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
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
"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,
especially the 47th proposition
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
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,"
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
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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