The Moral Code of Chastity should be familiar to all Pennsylvania Freemasons. We swear that, as Master Masons, we will not violate it, nor allow another person to violate it if we are in the position to prevent it. Having been involved in a fair share of Master Mason degree conferrals in my five years as a Mason, I have seen this line in the ritual bring either a cheeky smirk or a quizzical look from the Fellow Craft Mason swearing his Master Mason obligation on numerous occasions. Chastity seems like a foreign concept to many now, especially to those from the younger generation. The mention of the word can bring on a sense of archaic moral dictatorship from an organization upon an individual, the likes of which society has thoroughly dismissed. Its seemingly negative connotation and foreign concept should bring much interest to the newly raised Master Mason, as he should make an effort to find out every idea put to him.
Chastity carries the obvious definition of avoiding sexual immorality and adultery. “Refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion” is what you will find in the dictionary. As with many things throughout history, the definition of chastity has evolved. In the 13th century, the word entered the English language – “chaste” meant virtuous or pure from unlawful sexual intercourse, while “chastity” was the equivalent of virginity. The two meanings melded together to form the modern interpretation of “chastity” in the late 16th century, around the same time our ancient Brethren may have begun speculative Freemasonry.
In the Judeo-Christian and Muslim belief systems, sexual acts are usually restricted to the confines of marriage. For a married person, this means fidelity to the marriage; for an unmarried person it means abstinence. The Christian teaching of chastity regards it as essential in maintaining and cultivating the unity of body and spirt (emphasis mine) – by attaining mastery over one’s passions, reason, will and desire can work in harmony. That sounds very familiar to the teachings we hold so near and dear in Freemasonry.
A lot of the verbiage surrounding chastity has to deal with moral or religious law of the time; therefore it must always be taken in context. For example, in the Middle Ages, concubinage enjoyed legal tolerance. A concubine is a woman who lives with a man but has a lower status than that of his wife (often seen in a polygamous society). In theory, concubinage was not tolerated, but in practice it was a different story. While prostitution was still punishable, concubinage, a relationship between two unmarried persons, was tolerated. Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant, was given to Abraham for him to bear children with. King Solomon is rumored to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In the Regius Poem, Point 7 declares that a Mason is enjoined to respect the chastity of his master’s wife and fellow’s concubine!
Using Point 7 of the Regius Poem as a guideline, it is easy how the moral code of chastity was inserted into our ritual work and what it should mean in its original context. For operative masons, swearing to uphold the moral code of chastity would enable the worker to focus in the construction of a building or the work in the quarries – “by attaining mastery over one’s passions, reason, will and desire can work in harmony”. With many migrant men in one area at a time, adhering to a moral code such as chastity, as defined by the Point 7 and the moral dogmas of the time, would ensure peace and harmony with each other and the surrounding townspeople.
You may say, “well that’s all well and good for them, but what does it mean to me now, a present day Freemason?” As a fraternity so reflective of its past and so well illustrated by symbols, it can quickly become apparent that we are surrounded by every day reminders of this moral code. Our white aprons symbolize purity, innocence and hope. The blue that trims the apron, and often adorns our lodges in different ways, signifies immortality, eternity, fidelity and chastity. A pale blue represents prudence and goodness. The significance of this teaching should be clear, even while the definition may remain hidden. As with most teachings in Freemasonry, the worldly definition is often left up to the knowledge seeker, but the spiritual importance of this moral code of chastity remains, and will always remain, unwavering along that level of time.
Bro. R. J. Hughes is the Worshipful Master of Armstrong Lodge #239 in Freeport, PA. He is King of Orient Holy Royal Arch Chapter #247, Principle Conductor of Work of Kittanning Council #52 and a member of Holyrood Commandery #100, all in Kittanning, PA. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Lodge of Research and the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s Academy of Masonic Knowledge where he is a Level 1 Master Masonic Scholar. Bro. R. J. can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org