The following is an article taken from the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 27, published in 1868. I found this while in search for a masonic education program for my lodge and felt it needed shared beyond our walls. In Pennsylvania Freemasonry, we talk about the importance of the “Masonic virtues” and tell every Brother going through his initiatic journey that he should take great care to study and embody them, but we fail to explicitly mention what they are in our ritual work. I believe the intention of this omission is to encourage the new Brother to begin a study of these virtues, the first step being to figure out what they are. And while I think self teaching is an excellent way to ingrain something into your mind and spirit, most Brothers do not know where to start or simply do not begin their study journey at all. There are a lot of topics that could fall under this umbrella, and that is most unfortunate. Some of the most beautiful information available in Freemasonry goes unmentioned in our ritual work.
I hope the following article is a jumping off point for at least one reader and that he may share this information with another Brother, and the cycle goes on from there.
The Cardinal Virtues of Masonry
The Freemason’s Monthly Magazine – Volume 27, 1868
In the masonic school, among the first lessons received, and the first impressions made, upon the neophyte’s dark understanding, is that Masonry contains all the great principles of moral philosophy. It upholds a system of ethics, which in their application and utility, meets every condition of humanity. In order to be rightly understood, her cardinal points are illustrated by the practical exemplification of fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice. Each of these masonic virtues are beautifully and separately explained. Their practical bearings are beautifully impressed upon the mind. The object of this is to teach the candidate that Masonry leads to a higher and nobler life.
Fortitude is the first masonic virtue called into requisition. It is derived from fortis, meaning strength; and when applied to the speculative instructions of Masonry, it measures that strength of mind which can comprehend all of the great moral powers of human life. It is that power which will fortify an individual – knowing that his cause is just – to embark in great undertakings, and accomplish great ends for good.
As he advances in intellectual light, he learns that God, the Supreme Architect of the universe, moves in his works, to bring about ends which must result in good. Fortitude will support us under all the varied trials and vicissitudes of our pilgrimage journey. It amply paves the way and prepares the young student of Masonry to cheerfully and with gratitude, perform every duty to God, his neighbor, and himself. Yea, all of his obligations growing out of every relation of life. It teaches the disciples of Masonry to bear all the ups and downs of the world with that patient resignation and moderation necessary to mental improvement and moral elevation. It teaches that the moral and physical derangements of life should present no obstacles to the performance of every trust of fidelity reposed to him. In no instance whatever should he demean himself as a man and a Mason.
Prudence is a virtue which guides us into the channel of wisdom, by which current we are safely anchored in the deep, pure waters of divine life. This virtue teaches him to be discreet, to be sober in all things, to be exact in all honesty. It is one of those fundamental principles of Masonry, possessing the most exalting objects that can be connected with a Mason’s life and early in his masonic journey it demands his attention. It is utterly impossible to neglect its requirements, and be in truth and in spirit a Mason. It constitutes the great balancing wheel in the moral machine of the masonic brotherhood. No improprieties or irregularities are taught, or can be tolerated, and the institution be sustained inviolate.
Prudence, masonically, to the pupils of Masonry, becomes the guiding star, sending her rays of light to brighten the pathway of the frail, the weak, and timid. It directs the footsteps of the weary, through the dreary and the dismal ways of darkness and gloom, to a temple of peace and harmony.
Temperance is one of those cardinal virtues indispensable in erecting our moral masonic edifice. It holds in check, and keeps restrained our affections and passions. And we have no virtue presented in the system of Masonry calling so loudly upon Masons to observe. It should enter as strongly and as regularly into our moral and spiritual life, and being necessary to keep up a necessary system of deeds, as it is for us to take our food into our physical bodies, to keep them from sinking into disease and decay.
Every brother should reflect seriously upon the great number of victims who fall, and are ruined and crushed beneath the ponderous wheel of the car of intemperance. Our young men, the middle and the hoary aged, have all been run over, mutilated, bruised, and mangled, in the most shocking manner imaginable, by the express lightning train of intemperance. And, notwithstanding the great army of our fellow beings thus destroyed, still there seems to be no abatement of the offerings of libations upon her corrupt and polluted altar.
The poor, blind victims of shame and disgrace continue to waste their manhood, dwarf their intellectual powers of mind and thought, and benumb all of their moral sensibilities. They not only bring themselves to poverty and want, but drag those who are dependent upon them for the necessaries of life down to degradation and ruin.
How changed this world would be, if this cardinal virtue should be strictly observed, and be considered as sacred as the obligations of Masonry! A more healthful moral tone would be recognized and realized, and Masonry, at the same time, would be unburdened with many of the objections brought against it. The fraternity would then begin to shine as the brightest organized constellation in human society. The moral light would no longer be hid under a bushel, or behind the screen.
Justice is one of the cardinal virtues of the masonic code. It is a principle simply recognizing what is right, and giving what is due. Its requirements demand an observance of the moral law. Equity is what she claims must be strictly established between contending parties. No revenge or cruelty can be instituted to satisfy the demands of justice. This must be the teachings of justice, connected with the institution of Masonry.
As the operative workman is required to carry his wall plumb, and be careful to have each successive block of stone, bear directly upon its predecessor, so the speculative craftsman should erect his moral temple; all acts must be upright, honest, and truthful. In all his transactions with mankind, he is not only to deal justly with himself and his brethren, but with the world. If a Mason erects his moral edifice in harmony with this principle, it will not only be ornamental, but durable and honorable. It is the cornerstone of the magnificent temple of Masonry.
We have many in the world, but hope and pray that they are not Masons, who seem to act as if justice consists in getting all they can, and holding fast to everything obtained; that whatever will enrich themselves, if legally secured, is just. But Masonry does not teach this kind of justice. It may be legal to sell intoxicating drink to a man, and take his money which should buy bread for a starving wife and children, but it would be an act of the greatest injustice. – Mystic Star