever God is, even though
as a Christian you wish to say that the
Christian revelation tells more of the truth
than some of your neighbours believe.
There are some prayers which, as a
Christian, I can share with people of
different faiths, and my conscience is not
disturbed by their company. I would go as
far as to say this is a courteous and helpful
attitude, provided we are careful and know
what we are doing.
So there was, in the 18th century, a
simple assumption, but in those days a rather
newly-made one, that the religious rites
of Masonry expressed a basic and universal
religious instinct. It even allowed the
plainest of Puritans to indulge in rituals
they would have hooted at in church.
I found a rather telling instance of this
when I was Dean of Exeter, and was
exploring the foundations of the Masonic
craft in that county. The father of
Freemasonry in Devon was Henry Brice,
who died aged 82 in 1773. Bro. Henry
Brice was one of the lively eccentrics of his
day. As a young man he had unadvisedly
got married, and then found himself in
poverty and with wife and children to
sober him a little.
He tried running off to join the army, and
had to be rescued from that and return to the
printing trade he had started in. By 1717 he
had started his own newspaper, The
Postmaster or Loyal Mercury. Now note this:
Brice was of dissenter background, but like
many in those days who had been born
Presbyterian, his religion had been tamed
by a passion for what he called Liberty.
He even wrote a bad poem about it.
What to a self-educated man in those days,
did liberty mean? It meant a crusade against
vested interests, 0f which there were
innumerable. It meant a somewhat
democratic attitude to the established
order, without being revolutionary.
It meant a strong belief in the practice
of virtue in business.
With these characteristics, Henry Brice
got into serious trouble for his fearless
outspokenness, and generated much
respect for his honesty and cheerfulness.
All over Europe and America men were
looking for ways to temper the clash of class
and sect. The membership of such people
as Haydn and Mozart, of Goethe and
Benjamin Franklin and Washington tells its
own story. This was not a system with an
elaborate ideology, however intricate and
delightful the rituals to who learn them.
In spite of the notorious secrecy of
Masonry, the truth seems to be simple, and
everyone can witness it in what must be the
greatest work of art which the world owes
to the Freemasons, Mozartís The Magic Flute.
And what is the message of The Magic Flute?
That love and truth triumph, Mother
Nature is the best guide, God is in his
heaven, and that the virtuous human being,
whatever his background, was in essentials
the equal of any other. The decency of the
Lodge shows a longing for a decency for all
There may be much more to say about
life than that, but itís a good start for anyone,
and besides Mozart didnít just think it, he
made music of it. These simple ideas, widely
shared, are the means by which great people
have done good things. For the Christian,
this is an expression that Christ, the wisdom
of God, may be the pattern for Godís
building of the human race, in which
everyone may be rooted and built up.
Thatís why I hope the sociability of
the Lodges will continue, and the generous
giving to charity, to incorporate a wide
range of people into friendship and virtuous
activity. If, in the life of the Lodges,
bridges can continue to be made, here
in our country, with people of many
backgrounds and kinds, and so escape
the natural tendency to clannishness and
exclusivity which often puts the mark
of death on societies, you will be true to
your best inspirations.
These vast pieces of intricate masonry,
these cathedrals, were built to represent
heaven. In this building, the many parts,
full of variety, are built into a unity in which
size does not overcome the human scale.
I suspect that the Masonic movement
was much influenced by those who rebuilt
St Paulís after the Great Fire of London.
And surely, the wide co-operation needed
to make a cathedral is driven by a desire to
make something marvellous, is a symbol
to the world of what human life can be
and do when ďrooted and built up in Christ
and established in the faith.Ē
A faithful and generous virtue need fear
no slanders. A life built upon the rock of
divine love and sustained by the virtues of
honesty and candour is safe from any facile
charges of hypocrisy and partiality.
For, as a cathedral is a sign of how
wonderful life on earth could become
if rooted and built up in the truth that is
Christ, so the principles you affirm may
be seen as an encouragement of what is
good and of value to all people.
© Peter Green
St Edmundsbury Cathedral,
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Web site created by Mark Griffin