Antient Charges of a Freemason under UGLV’s Constitution

From WBro D Hudson, Secretary

(The Constitution is currently under review, but the below has been relevant for 130 years and I am sure will endure)

When we are Initiated into Victorian Freemasonry, we are handed a copy of the Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons Of Victoria, or more simply United Grand Lodge of Victoria (UGLV), which today, seems known simply as Freemasons Victoria or “FMV”. (You simply can’t argue with those who say we have become smaller; our name certainly has! ).

For our last handful of Initiations at Devotion, an emailed version of the Constitution has had to suffice as it has been out of print for some time - pending updates as I understand it. Whether presenting it physically or electronically I generally comment to the new Brother that he should at least look at the first ten pages which contain historical documents which might be of interest. They are a good discussion point and a prism for some Masonic History, especially how we were traditionally expected to act as Freemasons.

These documents are three. SUMMARY OF THE ANTIENT CHARGES AND REGULATIONS which we read to Masters Elect prior to their Installation, THE CHARGES OF A FREEMASON, and the ARTICLES OF UNION (Victoria 1889), but the question begs, where did these documents come from?

The last is easy. The Articles of Union date from 1889 when the United Grand Lodge of Victoria (UGLV) was formed when Irish, English, Scottish and Victorian Lodges all came together to form a UNITED Grand Lodge.

Victoria is included because the “Grand Lodge of Victoria”, was founded earlier in 1883 by the colourful theatre entrepreneur George Selth Coppin and comprised mainly of Irish Lodges. While Coppin (MWGM 1883-86) and indeed Provincial Grand Masters are often noted, his two successors and the short-lived Grand Lodge itself are often forgotten. I know little of Coppin’s successors, James Brother Patterson (MWGM 1886-88) and David Munro (1888-89), but Munro seems to have been a builder and I see the name often on the Princess Bridge.

Foundation Stone of Princes Bridge, originally Prince's Bridge

Foundation Stone of the Princess Bridge for which David Munro Freemasonry
Above: the Foundation Stone of the Princess Bridge for which David Munro was contractor for over the Yarra in Melbourne. David Munro was the third Victorian Grand Master.

The second and middle of the three is the oldest. The Charges of a Freemason comes from “Andersons Constitutions” first published in 1723 in England.

Dr James Anderson (c1670-1739) was a Scott and Ordained Minister and became Grand Warden in the first Modern Grand Lodge, fittingly founded in a pub by four lodges in 1717 and today known as the United Grand Lodge England after it evolved. When founded, it was the “Grand Lodge of Westminser and London”, then (Premier) Grand Lodge of England (1738) and later United Grand Lodge of England when it merged with the Antient Grand Lodge of England in 1813 (to say nothing of Grand Lodge of All England Meeting at York). Short version; everyone wants to be the boss and likes to disagree on how things get done and how to do them. Freemasonry time immemorial it seems! But a longer commentary of the “Antients” (1717) and “Moderns” (1751) might include comments on Samuel Pritchard’s Exposure of “Secrets” (1730), varying traditions, jockeying for legitimacy and hegemony, doing it “right”, and probably even the English economic and political landscapes and social class system. Be all that as it may, Anderson set out to write some rules, but also a “Traditional History” (read myth) of Freemasonry. He claimed to have examined the “Old Charges” and other “Ancient” documents bringing them together in his Constitution. Throughout Freemasonry you find a bias of that which is old is good, and Anderson took Freemasonry back to the beginnings of time. No doubt this was an attempt to legitimize Freemasonry and inflate its age. The first section of his Constitutions has a fantastical “history” of Freemasonry, originating with Adam (yes, that Adam with Eve) and it only takes him a short time to reach Noah, and his three sons, Japhet, Shem, and Ham, “all Masons true”. It then moves down through history to his own times; Freemasonry ever present. Anderson’s Constitution is where The Charges of a Freemason came from, claimed as being based on other earlier sources. However, we in Victoria are not alone; the 1723 edition of Anderson’s Constitutions was edited and reprinted by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1734, becoming the first Masonic book printed in America.

Despite Bro Franklin’s efforts on Anderson’s Constitutions, when you meet an American Freemason, he might refer to his rule book not as a “Constitution” but rather the “Ahiman Rezon”. This originates with Laurence Dermott (1720-1791). It was Demott who coined the phrase “The Moderns” to describe and mock the first Grand Lodge (1717) of which his “Antient” Grand Lodge (1751) was a competitor. Dermott was the second Secretary of the Ancient Grand Lodge of England (The “Antients”) writing the Ahiman Rezon as its constitution, first published in 1756. Dermott was a very energetic and notable Freemason, but not above sarcasm and he used satire to belittle the first and rival Grand Lodge in England. Like the Moderns (1717) the Antients were also formed in a pub (1751) but with six lodges. This started a rivalry between the “Modern” and newer “Antient” Grand Lodges that would officially end in 1813 when both reconciled and merged as the United Grand Lodge England. Dermott’s energy and knowledge aside his “main weapon was satire”. His Ahiman Rezon accounts how he started out with an attempt to write a better history than others (read better than Andersons) starting before Adam, but falls asleep, and dreaming of a conversation with Ahimon, one of four sojourners from Jerusalem, about the futility of masonic histories, he is woken up by his neighbour's puppy eating his manuscript. While we might claim “being blackballed”, “on the level” and “given the third degree” as Masonic phrases entering the wider vernacular, I am not sure we can claim the same for “the dog ate my homework” as originating from Dermott, but I am sure someone has written a “Masonic history” making it so.

Both Anderson’s Constitutions and Dermott’s Ahiman Rezon are dedicated to British Peers who were Grand Masters. Anderson to John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu 1690-1749, Grand Master of the Moderns 1721–1723. Dermotts to William Stewart, 1st Earl of Blessington 1709-1769, Grand Master of the Antients 1756–1760. The two Grand Masters of the Antients prior we not peers, and this might reflect the more humble cirucstances of members while the Moderns were more assoticatd with the upper middle class and peers, even having the Prince of Wales as Grand Master (1792–1812), who later became George IV. Again, we see an effort to create legitimacy, and this has snuck into our own Final in the First Degree where Freemasonry is fit for a King. All that said, the documents are very different, but the same – both for instance have the words to songs. Both started as unofficial documents which were adopted by their respective Grand Lodges.

So what of the first document, the Summary of Antient Charges and Regulations? These are the second most “Antient” of three and first appeared in William Preston’s second edition of Illustrations of Masonry published in 1775. Since 1827, these have been read to Masters in lodges under United Grand Lodge of England and as the predominant group of Lodges forming UGLV were English, we can suppose Victoria’s English Lodges introduced the tradition to us.

There is much more to be written about the above, indeed it already has been and I encourage you to do some reading on it, but returning to our own affairs, and the Three Foundational Documents of Victorian Freemasonry, which our Masonic forebears included in our Constitution;

the first in our Constitution is the second oldest coming from Preston (1775),
Read it here.

the second in our Constitution is the oldest, coming from Anderson (1723),
Read it here.

the third in our Constitution is the youngest, coming from the formation of UGLV (1889).
Read it here.

And a final word, Freemasons are not all bad spellers. “Antient” is simply an archaic and generally obsolete spelling of “ancient” which has endured in Freemasonry.

Like a lot things some consider obsolete, like honour, virtue, trust and benevolence, we like to carry forth the good traditions of the past.

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