PHYSICAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR INITIATION
The Builder, Vol. III, No. 9, September 1917, Page 310.
PHYSICAL QUALIFICATIONS OF A CANDIDATE
BY BRO. O.D. STREET, ALABAMA
The question of Physical Qualification of candidates continues to provoke much discussion, many decisions and some legislation. As a rule the test applied is, that the candidate must without artificial aid be able to teach and practice in all its parts our esoteric ritual. The antiquity of this requirement is undenied and undeniable. Our oldest Code of Masonic Law, (the Regius MS., cir. A. D. 1390), in its quaint language declares:
The mayster shal not, for no vantage,
Make no prentes that ys outrage;
Hyt ys to mene, as ye mowe here,
That he have hys lymes hole alle y-fere;
To the craft hyt were gret schame,
To make an halt mon and a lame,
For an unperfyct mon of such blod
Schulde do the craft but lytul good.
Thus ye mowe knowe everychon,
The craft wolde have a mighty mon;
A maymed mon he hath no myght,
Ye mowe hyt knowe long yer nyght. --11. 119-160.
Anderson's Book of Constitutions, (1723), the first book of the kind ever published and still regarded the world over as a standard authority, thus states the law:
No Master should take an Apprentice, unless he has sufficient Imployment for him, and unless he be a perfect Youth, having no Maim or Defect in his Body that may render him uncapable of learning the Art, of serving his Master's Lord, and of being made a Brother, and then a Fellow-Craft in due time.
It is argued now in certain quarters that this requirement arose out of the necessities of a society of operative workmen, and is unsuited to our present Speculative Masonry. The contention is that the utilitarian purpose of the regulation having ceased, the regulation itself is no longer binding. They forget that many things, once serving purely practical purposes in our fraternity, but now entirely useless from that viewpoint, were for symbolic reasons brought over from Operative into Speculative Masonry. Of what utility in the lodge, we may ask, are now the square, the level, the plumb, the compasses, the 24-inch gauge, the chisel, the trowel, the spade? None whatever. This line of reasoning would therefore dispense with them also. They are retained and cherished solely because they symbolize certain virtues or truths. So it is with man. The most fundamental symbolism in Masonry is that man is a piece of flawless material to be chiseled and polished into a perfect stone to be used in the erection of a moral and spiritual temple. It is an ancient metaphor, older than the Christian era, that man symbolizes the temple or abiding place of Deity himself. A perfect specimen of physical manhood is an admirable and a marvelous piece of work. regardless of the mind or the character housed in it. - According to our conceit, it is made in the very image of God. - Gen. i, 26. In other words, the human body typifies Deity. Carlyle in Sartor Resartus exclaims, "What is man himself but a symbol of God!" An imperfect, a crippled, a maimed body is an unworthy type in such a sublime symbolism. Surely nothing less than a "perfect youth having no maim or defect in his body that may render him incapable of learning the art, of serving his Master's Lord, and of being made a brother, and then a Fellow-Craft in due time" is a fit symbol of Deity, or of his perfect abiding place, or of a perfect stone in a perfect temple. However pure the material, who would think of putting a broken stone in a fine edifice? And what would one think of a temple splendidly furnished inside, built of the finest marble, but with a broken column, a cracked freize or a shattered dome?
The argument, sometimes made, that Freemasonry should not be so exacting as to physical perfection while we admit those possessed of less than moral perfection proceeds on a false assumption. Freemasonry has never declared any lower standard of moral qualification for its initiates than that they shall be "good men and true, or men of honor and honesty." If less than these find their way into our lodges, the fault is not with Freemasonry or its laws, but with us whose duty it is to guard our portals against the unworthy. Because we are careless or sometimes deceived at one point is no reason why we should obliterate a "landmark" elsewhere.
The utilitarian spirit which would knock off a mark of antiquity here and another yonder, because they are no longer serviceable, would soon strip our fraternity completely of that delightful flavor of age which is one of its chief charms.
Our operative brethren required of their initiates just such degree of "physical perfection" as enabled them to perform the work of the operative lodge. We should likewise require just such degree of "physical perfection ' as will enable our initiates to perform the ' work" of the Speculative lodge.
At the same time we do not think it necessary to the preservation of this symbolism that an E. A. should be denied advancement because of a maim suffered after initiation. The idea of man as a symbol of a perfect stone in a temple is taught chiefly in the first degree, "living stones for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands eternal in the heavens." So it is of the symbolism of the Rough Ashlar and the Perfect Ashlar. Many considerations operate in favor of the advancement of the E. A. or F.C., notwithstanding a maim after initiation which do not apply to the profane.
We have gotten along very well with this restriction of "physical perfection." Many think the increase in membership has been too rapid. There is at least no necessity to open the door any wider to the profane. When we open it to the worthy maimed, we also open it to the unworthy maimed. Let us adhere to the "landmarks" bequeathed to us by the fathers.
Finally, there is a very practical side to this question. It can not be denied that as a class the maimed are more liable to become charges upon the Craft than are the physically whole. It is an erroneous idea, but one widely prevalent, that Freemasonry is a benefit society; that persons join it that they may be cared for in their periods of adversity. Nothing could be further from the truth; at least theoretically, one unites with our Fraternity that he may serve and minister unto the needs of others; from a "sincere desire to be servicable to his fellow men." For this work prudence dictates that we do not accept those whose physical defects render it likely that they themselves will become a charge. Those of our charitable activities, whose benefits we restrict to our members, their widows, and orphans, are the narrowest form of true Masonic charity. Masons should be leaders in every form of charity "to all mankind." Masonry rightly understood is a work of service to others just as is the Red Cross. Though one of the most splendid forms of charity this world has ever seen, the Red Cross does not seek as its members those in need of relief or whose physical condition does or will likely add to its already tremendous burdens.