Brother seeker of enlightenment,
At this Holy time of year, Easter week, I think it would be appropriate to look at the 26th Degree, as this is a Christian degree.
The apron is scarlet, with a wide border of white. In the center is an equilateral triangle formed of green bars. In the center of this is the jewel, embroidered in gold. The flap is sky blue. The colors green, red, and white symbolize the Masonic Trinity. Green is an emblem of infinite wisdom, red of the supreme energy, force, or power, and white, produced by the mingling of all the colors of divine harmony.
The 26° is the final Degree in the Council series on the Mystery traditions. This Degree focuses on the Christian Mysteries and doctrines and provides us with an understanding that early Christianity was an initiatic order involving three grades of membership. In the previous Degree, more than any other degree in Masonry, we learned that life is essentially self-instruction. Real knowledge is acquired by one’s efforts first. There is much to be explored here between the two great poles of human existence, ignorance, and perfection. The central mission of a Prince of Mercy is to discover the way which bridges the gap between an immaterial Creator and His material creation. We find the path to the truth within a labyrinth of trinities.
The 26° takes us into the early Christian mysteries, just as the other Degrees have taken us into the mysteries of other faiths. We are told that in the earliest days, Christianity was taught by a series of initiations, echoes of which still survive today. During the Degree, we are told of the fundamental beliefs of many of the world’s ancient religions and shown that the idea of Trinity was central to most of them. Almost all religions have conceived of the Deity as having the attributes of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty or of Harmony or Balance (the last three being largely synonymous). Another way to say it is that God must possess the Intellect to conceive a universe, the power to create it, and the sense of Harmony or Equilibrium to bring that Intellect and Power together in such a way as to create. While we may think of that idea as belonging to the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is, in fact, difficult to find an ancient religion that did not hold much the same view.
The lessons of the 26° are forgiveness and tolerance. The Degree also explores the symbolism of the first three Degrees of the Blue Lodge and shows why Ignorance, Tyranny, and Intolerance are the ruffians against which Solomon must always send his forces. They destroy nations and cultures as surely as they destroy individuals. But a Prince of Mercy is armed for that battle. With Mercy, Toleration, and a firm grasp of his religious faith, he is prepared to see more similarities than differences in the faiths of his peers. With his understanding that the traditions of all faiths have something of value to teach if he will only learn, he becomes, at last, the ultimate peacemaker.
Among the teachings of the Degree are the following: It is said that the Masonic Creed encompasses: “BELIEVE, in God’s Infinite Benevolence, Wisdom, and Justice: HOPE, for the final triumph of Good over Evil, and Perfect Harmony as the final result of all the concords and discords of the Universe: and be CHARITABLE as God is, toward the unfaith, the errors, the follies, and the faults of men: for all make one great brotherhood.” These basic principles in Freemasonry are not particular to any one philosophy or faith, but instead, they are irrefutable, universal truths and modes of conduct to be followed and practiced by all righteous men.
The twenty-sixth Degree, Prince of Mercy, teaches that faith and knowledge are allies and not enemies and that we each have moral responsibilities that emanate from our faiths. If we are to become real Masons truly, then we need to be as willing to embrace the beliefs of others as we are to embrace our own personally held beliefs in the Deity.
A large portion of the teachings of this Degree is devoted to the Trinity and its various manifestations in the major faiths. It provides a wealth of detail to substantiate the near universality of the concept of the Trinity and emphasizes the development of the beliefs of various Gnostic schools. The idea of Trinity has particular significance in both Masonic philosophy and the history of religion throughout antiquity. In the series of degrees culminating with this Degree, what Pike calls the Ancient Mysteries, comes to its conclusion.
While all faiths claim their sole possession of the Truth, Masonry inculcates its old doctrine that God is One; that His Thought uttered in His Word created the Universe and preserved it by those Eternal Laws which are the expression of that thought; that the Soul of Man, breathed into him by God, is immortal as His Thoughts are; that man has free will, free to do evil or to choose good; and that all sin, wrong and suffering are but temporary with the ultimate triumph of good over evil with Truth, Love, Peace, and Happiness reigning forever. The mission of Masonry is to expound its universality and unite all men under the banner of virtue and truth.
Thus Pike has used these four degrees, twenty-three through twenty-six to present his research on the origin of religious thought, the development of religion, comparative religion, and the philosophical aspects of religion to show their connection to Freemasonry ultimately. As we have seen, it involves an initiatory process, a moral code, a belief in a Supreme being and the immortality of the soul, and a Trinitarian framework. All this concludes in Pike’s assertion that Masonry is the pure religion.
To all my brethren, stay well, and God Bless,
Ill. Harry Eisenberg, 33°