Some six hundred years before the Birth of Christ a number of Greek thinkers and scientists made the discovery that while there are countless separate, individual things, plants, animals, and men, each one completely real, and no two identical, they nevertheless belong to a single, all-inclusive unity; to this they gave the name cosmos; the Latins after them gave it the name universe; we ourselves use both words, and we also use the word world, but we prefer universe. A century later Socrates made a discovery almost as important when he found that although there are countless men, and each man has a mind of his own, the mind is everywhere and always the same thing; no two men use their minds for the same purposes, or think about the same thing at the same time, and one man cannot use another's man's mind, but each and every man, White, Black, or Yellow, uses conceptions, knowledge, comprehension, facts, ideas, reasoning, and understanding whenever he uses his mind, and these activities are the same in every man. This discovery by Socrates gave to thinking men the best hope they had ever had of being able to think, or to think out, the cosmos; no one man can know or comprehend the cosmos by himself, because he cannot think hard enough or live long enough, but if thinking and knowing are everywhere the same thing then mankind can hope to know and understand the world because there are billions of men to do the thinking and they have all the time there is to do it in.
Among the many early Greek thinkers and scientists who discovered that the multitudinousness of things has a single allinclusive unity, and together belong to the cosmos, a number devoted themselves to thinking about the cosmos itself, and did so by attempting to answer the question. "How was the cosmos made?" This question inevitably broke into many questions: When did it begin? Of what is it made? Who or what made it? Or is it eternal? How was it done? There have never been in the world before or since a larger number of thinkers of the highest ability, or of more powerful minds, than the Greeks who labored to answer those questions. To their collective attempt to find the answer to that question Pythagoras gave the name of philosophy. The philosophers were as cautious and ingrown in their thinking, as systematic, as careful not to wander away from known facts, as were mathematicians; their thinking therefore took the form of systems, hence the phrase "systems of philosophy"; a large number of men, generation after generation, could work together in, or for, the same system.
One system was named and distinguished from the others by the general idea which it used to describe and explain the cosmos. If a system attempted to explain the cosmos by the idea of matter it was called a materialistic philosophy. If it used the idea of life, it was called a biological philosophy. There were many general ideas thus used: mind, atoms, cause and effect, change, progress, time, etc., etc. The system founded by Democritus and of which Epicurus and Lucretius became champions attempted to explain the cosmos by the idea of atoms. Plato believed that the largest and most-inclusive of things is mind, and therefore he explained everything in terms of it; Aristotle used a different method but in the end he agreed closely with Plato; from their time until now more thinkers have accepted their system than any other. The United States has thus far produced one new system, called Pragmatism, established by William James and John Dewey, which attempts to explain or describe cosmos in the terms of the idea of practice, or experience, or doing.
The founders of early Christianity were theologians but many of them had a philosophy as well as a theology; among those who did, the majority followed Plato, though many preferred Aristotle. But when after the time of Constantine the Church set out to destroy non-Christian philosophy, science, mathematics, art, and literature they spared neither of these Greek philosophers, but ordered every copy of their books to be burned, and even abolished the old university at Athens, which Plato had established centuries before.
But in the meantime many copies of those books had been carried down into Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Arabia where they were translated into texts to be used in schools. Of the two Greek philosophers the Arabs preferred Aristotle; and when in their conquests of the Near East, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain they set up schools and universities in one city after another Aristotle was always ranked first among their texts and teachers; Averrhoes and Avicenna, the greatest of their scholars and thinkers, were both Aristotelians.
Across southern Spain the Mohammedans (called Moors) developed a very high civilization, with cities of dream-like beauty, a great literature, and many of the best schools and universities the world had ever known. Europe at that time was a cultural vacuum, which had no civilization, no roads, no cities, no schools (or almost none), and both ignorance and illiteracy were preached as religious virtues; they did not even have medicine but in their dark, earth-floored huts depended on witchcraft. The result was that more and more Europe began to look to Spain for knowledge, science, art, and education, and more than one Pope called in Mohammedan (or Spanish Jewish) physicians, and there came a time when it began to appear that Mohammedans thought their theology, as well as their armies, might conquer Europe as they had conquered North Africa.
It was when this danger was most critical that the Church was blessed with three champions whose fame even after seven centuries has not yet begun to diminish; these were Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and Abelard. The three were worth thirty armies, and it was their work far beyond the victories of any of the warriors (the Mohammedans were then the world's greatest warriors) which confined Mohammedanism to Spain and prevented its spread across France, Italy, the Lowlands, and Britain.
It is impossible to describe or to explain their work in one paragraph; it would be difficult to explain it to an American even in many volumes, because it is so remote from our language and ways of thought; but it is not impossible to see the general purpose or point of it. Aristotle's name had come to stand among Mohammedan peoples for medicine, mathematics, zoology, astronomy, and architecture as well as for philosophy; the Christian Church had condemned Aristotle and all he stood for; but unless Europe could have the arts and sciences (medicine especially) true Christianity would be destroyed and when it was Mohammedanism would move in.
What the three Christian champions did, (and Thomas Aquinas principally) was to find a way to reconcile Christian theology on the one hand with Aristotle on the other, and to do it with out destroying either; and also - what was equally necessary - to persuade the Pope to accept that reconciliation. The new system they developed was so large and complex that it could not be characterized by any one name, but since it was worked out and taught and completed in the theological schools it was called "schoolism," or Scholasticism. It was officially adopted as its one and only authorized philosophy by the Roman Church. A member of that Church was thereby officially committed by his vows of faith to accept the theological doctrines which had been promulgated by St. Augustine, the Church's official theologian, and the philosophical doctrines of Aristotle.
The Operative Freemasons of the Middle Ages were closer to the Church than any other body of men not in monasteries or the priesthood because they were the Church's builders. A modern American builder can erect a church for any denomination because he uses manufactured materials and works from blueprints. The Medieval Freemason got out and processed his own materials, or supervised the doing of it, planned his work as he went along, unit by unit, made the designs and models for each part, and these were designs made for the building especially, not taken out of stock or copied from books; to work under such conditions he had to be in continual association with the churchmen for whom he was working, and since his decorations, carvings, arrangements, and sculpture had to portray in stone or wood the teachings, ideas, feelings, and doctrines of the church, and since the builder had to think them out and design them himself he could do so only from having a thorough knowledge of church doctrines and practices. He had to put into stone, and into the form of a building, a whole system of ideas in which philosophy and theology were combined.
This philosophy was Scholasticism. Wherever the Freemason went, he was surrounded by and saturated with Scholasticism. It was his mind's world. To define the Gothic Style as Scholasticism in the form of architecture would not be an adequate definition, because the Freemasons and not the Scholastic philosophers invented the Style, but it would be as adequate as any other definition. Even when the Freemason worked on castles, palaces, and mansions or other private buildings, or on colleges, halls, and guildhalls and other public buildings, he did not escape from Scholasticism because it pervaded everything, and gave its shape to the British and European mind for three hundred years.
Nevertheless when we turn to the records of the early Operative Freemasons to find what their work was and what they did in their Lodges, when we analyze the Rules and Regulations and the Old Charges, and read the oldest Lodge Minutes or histories, we find nowhere any trace of the Scholastic philosophy; no Assembly or Lodge stated it, or adopted it, or endorsed it, or championed it, or approved it nor any other philosophy. When an historian asked the Operative Fraternity what its philosophy was, nothing but silence replied to him; it had no philosophy, preferred no one system to any other, and it did not because the Freemasons could not see that either their Craft or their work was concerned with any system of philosophy, one way or another.
When the control, or the part control, of the Lodges by Operative Masons gave way after the Grand Lodge System was established and the Fraternity became wholly Speculative in the sense that its members made use of the ancient Craft solely for Speculative purposes, there was no Scholasticism left in England except in the Roman Catholic Church, in Oxford University, and in a few small circles. Copernicus, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Christopher Columbus among them, each in his own way, had battered it to pieces, and made it impossible for free minds, and competent persons, any longer to believe in it.
But when the Mother Grand Lodge began to warrant its Lodges here and there across the counties of England it was itself surrounded as closely by a system of philosophy as the Operative Lodges had been surrounded by Scholasticism. The country had a philosophy of its own; here and there an occasional school, or circle, or thinker might have a different philosophy, but with these exceptions the whole of England had but one philosophy, and Englishmen thought out many of their questions in religion, government, morality, and business in terms of it. Historians have called it the British Philosophy; professional philosophers call it British Empiricism. John Locke (who probably was a Mason) was to it what Aquinas had been to Scholasticism, and Isaac Newton was believed to be the greatest scientist in history because the English believed (and not without reason) that his science had proved Empiricism to be true. The governing idea of this philosophy was experience. The gist of it was: trust your senses, learn from experience, see how things work out, experiment; try this, try that, then abide by the results; what ever works out best is truest. When turned upside down and translated into the terms of ignorance, it takes the form of "muddle through."
The Speculative Fraternity had its birth and its first growth in the midst of this ubiquitous Empiricism, yet nowhere in the revised Rules and Regulations, or in the Book of Constitutions, or in any of the Charters, or anywhere in the reorganized Ritual is that philosophy so much as even mentioned; no Petitioner is asked to be an Empiricist; the Monitor contains no lectures on it. This is true also of the earliest Lodges here; American Colonists in the Eighteenth Century were as saturated with the ideas of Empiricism as was the home-land (Franklin was the prophet here), and John Locke's fame here was as great as at home, but for all that no reference to that system of philosophy was ever made in Lodge or Grand Lodge histories and Minutes, or in Grand Lodge Constitutions.
These facts about Medieval Operative Freemasonry, and about early Speculative Freemasonry, are historical facts, and not theories; therefore they are decisive, and since they are, a Mason can state without fear of contradiction that at no point in its history has the Fraternity adopted, or endorsed, or championed any one system of philosophy. If ever it had done so it is almost certain that it would have (for historical reasons) given its endorsements to one or more of the systems of philosophy which have been named after Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, or John Locke, and if it had, each Candidate would have been compelled to believe in it, but it never has done so, and no Mason or non-Mason has grounds for saying that Freemasonry ever has favored any one system of philosophy, or exhibited any interest in the subject of philosophy. It is true that the Landmarks would be inconsistent with a certain number of philosophies, but if so it is for a Candidate to decide for himself whether his own philosophy (if he has one) is one of them or not, for in the Degrees he is submitted to no philosophic inquisition.
The systems of philosophy differ much among themselves; they differ so much that more than one-half of the interestingness of the subject comes from the clash of one with another, and not even a Greek sophist could find much in common between the idealism of Bishop Berkeley and the materialism of Professor Haeckel, or between the Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and the evolutionism of Charles Darwin. Nevertheless all the systems of philosophy must necessarily use a certain number of ideas, just as men in the many branches of mathematics must use the natural numbers. These ideas belong not to philosophy but are necessary in any kind of thinking; therefore every man must use them whenever he thinks, and no matter what he thinks about; among these are such ideas as truth, reality, goodness, cause and effect, time, space, reasoning, life, matter, etc., etc. They belong to the mind, not to the philosopher's mind, but to any man's mind; to the mind itself. Since this is true any man has on hand the materials out of which he can make a system of philosophy if he desires to. And many men do; it is always a mistake to suppose that the only philosophers are the professional philosophers; there is not a town of one thousand population in the United States that does not have at least one man in it with a coherent, organized philosophy of his own, and fifty men who have thought much about philosophic subjects.
There may therefore be such a man as has
an organized philosophy of his own; he is neither a professor
nor an author, delivers no lectures about it, and does not argue
about it; he has not formed it idly, nor is it a plaything of
his mind; it contains principles according to which he shapes
the conduct of his life. Such a man is as free as any other man
to petition for the Degrees of Freemasonry. It may be that his
philosophy is consistent with the Landmarks of the Fraternity;
it may be that it is in conflict with them; it is for him to discover
the fact for himself, and the Lodge trusts him to have the honor
and truthfulness to do it. If he finds that his philosophy is
in accord with the Landmarks, and if he is made a Mason, he will
enjoy Masonry all the more for being a philosopher, for while
Freemasonry is not a philosophy, and has never officially adopted
a philosophy, it has in it a number of those fundamental ideas
in which philosophers of the many schools and systems have always
been interested, and has in itself also that sweep of thought
and that vastness of scope in which a philosopher feels at home.
There is as much in Freemasonry for the mind as there is for the
hands and the heart.
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