• THE ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY

    THE ORIGIN OF GEOMETRY

    THE manuscript begins with an invocation to the Trinity. This invocation is almost identical with that which prefaces the Harleian, the Sloane, the Landsdowne, and, indeed, all the other manuscripts, except the Halliwell and the Cooke. From this fact we may justly infer that there was a common exemplar, an “editio princeps,” whence each of these manuscripts was copied. The very slight verbal variations, such as “Father of Kings” in the Dowland, which is “Father of Heaven” in the others, will not affect this conclusion, for they may be fairly attributed to the carelessness of copyists. The reference to the Trinity in all these invocations is also a conclusive proof of the Christian character of the building corporations of the Middle Ages – a proof that is corroborated by historical evidences. As I have already shown, in the German Constitutions of the Stone-masons, the invocation is “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the name of the blessed Virgin Mary, and also in honor of the Four Crowned Martyrs ” – an invocation that shows the Roman Catholic spirit of the German Regulations; while the omission of all reference to the Virgin and the Martyrs gives a Protestant character to the English manuscripts.

    Next follows a descant on the seven liberal arts and sciences, the nature and intention of each of which is briefly described. In all of the manuscripts, even in the earliest – the Halliwell – will we find the same reference to them, and, almost literally, the same description. It is not surprising that these sciences should occupy so prominent a place in the Old Constitutions, as making the very foundation of Masonry, when we reflect that an equal prominence was given to them in the Middle Ages as comprehending the whole body of human knowledge. Thus Mosheim (1) tells us that in the 11th century they

    (1) “Ecclesiast. Hist. XI. Cent.,” part ii., chap. i.

    were taught in the greatest part of the schools; and Holinshed, who wrote in the 16th century, says that they composed a part of the curriculum that was taught in the universities. Speculative Masonry continues to this day to pay an homage to these seven sciences, and has adopted them among its important symbols in the second degree. The connection sought to be established in the old manuscripts between them and Masonry, would seem to indicate the existence of a laudable ambition among the Operative Masons of the Middle Ages to elevate the character of their Craft above the ordinary standard of workmen – an elevation that, history informs us, was actually effected, the Freemasons of the Guild holding themselves and being held by others as of higher rank and greater acquirements than were the rough Masons who did not belong to the corporation of builders.

    The manuscript continues by a declaration that Geometry and Masonry are idendcal. Thus, in enumerating and defining the seven liberal arts and sciences, Geometry is placed as the fifth, “the which science,” says the Legend, “is called Masonrys.” (1)

    Now, this doctrine that Geometry and Masonry are identical sciences, has been held from the time of the earliest records to the present day by all the Operative Masons who preceded the 18th century, as well as by the Speculative Masons after that period.

    In the ritual of the Fellow Craft’s degree used ever since, at least from the middle of the last century, the candidate is informed that “Masonry and Geometry are synonymous terms.” The Lodge-room, wherever Speculative Masonry has extended, shows, by the presence of the hieroglyphic letter in the East, that the doctrine is still maintained.

    Gadicke, the author of a German Lexicon of Freemasonry, says, that as Geometry is among the mathematical sciences the one which has the most especial reference to architecture, we can, therefore, under the name of Geometry, understand the whole art of Freemasonry.

    Hutchinson, speaking of the letter G, says that it denotes Geometry, and declares that as a symbol it has always been used by artificers – that is, architects – and by Masons. (2)

    (1) Dowland MS. The Halliwell poem expresses the same idea in different words:

    “At these lordys prayers they counterfetyd gemetry, And gaf hyt the name of Masonry.” (Lines 23, 24.)

    (2) “Spirit of Freemasonry,” lect. Viii., P. 92, 2d edit.

    The modern ritual maintains this legendary idea of the close connection that exists between Geometry and Masonry, and tells us that the former is the basis on which the latter, as a superstructure, is erected. Hence we find that Masonry has adopted mathematical figures, such as angles, squares, triangles, circles, and especially the 47th proposition of Euclid, as prominent symbols.

    And this idea of the infusion of Geometry into Masonry as a prevailing element – the idea that is suggested in the Legend – was so thoroughly recognized, that in the 18th century a Speculative Mason was designated as a “Geometrical Mason.”

    We have found this idea of Geometry as the fundamental science of Masonry, set forth in the Legend of the Craft. It will be well to see how it was developed in the Middle Ages, in the authentic history of the Craft. Thus we shall have discovered another link in the chain which unites the myths of the Legend with the true history of the Institution.

    The Operative Masons of the Middle Ages, who are said to have derived the knowledge of their art as well as their organization as a Guild of Builders from the Architects of Lombardy, who were the first to assume the title of “Freemasons,” were in the possession of secrets which enabled them everywhere to construct the edifices on which they were engaged according to the same principles, and to keep up, even in the most distant countries, a correspondence, so that every member was made acquainted with the most minute improvement in the art which had been discovered by any other. (1) One of these secrets was the knowledge of the science of symbolism, (2) and the other was the application of the principles of Geometry to the art of building.

    “It is certain,” says Mr. Paley, (3) “that Geometry lent its aid in the planning and designing of buildings”; and he adds that “probably the equilateral triangle was the basis of most formations.”

    The geometrical symbols found in the ritual of modern Freemasonry may be considered as the debris of the geometrical secrets of the Mediaeval Masons, which are now admitted to be lost. (4) As

    (1) Hope, ” Historical Essay on Architecture.” (2) M. Maury (“Essai sur les Legendes Pieures du Moyen-Aye”) gives many instances of the application of symbolism by these builders to the construction of churches. (3) “Manual of Gothic Architecture,” P. 78. (4) Lord Lindsay, “Sketches of the History of Christian Art,” ii., 14.

    these founded their operative art on the knowledge of Geometry, and as the secrets of which they boasted as distinguishing them from the “rough Masons” of the same period consisted in an application of the principles of that science to the construction of edifices, it is not surprising that in their traditional history they should have so identified architecture with Geometry, and that with their own art of building, as to speak of Geometry and Masonry as synonymous terms. “The fifth science,” says the Dowland MS., is “called Geometry, . . . the which science is called Masonrye.” Remembering the tendency of all men to aggrandize their own pursuits, it is not surprising that the Mediaeval Masons should have believed and said that “there is no handycraft that is wrought by man’s hand but it is wrought by Geometry.”

    In all this descant in the old manuscripts on the identity of Geometry and Masonry, the Legend of the Craft expresses a sentiment the existence of which is supported by the authentic evidence of contemporaneous history.


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