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Address Delivered at the 100th Anniversary of the Blazing Star Lodge,
Concord, New Hampshire

By the Right Reverend Henry Codman Potter, D.D.
Bishop of New York.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

[Transcriber's note: the typewritten text of this Address was found in the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York among the boxes of Bishop Potter's sermons. There is no attribution, as to the author, on the piece; but hand-written corrections to the text were made by Bishop Potter, so it is a fair assumption that he wrote and delivered the address. The text is not dated. However, research indicates that the Blazing Star Lodge was 'installed' on May 6, 5799, the year being our own 1799. ]

Men and Brethren:--

The occasion which assembles us is historic. Fortunately for you, the records of the hundred years, of which this Anniversary Service marks the close, have been submitted to you by one pre-eminently qualified for such a task, as I am not; and it is permitted to me, therefore, during the few moments which remain to ask your attention to words more general in their character, and yet not inappropriate, I venture to think, to this place and to this occasion.

"Why are we here?" I can readily imagine that it may be asked, "and not elsewhere, this afternoon, in our commemoration of this day? What fitness has this assemblage in this Church, and what is the essential relation to this Order, and to this Centennial, of these surroundings?" Is not Masonry, it may be asked, a secular and not a religious Order, and are not its assemblages and its ceremonials appropriate rather in a house or in a hall, than in a Church? What in one word is the past of the Order of Master Masons, and yet again of that larger and wider Order of which it is apart? For what do they stand, from what do they spring, and [1/2] towards what do they aim?

Such questions are natural not only, but proper, by whomsoever they may be asked; and in whatsoever spirit they may be urged. I am not unmindful that that spirit has often been not merely curious but, quite as often perhaps, sceptical if not contemptuous. Reserved and confidential though the laws of Masonry may be, enough is known of its customs, its terminology, its traditions to give to the world a more or less distinct impression in regard to it; and it must be frankly owned that not infrequently that impression is not of such a character as to dispose those who are outside of it to take it very seriously. Its purpose as an Order aiming at mutual beneficence is probably sufficiently recognized; but that it should affect such strict secrecy, that it should maintain such elaborate ceremonial, that it should organize and maintain itself in such various and archaic subdivisions, these are characteristics concerning which I presume a great [2/3] many people would say that they do not see either their point or value.

I do not wonder at this. The age in which we live is not friendly to ceremonialism, nor to the conservation of what it is wont to regard as the useless institutions of antiquity; and as to our claim to antiquity in any real sense of that term, or to anything valuable as derived from or conserved out of the past, there is a still larger number of people who are no less doubtful.

Let me speak for a moment to these two points as opening the way to what should follow.

There is that in Masonry, as I do not need to remind those to whom I speak this afternoon, which connects it, as we believe with the men and the times of the building of Solomon's Temple. By more than one eminent and learned authority this claim has been regarded as visionary and unwarranted; and the assertion has even been made that, as a matter of fact, the Masonic Order is little more than a hundred years old. The ground on [3/4] which this is asserted is that, whatever may have been the truth or the probability of the existence of such an Order in Solomon's times, its continuity or perpetuation is something which cannot be shown. It is admitted that it may have existed at so early a date, and that the chain of traditions on which this is maintained is as strong in its several links as a great many other traditional chains which furnish the main evidence for much that, in other connections, men are wont to believe. But it is further urged that the links that connect such earlier traditions with later Orders which may be said to be Masonic in their aims and character, are largely if not wholly wanting.

For one I should be willing to concede such a position, wholly and unreservedly. But in such a characteristic our Ancient Order is, after all, singularly like another institution, wider and more venerable even than Masonry;--I mean that which we call civilization. The history of civilization is the history of a higher form of organized life or society, whose dawnings were [4/5] undoubtedly in the far east. The influence of this earlier civilization upon farther, and then upon nearer--Asiatic peoples, and then upon Greece, and Rome, and Southern and Northern Europe, and then upon our own land, is not something the links of which you can always trace and handle like those of the chain which heaves an anchor and is wound round the windlass of a ship; but that there is a law of continuity running through them all from the dawn of letters in Phoenicia, to the telegraphing, as can now be done, of the lines of a human portrait in New York, is something concerning which I apprehend no scholar is in any serious doubt or perplexity.

And so of the antiquity of Masonry. There are those indeed, who like the Rev. George Oliver hold that "Moses was a Grand Master, Joshua his deputy, and Aholiab and Bezaleel grand wardens," [* Encyc. Britan. vol. IX, p. 747] but though the direct evidence for this may be very slender, that of an inferential kind as to the tradition that, [5/6] out of the association formed by the architects of Tyre known as the Dionysiac Fraternity,--an association of builders exclusively engaged in the construction of temples and theatres in Asia Minor,--a migratory society or brotherhood grew up, which at the time of the Ionic migration in 1044 B.C. was established in Tyre, is not inconsiderable. We have Biblical warrant for the belief that when King Solomon was about to build the temple he sent to Hiram King of Tyre for skilled workmen, and if so, what more probable than that Hiram sent to his brother sovereign a band of Dionysian workmen, who, in a strange land, lived, for mutual protection both of themselves and the secrets of their craft, in community, and who left behind them at least the germs of those earliest trades-unions of which, in the middle ages, we find so large and various a development. True, the line of direct succession disappears in times of wars and conquests and great social upheavals; but whether you choose to call it, as a learned writer has called it, an illustration of the general doctrine of [6/7] pyschical identity, or something much nearer to what we call historical continuity, is not really material. The thing that is material is that the original concept survives, and appears and reappears, in varying forms and under varying conditions, all down the track of the centuries until this very hour.

In this connection the resemblances of the various mediaeval building corporations to the earlier practice and the later theory of Masonry are startling. Those mediaeval associations or fraternities had, as Krause has shown in his "Die drei altesten Kunsturkunden der Freimaurerbrudershaft" [* See also Rebold, Histoire Generale de la Francmaconnerie, of which there is a translation by Brennan, Cincinnati 1868.], "an exchequer, an archive, patrons, religious ceremonies, an oath, a benefit and burial fund, and a register." They had officers such as Masters, deacons, censors, and as we do, instructed their apprentices in secret. The West invited them from Byzantium to come to Europe, and the movement was much increased by the iconoclasm of Pope Leo. It does not matter that the European building societies were distinct growths, springing up about the great monastic buildings and [7/8] around churches and cathedrals which ecclesiastics were mainly instrumental in building. The germinal idea was the same,--the community of laborers, the secrets of their craft, the oaths of their fraternity, the government of their lodges, the elaborations of their ceremonial. Here is a tree in your garden which sprang up you know not how. The wind bore a seed across the Seas, it may be, and dropped it there. Shall the oak disown its mother in another land? Nay, the resemblances are too strong and the essential identity too close and too convincing. "As architecture developed, and as with increasing wealth the Church undertook larger and nobler works, these societies of craftsmen also assumed a more definite and durable form. The taste and science of Gothic architecture as Dr. W. C. Smith has shown [* Encyc. Brit. vol. IX, 748.] "were to a large extent the possession of the Bauhutten, or wooden booths where the stone-cutters, during the progress of their work, kept their tools, wrought, held their meetings, and probably also took [8/9] their meals and slept." These, brethren, were our Masonic ancestors, and I confess I have a somewhat malicious satisfaction in believing as I have looked, as many of you have doubtless done, upon the old gargoyles, waterspouts, finials, and similar stone carvings of grotesque heads of monks and priests in old European buildings, which caricatures you know, are said to have been one mode of revenge by which inferior monks got even, as we should say, with their tyrannical or otherwise obnoxious superiors, that, sometimes, at any rate, they were the work of an entered apprentice or fellow-craftsmen, or master mason of humble degree, who thus worked out his grudge not in profanity or in a useless strike but in something which has enriched grotesque art as long as it shall endure!

As thus, we advance down the track of history, a very interesting aspect of Free Masonry is that in which we read its relations with ecclesiastical Systems and ecclesiastical persons. There arose, as you will see, almost inevitably, from the great [9/10] structural works in which the Masonic Orders were, during the Middle Ages, so largely engaged, a more or less intimate association between them and the Church. "The abbots were in many cases the architects who employed the Masons on ecclesiastical buildings and repairs." The initiation into some of the orders "is said to be copied from a Benedictine consecration." [* See Early History and Antiquities of Masonry, Philadelphia 1877.] Brentano in his History of Guilds [* History and Development of Guilds. London 1870.] says that the arrangements differed when a Church and when a house was built. In the former case the Master of the Lodge was in control, in the latter the owner. In other words, the Church and the Lodges worked in harmony; and the members of the one were doubtless members of the other. But the time came when Popes and Bishops found that they could not control and regulate the Lodges as they pleased, and then as, in the case of the Council of Trent and, later, of Popes Clement XII, and Benedict XIV, who, in amusing oblivion for the moment of the Jesuits, says "Honesta semper publica gaudent",--of Pius VII, [10/11] Leo XII, and Pius IX, not to mention the denunciations of a living incumbent of their office, the note became one of crimination and condemnation. We have been told that, in our lodges, we assembled for "devil's worship", and that our aims were godless and diabolical.

The rightly-instructed Mason knows sufficiently how ignorant and untruthful is this reckless and foolish denunciation. We are here to-day,--to return to the question with which I began,--because all our Order and Ritual affirm and re-affirm those august truths for which this Holy House and the worship and teaching that obtain here, forever stand. We are here because, step by step, as we ascend from the level of a Master to that higher plane on which Royal Arch Masonry has always stood, each successive Rite, Vow, and Degree, declares its loyalty to the Divine Head and Master of all the race, and the truths for which He gave His Life. These are the impregnable facts, on which immovably we are planted, and to which it is our joy that we are pledged.

[12] And yet it is the glory of Masonry that while in these aspects of it, it is an exclusive Body, there are others in which, of all other Societies, it is the most inclusive. An entered apprentice, Fellow-craft, or Master Mason, may be such holding simply and only to a faith in God our Father, and our obligation of homage and obedience to Him. And so, to-day, those Races to whom the fulness of that revelation which we find in the New Testament has not yet come, such as Hebrews and those others in the far East or anywhere, who cry "Great is God" and this or that man "Is his prophet", may ascend along the glorious pathway of Masonry to the rank of Master Masons. But on the other hand, denying such a faith, they cut themselves off from our fellowship; and no nobler act has adorned the history of the Grand Lodge of the Commonwealth of New York than the present Proclamation of its late Grand Master with reference to the infidel pronunciamiento of a Lodge in South America in regard to its renunciation of all belief in a Superior Being. Such action, as he rightly declared is, Masonically considered, [12/13] an act of suicide, and must, by all loyal Masons, be so treated and regarded.

Have you ever thought, now, of the tremendous significance of an Order so wide, so international, so all but all-encompassing? What is there to be compared with it which the wit of man has devised? What, if only its members will rise to the height of its great possibilities, may it not accomplish for the good of men and the promotion of human brotherhood! How earnestly and constantly it ought to seek to illustrate the principles of its constitution and the spirit of love and loyalty and self-sacrifice that breathes through all its rites and offices! The warring world waits, my brothers, for something which shall bind together men of warring races, warring interests, warring creeds;--something that breathes in all its speech, the fraternal spirit, and, that in all its life, will live it! May we be unwilling to lose the vision of so high an aim, or, in what we are and do, to go below it!

[14] The anniversary which we commemorate to-day presents another aspect of our great Order which, just here, we may appropriately recognize. A stranger who has thus far listened to me might say "This is all very well; but I do not quite see what it has to do with Masonry as we know it to-day. You have been talking of what, in our day, we would call a Trades Union or Guild; but surely Free Masonry is no longer that. You are not a mason in any sense which relates you, organically or even intelligently, to the builders' art or trade; and what is true of you is true of the great majority of those with whom you are associated. Your designation is misleading, your association is unreal, your aims are fictitious."

The answer to such objections, as I need not remind you, is to be found in that history with which you are all familiar. The time came, in other words, in the life of Free Masonry when the Order passed out of the domain of practical, into that of symbolic or speculative [14/15] Masonry;--when the art and craft and tools of Masonry became, that is to say, the signs or emblems of that greater structure which we call human Society. As the race ascends out of barbarism it steadily becomes increasingly constructive,--not only of houses, and roads, and temples, but of that measured, well-ordered, squared and plumbed life, of which a well-built house or temple is the enduring image. As the Mason builds the house with a supreme reference to a supreme law,--the law of gravitation, which the great Architect of the Universe has ordained, so must you and I build character, the family, the State, the Nation. All powers, all righteousness, all right-livedness, in other words, gravitate back for their foundation and source to the Supreme Builder of all. And so it was felt, a few centuries ago, in France, in Scotland, in Germany, in Italy, in England and elsewhere, that any man who sought to build himself plumb to God's law of obedience to Him and love to his brother man, might well find his place in the Masonic order; and scholars, and thinkers, [15/16] and merchants, and travellers, and poets, and men of great rank, and men of low rank, alike turned to it, in various and widely spread lands saying, "Here is a fellowship whose aim is plain to the humblest and the highest alike, a fellowship in which all differences disappear, and in which all, turning to the East for light, look and watch and wait for it!"

And now my brothers, what will you do with your great heritage? A Lodge which is one hundred years old, has as Lord Bacon said, though in another sense, "given hostages to fortune." Its venerable years pledge it to honorable service. Its past history is, or ought to be, the prophecy of a wider usefulness. It can not live merely upon that past. To do so is to invite the dangers which always come when the just pride of years is not qualified by the clear recognition of their higher obligations. An institution, a family, a society, that has, behind it, a century [16/17] of existence has shown at least that it has roots. But so have those venerable apple-orchards that one passes in driving through our land. These have roots, but they bear no fruit! Shall this be said of Masonry? Has the fruit-bearing power in it been out-grown, and are we to look at it henceforth simply as an interesting and picturesque relic, which, once, may have served its purpose to the individual and its age, but is now outlawed by time? For one, I do not believe it! It is an enduring witness for some of the most sacred principles that underlie the safety and well-being of human society;--the principle of brotherhood; the principles of mutual service and sacrifice; and pre-eminently, the principle of unbending civic allegiance. No Mason may crook the knee to any foreign potentate, civil or ecclesiastical, or own the obligation of a service which goes behind that which he owes to God and his country! Let us remember that; and in dark hours which may yet be before us, and which may threaten the stability [17/18] of our Republican institutions, and the freedom of the individual to obey the dictates of his own conscience, let us remember that, whatever others may do, or be, we who are Masons must hold fast to that freedom which our Fathers bought for us at so great a price!

And so let us teach our children. If I have a fear, my brothers, concerning our ancient Order, it is that it may stiffen and harden into a merely ceremonial formalism. There should be in it not merely the note of ancient precedent, but of living progress. For one, I make bold to say that I could wish that some of its formulae, which are colored by the narrower and harder spirit of less enlightened ages, were re-cast in less severe and menacing forms. A Mason does not need to be made to perform his vows by oaths which belong to the times and the customs of the Spanish Inquisition; and some things that are interesting in our Ritual as history, may wisely give place to other things that [18/19] will be more useful as teaching.

And, in this connection, may I close with one practical suggestion which you will accept, of course, only for what, in your better judgment, you may think it to be worth.

To our present orders of Masonry, Fellow-craft, Entered Apprentice, and Master Mason, I wish there might be added one other, to stand for the nurture of youths, and to meet them at its threshold. Such an order (to be designated as "Neophyte" or "Postulant," or "Candidate for Masonry,") might include no vows save of the simplest kind, and no Ritual but of the most elementary character. But it might be made to stand first for brotherhood, and then for citizenship. In the former it might train our youths to mutual help, in the latter for civic loyalty. And in connection with this latter, why might we not have some solemn and impressive service and ritual, by means of which on every Fourth [19/20] of July let us say, every youth who was a member of the Order and who was looking forward to the several degrees of historic masonry, should, if since the previous Fourth of July, he had reached the age of twenty-one years, openly recognize and publicly take upon him as a man of full age, the sacred obligation of citizenship! Consider for a moment. This we say, in Lincoln's fine phrase, is a "government of the people by the people." "By the people." Then the people are the rulers, the Kings! Every man who comes to the age of twenty-one years has a hand in making the laws, because he makes the legislature, and in choosing those servants of the State,--for, remember they are no more!--who execute them. What, now, have we ordinarily done to fit him for so grave a responsibility, what to educate him for its discharge, what, above all, to soberly prepare him for its august burden? Our great national holiday, which ought to be our great national Holy Day--how do we use it to impress upon those young men who are coming forward [20/21] to take upon themselves these various burdens which we, their seniors will have, ere long, to lay down,--how do we use that day, I say, to make our youth sensible of the vastness and sacredness of their great trust? I confess that in this connection, our national prodigalities for fire-crackers, peanuts, and small beer, do not seem to me, harmless though they are, to have any considerable educative value! For, O, my brothers, here is a great opportunity, and we who are Masons might if we would, institute some such observance of this day, marking it with serious counsel and impressive reminders, and solemn vows to God and our dear land, all accompanied by simple and beautiful ceremonial, as would make a really great use of it!

But enough. I plead, as you see, for a living and progressive masonry. May yours my brothers, of this ancient fellowship be nothing less! How happy and prophetic is the name you bear! "Blazing Star Lodge," pledge and promise of full and [21/22] clear and unclouded light! May it shine within your Lodges walls! May it shed its guiding rays throughout this whole community! May it make Concord better, and New Hampshire richer, and the Republic stronger for what your fathers were,--for what you yourselves now are; and for what your children and your children's children more and more shall be, for generations yet to come!

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