Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Society of Blue Friars

I’m going to jump out of chronological order, just for my own convenience, in recapping the events of Masonic Week. On Friday we enjoyed the 65th Annual Consistory of the Society of Blue Friars.

This might be the perfect Masonic fraternity: one meeting per year, no dues, no ritual, no rank for us on the sidelines, no problemo.


There are three officers: Grand Abbot S. Brent Morris, Deputy Grand Abbot Arturo de Hoyos, and Secretary General Dick Fletcher. Then there are the Blue Friars themselves. These are published authors in the Masonic world (not dopey bloggers, but real researchers and writers) hailing from all over the globe. There have been 98 Friars to date, of whom 25 are active now. To become a Friar, an existing Friar nominates a Mason from a Grand Lodge in amity with his own, and then the Grand Abbot makes the selection, choosing one per year, unless the current membership falls below 20, in which case the Grand Abbot may choose multiple nominees.

(The title “abbot” shares etymological roots with the salutory appellation of our Operative Grand Master, but I digress.)

The first Grand Abbot and first Friar was none other than J. Raymond Shute, II of North Carolina. A very interesting man and Mason who was crucial in the history of the Allied Masonic Degrees of the United States. His leadership was equally vital to most of the other organizations that have comprised the doings of Masonic Week since its inception more than 70 years ago, like the Grand College of Rites and the Masonic Rosicrucians.

Shute was a state senator in North Carolina, representing its 19th District in 1934-35. He later served two terms as mayor of Monroe.

Blue Friar (2000) Art de Hoyos and the 2009 Blue Friar.

But we gathered on Friday to welcome the newest Blue Friar, Bro. Yasha Beresiner, Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 in London. (It’s funny how these things work out, but Bro. Yasha also was to be the keynote speaker that evening at The Masonic Society’s First Circle Gathering.)

His topic for the Blue Friars that morning was Scottish influence on the early development of Speculative Masonry. Starting us at 1176 C.E., when the first stone bridge was erected in England, he led us forward two centuries to the period when the first organizations of stone masons, with their own rules and regulations, appeared in London and York. He explained how the English had guilds, and the Scots had corporations, which were very similar, but with this difference: The guild had a lodge at its worksite. The corporation had a lodge of its own, not linked to any particular construction site, “a physical body that runs parallel to the corporation of stone masons.” We’re not sure what they did – it seems they did seek to avoid the authority of the civil government – but they did have candidates.

Fast forward to the late 16th century and we see “non-Masons are being accepted, men of standing and authority.” A degree system was in place, with advancement from the 1° to the 2°. And there was a Master’s Word.

Schaw’s Statutes of 1598-9 provide 28 rules and regulations. There were regular meetings with minutes taken. “These separate the lodges from what they had been.” The first Schaw Statute appears Dec. 28, 1598 – unmistakably only a day after the Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist, the patron of Scottish stone masons lodges.

Shortly thereafter are dated the first clues of Speculative Masonry in England, namely the odd diary-like jot by Elias Ashmole, clearly a gentleman who never labored in stone.

1646 Oct. 16 4H.30pm I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in Cheshire. The names of those that were then of the Lodge: Mr. Rich Penket, Warden, Mr. James Collier, Mr. Rich. Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Rich. Ellam & Hugh Brewer.

In 1682 he was invited to attend the lodge of the Stone Masons Company of London. What did he do in London then, asked Beresiner. The answer will settle the question of the origins of Speculative Freemasonry, “I’m convinced.”

After the Great Fire of London, no building could be constructed unless made of stone. The only surviving documents of the Stone Masons Company are its treasurer’s reports. There was a single fee paid by members, but a double fee paid by outsiders. There must have been an Acception Ceremony! In time, the lodge would separate itself from the Company, and the six years between the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge and the publications of its Constitutions would see “unadulterated pleasure and enjoyment by the Masons.” The Tavern Age.

Returning to the reach of Scottish influence, Beresiner expanded on the significance of the Constitutions. Dr. James Anderson, the author, was initiated in Scotland. He “digests” the Old Charges of Scotland’s Operative Masons, making “obvious references to Scottish Masonry.” Cowan, Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft are “terms that appear in English for the first time in the Constitutions of 1723.”

Brent Morris brings the Q&A to a close.

Unfortunately only an hour is allotted to the Blue Friars, and our time together was coming to an end. To allow for a Q&A session, Grand Abbott Morris adroitly concluded the lecture, explaining that “Those who insist on either English or Scottish origins miss the point that it’s the British Isles.”

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