Friday, July 10, 2009

He coined G.A.O.T.U.

Happy birthday wishes to the man who coined the phrase “Great Architect of the Universe.” Yes, John Calvin would be 500 years old today. Among the world’s major religions, Calvinism is kind of a youngster, but its importance to Protestantism and its indirect benefit to Freemasonry are very important.

It was Calvin, the legendary French troublemaker, who coined that phrase in his “Commentary on Psalm 19,” which sometimes is translated to say Supreme Architect.

(The 19th Psalm itself is worthy of every Junior Warden’s attention.)

But the idea of God being a kind of cosmic architect predates Freemasonry by even more centuries. Depictions of this nature are found in medieval Christian art. The “Bible Moralisée,” published about 1250 AD, shows God busy at work with compasses in hand.

G.A.O.T.U. was introduced into Freemasonry by Dr. James Anderson, author of the Premier Grand Lodge’s first Book of Constitutions in 1723. A Presbyterian minister himself, Anderson is a theological descendant of Calvin. However, I’d say the credit for making the phrase Masonic vernacular belongs to Albert Mackey who used the term in his groundbreaking list of Masonic Landmarks, which has affected the jurisprudence of our grand lodges since its publication in 1858. And then of course there is the Scottish Rite and its siblings, which employ the term in prayer and ritual. (Photo courtesy GL of British Columbia and Yukon.)


Cory said...

This is very interesting. I never stopped to think about how this term came about even though we hear it all the time.

Thanks for sharing

Cory Sigler

Gary said...

You are probably not alone, Cory, in not knowing the origin of the term. I suspect there are many Masons who do not fully appreciate the import of much of our symbolism. How many don't know why a Master-elect is obligated in the Second Degree (at least, in the jursidictions with which I am familiar)? Or why the Master and Wardens collar jewels are the Working Tools of that degree?

The term GAOTU has been used as "proof" that Freemasonry is a religion and that it is the name of our God. Wallace McLeod wrote:

In the Masonic Ritual, God is called “the Great Architect of the Universe.” For me, this is a simple metaphor; the universe is like an immense mansion or temple, and the Creator of the universe is compared to the builder. Nothing secret or disrespectful about that! But in 1986 a Canadian religious magazine called The Presbyterian Record published an attack on Freemasonry, saying that the Great Architect of the Universe was the name of the false god “that the Masons worship at their altar.” And two years ago, Dr James Larry Holly, the man who orchestrated the Southern Baptist campaign against the Masons, said that to call God a Great Architect “is derogatory to the True God’s creative omnipotence. An architect only puts together from the materials already at hand. God creates from nothing.”
Actually a bit of research discloses that the term “Great Architect" was introduced into Freemasonry in 1723 by the Presbyterian minister, James Anderson, and that he got it from the works of John Calvin, one of the founders of Presbyterianism. The modern dogmatists are attacking an expression that was used by one the great theologians of all time!

Wallace McLeod, F.P.S. “Masonic Symbols: Their Use and Abuse”
(Delivered at the Annual Banquet of the Allied Masonic Degrees, 25 February 1995)

Gary Kerkin (New Zealand)

Mark Koltko-Rivera said...

Noble friend,

Would you by any chance have a written reference for where this phrase GAOTU occurs in Calvin's writings? This would be mighty handy to whip out at the right moment, as 'twere. Thank you for this great post.