February 5, 2007
Tonight, we are going to take a look at and define some words and phrases from the Lecture of the Second Degree. There should be a couple of "ah-has" coming from us as we understand what something means for the first time. That's the fun of investigating Masonry's works - for me, anyhow. We're only going to dive about three paragraphs into the lecture, but those three paragraphs hold some details about Masonry deep down inside them that most of us probably did not know. There is one phrase in particular, "pay that rational homage to the Deity" that will have some surprising revelations when we look closely at it. We'll finish up with that because there will be quite a bit to talk about.
The first phrase we'll look at is the very first one in the Lecture, "The second section of this degree is primarily devoted to the explication of physical science". The word, explication, from the Latin explicare, means to unfold, to give a detailed explanation of and to develop the implications of something. So, we are going to unfold and explain physical science and explore what it means for us.
The next sentence is, "The intellectual faculties expand as the desire for knowledge increases". 'Intellectual Faculties' are the abilities or powers of the mind. It is saying here that the more we want to learn and apply ourselves to learning, the more we are able to learn.
Then we come to a fun word to say, 'vicissitudes'. It's found in the phrase, "from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the seasons", and it's talking about why we build dwellings and convenient shelters. Vicissitudes means changeability, and inclemencies means physically severe.
"Edifice" means a building, especially a large or massive one. It can also mean a large abstract structure, like the keystone of 'proper' behavior that holds together the social edifice. We can think of Masonry as an edifice, deriving structure, strength, and beauty from its several materials, its rules, membership, and philosophical traditions.
The next phrase is, "for the best, most salutary, and most beneficent of purposes." Salutary means producing a beneficial effect, especially on the health. Beneficent means doing or producing good, especially performing acts of kindness or charity. This section is saying that the Deity has placed science and industry in man which allows him to build shelters from nature's changing and severe weather. This knowledge, given by the Deity for man's health and welfare, is an act of kindness and charity toward him.
There's a little bit more in the word, beneficent. Interestingly, a benefice in feudal times meant an estate of land generating income, granted by a lord to a vassal, or person, under his protection. It could also mean a religious position that had income attached to it from lands. Those meanings were active parts of society only a couple of hundred years before this Lecture was written. And, there is a feudal connection to it from the next word, homage.
"It (and we're talking about Speculative Masonry here) is so far interwoven with religion so as to lay us under obligations to pay that rational homage to the Deity which at once constitutes our duty and our happiness". Homage, in its use today, means a reverential regard, especially in paying respect. Now here's where things get interesting. In its older use and meaning, homage was a feudal ceremony by which a man acknowledged himself the vassal, or person under the protection, of a lord. It was usually performed by falling to the knees and clasping the hands together before the lord. The lord covered the vassal's hands, symbolizing acceptance of the vassalage and his willingness to assume responsibilities for the protection of the vassal.
Let's stop here for a moment and remember the time when we were at the altar, in due position on our knees, with the WM covering our hands. This was a ceremony of homage. By formally covering our hands, the WM was accepting responsibility for us in the fraternity and we in turn were giving our fealty, or the fidelity of a vassal, to him and through him to the Brotherhood of Masonry. That he was also on his knees symbolized that we were meeting on the level, that the ceremony of homage was actually an expression of binding equality in Brotherhood, a mutual vassalage of fidelity in which we are bound to protect one another within the edifice of Masonry under the Deity. So, returning to the Lecture, when we pay rational homage to the Deity, we are offering our fidelity to him in return for his protection and salutary benefice. Got it?
Br. Stephen C. Harrington