The unknown author (possibly William Preston), or authors who wrote the Dionitorial Lectures of the Fellowcraft Degree used the Liberal Arts and Sciences as a symbol of the kind of education which grown men need, and which is represented by college and university; he gave the traditional list of them (see page 590 this Encyclopedia) which had been current in the Middle Ages:
grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy.
The extraordinary fact about this list is that though it is supposed to contain the sciences as well as the arts it includes only one science, astronomy, and does not include the fundamental sciences of physics and chemistry. The number of "arts" is equally incomplete, and equally confused. The list has no worth as a list of the subjects on the curriculum (and never did!) but it serves well enough as a symbol, or rather as an emblem, of education. It is unfortunate that in our Masonic literature the great number of commentators on the symbol have given their attention almost exclusively to the "arts" in the list, and almost none to the "sciences," because there is one whole side of Freemasonry and its history which comes under that head. Among the many things which we must have in order to keep alive are those which belong to the two sciences of physics and chemistry.
As organized sciences, carried on in laboratories by specialists, physics and chemistry are not many centuries old; but the materials used by them, and for sake of which the specialists work, have been used by men from the earliest beginnings because there never has been a way to have food, clothing, shelter, tools, weapons, and medicines without them. If by "science" is meant these materials instead of the specialists and their modern, technical methods, then science is as old as man, and the most primitive peoples had the sciences, just as at the present time tribes in the still uncivilized areas of the world have them, and always have.
There are thousands of things in the sciences, and new ones are evermore being discovered, and they differ widely among themselves; but they together have one property in common, that they can be found, used, worked on, and worked with, only by technical methods; and these techniques can be used on all of them. First, the materials themselves are useless lentil made over or modified or manufactured, are very difficult to know and understand, or are poisonous, explosive, rare, costly, or dangerous--thus, sulphur may turn into a poison in ignorant hands, and ordinary cotton can turn into an explosive. Second, the materials are such that units of them are interchangeable, so that what is true of any one is true for any other unit of the same material; it is because of this that physical and chemical formulas are possible. Third, since the units are interchangeable (any gram of mercury can be used when "gram of mercury" is called for) the materials are mathematizable; and mathematics are so necessary, in fact, that without them there could be no science.
Fourth, the materials require technical treatment, Scientific instruments, and technical knowledge; guesswork is ruled out.
Fifth, the materials are used universally; salt, sulphur, mercury, steam, electricity, the pulley, the cog, force, weight, etc., are not only found and used everywhere but are made or manufactured everywhere by the same methods--the formula for sulphuric acid is the same in every country, and in every period of time.
Whatever the above is true of, belongs to science; if the above is not true of a thing it does not belong to science; since the only things of which it is true are the materials used in physics and chemistry and their sum divisions, they are the only sciences. If the Word "scientific" were used exclusively of the materials and methods of physics and chemistry it would clear up a mass of confusion in thought, especially in "popular " thought; if men, careless of accuracy in speech, insist upon using "scientific" for other fields and methods and materials the fact remains that physics and chemistry (with their subdivisions) remain unique, and stand apart, and do not admit of being mixed with anything else.
In countries and periods of time in Europe and America many names have been used for what is now called science, such as wisdom, philosophy, natural philosophy, etc.; the word "science" itself has had a similarly checkered history; it has meant at different times knowledge, dialectics, medicine, philosophy, ethics, etc. In the present stage of the English language it should be used exclusively of physics and chemistry.
Biology, botany, ethnology, zoology, etc. are Systems of Observation.
They are not sciences because their units are not interchangeable, and the units do not continue to maintain their identity without change--what is today an ounce of alcohol will next week be the same ounce of alcohol, but what is a seed today may be a plant next week an egg today will be a chicken in ten days.
Mathematics, logic, statistics, etc., are Disciplines; they are composed of rigorously accurate formulas which must never vary (they are indifferent to the mathematician's feelings) and must be learned by heart. History, economics, sociology, psychology, etc., are subjects; each man working in them can work where he wishes, as much or as little as he wishes, for any purpose he desires, and can make use of any method he finds will work; they occupy "fields."
Music, architecture, oratory, literature, drama, dancing, sculpture, etc., are Fine Arts. Pottery making, silver and gold work, engravings, carving, etc., belong to the Skilled Crafts. Theology, in its subdivisions, and philosophy, divided into its eight subdivisions, are together describable by no other word than Thought.
In addition there are a number of fields of study and endeavor which are sui generis, unique, and not to be classified; they cannot be described in terms of anything else but must be described in terms of themselves; scholarship is one, antiquarianism is another; Freemasonry itself belongs to this last category; it is not, as Dr. Hemming tried to have us believe, "a system"--scarcely anything could be less a system, but is merely itself, and In a rigorous use of words it would not be a tautology to define it as: "Freemasonry is freemasonry."
When Dr. Hemming defined Freemasonry as "a system of morality" he forgot or else he had never known, that ethics is a sub-division of philosophy, and is wholly unconnected, even remotely, with either of the two sciences. Like many commentators who have followed him he had no eye for anything in Freemasonry except the religion in it; this is especially true of American Masonic writers because from the time of the Rev. George Oliver they have written about that side of the Craft as if it were the only side it had. 'This has been a misfortune because it has given millions of American Masons a distorted, misshapen picture of Freemasonry, and because it has ignored the salient role of the sciences in Freemasonry from the first Operative Masonry until now.
The Operative Freemasons had to know and use more science than any other men in the Middle Ages; they made tools, understood engineering and constructed engines such as elevators, cranes, etc., used chemicals in staining of glass, knew mechanics, and had to employ mathematics, geometry especially, at every step in their work. The sciences were forbidden; the populace dreaded them as something supernatural, or miraculous, and they believed that chemistry was of the devil because they had the superstition that hell is a place filled with living chemicals. The Freemasons ignored these notions; and though they kept their sciences to themselves they continued to use them against fulminations from either lords or bishops. This use of science was as much a part of Freemasonry as was either morality or brotherhood, and to omit it is to leave us with a falsified picture of the Operative Craft.
In the beginning of Speculative Fraternity under the Grand Lodge system the Masons avowed their devotion to the sciences more boldly, and even almost dramatically. The Royal Society was in the British public mind synonymous with science, and for more than a century it, and its offshoots, were the only exponents and practitioners of science in Britain.
It began in 1660 A.D. and took its first organized form at a meeting of scholars in Gresham College who had assembled to hear a lecture by Bro. Sir Christopher Wren. Sir Robert Moray was elected its first president, March 6, 1661 A.D. he is supposed to have been matte a Mason in 1640 A.D.
Dr. Desaguliers, who later became its secretary for a long period of years, was the "father of the Grand Lodge system," and was one of Sir Isaac Newton's closest friends.
A Lodge largely composed of Royal Society members met in a room belonging to the Royal Society Club in London. At a time when preachers thundered against these scientists, when newspapers thundered against them, street crowds hooted at them, and neither Oxford nor Cambridge would admit science courses, Masonic Lodges invited Royal Society members in for lectures, many of which were accompanied by scientific demonstrations; and it was these scientific lectures which became the pattern for the Monitorial Lectures of the next generation. The enthusiasm for science spread from England to France, and from there to Austria, and Russia; Masons and Lodges had an extraordinarily large and important part in spreading it. The fraternity had an historical justification as well as a symbolic need to set in the midst of the Fellowcraft degree (the Master Masons Degree at that time) the symbol of the Liberal Arts and it would rectify the general conception of Freemasonry and its history if Masonic writers were to cease to drop the and Sciences from that phrase.
(For references see any standard history of science. For the history of Masonry and the sciences see titles on Masonic history, etc., in the General Index to this supplement; in conjunction with them read histories of architecture. A work of especial usefulness to Masonic students is Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, by Geo. Haven Putnam; II Vol.; G. P. Putnam's Sons; New York; 1896. As one of the countless proofs that the Tomes of the Liberal Arts and Sciences were never taken at their face value Putnam cites De Artibus ac Disciplints Liberalium Litterarum, by Casidorus, in which that teacher of St. Benedict divides the "Mathematics" in the list into Astronomy, Arithmetic, Music, and Geometry. The book was written about 570 A.D.)
Owned & Operated Exclusively by Members of the Masonic Family
Tradition, Integrity, Trust.
© 2018 The Ashlar Company
“I received my ring today! The transfer from USA to SA was a long process. Thank you for advising an international courier service rather than the regular postal services or I might still have been waiting :)
I would just like to thank you and the team at the Ashar Company for your absolute dedication to perfection. May I ask if the symbols etc on my ring were lazer cut? The detail is so intricate and fine.The quality is higher than I had expected. It truly is a work of art. And I shall wear it always, with pride.
Brother John, South Africa
You are currently visiting masonicencyclopedia.com