The Colummn of Beauty

BY Bro. Edward B. Paul, P.G.M., British Columbia

It is not often that the Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty is described in language so true and so appropriate as in the following article, written by a Past Grand Master of British Columbia. The lessons which he draws from one emblem in the lodge room will surely inspire other brethren to look for other meanings, equally wide-reaching and profound in every symbol and emblem of our Craft. THE BUILDER believes that each and every article of furniture in the lodge each and every word and act of the ritual has a meaning and lesson of its own, always beautiful and always practicable; for this reason it urges upon all Masons to make a more thorough study of our symbols.

IN the Charge to the Brethren, usually delivered after the ceremony of the Installation of Officers, the lessons of Freemasonry are described as being “chiefly veiled in Allegory and illustrated by Symbols.” Here the word “chiefly” is not used without intention. It seems to indicate that Allegory and Symbolism are the principal vehicles for the conveyance to the Initiated of the most important Masonic truths truths which it is the duty of every Freemason to try to discover and understand.

It must be granted that many symbols are explained in the course of our ceremonies; but the explanations of some of them are necessarily incomplete, and others receive merely passing mention. A great deal is left to the assiduous study of each individual Freemason, who is responsible, in proportion to his ability, for the elucidation of whatever seems to him lark and doubtful. He ought, therefore, to study carefully every act in our ceremonies, and every symbol in our lodge room, for the purpose not only of “improving himself in Masonry,” but also of adding, as far as in aim lies, to our general store of knowledge. It is probable that he may, thus, be able to take a step nearer to the Truth, and guide his brethren forward, it may be only a short distance, on the right path. But even, should he himself err, it is more than probable that his mere attempt would, by indicating some new line of thought, be a suggestion to his more able brethren, who, avoiding his errors, might reach the goal which he had missed.

The subject of my article is one of the symbols which are conspicuous in our lodge room, and which, without audible speech, but, nevertheless, with silent eloquence, proclaim lessons of the highest importance o the Craft. I refer to the Column of Beauty.

As is only natural in a society whose profession is Masonry, most of its symbols are taken from the Science and Art of Architecture. Prominent among these are the three columns of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, placed respectively in the East, West and South, reminding us that there are three requisites for the erection of any great or important edifice: 1, It must be wisely planned; 2, it must be strongly built; 3, it must be pleasing to the eye.

John Ruskin, in the “Stones of Venice,” asks, What are the possible Virtues of Architecture?” and answers his own question in the following words:

“In the main we require from buildings, as from men, two kinds of goodness: first, the doing their practical duty well; then, that they be graceful and pleasing in doing it, which last is another form of duty.”

In another place he says: “We require of any building

That it act well, and do the things it was intended to do, in the best way;

That it speak well, and say the things it was intended to say, in the best words;

That it look well, and please us by its presence, whatever it has to do or say.”

It is that latter point which, applied to the moral structure we are called on to erect, is one of the duties laid down for us in the clearest way by Freemasonry, to which I now ask your attention.

And I would, here, in parenthesis, emphasize the fact that it is not for us to choose which of the lessons of Freemasonry we are to learn, picking out some of them as important, or, as is often said, “practical,” and passing over others as trivial and unworthy of consideration. Believe me, brethren, there are many lessons taught by our beloved Craft which are vital to our characters as Freemasons, and which we can neglect only at the risk of building up one side of our natures at the expense of another.

The G. A. O. T. U. has laid his plans on the Trestle Board for the guidance of mankind. Those plans are of a two-fold nature:

(1) Those relating to the material or physical phenomena by which we are surrounded, and which, in comparison with the grandest efforts of human architects in any age are as the contrast between perfection and mediocrity, between the infinite and the finite, and

(2) Those relating to the moral conduct of mankind which we find in T. V. O. T. S. L.

But The Most High, while laying down general rules for our guidance, has, in His wisdom decreed that each individual shall construct his own spiritual edifice. In his hand are placed the pencil, skirret and compasses, wherewith to draw his own plans. Happy is he who has Wisdom to plan his life and to build up his character in Strength and Beauty so as to merit the approbation of his Divine Master!

A wisely conceived plan must recognize the architectural virtues referred to above. Man “must do his practical duty well, and he must be graceful and pleasing in doing it.” He must, therefore, contemplate the columns of Strength and Beauty before he can determine the nature of the spiritual building he ought to erect.

First, and briefly, the fabric must be strongly supported by Morality and Virtue. As, in Architecture, an edifice must, above all, be built of sufficient strength to resist all possible stress, so, in “Moral Geometry,” a Mason’s character must be of sufficient strength to withstand temptation, however powerful. It must be “steadfast, unmovable.”

But Masonry requires of us more than strength. It also demands beauty. Beauty is defined in the Century Dictionary as “that quality of an object by virtue of which the contemplation of it directly excites pleasurable emotions. The word denotes primarily that which pleases the eye or ear, but it is applied also to that quality in any object of thought which awakens admiration or approval; as, intellectual beauty, moral beauty, and so on.”

But it is impossible, in a short definition to convey an adequate idea of the Theory of Beauty; and it would be beyond the scope of this lecture, even if it were desirable, to discuss that theory at length. Let us, in stead, at once proceed to ascertain, if we can, the practical teachings of the Column of Beauty.

One of the first lessons we have to learn is to appreciate the great work of Creation. Do we ever properly estimate the wealth of beauty the G.A.O.T.U. has lavished on the world around us? Or have we not become so accustomed to it that we are insensible or only partially alive to the countless beauties of form and colour which God has spread before our eyes, and the exquisite harmonies of sound with which He regales our ears. Think what the world would be like without those blessings the colours of the flowers, the perfect forms of leaves and stems, the songs of birds, the laughter of children! In humble gratitude, therefore, let us cultivate those faculties which enable us to value the glorious architecture of the Most High, lest it may be said of us that we have “eyes, but see not; ears, but hear not; and hearts without understanding.” Carlyle has said: “Man always worships something; always he sees the Infinite shadowed forth in something finite; and indeed can and must so see it in any finite thing, once tempt him well to fix his eyes thereon.” The contemplation of the wondrous works of Creation, therefore, lifts up the mind of the observer from the Earth, which is God’s footstool, to humble adoration of the Great Creator, whose infinite Wisdom and Goodness are proclaimed by every object He has made.

“How often from the steep Of echoing hill or thicket have we heard Celestial voices to the midnight air, Sole, or responsive each to other’s note, Singing their great Creator.”

The beauties of Nature have a refining effect on the minds and characters of men. There is much truth in the saying of a wise man of Ancient Greece that “Men’s spirits are susceptible to certain influences, diffused like streams or currents by fair things or persons visibly present green fields or children’s faces, for instance into the air around them, and which, with certain natures, are like potent material essences, conforming the seer to themselves, as by some cunning physical necessity.” In other words, the mind of a man, who is surrounded by beautiful objects, if he be in a proper frame of mind, will imbibe their beauty, and become, in its turn, beautiful.

The masterpiece and crowning glory of Creation, distinguished from all other objects, animate or inanimate, by its perfect adaptation as an instrument used by the most perfect finite intelligence for the government of the world, is the Human Body. There is a passage in Carlyle’s “Lectures on Heroes” in which this thought is brought out with such exquisite beauty that I cannot refrain from quoting it, although only part of it is pertinent to the subject immediately under discussion:

“But now if all things that we look upon are emblems to us of the Highest God, I add that more so than any of them is man such an emblem. You have heard of St. Chrysostom’s celebrated; saying in reference to the Shekinah or Ark of Testimony, visible revelation of God among the Hebrews: ‘The true Shekinah is Man!’ Yes it is even so; this is no vain phrase; it is veritably so. The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself ‘I,’ – ah, what words have we for such things? – is a breath of Heaven; the Highest Being of ours is it not all a vesture for that Unnamed? ‘There is but one Temple in the Universe,’ says the devout Novalis, ‘and that is the Body of Man. Nothing is holier than that high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this Revelation in the Flesh. We touch Heaven when we lay our hands on a human body!”

Worshippers of every nation, in all times, have devoted their wealth and skill in order to make their temples and churches beautiful, and worthy of the Deity in whose honour they are erected. Do not the inspired architecture and inimitable workmanship of the stately cathedrals of Europe the work of our ancient brethren bear eloquent testimony to the reverence underlying the erection of those glorious temples erected to the Most High? The devout cannot conceive of any edifice too rich or too beautiful for the services of their God- Any neglect or mutilation of their churches has always been regarded as sacrilege.

If such reverence is bestowed on inanimate creations of man’s intellect, it seems strange to think that the “one Temple in the Universe” is so frequently neglected and abused. Is it because the true meaning of the Body of Man is not understood? No doubt that is the explanation. The Chrysostoms, Novalis and Carlyles of this world are few, and spiritual insight such as they had is rare. But we cannot fail to be impressed with their utterances, especially seeing that they give us a loftier idea of man, and show us his relationship to the Divine. Assuming the actual truth of the statement of Novalis that there is “nothing holier than that high form,” are we not moved to regard our bodies in a new light? Should they not be the objects of our diligent care? Must not every act of omission or commission that tends to mar their beauty be avoided? Exercise and cleanliness now become solemn duties, while intemperance and excess should be shunned as desecration of the “emblems of the Highest God.”

Lastly, the Column of Beauty suggests beauty of character. It is not enough that a man act morally and virtuously. He ought to do every duty in the most graceful and pleasing manner possible. The ancient Greeks and the Romans used the same words for expressing “manners” and “morals.” And that there is a close affinity between them cannot be doubted, if we grant that the best manners are those which come straight from a man’s heart, in his endeavour to please his fellow men or save them from pain; to communicate to them whatever joy or happiness he may possess; and, in his own sorrow, to abstain from adding even by a passing sigh to the great total of the world’s unhappiness. How many an act of intended kindness is spoiled by tactless manners, converting it, sometimes, even into an offense! How often a refusal can be softened by the considerate manner in which a request is denied ! What tragedies occur from the inability, or, from false shame, the unwillingness of people of kindly and loving dispositions to express the love which they feel for their nearest and dearest who, perhaps for years, have longed for words of affection !

How different the manners of the heart from the superficial tricks of the body and tongue that are sometimes mistaken for good manners! Like garish ornaments on an ill-planned and badly constructed building, which try to conceal the viciousness of the architecture, such manners often try to hide an unworthy and insincere character. Good manners ought not to be the monopoly of any class. They are within everyone’s reach, for they are the natural concomitant of a beautiful disposition.

Let us, therefore, see to it that our plans are drawn with the view not only to the acts which morality and virtue require of us, but also to the manner in which we are to perform these acts.

Let us see to it that in our speech we use words and tones calculated not only for the purpose of avoiding offense to our brethren, but also of conveying to them pleasure and happiness.

Let us exercise tact, which, in its best sense, may be defined as that spiritual delicacy of feeling which is sensitive to every susceptibility and emotions of our fellowmen.

Let us cultivate our senses so as to better appreciate the beautiful things with which we are surrounded. By so doing we shall be drawn insensibly nearer and nearer to Him from whom flows every good and perfect gift.

Let us see to it that we keep our bodies clean and wholesome, and fit dwellings for clean and beautiful souls.

Then only shall we be doing the duties required of us by Freemasonry when she commands us to build with Beauty as well as with Strength.

It may be asked how can we attain to such high [deals. Freemasonry in another symbol, suggests the answer. As, throughout the degrees, we were accompanied by a brother who guided our steps through dark paths, giving us instruction and counsel during our pilgrimage, so we are accompanied throughout our lives by a companion who never leaves us, who tells us what to do and say, and how to do and say it. The Romans called that companion a man’s genius. To us he represents the Spirit of God, or Conscience, to whose whispers we ought to lend our ears, not in slavish fear, but with lively gratitude. If, as we, in the degrees, followed our guide trustfully and obediently, we act and speak as our Heavenly guide prompts us, we need fear no danger, knowing that with such leading we are sure to be conducted along the right Path, and be worthy of the great Fraternity to which it is our high privilege to belong.

– Source: The Builder – May 1919