SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.II April, 1924 No.4

by: Unknown

The Holy Bible lies open upon the Alter of Masonry, and upon the Bible lie the Square and  Compasses.  They are the three Great Lights of the Lodge, at once its Divine warrant and its chief  working tools.  They are symbols of Revelation, Righteousness and Redemption, Teaching us that by  walking in the light of Truth, and obeying the Law of Right, the Divine in man wins victory over the  earthly.  How to live is the one important matter, and he will seek far without finding a wiser way  than that shown us by the Great Lights of the Lodge.

The Square and Compasses are the oldest, the simplest and the most universal symbols of Masonry. 

All the world over, whether as a sign on a building, or a badge worn by a Brother, even the profane  know them to be emblems of our ancient Craft.  Some years ago, when a business firm tried to adopt  the Square and Compasses as a Trade- Mark, the Patent Office refused permission, on the ground, as  the decision said, that "There can be no doubt that this device, so commonly worn and employed by  Masons, universally recognized as existing; whether comprehended by all or not, is not material to  this issue."  They belong to us, alike by the associations of history and the tongue of common report.

Nearly everywhere in our Ritual, as in the public mind, the Square and Compasses are seen together. 

If not interlocked, they are seldom far apart, and the one suggests the other.  And that is as it should  be, because the things they symbolize are interwoven.  In the old days when the earth was thought to  be flat and square, the Square was an emblem of the  earth, and later, of the earthly element in man. 

As the sky is an arc or a circle, the implement which describes a Circle became the symbol of the  heavenly, or sky spirit in man.  Thus the tools of the builder became the emblems of the thoughts of  the thinker; and nothing in Masonry is more impressive than the slow elevation of the compasses  above the Square in the progress of the Degrees.  The whole meaning and task of life is there, for such  as have eyes to see.

Et us separate the Square from the Compasses and study it alone, the better to see its further meaning  and use.  There is no need to say that the Square we have in mind is not a Cube, which has four equal  sides and angles, deemed by the Greeks a figure of perfection.  Nor is it a the square of the carpenter,  one leg of which is longer than the other, with inches marked for measuring.  It is a small, plain  Square, unmarked and with legs of equal length, a simple try-square used for testing the accuracy of  angles, and the precision with which stones are cut.  Since the try-square was used to prove that  angles were right, it naturally became an emblem of accuracy, integrity and rightness.  As stones are  cut it fit into a building, so our acts and thoughts are built together into a structure of Character, badly  or firmly, and must be tested by a moral standard of which the simple try-square is a symbol.

So, among Speculative Masons, the tiny try-square has always been a symbol of morality, of the basic  rightness which must be the test of every act and the foundation of character and society.  From the  beginning of the revival in 1717 this was made plain in the teaching of Masonry, by the fact that the  Holy Bible was placed upon the Altar, along with the Square and Compasses.  In one of the earliest  catechisms of the Craft, dated 1725, the question is asked: "How many make a Lodge?"  The answer  is specific and unmistakable: "God and the Square, with five or seven right and perfect Masons."  God  and the Square, Religion and Morality, must be present in every Lodge as its ruling Lights, or it fails  of being a just and truly Constituted Lodge.  In all lands, in all rites where Masonry is true to itself,  the Square is a symbol of righteousness, and is applied in the light of faith in God.

God and the Square - it is necessary to keep the two together in our day, because the tendency of the  times is to separate them.  The idea in vogue today is that morality is enough, and that faith in God -  if there be a God - may or may not be important.  Some very able men of the Craft insist that we make  the teaching of Masonry too religious.  Whereas, as all history shows, if faith in God grows dim  morality becomes a mere custom, if not a cobweb, to be thrown off lightly.  It is not rooted in reality,  and so lacks authority and sanction.  Such an idea, such a spirit - so wide-spread in our time, and  finding so many able and plausible advocates - strikes at the foundation, not only of Masonry, but of  all ordered and advancing social life.  Once men come to think that morality is a human invention,  and not a part of the order of the world, and the moral law will lose both its meaning and its power. 

Far wiser was the old book entitled "All in All and the Same Forever," by John Davies, and dated  1607, though written by a non-Mason, when it read reality and nature of God in this manner:  "Yet I  this form of formless deity drew by the Square and Compasses of our Creed."

For, inevitable, a society without standards will be a society without stability, and it will one day go  down.  Not only nations, but whole civilizations have perished in the past, for lack of righteousness. 

History speaks plainly in this matter, and we dare not disregard it.  Hence the importance attached to  the Square of Virtue, and the reason why Masons call it the great symbol of their Craft.  It is a symbol  of that moral law upon which human life must rest if it is to stand.  A man may build a house in any  way he likes, but if he expects it to stand and be his home, he must adjust his structure to the laws and  forces that rule in the material realm.  Just so, unless we live in obedience to the moral laws which  God has written in the order of things, our lives will fall and end in a wreck.  When a young man  forgets the simple Law of the Square, it does not need a prophet to foresee what the result will be.  It  is a problem in geometry.

Such has been the meaning of the Square as far back as we can go.  Long before our era we find the  Square teaching the same lesson which it teaches us today.  In one of the old books of China, called  :The Great Learning," which has been dated in the fifth century before Christ, we read that a man  should not do unto others what he would not have them do unto him; and the writers adds, "This is  called the principle of acting on the Square."  There it is, recorded long, long ago.  The greatest  philosopher has found nothing more profound, and the oldest man in his ripe wisdom has learned  nothing more true.  Even Jesus only altered it from the negative to the positive form in his "Golden  Rule."  So, everywhere, in our Craft and outside, the Square has taught its simple truth which does  not grow old.  The Deputy Provincial Grand Master of North and East Yorkshire recovered a very  curious relic, in the form of an old brass Square found under the foundation of an ancient bridge near  Limerick in 1830.  On it was inscribed the date, 1517, and the following words:

"Strive to live with love and care Upon the Level, by the Square."

How simple and beautiful it is, revealing the oldest wisdom man has learned and the very genius of  our Craft.  In fact and truth, the Square Rules the Mason as well as the Lodge in which he labors..  As  soon as he enters a Lodge, the candidate walks the square steps around the Square pavement of a  rectangular Lodge.  All during the ceremony his attitude keeps him in mind of the same symbol, as if  to fashion his life after its form.  When he is brought to light, he beholds the Square upon the Altar,  and at the same time sees that it is worn by the Master of the Lodge, as the emblem of his office.  In  the North-East Corner he is shown the perfect Ashlar, and told that it is the type of a finished Mason,  who must be Square-man in thought and conduct, in word and act.  With every art of emphasis the  Ritual writes this lesson in our hearts,  and if we forget this first truth the Lost Word will remain  forever lost.

For Masonry is not simply a Ritual; it is a way of living. 

It offers us a plan. a method, a faith by which we may build our days and years into a character so  strong and true that nothing, not even death, can destroy it.  Each of us has in his own heart a little  try-square called Conscience, by which to test each thought and deed and word, whether it be true or  false.  By as much as a man honestly applies that test in his own heart, and in his relations with his  fellows, by so much will his life be happy, stable, and true.  Long ago the question was asked and  answered:  "Lord, who shall abide in thy Tabernacle?  He that walketh uprightly, and worketh  righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."  It is the first obligation of a Mason to be on the  Square, in all his duties and dealings with his fellow men, and if he fails there he cannot win  anywhere.  Let one of our poets sum it all up:

It matters not whate'er your lot

Or what your task may be,

One duty there remains for you

One duty stands for me.

Be you a doctor skilled and wise,

Or do your work for wage,

A laborer upon the street,

An artist on the stage;

Our glory still awaits for you,

One honor that is fair, To have men say as you pass by:

"That fellow's on the Square."
Ah, here's a phrase that stands for much
‘Tis good old English too,
It means that men have confidence
In everything you do,
It means that what you have you've earned,
And that you've done your best,
And when you go to sleep at night
Untroubled you may rest.
It means that conscience is your guide,
And honor is your care;
There is no greater praise than this:
"That fellow's on the Square."
And when I die I would not wish
A lengthy epitaph;
I do not wish a headstone large,
Carved with fulsome chaff,
Pick out no single deed of mine,
If such a deed there be,
To ‘grave upon my monument,
For those who come to see,
Just this one phrase of all I choose,
To show my life was fair:
Here sleepeth now a fellow who
Was always on the Square."

Copyright, 1924 by The Masonic Service Association of the United States.  The contents of this  bulletin must not be reproduced in whole, or in part without permission.  Published monthly by The Masonic Service Association of the United States under the auspices of its  member Jurisdictions.

Entered as second-class matter September 6, 1923, at the Post Office at Washington, D.C. under the  Act of August 24, 1912.  Acceptance for mailing at special rate of postage provided for in section  1103, Act of October 3, 1917, authorized February 17, 1923.