The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter XVIII

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The Principles of Masonic Law by Albert Mackey
Book Third, Chapter VIII
Chapter VIII.
Of Unaffiliated Masons.

An unaffiliated Mason is one who is not connected by membership with any lodge. There can be no doubt that such a position is contrary to the spirit of our institution, and that affiliation is a duty obligatory on every Mason. The Old Charges, which have been so often cited as the fundamental law of Masonry, say on this subject: "every Brother ought to belong to a lodge and to be subject to its bye-laws and the General Regulations."

Explicitly as this doctrine has been announced, it has been too little observed, in consequence of no precise penalty having been annexed to its violation. In all times, unaffiliated Masons have existed--Masons who have withdrawn from all active participation in the duties and responsibilities of the Order, and who, when in the hour of danger or distress, have not hesitated to claim its protection or assistance, while they have refused in the day of their prosperity to add anything to its wealth, its power, or its influence. In this country, the anti-masonic persecutions of 1828, and a few years subsequently, by causing the cessation of many lodges, threw a vast number of Brethren out of all direct connection with the institution; on the restoration of peace, and the renewal of labor by the lodges, too many of these Brethren neglected to reunite themselves with the craft, and thus remained unaffiliated. The habit, thus introduced, was followed by others, until the sin of unaffiliation has at length arrived at such a point of excess, as to have become a serious evil, and to have attracted the attention and received the condemnation of almost every Grand Lodge.

A few Grand Lodges have denied the right of a Mason permanently to demit from the Order. Texas, for instance, has declared that "it does not recognize the right of a Mason to demit or separate himself from the lodge in which he was made, or may afterwards be admitted, except for the purpose of joining another lodge, or when he may be about to remove without the jurisdiction of the lodge of which he may be a member."[1] A few other Grand Lodges have adopted a similar regulation; but the prevailing opinion of the authorities appears to be, that it is competent to interfere with the right to demit, certain rights and prerogatives being, however, lost by such demission.

Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and one or two other Grand Lodges, while not positively denying the right of demission, have at various times levied a tax or contribution on the demitted or unaffiliated Masons within their respective jurisdictions. This principle, however, has also failed to obtain the general concurrence of other Grand Lodges, and some of them, as Maryland, have openly denounced it. After a careful examination of the authorities, I cannot deny to any man the right of withdrawing, whensoever he pleases, from a voluntary association--the laws of the land would not sustain us in the enforcement of such a regulation; and our own self-respect should prevent us from attempting it. If, then, he has a right to withdraw, it clearly follows that we have no right to tax him, which is only one mode of inflicting a fine or penalty for an act, the right to do which we have acceded. In the strong language of the Committee of Correspondence of Maryland:[2] "The object of Masonry never was to extort, nolens volens, money from its votaries. Such are not its principles or teaching. The advocating such doctrines cannot advance the interest or reputation of the institution; but will, as your committee fear, do much to destroy its usefulness. Compulsive membership deprives it of the title, Free and Accepted."

But as it is an undoubted precept of the Order that every Mason should belong to a lodge, and contribute, so far as his means will allow, to the support of the institution, and as, by his demission, for other than temporary purposes, he violates the principles and disobeys the precepts of the Order, it naturally follows that his withdrawal must place him in a different position from that which he would occupy as an affiliated Mason. It is now time for us to inquire what that new position is.

We may say, then, that, whenever a Mason permanently withdraws his membership, he at once, and while he continues unaffiliated, dissevers all connection between himself and the Lodge organization of the Order. He, by this act, divests himself of all the rights and privileges which belong to him as a member of that organization. Among these rights and privileges are those of visitation, of pecuniary aid, and of masonic burial. Whenever he approaches the door of a lodge, asking to enter or seeking for assistance, he is to be met in the light of a profane. He may knock, but the door must not be opened--he may ask, but he is not to receive. The work of the lodge is not to be shared by those who have thrown aside their aprons and their implements, and abandoned the labors of the Temple--the funds of the lodge are to be distributed only among these who are aiding, by their individual contributions, to the formation of similar funds in other lodges.

But from the well-known and universally-admitted maxim of "once a Mason, and always a Mason," it follows that a demitted Brother cannot by such demission divest himself of all his masonic responsibilities to his Brethren, nor be deprived of their correlative responsibility to him. An unaffiliated Mason is still bound by certain obligations, of which he cannot, under any circumstances, divest himself, and by similar obligations are the fraternity bound to him. These relate to the duties of secrecy and of aid in the imminent hour of peril. Of the first of these there can be no doubt; and as to the last, the words of the precept directing it leaves us no option; nor is it a time when the G.H.S. of D. is thrown out to inquire into the condition of the party.

Speaking on this subject, Brother Albert Pike, in his report to the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, says "if a person appeals to us as a Mason in imminent peril, or such pressing need that we have not time to inquire into his worthiness, then, lest we might refuse to relieve and aid a worthy Brother, we must not stop to inquire as to anything." But I do not think that the learned Brother has put the case in the strongest light. It is not alone "lest we might refuse to relieve and aid a worthy Brother," that we are in cases of "imminent peril" to make no pause for deliberation. But it is because we are bound by our highest obligations at all times, and to all Masons, to give that aid when duly called for.

I may, then, after this somewhat protracted discussion, briefly recapitulate the position, the rights and the responsibilities of an unaffiliated Mason as follows:

1. An unaffiliated Mason is still bound by all his masonic duties and obligations, excepting those connected with the organization of the lodge.

2. He has a right to aid in imminent peril when he asks for that aid in the proper and conventional way.

3. He loses the right to receive pecuniary relief.

4. He loses the general right to visit[3] lodges, or to walk in masonic processions.

5. He loses the right of masonic burial.

6. He still remains subject to the government of the Order, and may be tried and punished for any offense as an affiliated Mason would be, by the lodge within whose geographical jurisdiction he resides.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Proceedings for 1853.
  2. Proceedings for 1847.
  3. The right to visit is restricted to once, by many Grand Lodges to enable him to become acquainted with the character of the lodge before he applies for membership.