THE FORGOTTEN VIRTUE
Of all the virtues and attributes propounded by Craft Masonry, the most obscure, overlooked, and yet all-persuasive, is also one of the most vital and essential to our order. It is found as a continuing theme in the great religions of the world. It is basic to many of the other virtues, yet is for many people, one of the most difficult to apply. This virtue is HUMILITY.
Our rituals in Craft Masonry do not make direct reference to this virtue except in our attitudes to the G.A.O.T.U. It is not listed as one of the four cardinal virtues, or the three theological ones. In our relationship to each other, and as Masons, we are admonished about the essential nature of humility only once, in the General Charge to the brethren at installation; yet it must, of necessity, be presented in varying degrees throughout our work. It has been said, in fact, that the totality of our ceremonies is really a continuing lesson in humility, and therefore need not be expounded upon further in our allegories and mysteries.
The preparation of a candidate for our ceremonies is of itself a humbling experience. Divest a man of his normal apparel, deprive him of all signs of materialistic possessions – watches, rings, money – hoodwink him, lead him into unknown surroundings to hear unknown voices ask him personal questions about his fundamental beliefs; yes, it is truly a humbling experience.
Our lesson in humility has just begun. Throughout the course of the three degrees our candidates are told what to say, where to go, where to sit, when to stand, walk, sit and speak. They are dressed in an inferior manner, presented with an unadorned apron, and treated generally as a neophyte in the counsel of the skilled and learned.
Upon receiving their third degree our candidates have earned the right to become an equal among equals. We have informed them that “he who is placed on the lowest spoke of fortune’s wheel is equally entitled to our regard.” The only distinctions within the lodge are merit and position, and the Wor. Master might readily be a man of limited wealth, social position, and formal education. The labourer sits as an equal with the professional; the clerk with the judge, the scholar with the student. Each has the same voice in the affairs of the lodge.
Perhaps because it is not specifically emphasized in our lectures, or stressed in our instruction, all too often the lessons of humility are missed or forgotten. They are veiled in our allegory that we devote little time or effort in bringing them out. Yet it becomes virtually impossible to practice true brotherly love without genuine humility, because only the true humble person has shed the trappings and motivations of self-interest. His concerns and feelings are for his fellow man, rather than for himself. He has been able to widen his sphere of interest, compassion, and action to encompass all with whom he comes in contact. This is not to say that he lacks strength of character or personality, that he has no personal pride or self-esteem. To be humble is not to be a mouse or a milquetoast, or to lack confidence in one’s own abilities.
We hope that those who join our fraternity do so for the right reason. We hope they accept a chair for the right reason and stand for an elected office in their own lodge, district, or Grand Lodge for the right reason. We hope they will not be motivated by self-glorification – the largest and brightest apron, the power or prestige of the position or the accolades and attention that is accorded to rank. If their motivation is to serve the order and contribute to the advancement and well-being of our craft, then they will know that this virtue called “humility” has its own reward.
Let us then take heed of the General Charge and as we attempt to influence new members to our order, search out “the man, who, without courting applause is loved by all noble-minded men, respected by his superiors, revered by his subordinates; who never proclaims what he has done, will do, can do, but where need is will lay hold with dispassionate courage, circumspect resolution, indefatigable exertions, and a rare power of mind, and who will not cease until he has accomplished his work; but who then, without pretension retires into the multitude, because he did the good act, not for himself, but for the cause of good”.
By: H. H. Astbury; Grand Master’s Message; Published in THE TRACING BOARD,
GRS; February, 1982.