Thursday, November 24, 2011
Scottish Rite Seventeenth Degree
The Master Craftsman II course is designed by the A.& A.S.R. Southern Jurisdiction for those Masons who wish to discover more about the degrees of the Scottish Rite. The course consists of a short multiple-choice test and an essay of 500 – 1000 words for each degree. I am just about halfway through the course. For the Seventeenth degree, one of the essay topics is to write about how the lessons of the degree can help one deal with the pain and/or suffering experienced in life. The degree itself features the writing’s of St. John in the Book of Revelations. In fact, A Bridge to Light, a book which explains the basics of the degrees, claims that both parts of the drama acted out as part of the degree and the words of the ritual itself are directly taken from this book of the Bible. As such, there is rich imagery found in the degree as well as the writings about it
Here is the essay I wrote for this assignment. Please understand that this is my own opinion and my own interpretation of the lessons of the degree; I do not speak for anyone in Freemasonry except myself. My opinion is based on my own personal experience and understanding, or perhaps more likely, misunderstanding, of the degree.
As always, your comments are welcome!
Seventeenth Degree Essay
The Seventeenth degree is “…the first of the philosophical degrees and the beginning of a course of instruction which will fully unveil to you the heart and inner mysteries of Masonry” according to Albert Pike in Morals and Dogma. For a newer member of the Rite, just starting to seriously study the degrees, I find this most definitely to be true. Pike writes nearly thirty pages in Morals and Dogma on the Seventeenth degree discussing religious beliefs and philosophies. While I am somewhat familiar with the basics Christianity, John’s Gospel, the Book of Revelations, and even the Essenes to some extent, I found this degree very challenging. Applying the degree to my personal experiences is one way I can better grasp its rich lessons. To that extent, I will analyze the Seventeenth Degree to examine how its teachings can help us through pain and/or suffering. Three elements stand out for me: first pain and suffering are only temporary conditions, second these temporary conditions will lead to the development of permanent strengths, and finally there will be eternal rewards for those that suffer for the sake of God.
My first point is that the pain and suffering we experience are only temporary. Pike tells us this directly as a means to explain the similarities in the several religions and philosophies he discusses. We can find solace in this concept: only God can guarantee us that good ultimately will prevail over evil. In our finite existence on earth, we will experience pain and suffering in life and this can cause doubt and perhaps even lead one to question his faith on a deeper level. How can a just and merciful God allow these conditions? This degree helps us to understand that temporary afflictions are exactly that, temporary, and in no way reflect the love expressed by God.
Second, the Seventeenth degree teaches us that not only are pain and suffering temporary, but that they actually strengthen us. The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide tells us on page 389 that wisdom and knowledge cannot be gained except through pain and suffering. I find the imagery of the Book of Revelations to be a good way to understand this. Hutchens explains in A Bridge to Light: “these evils which cause the suffering of man strengthen the human soul and offer an incentive for the noblest virtues." Hutchens is talking about the evils of bigotry, intolerance, fanaticism, and ambition, which are a Masonic interpretation of St. John’s metaphorical writings. Through our perseverance and reliance on God, we will emerge from such trials stronger. We have God’s promise of this.
Finally, eternal rewards are assured those who overcome pain and suffering for the sake of God. The Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide quotes the Book of Revelations, chapters two and three, stating that those who overcome will be rewarded by God. I don’t mean to argue that pain and suffering should be considered the price one pays for God’s favor, but rather that we need to remember that our life on earth is only the temporary phase of existence for us; we are meant to dwell with God eternally and the trials we suffer here are not what God intends for us. His plans are forever; ours on earth are fleeting.