One of the primary purposes of
Freemasonry is the education of its members. Unfortunately, as the pressures of time and business conspire
to constrain the intellectual activity of our Lodges, real Masonic education and
inquiry are among the first pursuits to be jettisoned from our regular agendas.
Education and reflection on Masonic issues used to be much more of a
central part of the business a Masonic Lodge than it is today.
Too often we become what Brother Mackey referred to as “parrot
Masons” Masons who become quite proficient at learning words and directions
but who give little or no attention to the philosophy behind those words.
It is proper then that as we
celebrate the feast day of St. John the Baptist, we pause a few minutes to
consider the history and background of this celebration.
As Masons we are all familiar
with the phrase “Erected to God and dedicated to the Holy Saints John.”
All of our Blue Lodges are so dedicated, yet we never hear any other
information regarding these “Holy Saints John” or anything to explain why we
refer to them as the Patron Saints of Freemasonry.
They are referenced in the
Entered Apprentice Lecture as being “perfect parallels in Masonry as well as
in Christianity.” It is almost an
afterthought of a reference, given that we dedicate every Lodge to these two
men. Who were these Saints John?
Why are they important to us as Freemasons?
In early Masonry, the feast
day of St. John the Baptist was always celebrated by the Craft.
In fact, the first public Grand Lodge the Grand Lodge of England
was born on St. John the Baptist’s day, June 24, in 1717 in London.
Thereafter, the Grand Lodge of England sponsored great annual
celebrations of this day for many years. Eventually
the feast of St. John the Evangelist became important as well and many Lodges
and Grand Lodges moved the beginning of their Masonic year from June 24 to
December 27. We can only assume
that the proximity of December 27 to the beginning of the calendar year made it
expedient to do so.
The festival days were of
central importance to early American Lodges as well. Both feast days were almost always celebrated by all
well-governed early Lodges. Our
records indicate that Brothers George Washington and Benjamin Franklin always
made it a point to attend their Lodges respective observances of St. Johns Days.
Elections and installations
were usually planned around these dates. Even though we have allowed this tradition (like so many) to
slip away, we retain the vestiges of it. You
will notice that here in Florida our Masonic year begins “as close as
possible” to December 27 according to the Digest of Masonic Law.
The Grand Lodge year and annual communication are always scheduled in
close proximity to June 24.
We always run the danger of
allowing traditions to become habits and losing sight of the reason for the
Today we celebrate the
festival, or feast day of St. John the Baptist. Who was Saint John the Baptist?
The four Gospels, the Books of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as found in the Bible’s New Testament, all
describe this man in almost exactly the same language.
The Baptist, who was a cousin to Jesus Christ, is spoken of as “A voice
crying in the wilderness,” whose purpose was to, “Prepare the way of the
Lord and make his paths straight.” He
must indeed have been an important man for all four Gospels to refer to him with
exactly the same terminology, as this is extremely rare.
In the Gospel of Luke, in fact, Jesus himself says of John, “Among them
that are born of women, there has not risen any greater than John the
High praise indeed.
It becomes more clear why we as Masons should hold him in such esteem.
John the Baptist called the Baptist because as he preached he baptized
believers in the River Jordan lived a simple, yet powerful and devout life.
He preached single-minded righteous living and change of character.
His message was that one must live in a holy manner and that deviation
from that manner was not acceptable.
For his refusal to change
himself or his message and for his devotion to Jesus, John the Baptist was
imprisoned and eventually beheaded by King Herod. The heroism, fidelity and integrity of John are echoed in the
legends of Jacques DeMolay and Hiram Abif, which gives us more insight into his
choice as a Patron Saint of the Masonic Order.
Certainly Saint John the
Evangelist is important to us as Masons as well. It is fitting that while we have a relatively concrete
biography of St. John the Baptist, whose theology and teachings were
straightforward and rigid, the story of the Evangelist is more difficult to
relate and requires more study much like his teachings.
Saint John the Evangelist is likely the amalgamation of several New
Testament Johns, including John the Disciple of Christ, John the Epistle writer
and John the Divine of Patmos, the
author of the Book of Revelation. There
are many striking reasons why Freemasons would choose the Evangelist as Patron.
Chiefly, the writings of this John (or group of Johns) read almost like
Masonic ritual. The Gospel of John
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was with God. All
things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and darkness comprehended it not.
Nowhere else in the Bible
since the beginning of Genesis familiar to all Freemasons is the concept
of light so inextricably entwined with the idea of the divine spirit.
As we progress through higher degrees the concept of the Word, the Light
and the Divine as inseparable parts of the whole of Creation becomes of primary
importance. John the Evangelist
leads us forward in that direction.
In his Epistles, the
Evangelist continues to work from the theme that the Word and the Light are
inevitably linked and goes on to bring Truth and Love in as links of the same
chain. The idea and practice of
Brotherly Love and Fellowship is explored more thoroughly by the Evangelist than
by any other New Testament writer. The
disturbing imagery of the Book of Revelations is the source of many esoteric
schools of thought and many writers have made convincing arguments that this
imagery is in many ways influential to Masonry.
Also of Masonic importance is
that John the Evangelist is described as among the most loyal of the Disciples
of Christ and the one closest to Jesus. Even
in death, Jesus entrusts the care of his Mother to John, who we may assume was
in many ways his best friend on earth.
There we have two Saints John,
very properly described Masonically as parallel figures.
Both of unimpeachable character and strong influence on the Western Mind,
but one dogmatic and rigid, and the other intellectual and esoteric.
In both we find the integrity and inflexible fidelity so common to
Masonic teaching, but the manner of teaching those virtues varies between the
It is fitting that they
represent these parallel lines of which we speak. But why them? Why
have they always been linked to the Fraternity?
Surely Masonry as we know it was not extant in the early Christian era,
yet there is no period in Masonry where they do not appear.
In Masonic research on the
topic of the Saints John we can be sure of only one thing the concept of
dedication of Lodges to them is indeed “time immemorial.”
The earliest Masonic documents speak of the Saints and of “The Lodge of
the Saints John at Jerusalem.”
Craft Masonry and Blue Lodges
as we know them have received the care of the Saints John as Patrons as
something of an heirloom from previous centuries. Lodges of “St. Johns’ Masonry” existed long before
1717. Which brings us to the
question of whence comes our Masonry. Interestingly,
all three traditions of the most common theories of time immemorial Masonic
origins have their own relationship with the Saints John.
There is a school of Masonic
research holding that the Fraternity is descended from the Druids and other
truly ancient Celtic priesthoods of the sun.
Implausible as this theory is, it has a direct correlation to the
veneration of the Saints John. Although
entirely pagan and pre-Christian, these sun priests claimed as their holiest
days the summer and winter solstices the day when the sun shines the most and
the day when it shines the least. As
this was common among many pagan theologies, the early and medieval Christian
Church adopted the solstices as important feast days and simply renamed them for
two of the most important saints. The
summer solstice was officially fixed to June 24 and dedicated to St. John the
Baptist and the winter solstice was fixed to December 27 and dedicated to St.
John the Evangelist.
Some say the old pagan
traditions live on in Masonry’s celebration of these days. If there is truth in that statement, it is because we
celebrate the solstices as an embodiment of the Masonic ideals of regularity,
constancy and order. As Freemasons
we naturally work toward order and against irregularity and chaos. Only when a Masonic Lodge conforms to basic orderly usages
and customs do we term it a “regular” Lodge and consider it worthy of
communication. What better example
of order and regularity than these diurnal solstices when the sun inevitably
“dies” and is “reborn?” As the early Church saw wisdom in adopting these
pagan symbols, perhaps it is not such a leap of faith to see them as Masonic
Symbols as well.
In recent years the long-held
belief that modern Masonry evolved from Medieval Stonemason Guilds has come
under much questioning. Regardless
of these questions, we find a relationship with the Saints John from this theory
Of course, all medieval guilds
adopted Patron Saints and used their feast days as central gatherings for
celebration and also for choosing leaders and other necessary business matters.
Stonemason Guilds, most notably in northern England and Scotland, often
chose one or both of the Saints Johns as their Patrons.
This was not necessarily true on the European continent or in
Norman-dominated southern England. The
Freemasonry we practice here today, however, came primarily from northern
England and Scotland where the Saints John were common among the Stonemason
An old theory of Masonic
genesis that is slowly gaining returned momentum is the hypothesis that our
Freemasonry evolved from the knightly orders of the Crusades.
Specifically named are the Knights Templar and to a lesser extent the
Knights Hospitaller. It is important to note here that the Hospitallers were (and
are still today) more properly known as the Knights of St. John.
The Saints John are also commonly referred to in Templar records and we
know their festival days were of importance to the Templars.
When the Templars were suppressed in 1307 most of their property,
especially in England, became the property of the Hospitallers.
Many Knights Templar in that area joined the Hospitallers following the
suppression as well.
Also important in this inquiry
is that one of the charges of “heresy” brought against the Templars was that
they had become followers of Gnostic Christianity and had in many ways left
behind the more traditional Roman Catholic interpretations.
This is important in a discussion of the Saints John because the basis of
much Gnostic thought is the Gospel and Epistles of John the Evangelist.
In effect, the “crimes” of the Templars may have been that they
venerated the theology of our Patron Saint John the Evangelist more than that of
Saint Paul or Saint Peter.
The tradition of the Saints
John carries on to this day in the several British non-Masonic knightly orders.
The “Lodges of St. John” existed in London and southern England from
the Crusades through the entrance of Freemasonry and even exist today.
There can be little doubt that these Lodges had at least some influence
on the development of Freemasonry, if they were not indeed Freemasons
We see that while we can find
no real answers to the question of why the Saints John are our Patrons, the
lineage of the dedication is clear.
Plato taught that for every
thing in creation, including people and organizations, there exists in a
non-physical, ethereal subconscious otherworld a perfect form or ideal of that
thing. As Freemasons perhaps we
should view the Saints John in that context.
According to the Book of the Law, as men we are bound to certain
frailties and failures. This keeps
us all from becoming ideal men and Masons, no matter how we may try.
We should hold for ourselves as the perfect form or ideal of Masons the
Holy Saints John. Although we know
they were not Freemasons, what we know of them shows them to be perfect examples
of what a Freemason should be kind, righteous, loving and above all faithful
unto death to the trust reposed in him. They
are the Platonic Form of the Freemason never to be achieved, but always to be
Further extrapolated, we can
see the mythical Lodge of the Saints John at Jerusalem as the Platonic Form of a
Masonic Lodge. It can and should
exist as our ideal of what a Lodge of Masons would be if all its members
achieved the ideal Masonic state of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the
Evangelist. Perhaps the Christian
Mason can even see in that ideal Lodge Jesus Christ as Master and the Saints
John as Wardens, composing the perfect Lodge.
While we have now no more
answers on this subject than when we started, we have hopefully shed a little
more light or truth, as the Evangelist would see it on our practice of
dedicating Lodges to the Holy Saints John.
As always in Masonry, every
revealment is also a reveilment and we must always in new knowledge meet new
intellectual frustrations. Freemasonry
is, after all, the legend of the search for the Lost Word and we are charged to
be the searchers.
Hopefully this inquiry ignites
some interest in further research and makes the observance of Saint Johns Day a
little more poignant for us as Masons.
The Knights of the Order
Encyclopedia of Freemasonry
The Holy Saints John and the
M. Goranson The Philalethes, April 1992
Sts. John, Solstices and
Leon Zeldis The
Philalethes, August 1992
Where Parallel Lines
Rev. Jan L. Beaderstadt
Masonic Service Association Short Talk Bulletin, June 1996
The Saints John of Freemasonry
Southern California Lodge of Research
Everything You Need to Know
Steve Horman, Gregg
King James Version
Florida Masonic Monitor
Digest of Masonic Law of the
Grand Lodge of Florida, F& AM