On previous official visits, when a third degree was conferred, I have commented on its important facets in our consideration of Masonic-things to-live-by:- its examination of the problem of survival, its recognition of the problem of evil, and its emphasis on a focus at "the centre".
Man's conception of his relationship to the Universe has broadened immeasurably over the centuries. This broadening has generally followed one or more of three developments, including their complex interactions;- the increase in the size of groups of human society, the improvement in communications, and the expansion of scientific knowledge. The greatest single reason why we are today entering into a new era of civilization is that each of these three has reached a plateau. The population explosion makes us recognize that we all live on one planet. Modern communications bring events anywhere in the world into our homes almost simultaneously with their occurrence. We now know that the Universe is larger and greater, more vast, than our minds can possibly conceive.
As primitive society evolved, religion was a mixture of animism and polytheism to placate the gods and evil spirits, to induce fertility and bring sunshine and rain in due season, and to yield good hunting and fishing or abundant crops. Power resided essentially with the chieftain-warrior who was a superior fighting man and an aggressive leader and/or with the magician-priest who could demonstrate powers associated with the supernatural and who could predict the seasons. Power, both civil and religious, was, necessarily, highly individually centered, often selfish and despotic although sometimes remarkable for its enlightenment.
The Egyptian monarch Amenhotep IV, who called himself Akhnaton or "Living in Truth" was one of the first to proclaim an explicitly monotheistic religion of universal righteousness. He made a remarkable spiritual stand against a self-centered priest craft daring the decline of Egypt's political and cultural greatness. The intervening years have seen many great witnesses from Moses, shortly after Akhnaton, to the present day. Each, in his own fashion and degree, by teaching and by example, has added to an increasing awareness, an expanding knowledge and a developing practice of beauty, goodness and truth. Each, in his own fashion and degree, has proclaimed the unity and glory of the Supreme Being. But ugliness, evil and ignorance still abound. The great unsolved problems of the third degree are still with us, in spite of all our knowledge, of all our good intentions, of all our hopes, of all our dreams.
Albert Pike has written:
The true Mason labours - for the advancement and improvement of his race. That is a poor ambition which contents itself within the limits of a single life. All men who deserve to live, desire to survive their funerals - in the good they have done mankind, rather than in the fading characters written in men's memories. Most men desire to leave some work behind them that may outlast their own day and generation, - To plant the trees that, after we are dead, shall shelter our children, is as natural as to love the shade of those our fathers planted.
By what means can we so attempt to increase our personal portion of eternity?
Through our genes and through our personal imprint on our families we survive in our children. This is one form of immortality which a man can understand.
Through our influence, our personal imprint on others, especially the young, we survive and acquire an immortality. Akhnaton has had such an immortality for some three thousand years. Each one of us recalls gladly and with love some men and women who have influenced his life and directed it towards intelligent activity, towards beauty and goodness, towards love and wisdom, and so gives immortality to those who in their previous generations have contributed their legacy from the past.
Through our works in the Arts and Sciences we may also survive. Whether or not our names be remembered, we leave some thing behind us.
We seldom consciously labour for such immortality, although sometimes we do so. There are invariably times of frustration, of despair at the human lot, at "this vale of tears". Michelangelo encompassed the full range of feelings associated with ashlar-work in two of his sonnets. You will recall that he spent many waking hours for years lying on his back painting an epic of mankind on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is one of the greatest of human works of art, but Michelangelo wrote (as translated by Symonds):
I've grown a goiter by dwelling in this den -
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy
Or in what other land they hap to be -
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttocks like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succor my dead pictures and my fame,
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame. "
But on another occasion, knowing well the legacy he was bequeathing to mankind, he wrote:
How can that be, lady, which all men learn
By long experience? Shapes that seem alive,
Wrought in hard mountain marble, will survive
Their maker, whom the years to dust return1.
Thus to effect cause yields. Art has her turn,
And triumphs over Nature. I, who strive
With Sculpture, know this well; her wonders live
In spite of time and death, those tyrants stern.
So I can give long life to both of us
In either way, by colour or by stone,
Making the semblance of thy face and mine.
Centuries hence when both are buried, thus
Thy beauty and my sadness shall be shown,
And men shall say, 'For her 'twas wise to pine' "
I submit to you, that in all of this we are seeking the lost word. Tonight, on this last occasion for a degree to be conferred on one of my official visits, it seems fitting to direct attention to our symbol given us as a prescription to strengthen us during our search. We have such a prescription. It is the five points of fellowship.
Can we not, my brethren, truly greet each other as brothers, with all that this implies? In a time of rising lawlessness, can we not genuinely support lawful undertakings? In an age of increasing recognition of social ills can we not, personally, with concern and affection, do something of assistance and relief? In a world filled by dissention can we not demonstrate, and so make real, a trust and confidence in each other? In a season when individual human character is often attacked to destroy it, can we not say a good word for those who are making an honest effort towards accomplishing the task that is set before them?
And always, following our prescription, we will keep in inind the words which remind us of the common humanity which encompasses the destiny of each brother of the human race whether he be great or humble.
And so as a Masonic-thing-to-live-by, tonight and for all time, I give you the five points of fellowship. May we, indeed, be bound together by an indivisible chain of sincere affection, lawful support, relief, fidelity and truth.