Monday, December 17, 2007

A Big Night at 'The Little Inn'

Back in September, I mentioned a special evening was being planned in conjunction with New York's Livingston Library – "The State of Masonic Education," a lecture and discussion by a panel of Masonic researchers and scholars. Sadly, I was unable to arrange my driving schedule to be there. However, Wbro. Jay Hochberg from New Jersey, a frequent poster to the Masonic Light Yahoo group, presented a detailed report of the evening, which he kindly has allowed me to reprint here. Thanks, Jay.


A big night at 'The Little Inn'

A huge event for "education Masons" took place Monday night at La Petite Auberge on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan when the Grand Lodge of New York's Livingston Masonic Library inaugurated its dinner-lecture series with a symposium titled "The State of Masonic Education."

Such an event would have been indispensible had the panelists been chosen from among the local lodges, but the speakers this amazing evening were "out of towners". A delegation of six brethren from Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London provided the commentary. And who is better qualified to speak? QC2076 is the first Masonic lodge of research, having been chartered in 1884 for the purpose of dispelling the fanciful myths, legends and hunches that had passed for Masonic scholarship for generations (and sometimes still persist). The stellar line-up of speakers was:

Bro. S. Brent Morris, the newly installed Worshipful Master (the first American to reach that office) and Director of Publications for the A&ASR-SJ.

Bro. Peter Currie, Senior Warden, who is the editor (and even typesetter) of "Ars Quatuor Coronatorum," the annual book of transactions comprised of the papers presented at the lodge's meetings. Also a Past Provincial Senior Grand Deacon of Kent and Somerset.

Bro. Trevor Stewart, Prestonian Lecturer for 2004 and PM of the lodge.

Bro. Granville Angell, Lord of Cannock, Prestonian Lecturer for 2006 and a Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden of Hampshire.

Bro. John Acaster, the newest member of the lodge and also a Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden of East Lancashire.

Bro. John Wade, also of Sheffield University's Center for Research into Freemasonry.

Bro. Roger Burt, Professor Emeritus at University of Exeter, and a PM of the lodge.

Bro. Charles Lawrence, Professor at University of East London, and a Past Provincial Junior Grand Warden of Essex.

Our very capable Master of Ceremonies was Bro. Bill Thomas, a Trustee of the Livingston Masonic Library, as well as a Past Master of Shakespeare Lodge
No. 750 (GLNY) and Sovereign Master of Half Moon Council, Allied Masonic Degrees.

Shakespeare Lodge: http://www.shakespeare750.com

A very thoughtful invocation for blessings upon the food of nourishment and the food for thought to be enjoyed was given by Bro. John Walker Robinson,
Worshipful Master of the GLNY's newest lodge, a "Traditional Observance" lodge called Lux Aeterna No. 1184 in NYC. Welcomes were then extended by
Bro. Barry Mallah, President of the Library's Board of Trustees. Fraternal charm wasted no time in warming the brethren as Mallah presented to Morris an artifact for QC2076's archives: a century-old St. John's card.

"I can't imagine that Charles and Camilla could be treated better," Morris said in thanks for the hospitality extended to the brethren during their stay in connection with this dinner-lecture and the 250th anniversary celebration of St. John's Lodge No. 1.

WM Morris began the evening's program with the history of Quatuor Coronati Lodge and its impact on Masonic education. The lodge's lengthy history need not be related here, except to quote Morris wryly observing that previously the presence of stone buildings in the South Seas Islands would have been deemed evidence of Masonry's existence in that exotic locale, whereas thanks to the scientific, fact-based and peer reviewed methods of the lodge, such baseless conclusions are now discarded.

In addition to the lodge brethren's papers being published in the annual book of transactions, there are comments on these papers from other members published thereafter. "This makes the research valuable," Morris said, because challenging questions and probing points of view can assist the reader in furthering his Masonic knowledge.

"There is now great interest in Masonry. Our new members want to know more about our degrees and our symbolism," he noted. "But let me caution against bad information. It's a tragedy that trees died to publish (title of book deleted), to publish something so unhistorical and poorly researched. Instead, let's get these brothers to the New Jersey Lodge of Research, to the American Lodge of Research... to the Philalethes Society, to the Phylaxis Society...."

Freemasonry from the perspective of an editor was addressed by Bro. Peter Currie, Senior Warden.

He produced several 19th century books that he passed around for all present to examine. One was a ritual manuscript, an actual handwritten transcription of York Ritual from the Senior Warden of Lodge of Agriculture No. 1199, dated Nov. 22, 1878. It was the custom then, Currie explained, for the incoming WM to write down all the ritual, "except that which we're enjoined not to write."

But the book in hand did contain the question "What are the jewels of a Master Mason?" The answer: a mysterious acronym that after some effort was shown to refer to the contents of the Ark of the Covenant.

Currie's point is to call attention to the absence of lectures in many English rituals. Lectures in degrees are for the education of Masons, he explained, as many questions the brethren have can be answered by these narratives that decipher the action of the degree work. As we Americans were adding lectures to our rituals in the 19th century, the English brethren were losing theirs.

On a humorous note, he told the story of his visit to a lodge in Spain where he was asked to sit in as an officer. "But I don't speak Spanish," he explained. Don't worry, the Master assured him, it's Emulation Ritual. "But," Currie protested, "I'm a Stability man!" informing the Master that UGLE has many rituals beside Emulation.

Stability Ritual: http://www.stabilityritual.com/ritualbkpreface.html

Quoting Bro. Phillip Broadfoot (c. 1815) who labored in the Lodge of Reconciliation to start anew from the rituals of Moderns and Antients, Currie told his listeners "Rest assured it is the duty of the researcher to afford information to the brethren if in his power." Anecdotally, he told of his search for the origins of the Apron Lecture found in the EA Degree in some Japanese lodges. He traced it to the Philippines then to Chicago and elsewhere before finally asking Brent Morris. At first Morris didn't have an answer, but realized after they got off the phone that it was sitting right there on his desk. "And I should have recognized it from my own initiation!" he said to the laughter of sympathetic brethren.

Continuing on the limitations of ritual as education tool, Currie told of the Shadbolt rituals. At first there was one, which was disseminated when the Lodge of Reconciliation sent forth ritualists to teach it in lodges. But as this process was underway, the Lodge of Reconciliation changed that ritual, and sent out other instructors, causing there to be two competing Shadbolt rituals.

Coming out of the Lodge of Reconciliation, the Grand Lodge never said "THIS is the ritual!" Currie explained, crediting the GL for allowing that autonomy for lodges. "The genius of English Masonry is it's lax on the Landmarks. We very wisely never and will never pronounce on the ritual. That is the dynamic of that relationship between the lodge and Grand Lodge."

But, he added, the lectures need to be returned to prominence. "They should be able to find their own level. They're in the back of some ritual books, but in my jurisdiction the average Mason doesn't know the books exist." Rather than finding their own level, the lectures "have sunk without a trace."

"The lectures provide answers to questions the brethren have," he said in conclusion. "They inform us about the degrees. There is little serious education in Britain," but "restoring the lectures would go a long way."

The restaurant itself deserves praise as well. La Petite Auberge is part bistro, part French country chateau, and right there in Murray Hill. The fare is gloriously abundant in calories, fat and flavor. For appetizers, we chose either paté or butternut squash soup. For the entrée, we had either poached salmon with dill sauce or beef bourguignon. Desserts: choice of cherry cheesecake, chocolate mousse or flan. The wait staff was tiny but easily handled all 50 of us without anyone wanting for anything. And they were very understanding as regards the copious flow of wine. In fact, we are thankful for the generosity of the New York Ontario Shrine Association, which donated the evening's wine. (Surely there's a joke in there somewhere.)

La Petite Auberge: http://www.lapetiteaubergeny.com/index.htm

There were several presentations and introductions made. Bro. Granville Angell give the Livingston Library a rare version of the book of his Prestonian Lecture on Masons who received the Victoria Cross, unique because it's a hardcover, bound in maroon cloth, the color of the ribbon of the VC. "It was Bonaparte who said inside every soldier's case is a marshal's baton," Angell said. "Well there is a pen in every Mason's case."

Bro. David Bailey, chairman of the MWPHGL of NY's education committee, addressed the brethren. "We are rapidly approaching our 200th anniversary in 2012," he said. "And we'll be leaning very heavily on the Livingston Library" for historical information.

Bro. Richard Eberle, the first WM of Lux Aeterna Lodge and a past president of the library's board, told the group that the purpose of "Traditional Observance" lodges like his is to return education to the purpose of Masonic lodges.

Trevor Stewart then presented to the Livingston Library three items: a book especially produced by QC2076 containing papers presented to the lodge on the subject of Masonry in colonial America (soon to be available on CD); a French esoteric text; and the famous print of Freemasons' Hall in Sunderland, built in 1784, where Phoenix Lodge meets.

Phoenix Lodge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Lodge_No._94

Stewart was the final speaker in the program, defining Masonic research and its urgency in his presentation titled "Widening Our Masonic Inquiries."

He illustrated various levels of research prowess by likening them to the ripples a stone makes in water.

He told the story of an Austrian who settled in the north of England a century ago. He helped found a lodge there. When the First World War broke out, the Provincial Grand Master, a nobleman of some importance, "ordered" that all Masons who were natives of any of the Axis powers should return home. This fact, if properly understood, opens a broad avenue of research. What did this Austrian brother do? How did his lodge react to this edict? What did UGLE do? Is it ever proper for a Mason (and remember, we're obliged to obey the lawful authorities) to try civil disobedience?

Some of these questions are handled the way a journalist covers the Who, What, When and Where. Other questions require primary research, as in visiting this lodge and reading its archives. Still other questions require philosophical ability: the Why. And a good writer can weave an important story out of it all.

Well, Trevor is one of the best in the business, and here's the beginning of the story:

The brother resigned from the lodge and returned to Austria. The lodge accepted his decision "with sadness" and voted to have the minutes reflect the value the brethren placed on this brother's contributions to their meetings.

"Why am I telling you this story during this festive occasion in Manhattan?" Stewart asked. "Because this story raises the fundamental questions of writing and doing Masonic research."

"If you were going to write the history of any lodge, you could have three different ways of approaching it," he added. "You start out asking the First Order Questions. It's a narrative. There is an end. It is an eminently worthwhile way of proceeding, and there are acres and acres of books in the Livingston Library" that take this approach. "Lodge histories quote from minutes and newspapers that are long since lost and they answer questions that are useful."

"But you don't always believe the records written by lodge secretaries, do you? There are issues of legibility, completeness and accuracy. They are products of their own era and subject to their own prejudices. Is the guy really saying what happened?"

Stewart once peered into the history of the Lodge of Dundee in Scotland. Every Dec. 27, St. John's Day, the Master would be installed and the brethren would embark on a procession through town. "There were flourishes, flutes, guys in regalia. They'd go from the pub to the church for a sermon and back, much to the entertainment of the local population who cheered and clapped." On one occasion, the captain of a ship was persuaded to fire a cannon ceremoniously; the shot destroyed the roof of the provost's house, which put an end to the annual celebration for a while.

Stewart dwelled on the facts of the parade route. Researching a street map from that era and reading the secretary's description of the route, he realized it was a circular tour. "In that cold, wet weather, why would they go that way? Why not a direct route? Because they were intent on putting themselves on display. They were showing that they were gentlemen of consequence."

This is exemplary of what he terms the Second Order Questions. "The incidental value" of history, or the Why. "The ripples go wider and wider. There are now more different and problematic questions of contextual matters," Stewart said. "What was going on in other lodges at this time? Were others being ordered back to their native lands? What did Austrian lodges do with British brethren?"

(When I say you could have heard a pin drop during Trevor's entire presentation, believe me there wasn't another voice or sound to be heard but the speaker.)

"This brings us to the Third Order Questions," he said. "These are much more problematic and difficult to solve. They are 'de rigeur' in post graduate research, and they're really interesting, but they are not going to get to the answers. They are philosophic context."

"What if the Austrian brother had said 'No, I'm not going.' What is the relationship between the individual and the state? Is the state always right in requiring things of its citizens? What are the duties of the citizen to the state? What if the state is wrong, and goes against your conscience?"

"There was furious debate in Grand Lodge" over this, he added. Minutes showed the meeting ran from 4 p.m. to 10:10 with "potent arguments." This Provincial Grand Master, it turns out, had lost a son in France and another was still in combat, Stewart explained. But the Grand Lodge ruled against him on the grounds that "the GL could not tell a private lodge who could be members."

"There was no Masonic crime," he added. "Even Benedict Arnold was not expelled (from the fraternity) because he wasn't found guilty of a Masonic crime."

Fast forward to 1920: The Austrian brother "returned to England and the lodge he helped found, and was welcomed in a fraternal fashion. Think of the tension of 'the enemy' walking into a room where nearly everybody had lost a son, a brother, a nephew...."

"This restores my faith in this naughty world," Stewart concluded. "The brethren opened their arms in welcome."

With the evening's program thus ended on that high note, it was time for the discussion panel. But it also was late in the evening, which may explain the small number of questions posed to the group. It had been mentioned earlier that Trevor Stewart and Charles Lawrence had inadvertently realized they were researching the same topic and then decided to write together. Your correspondent, fearing the work was still in progress and that its topic was still secret, timidly asked about the subject.

"It's 'that thing' that unites us," Lawrence said. "In the 1720s, science took us from the dogma of religious belief into rational belief. Masonry brings reason. We want to understand science, but also to have faith." Stewart approached this topic from the philosophic and literary angles, while Lawrence, an engineer by profession, took the scientific side. (If I understood correctly, the paper is published and had been presented to St. John's Lodge in NYC earlier in their visit.)

I hope this account of the evening helps bring a taste of its memorable events to you. Any inaccuracies in the histories and anecdotes reported above are entirely attributable to me. (Like I mentioned, there was a lot of wine.)

C&F,
(A still glowing) Jay Hochberg
New Jersey, USA

Photos of the event at: http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/masoniclight/photos/browse/ad5e

3 comments:

Jeff Naylor said...

Chris, articles like this are the only reason I don't mail the signed requests for demit that have laid in my desk drawer since October 24, 2003.

Chris Hodapp said...

A thought for you, my friend: Scotland in 2009.

Jeff Naylor said...

There was a time I would have enjoyed nothing more.