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President’s Message, June 2020

The faster society appears to spiral into oblivion, the more we, as Free and Accepted Masons, can be confident that our gentle Craft illumines the way forward. As I write this to you on the closing day of May, swaths of multiple American cities are left in smoking ruins following days of riots, looting, arson, and other savagery. Amid the current fog of war, seemingly everyone is pointing fingers at everybody else: It’s a rent-a-mob or it’s the far-Left or it’s the far-Right or it’s the Russians or maybe Martians. (The gallows humor in me recalls that funny hand gesture in the Table Lodge—following a very different kind of fire, and before a very different form of battery—when we ritually “Point! Left! Right! Point! Left! Right! Point! Left! Right!”)

In the rituals of many (most?) lodges in the English-speaking Masonic world, we reveal to the youngest Entered Apprentice the Four Cardinal Virtues: Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance, and Justice. Of the first, we, under the Grand Lodge of New York at least, say “this virtue is equally distant from rashness and cowardice, and should be deeply impressed upon your mind.” Of the second, we explain “Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge and determine on all things relative to our present, as well as our future, happiness.” And Temperance, of course, is that “due restraint upon the passions which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice.”

That fourth virtue is considered apart from the first three. Whereas Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance concern our inner work, the refinements of heart, mind, and body, Justice causes us to look outward. It is a product of successful moral building in Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance that we project toward others to aid in constructing a just society. The ceremony of initiation in my lodge says: “Justice is that standard which enables us to render to every man his due, without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with Divine and human law, but is the very cement and support of society; and, as justice, in a great measure, distinguishes the good man, so should it be your practice to be just.”

The rituals most of us in America employ basically originate from the writings of William Preston, but there were other essential thinkers in Freemasonry in Preston’s time. William Hutchinson published his book The Spirit of Masonry in 1775. His book didn’t catch on quite as successfully as Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry, but, if nothing else, on the subject of Justice he thoughtfully advises:

“To walk uprightly before heaven and before men, neither inclining to the right or to the left, is the duty of a Mason, neither becoming an enthusiast or a persecutor in religion, nor bending towards innovation or infidelity. In civil government, firm in our allegiance, yet steadfast in our laws, liberties, and constitution. In private life, yielding up every selfish propensity, inclining neither to avarice or injustice, to malice or revenge, to envy or contempt with mankind, but as the builder raises his column by the plane and perpendicular, so should the Mason carry himself towards the world.”

And:

“Yet merely to act with justice and truth is not all that man should attempt, for even that excellence would be selfishness. That duty is not relative, but merely proper; it is only touching our own character, and doing nothing for our neighbor, for justice is an indispensible duty in each individual. We were not born for ourselves alone, only to shape our course through life in the tracks of tranquility, and solely to study that which should afford peace to the conscience at home, but men were made as mutual aids to each other.”

That sounds great, but where do we begin? In my April message to you, I urged we keep to the Masonic adage “Follow Reason” when trying to decode the various and changing communications from government to the public on the subject of COVID-19. This latest pandemic of rioting and destruction is said to have been ignited by a policeman’s killing of a civilian in Minnesota. The accused police officer is white; the deceased was black. It didn’t have to happen, and it shouldn’t have happened, but, for our purposes, Follow Reason holds true here too. There are facts that accountable public officials, civic leaders, news media, and others neglect to share with the American public. They have their reasons, but we have Reason. The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes its annual Uniform Crime Report, a compendium of all kinds of data—some of them imperfect due to collection methods—concerning crime and punishment in the United States. Therein you will find how most arrest-related deaths result mostly in dead white people, and that white police officers kill white civilians. White police officers have killed black civilians. Black police officers have killed white civilians. Black police officers have killed black civilians. If fiery riots erupted after each incident, we’d be living in hell—an atmosphere of ceaseless deadly heat and no Light.

I close with more from Hutchinson: “Let us then, by our practice and conduct in life, show that we carry our emblems worthily, and as the children of the Light, we have turned our backs on works of darkness…preferring charity, benevolence, justice.”

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg
President