Uniformity of Work
An identity of forms in opening and closing, and in conferring the Degrees, constitutes what is technically called Uniformity of Work. The expression has no reference, in its restricted sense, to the working of the same Degrees indifferent Rites and different countries, but only to a similarity in the ceremonies practiced by Lodges in the same Rite, and more especially in the same Jurisdiction. This is greatly to be desired, because nothing is more unpleasant to a Freemason, accustomed to certain forms and ceremonies in his own Lodge, than on a visit to another to find those forms and ceremonies so varied as to be sometimes scarcely recognizable as parts of the same Institution. So anxious are the dogmatic authorities in Freemasonry to preserve this uniformity, that in the Charge to a Brother he is instructed never to "suffer an infringement of our Rites, or a deviation from established usages and customs." In the Act of Union in 1813, of the two Grand Lodges of England, in whose systems of working there were many differences, it was provided that a Committee should be appointed to visit the several Lodges, and promulgate and enjoin one system, "that perfect reconciliation, unity of obligation, law, working:, language, and dress, might be happily restored to the English Craft"(Article XV).
A writer in C. W. Moore's Magazine, once proposed the appointment of delegates to visit the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, and Ireland, that a system of work and lectures might be adopted, which should thereafter be rigidly enforced in both hemispheres. The proposition was not popular, and no delegation was ever appointed. It is well that it was so, for no such attempt could have met with a successful result.
It is a fact, that uniformity of working Freemasonry, however much it may be desired, can never be attained. This must be the case in all institutions where the ceremonies, the legends, and the instructions are oral. The treachery of memory, the weakness of judgment, and the fertility of imagination, will lead men to forget, to diminish, or to augment, the parts of any system which are not prescribed with incertain limits by a written rule. The Rabbis discovered this when the Oral Law was becoming perverted, and losing its authority, as well as its identity, by the interpretations that were given to it in the schools of the Scribes and Prophets. Hence, to restore it to its integrity, it was found necessary to divest it of its oral character and give to it a written form. To this are we to attribute the origin of the two Talmuds which now contain the essence of Jewish theology. So, while in Freemasonry we find the esoteric rituals continually subjected to errors arising mainly from the ignorance or the fancy of Masonic teachers, the monitorial instructions -- few in Preston, but greatly enlarged by Webb and Cross--have suffered no change.
It would seem from this that the evil of non-conformity could be removed only by making all the ceremonies monitorial; and so much has this been deemed expedient, that a few years since the Subject of a written ritual was seriously discussed in England. But the remedy Would be worse than the disease. It is to the oral character of its ritual that Freemasonry is indebted for its permanence and success as an organization. A written, which would soon become a printed, ritual Would divest Symbolic Freemasonry of its attractions as a Secret Association, and would cease to offer a reward to the laborious student who sought to master its mystical science. Its philosophy and its symbolism would be the same, but the books containing them would be Consigned to the shelves of a Masonic library, their pages to be discussed by the profane as the common property of the antiquary, while the Lodges, having no mystery within their portals, would find but few visitors, and certainly no Workers.
It is, therefore, a matter of congratulation that uniformity of work, however desirable and however unattainable, is not so important and essential as many have deemed it. Doctor Oliver, for instance, seems to confound in some of his writings the ceremonies of a Degree with the landmarks of the Order. But they are very different. The landmarks, because they affect the identity of the Institution, have long since been embodied in its Written laws, and unless by a wilful perversion, as was the case in France, where the Grand Mastership was abolished, can never be changed. But variations in the phraseology of the lectures, or in the forms and ceremonies of initiation, so long as they do not trench upon the foundations of symbolism on which the Science and philosophy of freemasonry are built, can produce no other effect than a temporary inconvenience. The errors of a ignorant Master will be corrected by his better instructed successor.
The variation in the ritual can never be such as to destroy the true identity of the Institution. Its profound dogmas of the unity of God, and the eternal life and of the universal brotherhood of man, taught in its symbolic method, will forever shine out preeminent above all temporary changes of phraseology. Uniformity of work may not be attained, but uniformity of design and uniformity of character will forever preserve Freemasonry from disintegration.
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