Within Freemasonry, there are many symbols and phrases that carry significance to Masonic teachings and practice. Yet few are important enough to be emblazoned across flags, seals, and other regalia associated with Freemasonry.
The motto ‘Ordo ab Chao‘ is one such phrase that is extremely important within Freemasonry and is known by Masons as the motto of the 33rd degree. The motto can be found on the splendid decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, which is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a Mason.
You are also likely to see ‘Ordo ab Chao’ present on many other significant pieces of Masonic regalia, owing to the fact that it is of the utmost importance to Freemasonry the world over.
What is meant by ‘Ordo ab Chao’?
‘Ordo ab Chao‘ is a Latin phrase that is translated to mean ‘Order from chaos’ in English. It is widely associated with another well-known Latin phrase, ‘Lux in Tenebris’, which translates to ‘Light from Darkness,’ another hugely important theme within Freemasonry.
Anybody that knows anything about the rituals and ceremonies conducted within Freemasonry will understand that the dichotomy of light and darkness is hugely significant and is an important reason why brothers join the fraternity. Let’s examine the historical meaning behind the motto ‘Ordo ab Chao’ and understand its position within Freemasonry today.
‘Ordo ab Chao’ as a historical artifact
To better understand the origin of the phrase ‘Ordo ab Chao,’ we need to explore the Masonic history in the United States in particular. There was a conflict between the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite in the early nineteenth century.
According to some, when the Northern jurisdiction was found to be fraudulent and chaotic, a resolution was agreed upon, and the original Rite was restored. This is where the motto is said to originate from.
While there is, perhaps, an element of truth in such a specific origin of this widely used motto, it is unlikely that it is the only origin story worth our consideration. Because it features so prominently in Freemasonry today, there is likely a deeper-rooted significance to the phrase, as we will explore below.
The broader meaning of ‘Ordo ab Chao’
Should we choose to accept there is possibly a more profound origin story of the Masonic motto, ‘Ordo ab Chao’, we can look to the historical significance of the Latin phrase ‘Lux in Tenebris’, that has already been introduced.
Masons identify the phrase in the Latin translation of the Gospel of John, writing that has a profound meaning for Freemasons, who believe John to be one of the patron saints of Freemasonry today. Such association is likely, as much of the important symbols of Freemasonry today are rooted in the Holy Scriptures.
While not as old, we can trace ‘Ordo ab Chao’ to the medieval practice of the stonemasons and understand the broader symbolic meaning of bringing order from chaos, and why this is relevant to Freemasonry.
One of the most important jobs of the stonemasons was to take rough stone of the natural world, smooth and hew it, and create something structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing, to ensure it would be fit for use in construction.
Such practice is now used as a metaphor for the practice of Masons today. While they are not literally smoothening the surface of stones anymore, Masons are smoothening their characters’ rough exterior on a daily basis.
When becoming a Mason, a man sees the light for the first time and can rectify his malpractice in life before joining the fraternity. Masons aspire to do this through meaningful contributions to their communities and seek to improve their characters and address social inequality along the way.
For Masons, this is part of the larger picture of drawing order from the chaos of their own lives and their recent past to build a better and more compassionate life within Freemasonry. From this understanding, we can see what is meant by the Masonic motto ‘Ordo ab Chao.’
To go even deeper into an exploration of the origins of this motto, many Freemasons often question the relationships that underpin the creation of the human experience. Within Freemasonry, much is discussed about the gradients of order and chaos.
If one is to look at the evolution of humankind, he can see that order and chaos are not separate entities but are, in fact, a continuum and a dynamic process of change and progression through life.
For Masons, as chaos ensues, old orders are broken down to allow new ones to emerge and replace them. Like Ying and Yang, and death and rebirth, order and chaos follow on from one another in an ever-renewing cycle of creation and evolution.
Conclusion: the symbolic significance of the motto ‘Ordo ab Chao’
Within Freemasonry, few themes are more essential to understanding the fraternity than light and darkness. Joining Freemasonry is seen as the process of being welcomed into the light and an act from which one can deliver themselves from darkness and become spiritually and morally awakened.
Within the same framework, one can see their joining of Freemasonry as their delivery from chaos and an opportunity to build a better life based on the critical Masonic values and life lessons.
As has been explored, order and chaos are not static entities but are complexly intertwined and evolve over time. For a Mason, the intersectionality of order and chaos is imperative to understand if one is to grow and become a better person.
From such consideration, it is clear to see why the Masonic motto ‘Ordo ab Chao’ has such significance and is widely emblazoned across Masonic regalia, flags, and symbols the world over.