Revised by Albert Pike
The historical details commemorated in this Degree are so fully detailed in the ceremonies [and in the Book of Ezra Ed] as to need no further repetition. It remains only to allude to those which followed the return of the embassy from Babylon, and the action of the Tribunal of the Five Princes of Jerusalem.
Tatnai, Governor of the Jewish side of the river, and Satabazanes and their People obeyed the mandate of Darius. And the Elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the Prophet and Zecheriah the son of Iddo: and they builded and finished the Temple according to the commandment of the God of Israel and according to the orders of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, Kings of Persia.
It was finished on the third day of the month Adar in the sixth year of the reign of Darius. On the twentieth day of that month, the children of Israel, the Priests and the Levites and the rest of the children of the Captivity kept the dedication of the House of God with joy and sacrifices; and the Priests and Levites were then assigned to their several duties in accordance with the law of Moses.
In the fifth month of the seventh year of Artaxerxes the King, Ezra came from Babylon to Jerusalem. He was a lineal descendant of Aaron, well read in the Mosaic law and sacred traditions, and a favourite of the King, who readily granted his request to be allowed to return to Jerusalem and unite again with his people and issued a decree to this effect: "Artaxerxes, King of Kings, unto Ezra the Priest, a Teacher of the Law of the God of Heaven, Health and Peace! I decree that all Jews and their Priests and Levites in my realm who are disposed of their own free will to return to Jerusalem may do so with thee. And I, by the advice of my Council of Seven, do send thee to enforce the Law of God, which is in thy keeping, in Judah and Jerusalem; and to carry thither the silver and gold which we and our Council have freely offered unto Israel's God in Jerusalem and whatever may be given thee in our Province of Babylon, as a voluntary gift from the People and the Priests for the House of God in Jerusalem wherewith to purchase animals for your sacrifices and any residue to dispose of as your God may direct. I give to thee the remaining vessels for the service of the Temple to be placed therein; and whatsoever more may be needed therefor shall be furnished by the Royal Treasury. And I command all my Receivers of the Revenue beyond the River to pay to you, upon your requisition, to the extent of an hundred talents of silver, an hundred measures of wheat, an hundred baths of wine, an hundred baths of oil, and whatsoever salt is required. Whatsoever is required by the God of Heaven, let it be diligently done for His House, that His displeasure may not fall upon our realm.
"It shall not be lawful to impose tax, toll, tribute or custom on the Priests, Levites, Minstrels, Porters, Nethinims or Ministers of the Temple. And thou, Ezra, to enforce the Law of God, whereof thou hast a copy, appoint magistrates and judges for all the people beyond the River that know that law, and teach it to them who know it not. And if any one disobey that law or the law of the King, let him without delay be condemned to death or to exile, confiscation of property or imprisonment."
Collecting together 1506 men, with their women and children, and ashamed to ask an escort of the King because he had assured him that God would protect and defend them on the way, Ezra set forth from Babylon on the first day of the first month of the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, prepared to enforce as well as obey the law of God and to legislate and administer the law to the people of Israel.
At the river of Ahara he encamped and remained three days, and there sent for and was joined by 262 Levites and Nethinims whose duty it was to serve the Levites. Then he held a fast, delivered the sacred vessels into the custody of the Priests, and again moved on the twelfth day of the first month. Safely through the hostile forces that lay in wait for him by the way, he passed protected by God, and reached Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month having occupied four months in the journey: and there delivered the mandates of the King to his Lieutenants and Governors, and they furthered the people and the House of God.
In the ninth month, on the 20th day of the month, all the People assembled at Jerusalem in obedience to his peremptory summons commanding their attendance on pain of exile and confiscation of goods: and there they sat in the streets in a great rain, trembling with fear and shivering with cold. Then he commenced the work of reform by compelling all who had married among the unbelieving people of the country to put away their wives.
After Nehemiah was appointed Governor and the walls of the city were completely rebuilt, and on the first day of the seventh month, a solemn feast was held and the whole People came together. Then Ezra brought forth the book of the Law of Moses and read it to the People and with the aid of the Priests and Levites expounded it to them for seven days during which time they rejoiced and feasted as they had not done since the time of Joshua the son of Nun and successor of Moses; and on the eighth day a solemn assembly was held according to the ancient custom, at which many were initiated into the mysteries.
And on the 24th day there was a fast, and the People entered into and sealed a solemn covenant by which they bound themselves, confirming it by oath, to walk in God's Law which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and keep all God's commandments and His judgments and His statutes, and to pay tax and tithe and the first fruits, and observe the seventh day and the seventh year.
Thus was the Temple rebuilt, the work of our ancient brethren completed, and the old law restored. The Samaritans, ancient enemies of the Jews, compelled by the power of the Kings of Persia to submit and pay tribute to the children of Israel, troubled them no longer. The cities were rebuilt, and for a time peace and prosperity reigned in Jerusalem. Masonry again flourished as in the days of its first glory, and the number of its initiates largely increased. But this period of peace and glory was of short duration. Seventy years after the Christian era, the Romans invaded Judea, took Jerusalem and razed it to the ground, burnt the Temple, and almost annihilated the people.
A few Architects escaping remained in the vicinity of the beloved city and there preserved in the strictest secrecy the ancient mysteries and instruction. Adopting yet greater precautions, they admitted none until after the most thorough tests and a long probation. Under the Romans, and afterwards under the Saracens, they waited for some fortunate chance that should again put them in possession of the land of their fathers and enable them again to rebuild the Temple.
Others, at the dispersion of the People, fled to the desert for safety. After a time they reappeared at the ruins of the Temple, assembling under the banner of fraternal charity and love for humanity. On the very site of the House of God they founded an hospital for the pilgrims who came to visit the wreck of the Holy City. They became a religious Order, bound by vows of strict observance, pledged to celibacy, and devoted to the relief of the poor, as well by alms as by the fruits of the earth which the new Masters of Judea allowed them to cultivate. Afterwards becoming a religious soldiery, their swords changed their precarious possession into a title.
Hope sprang up anew when Peter the Hermit, an obscure but zealous fanatic, preached throughout Europe the first crusade. The rumour of the Holy war, flying abroad upon the wings of the wind, reached the remotest regions of the world. The religious soldiery, chiefly inhabiting the deserts of the Thebaid, emerged from their solitudes. Eager to distinguish themselves, they hastened to unite with their brothers at Jerusalem. They found themselves the allies of the Architects, all having as their object, though with different views, the restoration of the Temple. Laying aside their prejudices, they adopted the same rites and disguised under the same symbolism of a speculative architecture a glorious purpose. Determining to join the Crusaders, they resolved to serve under chiefs elected by themselves, whom they elected from among the military Brethren as being best qualified by experience and long service.
They then adopted an established ritual, substituting in place of the old ceremonial of the Mysteries, more ancient than Solomon or Hiram, or even than Moses himself, a formula, symbols and allegories referring to the building of the first Temple, and thus always reminding them of their great purpose of rebuilding the Temple and restoring the Holy land to the descendants of Judah and Benjamin. Thus they kept themselves apart from the mass of Crusaders and secured the enlistment and perpetual allegiance of a large body of loyal and obedient recruits.
In a vast army composed of many thousands, speaking different languages, gathered from all quarters of Europe, and many of them rapacious, degraded, brutal and equally as dangerous as the Infidel enemy, caution and prudence were indispensable. To ensure themselves against surprise, they adopted words, signs and tokens for mutual recognition even when at great distances apart, and to preserve their secrets against curiosity, treason and imprudence. And taking the name of Free Masons (as independent auxiliaries) they joined the Armies of the Cross and soon gained distinction and renown.
The Architects who had built and still maintained their hospital upon the ruins of the Temple did not remain idle. They too, leaving a small number of their more aged members to perform the duties of hospitality, relief and charity, took up arms, elected a leader who afterwards became their Grand Master, and joined the Christian armies. Several orders, rising in like manner from small beginnings, increased in stature and became numerous, wealthy and powerful. The Templars, the Order of St John, and the Teutonic Knights sprang up in succession, reached the height of wealth, power and greatness, and were in succession despoiled and annihilated.
During the several crusades, the Order of Free Masons naturally increased in numbers and itself became powerful and influential, though in secret; for none but the initiated knew that such an Order existed. Men of all Christian countries joined the Order and it spread throughout the different states of Europe and flourished alike under the shadow of the Mosque and the Vatican. After the first successes, and when a Christian King sat upon the throne of Jerusalem and Christian Lords held Principalities and Dukedoms in Palestine, eighty-one Masons repaired to Sweden with letters to the Bishop of Upsal, whom they initiated into their mysteries to secure his assistance in reanimating the zeal of the confederated Princes.
The attempt to conquer the Holy Land was renewed, but proved unsuccessful. The Masons then sent again 81 members to Upsal to deliver to the Prelate their manuscripts and jewels and other Masonic treasures, sealed up in a coffer. He received it and deposited it in a marble tomb sealed with firm seals buried in a deep cavern under the Tower of the Four Crowns; from which, at a later period, those precious archives were recovered.
After this deposit, the 81 brothers returned to Jerusalem; but the victories of the Sultan of Egypt destroying the last lingering hope of rebuilding the Temple, they resolved to abandon their country, desolated by the Infidel, and to form new establishments in remote regions, and many years had not elapsed until their Lodges, Chapters, Councils and Preceptories were found in every country in Europe.
We no longer expect, my Brother, to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. To us it has become but a symbol. To us the whole world is God's Temple, as is every upright heart. To establish all over the world the New Law and Reign of Love, Peace, Charity and Toleration is to build that Temple, most acceptable to God, in erecting which Masonry is now engaged. No longer needing to repair to Jerusalem to worship, nor to offer up sacrifices and shed blood to propitiate the Deity, man may make the woods and mountains his Churches and Temples and worship God with a devout gratitude and works of charity and beneficence to his fellow-men. Wherever the humble and contrite heart silently offers up its adoration under the overarching trees, in the open level meadows, on the hillside, in the glen, or in the city's swarming streets there is God's House and the New Jerusalem.
The Princes of Jerusalem no longer sit as magistrates to judge between the People, nor is their number limited to five. But their duties still remain substantially the same, and their insignia and symbols retain their old significance. Justice and Equity are still their characteristics. To reconcile disputes and heal dissensions, to restore amity and peace, to soothe dislikes and soften prejudices are their peculiar duties, and they know that peace-makers are blessed.
Their emblems have already been explained. They are part of the language of Masonry, the same now as it was when Moses learned it from the Egyptian Hierophants.
Still we observe the spirit of the Divine law as thus enunciated to our ancient brethren when the Temple was rebuilt and the book of the law again opened:
"Execute true judgment; and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother. Oppress not the widow nor the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in his heart. Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of Truth and Peace in your gates; and love no false oath; for all these I hate, saith the Lord.
"Let those who have power rule in righteousness, and Princes in judgment. And let him that is a judge be as an hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Then the vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl beautiful; and the work of justice shall be peace; and the effect of justice, quiet and security; and wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of the times. Walk ye righteously and speak uprightly; despise the gains of oppression; shake from your hands the contamination of bribes; stop not your ears against the cries of the oppressed, nor shut your eyes that you may not see the crimes of the great: and you shall dwell on high and your place of defence be like munitions of rocks."
Forget not these precepts of the old Law: and especially do not forget, as you advance, that every Mason, however humble, is your brother, and the labouring man your peer. Remember always that all Masonry is work and that the trowel is an emblem of the degrees in this Council. Labour, when rightly understood, is both noble and ennobling, and intended to develop man's moral and spiritual nature, and not to be deemed a disgrace or a misfortune.
Everything around us is, in its bearings and influences, moral. The serene and bright morning, when we recover our conscious existence from the embraces of sleep; when, from that image of Death, God calls us to a new life and again gives us existence, and His mercies visit us in every bright ray and glad thought, and call for gratitude and content; the silence of that early dawn, the hushed silence, as it were, of expectation; the holy eventide, its cooling breeze, its lengthening shadows, its falling shades, its still and sober hour: the sultry noontide and the stern and solemn midnight; and Spring-time, and chastening Autumn, and Summer that unbars our gates and carries us forth amidst the ever-renewed wonders of the world; and Winter that gathers us around the evening hearth: all these, as they pass, touch by turns the springs of the spiritual life in us and are conducting that life to good or evil. The idle watch-hand often points to something within us, and the shadow of the gnomon on the dial often falls upon the conscience.
A life of labour is not a state of inferiority or degradation. The Almighty has not cast man's lot beneath the quiet shades and amid glad groves and lovely hills, with no task to perform and with nothing to do but rise up and eat and to lie down and rest. He has ordained that Work shall be done in all the dwellings of life, in every productive field, in every busy city and on every wave of every ocean. And this He has done because it pleased Him to give man a nature destined to higher ends than indolent repose and irresponsible profitless indulgence, and because, for developing the energies of such a nature, work was the necessary and proper element. We might as well ask why He could not make two and two be six as why He could not develop these energies without the instrumentality of work. They are equally impossibilities.
This Masonry teaches as a great Truth: a great moral landmark that ought to guide the course of all mankind. It teaches its toiling children that the scene of their daily life is all spiritual; that the very implements of their toil, the fabrics they weave, the merchandise they barter, are designed for spiritual ends; that so believing, their daily lot may be to them a sphere for the noblest improvement. That which we do in our intervals of relaxation, our church-going and our book-reading, are specially designed to prepare our minds for the Action of Life. We are to hear and read and meditate that we may act well; and the Action of Life is itself the great field for spiritual improvement. There is no task of industry or business, in field or forest, on the wharf or the ship's deck or the exchange, but has spiritual ends. There is no care or cross of our daily labour but was especially ordained to nurture in us patience, calmness, resolution, perseverance, gentleness, disinterestedness, magnanimity. Nor is there any tool or implement of toil but is a part of the great spiritual instrumentality.
All the revelations of life, those of parent, child, brother, sister, friend, associate, husband, wife, are moral throughout every living tie and thrilling nerve that binds them together. They cannot subsist a day nor an hour without putting the mind to a trial of its truth, fidelity, forbearance, and disinterestedness.
A great city is one extended scene of moral action. There is no blow struck in it but has a purpose, ultimately good or bad, and therefore moral. There is no action performed but has a motive; and motives are the special jurisdiction of morality. Equipages, houses and furniture are symbols of what is moral, and they in a thousand ways minister to right or wrong feeling. Everything that belongs to us, ministering to our comfort or luxury, awakens in us emotions of pride or gratitude, of selfishness or vanity, thoughts of self-indulgence or merciful remembrances of the needy and the destitute.
Everything acts upon and influences us. God's great law of sympathy and harmony is potent and inflexible as His law of gravitation. A sentence embodying a noble thought stirs our blood; a noise made by a child frets and exasperates us and influences our actions.
A world of spiritual objects, influences, and relations lies around us all. We all vaguely deem it to be so: but he only lives a charmed life, like that of genius and poetic inspiration, who communes with the spiritual scene around him, hears the voice of the Spirit in every sound, sees its signs in every passing form of things, and feels its impulses in all action, passion and being. Very near to us lie the mines of wisdom; unsuspected they lie all around us. There is a secret in the simplest things, a wonder in the plainest, a charm in the dullest.
We are all naturally seekers of wonders. We travel far to see the majesty of old ruins, the venerable forms of the hoary mountains, great water-falls, and galleries of art. And yet the world-wonder is all around us: the wonder of settings suns, evening stars, the magic of spring-time, the blossoming of trees, the strange transformations of moths, the wonder of the Infinite Deity and of His boundless revelation. There is no splendour beyond that which sets its morning throne in the golden east; no dome sublime as that of Heaven; no beauty so fair as that of the verdant, blossoming earth; no place, however invested with the sanctities of old time, like that home which is hushed and folded within the embrace of the humblest wall and roof.
And all these are but symbols of things far greater and higher. All is but the clothing of the Spirit. In this vesture of time is wrapped the immortal Nature; in this show of circumstance and form stands revealed the stupendous reality. Let man but be, as he is, a living soul, communing with himself and with God, and his vision becomes Eternity; his abode, Infinity; his home, the bosom of all-embracing Love.
The great problem of Humanity is wrought out in the humblest abodes; no more than this is done in the highest. A human heart throbs beneath the beggar's gabardine: that, and no more, stirs with its beating the Prince's mantle. The beauty of Love, the charm of Friendship, the sacredness of Sorrow, the heroism of Patience, the nobility of Self-sacrifice: these and their like alone make life to be Life indeed, and are its grandeur and its power. They are the priceless treasures and glory of humanity; and they are not things of condition. All places and all scenes are alike clothed with the grandeur and charm of virtues such as these.
The million occasions will come to us all in the ordinary paths of our life, in our homes, and by our firesides, wherein we may act as nobly as if, all our life long, we visited beds of sickness and pain. Varying every hour, the million occasions will come in which we may restrain our passions, subdue our hearts to gentleness and patience, resign our own interest for another's advantage, speak words of kindness and wisdom, raise the fallen, cheer the fainting and sick in spirit, and soften and assuage the weariness and bitterness of their mortal lot. To every Mason there will be opportunity enough for these. They cannot be written on his tomb: but they will be written deep in the hearts of men, of friends, of children, of kindred all around him, in the book of great account, and, in their eternal influences, on the great pages of the Universe.
To such a destiny, at least, my Brethren, let us all aspire! These laws of Masonry let us all strive to obey! And so may our hearts become true Temples of the Living God! And may He encourage our zeal, sustain our hopes, and assure us of success!