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Ritual, Operative Masons And

From the beginning of Medieval (or Operative) Freemasonry and almost to the Renaissance, the Roman church enforced a rigid censorship over, and control of, the use of ceremonies, rituals, symbols, emblems, sculptures, images, and pictures, even, in most instances, when not used in the Church or for religious purposes. It was not only matters of theological doctrines and ecclesiastical rules that the General Councils decided or the Popes enforced; the Councils also decided those other things as well, and including the authoring, illustrating, and copying of manuscripts; and a man could be declared a heretic for using an un-permitted ceremony as easily as for believing an unorthodox doctrine.

Thus, to give one example, for centuries the orthodox Crucifix was carved or modeled or painted with the two feet of the figure held apart; this required four nails; some unknown artist, with a sense for form, made a crucifix with the feet crossed, and therefore used only three nails. For years a controversy raged between the three nails school and the four nails school. A German bishop, finding that one of his churches had received a costly three-nail crucifix, was so indignant that he formed a procession and carried the unorthodox image out into the country, dumped It into a hole, and forbade any man ever to look at it. Painters were instructed by written rules what costumes a saint should wear, its color, what other figures could be included in the picture, etc.

Each Masonic student who is piecing together the external and internal evidence in an endeavor to discover what the ceremony or ritual of the early Operative Freemasons must have been, finds it necessary to keep the above facts in mind, just as he must keep in mind the fact that the General Council at Avignon forbade secret societies. Either the ceremonies and symbols were orthodox, in which case it becomes difficult to know why they were kept in such secrecy; or they were not orthodox, which explains the secrecy. And yet an Apprentice, as we know from the Old Charges, swore to be obedient and loyal to Holy Church! If so, how could such a pledge be asked in the midst of a ceremony which had to be walled in by secrecy, the door protected by a guard with a sword? The facts appear to complicate the question with one paradox on top of another; we can be certain that the builders of the cathedrals were not heretical we can also be certain that they held their assemblies behind closed doors!

The most likely answer is that their ceremonies, symbols, and truths (and no Mason should ever hesitate to call them truths) were neither heretical nor orthodox, but of a character so unlike any other ceremonies and symbols that the words "heretical" and "orthodox" were irrelevant; and that the Freemasons, than whom there were in the Middle Ages no men more intelligent, sincere, or better educated, knew them to be irrelevant and therefore had no scruples about them, one way or another.

They had constantly before them in their work and in their minds a set of arts and sciences which also were irrelevant to theology; for geometry, engineering, chemistry, and the physics of a building are self-same the world over, and cannot be made to conform to any one theological system. They called their own art by the name of "geometry" oftener than by any other name; since so it is reasonable to believe that they included their Freemasonry in the same species as geometry, something outside the spheres of the Church; and that they kept it secret for many sound and righteous reasons, among them being the danger that an art so mysterious to outsiders might be misunderstood and thereby occasion trouble.

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