Three hundred years ago, the first printed book about Freemasonry was published: Rev. James Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c. of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity. The book’s lengthy title is only a suggestion of the extensive effect it had on history.
How The Constitutions of the Free-Masons came about is an interesting story. Although forms of Masonic brotherhood had existed for centuries prior, it was in the early 1700s that four of the old London lodges decided to form—their word for it was to “revive”—a Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge would meet quarterly for a feast and eventually to help administrate the Masonic lodges that had given rise to it.
On September 29, 1721, Rev. James Anderson (1691–1739) was directly tasked by the Grand Master, the Duke of Montagu, to edit the ancient historical accounts that existed in various old manuscripts into a new form. Anderson produced a draft, and at the next quarterly meeting of the Grand Lodge, a fourteen-person review committee was appointed to look over the work and eventually approve it. The work was published in 1723, featuring a beautiful frontispiece engraving by John Pine.
The scene depicts one Grand Master (the Duke of Montagu) passing the scroll of the Constitutions to the next (Philip, Duke of Wharton). Both Grand Masters are supported by their officers. At their feet is shown the 47th proposition from Euclid’s first book of Geometry, with the Greek word heurêka. In the foreground of the picture is the Greek word Eureka (Archimedes’ famous exclamation “I have found it!”) below a representation of the 47th proposition of Euclid, a symbol which is traditionally associated with Past Masters.
In the sky directly overhead we see the sun approaching its meridian height, allegorized in the figure of Apollo Helios, Greek God of the Sun.
The overall impression of the picture is one of great triumph on many levels: the philosophical and scientific (represented by the 47th problem), organizational and traditional (shown in the cordial transfer of power and the scroll of Constitution between the Grand Masters), and the spiritual and transcendent (the crossing of the Red Sea and the approbation of heaven signified by Apollo). These various elements may strike us today as disjointed, but at the time they were viewed as harmonious. Then, as we learn in Anderson’s text, history was not seen as a disconnected and random process, but a careful unfolding of a divine plan.
To illustrate this, it might be best to cite some lines from The Master’s Song by Anderson himself:
ADAM, the first of humane Kind,
Created with GEOMETRY
Imprinted on his Royal Mind,
Instructed soon his Progeny
CAIN & SETH, who then improv’d
The lib’ral Science in the Art
Of Architecture, which they lov’d,
And to their Offspring did impart.
. . .
For Father ABRAM brought from UR
Geometry, the Science good;
Which he reveal’d, without demur,
To all descending from his Blood.
Nay JACOB’s Race at length were taught,
To lay aside the Shepherd’s Crook,
To use Geometry were brought,
Whilst under Phar’oh’s cruel Yoke,
’Till MOSES Master-Mason rose,
And led the HOLY LODGE from thence,
All Masons train’d, to whom he chose,
His curious Learning to dispense.
AHOLIAB and BEZALEEL,
Inspired Men, the TENT uprear’d;
Where the Shechinah chose to dwell,
And Geometrick Skill appear’d:
. . .
At length the GRECIANS came to know
Geometry, and learnt the Art,
Which great PYTHAGORAS did show,
And Glorious EUCLID did impart;
Th’ amazing ARCHIMEDES too,
And many other Scholars good;
’Till ancient ROMANS did review
The Art, and Science understood.
. . . And great Palladio did impart
A Style by Masons justly prais’d:
Yet here this mighty Rival Jones,
Of British Architects the prime,
Did build such glorious Heaps of Stones,
As ne’er were match’d since Cæsar’s Time.
. . .
Then let good Brethren all rejoice,
And fill their Glass with chearful Heart,
Let them express with grateful Voice
The Praises of the wondrous Art;
Let ev’ry Brother’s Health go round,
Not Fool or Knave but Mason true,
And let our Master’s Fame resound,
The noble Duke of MONTAGU.
Anderson’s poem makes it easier to understand the perspective that the entire sweep of history—from Adam to Moses, to Euclid and Archimedes, and finally to the Duke of Montagu—consists of one great Masonic story... the transmission of the primordial wisdom of Adam to the present day through the traditions the Masonic order aimed to preserve.