Precipitous Proficiency and Impetuous Investigations

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Nothing can be more certain than that the proper qualifications of a Candidate for admission into the mysteries of Freemasonry, and the necessary proficiency of a Freemason, who seeks advancement to a higher degree, are the two great bulwarks which are to protect the purity and integrity of our Institution. Indeed, we know not which is the more hurtful-to admit an applicant who is Unworthy, or to promote a candidate who is ignorant of his first lessons. The one affects the external, the other the internal character of the Institution. The one brings discredit upon the Order among the profane, who already regard us, too often, with suspicion and dislike; the other introduces ignorance and incapacity into our ranks, and dishonors the science of freemasonry in our own eyes. The one covers our walls with imperfect and worthless stones, which mar the outward beauty and impair the strength of our temple the other fills our interior apartments with confusion and disorder, and leaves the edifice, though externally strong, both inefficient and inappropriate for its destined uses.

 

But, to the candidate himself, a too hurried advancement is often attended with the most disastrous effects. As in geometry, so in Freemasonry, there is no royal road to perfection. Knowledge of its principles and its science, and consequently an acquaintance with its beauties, can only be acquired by long and diligent study. To the careless observer it seldom offers, at a hasty glance, much to attract his attention or secure his interest. The gold must be deprived, by careful manipulation, of the dark and worthless ore which surrounds and envelops it, before its metallic luster and value can be seen and appreciated.

 

Hence, the candidate who hurriedly passes through his degrees without a due examination of the moral and intellectual purposes of each arrives at the summit of our edifice without a due and necessary appreciation of the general symmetry and connection that pervade the whole system. The candidate, thus hurried through the elements of our science, and unprepared, by a knowledge of its fundamental principles, for the reception and comprehension of the corollaries which are to be deduced from them, is apt to view the whole system as a rude and undigested mass of frivolous ceremonies and puerile conceits, whose intrinsic value will not adequately pay him for the time, the trouble, and expense that he has incurred in his forced initiation. To him, Freemasonry is as incomprehensible as was the veiled statue of Isis to its blind worshipers, and he becomes, in consequence, either a useless drone in our hive, or speedily retire in disgust from all participation in our labors.

 

(FS commentary: Neither of which is beneficial to our fraternity)

 

But the candidate who by slow and painful steps has proceeded through each apartment of our mystic Temple, from its porch to its sanctuary, pausing in his progress to admire the beauties and to study the uses of each, learning, as he advances, line upon line, and precept upon precept, is gradually and almost imperceptibly imbued with so much admiration of the Institution, so much love for its principles, so much just appreciation of its design as a conservator of divine truth, and an agent of human civilization, that he is inclined, on beholding, at last, the whole beauty of the finished building, to exclaim, as did the wondering Queen of Sheba: ”A Most Excellent Master must have done all this!”

 

The usage in many jurisdictions of the United States, when the question is asked in the ritual whether the candidate has made suitable proficiency in his preceding degree, is to reply, ”Such as time and circumstances would permit.” We have no doubt that this was an innovation originally invented to evade the law, which has always required a due proficiency. To such a question no other answer ought to be given than the positive and unequivocal one that “He has.” Neither lime nor circumstances of candidate should be permitted to interfere with his attainment of the necessary knowledge, nor excuse its absence. This, with the wholesome rule, very generally existing, which requires an interval between the conferring of the degrees, would go far to remedy the evil of too hurried and unqualified advancement of which all intelligent Freemasons are now complaining.

(FS Commentary: American Ritual, at least on the west coast, does not use the previously described acknowledgment. “He has”, is the proper answer but the perquisite of completed proficiency which has now been dissolved to a minimum understanding and last page of the catechism. This is what we today would be the equivalent of Mackey’s thesis here.)

 

After these views of the necessity of a careful examination of the claims of a candidate for advancement in Freemasonry, and the necessity, for his own good as well as that of the Order, that each one should fully prepare himself for this promotion, it is proper that we should next inquire into the laws of Freemasonry, by which the wisdom and experience of our predecessors have thought proper to guard as well the rights of those who claim advancement as the interests of the Lodge which is called upon to grant it. This subject has been so fully treated in Mackey’s Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence that we shall not hesitate to incorporate the views in that work into the present article.

 

The subject of the petition of a candidate for advancement involves three questions of great importance: First, how soon, after receiving the First Degree, can he apply for the Second? Second, what number of black balls is necessary to constitute a rejection? Third, what time must elapse, after a first rejection, before the Apprentice can renew his application for advancement?

 

  1. How soon, after receiving a former degree, can a candidate apply for advancement to the next? The necessity of a full comprehension of the mysteries of one degree, before any attempt is made to acquire those of a second, seems to have been thoroughly appreciated from the earliest times; thus the Thirteenth Article in the Regius Manuscript, which is the oldest Masonic document now extant, provides that “if the master a prentice have, he shall teach him thoroughly and tell him measurable points, that he may know the Craft ably, wherever he goes under the sun.” Similar direction is found in most all the Manuscripts.

 

But if there be an obligation on the part of the Master to instruct his Apprentice, there must be, of course, a correlative obligation on the part of the latter to receive and profit by those instructions. Accordingly, unless this obligation is discharged, and the Apprentice makes himself acquainted with the mysteries of the degree that he has already received, it is, by general consent, admitted that he has no right to be entrusted with further and more important information.

 

The modern ritual sustains this doctrine, by requiring that the candidate, as a qualification in passing onward, shall have made suitable proficiency in the preceding degree. This is all that the general law prescribes. Suitable proficiency must have been attained, and the period in which that condition will be acquired must necessarily depend on the mental capacity of the candidate. Some men will become proficient in a shorter time than others, and of this fact the Master and the Lodge are to be the judges.

 

An examination should therefore take place in open Lodge, and a ballot immediately following will express the opinion of the Lodge on the result of that examination, and the qualification of the candidate. Such ballot, however, is not usual in Lodges under the English Constitution.

 

Several modern Grand Lodges, looking with disapprobation on the rapidity with which the degrees are sometimes conferred upon candidates wholly incompetent, have adopted special regulations, prescribing a determinate period of probation for each degree.

 

Thus the Grand Lodge of England requires an interval of not less than four weeks before a higher degree can be conferred. This, however, is a local law, to be obeyed only in those jurisdictions in which it is in force. The general law of Freemasonry makes no such determinate provision of time, and demands only that the candidate shall give evidence of suitable proficiency.

 

  1. What number of black balls is necessary to constitute a rejection? Here we are entirely without the guidance of any express law, as all the Ancient Constitutions are completely silent upon the subject. It would seem, however, that in the advancement of an Apprentice or Fellow Craft, as well as in the election of a profane, the ballot should be unanimous. This is strictly in accordance with the principles of Freemasonry, which require unanimity in admission, lest improper persons be intruded, and harmony impaired.

 

Greater qualifications are certainly not required of a profane applying for initiation than of an initiate seeking advancement; nor can there be any reason why the test of those qualifications should not be as rigid in the one case as in the other. It may be laid down as a rule, therefore, that in all cases of balloting for advancement in any of the degrees of Freemasonry, a single black ball will reject.

 

  1. What time must elapse, after a first rejection, before the Apprentice or Fellow Craft can renew his application for advancement to a higher degree? Here, too, the Ancient Constitutions are silent, and we are left to deduce our opinions from the general principles and analogies of Masonic law. As the application for advancement to a higher degree is founded on a right inuring to the Apprentice or Fellow Craft by virtue of his reception into the previous degree—that is to say, as the Apprentice, so soon as he has been initiated, becomes invested with the right of applying for advancement to the Second Degree—it seems evident that, as long as he remains an Apprentice in good standing, he continues to be invested with that right.

 

Now, the rejection of his petition for advancement by the Lodge does not impair his right to apply again, because it does not affect his rights and standing as an Apprentice; it is simply the expression of the opinion that the Lodge does not at present deem him qualified for further progress in Freemasonry.

 

We must never forget the difference between the right of applying for advancement and the right of advancement. Every Apprentice possesses the former, but no one can claim the latter until it is given to him by the unanimous vote of the Lodge. As, therefore, this right of application or petition is not impaired by its rejection at a particular time, and as the Apprentice remains precisely in the same position in his own degree, after the rejection, as he did before, it seems to follow, as an irresistible deduction, that he may again apply at the next regular communication, and, if a second time rejected, repeat his applications at all future meetings. The Entered Apprentices of a Lodge are competent, at all regular communications of their Lodge, to petition for advancement. Whether that petition shall be granted or rejected is quite another thing, and depends altogether on the favor of the Lodge. What is here said of an Apprentice, in relation to advancement to the Second Degree, may be equally said of a Fellow Craft in reference to advancement to the Third Degree.

 

This opinion has not, it is true, been universally adopted, though no force of authority, short of an opposing landmark, could make one doubt its correctness. For instance, the Grand Lodge of California decided, in 1857, that “the application of Apprentices or Fellow Crafts for advancement should, after they have been once rejected by ballot, be governed by the same principles which regulate the ballot on petitions for initiation, and which require a probation of one year.” Brother Mackey commented on this action as follows:

 

“This appears to be a singular decision of Masonic law. If the reasons which prevent the advancement of an Apprentice or Fellow Craft to a higher degree are of such a nature as to warrant the delay of one year, it is far better to prefer charges against the petitioner, and to give him the opportunity of a fair and impartial trial. In many cases a candidate for advancement is retarded in his progress from an opinion, on the part of the Lodge, that he is not yet sufficiently prepared for promotion by knowledge of the preceding degree —an objection which may sometimes be removed before the recurrence of the next monthly meeting.

 

In such a case, a decision like that of the Grand Lodge of California would be productive of manifest injustice. It is, therefore, a more consistent rule, that the candidate for advancement has a right to apply at every regular meeting, and that whenever any moral objections exist to his taking a higher degree, these objections should be made in the form of charges, and their truth tested by an impartial trial. To this, too, the candidate is undoubtedly entitled, on all the principles of justice and equity.” -W.B. Albert Mackey

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