Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Labor Is Worship": Building the Material and Spiritual Temple

My last post looked the possible Masonic influence on early Mormonism's view of work. I offer this post as Exhibit B: Albert Mackey's 1882 The Symbolism of Freemasonry. In the chapter titled "The Symbolism of Labor," Mackey argues that "the Masonic Institution...teaches not only the necessity, but the nobility, of labor." Noting that the Trestle Board is the "symbol of the Divine Law," Mackey declares that "to labor well and truly, to labor honestly and persistently, is the object and the chief end of all humanity." This decree "was originally instituted as the common lot of all," alluding (I take it) to Adam's original command in the Garden of Eden. "To work out well the task that is set before us is our highest duty," he writes, "and should constitute our greatest happiness." God is described as "the
Grand Architect, the Master Builder of the world, [who] has labored from eternity" and "inscribes his plans upon illimitable space, for the universe is his trestle board." The Creation follows the Creator's example:

Earth works with every coming spring, and within its prolific bosom designs the bursting seed, the tender plant, and the finished tree, upon its trestle board. Old ocean works forever--restless and murmuring--but still bravely working; and storms and tempests, the purifiers of stagnant nature, are inscribed upon its trestle board.

While embracing the Benedictine motto of laborare est orare--labor is worship [1]--Mackey was still quite critical of the "old ascetics" because they "went into the wilderness, and built cells, and occupied themselves in solitary meditation and profitless thought. They prayed much, but they did no work. And thus they passed their lives, giving no pity, aid, or consolation to their fellow-men, adding no mite to the treasury of human knowledge, and leaving the world, when their selfish pilgrimage was finished, without a single contribution, in labor of mind or body, to its welfare." While rather harsh and historically inaccurate,[2] the comment nonetheless demonstrates the Masonic commitment to labor and toil. Mackey followed up his criticisms with his most emphatic statement:

Now, this doctrine, that labor is worship, is the very doctrine that has been advanced and maintained, from time immemorial, as a leading dogma of the Order of Freemasonry. There is no other human institution under the sun which has set forth this great principle in such bold relief. We hear constantly of Freemasonry as an institution that inculcates morality, that fosters the social feeling, that teaches brotherly love; and all this is well, because it is true; but we must never forget that from its foundation-stone to its pinnacle, all over its vast temple, is inscribed, in symbols of living light, the great truth that labor is worship...Freemasonry is, it is true, a speculative science, but it is a speculative science based upon an operative art. All its symbols and allegories refer to this connection. Its very language is borrowed from the art, and it is singularly suggestive that the initiation of a candidate into its mysteries is called, in its peculiar phraseology, work.

Mackey interestingly distinguishes Masonry from the philosophies of old, drawing attention to the fact that the institution's phraseology does not draw on the language of the university: "There would have been the sophists and the philosophers; the grammatists and the grammarians; the scholars, the masters, and the doctors. [Masonry] would have had its trivial and its quadrivial schools; its occupation would have been research, experiment, or investigation; in a word, its whole features would have been colored by a grammatical, a rhetorical, or a mathematical cast, accordingly as it should have been derived from a sect in which any one of these three characteristics was the predominating influence." Instead, the highest grade of Masonry is Master of the Work. "Its places of meeting are not schools, but lodges, places where the workmen formerly lodged, in the neighborhood of the building on whose construction they were engaged. It does not form theories, but builds temples." God is not "a divine power" or "a controller of all things...but a Grand Architect of the Universe. The masonic idea of God refers to Him as the Mighty Builder of this terrestrial globe, and all the countless worlds that surround it...[A]nd hence our labor is his worship." According to Mackey, a Mason's duty "as such, in his lodge, is to work."

The question arises as to the kind of work. Mackey is emphatic in his belief that "temple building was the original occupation of our ancient brethren. And to this is added the fact, that after a long lapse of centuries, a body of men is found in the middle ages who were universally recognized as Freemasons, and who directed their attention and their skill to the same pursuit, and were engaged in the construction of cathedrals, abbeys, and other sacred edifices, these being the Christian substitute for the heathen or the Jewish temple. And therefore, when we view the history of the Order as thus developed in its origin and its design, we are justified in saying that, in all times past, its members have been recognized as men of labor, and that their labor has been temple building." Mackey then compares the tasks of modern Masons with those of ancient times, explaining that the modern work of Masonry is largely abstract: "But our ancient brethren wrought in both operative and speculative Masonry, while we work only in speculative. They worked with the hand; we work with the brain. They dealt in the material; we in the spiritual. They used in their labor wood and stones; we use thoughts, and feelings, and affections." It is here that Joseph Smith seems to differ, instead fusing the material and the spiritual together. The building of temples and the building of a moral society (a "moral temple" according to the German masons Mackey quotes) became intertwined. Joseph's Zion  and the German Masons' "mystical Solomonic temple" could be said to share the same utopian description: "the high ideal or archetype of humanity in the best possible condition of social improvement, wherein every evil inclination is overcome, every passion is resolved into the spirit of love, and wherein each for all, and all for each, kindly strive to work." And thus the German Masons call this striving for an almost millennial result labor in the temple."

This return to a more ancient form of Masonry fits with Smith's notion of restoring a more ancient form of Christianity and, ultimately, Judaism.



NOTES

1. This may actually be a mistranslation.

2. See Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005); Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2012), Ch. 3: "How the Monks Saved Civilization."

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