SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.XIII   April, 1935   No.4


by:  Unknown

“And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.  And he 
lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because 
the sun was set; and took of the stones of that place, and put them 
for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he 
dreamed, and beheld a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it 
reached to heaven; and beheld the angels of God ascending and 
descending on it.  And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I 
am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.”
These words (Genesis XXVIII, 10-13 inclusive)v are the foundation of 
that beautiful symbol of the Entered Apprentice’s Degree in which the 
initiate first hears”. . .  the greatest of these is charity, for our 
faith may be lost in sight, hope ends in fruition, but charity 
extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity.”
At least two prophets besides the describer of Jacob’s vision have 
spoken aptly reinforcing words Job said (XXXIII, 14-16):
“For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.  In a 
dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in 
slumberings upon the bed:  Then he openeth the ears of men, and 
sealeth their instructions.”
And St. John (I,51):
“And he said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto you, Hereafter ye 
shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending 
upon the Son of Man.”
Since the dawn of thought the ladder has been a symbol of progress, 
of ascent, of reaching upward, in many mysteries, faiths and 
religions.  Sometimes the ladder becomes steps, sometimes a stairway, 
sometimes a succession of gates or, more modernly, of degrees; but he 
idea of ascent from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge 
and from materially to spiritually is the same whatever the form of 
the symbol.
In the Persian Mysteries of Mithras, the candidate ascended a ladder 
of seven rounds, and also passed through seven caverns, symbolized by 
seven metals, and by the sun, moon and five planets.  The early 
religion of Brahma had also a seven stepped ladder.  In the 
Scandinavian Mysteries the initiate climbed a tree; the Cabalists 
made progress upward by ten steps.  In the Scottish Rite the initiate 
encounters the Ladder of Kadosh, also of seven steps, and most of the 
early tracing boards of the Craft Degrees show a ladder of seven 
rounds, representing the four cardinal and three theological virtues.
At one time, apparently, the Masonic ladder had but three steps.  The 
Prestonian lecture, which Mackey thought was an elaboration of 
Dunkerly’s system, rests the end of the ladder on the Holy Bible; it 
“By the doctrines contained in the Holy Bible, we are taught to 
believe in the Divine dispensation of Providence, which belief 
strengthens our “Faith,” and enables us to ascend the first step.  
That Faith naturally creates in a “Hope” of becoming partakers of 
some of the blessed promises therein recorded, which “Hope” enables 
us to ascend the second step.  But the third and last being “Charity” 
comprehends the whole, and he who is possessed of this virtue in its 
ample sense, is said to have arrived at the summit of his profession, 
or more metaphorically, into an etherial mansion veiled from mortal 
eye by the starry firmament.”
The theological ladder is not very old in Masonic symbolism, as far 
as evidence shows.  Some historians have credited it to Matin Clare, 
in 1732, but on very slender evidence.  It seems to appear first is a 
tracing board approximately dated 1776, and has there but three 
rounds.  As the tracing board is small, the contraction from seven to 
three may have been a matter of convenience.  If it is true that 
Dunkerly introduced Jacob’s ladder into the degrees, he my have 
reduced the steps from seven to three merely to emphasize the number 
three, so important Masonically; possibly it was to achieve a certain 
measure of simplicity.  Preston, however, restored the idea of seven 
steps, emphasizing the theological virtues by denominating them 
“principal rounds.
The similarity of Jacob’s Ladder of seven steps to the Winding 
Stairs, with three, five and seven steps has caused many to believe 
each but a different form of the same symbol; Haywood says (“The 
Builder, Vol.5, No.11):
“Other scholars have opined that the steps were originally the same 
as the Theological Ladder, and had the same historical origin.  
Inasmuch as this Theo-logical Ladder symbolized progress, just as 
does the Winding Stair, some argue that the latter symbol must have 
come from the same sources as the former.  This interpretation of the 
matter my be plausible enough, and it may help towards an 
interpretation of both symbols, but it suffers from an almost utter 
lack of tangible evidence.”
Three steps or seven, symbol similar to the Winding Stairs or 
different in meaning and implications, the theological virtues are 
intimately interwoven in the Masonic system.  Our many rituals alter 
the phraseology here and there, but the sense is the same and the 
concepts identical.
According to the dictionary (Standard) Faith is “a firm conviction of 
the truth of what is declared by another . .  .without other 
evidence:  The assent of the mind or understanding to the truth of 
what God has revealed.”
The whole concept of civilization rests upon that form of faith 
covered in the first definition.  Without faith in promises, credit 
and the written word society as we know it could not exist.  Nor 
could Freemasonry have been born, much less lived through many 
centuries without secular, as distinguished from religious,  faith; 
faith in the integrity of those who declared that Freemasonry had 
value to give to those who sought; faith in its genuineness and 
reality; faith in its principles and practices.
Yet our ritual declares that the third, not the first, round of the 
ladder is “the greatest of these” because “faith may be lost in 
sight.”  Faith is not needed where evidence is presented, and in the 
far day when the human soul may see for itself the truths we now 
except without demonstrations, faith may disappear without any con-
sciousness of loss.  But on earth faith in the divine revelation is 
of the utmost importance to all, especially from the Masonic 
standpoint.  No atheist can be made a Mason.  Any man who misstates 
his belief in Deity in order to become a Mason will have a very 
unhappy experience in taking the degrees.  Young wrote:
“Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death To break the  
shock blind nature cannot shun And lands though smoothly on the 
further shore.”
The candidate that has no “bridge across the gulf” will find in the 
degrees only words which mean nothing.  To the soul on its journey 
after death, the third round may indeed be of more import than the 
first; to Masons in their doctrine and their Lodges, the first round 
is a foundation; lacking it no brother may climb the heights.
Hope is intimately tied to faith:  “Faith is the substance of things 
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The dictionary declares hope to be “desire with expectations of 
obtaining: to trust confidently that good will come.”  But the 
dictionary definition fails to express the mental and spiritual 
importance of hope.  Philosophers and poets have done much better.  
“Where there is no hope, there can be no endeavor,” says Samuel 
Johnson, phrasing a truism everyone feels though few express.  All 
ambitions, all human actions, all labors are founded on hope.  It may 
be crystallized into a firm faith, but in a world in which nothing is 
certain, the future inevitably is hidden.  We live, love, labor, 
pray, marry and become Masons. bury our dead with hope in breasts of 
something beyond.  Pope wrote:

“Hope spring eternal in the human breast; Many never is, but always 
to be, blest,” blending a cynicism with the truth.  
Shakespeare came closer to everyday humanity when he said:
“True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings; Kings it makes 
gods, and meaner creatures, kings.”
Dante could find no more cruel words to write above the entrance to 
hell than:
“Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here.”
Nor can we be argued out of hope; doctors say of a loved one, “she 
must die,” but we hope; atheists attempt to prove there is no God - 
we hope.  Facts demonstrate that our dearest ambition can never be 
realized - yet we hope.  To quote Young again, we are all:
“Confiding, though confounded; hope coming on, Untaught by trial, 
unconvinced by proof, And ever looking for the never seen.”
And yet, vital though hope is to man, to Masons, and thrice vital to 
faith. our ritual says that charity is greater than either faith or 
To those whom charity means only handing a quarter to a beggar, 
paying a subscription to the community chest, or sending old clothes 
to the Salvation army, the declaration that charity is greater than 
faith or hope is difficult to accept.  Only when the word “charity” 
is read to mean “love,” as many scholars say it should be translated 
in Paul’s magnificent passage in Corinthians, does our ritual become 
logically intelligible.  Charity of alms can hardly “extend through  
the boundless realms of eternity.”  To give money to the poor is a 
beautiful act, but hardly as important, either to the giver or the 
recipient, as faith or hope.  But to give love, unstinted, without 
hope of or faith in reward - that, indeed, may well extend to the 
very foot of the Great White Throne.
It is worth while to read St. Paul with this meaning of the word in 
mind; here is the quotation from the King James version, but with the 
word “love” substituted for the word “charity:”
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not 
love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though 
I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all 
knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove 
mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all 
my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, 
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and 
is kind; Love enveith not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed 
up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not 
easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but 
rejoiceth in the truth.”
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth 
all things. Love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they 
shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there 
be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we 
prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that 
which is in part shall be done away.”
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I 
thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish 
things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to 
face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am 
known. And now abideth faith, hope, love; these three; but the 
greatest of these is love.”
It is of such charity that a Mason’s faith is made.  He is, indeed, 
taught the beauty of giving that which is material; the Rite of 
Destitution shows forth the tender lesson in the first degree; 
Masonic Homes, Schools, Foundation, Orphanages and Hospitals are the 
living exponents of the charity which means to give from a plenty to 
those who have but a paucity.
The first of the principal tenets of our profession and the third 
round of Jacob’s Ladder are really one; brotherly love is “the 
greatest of these” and only when a Mason takes to his heart the 
reading of charity to be more than alms, does he see the glory of 
that moral structure the door to which Freemasonry so gently, but so 
widely, opens.
Charity of thought for an erring brother; charity which lays a 
brotherly hand on a troubled shoulder in comfort; charity which 
exults with the happy and finds joy in his success; charity which 
sorrows with the grieving and drops a tear in sympathy; charity which 
opens the heart as well as the pocket book; charity which stretches 
forth a hand of hope to the hopeless, which aids the helpless, which 
brings new faith to the crushed . . .aye, these, indeed, may “extend 
through the boundless realms of eternity.”
Man is never so close to the divine as when he loves; it is because 
of that fact that charity, (meaning love,) rather than faith or hope, 
is truly, “the greatest of these.”