WHY THE ROYAL ARCH?
This article was originally taken from the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge for the year 1965. It has been updated to reflect the changes which have taken place since then. The article is intended to be presented in open Lodge as an introduction to the Royal Arch but its content is still relevant to those who already belong to the Order.
Much has been written about the Royal Arch, but guidance for a Brother has been rather neglected. Master Masons are continually arriving at the point in their Masonic careers when they ask, “Why the Royal Arch?” or “What is the Royal Arch Degree and even ‘What has the Royal Arch to do with the Craft?’
A Brother’s Masonic development can be encouraged or disillusioned according to the answers he receives.
If his questions are directed to a Brother who is well and worthily acquainted with Masonry, then no doubt the answers will benefit and truly enlighten the enquirer, but, should the same questions be directed to a Mason who is ill-equipped to answer adequately, then an adverse influence for all times could be given to a Brother who may well have been able to find the Royal Arch to be a complete Masonic inspiration, or a path toward it.
A short answer to “Why the Royal Arch” could be “it’s a completion of the journey through pure and ancient Freemasonry”. It is accepted however that the Royal Arch is certainly the natural progression in Freemasonry as it provides the “genuine secrets”, which follows the granting of “certain substituted secrets” at the closing of the Third Degree which forms an integral part of English Freemasonry.
Craft Masonry concerns itself with the building of King Solomon’s Temple, the first fixed place or worship of the God of Israel and the resting place of the Arch of the Covenant, following the wanderings in the wilderness. In this era it was said “He shall build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his Kingdom for ever”. For the Freemason this statement means that he should raise a superstructure “Perfect in its parts and honorable to the builder.”
Biblical history informs us that shortly before the death of King Solomon a rebellion broke out between the twelve tribes of Israel which divided the Kingdom in two. Ten of the tribes comprised Israel in the north with the remaining two forming Judah in the south. The ten northern tribes were taken into captivity by Sargon, King of Assyria. Judah retained its identity as a tributary Kingdom, firstly under the domination of Egypt and later under Babylon. Because there was a default in the payment of certain dues and tributes to Babylon, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were sacked and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon.
The then King of Judah, Jehoiakin, together with the prominent people of Judah were led into captivity in Babylon. Those who were left behind were of the lower classes and were the tillers of the soil. Judah, as a nation, survived during the period of the captivity, and when Babylon fell to the Persian conquerors, the captives were encouraged to return to their native land.
The Royal Arch in the English system deals with the return of the surviving captives and their descendants to Jerusalem and the clearing of the site of the first Temple which was destroyed, and the preparing of the ground for the foundation of the Second Temple. At this stage the Royal Arch ritual recounts how, and in what circumstances, the “Genuine Secrets” were regained.
It is here of interest to note that the Irish system of the Royal Arch is based on the story of the discovery of a Scroll of the Sacred Law during a repair of the First Temple in the reign of Josiah, which is dated 60 years before the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the City and Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon. This is recorded in the second took of Kings, Chapter 22, verses 8 to 10, and also in the second book of Chronicles, Chapter 34, Verses 14 to 18.
From the writings of the Prophet Haggai we are told that the Second Temple was nothing in comparison to the First, but what was of importance is the comment “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former” which inferred that in place of the material splendor of Solomon’s Temple, a spiritual development would arise which would inspire more exalted ideas of the God of Israel.
The Craft and the Royal Arch together span the whole period of the Old Testament. They deal with the First and Second Temples in their entirety, until the destruction of the Second Temple, by the Romans under Titus in the 70th year of the present era.
If we could summarise the teachings of the Three Degrees in a few words, in order to appreciate the part that is played by each in relationship to the Royal Arch, it might well be said that - The FIRST DEGREE emphasises the primary necessity for a complete faith in a ‘Supreme Being, the Father of All, who alone give their being to all others’. It also teaches us the duty we owe to our neighbour in his time of need. The SECOND DEGREE indicates the duty of the Fellow-Craft to fully develop his talent and skill in the Arts and Sciences so as to play a useful part in life. The THIRD DEGREE calls upon Brethren to contemplate upon the closing hour of existence however untimely this may be.
The ROYAL ARCH embraces this whole evolution of human life, illustrating, that divine and human affairs are interwoven through all these ceremonies. It leads toward a greater knowledge and understanding of the nature and the Glory of the Almighty; it represents the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.
The Royal Arch completes the theme of ‘loss and recovery’ and thereby proves it to be the completion and conclusion of the ‘Third Degree’ and not a Fourth Degree. It demonstrates that Humility and Contrition are sure indications of merit. That the Royal Arch has become separate from the Lodge, in the forming of a Chapter, is probably to the advantage of its members. The separation tends to ensure that the ‘LIGHT’ which it contains is shed upon those who come to it with an understanding of the spiritual purpose of Freemasonry.
The ceremonies of the Craft, as we know them today, have been developed over the years and are the result of change and evolution. The form of the Three Degree system in Craft Lodges, with a separate ceremony of the Royal Arch within a Chapter, is a comparatively modern derivation.
In a work published in 1744 entitled ‘A Serious and Impartial Enquiry’ it is stated, “Some of the Fraternity have expressed their uneasiness at the Royal Arch being kept a secret from them, since they had already passed through the usual degrees of probation; but I cannot help being of opinion that they have no right to any such benefit until they make a formality as having passed the Chair and given undeniable proofs of their skill.”
When the Premier Grand Lodge (the Moderns) was founded in 1717 by four London Lodges, there were those Lodges in England which did not give their allegiance and remained independent and outside its control. In 1751 another Grand Lodge was founded (the Antients), which was in the most part, composed of Irish immigrant Masons who had been ‘cold-shouldered’ by the Premier Grand Lodge.
They had, however, useful support from the ‘Traditioners’ who had refused to accept the ritual changes which had been imposed by the Premier Grand Lodge. This new Grand Lodge was known as “The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons”, and because they claimed to be adhering to the ancient rituals they became known as the “Antients”. The Premier Grand Lodge, who had imposed new changes to the ritual were automatically called the “Moderns”. Thus in Masonic history we have a contradiction in terms, the Premier and first Grand Lodge which was called the “Moderns” was in fact 34 years older than the “Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons” which was known as the “Antients”.
The Royal Arch ceremony at this time was neither practiced nor acknowledged by the “Moderns”, but it was so firmly established with the “Antients” that it was described by Laurence Dermott, their Secretary in very strong terms, that “The Royal Arch I believe to be the Root, Heart and Marrow of Masonry”. In the Book of Constitutions of the “Antients” dated 1807 the Royal Arch is described thus “Antient Masonry consists of four degrees, the first three of which are, that of the Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the sublime degree of Master and a Brother, being eligible to be admitted to the fourth degree, the Holy Royal Arch.
This degree is certainly more august, sublime and important than those which precede it, and is the summit and perfection of Ancient Masonry. It impresses on our minds a more firm belief of the existence of a Supreme Deity without beginning of days or end of years, and justly reminds us of the respect and veneration due to that Holy Name.”
The attitude of the Grand Lodge of the ‘Moderns’ was vastly different and one incident makes it most clear. In the year 1759 a Brother from Ireland applied for relief to the Grand Lodge of the “Moderns”, and to strengthen his claim stated that he was a Royal Arch Mason. The reply he received from the then Grand Secretary of the ‘Moderns’, one Samuel Spencer, was as follows “Your being an “Ancient” Mason you are not entitled to any of our charity. The Antient Masons have a Lodge at the Five Bells in The Strand and their Secretary’s name is Dermott. Our Society is neither Arch, Royal Arch nor Ancient so that you have no right to partake of our charity.”
Within a few years many members of the ‘Moderns’ Lodges had been Exalted into Royal Arch Masonry including, not only the Grand Master Lord Blayney, but also Samuel Spencer himself. Official recognition was therefore a logical sequence and in June 1766 a Grand Chapter was set up with a Charter of Compact to record its “Full power and authority”, this being accepted as the founding of our Supreme Grand Chapter of today, which is now well over two hundred years in existence.
The story, however, is not quite complete for whereas the ‘Moderns’ had begun to accept the Royal Arch, Freemasonry under the Grand Lodge of The Antients still continued as four Degrees, all of which were conferred within the framework of the Lodge. A Grand Chapter was constituted by the ‘Antients’ five years after the ‘Moderns’, but the reason for so doing is rather obscure as the Royal Arch had always been under the jurisdiction of their Grand Lodge, even so, it later proved to be a strong element in changes which were to take place after the union of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, and four years later in 1817 when the differences between the two Grand lodges regarding the Royal Arch were finally settled and a union of the Grand Chapters established. It remained the United Grand Chapter until 1822 when it was renamed the Supreme Grand Chapter to exercise full control as it does today.
The Act of Union constituting the United Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of England in December 1813 contains an item, part of which is reprinted as the Preliminary Declaration in the Book of Constitutions governing the Craft, which also contains the Regulations of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England, a copy of which is presented to each Initiate, and states “ By the solemn act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of England in December 1813, it was declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, being those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.
Regulation Four of Laurence Dermott’s Constitutions still remain effective today as the present rule 47 of the Royal Arch Regulations which states “No Chapter shall act without the Charter of Constitution from the Grand Chapter which is to be specially entrusted to each First Principal at his Installation, to be held by him in safe custody on behalf of Grand Chapter. The First Principal shall produce it at every Convocation of the Chapter.” The close connection within the Craft is emphasised in the wording of the Charter of Constitution as it contains the injunction that it is “to be held with and attached to the Warrant of the Lodge.” The significance of this injunction can be further emphasised in that the registered number of a Chapter is always was, until very recently, the same as the number of its parent Lodge.
The Regulations of the Royal Arch used to require a Brother to be an Installed Master or Past Master before he can be elected and installed in the chair of Third Principal, and then only after having served in the qualifying junior office for one year. This rule was clearly a deterrent to many potential candidates and has now been amended so that any Master Mason can progress through the three chairs subject to them having served in a qualifying junior office. The progression through the Chairs of the Chapter is by election serving one year as Third Principal, then Second Principal and finally as First Principal.
In former times only those who had “ruled” over a Lodge could be exalted into the Royal Arch. This regulation so limited the number of eligible candidates for admission that a slow decay would have been inevitable. In order to avoid this problem a “Chair Degree” was devised which basically involved passing a suitable candidate from one side of the Master’s Chair to the other thereby qualifying him as having passed through the Chair of a Lodge.
By this method the candidate was known as a ‘Virtual’ Master, but not an ‘Actual Master’, but sufficient to qualify him to be exalted into the Royal Arch. Today the qualification for a Brother to be exalted into the Royal Arch is that he must be a Master Mason and have exercised himself in that capacity for four weeks and upwards.
There must be questions which a Master Mason, who is anxious to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge, the enquiring Freemason, must have asked, such as “ Why does a legend which portrays a loss, fail to complete the sequence with a discovery” or “Why do we accept the loss of genuine secrets and at the same tine be prepared to accept certain substituted secrets in their stead?” and “Why accept the exchange of fact for fiction, when our teachings tell us only to accept the truth” and “Why should a Master Mason continue to remain satisfied with substituted secrets when the possibility exists in being able to discover the genuine, for is it not said that ‘time or circumstances shall return the genuine”, and if that be so, in what time and under what circumstances?”
Is there not also a question to be answered when we think upon the reply that was given to certain ruffians when they demanded particular information from the Grand Master when he said “that without the consent and cooperation of his other two colleagues he neither could nor would divulge the information they wanted, but that patience and industry would, in due time, entitle the worthy Mason to a participation of them.” When is ‘Due Time’ and how does one become a ‘worthy Mason’? Perhaps there is an answer, maybe the answer is to be found in the Holy Royal Arch Chapter.
When a person wishes to come into Masonry it is expected that he makes an approach to someone whom he knows to be a Mason and declares his desire. For a Brother to enter the Royal Arch he may well be approached by a Royal Arch Mason and invited to join. It is at the request of the Grand Master that when a Master Mason is presented with his Certificate he should be informed of the Holy Royal Arch. There is a letter which is signed by the Provincial Grand Master of Buckinghamshire which should be given to a Master Mason at the time he is presented with his certificate, inviting the Brother to consider joining the Holy Royal Arch.
I have been cautious in this presentation to avoid referring to the Three Degrees as Craft and keeping the Royal Arch as a separate ritual. Although the Three Degrees are conducted in the Lodge, and the completion of the Third Degree in the Chapter with the exaltation of a Brother into the Royal Arch, as has already been explained, this is the essence of Freemasonry, this is the Craft.
A Brother who has taken his Third Degree and has been presented with his Grand Lodge Certificate, in most cases, has already qualified in time to enter a Royal Arch Chapter, he should therefore be fully aware of his affirmation during his initiation into Freemasonry that his trust is placed in God, and that he has a genuine desire of knowledge and a sincere wish to render himself more extensively serviceable to his fellow creatures.
As a Candidate for the Royal Arch he would present himself with a desire of improving in Freemasonry, and of directing that improvement to the glory of God and the good of man. The desire to improve in Freemasonry can only be fostered if a Brothers interest in Freemasonry has been carefully tended by those responsible, namely his proposer, his seconder, the senior members of his Lodge and the Preceptors of the Lodge of Instruction or Club of Rehearsal. We all realise that Freemasonry is a system or Morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, but just accepting this is not enough, some effort is needed not just in understanding it but more importantly, what it sets out to do. If the realisation that Freemasonry surely provides the tools, but the choice and manner we use them rests entirely upon ourselves, then the building of the Temple within ourselves has already begun.
The search for that which was lost - the lost Word - really commenced in the Biblical sense when Adam fell from favour and bequeathed to his sinful posterity this everlasting quest. When the builders of the First Temple at Jerusalem turned from true worship, the Biblical myth became fact. The Word however remained at this very spot, and it recounts the manner of its recovery and rise to favour of those who found it, the Holy Royal Arch shows just what is ‘the very essence of Freemasonry’ for us all.
Companionship, when one is seeking, must indeed be welcome. That Brethren and Companions is “Why the Royal Arch.”
Updated by WBro Brian Baker PPSGD (Bucks)
St Giles Lodge No. 8555