When is a Man a Mason?

Below is an excerpt from Joseph Fort Newton’s “The Builders”. In his book, Brother Newton delves into the prophecy of Masonry – the philosophy of our beloved fraternity through the ages, the history of Masonry – an empirical approach to our timeline, and, lastly, the interpretation of Masonry – where he provides eloquent insight into some of the most important questions that we as Freemasons ought to be able to answer, namely, “When is a Man a Mason?”  The text below is how Brother Newton chose to end what most consider his trademark literary piece. I believe a more apt description of when a man becomes a Mason has not been put into words.

“When is a man a Mason? When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage – which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellow man. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins – knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt the birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellow man, with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song – glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.”

 – Joseph Fort Newton, The Builders, 1914

The first thing that struck me about this text was the lack of an outside party to judge when a man has become a Mason. Everything listed by Brother Newton involves deep introspection and improvement, a state of being completely defined by the individual himself and not based on the opinions of others. Too many times, in lodge social halls, the discussion arises of when a man, perhaps a new brother, is officially a Mason. Can he return all his catchecisms? Does he regularly attend lodge? How proficient is he with the ritual? Brother Newton contends that all of these are erroneous to the matter of when a man becomes a Mason. Arguably, by Brother Newton’s notion of a Mason, we should be inducting men into our fraternity who are already Masons in their heart. Men who may be unaware that they follow the guidelines set forth by Brother Newton, but follow them nonetheless. They may not follow them perfectly, as a rough ashlar will not fit the builders use; but with awareness, effort and refinement, that rough ashlar can be made smooth and useful, that he may better know himself and accomplish miraculous things, all within his own mind.

Bro. R. J. Hughes is the Senior Warden of Armstrong Lodge #239 in Freeport, PA; a member of Orient R.A.C. #247 in Kittanning, PA; and a member of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Masonic Knowledge. He can be reached at rjhughesiii@gmail.com

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