Friday, June 1, 2012

‘Anderson’s Constitutions’


Title page of first edition of Benjamin Franklin’s 1734 reprint
of Anderson’s Constitutions. This copy is among the special
collections of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The Second Masonic District Book Club’s June meeting will be devoted to a discussion of Anderson’s Constitutions.

Monday, June 25
7:15 p.m.
99 South Maple Avenue
Ridgewood, New Jersey

All Master Masons are welcome. Click here to download the club’s recommended copy of the document, an electronic version of Benjamin Franklin’s 1734 reprint of the 1723 English original. If you didn’t know, Franklin’s reprint was the first Masonic book published in the New World. The patron of printers in America made a verbatim copy at a time when only the earliest of Masonic lodges in the American colonies were extant. Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Green Dragon in Boston, and Solomon’s Lodge in Georgia each, in its own way has claim to be the oldest lodge in America, but there weren’t many more here in the early 1730s. It also should be noted that Franklin became Grand Master of Pennsylvania (Moderns) the year he printed the Constitutions, on Saint John Baptist Day.

I am looking forward to this discussion. Anderson’s Constitutions may be the most important but most misunderstood text in Masonic letters. We today look upon its First Charge, that “Concerning God and Religion,” allowing our modern eyes to misinterpret how it codified religious tolerance among the various Christian factions of 1720s London as something universal, a taste of the multiculturalism that indulges 21st century sensibilities. Its terminology (e.g. “stupid atheist” and “irreligious libertine”) is not as clear and blunt as we today assume. There is much room for discussion right there.

The second most famous aspect of the document is its lengthy “history” of Freemasonry. Needless to say it is a legendary history tracing the transmission of Masonry, or Geometry, from Biblical patriarchs and prophets to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; to the Saxons, Danes, and Normans; to Plantagenets, Tudors and Stuarts; to the Duke of Montagu – “the most noble Prince” and the Grand Master of Masons.

You neo-Templars out there would be wise to notice the absence of any mention of the Crusades and Knights Templar, or any other marauding army that killed so many infidels in the name of the Prince of Peace. The thinking of Masonic origins, at least at the official level of that time, had not yet heard the myth of Templar beginnings of Freemasonry.

But there will be time to talk about it all June 25. Hope to see you there.

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