Book of Constitutions
In England of the Eighteenth Century a permanent association or society was required to have a sponsor, the more exalted in the rank the better, who was named as its Patron - as the King himself was Patron of the Royal (scientific) Society; it was also expected to have authorization in the form of a charter, or deputation, or some similar instrument ; and the older one of these written instruments might be, other things being equal , the more weight it possessed. The old Masonic Lodges in London at the beginning of the Century had Sir Christopher Wren as their patron (so tradition affirms) and for written charter each one had a copy of the Old Charges ; these documents attested that their original authority had been a Royal Charter granted by a Prince Edwin seven centuries before ; and though historians , for sound reasons, question this particular claim, it is important to remember that neither the Lodges nor the public between 1700 and 1725 ever questioned it.
In 1716 representatives of some four or five old Lodges, and Probably after discussions with other Lodges not represented, decided to set up a Body in which each Lodge could be a member, and which would be a central meeting place and at the same time could bring the Lodges into a unity of work and practice. This they called a Grand ( or chief) Lodge; and in 1717 they erected it by official action, and put Anthony Sayer in the Chair as Grand Master.
This new Grand Lodge was itself a Lodge and therefore needed both a Patron and a Charter, or Old Charges, of its own, and suitable for needs not identical with those of a member Lodge. It found a Patron in the person of the Duke of Montague, elected Grand Master in 1721, after a time, and especially after the sons of George A had become Masons, it was under the patronage of the Royal Family and has been so ever since (Queen Victoria officially declared herself its Patroness).
To prepare a Grand Lodge equivalent of the Old Charges was a more difficult matter. Veteran Masons were consulted ; old manuscripts were borrowed from Lodges (and sometimes not returned, as when Desaguliers forgot to return documents to the Lodge of Antiquity). Some of the Lodges which were opposed to the whole Grand Lodge plan destroyed their documents. An unknown group of Masons forestalled the Grand Lodge by having J. Roberts print a version, now called the Roberts Constitutions, dated 1722 (of the two existing copies one is in the Iowa Masonic Library). From the Lodges in favor of the Grand Lodge plan fourteen veteran Masons acted as an advisory committee. By 1722 George Payne, a Grand Master, had prepared an acceptable version of that part of the Old Charges, the important half, which was called the Old Regulations. By the following year, Grand Lodge, reporting through a Committee headed by James Anderson, adopted a completed manuscript, entitled it The Constitution of Freemasons, and had James Anderson print it. Why this book has been accredited to the authorship of James Anderson is a mystery; he is called "author" at one or two places but as then used the word could mean "editor" or "scribe"; and his name does not appear on the title page. Payne wrote about one-half of it. J. T. Desaguliers wrote the dedication; the rest of it was the joint work of many hands and at least two Committees. The so-called historical part was collected-the record says "collated''-from Lodge copies of the Old Charges which differed much among themselves in detail. The title is a complete description of the book :
"The Constitution, History, Laws, Charges, Orders, Regulations, and Usages of the Right Worshipful FRATERNITY of Accepted Free MASONS; collected From their general RECORDS and their faithful TRADITIONS of many Ages.
To be Read At the Admission of a NEW BROTHER, when the Master or Warden shall begin, or order some other Brother to read as follows." then follows the text, in the first sentence of which reference is made to ''God, the great Architect of the Universe,'' and Geometry is named as the Masonic art par excellence, because it was the art used in architecture.
The publisher's signature on the title page :
"London, Printed by William Hunter, for John Senex at the Globe, and John Hooke at the Flower-de-luce over against St. Dunstan's Church, in Fleet-Street. In the Year of Masonry 5723. Anno Domini 1723."
This dating is a fact of prime importance, for it proves that the Freemasons identified their Fraternity with architecture which they rightly assumed to be as old as man. Theorists who have argued for another origin' of Freemasonry, among the Ancient Mysteries, or in occult circles, or in political circles, etc., will first have to explain why the founders of the Speculative Craft had not even heard of such origins ; and one may safely assume that they knew more about the founding of Speculative Masonry than theorism two hundred years afterwards. As time passed, and Lodges increased, amendments and revisions were called for; this was satisfied by the issuance of new editions.
NOTE. The Fifth, or 1784, Edition is there accredited to John Northouck, in reality it should have been named after William Preston because he did the work on it. As each new Grand Lodge was erected in one Country after another, and in America in one State after another, it wrote or adopted a Book of its own. Such a Book dated as of today bears on the face of it little resemblance to the Edition of 1723 ; but the change from decade to decade has been a gradual one, always made in response to new needs, and in their principles and every other fundamental any regular Constitution of today is a direct descendant of the Constitution of 1723. The Ancient Grand Lodge, erected in London in 1751, which was to become a rival of the 1717 Grand Body until 1813, published in 1756 a Book of its own, which it called Ahiman Rezon ; this also was in substance a repetition of the Book of 1723. Considered as a work of literature the most masterly version is the original Constitution of Ireland, a re-writing of the 1723 Edition by John Pennell, published in 1730.
A half century ago a number of writers proposed the theory that "Operative" Masonry had become defunct; that Desaguliers, Anderson, Payne, Montague, and a number of other ''gentlemen,'' "captured" the machinery of organization, and turned it into a Speculative Fraternity. This theory went to pieces against such facts as:
first, that the Grand Lodge began in 1716-not 1717- and that those gentlemen were not Masons for some time afterwards, at least not London Masons, and were not among the founding fathers, second, the old Lodges were not "Operative'' but only partly so, and one of them was wholly composed of Speculatives. Desaguliers and his colleagues were architects of the Grand Lodge system; they did not create anything new, they only found a new way for carrying on what was already very old. This is made clear by the Book of 1723 itself, and by the circumstances under which it was prepared.
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