Sub Rosa

Don’s Diary

Innovations in Freemasonry are not condoned but were that not the case there would be two changes that I would make: the adoption of the sub-rosa convention for the lodge room and the South and the Chatham House rules as well in the lodge room.

We have always been motivated to maintain harmony in our meetings and do or say nothing that may offend our brethren. We are therefore instructed not to engage in any topic in the lodge room of a religious or political nature. This works well and it is a convention to which I am very accustomed for they, together with “women,” are the banned topics in an Officers’ Mess. I am surprised that the latter is not banned in lodges given the strong military origin of our Craft. Unless I am mistaken, these topics are not banned in the South. We are also instructed that we may offer our opinion and sentiments in the lodge after attaining a certain Degree, but the qualification that there will be supervision. What we have is the facility for a necessary contribution the debate but one that is constrained to some extent. It works largely because we only admit those of mature age and of sound judgment. However, not always.

As in families, we do not always have or initiate “the sharpest tools in the shed” despite passing the maturity test and certainly in families there is often a social deficit – dare I say it also occurs in Freemasonry! Some will not or cannot understand the context in which things are said or indeed what is actually is said. They have “loose lips’ and because of their inadequacies can do untold unintended damage in social relationships. Add to this is a recipient who is “precious” or prone to make mischief and the problem is worsened. The sub-rosa convention averts this potential.

Sub-rosa means "under the rose" and it is used to denote secrecy or confidentiality, The rose as a symbol of secrecy and has an ancient history. It probably had its origins in Greek and Roman culture and of myths from Egypt. Roses were painted on the ceilings of Roman banquet rooms were also a reminder that things said under the influence of wine (sub vino) should also remain sub-rosa. In the Middle Ages, a rose suspended from the ceiling of a council chamber similarly pledged all present “under the rose” to secrecy. Five-petal roses were often carved on Christian confessionals. The symbol of Henry VIII of England was the stylised Tudor dynasty rose which covered the ceiling of his private chamber where decisions of state were made in secret. We have ceiling roses in our home in every room and we observe the etiquette of the convention. It is surprising that the emblem has not found its way into masonic symbolism.

The Chatham House Rule applies to holding debates and discussion panels on controversial issues. There is freedom to quote from the discussion, but is not allowed to say who made any comment. This Rule is applicable for discussions in the lodge room where it is necessary to refer to the debate to other Freemasons not in attendance. None of these measures should be necessary but regrettably, we have people in our midst who report without maturity and social acumen.

Yours fraternally ,