A practical reason for addressing the Deity in non-sectarian terms is that the true mystery and wonder of Creation cannot be told. So, how and why did today's Masons arrive at a concept of God as an architect and choose, with reverence, to respect the ultimate mystery in the way they do so?
To understand this, we must look back in time to the Near East and Asia where the great thinkers and prophets were coming to two crucial understandings: First, that the name of God is unknowable; and secondly, that the nature of the one God whose name cannot be told, is multi-faceted.
Our ancient learned brothers in Asia and the Near East understood that there were many conceptions of the Supreme Being. They knew that the name and nature of the Deity transcends cultures, languages and frankly, all human understanding. If we go back about five millennia and place ourselves in the Near East among the tribes of Israel, we find a culture that had adopted the concept of one God. This idea did not originate with ancients of that time.
However, we are left, in the Old Testament, a vivid account of man's confrontation with the unknown. In the Shemot, the first portion of the Book of Exodus, Moses asked God for His name. "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" was the answer Moses received. "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" transcends all knowing; literally translated, it could mean "I am who I am." However, since this name connotes great mystery and ambiguity, it creates infinite space for interpretation. In terms of a Jewish pun, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" is understood as: "I will be whatever I wish to be and who are you to ask?" Indeed.
"Ehyeh" is most commonly translated as "I will be." "Asher" is a remarkable Hebrew word, for in English, it can be rendered as "that who, or where."
This being the case, "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" could be transliterated as: "I will be that I will be. I will be who I will be. I will be which I will be. I will be where I will be. There are many other possible translations, but whichever translation appeals to the individual, one cannot know, with certainty, precisely what the name of the Deity is; This is as it should be.
The exact name and nature of God cannot be told. Given, "Ehyeh" could - and it's a weak could - evolve into JHVH and then to Jehovah over the centuries, Jehovah being deemed an acceptable substitute for the "true name" of God, or "the lost word."
About 2,800 years ago in Asia, the wordsmiths and sages began composing the Upanishads. The spirit of the Upanishads can be compared with that of the New Testament summed up in the words "I and my Father are one" and "The kingdom of God is within you," the seed of which is found in the words of the Psalms "I have said: Ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the most High."
The Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, one of the greatest and oldest spiritual treatises composed in Sanskrit, is one source which yields the following story, illustrative of the multi-faceted nature of that which transcends all knowing: King Janaka was a generous learned man, capable judging the pretensions of the Brah-min-ical scholars who frequented his court to make a profitable display of their knowledge.
One day, this question was asked of the god Yaj-na-val-kya: "How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?" "Three hundred and thirty-three thousand and three," he replied. "It is indeed so," he said. "How many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?" "Thirty-three? "It is indeed so," he said. "How many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?" "Three.It is indeed so," he said. "How many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya" "Two. It is indeed so," he said. "How many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?" "One-and-a-half. It is indeed so, "he said. How many gods are there really, Yajnavalkya?" "One. It is indeed so," he said. "What of the other thirty-three?" he asked. "They are but various aspects of the one god," replied Yajnavalkya.
One God. One Supreme Being, called by many names. This idea was not lost on other cultures, as evidenced by the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato. In his composition "Timaeus," written about 2,400 years ago, Plato not only reiterated the existence of one God, but also laid foundations in geometric science as it was then understood, for the conceptualization of the one God as a great architect. In "The Timaeus," Plato posited the idea of the one God and the multiplicity of things as being bound together as a single reality, the suffusion of harmony and proportion throughout creation.
Thus, to be concerned with harmonious creation, be it architectural, artistic, musical, or even agricultural, came to be seen as a natural consequence of the awareness of our harmonious relationship with the one God who, Plato wrote, created not only man with a three-fold, ortriangular nature, but also posited that man's bond with creation and the Creator " . . .is best done by a continued geometrical proportion."
While Plato made no attempt to name God, he did create a foundation of speculation regarding the nature of God; that is, God as the great geometrician. Like the Vedic and Hebraic sages before him, Plato knew there was but one God. And he was convinced that the harmonious superstructure of creation put forth by the Universal Spirit, while unknowable, was perfect, and was definitely based in geometry. This should be of interests to Masons and scholars of Medieval thinking in the West, for it was in countless monasteries that the first depiction of the Deity were penned by anonymous monks who imagined God - and drew God - as a literal architect, standing amid the heavens and the earth wielding a magnificent compass above the darkness upon the face of the deep. And to this day, we are all drawn to that ineffable mystery suggested by that darkness before the light.
This idea has remained strongly ingrained in Western thought, and was perhaps most dramatically manifested when a celebrated group of men we call the Founding Fathers lifted their light in an effort to bring forth a new country on the North American continent. Most of the Founding Fathers of America were products of the philosophical world-view of The Enlightenment, or Age of Reason. It may surprise some of you to learn that these men were predominantly Deists rather than Christians. Strictly defined, Deism is a belief in God based solely upon the evidence of reason. The Deist position asserts that God created the universe and after setting it in motion, abandoned it, assumed no control over life, exerted no influence on natural phenomena, and gave no supernatural revelation.
Those Founding Fathers who were Masons had knowledge of the Platonic concept of The Creator as Divine Architect of the Universe, and had access to and knowledge of such works as the mid-thirteenth-century Bible moralisee (which Benjamin Franklin is said to have seen while in France), and were familiar with other works such as the early fourteenth-century Holkham Bible, both of which depict the Supreme Being, compass in hand, walking through the heavens.
Their Deist beliefs had clearly evolved, in part, from the aforementioned wisdom and traditions of more ancient men living in other times in other places, which in turn had evolved further during the Age of Reason.
Men like Brothers Franklin and Washington, both reasonable men to be sure, made reference to God, but also understood, as the great men of wisdom who had gone before understood, that the sublime mystery of The Creator was something that could not and should not be named.
Nowhere is there any mention of God in America's Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. Only reference to man's Creator is made. And that is how it should have been. In a new country with a mixed population that would continue to diversify, these visionary Brothers stood by the concept of a Great Architect.
To this day, Freemasons use "The Great Architect of the Universe" and other non-sectarian titles to address the Deity. In using non-sectarian references to that which transcends all knowing, persons of different faiths may join together in prayer, concentrating on the Universal Spirit rather than on differences of culture and religion. Masonry has always championed religious freedom, and the idea that the relationship between the individual and one God is a personal, private and sacred matter.
No one owns God, just as surely as no one owns "truth." Not one among us can be truly certain about the nature of God, so "Great Architect of the Universe" is a particularly apt reference to the Deity, as the reference acknowledges both the design and the designer without staking a claim on some exclusive jurisdiction. Deists, Christians - both Catholic and Protestant - Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and men of many other faiths have been welcomed into our Fraternity. One point of commonality is their belief in the one God. Masons believe there is one God and one God only. Masons also know that since time immemorial, people have employed many different ways of seeking and expressing what they know of God, of their experiences and relationship with that which transcends all knowing.
Though the Deity has been called by many sectarian names through the ages, perhaps Lao-Tzu's description of the "Tao" or "the Way" best clears away the robes, trappings, trumpery, and shadows surrounding the mystery to which we bow with reverence.
In the first chapter of the "Te-Tao Ching," it is written: The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Ever without desire, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations. These two spring from the same source but differ in name. This appears as darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gate to all mystery.
Masonic use of the title "Great Architect of the Universe" is our reverential denotation of the Deity, of that eternal name which cannot be named. It connotes our desires to enter the darkness and stand before the gates to all mystery where, in the absence of desire, we are somehow able to shed our pretentious robes and thereby enrich ourselves with whatever lies within.
DMPS is the symbol for the "Dead Masonic Poets Society," members a Masonic Education Committee in Northern California. Members are Past Master Harry Yetter, Crow Canyon No. 551, Past Master Greg Rapp, Crow Canyon, Greg Maier, D.D., Fruit Vale No. 113, and Charles Hintz, M.S., Crow Canyon.
Harry Yetter was a Scottish Rite librarian in Oakland for 20 plus years and a member of a Masonic Research group. He is bedridden at age 90. Greg Rapp is a member of Oakland Scottish Rite where he developed an interest in Masonic research. Dr. Maier and Charles Hintz are members of the San Francisco Bodies and plan to develop Masonic Scholarship in the new generations of Masons at that venue owing to the availability of Larry and Harold Stein, both respected Masonic scholars.
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