In 2023 Freemasons worldwide celebrate the 300th birthday of the Constitutions of James Andersom. Farwerck wrote about these Constitutions in April 1931 of Bulletin. As you will see, 1723 is not a that logical year to use.
Anderson’s Book of Constitutions
by F. E. F.
In 1722, the first official document of the English Grand Lodge of 1717 appeared under the title:
BELONGING TO THE
FREE AND ADOPTED
The title goes on to say that all this was taken from a manuscript more than five hundred years old, a statement we will not take au sérieux. People in those days were far from being critically and scientifically inclined, and hope must have been the father of thought when the manuscript was written. People had probably pointed out the antiquity of the guild to each other so often that they accepted everything that pointed to antiquity without much questioning. In any case, Anderson must have made use of old manuscripts. Even if they were not very old, the whole thing is by Anderson. Among the autographs mentioned in the book under the regulations, we find Anderson’s name with the comment: Author of this book.
Jacob Anderson was pastor of the Scottish Presbyterian Church in London and a native Scot. He took part in the creation of the Grand Lodge of 1717 and was commissioned to reconstruct its history from the existing old Constitutions of Building Guilds. Some fourteen Bb. examined the resulting work, found it suitable and in 1722 the publication was decided on.
A second edition appeared in 1723 and was reprinted in 1726, 1730, 1738 and so on.
The work begins with a history of Masonry, which rests on the seven liberal sciences, primarily geometry. Anderson goes back to before the Flood and deals very briefly with the history of those who were involved in architecture. True to the prevailing view, for him the history of the Jews was the most important in antiquity and with a short detour to Egypt he comes to Euclid, to whom he gives an important place in his overview. Euclid is said to have learned the Seven Free Arts from Abraham in Egypt and to have drawn up eight rules for his pupils, by which they were to live.
- They had to be faithful to the king,
- be faithful to the master whom they served.
- be faithful and love one another,
- not to scold one another,
- to do their work so well that they earned their wages from their master’s hands,
- appoint the wisest among them as master of the work,
- giving such wages that the workers could live decently,
- to meet every year to deliberate how best to work for their lord and master, for his benefit and their own, and to judge those who had committed crimes.
The author adds that in those days masonry was called geometry, thus establishing a link between the craft and a science. He goes on to say that King David gave the masons similar instructions as Euclid and that his son Solomon completed the Temple, which his father had started. Solomon was helped by a king from another region. Hiram, who sent his son Amon, a master of geometry and leader of the masons in building the temple. From Jerusalem, the masons spread all over the world and a certain Memongrecus, who had taken part in building the temple, brought the masonry to France. Suddenly Memongrecus (whose name appears in numerous other guild manuscripts in about 30 different spellings) is then a contemporary of Charles Martel (who lived about as long after Chr. as Solomon did before Chr.) and the latter becomes a member of the brotherhood. St Albanus brings the knowledge of masonry to England. It is especially Athelstan. who protects the guild and finally grants the so-called Constitution of York.
The rules from that document are based on those of Euclid and also have in common with it that they are not from Athelstan as well as the others from Euclid. It is now certain that the York Charter, as the manuscript is usually called, does not date from 926, as it claims, but from much, much later times. Nevertheless, it has become the basis for the rules of Freemasonry of the last centuries and it therefore matters relatively little, in which year the charter was written.
The first articles speak of loyalty to God, to the King and to the Fellows and Brethren. One was not to divulge the secrets of the trade and do the work faithfully and well, and not to take on any work that one cannot accomplish. Also, one was not allowed to overcharge or pay wages that were too low. Furthermore, some moral regulations were given and it was laid down that an apprentice had to serve at least seven years. No one was allowed to become a mason without the consent of six (or at least five) other apprentices. Only freemen whose parents were of good repute, who had perfect limbs and a fit body, could be admitted. A next group of regulations emphasised proper behaviour: not using unseemly language against the peers (except in very serious cases), not playing dice or cards (except at Christmas!), avoiding scandals, not going out drinking in the evening (at least not later than eight o’clock), etc. If strangers come for work, one should employ them and if one does not have that, send them to other Lodges with enough money.
The conclusion of these regulations constituted the oath, which read as follows: “And furthermore I promise and declare in the presence of God Almighty. and of my Fellows and Brethren, here present, that at no time hereafter shall I by any act or circumstance whatsoever, directly or indirectly, disclose, discover, betray or make known the secrets or deliberations of the fraternity or society of Freemasons, which at the time or at any time hereafter shall become known to me. Thus help me God and the true and holy contents of this book.”
The last words indicate that the promise was made on the Bible.
For the students there were also separate regulations that mainly concerned their way of life and forbade them to marry as long as they were students.
Finally, there were some additional regulations, which were supposedly made in 1663. These rules indicate that there was a mutual connection between the Lodges, because the Master of the Lodge had to report to the “General Assembly” who had been accepted as a Freemason. However, nothing is known of such contact in 1717. Perhaps a similar attempt was made in 1663, but we are probably dealing here with the same method we see applied more often: giving more meaning to a regulation by giving it a higher age.
What is striking in this book is that there is mention of pupils and mates, but not of masters in the sense we are familiar with. There is a “Master of the Lodge”, but he is the only master in the Lodge, the chairman. There is also mention of “overseers”, but these are apparently meant as the chairman’s helpers; all other members of the Lodge are “members and brethren”. Only in the edition of 1738 is there a reference to “masters and companions” and from this one has concluded that the degree of master, which was already in use in several Lodges before that time, was then generally introduced.
The edition of 1722 did not remain unchanged. Every later edition showed larger or smaller changes. Already that of 1723 had a much more extensive history (54 pages instead of 11) and the obligations were more complete and better grouped. They were divided into six groups:
- On God and religion.
- On civil government.
- On lodges.
- About Masters, Overseers, Companions and Apprentices.
- About the performance of labour by the Guild.
- On conduct:
a. In the Lodge when formed.
b. After the Lodge has ended and the Brothers have not yet left.
c. When the Brothers meet strangers. but not in the Lodge.
d. In the presence of strangers, not Masons.
e. At home and in the surroundings.
f. In front of a stranger brother.
The first article is important to mention, because it shows the liberal view, which existed in Masonic circles in those days. It reads as follows: “A Mason is obliged, by his conduct, to obey the moral Law; and if he understands the Art properly, he will never be a foolish Atheist or an unreligious Libertyn. But though Masons were formerly obliged to follow in every country the religion of that nation or country, it is now considered better to oblige them only to that religion. in which all men agree, leaving their personal conceptions to themselves; that is to be good and true Men …..”
The second article emphasises that Masons are peaceful people and must never get involved in conspiracies against the peace and prosperity of the country: however, joining a rebellion can never be a reason to expel them from the Lodge.
In the article published by Masters. Bishops, Companions and Apprentices, it is again made clear that an Apprentice can become a Companion after a proper time. Subsequently, he can be given the honour After that he can become a Bishop and then a Master and then a Bishop and a Grand Master. So even litres still clearly speak of a master’s degree.
In the article about the behaviour in the Lodge there is also only mention of the Master, the Bishops and the Companions. But not of master masons.
In the discussions after the Lodge, all quarrels should be avoided, especially about religion. nations and politics.
The 1723 edition further contains for the first time a number of regulations. the germ of our laws and regulations. Nine and thirty articles deal with the main points, for good part with the rights and duties of the Grand Master. They were, according to the introduction, compiled by George Payne in 1720, when he was Grand Master.
In 1726 a very concise edition appeared, totalling only 24 pages. That of 1730 was again more comprehensive and almost in the spirit of the 1726 edition. The edition of 1738 was even more detailed and contained, among other things, a list of all those who had been Grand Master and Grand Overseers since 1717.
Since the origin of Freemasonry lies in obscurity and we have the first official documents in the Constitution Books, these are usually taken as a starting point. To be Masonic, one had to take the standpoint of these “Charges”. This is not entirely acceptable, since the Constitution Books in their precepts give a mixture of important things and futilities that relate sometimes to operative, sometimes to speculative Freemasonry. Furthermore, as mentioned above, these other editions do not mention the master’s degree and much has already changed so much that it no longer fits in today’s Masonic organisations. Still, there is much for us to learn from it. Not only with regard to certain precepts, which we may understand better if we know their origin, but especially because of the spirit that speaks from them and which we can find if we look through the often strange-looking expressions.