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High Degrees

Not long after the introduction of Freemasonry on the Continent, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, three new Degrees were invented and named, Ecossais, Novice, and Knight Templar. These gave the impulse to the invention of many other Degrees, all above the Master's Degree. To these the name of Hautes Grades or High Degrees was given. Their number is very great. Many of them now remain only in the catalogues of Masonic collectors, or are known merely by their titles; while others still exist, and constitute the body of the different rites. The word is not properly applicable to the Royal Arch or Degrees of the English and American systems, which are intimately connected with the Master's Degree, but is confined to the additions made to Ancient Craft Freemasonry by continental ritualists. These Degrees have, from time to time, met with great opposition as innovations on Ancient Freemasonry, and some of the Grand Lodges have not only rejected them, but forbidden their cultivation by those who are under their obedience. But, on the other hand, they have been strenuously supported by many who have believed the Ancient Craft Degrees do not afford a sufficient field for the expansion of Masonic thought. A writer in the London Freemasons Magazine (of 1858, I, 1167) has expressed the true theory on this subject in the following language:

It is the necessary consequence of an exclusive addition to Craft Masonry that the intellectual and artistic development of the minds of the members must suffer the ritual sink to formalism, and the administration fail into the hands of the lower members of the Order, by a diminution in the initiations of men of high intellectual caliber, and by the inactivity, or practical secession, of those within the Order. The suppression of the higher Degrees, that is, of the higher Masonry, may be agreeable to those who are content to possess the administrative functions of the Order without genuine qualifications for their exercise, but it is a policy most fatal to the true progress of the Order. When Masonry has so fallen, to restore the higher Degrees to their full activity is the measure essential for restoring the efficacy of Masonry within and without. Thus, in the last century when Craft Masonry had spread rapidly over the whole of Europe, a reaction set in, till the heads of the Order brought the high Degrees into vigor, and they continued to exercise the most powerful influence..

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