In the Cooke MS. which is dated at not later than 1450 A.D. and more probably was written as early as 1410 A.D. are what is believed to be the oldest existing set of rules and regulations left on record by the Medieval Freemasons, and it is obvious from internal evidence that they represent rules which had been already in force for many years, possibly as far back as 1200 A.D. at least. A principal purpose of these Rules and Regulations (or Points) was to set down officially the qualifications demanded of any youth before he might be accepted as an Apprentice. These qualifications are not separately listed, and in a few instances are only implied; roughly, the list was as follows:
1. The youth must be willing to work as an apprentice without pay for seven years. 2. A bondman was not eligible--that is, a youth owned by some Lord, not because it was disgraceful to be a bondman but because his owner might claim him, and so make fruitless his years of training. 3. He must be whole of limb. The criterion was the work he would be required to do; a youth without a toe could do a Mason's work, but not one without a hand. This qualification had no reference to any mystical or religious perfect youth" doctrine. 4. The youth must not be a thief or a robber. (This would, at that date, include "sturdy vagabonds.) 5. The youth would be required to obey the Craft rules about hours, wages, etc.; for example, he could never work at night. 6. He is not to be critical. captious abusive. 7. He must submit to be instructed by his master. 8. He must swear to love God and church, the saints, masters and fellows. 9. He must swear himself to secrecy. 10. He must swear not to be untrue to the Craft. 11. He shall be chaste.
(See P. 176 ff. of The Two Earliest Masonic SWISS., by Knoop, Jones, and Hamer.) It is obvious that these requirements, along with the prospective qualifications of mastership in the future, are dictated throughout by the nature of the organization and the requirements of the work to be done, and not for any abstract or ideal considerations. If a Speculative Lodge applies the same criterion its qualifications will differ in detail but if designed to neet the requirements of a modern Speculative Lodge they will agree in principle. No set of qualifications could be designed for use by a Speculative Lodge which would duplicate those of Operative Lodges-- for example, no Speculative Apprentice could meet the first of the Operative tests of being willing to serve a full-time apprenticeship of seven years. Also it is obvious that the qualifications are not designed merely to bring the Petitioner to the point of admittance but are to apply to him thereafter, and throughout the future; nothing is demanded of a Petitioner that is not demanded of a Master.
When in 1723 the new Grand Lodge of Speculative Freemasonry made new Constitutions it entitled the second part of the document, "The Charges of a FreeMason extracted from The Ancient RECORDS of Lodges beyond the Sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the Use of the Lodges in London," etc. Under Head IV it reads, inter alia: "that no Master should take an Apprentice, unless he has sufficient Imployment for him, and unless he be a perfect Youth, having no Maim or Defect in his Body, that may render him uncapable of learning the Art, or serving his Master's LORD," etc.
Here at one stroke ore exposed the horns of the dilemma upon which the Mother Grand Lodge nas tossed during its formative period, when it was groping for a way to conduct the Fraternity from a set of traditional rules which had been designed for Operative Masons to a new set suitable for speculative Masons. Confusion inevitable resulted, and the above sentence is a specimen of it; for no Speculative Mason was to be an Apprentice to any selected Master but merely to rank in the grade of Apprentices in a Lodge. No question of Masonic employment could arise. Odor did the Master serve a "Lord." This impossibility of adjusting Operative regulations tc Speculative needs forced the Grand Lodge to amend or to revise the Constitutions stage by stage. The doctrine of "no Maim or Defeet" was imbedded in that confusion; if it were needed to retain that Operative requirements the other Operative requirements would have to be retained with it, because they alone justify it or give it meaning.
In 1721 the Grand Lodge ruled that a Petitioner must be twenty-five years of age. This was changed to eighteen. Later it was changed to twenty-one. In some countries it still is eighteen; or may even be twenty-five. The consensus of opinion among Ameriean Grand Lodges is that a Petitioner should be of the lawful age of whe country in which he resides; in U. S. A. this is twenty-one (George Washington was twenty when initiated).
In the 1738 Book of Constitutions the regulations were altered to read: "The men who are made Masons must be freeborn, no bondsmen Slavery was still lawful in England], of mature age, and of good report, hale and sound, not deformed, or dismembered at the time of their making. No woman; no eunuch." By this date the Grand Lodge was having difficulty with "irregular makings"--this may have been the reason for a new edition of the Book of Constitutions--and it tried to be stricter. The physical qualifications w ere a step in return to the old Operative requirements; yet on the score of religion the 1738 edition continued to move away from the Operative requirement that a "Petitioner must love God and the Church, reverence the saints, ete.," by continuing the paragraph on religion which only required that he be not "a stupid ATHEIST, nor an irreligious LIBERTINE." Petitioners are only to be obliged (obligated) "to that Religion in which all hIen agree. "
The Rev. George Oliver was a great believer in ancient traditions and usages 5 et he w rote: "It would indeed be a soleeisln in terms to contend that a loss or partial deprivation of a physical organ of the body could, by any possibility, disqualify a man from studying the sciences, or being made a Mason in our times, while in possession of sound judgment and the healthy exercise of his intellectual powers."
On the point about intelligence Grand Lodge practice agrees with Dr. Oliver; it debars a Petitioner in his nonage or in his dotage; also, actually if not formally, one who cannot read and write and who has not enough intelligence to pass the proficiency tests. Another "silent" requirement is that a Petitioner shall not have been solicited (for an unknown reason Petitioners who accept solicitation are penalized but the solicitors are not)! In the middle of the Eighteenth Century solicitation was openly practiced--Preston, Dunckerley, and Columbine Daniels were famous for it.
The Lansdowne MS. required that the "prentice be of able birth, that is free born." "Free born" was later changed to "free." In American Grand Jurisdictions this requirement has taken on an expanded meaning, at least in discussion, and includes such questions as: Shall it not also mean, "free in mind"; "without reservations"? "What if a Petitioner is a Quaker, Mormon, Roman Catholic? would he not have mental reservations? would he be completely free in his will?"
In 1875 (forty-two years after the Union of the Artiest and Modern Grand Lodges) the Board of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of England stated in an official circular: "I am directed to say that the general rule in this country is to consider a Candidate eligible for election [to the Degrees] who although not perfect in his limbs is sufficiently so to go through the various ceremonies required in the different degrees. " This pronouncement brings to light one of the most curious facts about the twohundred-year-old discussion of Physical Qualifications: If a man with one finger missing is disqualified, what about a man with one lung missing, or one kidney? Why confine the doctrine to limbs? Why is not chronic ill health (from, say, syphilis) also a disqualification? (And what about being "disguised in liquor?") A Petitioner must have a degree of financial ability, enough to pay fees and dues, with "a visible means of support."
The Grand Lodge of Iowa during one period gave much attention to the question of qualifications; and it also took action to revise its laws at the end of World War I, when it gave as a list of required qualifications: "I aith in God, hope in immortality, charity, 21 years old, free-born, under the tongue of good report." (What is the meaning of "free-born" in America?) Theodore Sutton Parvin, the famous Grand Secretary and savant of that Grand Lodge, wrote: "It is the sole right of each and every Lodge to act upon those ph! cat qualifications, as it is universally conceded that thev are the sole judges of the smoral' qualifications of all candidates."
This argument that if a Lodge can be trusted to judge a Petitioner's character it should be trusted to judge a man's body was discussed throughout the Craft, and while Parvin's point was considered to be well taken a number of Grand Lodges could see no way toward carrying out the prescription; that general discussion, on record m a score or so of Grand Lodge Proceedings, laid bare the root of the difficulty of the whole question of physical qualification: that while a Petitioner's character is adjudged according to moral standards which are always the same, normal and reasonable, there has always been since the transition from Operative to Speculative an arbitrariness in the physical qualifications, and therefore a Lodge must follow rules blindly. According to reason and common sense a Petitioner with his left hand missing could, as Dr. Oliver said, perform the duties of a Mason (and as the Board of General Purposes said) but the physical qualifications ever since 1723 have never rested on reason or common sense but on a set of rules arbi. trarily chosen at that time.
One of the chief, though uncodified qualifications, is that a Petitioner shall be personally acceptable to each and every member of the Lodge, and it is the most difficult of any to satisfy, for which reason the ballot is described as an "ordeal," since by means of it any one member can disqualify a Petitioner because he would not find his company congenial. A number of Grand Lodges in Europe have always required a Petitioner to have a sponsor--a godfather. In America he has in actuality three, for a committee becomes his sponsor when it reports favorably upon him; but, and the fact is extraordinarily interesting, once a Petitioner has passed the ballot and become a Candidate it is the Master w ho thereafter is his sponsor, and the Petitioner is until elected to membership under the hIaster's personal care and responsibility.
As stated in a paragraph in the beginning, the Book of Constitutions of 1723 had in it one part, called the Old Charges, in which it endeavored to perpetuate ancient Operative (or semi- Operative) practices in order to satisfy a large number of Operative members then in its own Lodges; and a second part, written by George Payne when he was Grand Masters entitled Rules and Regulations, in which he laid out a number of rules for the management of a Grand Lodge and Lodges w holly Speeulative (it is possible that George Payne had a larger part in establishing Speeulative practice than any other man); from this conjunction that could not quite conjoin, the set of qualifications became broken and inwardly inconsistent; and in consequence, as also already stated, the physical qualifications in particular became arbitrary in principle because of the attempt to preserve Operative qualifications in Speculative Lodges. It is this arbitrariness and inward self-contradiction thus planted at the heart of the doctrine of physical qualifications which explains why that doctrine has been continually discussed and debated by American Grand Lodges for 200 years. In two or three of our Masonic libraries the several hundred volumes of American Grand Lodge Proceedings have been indexed in one all-inclusive xrulez rerum; if with the use of such an index a student tracks the question of physical qualifications back through one set of Proceedings after another he will find that American Grand Lodges have been gradually settling down to three general (though not generally formulated) conclusions: first, that if physical qualifications are dictated by the needs of Speculative Lodges their members are doing what the Operatives did, and hence the underlying principle has never been altered; second, that it is unjust as well as anachronistic to require of a Speculative Petitioner the same physical qualifications that were demanded of an Operative; and, third, that the Ritual itself shows clearly what physical defects should debar and what ones need not, so that it is the Ritual, not history, that is the criterion to be used.
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