Inaugural Short Talk
Bro.˙. Alan Gatlin
20 November 2016
The real object of Freemasonry, in a philosophical and religious sense, is the search for truth. This truth is, therefore, symbolized by the Master’s Word. From the first entrance of the Apprentice into the Lodge, until after his reception of the highest degree, this search is continued. If it is not found and a substitute must sometimes be provided. Yet whatever the labors he performs, whatever the ceremonies through which he passes, whatever the symbols in which he may be instructed, whatever the final reward he may obtain, the true end of all is the attainment of Truth.
This idea of truth is not the same as that expressed in the lecture of the First Degree, where Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth are there said to be the “three great tenets of a Mason’s profession.” In that connection, Truth, which is called a “Divine Attribute, the foundation of every virtue,” is synonymous with Sincerity, honesty of expression, and plain dealing. The higher idea of truth which pervades the whole Masonic system, and which is symbolized by the Word, is that which is properly expressed to knowledge of God according to Mackey.
In a Short Talk Bulletin from the Masonic Service Association dated 1932 states that it is an odd fact that Freemasonry’s direct teaching in regard to Truth is less important than its indirect teaching. But isn’t this consistent with our use of symbol and metaphor?
In the entered Apprentice’s Lecture we learn of Truth as “the foundation of every virtue. To be good Men and True is the first lesson.” etc. But these teachings regarding the third Principal Tenet are of Truth in its narrower and more restricted sense – that use of the word as a synonym for sincerity, right dealing, absence of deceit, straight forwardness are just the beginning of the meaning.
Philosophers distinguish several versions of Truth – logical truth, the conformity of reasoning to premises; metaphysical and transcendental truth – the doctrine that the existence of Deity is proved by the very idea of existence.
These conceptions of Truth have led to the more common use of the word, as that which is believed to be so, as distinct from that which is known to be opposite of the fact. Let me give you an example – In a court of law the witness who swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth indicates no more than his intention to state that which is known to him, believed by him; that he will not intentionally deceive. A witness may testify to something which is not a fact and be unperjured, provided it is a fact to “him.” A man, ignorant of astronomy may truthfully testify that the sun moves from east to west between morning and night. His testimony is the truth as he knows it. That actually the earth moves beneath the sun, while the sun stands still, does not make him untruthful. Nor does the denial of what cannot be seen or how it affects us such as electrometric or the recently verified gravitational waves make the person “untruthful” by his lack of information or belief.
The truth is not always easy to define. Some questions have several answers, all correct. Other questions cannot be answered, “as asked,” correctly. For instance, “how many feet in a mile?” has only one answer: 5,280. But “what two whole numbers added together make 5,280” has 2640, answers, “all” correct! “What are the “only” two numbers, added together, that result in 5,280” cannot be answered correctly, “in the terms in which it is asked,” because there are not “only two” numbers, the addition of which so result. In mathematics are many conceptions which have no actual truth behind them. By the very laws of mathematics, we cannot imagine a square root of “minus one.” A root, multiplied by itself, must give the number of which it is a root. No number, plus or minus, multiplied by itself produces a minus quantity. Yet this very conception of the square root of minus one is constantly in use in mathematics, though it has no objective existence and no mathematical answer.
The entered Apprentice Lecture teaches of truth as opposed to deceit, truth as a foundation of character, truth in the moral sense. In this sense Truth really is the foundation of every virtue. There is no justice without truth; there is no philanthropy without truth; there can be no self-sacrifice, no bravery, no rectitude – no virtue of any kind – without a foundation in that which is sincere and honest, as opposed to that which is lying and deceitful.
This aspect of truth is only part of the Third Principal Tenet. It is vitally important and must be learned, pondered and observed, but it compares with the absolute Masonic Truth as compares the moon to the sun.
To grasp the idea of Absolute Truth is not given to many as all abstract ideas require real mental labor to formulate. The thought of fundamental, unchangeable, inescapable idea behind the form, substance and phenomena of life, is not easy. Yet difficulty but makes the idea the more precious when it does become a part of a Freemason’s mental concepts.
Let’s look at an example; a craftsman wants to make a table. Before he puts pencil to paper he forms an idea of what a table looks like. He reduces this idea to a drawing and specifications; it then becomes an idea made manifest, so that others can understand it. But it is not yet a table. When the wood-worker constructs the table from materials, cutting and fitting them from the plans, the idea becomes embodied. The table is now all three – idea, idea manifest, and idea embodied. To the observer it is possessed of form and substance that is hard, varnished, throws a shadow, and can support other objects – in fact, a table.
The Absolute Truth of the table is probably quite different. For all its seeming solidity and weight, we know that it is far more space than matter. We know that its atoms are composed of electrons, whirling at inconceivable speeds about a central proton and neutron, and that if we could see it as it “really” is, not as it appears to the human senses, it would be a collection of bounding, moving, swinging, revolving particles of electricity, the force of which, if all were suddenly let loose, would be sufficient to wreck a city. Just because we cannot see the subatomic world does not mean it does not exist and have truth to teach us. Our perception of the world and life is all too often sense bound. From seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling; we reason, think and believe. But there are many aspects of physical things that do not touch our five senses – for instance, the speed of the electron, the size of the atom, or the effect and influence of the physical forces around us.
Freemasonry teaches that the True Word was lost and offers a substitute. To search for That Which Was Lost is one of the reasons for Masonic life. While we understand that the search may be endless, we find joy and usefulness in the effort, not in the results. Important to Freemasonry is not the comprehension of the idea of the Absolute, but that he strives to seeks it and grow in the understanding of life.
The great Freemason of the 18th Century, Lessing, said: “Pure Truth is for God alone” – phrasing in six words both the impossibility of mortals ever finding it, and the reason we should seek it! Cicero, too, knew why we must seek. When he said; “our minds possess by nature an insatiable desire to know the truth” he uttered a truism, no matter what aspect of Truth is considered. Chesterfield capped them both with his famous “Every man seeks for truth – God, only, knows who finds it.” “Our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras” was poet, philosopher and scientist when he stated “Truth is so great a perfection that if God would render himself visible to man, he would choose light for him body and truth for his soul.”
Few men are able to tell others of the eternal “realities” as we must discover this for ourselves. To “Tell the Truth,” meaning to state the fact or belief as known, is easy. But to tell the Truth unto men not ready to “hear” is like singing music to the tone deaf, teaching differential calculus to six year old child, speaking in a language the hearer does not understand. He who even thinks he knows the Lost word may never tell it – no syllables formed by mortal tongue may speak it.. As Freemasons, we know a Truth we cannot tell even to the initiate, who must find it for himself in the midst of our symbols and our teachings.
Concrete truths are all relative; Absolute Truth is unchanging. We think of men as good or bad, moral or unethical, wise or ignorant only as compared to others. Absolute goodness, morality and wisdom we cannot know here; we cannot know the Absolute Truth of anything. “But we may search for it.” We may so order our lives, so read the Great Light, so follow the teachings of the ancient Craft that our quest of “That Which Was Lost” brings us one step nearer to the barrier which forever separates mortal eyes from Immortal Truth. That he who quests earnestly and seeks sincerely will, at long last, pass that barrier and with his own eyes see that the Absolute is the magnificent Truth of Freemasonry.