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.

Next: The Beginnings of the Scottish Rite

 

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