Review of Freemasonry

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The Square Magazine for the DECENNIAL of PS Review of Freemasonry
10 papers published on The Square Magazine from 1996 through 2006 to celebrate the 10 years of PS Review of Freemasonry.
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This project is sponsored by Lewis Masonic, the leading Masonic publisher since 1886.

An Echo of the Antients?
by Jack Chisholm
Published in The Square Magazine Vol 25, June 1999

© All editorial matter contained in this Magazine is copyright and may not reproduced without written permission from the publisher

IN THE December 1994 issue, Richard C. Chabot {then District Deputy Grand Master of the Ninth Masonic District of the Grand Lodge of New Mexico), wrote about the American group of orders known as the York Rite; while in the December 1997 issue.. Leo Zanelli wrote about the degrees {as they were to them) of the Antients. 

What few historians have picked up on, is that the York Rite is an actual echo of the Antients. For after the compromise of joining the premier Grand Lodge {Moderns) with the Antients in 1813, the Moderns were numerically superior, and continued to pretend that the further degrees of the Antients had nothing whatsoever to do with 'proper' Masonry; apart from the fact that they were forced to recognise the Royal Arch -a bitter pill to swallow. This is explained clearly in Leo Zanelli's recent Pragmatic Masonic History. 

However, in America the inter-Grand Lodge politics of Eng1and had little or no effect, and they continued to move in the direction of a natural masonic progression that started when the Moderns invented the third degree, followed by the Antients inventing their 'fourth degree' and so on. 

The York Rite 

In North America, after completing the three basic 'blue' or Craft degrees, a mason can broadly take one of two paths -or both if time and finance allows. One is the York Rite, the other is the Ancient and Accepted or Scottish Rite -the equivalent to England's 'Rose Croix'. We are concerned here with the York Rite. 

The York Rite comprises three broad groups after the basic Craft degrees. The first is the Royal Arch Chapter and consists of, in ascending order: Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Holy Royal Arch Mason. The next group is the Cryptic or Royal and Select Masters. This starts with Royal Master, then moves on to Select Master and finally Super Excellent Master -which is the 10th degree in the York Rite. 

The crowning glory of the York Rite is the group known as the Commandery of Knights Templar. This starts with the Order of the Red Cross, moves on to the Order of the Knights of Malta, then Order of the Knight Templar Commandery. Once you are a Knight Templar, you gain entrance to the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine -if you have the right connections. 

The Antients 

As has been mentioned several times recently in this magazine, we know quite a lot about the degrees/orders of the Antients, because a few enthusiasts in the late 1700s meticulously wrote down the rituals. One of these was John Knight, who started compiling from 1777 well into the 1800s. Knight was technically a Modern and a friend of Dunkerley, but his ritual books are pure Antient. 

According to Knight, the Antients performed the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft degrees -but then worked the Mark Master (or Mark Mason) before raising the candidate in the third. Among the next came Excellent and Super Excellent, then Red Cross - followed by Royal Arch! In fact, according to Knight the Holy Royal Arch was the 12th degree. Royal Ark Mason was at number 18 (Knight's group had 26 essential degrees) followed by Masonic Knight Templar. Number 26 was the Rosy Crucian, also called the 'Ne Plus Ultra', meaning 'there is no higher'.

 However, although the Rosy Crucian was their top degree, there is no doubt whatsoever that, although the Royal Arch was the 'key' to the further degrees, the one that epitomised the Antients was the Knight Templar. The Antients worked many other degrees beyond the mandatory 26 -and for all of them it was necessary to be a Knight Templar. 

The Mixed-Up Orders 

In the course of evolution, many of the degrees or orders have got mixed up, particularly in England. For instance, in England one has to be a Mason, Mark Master Mason and Companion of the Holy Royal Arch in order to get into the Cryptic or Royal and Select Masters - yet only a Companion of the HRA to get into Knights Templar, which in both York Rite and Antients is and was a far higher order or degree. 

Likewise, the Rosy Crucian, the jewel of the Antients' Rite, now resides in the Scottish Rite (Ancient and Accepted) or Rose Croix as the 18th degree out of 33. What a comedown.

 However, in England we still acknowledge the superiority of 'Rosy', despite the fact that it is now halfway down the list of the Ancient and Accepted, because we call it 'Rose Croix'. Have you ever wondered why the English refer to this Rite by a degree that has 15 degrees above it? I think it's an unconscious throwback from the time when Rosy was 'numero uno'! 

Quite honestly we have made a mess of the masonic degrees and orders in England. This is, as Mark Domenic mentions in his 'Upset Thesis' in the March issue, because the Moderns, spearheaded by the Grand Master Duke of Sussex, managed to sideline and ignore all the degrees beyond the Craft for many, many years, in the hope that they would eventually just disappear. They didn't. But in England they became hopelessly mixed up. 

Not so in North America. They continued refining the works of the Antients into the body we now know as the York Rite. And it is the York Rite that embodies the Freemasonry that commenced when the premier Grand Lodge invented the third degree around 1725!

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