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An Interpretation of the Ritual of the Third Degree
You have been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason. It is indeed a â€œsublimeâ€ Degree, which a man may study for years without exhausting. Any interpretation must necessarily be a hint only; yet a hint may stimulate a man to reflect upon it for himself and to study it more thoroughly in the future.
In the First and Second Degrees you were surrounded by the symbols and emblems of architecture; in the Third degree you found a different order of symbolism, cast in the language of the soul - its life, its tragedy and its triumph. To recognize this is the first step in interpretation.
The second step is to recognize that the Third Degree has many meanings; it is not intended to be a lesson complete within itself, but rather a pointing out of paths, a new departure, a series of inspirations, like a great symphony, drama or picture to which one may evermore return to find new meanings, new beauties, and new truths.
There are many interpretations of the Degree, but essentially it is a drama of the immortality of the soul, setting forth the truth that, while a manâ€™s body withers away and perishes, the man himself perishes not.
That this is the meaning most generally adopted by the Craft, is shown by our habits of language; we say that a man is â€œinitiatedâ€ an Entered Apprentice, â€œpassedâ€ to a Fellowcraft, and â€œraisedâ€ a Master Mason; by this it appears that it is the raising that most Masons have found at the center of the Master Masonâ€™s Degree.
Evil in the form of tragedy is set forth in the drama of the Third Degree. Here is a good and wise man, a builder, working for others and giving others work, the highest we know, as it is dedicated wholly to God; a man who through no fault of his own experiences tragedy form friends and fellow Masons. Here is evil pure and unalloyed, a complete picture of human tragedy.
How did the Craft meet this tragedy? The first step was to impose the supreme penalty on those who had possessed the will to destroy and therefore had to be destroyed lest another tragedy follow. The greatest enemy man has makes war upon the good; to it no quarter can be given.
The second step was to discipline and to pardon those who acted not out of an evil will, but were misled through weakness. Forgiveness is possible if a man himself condemns the evil he has done, since in spite of his weakness, he retains his faith in the good.
The third step was to recover from the wreckage caused by the tragedy, whatever of value it has left undestroyed. Confusion had come upon the Craft, order was restored, and loyal Craftsmen took up the burdens dropped by the traitors. It is in the nature of such a tragedy that the good suffer for the evil of others and it is one of the prime duties of life that a man shall toil to undo the harm wrought by sin and crime, else in time the world would be destroyed by the evils that are done it in it.
But what of the victims of the Tragedy? Here is the profoundest and most difficult lesson of the drama - difficult to understand, difficult to believe if one has not been truly initiated into the realities of the spiritual life. Because the victim was a good man, his goodness rooted in an unvarying faith in God, that which destroyed him in one sense could not destroy him in another. The spirit in him rose above the reach of evil; by virtue of it he was raised from a dead level to a living perpendicular.
Let us imagine a genuinely good man who has been the victim of the most terrible of tragedies, one caused by the treachery of friends. This treachery has brought destruction upon the foundations of his life, his home, his reputation, and his ability to earn a livelihood. How can he be raised above the clutch of such circumstances? How can he emerge a happier man than before? By his spirit rising to the level of forgiveness, of resignation, of self-sacrifice, refusing to stoop to retaliation or to harbor bitterness. In such a spirit the truest happiness is found.
The secret of such a power is in the Third degree, symbolized by the Word. If that Word is lost, a man must search for it; if a man possesses that Word, he has the secret of the Masonic Art. To rise to the height of spiritual life is to stand on a level above the reach of tragedy or the powers of evil. To have the spirit rest in God, to have a sincere and unvarying faith in truth and goodness, is the inner secret of a Master Mason, and to teach this is the purpose of the Third Degree.
Excerpted from â€œThe Masonic Scholar: A Manual of Masonic Education for Candidatesâ€ Printed by the Grand Lodge F.&A.M. of California.