Freemasonry teaches us we must walk uprightly before g-d and man, acting upon the square and on the level.
In the first degree, we are reminded of those principles, as the foundation of a Masonic life. They are the mission statement of the fraternity. This is the statement of what we are, what we stand for, and what we will and will not do.
Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot be broken. As Cecil B. deMille observed: “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law."
Principles are not practices. A practice is a specific activity or action. A practice that works in one circumstance will not necessarily work in another, as parents who have tried to raise a second child exactly like they did the first can readily attest.Our principles are the foundation of our actions, they define us as men. The set of principles that we live by are the touchstones of our lives. Freemasonry offers a set of principles in the first degree, and expands on them in the following two degrees. The principles I am referring to are NOT esoteric, mysterious, or “religious” ideas. There is not one principle taught (in Freemasonry) unique to any specific faith or religion…
While practices are situationally specific, principles are DEEP, fundamental truths that have universal application. They apply to individuals, to marriages, to families, to private and public organizations of every kind. When these truths are internalized into habits, they empower people to create a wide variety of practices to deal with different situations.
~ The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People ~ by Stephen R. Covey
Masonic principles are a part of most every major enduring religion, as well as enduring social philosophies and ethical systems. They are self-evident and can easily be validated by any individual. It’s almost as if these principles or natural laws are part of the human condition, part of the human consciousness, part of the human conscience.
They seem to exist in all human beings, regardless of social conditioning and loyalty to them, even though they might be submerged or numbed by such conditions or disloyalty. These principles are, for instance:
Fairness, Integrity, Honesty, Service, Quality, Excellence, Potential, Patience, Human dignity, Encouragement, Nurturance (brotherhood), and Growth (personal and spiritual).Principles are the territory. Values are the maps. When we value correct principles, we have truth – a knowledge of things as they are. So, lets take a look at the principles as they are taught in the very first degree of masonry:
Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice, Integrity, Silence, Brotherly Love, Relief, Truth, Hope, Faith, Charity, Freedom, Fervency, and Zeal.The principles enumerated above are fundamental to human life, regardless of where or how the humans live, or what understanding they have of g-d. These principles are like the very air we breathe, the food we eat. They are essential to any human society. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of the principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites.
These fundamental principles, like all great fundamentals, are really self evident to all men who pause for just a moment to consider what they expect from their fellow men. They spring from what is the basis of divine law. To quote Rabbi Hillel (c20 BCE):
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the law. The rest is commentary.Therefore a little commentary: Freemasonry teaches us principles to inculcate in our morality, as our morality is rooted in those principles. As masons, we are enjoined to act upon the square, as the square is a symbol of morality.
Lets look at what Merriam-Webster has to say about morality:
Morality:So, principles of right and wrong behavior define our morals. Inculcation of Masonic principles therefore informs our morals. By the inculcation of these principles, we improve our morals, or rather, reinforce our morals, and become better men. I write reinforce our morals deliberately, because to become a mason, you must already be a good and upright person.
a. of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical (moral judgments)
b: expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior (a moral poem)
c: conforming to a standard of right behavior
d: sanctioned by or operative on one’s conscience or ethical judgment (a moral obligation)
e: capable of right and wrong action (a moral agent)
There is nothing in freemasonry, hopefully, that does not already exist in your heart and conduct, hence the inference that a person is first prepared to be made a mason in his heart. To become a mason, you must already BE an upright, moral person.
Initiation simply reteaches you, reinforces in you, those great moral principles that you have already learned from your parents and from, hopefully, society. Freemasons are, or should be, moral people, acting upon the level and by the square, upright before god and mankind, circumscribing their desires and keeping their passions within dues bounds.
From morals proceeds, or ought to proceed, ethics. Again, from Merriam-Webster:
Ethics:From Principles proceeds morals and from a set of morals proceeds our ethics. Once again, the trinity, the triad which is really a monad, three sides of the same thing, each supporting and defining the other.
1. plural but sing or plural in constr : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2 a: a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values (the present-day materialistic ethic) (an old-fashioned work ethic) — often used in plural but singular or plural in construction (an elaborate ethics) (Christian ethics)
b: plural but sing or plural in constr : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group (professional ethics)
c: a guiding philosophy
d: a consciousness of moral importance (forge a conservation ethic)
3 plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) (debated the ethics of human cloning)
Principles to Morals to Ethics. Each dependent upon the other as none can stand alone.
The principles of freemasonry are much the same. No one principle stands alone, but works in conjunction, each supporting the other into a pleasing and unified whole. By the influence of brotherly love we are more charitable toward our brothers failings (and strengths). By being prudent, and speaking only that which is appropriate to be spoken (Maintaining silence), acting in a brotherly manner with charity, we avoid the pitfall of gossip.
An extended case can be made that acting on the principles in all our lawful activities we will be moral and upright men, acting with ethics than none can reproach. In fact, it is quintessentially Masonic TO act by these principles, and do nothing that will cast a cloud upon our ancient and honorable fraternity.
As always, I look forward to your comments.
“May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons, may brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.”