Freemasonry and the Scottish Rite:
Some Historical Notes
The beginnings of Freemasonry are obscure. They
will probably always so remain, because Freemasonry was no the product
of a single generation, nor even of a single century.
Unfortunately the history of Freemasonry has been further confused both
by early unwarranted claims to antiquity on the part of those seeking to
aggrandize their Craft, and through the uncritical accounts of amateur
historians. All that can be said with certainty today is that
Freemasonry evolved during the Middle Ages in the British Isles out of a
craft of operative masons.
Moreover, this involved a particular group of
operative masons who had developed certain highly specialized skills:
the builders of the cathedrals. These builders were referred to in
legal documents in London as early as the 1300ís as Freemasons,
as district from masons, the general craft of builders in stone.
The term Free is best explained by the fact that Freemasons, the
cathedral builders, were at liberty to move from one cathedral building
site to another, a freedom that was not the rule for most of the
population during the Middle Ages.
The building of a cathedral involved many years of
construction; this could mean the whole lifetime of a workman.
This also involved the ability and skills of more than the ordinary
degree. Therefore, it is logical to suppose that those builders
chose their apprentices with great care and with regard to qualities of
character, heart and mind as well as manual skills. It is also
understandable that through instruction in operative work they came to
add instruction of a spiritual import.
This, in turn, would explain the eventual acceptance
into their ranks of men who were not builders with their hands, but
concerned with theoretical and spiritual matters of the mind.
Certainly, among the earliest so to be accepted into their Lodges by
Freemasons were architects. For example, Sir Christopher Wren,
architect of St. Paulís Cathedral, was so accepted around 1685 into the
Lodge of Antiquity in London.
The waning of cathedral building and the increasing
speculative trends within the Craft may well have suggested the idea in
1717 to the members of the four Lodges in London to join forces and
advance their common interests. They called their union a Grand
Lodge, and it continues to exist as the United Grand Lodge of England
(UGLE). It was the first such body, the prototype of all Grand
Lodges and the pattern for all regular Freemasonry throughout the world.
The celebration of the 250th anniversary of the organization was a major
observance in 1967 by all Freemasons wherever dispersed.
The organization of the Grand Lodge of England was
followed by two major phenomena. The first was a spectacular
growth and spread of the Craft throughout the world. The second
was an unexpected and bewildering multiplication of degrees and
elaboration of ritual. Especially in France did this second trend
occur. The story of developments there, and later in this country,
is the story of the origins and the organization that we today know as
the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.
Beginnings of the Scottish Rite