“Definitions” of Freemasonry
There is no single, “official” definition ofFreemasonry. In fact, there is no single or “official” leader orruling body of Freemasonry. In the United States, in each state there are one ormore Grand Lodges, each of which can define Freemasonry any way it wishes, andthe same is true in most countries in the world. Many Grand Lodges do not evendefine Freemasonry, but allow each of their members to define Freemasonry anyway they wish.
Here is a definition of Freemasonry that I think is appropriate:
Freemasonry is an organization whose goals include:
Helping its members improve themselves through education andimproved knowledge of themselves and others.
Brotherhood of all people and tolerance of differences amongpeople.
Support of democracy, freedom, individual rights, and thedignity of all people.
Mutual assistance, including helping fellow members’ families.
Charity and assistance to the community, especially those inneed.
Click on the following to see links to several webpages thatattempt to answer the question, “What is Freemasonry?”
Some Masonic writers and researchers have written their owndefinitions of Freemasonry, as follows.
William Preston said Freemasonry’s role is spreadingknowledge. Masons should study and learn more about all subjects. Another ideais that Freemasonry’s purpose is the perfection of humanity by organizing themoral sentiments of mankind, improving law and government. George Oliver feltFreemasonry is best understood in relation to the philosophy of religion, as ameans for us to know God and his works, by handing down tradition. Albert Pikesaid that Freemasonry is a method of studying basic principles and its goal isto reveal and give us possession of the universal principle by which we maymaster the universe, the Absolute. We should study the allegories and symbols ofFreemasonry until they reveal the light to each of us individually.
Roscoe Pound and others in the early 1900’s talked about a modern approach,that Freemasonry’s goal is to preserve, develop, and transmit to posterity thecivilization passed on to us, by insisting on the universality of mankind andthe transmission of an immemorial tradition of human solidarity. William E.Hammond talked of moral discipline, where Masonry produces the finest type ofcharacter and culture through fellowship and mutual helpfulness. Joseph FortNewton said Freemasonry is a form of public service and public mindedness. Wehave a social duty to help our neighbors by work in our communities, to promotethe freedoms of the mind unhampered by dictation by anyone, with education forall to maintain democracy, and to unite people in common service for mankind.
Allen E. Roberts and Albert Mackey said Masonry is a system of ethics andbrotherhood, making men better not just to themselves but to each other. Itteaches the meaning of life and death, with the search for the lost word, theattempt to find God’s truth in our lives. We should act towards others as wewant them to act towards us, with faith in the social, eternal, and intellectualprogress of mankind.
Arthur E. Waite and W.L. Wilmshurst wrote about Masonry as essentially aspiritual activity. Waite described it as the mysticism of a first-handexperience with God, with symbols for those who are not yet capable ofunderstanding. Wilmshurst talked of spiritual life as the meaning of the Masonicritual and symbols, all leading toward a path of life higher than we normallytread, an inner world where the ancient mysteries of our being are to belearned. J.S.M. Ward described Freemasonry as combining ideals — political,social, ritualistic, archeological (historical) and mystical into the”great” idea. W. Kirk MacNulty described Freemasonry as a method tolearn more about our own minds, and to transform our being to a higher planewhere we are reborn in a higher state. He used recent understanding of thepsychological needs of all people to explain the role of Freemasonry in the lifeof every Mason.
H.L. Haywood said Freemasonry is a system of ethics, showing each man the waytoward a new birth of his nature as symbolized in the Hiram Abif drama, bringingdivine power to bear on each individual. The great teachings of Freemasonry areequality, which is synonymous with Masonry, meaning the equal right of allpeople to use our own minds and abilities; liberty, meaning the unhindered fullexercise of our nature and mind; and the right of people to govern themselves,even if they sometimes make mistakes. He was optimistic about the human abilityto improve through education, to enrich human life with the human family livinghappily together.
Henry Wilson Coil, in Coil’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry,(Macoy Publishing, Richmond, Virginia, 1961, revised edition 1995, pages164-165) listed definitions of Freemasonry in different categories:
Definition of Freemasonry in all times and places
Freemasonry is an oath-bound fraternal order of men; derivingfrom the medieval fraternity of operative Freemasons; adhering to many of theirAncient Charges, laws, customs, and legends; loyal to the civil government underwhich it exists; inculcating moral and social virtues by symbolic application ofthe working tools of the stonemasons and by allegories, lectures, and charges;the members of which are obligated to observe principles of brotherly love,equality, mutual aid and assistance, secrecy, and confidence; have secret modesof recognizing one another as Masons when abroad in the world; and meet inlodges, each governed somewhat autocratically by a Master, assisted by Wardens,where petitioners, after particular enquiry into their mental, moral andphysical qualifications, are formally admitted into the Society in secretceremonies based in part on old legends of the Craft.
Every Masonic lodge in existence or that ever has existed, sofar as known, answers that description; no other order that exists or ever hasexisted does so.
Definition of Modern Craft Masonry, supplementing theabove definition
In modern times, the Fraternity has spread over the civilizedportions of the globe and has experienced some mutations in its organization,doctrine, and practices, so that lodges have come to be subordinate to, orconstituent of, Grand Lodges presided over by Grand Masters, each sovereignwithin a given nation, state, or other political subdivision, and there isgenerally, though not universally, inculcated in, and demanded of the candidate,who ordinarily seeks admission of his own free will and accord, a belief in aSupreme Being and, less generally, in immortality of the soul, the Holy Bible orother Volume of Sacred Law being displayed in the lodge and used for theobligation of the candidate during his course through the three degrees ofEntered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, the last including thelegend of King Solomon’s Temple and Hiram Abif, though additional degrees andceremonies are not found objectionable in some jurisdictions.
Definition of Freemasonry in its broadest sense:
Freemasonry, in its broadest and most comprehensive sense, is asystem of morality and social ethics, and a philosophy of life, all of simpleand fundamental character, incorporating a broad humanitarianism and, thoughtreating life as a practical experience, subordinates the material to thespiritual; it is of no sect but finding truth in all; it is moral but notpharisaic; it demands sanity rather than sanctity; it is tolerant but notsupine; it seeks truth but does not define truth; it urges it votaries to thinkbut does not tell them what to think; it despises ignorance but does notproscribe the ignorant; it fosters education but proposes no curriculum; itespouses political liberty and the dignity of man but has no platform orpropaganda; it believes in the nobility and usefulness of life; it is modest andnot militant; it is moderate, universal, and so liberal as to permit eachindividual to form and express his own opinion, even as to what Freemasonry isor ought to be, and invites him to improve it if he can.
Freemasonry is a Fraternity composed of moral men of legal agewho believe in God and, of their own free will, receive in lodges degrees whichdepict a system of morality that, as they grow in maturity, teaches them to betolerant of the beliefs of others, to be patriotic, law-abiding, temperate inall things, to aid the unfortunate, to practice Brotherly Love, and tofaithfully accept and discharge solemn obligations..
It is governed by a Grand Lodge which is composed of GrandOfficers and representatives of all of the regular lodges within itsJurisdiction, and selects a Grand Master periodically to rule over theorganization within the framework of the Constitutions of Freemasonry as adaptedfor its particular needs.
In short, Freemasonry is a way of life. As an organization, itspurpose is to make good men better.