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“The labor of the righteous tendeth to life:

the fruit of the wicked to sin.”

Prov. 10:16

Certain writers about Freemasonry emphatically declare that Masons were originally builders, or men who were skilled at fashioning stone for the builder’s use.  For them, the phrase operative masonry refers to men from a certain period in history who, presumably knowing nothing about the spiritual significance of our Masonic symbols, worked with squares, compasses, mallets and levels to erect buildings.  In contrast, speculative masons are described by those same writers as present-day Masons – men who have suddenly discovered the spiritual significance of the tools our blue-collar ancestors evidently knew nothing about.  Some support for that contention is believed to derive from Masonic ritual itself, which purportedly offers the candidate a distinction to consider between operative and speculative Masonry.  We are informed that our ancient brethren wrought at the building of King Solomon’s Temple and other stately edifices, but that we today are only speculative Masons.

The history of the English guilds also provides an additional basis for concluding that operative Masons were originally skilled builders who saw no spiritual significance in the tools with which they worked.  For them, the secrets of masonry exclusively pertained to the various skills associated with stonemasonry.  However, without regard to whether Freemasonry sprung from those guilds, or is actually the heir to the ancient mysteries found in the initiatory rites, if today’s Mason is simply told that his Masonic ancestors were simply originally builders, he is deprived of the more significant lessons in esoteric symbolism offered by comparing and contrasting operative Masonry and speculative Masonry on a spiritual level.

On one level, all Masons, past and present, are both operative and speculative.  The speculative side of man learns the philosophical, theological and spiritual lessons that Freemasonry teaches, while the operative side of man puts those lessons into action.  In that Freemasonry  has adopted the Hermetic habit of synthesizing contrary or competing concepts, it is essential that the Mason understand how he is to bring the lessons he has learned into the world where he lives.

Albert Pike wrote that the message found in the Emerald Table attributed to the Great Egyptian Hierophant, Hermes Trismegistus – equilibrium is achieved after the assimilation of different concepts – is the great lesson Masonry imparts to humanity.  For example, Pike observed that wisdom, as described in the Kabbalistic Books, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is nothing less than the Creative Agent of God.  As the Creative Agent, wisdom is active, not passive – it is in the present, not of the past.  Creation is an ongoing phenomenon in which all mankind participates to a greater, or lesser degree depending upon each man’s state of enlightenment.  Thus, Freemasonry is as operative today as it was when our ancient brethren wrought at the building of stately edifices.

Pike, as well as other Masonic writers, encouraged Masons to develop both their operative sense, as well as their speculative curiosity.  For Masonry to impart anything of lasting value to humanity, Masons must think then act.  One cannot exist without the other, if man hopes to contribute anything to his brethren.  In so doing, those writers have variously invited us to each synthesize three antitheses or antimonies: (1) idealism – realism; (2) realism – nominalism; and (3) faith – empirical science.

The idealist considers everything as so many forms of thought, while the realist affirms that objects of knowledge have an existence that is independent of thought.  For example, the realist answers “yes” to the question of whether or not a fallen tree in an isolated forest makes a sound – the idealist is not so certain.  When all is said and the quarreling about which is correct has subsided, the Masons is left with the unshakeable knowledge that both have a common source in the Great Architect.  Actions built upon both considerations are, therefore, regarded as valid by God.  However, the failure to act on either notion gives nothing to the world.

Realism relates to the school of occidental thought which attributes objective reality to general notions that are usually designated as “abstract.”  Mediaeval philosophy designated it as “universalia” – all things pertain to the universal.  Nominalism, on the other hand, admits that only “particulars” are real.  The problem was explicitly analyzed by Plato, who first observed on behalf of realists: “I see a horse, but I don’t see horseness.”  According to Plato, “horseness” merely exists as an idea and is not real other than as a form of thought.  Horses aside, the philosophical struggle becomes important when we ask ourselves, “What came first, genesis, or creation?”  The differing concepts also draw grave significance from the discussion about which is more important, the individual, or society.  To Freemasons, the problem is again resolved by reference back to the Supreme Architect of the Universe – Masons confess His superiority in all matters and trust that thought coupled with action will make real to all mankind God’s enormous love.

It is written in the Gospels that if one has faith as a grain of mustard seed, he may move mountains.  Empirical science takes a grain of hydrogen and releases its energy thereby reducing a mountain to dust.  The first is speculative, the second is operative.  Mankind has not yet learned to use the immense powers of the mind to generally move mountains.  However, science has unleashed the power of the atom for man to build or destroy.  Yet, that science did not act alone as if by magic.  Learned men applied their knowledge to the task and discovered a secret of Nature that is potentially good and evil.  Nothing of the atom, of hydrogen, or even of the spherical shape of the world would be known to this age had not men of a previous age thought and acted.  Thinking without doing would have produced nothing.  And so it is also when one acts without first thinking.  The speculative side of man serves the operative side, and vice versa.

Freemasonry teaches that nothing is impossible.  If a man dreams a condition for his future, he will attain it when God and that man’s soul work together.  But, to sit idly by and wish for something to happen without acting together with God leads nowhere.  The surest way to make true the prayer for world peace is for each man to avoid war and embrace peace.  The best way to insure an answer to a prayer for alleviating hunger is to give of what you have so that the hungry may eat.  While praying that poverty may vanish is laudable, the most efficient way to eliminate its ravishing is to donate to causes that support the poor.

In the book of James, man is informed that faith without works is dead.  But, it is not the faith itself that is dead.  If one fails to put his faith to work, the beneficial effects of that faith will never be known to anyone.  It will amount to nothing more than wishful thinking.  Masons do not embrace such fantasies.  If they did, the world would have no hospitals operated and funded by Shriners.  The aged, widowed and orphaned would have no place to call home.  And, the speech impaired would have no clinics to go to and cure their ailment.

When the thoughtful, speculative Mason places his thinking into operative action the world becomes a better place.  When he fails, darkness prevails to the detriment of all humanity.  Consider your actions and resolve never to hide your lamp beneath a bushel.  You are a Mason and should act like one.