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square and compass Stephen Michalak

Tertullian's Question and its relevance to Modern Freemasonry.

by V.W. Bro. Stephen Michalak
Deputy Grand Lecturer
Grand Lodge of South Australia and Northern Territory

First published April 2008.

Dedication, Acknowledgements, Introduction


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring will be

To arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.


T.S. Eliot

Little Gidding from Four Quartets (1942)



Jenny 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.

Homer, The Odyssey, Book xxi

(Robert Fagles, translation)

Joseph 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.

Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman


Brian 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.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno (Canto xxxiv) from The Divine Comedy

(Allen Mandelbaum, translation)

Jim Beveridge and Max Atkinson, my inspirations

It was Caesar himself who inspired and cultivated this spirit, this passion for distinction among his men.

Plutarch, 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 book.

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 evening.

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 concentration.

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 alone.

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 Greek.

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 philosophy.

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 Masonic Ritual.

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 enquiry.

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 lives.

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 book:

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 Christian era.

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 person?

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)?

In Timaeus, 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?


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