The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter V

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The Principles of Masonic Law by Albert Mackey
Book First, Chapter V
Chapter V.
Of the Powers and Prerogatives of a Grand Lodge.

Section I.
General View.

The necessary and usual officers of a Grand Lodge having been described, the rights, powers, and prerogatives of such a body is the next subject of our inquiry.

The foundation-stone, upon which the whole superstructure of masonic authority in the Grand Lodge is built, is to be found in that conditional clause annexed to the thirty-eight articles, adopted in 1721 by the Masons of England, and which is in these words:

"Every annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and authority to make new regulations, or to alter these for the real benefit of this ancient fraternity; PROVIDED ALWAYS THAT THE OLD LANDMARKS BE CAREFULLY PRESERVED; and that such alterations and new regulations be proposed and agreed to at the third quarterly communication preceding the annual Grand Feast; and that they be offered also to the perusal of all the Brethren before dinner, in writing, even of the youngest Entered Apprentice: the approbation and consent of the majority of all the Brethren present being absolutely necessary, to make the same binding and obligatory."

The expression which is put in capitals--"provided always that the old landmarks be carefully preserved"--is the limiting clause which must be steadily borne in mind, whenever we attempt to enumerate the powers of a Grand Lodge. It must never be forgotten (in the words of another regulation, adopted in 1723, and incorporated in the ritual of installation), that "it is not in the power of any man, or body of men, to make any alteration or innovation in the body of Masonry."

"With these views to limit us, the powers of a Grand Lodge may be enumerated in the language which has been adopted in the modern constitutions of England, and which seem to us, after a careful comparison, to be as comprehensive and correct as any that we have been able to examine. This enumeration is in the following language:

"In the Grand Lodge, alone, resides the power of enacting laws and regulations for the permanent government of the craft, and of altering, repealing, and abrogating them, always taking care that the ancient landmarks of the order are preserved. The Grand Lodge has also the inherent power of investigating, regulating, and deciding all matters relative to the craft, or to particular lodges, or to individual Brothers, which it may exercise either of itself, or by such delegated authority, as in its wisdom and discretion it may appoint; but in the Grand Lodge alone resides the power of erasing lodges, and expelling Brethren from the craft, a power which it ought not to delegate to any subordinate authority in England."

In this enumeration we discover the existence of three distinct classes of powers:--1, a legislative power; 2, a judicial power; and 3, an executive power. Each of these will occupy a separate section.


Section II.
Of the Legislative Power of a Grand Lodge.

In the passage already quoted from the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England it is said, "in the Grand Lodge, alone, resides the power of enacting laws and regulations for the government of the craft, and of altering, repealing, and abrogating them." General regulations for the government of the whole craft throughout the world can no longer be enacted by a Grand Lodge. The multiplication of these bodies, since the year 1717, has so divided the supremacy that no regulation now enacted can have the force and authority of those adopted by the Grand Lodge of England in 1721, and which now constitute a part of the fundamental law of Masonry, and as such are unchangeable by any modern Grand Lodge.

Any Grand Lodge may, however, enact local laws for the direction of its own special affairs, and has also the prerogative of enacting the regulations which are to govern all its subordinates and the craft generally in its own jurisdiction. From this legislative power, which belongs exclusively to the Grand Lodge, it follows that no subordinate lodge can make any new bye-laws, nor alter its old ones, without the approval and confirmation of the Grand Lodge. Hence, the rules and regulations of every lodge are inoperative until they are submitted to and approved by the Grand Lodge. The confirmation of that body is the enacting clause; and, therefore, strictly speaking, it may be said that the subordinates only propose the bye-laws, and the Grand Lodge enacts them.


Section III.
Of the Judicial Power of a Grand Lodge.

The passage already quoted from the English Constitutions continues to say, that "the Grand Lodge has the inherent power of investigating, regulating and deciding all matters relative to the craft, or to particular lodges, or to individual Brothers, which it may exercise, either of itself, or by such delegated authority as in its wisdom and discretion it may appoint." Under the first clause of this section, the Grand Lodge is constituted as the Supreme Masonic Tribunal of its jurisdiction. But as it would be impossible for that body to investigate every masonic offense that occurs within its territorial limits, with that full and considerate attention that the principles of justice require, it has, under the latter clause of the section, delegated this duty, in general, to the subordinate lodges, who are to act as its committees, and to report the results of their inquiry for its final disposition. From this course of action has risen the erroneous opinion of some persons, that the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge is only appellate in its character. Such is not the case. The Grand Lodge possesses an original jurisdiction over all causes occurring within its limits. It is only for expediency that it remits the examination of the merits of any case to a subordinate lodge as a quasi committee. It may, if it thinks proper, commence the investigation of any matter concerning either a lodge, or an individual brother within its own bosom, and whenever an appeal from the decision of a lodge is made, which, in reality, is only a dissent from the report of the lodge, the Grand Lodge does actually recommence the investigation de novo, and, taking the matter out of the lodge, to whom by its general usage it had been primarily referred, it places it in the hands of another committee of its own body for a new report. The course of action is, it is true, similar to that in law, of an appeal from an inferior to a superior tribunal. But the principle is different. The Grand Lodge simply confirms or rejects the report that has been made to it, and it may do that without any appeal having been entered. It may, in fact, dispense with the necessity of an investigation by and report from a subordinate lodge altogether, and undertake the trial itself from the very inception. But this, though a constitutional, is an unusual course. The subordinate lodge is the instrument which the Grand Lodge employs in considering the investigation. It may or it may not make use of the instrument, as it pleases.


Section IV.
Of the Executive Power of a Grand Lodge.

The English Constitutions conclude, in the passage that has formed the basis of our previous remarks, by asserting that "in the Grand Lodge, alone, resides the power of erasing lodges and expelling Brethren from the craft, a power which it ought not to delegate to any subordinate authority." The power of the Grand Lodge to erase lodges is accompanied with a coincident power of constituting new lodges. This power it originally shared with the Grand Master, and still does in England; but in this country the power of the Grand Lodge is paramount to that of the Grand Master. The latter can only constitute lodges temporarily, by dispensation, and his act must be confirmed, or may be annulled by the Grand Lodge. It is not until a lodge has received its Warrant of Constitution from the Grand Lodge, that it can assume the rank and exercise the prerogatives of a regular and legal lodge.

The expelling power is one that is very properly intrusted to the Grand Lodge, which is the only tribunal that should impose a penalty affecting the relations of the punished party with the whole fraternity. Some of the lodges in this country have claimed the right to expel independently of the action of the Grand Lodge. But the claim is founded on an erroneous assumption of powers that have never existed, and which are not recognized by the ancient constitutions, nor the general usages of the fraternity. A subordinate lodge tries its delinquent member, under the provisions which have already been stated, and, according to the general usage of lodges in the United States, declares him expelled. But the sentence is of no force nor effect until it has been confirmed by the Grand Lodge, which may, or may not, give the required confirmation, and which, indeed, often refuses to do so, but actually reverses the sentence. It is apparent, from the views already expressed on the judicial powers of the Grand Lodge, that the sentence of expulsion uttered by the subordinate is to be taken in the sense of a recommendatory report, and that it is the confirmation and adoption of that report by the Grand Lodge that alone gives it vitality and effect.

The expelling power presumes, of course, coincidently, the reinstating power. As the Grand Lodge alone can expel, it also alone can reinstate.

These constitute the general powers and prerogatives of a Grand Lodge. Of course there are other local powers, assumed by various Grand Lodges, and differing in the several jurisdictions, but they are all derived from some one of the three classes that we have enumerated. From these views, it will appear that a Grand Lodge is the supreme legislative, judicial, and executive authority of the Masonic jurisdiction in which it is situated. It is, to use a feudal term, "the lord paramount" in Masonry. It is a representative body, in which, however, it constituents have delegated everything and reserved no rights to themselves. Its authority is almost unlimited, for it is restrained by but a single check:--It cannot alter or remove the ancient landmarks.