Operative Vs Speculative Freemasonry

Wor Bro. Clive Herron

Marine Lodge 627 I.C.

When we were presented with the working tools of the respective degrees we were instructed  that these are the tools of an Operative Mason and by their proper use a structure of strength and beauty can be constructed.

We were then instructed regarding the meaning of the tools and their application in Speculative Masonry. So whereas in operative masonry the tools were used in a practical manner in the construction of a physical building. In speculative Masonry (by comparison) we are required to use the tools to erect a spiritual building (ourselves) teaching us how we may "learn to subdue our passions, act upon the square.

So when we take a closer look  at the Operative versus the Speculative Mason we see one case a group of men makes use of a set of principles to erect a building, whilst the other another group uses the same principles to build character.

The skill of Architecture is to construct according to a design and purpose, to organize in proportion and symmetry. It continues to be architecture whether it is a building or a human life that is being thus constructed.

Operative Masonry is about physical architecture; Speculative Freemasonry is human architecture.

During the first centuries of its existence  a Mason had to apply both of these systems of  architecture. Every member was an Operative Mason, practiced the art as a trade and means of livelihood. At the same time, every member was in a real sense a Speculative Mason because he was equally concerned with the building of his own life or the construction of his own character. Only apprentices of  good reputation, and recommended by Masons already members of the Craft were admitted The apprentice had to be of good habits, obedient, and willing to learn.  The operative Apprentice was a young boy, usually from 10 to 15 years of age. It can be seen that he had to acquire certain skills, specific knowledge, and practical experience over a number of years before he could qualify for the title of a Master Mason.

Coming back to modern times, the Speculative Apprentice, must likewise demonstrate in his own life the qualities and experiences which alone can make him a symbol of Freemasonry.

We must not  assume that because we today are Speculative Masons we have no use for Operative Masonry; on the contrary it remains necessary and very important to us.

Let us suppose that a Brother joins our membership eager to become a True Mason in the real sense of that word. What do we tell him what he is to do? We tell him that he is to build an upright character, to be a good man and true, and to learn how to live a brotherly life. Imagine that he agrees to this and replies that it is what he is most eager to do, but that he doesn't know how to set about it. His difficulty is not with the "what" but with the "how." What is your reply to this? It is of course, that he is to observe how a building is constructed, not in detail but in principle, and to employ the same principles. There is nothing fanciful or far-fetched about this, for construction is always construction, building is always building, it matters not what is being constructed or out of what it is being built; the laws and principles apply everywhere and always. The art of architecture is the pattern he is to go by.

When he turns to study that pattern he will find it not at all difficult to understand or to follow. So let us examine this for ourselves:

Before an architect begins his actual work he must have a clear understanding of what it is he is to build, whether a dwelling, a store, a factory, a church, a school, a hospital, a bridge, a wall, a monument or whatever; every step he is to take will be dictated by that purpose. If he is building a bridge for example we can say he has before him a goal he is to work toward, we call it his "ideal"

 then we may say that our ideal is the Masonic life.

So is it with Speculative architecture. Our purpose is to create an "ideal" this  we call a Masonic life, that is, a life of sound moral character, to be lived as a sound structure steady and upright, and to be devoted to Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

The operative architect's next step is to lay out a set of plans. Long ago the builder discovered that he could not work by hit or miss, by rule of thumb, because a building is too complex to be worked out as one goes along, and also such a method is extremely wasteful because it lacks foresight. We Speculative architects must also use a plan; we divide our time, we decide on the tasks we are to do, we know that  it is  dangerous to trust to luck. As orderly, disciplined, Speculative mason, we must lay out our lives in orderliness and then we stick to our plan through thick and thin, not stopping every time we grow discouraged, or quitting every time we grow weary. If a man succeeds in building a sound character and a successful life it is not because he had good luck, but because he planned it.

The Operative architect's third step is to select his materials. How important this is, there is no need to explain: unless the materials are what they should be the building may collapse, regardless of how well it was been planned or constructed. The Speculative architect finds his materials in his own nature; they are his facilities, his habits, his physical senses and organs, his feelings and emotions, his ideas, his knowledge and his experiences; from these he must select those that fit into his plan and discard all others. The fourth step taken by the Operative architect is to select and use the appropriate tools, which may be hand-tools, machines, or other devices. These are the practical means by which his materials may be given the desired structure, and each one is designed especially for the kind of materials it is to he used on, a hammer for nails, a saw for wood, a trowel for mortar, an engine for hoisting, a bit for drilling, etc.

The Speculative architect also needs tools, as we are reminded in each of the Degrees when the Working Tools are presented to the candidate, and those tools, or methods, also must be adjusted to the materials they are to be used on; they are not often material tools, like a saw or hammer, but in principle they are the same kind of thing. What are the tools to be used by the Speculative architect? Certain kinds of habits, such as the habit of controlling one's temper; certain kinds of practices, such as work in a Lodge, by which one learns brotherliness in a practical way; certain principles, such as justice, truthfulness, tolerance, charity; certain customs, such as prayer, visiting the sick, the practice of charity; certain kinds of work, such as study, assisting in the exemplification of the Ritual, serving on committees, etc. Suppose that a Mason is a victim of the habit of loss of temper; this makes for disharmony, loss of friendship, sacrifice of esteem, and therefore tends to defeat his effort to live the brotherly life; such a habit is like a knob or irregularity on a stone which prevents its use in a wall; to remove that excrescence the Mason must form a new habit, and that habit is a Working Tool.

The last step in Operative architecture is dedication, which may be informal or may symbolised by ceremony. Up to this point the building has been under the control of the builder, beyond this point it is in control of those who will use it. The work of erecting the building is now completed; the work of employing the building for its intended purpose is now begun. This is what dedication means: setting a structure apart for its intended purpose. Our Speculative Fraternity makes much of this fact of dedication; the Fraternity as a whole is dedicated to the glory of God. The candidate, standing in the northeast corner, is dedicated to the Masonic life; its Lodge rooms, Centers, Halls and Temples are dedicated by solemn ceremonies to their use as a place of Masonic assemblies. When applied to the Speculative architect dedication takes the form of this question: Granted that a man has succeeded in building the kind of life he set out to build, what will this life now be used for? Freemasonry teaches that a man's life is not his own private and selfish possession, to be employed merely for himself, but that it belongs also to the Brotherhood and to all mankind, and if it is a right life it will be used and enjoyed by many others as well as by the man himself. A garage is used by the man himself, and by him only; Solomon's Temple was used by all the people of a nation for the greatest purposes of their existence. Both are buildings, the garage and the Temple, but in value, how wide apart they are! The Mason's dedication is to be like the dedication of the Temple. His life has value exactly in proportion to its number of uses, to the importance of its uses, and to the number of others who find in it pleasure, joy and satisfaction.

From all this you will see that the relationship between Operative Masonry and Speculative Masonry is very close. As a Speculative Mason succeeds in Speculative architecture it will be because he is also Operative. He has made a plan for his life, selected the materials with care, employed the tools with skill, and at the end dedicated himself to the greatest values and widest usefulness.