Source (Originally Printed in "The Builder", June 1916 )


AN OLD LATIN DOCUMENT of our Order, said to be deposited with a Lodge at Namur, and purporting to be a proclamation of the Masons of Europe, assembled at Cologne in 1535, declares that Masons are called "Brethren dedicated to St. John," first among the martyr stars of the morning. It tells us, further, that prior to 1440, the Fraternity was called the Joannite Brethren, but that about that time it began to be known by the name of Freemasons. No doubt it is largely fiction, but it may serve as a text for an inquiry as to the relation of the two Saints John, and especially of St. John the Baptist, to our Order.

There is no proof that either of these holy men were ever patrons of our Fraternity, but it is a fact that Masonry has patronized them for ages. The reason for this may be obscure so far as history is concerned, but it is obvious enough if we have a care for spiritual suggestion and the fitness of things. One was a prophet bearing witness to the Light, the other an evangelist of Love; and since the object of Masonry is the attainment of Light, and its first principle is Brotherly Love, it is not to be wondered at that these two great figures became its patron Saints, one the leader of those who are seeking the Light, the other the teacher of those who have found it. For the same reason they are honored on the festal days of the old, beautiful Light-religion of humanity - St. John the Baptist amid the splendor of summer, St. John the Divine at the winter solstice when the mighty orb of Light is most remote from us.

St. John the Baptist was a prophet, "a son of the Voice of God," in the old Hebrew phrase; "yea, and more than a prophet," said the Teacher whose advent he foretold. "There hath not arisen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist." No man ever won higher eulogy; no one ever more richly deserved it. What is prophecy? It is two things - forth-telling and fore-telling. The prophets have been for the most part forth-tellers, the great burden of their messages being the exposition and application of moral truths. Yet ever and again they have seen the clouds clear from the sky of the future, and have caught glimpses of a light upon the far away hills of Time. They have seen, as men see in dreams, places, cities, august figures, vast upheavals impending, and felt the incommunicable thrill of advancing destinies. It is therefore that they speak in words cryptic and vague, foreshadowing in dim and awful form the fashion of things to be.

Such was St. John the Baptist; a rebuker of kings, a scorner of sham, a denouncer of iniquity, whose speech was swift, startling, eruptive, turgid, tearing away every thin veil of pretense and bringing men face to face with eternal realities. Austere, aloof, uncompromising, he saw clearly, felt deeply, spoke plainly; and if he lacked those great fertilizing ideas out of which new religions grow, he had a vast capacity for moral indignation. Mere formalism evoked his withering satire. Profession without performance provoked his blistering scorn. Hypocrisy he flayed with whips of fire. Terrible in speech, he was yet tender of heart, and when the storm of his eloquence has passed by the qualities that stand out in his life are his exalter purity of soul, his passion for righteousness, his courage, his sincerity, his self-effacing humility, his grand magnanimity, his rugged nobility of character and his heroism in death.

Truly, Masonry makes profession of high ideals when it invokes John the Baptist as its patron Saint! Were he to appear at one of our festivals on his day, what would be his message to the men of to-day who dedicate their Lodges in his honor? Would his old indignation flash out upon us, rebuking us for our snug contentment, our smug self-satisfaction, our worship of the past, and our ritualism without reality ? Would he not say to us today, as he did to the men of old, that we must repent in our hearts and show by our deeds the sincerity of our professions and the sanctity of our vows made at the altar of righteousness ? These are things to think about on St. John Day, and if we are worthy to meet in his name they will make us pause and ponder, the while we search our hearts.

Has Masonry, so eager to honor a great Prophet, no prophetic element in it today? Has it no vision no dream, no forward-looking program, no creative purpose for the times to be ? Has its altar light faded into the poor flicker of a painted fire? Or will it become an inspired teacher of righteousness as the sovereign reality of the universe, the solitary hope of humanity, and the secure foundation of personal and social life! Will it put a new dignity into its degrees, a new fire into its philosophy, and tell the young men who throng its temple gates that they must prove their faith by their deeds, and keep their vows in the home, in the marts of trade, in the state, and thus foretell the coming of a nobler social order, a more just state, and a more humane civilization! Size does not signify. Numbers do not count. But righteous manhood is everything! ("The Builder"; June, 1916).