A discourse or narrative in which there is a literal and a figurative sense, a patent and a concealed meaning ; the literal or patent sense being intended, by analogy or comparison, to indicate the figurative or concealed one. Its derivation from the Greek, ... and , to say something different, that is, to say something where the language is one thing and the true meaning another, exactly expresses the character of an allegory. It has been said that there is no essential difference between an allegory and a symbol. There is not in design, but there is in their character.
An allegory may be interpreted without any previous conventional agreement, but a symbol cannot. Thus, the legend of the Third Degree is an allegory, evidently to be interpreted as teaching a restoration to life ; and this we learn from the legend itself, without any previous understanding. The sprig of acacia is a symbol of the immortality of the soul. But this we know only because such meaning had been conventionally determined when the symbol was first established. It is evident, then, that an allegory whose meaning is obscure is imperfect. The enigmatical meaning should be easy of interpretation ; and hence Lemire, a French poet, has said: "L`allgorie habits un palais diaphane;" meaning Allegory lives in a transparent palace.
All the legends of Freemasonry are more or less allegorical, and whatever truth there may be in some of them in an historical point of view, it is only as allegories or legendary symbols that they are of importance. The English lectures have therefore very properly defined Freemasonry to be "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.''
The allegory was a favorite figure among the ancients, and to the allegorizing spirit are we to trace the construction of the entire Greek and Roman mythology. Not less did it prevail among the older Aryan nations, and its abundant use is exhibited in the religions of Brahma and Zoroaster. The Jewish Rabbis were greatly addicted to it, and carried its employment, as Maimonides intimates, in his More Nevochim (III, xliii), sometimes to an excess. Their Midrash, or system of commentaries on the sacred book, is almost altogether allegorical. Aben Ezra, a learned Rabbi of the twelfth century:, says, "The Scriptures are like bodies, and allegories are like the garments with which they are clothed. Some are thin like fine silk, and others are coarse and thick like sackcloth."
Jesus, to whom this spirit of the Jewish teachers in his day was familiar, taught many truths in parables, all of which were allegories. The primitive Fathers of the Christian Church were thus infected; and Origen, the most famous and influential Christian writer of his time, 186 to 254 A.D., who was especially addicted to the habit, tells us that all the Pagan philosophers should be read in this spirit : "hoe facere solemus quando philosophos legimus."
Of modern allegorizing writers, the most interesting to Freemasons are Samuel Lee, the author of Orbis Miraculum or the Temple of Solomon portrayed by Scripture Light, and John Bunyan, who wrote Solomon's Temle Spirituatized.
William Durand, or to use his Latin name, Guillelmus Durandus, who lived A. D, 1230 to 1296, wrote a treatise in Italy before 1286 on the origin and symbolic sense of the Christian Ritual, the ceremonies and teaching related to the church buildings. An English edition of this work entitled The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments, by J. M. Neale and Benjamin Webb, was published at London, 1906, and is a most suggestive treatise.
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