THE THREE GREAT LIGHTS

 

On the evening of his Initiation the candidate's attention is drawn to the three great Emblematic Lights of Freemasonry, namely, the Volume of the Sacred Law, The Square and the Compasses.

 

The Volume of the Sacred Law teaches us our duty to God, the Square to regulate our conduct to all mankind and the Compasses to keep our passions and prejudices within due bounds.  Later he is informed that the furniture of the Lodge consists of the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Compasses and the Square.  The Sacred Writings are to rule and govern our faith and the Compasses and Square when united to regulate our lives and actions.

 

The Premier Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717.  In 1751 a second Grand Lodge was also established there.  The older Grand Lodge came to be known as the Moderns, the other the Ancients.  The Moderns regarded the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and Compasses as the furniture of the Lodge.  To the Ancients these three emblems were known as the Three Great Lights.  When the two Grand Lodges were united in 1813 and the Lodge of Reconciliation revised the ritual, both Grand Lodges were reconciled by the three emblems being referred to as the Three Great Lights as well as the furniture of the Lodge.

 

Our oldest Masonic documents made no reference to the Bible, probably because no part of the Bible was printed in English prior to 1525, and the first complete Bible in English was not printed until 1533.  At that time, therefore, one would hardly expect the Bible to be found in general use outside the church or monastery, unless in a wealthy household.  The Volume of the Sacred Law first appeared in the Old Charges in the Grand Lodge No 1 Manual Script of 1583 as an essential part of the equipment of the operative Lodge.

 

There is an interesting set of questions in the Dumphries No 4 Manual Script dated about 1710, which shows how early the three emblems were used in Freemasonry.

 

How many pillars in your Lodge?

A Three.

What are these?

A. Ye square, Ye compass and ye Bible.

 

We have evidence of a new Bible having been presented to a Scottish Lodge in 1720.

 

In 1730 an exposure "Masonry Dissected" contained the following:

 

Q.         What is the other furniture of a Lodge?

A.         Bible, Compass and Square.

Q.         Who do they properly belong to?

A.         Bible to God, Compass to the Master and Square to the Fellowcraft.

 

By 1762 exposure gave the following:

 

Q.         When you were thus brought to light, what were the first things you saw?

A.         Bible, Square and Compass.

Q.         What was it they told you they signified?

A.         The Three Great Lights in Masonry.

Q.         Explain them, Brother.

A.         The Bible to rule and govern our Faith, the Square to Square our actions, the Compasses to keep us within Bounds with all Men, particularly with a Brother.

 

It is evident that the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compasses were in use in Speculative Lodges from early times but they did not reach the prominent position of the Three Great Lights until about the middle of the 1700's.

 

Many years ago the United Grand Lodge of England withdrew recognition from the Grand Orient of France mainly because of the Volume of the Sacred Law being removed from their Lodges.

 

In 1929 the United Grand Lodge of England saw fit to issue the declaration of the basic principles of the Craft.  Three of them are:-

 

That a belief in the Great Architect of the Universe and His revealed will shall be an essential qualification for membership.

 

That all Initiates shall take their obligation on or in full view of the Open Volume of the Sacred Law, by which is meant the Revelation from above which is binding on the conscience of the particular individual who is being initiated

 

That the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry (namely, the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Square and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when the Grand Lodge or its subordinate Lodges are at work, the chief of these being the Volume of the Sacred Law.

 

In the Aims and Relationships of the Craft issued by the Grand Lodge of England, Ireland and Scotland in 1938, Clause 3, appears in the following form -

 

The Bible, referred to by Freemasons as the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges.  Every Candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book, or on the Volume, which is held by his particular creed to imply sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it.

 

In the 18th Century there was some difference of opinion as to the relative positions of the two instruments.  At one time some old Lodges made a practice of directing the legs of the Compasses and the ends of the Square on the Volume of the Sacred Law toward the candidate, who thus found himself embraced by both implements.

 

Thus you can see that the Three Great Lights were pointed out to you not only to draw your attention to them on the night of you Initiation, but also to be a constant guide to you throughout life. Let us hope that this talk has helped you to understand them more fully.

 

February, 2000 Ref: \\svr1\general\genoffic\grand library\lodge talk no 3.doc

 

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