Monday, November 8, 2021

‘What you do not understand you must darken’


On this date in 1887, Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076 in London installed its officers. (The eighth of November is the Feast Day of the Four Crowned Martyrs.) Bro. Robert Freke Gould, the Worshipful Master, delivered the address for the occasion.


Our London lodges are, to a great extent, select and expensive dining clubs; and in the Provinces—with but here and there a solitary exception to the almost general rule—though the feasting is on a more reduced scale, the entire instruction communicated to inquiring brethren consists of a smattering of ritual and ceremonial.

Of English Masonry, it has been said and not without great show of reason, that it now only retains the shell, which our German brethren possess the kernel.

Lodges of Instruction (so-called) exist, it is true, but these oracles are dumb when a question is asked which soars beyond the mere routine duty of the various officers of Lodges, in and during the ceremonies of the Craft. Indeed, I might go farther, and say that when in rare cases a reply is vouchsafed, it savors of the teaching of the Bologna school of painters, whose representative—Annibal Carraci—once said to a scholar: “What you do not understand you must darken.”

One, and perhaps the most urgently needed requisite, to a true study of Freemasonry, is a series of papers or lectures of an elementary character, each one dealing on broad historical lines with a particular epoch, carefully avoiding technicalities, moot or disputed points, and above all steering clear of theories.

Of theory, indeed, it has been well said, that it is worth but little unless it can explain its own phenomena, and it must effect this without contradicting itself; therefore the facts are but too often assimilated to the theory, rather than the theory to the facts. Most theories may be compared to the grandfather of the Great Frederick (of Prussia), who was in the habit of amusing himself, during his fits of gout, by painting likenesses of his grenadiers, and if the picture did not happen to resemble the grenadier, he settled the matter by painting the grenadier to the picture.

N.B.: While I don’t know what Gould means by his reference to German Masonry, I will point out how the Legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs, whence Quatuor Coronati derives its name, was the dominant folk tale for Germany’s Steinmetzen, but not to Masons in the British Isles. True, it is found in the Regius Manuscript, but not in any other Gothic Manuscript, whereas it is noted in the German Constitutions of 1459, and in the Torgau Ordinances of 1462.

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