The ascent toward a place representing the Middle Chamber of King Solomon's Temple is the outstanding ceremony of the Second Degree; because of this, and because of the space devoted to it by the Ritual, we shall devote several sections to its study. In the present section we shall deal with the Middle Chamber itself, and with the truth of which it is a symbol.
That it is a symbol, and not a bit of history, there is every evidence to show. Sir Charles Warren, while Master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research, gave expression to the opinion of the best modern scholars in saying that, "There never was a Middle Chamber in the Temple. . . . As the Fellow Crafts were only employed during the building of the Temple, they could not have used this Chamber for the service mentioned [you will recall what this service is supposed to have been] even if it had existed. . . . Even if this Chamber had existed they would not have been allowed to desecrate it by use as a pay office."
Albert Mackey, one of the most conservative of Masonic writers, and who wrote his "Symbolism of Freemasonry" some twenty years before Brother Warren delivered his speech, took the same position. As we may read, p. 210: "The whole legend is, in fact, an historical myth, in which the mystic number of the steps, the process of passing to the Chamber, and the wages there received, are inventions added to or ingrafted on the fundamental history contained in the sixth chapter of Kings, to inculcate important symbolic instructions relative to the principles of the order."
The passage in the Book of Kings, to which Mackey here refers, is in the authorised version of the Bible as follows: "They went up with winding stairs into the middle chamber." Modern Biblical scholarship has shown that the term here translated "chamber" really means a "storey," and that there were three such storeys on one side of the Temple composed of small rooms in which the priests kept their vestments, utensils, etc. That workmen were paid their wages in this middle storey, or that Fellow Crafts were there prepared for a higher grade, there is not a hint in the record to show. This account of the matter, as Mackey has said, is "an historical myth."
A myth has been defined as "philosophy in the making." It is an allegorical piece of fiction designed to convey some abstract teaching. The purpose of our ceremonies is not to furnish truth rather than history, and that truth is nowise affected by the accuracy or inaccuracy of the narrative behind which it is veiled. To remember this in all connections will save one from those pitfalls of literalism into which so many Masonic students used to fall.
When understood purely as a symbol, the Middle Chamber stands for that place in life in which we receive the rewards of our endeavours. This is the broadest sense of it. Its narrower sense, as found in the Second Degree lecture, is that it represents the wages of education, of mental culture, for learning is described as the peculiar work of the Fellow Craft. Learning stores the mind with facts, preserves one from bigotry and superstition, offers to one the fellowships of great minds, quickens perception, strengthens the faculties, gives one, in short, a masterful intellect. It is into the possession of such riches as these that the Winding Stairs of the Liberal Arts and Sciences bring a man at last.
We may rejoice that William Preston gave
this teaching so large a place in our lectures, for without it
Masonry would have been wholly inadequate as a complete system
of life. Ignorance is a sin, in most cases at least, and the sooner
we thus regard it the better will it be for all of us, Masons
and profane. In olden days when men had so few opportunities for
learning it was inevitable that the common man should be ignorant;
but in these days, with public schools, correspondence schools,
cheap books and periodicals, and free libraries, a man who remains
content with not possessing the best that has been thought and
said in the world is wholly without excuse. Always and everywhere
should men have in the house of life a winding stair of art and
of science up which to climb into a middle chamber wherein to
hold converse with the good and great of all ages!
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