|Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria|
THE INFLUENCE OF PLATO'S REPUBLIC ON FREEMASONRY AND MASONIC RITUAL.
Tertullian's Question and its relevance to Modern Freemasonry.
by V.W. Bro. Stephen Michalak
|Dedication, Acknowledgements, Introduction|
shall not cease from exploration
the end of all our exploring will be
arrive where we started
to know the place for the first time.
Little Gidding from Four
Michalak, my wife
Here is the prize
at issue, right before you, look –
a woman who has no
equal now in all Achaean country
neither in holy
Pylos, nor in Argos or Mycenae,
nor even Ithaca
itself or the loamy mainland.
The Odyssey, Book xxi
Bacuriski, my brother
Yesterday I met a
whole man…It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few
who have the enlightenment to pay the price…One has to embrace the world like
a lover and yet demand no easy return of love…One has to court doubt and
darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will -stubborn in conflict, but apt
always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.
West, The Shoes of the Fisherman
King, my mentor
My guide and I
came onto that hidden road
To make our way
back into the bright world; and with no care for any rest, we climbed –
He first, I
following – until I saw,
Through a round
opening, some of those things
Of beauty heaven
bears. It was from there
That we emerged,
to see - once more – the stars.
Alighieri, Inferno (Canto xxxiv) from
The Divine Comedy
Beveridge and Max Atkinson, my inspirations
It was Caesar
himself who inspired and cultivated this spirit, this passion for distinction
among his men.
Life of Caesar, (17)
(Rex Warner, translation)
I would like to express my thanks to VW Bro George Woolmer (Grand Librarian, Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory) for his assistance in locating works dealing with the development of Emulation Ritual in England and to MW Bro Graham Bollenhagen F.C.I.S., (Grand Master, Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory) for his kind permission to quote from his Inaugural Address.
It was on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon in mid-2004,
that I made the minor, accidental discovery that led me to the writing of this
Some eight or nine years earlier, I had placed a number of
books in cartons above the ceiling in our home. My original plan had been that
this would serve as a temporary
storage facility. Thinking back on this, I expect that I must have given my wife
Jenny, some assurance that this arrangement was going to be exactly what the
word temporary actually suggests. The
reason I make this point is that earlier that same morning, Jenny reminded me of
that exact assurance that she recalled I had given her so many years earlier.
I scratched my head and looked blankly at her. She met my blank look with
a determined gaze of her own. The unspoken sub-text of her expression confirmed
for me beyond any doubt whatsoever, that it was time to get to work above our
ceiling. In any event, that area needed to be prepared for some air-conditioning
ducts that were due to be installed within weeks.
As things worked out, cleaning out the space above the
ceiling was a task well suited to that particular Saturday.
Outside, a steady rain was falling and continued to fall until the early
Once the above-ceiling space had been cleared, I sorted
the books within the cartons into three groups. To one side, I placed books that
I wanted to keep. To another – books
that I wanted to sell.
The last group was dedicated as giveaways
and ear-marked for a local Lions Club – a service club that I had belonged to
prior to joining Freemasonry.
As I look back to that particular Saturday, it was really
not all that dissimilar to so many other Saturdays that I had enjoyed in my
life. There was however, one thing that did distinguish it from all the others
and it occurred at the exact moment that I picked up just
one particular book that had been lying anonymously amongst all the others.
It was a book that I had studied while completing a paper on the history of
education. This was back in 1977 when I was studying at Murray Park Teachers
College in Magill, South Australia.
The book’s cover featured the image of a glass mosaic
pane of a Greek philosopher named Plato. The book was titled very simply - The Republic and it had been written over 2300 years ago by the same
Greek philosopher whose image appeared on the front cover.
I remembered that the paper I had written so many years ago detailed how
Plato had been the first person in western society to draw a blueprint for a curriculum
of education for a man or woman whose end-product would be to become a
thinking leader within Greek society of his time. He referred to the graduate of his education-system by the
very distinguished title of philosopher-
king. His graduate achieved this distinction by progressive stages through
Plato’s own revolutionary approach to education.
Plato proposed that formal education should target two
important aspects of human nature in order that an individual could achieve excellence. The first aspect was what most education systems are
designed (even now) to achieve – the development of a person’s intellect.
The second aspect of his education system was far more revolutionary.
It dealt with the development of a person’s character. His ideal ruler would demonstrate excellence in his or
her thinking, actions, and decision-making by achieving a balance between their intellect
(which we can call right thinking) and their character
(which was demonstrated in right behaviour).
The book that I held in my hand had been translated into
English by Sir Desmond Lee and was a 1976 reprint of an original Penguin
Classics edition. Looking at the book, I also noticed that its top edges were
leached with a faded, watered, yellow ink – undoubtedly the result of an
accidental highlighter spill that had taken place many years ago.
I paused and looked out of the glass of the rear sliding
door, caught up in reminiscences associated with my student days. Outside,
occasional slim rays of a very rich, very moisture-laden coppery light reflected
off the lawn and shrubs and trees in a way that was so typical of a
mid-winter’s afternoon in Adelaide.
Returning to The
Republic, I began to thumb through it with nostalgic curiosity. Moments
later, I was astonished to read the words of a passage that I had highlighted
almost three decades earlier. It was this specific moment that transformed one
ordinary Saturday afternoon among many ordinary Saturdays into something of
greater personal significance for me.
The line of highlighted text that held my eyes was
unquestionably pregnant with Masonic
meaning. It was one very curious coincidence. I randomly flicked to another
page. There again was a highlighted piece of text. Likewise, this was also
remarkably similar to another piece of Masonic Ritual. I now had two
very curious coincidences. Taking a breath, I eased myself into a seat and began
flicking further through the text. This
time, any sentimental curiosity I had, had been transformed into one of focussed
Very quickly, it became obvious to me that many of these
passages drew direct relevance to the ritual that I had become familiar with
since my Initiation on the evening of Monday 8th November 1999. Because of the number of parallels, I began to wonder whether
or not these were just coincidences or was there some purposeful, planned
architecture in the structure of our Ritual that might take as its basis,
Plato’s most important philosophical work? My first thought was that there
were too many resemblances to dismiss what I had come across as coincidence
Over the course of the following week, I read the book -
from front to back cover - stimulated by an eagerness to understand why
it was that there appeared to be so many correspondences to the Freemasonic
ritual practiced in South Australia.
I understood that there was one central problem that I had
to overcome. Plato had written Republic
in Greek and I had never studied the language. I had attended St Paul’s School
here in Adelaide, which prided itself in a strict Christian Brothers tradition.
As a consequence, each of the five years of my secondary education menu, had a
serving of Classical Latin – not
As almost 30 years had passed since my last Latin lesson
(and without everyday use) my command of Latin had understandably become a
little tired. Despite that, one
memory remained as sharp as ever. It is one that I smile at the thought of,
understanding that it is only the distance in time separating me from those
student days that allows me the luxury of a smile. It was the memory of
punishment that awaited any student who failed to decline a noun or conjugate a
verb with the flourish of precision that the Christian Brothers demanded.
Here was my main concern - was the Penguin translation a faithful one? Without any understanding of Greek how could I ever be
certain? Because both the language and sentiments highlighted in the book I was
holding were so strikingly resonant of Masonic Ritual, I wanted to convince
myself of one thing in particular. I needed assurance that these parallels were
not just a quirk of this particular
translation of Sir Desmond Lee’s. Yet
– how could I possibly make a considered judgment in this regard given that
Greek was (in every sense of the word) foreign to me?
It was then that I decided that the most logical approach
would be for me to compare different modern translations of Republic.
I read Robin Waterfield’s translation (Republic,
Oxford World’s Classics 1993) followed by C.D.C. Reeve’s translation (Republic,
Hackett, 2004. If anything –
these translations amplified (rather
than diminished) any Masonic correspondences existing between Plato’s writings
and Masonic Ritual.
At this early point in my investigations, comparing these
three modern translations confirmed for me beyond any doubt that Plato’s Republic
had been a principal influence in the development of modern Freemasonic Ritual.
What I didn’t understand was why.
Assuming that I was correct – that Plato’s Republic
was the foundation of Emulation Ritual,
why was it chosen? What were the influences operating at the time that made its
choice, a natural one? In time, the answers to all these questions came with
ease and (thankfully)... great clarity.
Significantly, by means of this process, I had also
satisfied myself that Lee’s translation had not
been singular in its expression of Freemasonic language, principles and
sentiments. I then began to read other dialogues of Plato’s. The more I read,
the more convinced I became that our Freemasonic Ritual was established (without any doubt or qualification) on very specific principles of Platonic
I then thought through the route that I would need to take
in order to reach a logical, well considered conclusion as to why
it was that Plato’s writings became embroidered into the fabric of modern
The approach that I was to take was far from self-evident
to me at the beginning. It developed naturally and at its own pace over time. My
investigations led me by the nose along some separate vectors of historical
The first was to understand the life and times within
which Plato lived.
The second avenue was to understand what was taking place
in Scotland and England in the years leading up to 1717 when Freemasonry was
revitalised under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of England until the year 1823
and beyond. What I discovered was that Europe, from the mid-1700’s (and in
most particular – England and Germany), was swept up in a cultural
fever that is now recognised by the term philhellenism. The term
means “love of all things that are Greek”.
In 1816, a Masonic ritual known by the name of Emulation
was approved for use, following decades of controversy regarding the correct and
proper Freemasonic ritual that ought to be used.
The Ritual that we use in South Australia and the Northern
Territory is (with only very minor
variations), Emulation. The crucial
point is this - the authors of Emulation
– (writing in the early 19th century), had decided for reasons of
their own to weave the fabric of Plato’s concept of a philosopher-king
into the body of this Ritual.
When I completed my investigations, I was able to
articulate a meaningful, structured and cohesive model of Freemasonry. It was
one that was vibrant; it was energetic. More than anything, it was something
that was easy to understand and apply.
Its application could be demonstrated in a lodge room, but of even greater
significance – it could be demonstrated in the day-to-day aspects of our own
Most importantly, no longer was the pathway through
Freemasonry, a bramble of confusing, discordant, disparate system of symbols,
images and references.
Here is the crux of the argument that I propose in this
As a Freemason, when you or I are present at the Opening
or Closing of Lodge, whenever you or I participate in Initiating, Passing or
Raising a brother, then the words and sentiments that we hear (or deliver)
resonate with the words and sentiments written by a Greek philosopher named
Plato - almost 400 years before the
There is one further step – the symbols and allegories
of our ritual are steeped in Greek history and mythology. Once we understand the
specific myths that our symbols and allegories refer to, the richer in meaning
our Ritual becomes for us.
Weekly, together with Grand Lecturers of our jurisdiction,
I deliver presentations throughout the Freemasonic network in South
Australia’s metropolitan and country lodges. These presentations - touching on
all aspects of Freemasonic history and philosophy are expressed (as much as
possible) in everyday language. With the membership base in Freemasonry
throughout Australia showing a pleasing upward-trend, it is important to be able
to continue to express what Freemasonry is as well as what it stands for, to
every brother in language that is inclusive,
rather than exclusive.
I am also conscious that this is an opportunity to share
our Freemasonic heritage and values with readers in the wider community – a
direction that is being energetically driven in South Australia and highlighted
within the body of the Inaugural Address of Graham Bollenhagen at his
Installation in April 2006 as the Most Worshipful Grand Master of South
Australia and Northern Territory:
Whilst it is
certainly obvious in this modern society that there has been a tendency for a
focus on self, there appears to be a rekindling of the understanding of a
greater purpose of life, as some begin the search for other aspects in their
lives. For Freemasonry, we need to ensure that we can assist this search by
providing knowledge of our ideals, but of course, how can we present this to
others if our personal understanding of such knowledge is couched in terms and
in a language that is not easily understood by others.
Let me now give you a brief snapshot of some of the issues
discussed in this book:
Some things that you’ll find discussed in this book…
Plato was the first in western philosophical tradition to
propose the Cardinal Virtues and the
Liberal Arts and Sciences as the means to become a philosopher-king. In Craft
Ritual we are instructed in the Cardinal Virtues and the Liberal Arts and
Sciences as the paths by which we may attain the Chair of King Solomon. Is there
a connection between our Masonic instruction and King Solomon (as the ideal or
archetypal philosopher king)?
In the North East Corner Address we are instructed in the
importance of not having metals or valuables on our person. Is there any
relationship between this instruction and the instruction given to one of
Plato’s philosopher kings - not to have metals or valuables on their
If Greek history, mythology and philosophy are the basis
of modern Freemasonry, is it possible that Wisdom, Strength and Beauty have
symbolical allusion to three principal Greek cities which typified each
characteristic in the ancient world, namely - Athens (Wisdom),
Sparta (Strength) and Corinth (Beauty)?
Plato describes the creation of the world by a Supreme Being that he called the techton of the cosmos
(Craftsman of the Universe). This Craftsman created the universe out of five
geometrical solids. Plato, (as well as these five geometrical solids) is
mentioned in the Address of the Second Chair (Symbolical Lecture) in the Ritual
of the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem. What does this tell us about the
cross-influences evident regarding Plato in the Craft and other degrees?
In Timaeus and Critias, Plato develops the myth of Atlantis – an immense
super-power overcome by an Athenian alliance of neighbouring city-states ruled
by (…of all things) - philosopher kings. What is Freemasonry’s philosophic
link to the ancient myth of Atlantis?