THE NATURE AND PRINCIPLES OF ROYAL ARCH MASONRY

E.Comp K Harry Barnes JP, PGSupt for Dorset
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Consecration of the Calderley Chapter of Union No. 906
Thursday 7th April 2011

In order to address the nature and principles of Royal Arch Masonry, one first needs to review the degree and its evolution from the early developments of the Hiramic degree. As is the case for all forms, orders and degrees in Freemasonry, the Holy Royal Arch has no specific date of
birth as such.

At times it has been strongly and widely held that the original Third Degree of the Craft was ‘mutilated’ to provide material for the Royal Arch ceremonial. Dr Mackey, the well known American writer stated that, “until the year 1740, the essential element of the Royal Arch constituted a part of the Master’s Degree and was, of course, its concluding portion. The highly esteemed Rev Dr Oliver asserted that the Royal Arch was an element of the second part of the Old Master’s Degree. In fact, Dr Oliver maintained that “the difference between the ‘Antients and the Modern’ systems consisted solely of the mutilation of the Third Degree, and that the Royal Arch was concocted by the Antients to widen yet further the breach and make the line of distinction between them and the Premier Grand Lodge broader and more indelible.

Be that as it may, I have long held the view that far from being a mutilation of the Old Master’s or Third Degree, aspects of the Holy Royal Arch can be found in all three degrees of pure andantient Freemasonry, to which I will both refer and lay evidence later in this short paper.
As a general point, and I speak as one who has served as both Provincial Grand Master for the Craft, as well as Grand Superintendent for the Royal Arch, that there is a constant danger that we will draw a line of demarcation between the Craft and the Royal Arch by making a
distinction between the moral teachings of the Craft and the more spiritual teachings of the Royal Arch. Such distinctions are falsely attributed, for, if we examine the matter carefully we find that the Craft and the Royal are intrinsically interwoven in their philosophies, as well as
their rituals and, in all three degrees, not just that of the Third Degree. The journey begins with our first hesitant steps into the body of the lodge on the evening of our initiation and continue in an unbroken line right the way through to our installation as First Principal in our Chapter. We commence this epic journey by professing a belief in God, a dependence upon God, and a blessing is invoked upon us in his name.

The working tools teach us the importance of prayer and the need for holiness in life. Still in the First Degree, the tracing board depicts Jacob’s ladder, founded firmly on the floor of a Craft lodge, resting on the Holy Scriptures and stretching with it’s many virtual moral and
philosophical rounds, most especially faith, hope and charity, reaching, no, not to man’s immortal destiny, as depicted and concluded in the Third Degree, but beyond, into an unknown ethereal mansion, at least, unknown as far as the limits of the Craft degree are concerned and, in a spiritual sense almost transcending the workings of the Third Degree.
The fact that there is more, much more beyond the conclusion of the Third Degree experience, is again illustrated, though strangely enough in the First Degree, with such sublime poetry, “For we must all experience that great and awful moment when the soul takes wing to that boundless and unexplored expanse. May we hear the GAOTU say, “It is well  finished”, and may he admit us into the Grand Lodge Above, where the divisions of time shall cease and a glorious eternity burst open to our view”, clearly in my view providing very early hints to thinking Mason, that there is more, much more, beyond the grave and again beyond the finite limitations of the workings of the Third Degree.

However, ironically and almost conversely, we also find in the Third degree the clearest indications of immortality and salvation. It is surely no accident that now, and for the first time we hear the term “Companion”. In this degree we are confronted with our inevitable destiny, mortality, and by the use of ancient and traditional mysteries, sensitive and philosophical allegory, we are advised of the prospect of a reunion with the former “Companions” of our toils. And there Companions, were it not for our illustrious predecessors, the incomplete journey would have ended. For many years the Craft journey was concluded by means of the ceremony of exaltation being an appendage to the Third Degree. Later, the Ancients conferred Exaltation as a fourth degree.

The final and most important part of that journey, IS the Holy Royal Arch. Without Exaltation into the Royal Arch, I would submit that the Craft journey is more than incomplete, it renders the journey meaningless.
I have heard eminent Masonic scholars profess with great self importance, that the lost secrets of the Third Degree were never found in the Holy Royal Arch anyway, so how could the Royal Arch ever be considered a conclusion of anything?

Companions, that saddens me deeply. The lost secrets of the Third Degree, even allegorically entrusted to such as Hiram Abif, Hiram King of Tyre etc., are not some cheap clue in a game of Sudoku designed to exercise and stimulate the grey masses of the human brain. The Third Degree concludes with our realisation of mortality. We began the journey by professing a belief in God, how then could any Mason feel that the end of his Masonic journey is that specific point of mortality in the Third Degree? In my view, the lost secrets referred to in the Third Degree and realised in the Holy Royal Arch, are the beyond, that “glorious eternity that will burst open to our view”, so beautifully summarised in the First Degree, the spiritual conclusion, to that epic Masonic journey. And if those lost secrets are not found, and they can only Masonically speaking be found in the Royal Arch, then our journey in the Craft, nee through life itself, the knowledge of ourselves, is fruitless, pointless, and can never possibly
lead to the exploration and understanding of our relationship with our God.

So, to the thinking Mason, the Royal Arch Mason, the Royal Arch most certainly is the conclusion of the Third Degree. To those that mistakenly feel that they completed their journey in the Third Degree, then their journey was effectively over, before it began, for they failed in the very quest of self knowledge.

In 1752, the Royal Arch was described by Lawrence Dermot, the then Deputy Grand Master of the Ancients, as the “root, heart and Marrow” of Masonry. Nothing has changed. The Holy Royal Arch IS the conclusion of the Craft journey through pure and antient Masonry.

The Holy Royal Arch IS the climax of Freemasonry.
Companion Founders, be ye all of sound heart, and all of one mind, live in peace and harmony, and may the God of all Love and Mercy be delighted to dwell within you, and by His infinite Wisdom and Understanding, please Him to grant each of you the benefit of His eternal blessing, and life immortal for everlasting bliss and spiritual perpetuity of this the Calderley Chapter of Unity No
906.