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Innovations

There is a well-known maxim of the law which says Omnis innovatio plus nontate perturbat quam utilitate prodest, that is, every innovation occasions more harm and disarrangement by its novelty than benefit by its actual utility. This maxim is peculiarly applicable to Freemasonry, those system is opposed to all innovations. Thus Doctor Dalcho says, in his Ahiman Rezon (page 191), "Antiquity is dear to a Mason's heart; innovation is treason, and saps the venerable fabric of the Order." In accordance with this sentiment, we find the installation charges of the Master of a Lodge affirming that "it is not in the power of any man or body of men to make innovations in the body of Masonry."

By the "body of Masonry" is here meant, undoubtedly, the landmarks, which have always been declared to be unchangeable. The non-essentials, such as the local and general regulations and the lectures, are not included in this term. The former are changing every day, according as experience or caprice suggests improvement or alteration. The most important of these changes in the United States has been the tendency to abolition of the Quarterly Communications of the Grand Lodge, and the substitution for them, of an annual Communication. But, after all, this is, perhaps. only a recurrence to first usages; for, although Anderson says that in 1717 the Quarterly Communications "were revived," there is no evidence extant that before that period the Freemasons ever met except once a year in their General Assembly. If so, the change in 1717 was an innovation, and not that which has almost universally prevailed in the United States.

The lectures, which are but the commentaries on the ritual and the interpretation of the symbolism, have been subjected, from the time of Anderson to the present day, to repeated modifications. But notwithstanding the repugnance of Freemasons to innovations, a few have occurred in the Order. Thus, on the formation of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, as they called themselves in contradistinction to the regular Grand Lodge of England, which was styled the Grand Lodge of Moderns, the former Body, to prevent the intrusion of the latter upon their meetings, made changes in some of the modes of recognition--changes which, although Dalcho has said that they amounted to no more than a dispute "whether the glove should be placed first upon the right hand or on the left" (Ahitnan Rezon, page 193), were among the causes of continuous acrimony among the two Bodies, which was only healed, in 1813, by a partial sacrifice of principle on the part of the legitimate Grand Lodge, and have perpetuated differences which still exist among the English and American and the Continental Freemasons.

But the most important innovation which sprang out of this unfortunate schism is that which is connected with the Royal Arch Degree. On this subject there have been two theories: One, that the Royal Arch Degree originally constituted a part of the Master's Degree, and that it was dissevered from it the Ancient; the other, that it never had any existence until it was invented by Ramsay, and adopted by Dermott for his Antient Grand Lodge. If the first, which is the most probable and the most generally received opinion, be true, then the regular or Modern Grand Lodge committed an innovation in continuing the disseverance at the Union in 1813. If the second be the true theory, then the Grand Lodge equally perpetuated an innovation in recognizing it as legal, and declaring, as it did, that "Antient Craft Masonry consists of three degrees, including the Holy Royal Arch." But however the innovation may have been introduced, the Royal Arch Degree has now beeome, so far as the York and American Rites are concerned, well settled and recognized as an integral part of the Masonic system. About the same time there was another innovation attempted in France. The adherents of the Pretender, Charles Edward, sought to give to Freemasonry a political bias in favor of the exiled house of Stuarts, and, for this purpose, altered the interpretation of the great legend of the Third Degree, so as to make it applicable to the execution or, as they called it, the martyrdom of Charles I. But this attempted innovation was not successful, and the system in which this lesson was practiced has ceased to exist. although its workings are now and then seen in some of the advanced Degrees, without, however, any manifest evil effect.

On the whole, the spirit of Freemasonry, so antagonistic to innovation, has been successfully maintained; and an investigator of the system as it prevailed in the year 1717, and as it is maintained at the present day, will not refrain from wonder at the little change which has been brought about by the long cycle of these many years.

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