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Latin Language in Lodges

Latin, the tongue of the ancient Roman Empire is still in the modern study of the sciences and the scholarly classics a language long favored by the universities. In the higher learning it holds tenaciously a prominent place and its international service now and formerly often finds it useful as a medium of understanding among scholars when other means of communication fail. Rob Roy MacGregor, in his tales of travel, tells of illness in a monastery in Palestine where the Latin of his boyhood was profitably refreshed while he sojourned with the monks who had with him none other common means of expression. In pharmacy it continues of everyday service and each medical prescription tells of its present usefulness. The Roman Catholic Church makes it practically a universal language employed everywhere she has a foothold. Freemasonry has also striking instances of the usefulness off Latin in the Lodge.

The Roman Eagle Lodge, No. 160, chartered in 1788, Edinburgh, Scotland, was founded by Dr. John Brown, its first Right Worshipful Master, to use the Scottish expression for the Master of the Lodge. Dr. John Brown, born 1735, died 1788, studied at the University of Edinburgh and became famous as a Latin scholar as well as in founding a system of medical treatment of the sick that was called after him the Brunonian method. He published a Latin work in 1780, his Elementa Medicinae, Elements of Medicine, maintaining that most diseases often indicated weakness, not excessive strength or excitement, and that indiscriminate bleeding of the patient was a mistake, that frequently supporting treatment was required. His system was then radical, met with much opposition, but slowly prevailed. Some Brethren were students in his University classes and he encouraged the Lodge to keep the Minutes and perform other duties in Latin. The mother tongue became the medium of communication in later years.

With Brother A. M. Mackay we examined in Edinburgh the old records of Saint David's Lodge, No. 36. This is the Lodge of which the noted novelist Sir Walter Scott was a member. Readers of his Ivanhoe may recall his use of a Masonic term in writing of the tourney where the field for Ousters was laid out as an "oblong square." However, at an emergency meeting of Saint David's Lodge, September 13, 1783, four persons were severally initiated and we read "the ceremony was performed b y the R. R. Br. John Maclure, Grand Chaplain, & translated into Latin by Br. John Brown, M.D., as none of them (the candidates) understood English." The initiates were in the service of the Polish Government, and temporarily in Scotland. On September 18, 1783, only five days later, the Master appears by the Minutes to have informed the Lodge,

"That the four Polish Brethren had been extremely diligent in learning the apprentices' part, and as their time in this Country was to be short, they were anxious to be promoted to the higher Degrees, and for that purpose he had ordered this Masters' Lodge to be convened and hoped their request would be granted and their Entries having proved tedious, first giving it in English and then translating it into Latin, so the Most W Charles Wm. Little Esqr. Subt. G. M. of Scotland had voluntarily offered to assist Br. John Brown, M.D., and Br. Clark of Saint Andrews Lodge, and accordingly the Ceremony which took up above three hours was performed in very Elegant Latin."

The nest Brethren applied for certificates showing that they had been "made Masons and Members" of the Lodge, and although "this request was new and contrary to the practice of the Lodge, and had been refused in former eases, yet there was a distinction in this case, the Brethren being Foreigners, who never where, nor probably would ever be again in Scotland and that giving such certificates might be a means not only of increasing Masonry, but also a probability of extending the authority of the Grand Lodge" and therefore the suggestion was unanimously agreed upon, the certificates written upon vellum and furnished the departing Brethren who planned to set out for Poland in a few days (see our article in Builder, September, 1926). Brother Little was Depute Master, Royal Lodge of Saint David's, No. 36 1784 6, and Right Worshipful Master, Roman Eagle Lodge, No. 160, 1787-9, and Right Worshipful Master, Lodge Edinburgh Saint Andrews, No. 48, in 1791. His great-great-grandson Brigadier-General R. G. Gilmore, writes Brother Mackay, is Past Grand Master Mason of Scotland Grand Standard-Bearer, Supreme Council, Thirty third Degree, and Past Grand Sword-Bearer, Grand Lodge, Royal Order of Scotland, a striking instance of prominent long-continued Masonic activity in one family .

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