The 26th Degree of the Scottish Rite: Friend and Brother Eternal

Friend and Brother Eternal is the title of the 26th degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Although many of us might not necessarily have heard about this degree, it is one that boasts a fascinating story.

Rooted within the historical uncertainty of the American civil war, the tale tells of two officers on opposing sides, who were able to maintain their dignity and Masonic principles despite the horrors and hardship of war.

It’s an inspiring story that reminds us of the Masonic bond’s sanctity and how brothers can put aside their differences to maintain high moral standards, even in the most difficult of times. Let’s take a look at the story behind the title of the 26th degree of the Scottish Rite in more detail.

Masonic principles outweigh the divisions of war

General Lewis Addison Armistead and General Winfield Scott Hancock

The story of the friend and brother eternal refers to the real-life story of the relationship between General Lewis Addison Armistead and General Winfield Scott Hancock during the American civil war. Armistead was a confederate and Hancock was a Unionist, but they were lifelong friends, having fought side by side in the United States Army before the civil war.

Their friendship is captured by the ‘Friend to Friend’ Masonic memorial in the National Cemetery Annex in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Accompanying the memorial is a plaque, that in part reads:

“Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Addison Armistead were personal friends and members of the Masonic fraternity […] Both Hancock and Armistead fought heroically in the previous twenty-seven months of war. They were destined to meet at Gettysburg.

Depicted in this sculpture is Union Captain Henry Bingham, a Mason and staff assistant to General Hancock, himself wounded, rendering aid to the fallen Confederate General Armistead is shown handing his watch and personal effects to be taken to his friend, Union General Hancock.” 

The memorial is compelling and reminds us of the great sacrifice of war and the importance of recognizing humanity, even during the darkest of days. But for Masons, the memorial is even more poignant.

As both men were Masons, it is a testament that brothers can rely on each other’s friendship, even when they are in such devastating scenarios such as war. The friendship between two generals on opposing sides of the civil war shows us that even the most seemingly irreconcilable belief systems cannot tarnish the strong Masonic bonds formed between brothers.

Today, we appreciate Freemasonry for its inclusivity. Brothers of all creeds, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds are welcomed into the fraternity and appreciated for their diversity and passion for the craft.

When it comes to the principles by which a Mason must live his life, we are constantly reminded of the importance of brotherly love, and how a bond between brothers is for life. As such, it’s agreed that a Mason never must allow prejudice based on any characteristic and that a brotherly act of friendship is incredibly powerful.

What can we learn from the memorial at Gettysburg?

We can learn that from Armistead, who upon learning that Bingham was an aide to General Hancock and a Masonic brother, entrusted his personal possessions to Hancock who he believed would return them safely to his family.

This action highlights the incredible power of brotherly love and relief that can be displayed in the most trying moments of a brother’s life.

This being said, I think the most important lesson to be taken from the friendship between the two generals is that Freemasonry is built upon impervious values that form the foundation of a brother’s life. While belief systems and opinions of brothers will differ, values remain aligned, which is critical for the development of all relationships.

If our values align with others, it means that we agree on how life should be lived, and we appreciate and encourage difference and diversity. This is crucial to understanding Freemasonry. People on the outside often ask questions like ‘what do Masons believe in?’

But the real beauty of Freemasonry doesn’t end with the simple belief in the Grand Architect of the Universe. Instead, it is the quest for enlightenment and excellent moral character by learning Masonic teachings. A brother is concerned with promoting the critical tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth, and seeks to live his life by a strict moral code.

What happens if we learn of a brother’s immoral conduct?

Suppose you know of a brother who has taken it upon himself to direct hatred or abuse towards another human being. In that case, it is your responsibility to offer him counsel and implore him to rethink his ways. At the very least, you should serve him a reminder that there is absolutely no place in the craft for hatred, as it goes totally against the principles upon which Freemasonry is built.

Because the fraternity is built by men of good moral standing who have good intentions, it would be disastrous to let the negative actions of a very small minority pollute the Masonic agenda and bring the fraternity into disrepute.

As brothers, we should be able to resolve any conflicts or moral injustices internally, by offering those affected counsel and helping them to see the error of their ways. Freemasonry does not expect everyone to agree with each other or even to be the best of friends, but it does require brothers to show respect to others and act in accordance with the Masonic principles.

If we’re facing troubling times, and conflict or negativity abounds, we can take inspiration of the bond formed between Generals Hancock and Armistead during the civil war. After all, if the Masonic bond can tie people together in the heat of battle, it gives us hope that other conflicts and challenges we face in our daily lives can be successfully overcome.

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