Touching on the Four Cardinal Virtues
The Four Cardinal Virtues are not inherently Masonic. Masons are introduced to the virtues in their initiation. The lecture of the first degree attempts to link the lessons of the Cardinal Virtues to the ritual and obligation of the first degree. In this short presentation I will touch on some aspects of the Four Cardinal Virtues in historical writing, religion, and art. This review, as in most things Masonic, is only scratching the surface regarding the topic.
What are the Four Cardinal Virtues?
The Four Cardinal Virtues are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. Enciphered in the first degree lecture the newly initiated candidate is referred to the virtues and their definitions. The four cardinal virtues are given to the candidate as guidelines for his interaction within the society in general and within the lodge in particular.
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Brother Joel Baker
Novus Veteris Lodge No. 864
October 21, 2017
The ritual of the First Degree specifies the Lamb-skin apron in the following manner (from 2005 publication of the California Cypher);
“It is an emblem of innocence and the badge of a mason; more ancient than the Golden Fleece or the Roman Eagle; more honorable than the Star or Garter, or any distinction that can be conferred upon you, at this or any future period, by King, Price, Potentate, or any other person, and which it is hoped that you will wear with pleasure to yourself and honor to the Fraternity.”
Masonic ritual lists how revered the Apron should be to the first degree initiate. The symbols of the Golden Fleece and Roman Eagle, and honorable orders of the Star and/or Garter are listed as being secondary in their value relative to the Mason’s apron. In my review of the apron there are several discussions regarding the “true” origin of the apron, from historical, religious, to conspiratorial. Instead of reviewing the apron and “what it really means,” I will review the four symbols and organizations to which the apron is compared in the 1st degree ritual.
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Readings on the Masonic Altar
As Master Masons, all of us have taken obligations in a tiled lodge at an altar. The three great and three lesser lights were present at the altar as our brothers listened in silence to our obligation. We repeated what the Master told us to repeat. We adjusted our arms, hands, knees, and legs according to the commands of the Sr. Warden. The Sr. Warden and Deacons attended to us, impressing the penalty physically as we repeated vocally what we heard. We were blinded during the obligation with our other senses heightened. Personally I remember the cold metal and smell of an old book (VSL) in front of me. We concentrated on the words and phrases from the WM as best we could, enunciating them and finding value in them at times. We tried (and failed) to grasp everything we were saying while we were saying it, remembering less after the event that same night. After each of us had finished our obligation, a request for illumination is met with an allegorical lesson binding us to our brothers, symbolism of the setting of the square and compass for that specific degree, and a mode of recognition of the degree.
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Readings on the Square and Compass
There is great interest in origin stories of builders’ working tools and their allegorical meaning. It is difficult for me to look past the Square and Compass, as the idea of the Square and Compass in Ancient China was shown to me in passing during one of my first masonic education sections. When the presenter described the square and compass as ancient, sacred, and in use since time immemorial, the following picture was presented as proof. The picture stems from the Han Dynasty (~200 BC – ~220 AD), unearthed in an ancient tomb in Xinjiang, the far Northwest region of modern China.
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Columns and Their Representation
This short discussion reviews the representative use of columns in Freemasonry and other historical text, and their representation today. In this summary, I have chosen points from history based on the use of columns as a representation of a gate or boundary between man and deity. There are countless other analogies to made as well. I will review Masonic ritual and compare with non-Masonic sources for additional understanding. In this discussion, only the columns and temple boundaries within KST will be reviewed. The ornaments atop the columns’ capitals will be reviewed at a later time. Similarities and historical references to columns/pillars and their representations from ancient to contemporary time will be summarized across different cultures, particularly in regards to religious temples and shrines.
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