“Well, I know you’ll be glad to hear I am through learning the Work!” announced a young brother to the Old Past Master, “One more lesson and I’ll know all about Masonry!”
“That’s fine, son. I congratulate you!” answered the Old Past Master.
“Some conceit!” murmured another brother, as the satisfied young brother moved away. “I’ve been studying Masonry many years and I don’t think I know all about it, by a long chalk!”
“Of course you don’t, and neither does he. But we all have to learn of the Masonry we make for ourselves.”
“Oh, do you think so? I thought we learned of the Masonry our ancient brethren had made for us!”
“That, too, of course. But the Masonry they made for us is the Masonry which can be written down, or put in symbols, or taught by word of mouth. It is a concrete thing; a thing of words and phrases, of symbols and figures, of stone and wood and temple and rough ashler and square and compasses. But the inner Masonry… that we make for ourselves.
“Do you ever read Ingersoll? Somewhere he says ‘an honest God is the noblest work of man’ and thousands of people have shuddered away from the sentence and calls it blasphemy. But they fail to understand what the great agnostic meant. Our modern conception of the Great Architect of course falls infinitely short of reality, but at least we do not do him the injustice of confining Him within the limits of our human frailties. But up through the ages man has limited his gods and his God, according to himself. The gods of Greece and Rome (to go no further back) were gods and goddesses who felt jealousy, anger, revenge. They interfered in the affairs of men for their own pleasures. They were made in the image of men who made them! Later, God was a cruel tyrant, who sanctioned the torments of the Inquisition and loved those who were wicked in his name… at least, such was the middle ages’ conception of Deity. Only within a few hundred years has the world as a whole come to consider God as the all-wise, all-loving, all-merciful, all-tender Father of us all. This was what Ingersoll meant when he spoke of the honest God as the noblest work of men; and honest conception of a God infinitely wonderful and beautiful, is a noble conception.
“Masonry is a conception. After one gets through learning the ritual, the mere words and phrases, he begins to absorb the philosophy and moral system of Masonry. Still later he begins to carry Masonry in his daily life and live by it. Later on… but wait a minute. We have word Masons to whom the ritual is the whole. We have Masons to whom the symbolism is the whole thing, and who see nothing beyond the inner meanings to squares and compasses and stones and angles. We have others who add to this, philosophy of Masonry, but to whom Masonry is yet a perfect system which can be learned in its entirety by those who apply themselves.
“But there are others… more every year, thank God!… who make their own Masonry, beyond that of the books and the lodge, the word and the symbol. To these, Ingersoll might have said that ‘an honest Masonry is the noblest work of the Craft’ with no more irreverence than he intended in his famous epigram.
“Masonry, to such thinking men, is illimitable. It has no end. It is as infinite as space, as unending as time, as distant in boundary as the faintest nebula. It is not a thing of earth only; it encompasses the universe, and joins man’s hands with God. This is the Masonry we make for ourselves, and, could what we make be measured, its proportions would be exactly the proportions which are our own. For the hidden Masonry we make is large or small, wide or cramped, beautiful or ugly, grave or gay, useful or ornamental, fine or doss, exactly as are we.
“In each of us is an idea conception of all we would attain. We have our ideal man, our ideal woman, our ideal job, our ideal position, our ideal happiness. Some of us are so inarticulate we cannot express them; some of us are so inchoate in our thinking we cannot clearly visualize them, but they are there, these ideals, each and every one a measure of what we are.
“And we have, also our ideal of Masonry, the hidden Masonry we make, each man for himself. Your inner temple is not like mine and mine is not like yours, though each may be beautiful and perfect; two faces may be equally lovely, you know, yet totally unlike.
“To my way of thinking, we are better Masons as we grow our inner Masonry for ourselves, as we perfect it and polish it, and raise it higher and higher. It is sadly true that no man may teach another how to build this hidden temple, but it is beautifully true that all of us may build the better by getting for ourselves better working tools. And the working tools with which we as Craftsmen build our own inner, hidden temple of Masonry, into which none may ever step but ourselves and God; the rough and perfect ashlar, square and plumb, trowel and compasses, by which we build this edifice, are available for us all. Our young friend has one, when he secures a perfect working knowledge of the ritual. The student has another, when he has mastered most of the symbolism. The doctor has a third, when he understands and can formulate the philosophy of Masonry, and all of us get a new edge to our tools as we live according to Masonic light and gain in Masonic experience.”
“The Old Past Master stopped and looked off, as if he saw a vision.
The brother to whom he spoke sighed. “I wish,” he said, “I might have the inspiration of looking at your temple of Masonry, that I might make mine better.”
“Old Past Master” by Carl Claudy -1924