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To Masons, The Great Architect of the Universe (GAOTU) is the ultimate deity or the supreme being to which we owe our existence on earth. Often conceptualized in Masonic literature as the Grand Architect of the Universe, or even the Supreme Architect, it’s a phrase with an interesting etymology.
While it is a uniformly understood phrase within the fraternity, its use in everyday discourse is less prevalent, as many refer to the Creator simply as God, as we all know as the supreme being that exists in the majority of the religious scriptures.
Why, then, does Freemasonry encourage brothers to refer to the GAOTU instead of God? And what is the story behind the origins of the phrase? Let’s take a look now and examine how it has risen to prominence within Freemasonry over the course of the past centuries.
As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Freemasons Community, but is merely the views of one Mason.
The Creator as the Grand Architect of the Universe
God as the Creator of the universe and all things within is a vital teaching of the Abrahamic religions, as well as several other religions prevalent in the world today and throughout history.
Many non-Christian groups also acknowledge a deity as the Creator – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Deists, Native American tribes, and many ancient religions for that matter. Belief in a deity as the Creator of the universe is a long-standing trait of many religions and is certainly not unique to Christianity.
That being said, for many of us in the western world, Christianity is the most common point of religious reference. In the book of Genesis within the Bible, we learn about creationism. For instance:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over waters.” Genesis 1: 1-2
At the very start of the Bible, we are told that God created the heavens and earth, which is the very foundation of the story of existence.
There’s little doubt that the Masonic teachings have borrowed from the Christian God’s position as Creator of the universe, and it is a story that all Masons are familiar with and can resonate with.
Does this mean that the GAOTU is the same as the Christian God in the Bible?
This is a vitally important point to understand. While many of the foundational concepts of Freemasonry are influenced by the Christian teachings, Freemasonry is not a continuation or offshoot of Christianity.
There is a very clear distinction between the Christian God and the GAOTU as referred to throughout Freemasonry, and faith in one does not equate to a belief in the other.
To be accepted as an Entered Apprentice in the first degree of Freemasonry, one must profess belief in a supreme being, but no mention is made of faith in God. Even though many brothers believe in the Christian God, it is not a pre-requisite to joining the fraternity, as brothers are welcomed from various religions and faiths.
In a Masonic Publication entitled The Builder, Joseph Newton perfectly articulated the Masonic stance on the concept of God, when he wrote:
“Freemasonry offers no doctrine as to the nature and attributes of God. It has no theory to propound, no philosophy to promulgate, as to His relations to men and to the universe. The Craft assumes that God is a reality, a sacred and unquestioned reality, in the mind of every man … and it leaves to that man the prerogative of fashioning his own theological and philosophical theories … Masonry does not demand that we define, or accept any definitions of Him, but it does demand that He be real.”
For Masons, believing that a supreme being created the universe is more important than believing the unique stories shared by particular religions about His creationism. This is a large part of the reason why the phrase GAOTU is ideal for Freemasonry, as it is somewhat ambiguous and doesn’t lend itself to one religion over another.
The GAOTU within Freemasonry
Much could also be said about the choice of the word architect. While it undoubtedly refers to creationism, it is also appropriate to the Masonic origins of the Craft.
For a fraternity that was largely founded upon the principles of architecture, through the association of stonemasons of the Middle Ages, it is undeniably a suitable term to refer to master Creator.
Some would also link the term’s usage to the role of Hiram Abiff as the chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, which features heavily throughout Masonic allegory in various degrees of the Craft.
However we look at it, the GAOTU is an appropriate term when speaking of the supreme being within Freemasonry, as it allows neutrality and objectiveness when referring to many of the important teachings of the Craft.
Perhaps the fundamental takeaway from this article is that the Great Architect of the Universe within Freemasonry is not the same as the Christian God, or the Creator as He is portrayed in any of the other Abrahamic religions.
Although there is overlap between some of the Masonic teachings and the religious scriptures, belief in the Christian God is not a pre-requisite of Freemasonry. Instead, recognition of the fact that the universe was created by a supreme being, known to Masons as the GAOTU is sufficient, and is the very foundation upon which the central teachings of the Craft are built.