The principal or chief tenets of Freemasonry are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. It is necessary not to overlook the word ‘principal’, for it signifies that while it is on these three great teachings that the Craft lays the greatest emphasis, yet there are other teachings of almost equal importance. In any discussion of our subject those others must not be lost sight of.
By a ‘tenet’ is meant some teaching so obviously true, so universally accepted, that we believe it without question and always take it for granted. Examples of such teachings lie everywhere about us. Good health is better than illness; a truthful man is more dependable than a liar; it is better to save money than to waste it; education is to be preferred to ignorance these are but a few of the countless examples of teachings that no intelligent man can possibly call in question. Everybody takes them for granted. They are tenets.
When we turn to the Principal Tenets of Freemasonry we are at once struck by an interesting fact – Freemasonry considers Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth to be teachings of this kind! It holds them to be true in a sense that no man can question them. They are obvious; axiomatic, self-proving. I wonder if you have always considered them to be so? Is it not only too common a thing for men to consider Brotherly Love; for example, to be such a thing that, while it might be highly desirable; it is not practicable, and is nothing therefore but a vision, to be dreamed off but never possessed?
It is challenging for Freemasonry to call such things tenets, for it means that they are not only true, but plainly and obviously and necessarily true. Unless you can grasp this fact, unless you can see for yourself that the teachings of Freemasonry are realities, self-evident realities and not visionary ideals, you will never be able to understand Masonic teachings. For Freemasonry does not tell us that Brotherly Love; Relief and Truth ought to be true, that it would be better for us all if they were true it tells us that they are true. They are tremendous realities in human life, and it is as impossible to question their existence as it is to question the existence of the ground under our feet. The question is not whether we shall believe in them or not; for we cannot help but believe in them-the question is; what are we going to do about them?
Let us now reflect a moment upon the Principal Tenets, beginning with Brotherly Love. By love is meant the placing of the highest possible valuation upon another person. A man’s mother or father, his wife or children, his intimate friends, he values for themselves – not for advantages he may gain from them, not for their usefulness to him, but solely each one in his own person and for his own sake. We work for such persons, we make sacrifices for them, we delight to be with them. That, in detail and practice; is what is meant by love. What then is meant by Brotherly Love?
Manifestly it means that we place on another man the highest possible valuation as a friend; a companion, an associate, a neighbour, a fellow. Merely to be with him, merely to spend hours in his company, to have the privilege of working at his side, is all we ask. We do not ask that from our relationship we shall make money, or further our business interests, or achieve some other form of selfish gain. Our relationship with such a one is its own excuse for being, its own justification, its own reward. All of us know that this Brotherly Love is one of the supreme things without which life is a lonely, unhappy, dreary kind of thing. This is not a hope or a dream, but a fact-as real as day and night, or as the law of gravity.
Freemasonry builds on that fact, takes it for granted, provides opportunities for us to have such fellowship, encourages us to understand it and to practise it, and to make it one of the laws of our existence. It is in short, and in literal truth one of its Principal Tenets.
Relief, which stands next in order, is one of the forms taken by the general principle of Charity. One must be careful to distinguish the one from the other – especially Charity as it is most often interpreted. When we think of Charity, we think of pauperism or chance poverty. We think of it as being a condition it is necessary for the community or the state to care for. A man is crippled or chronically ill, or he is the victim of a wave of unemployment, or he is addicted to some vice, such as drink or gambling, with the result that his dependents are left in want. To care for such a man is usually deemed to be the responsibility of the public authorities, and as a rule the public discharges that responsibility through the form of organised effort financed by subscriptions or public funds. The Masonic conception of Relief is somewhat different from this. While it happens that now and then some Brother, through misfortune and no fault of his own becomes more or less incapacitated and unable to support himself and his family, and under such circumstances is cared for by his Lodge or the Masonic Home, such cases are the exception rather than the rule and are not what is meant by the tenet Relief. The qualifications required of our petitioners for entrance into the Craft are such as are likely to exclude the type of man, who through indolence or vice, may be expected to lapse into poverty.
Masonic Relief takes it for granted that any man, no matter how industrious or frugal he may be, may through sudden misfortune, or other conditions over which he has no control, find himself in temporary need of a helping hand. To extend to him such a helping hand is not what is generally described as charity, but is one of the natural and inevitable acts of Brotherhood. Any possible conception of Brotherhood must, in the very nature of the case, include as part of itself this willingness to give help, aid and assistance. Thus Relief, as thus masonically understood, is in strict truth a Tenet. If we are going to have Brotherhood at all, we shall expect this free and cordial spirit of helpfulness to be a part of it.
By Truth, the last of the Principal Tenets, is meant something more than the search for truths in the intellectual sense, though that is included necessarily, and is one of the things meant by Freemasonry’s motto “Let there be Light”. By Truth is meant that if we are to have a permanent Brotherhood, its members must be truthful in character and habit, dependable, men of honour as well as of honesty, men on whom ye can rely to be faithful fellows and loyal friends. No argument is needed to prove that Truth, as thus understood, is a necessity, that it is required in the nature of things if a Brotherhood is to exist. It is something we must all take for granted as being beyond question.
Conclusion: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth
Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth are the Principal Tenets of Freemasonry. There are other Tenets also-teachings of a truth and necessity so obvious that argument is never necessary to sustain them. We urge you to think ‘over carefully the teachings of the Craft as you progress from Degree to Degree. You may not find that any of them are novel or even exciting. Novelty, however, while it may have its own interest, is not to be compared in value with the knowledge that the truths on which Freemasonry is founded are eternal They are never new neither are they ever old. Time cannot wither nor custom stale their infinite variety, the freshness of immortality is upon them for they never die. In them is a ceaseless inspiration and an inexhaustible appeal. They are the Tenets of Freemasonry because always and everywhere they have been the tenets of human life.
by The Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland