There are two kinds of traditions in Freemasonry: First, those which detail events, either historically, authentic in part, or in whole, or consisting altogether of arbitrary fiction, and intended simply to convey an allegorical or symbolic meaning; and second of traditions which refer to customs and usages of the Fraternity, especially in matters of ritual observance. The first class has already been discussed in this work in the article on Legend, to which the reader is referred. The second class is now to be considered.
The traditions which control and direct the usages of the Fraternity constitute its unwritten law, and are almost wholly applicable to its ritual, although they are sometimes of use in the interpretation of doubtful points in its written law. Between the written and the unwritten law, the latter is always paramount. This is evident from the definition of a tradition as it is given by the monk Vincent of Lerins: Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus traditum est; that is, tradition is that which has been handled down at all times, and in ad places, and by all persons. The law which thus has antiquity, universality, and common consent for its support, must override all subsequent laws which are modern, local, and have only partial agreement. It is then important that those traditions of Freemasonry which prescribe its ritual observances and its landmarks should be thoroughly understood, because it is only by attention to them that uniformity in the esoteric construction and work of the Order can be preserved.
Cicero has wisely said that a well-constituted Commonwealth must be governed not by the written law alone, but also by the unwritten law or tradition and usage; and this is especially the case, because the written law, however perspicuous it may be, can be diverted into various senses, unless the Republic is maintained and preserved by its usages and traditions, which, although mute and as it were, dead, yet speak with a living voice, and give the true interpretation of that which is written.
This axiom is not less true in Freemasonry than it is in a Commonwealth. No matter what changes may be made in its Statutes and Regulations of today and its recent customs, there is no danger of losing the identity of its modern with its ancient form and spirit while its traditions are recognized and maintained. Such of the traditions of our Institution that support our established rules and practices may be deemed the very common law of the Craft.
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