The rise of Masonry

Printing was invented in 1440. Some sixty years later, the Reformation appeared. In 1530, Luther proclaimed the sovereign authority of the Holy Writing in the matter of faith. In England, the Parliament promoted Henry VIII as supreme chief of the Anglican Church. (Defender of the Faith). Three years later, all monasteries were plundered. From 1534 onwards, the orders for monastic buildings and churches dwindled to a minimum. Moreover, the dissolution of religious fraternities being decreed in 1547, it is easy to understand why the situation of English masons became more and more difficult. Consequently, the lodges of operative masons tended to become already deserted. The evolution of operative masonry was sensibly different in the kingdom of Scotland, independant from the kingdom of England until 1707, with which it had been many times been at war. In Scotland the lodges of craft masons had been encouraged and re-organized at the end of the XVIth century.

On the other hand, a new consideration was then directed towards architecture, its techniques and styles, after the translation into English of the writings of Vitruvius, the military architect of Caesar (in 1570 by John Da.) This new approach was considered as proper to the education of a gentleman. Moreover, one became more aware of the importance of craftmen’s part in discoveries such as printing or the compass… and from then on, handicrafts were differently perceived. Working with craftsmen became important to try and understand the Universe. This change in mentality , in the first half of the XVIIth century, accounted for the interest which English lodges now evinced towards craft masons, churchmen and noblemen that were described as accepted masons or gentlemen masons. These accepted masons were not operative ones, they did not work in the lodge beyond their reception, but they often provided a financial or political support to the lodge. In october 1646, an erudite (Elias Ashmole 1617-1692) was received as accepted mason in a Lancashire lodge whose all members were non operative masons. At the time, England was in the midst of a civil war. At the same time, the lodge received an Anglican candidate fighting in the royal army and a Puritan, a partisan of Parliament, a remarkable instance of political and religious tolerance which the Constitutions of non operative Masons would proclaim one century later. (This reception took place in the historical frame of a civil war between the partisans of absolute monarchy and those favouring the parliamentary control of the royal power.The presence of accepted masons is also noticed in the Craft masons Lodges in Scotland in the XVIth century.

Simultaneously, in 1660, the London Learned Society was founded in London. It was an institution devoted to the progress of sciences which freely accepted in its ranks men of different religions, countries, and professions, and whose members or fellows overtly professed not to set the foundations of an English, Scottish, Irish, papist or protestant philosophy, but of a philosophy for mankind… From 1704 on, its chairman was to be Isaac Newton.

The meeting of these two tendencies gave rise to freemasonry with the intention of leaving outside all religious quarells. Its ritual part was largely be borrowed from operative masonry, yet the opening overture of tolerance did remain. This is to be traced in the first Chapter entitled « Concerning God and religion » of the « Masons’obligations » to be found in the « Constitutions of the Worshipful Brotherhood of Accepted Masons », published in 1723.

It’s highly likely that the lodges of accepted masons muliplied in England in the second half of the XVIIth century, but the documents referring to them are rare. It remains that most historians agree to admit that in the first quarter of the XVIIIth century, in 1717, four speculative lodges in London and Westminster associated themselves to found the Grand Lodge of London. In the first years of its existence, lodges only worked the two degrees known in the lodges of Scotch operative masons : Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft. With the help of several assistants, among whom Montaigu, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of London, Anderson, and Désaguliers, a fellow of the Royal Society, edited the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge that would be published in 1723. This document showed that masonry considers itself as a melting-pot to ensure the social link. The ripening of the rituals for Apprentices and Fellowcrafts led to the introduction of the Master’s degree. Initially indeed, the three degrees preserved some overlapping features between themselves, and the severance of one grade as regards the other was not yet clearly defined. The three degree system rested upon two fundamental features : the identification of the lodge with the Temple of Jerusalem, and a legend ,whose origin was unknown, relating the murder of Solomon’s architect. The Grand Lodge ritual was not directly disclosed, but through Samuel Pritchard, who divulgated it in 1730 in his publication Masonry dissected. At the time, blue or symbolic masonry had been definitely constituted, even if, from one lodge to the other, there might exist slight differences in their rituals, and if, in 1738, the three degree system was not applied by all English lodges. This three degree system : Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master, being the only one existing, it did not receive any specific name.