In the year 1738. Clement XII, at that time Pope of Rome, issued a Bull of Excommunication against the Freemasons, and assigned, as the reason of his condemnation, that the Institution confederated persons of all religions and sects in a mysterious bond of union, and compelled them to secrecy by an oath taken on the Bible, accompanied by certain ceremonies, and the imprecation of heavy punishments. This persecution of the Freemasons, on account of their having an obligatory promise of secrecy among their ceremonies, has not been confined to the Papal See. We shall find it existing in a sect which five should supposes of all others, the least likely to follow in the footsteps of a Roman Pontiff. In 1757, the Associate Synod of Seceders of Scotland adopted an Act, concerning what they called the Mason Oath, in which it is declared that all persons who shall refuse to make such revelations as the Kirk Sessions may require, and to promise to abstain from all future connection with the Order, “shall be reputed under scandal and incapable of admission to sealing ordinances,” or as Pope Clement expressed it, be ipso facto (because of that fact) excommunicated.
In the Preamble to the Sect, the Synod assign the reasons for their objections to this oath, and for their ecclesiastical censure of all who contract it These reasons are:
That there were very strong presumptions that among Masons an oath of Secrecy is administered to entrants into their society, even under a capital penalty and before any of those things which they swear to; keep secret be revealed to them: find that they pretend to take some of these secrets from the Bible: besides other things which are ground of scruple in the manner of swearing the said oath.
These have, from that day to this, constituted the sum and substance of the objections to the obligation of Masonic secrecy, and. for the purpose of brief examination, they may be classed under the following heads:
1. It is an oath .
2. It is administered before the secrets are communicated.
3. It is accompanied by certain superstitious ceremonies.
4. It is attended by a penalty.
5. It is considered, by Freemasons, as paramount to the obligations of the laws of the land.
In replying to these statements, it is evident that the conscientious Freemason labors under great disadvantage. He is at every step restrained by his honor from either the denial or admission of his adversaries in relation to the mysteries of the Craft. But it may be granted, for the sake of argument, that every one of the first four charges is true, and then the inquiry will be in what respect they are offensive or immoral. Let us consider the foregoing items in the same numbered order as follows:
1. The oath or promise cannot, in itself, be sinful, unless there is something immoral in the obligation it imposes. Simply to promise secrecy, or the performance of any good action, and to strengthen this promise by the solemnity of an oath, is not, in itself, forbidden by any Divine or human law. Indeed, the infirmity of human nature demands, in many instances, the sacred sanction of such an attestation; and it is continually exacted in the transactions of man with man, without any notion of sinfulness. Where the time, and place, and circumstances are unconnected with levity, or profanity, or crime, the administration of an obligation binding to secrecy, or obedience, or veracity, or any other virtue, and the invocation of Deity to witness, and to strengthen that obligation, or to punish its violation, is incapable, by any perversion of Scripture, of being considered a criminal act.
2. The objection that the oath is administered before the secrets are made known, is sufficiently absurd to provoke a smile. The purposes of such an oath would be completely frustrated by revealing the thing to be concealed before the promise of concealment says made. In that case, it, would be optional with the candidate to give the obligation, or to withhold it, as best suited his inclinations. If it be conceded that the exaction of a solemn promise of secrecy is not, in itself, improper, then certainly the time of exacting it is before and not after the revelation.
Doctor Harris (Masonic Discourses, No. 9, page 184), has met this objection in the following language: What the ignorant call the oath, is simply an obligation, covenant, and promise exacted previously to the divulging of the specialties of the Order, and our means of recognizing each other; that they shall be kept from the knowledge of the world lest their original intent should be thwarted, and their benevolent purport prevented. Now, pray, what harm is there in this? Do you not all, when you have anything of a private nature which you are willing to confide in a particular friend before you tell him what it xs, demand a solemn promise of secrecy? And is there not the utmost propriety in knowing whether your friend is determined to conceal your secret, before you presume to reveal it? Your answer confutes your cavil.
3. The objection that the oath is accompanied by certain superstitious ceremonies does not seem to be entitled to much weight. Oaths, in all countries and at all times, have been accompanied by peculiar rites, intended to increase the solemnity and reverence of the act. The ancient Hebrews, when they tools an oath, placed the hand beneath the thigh of the person to whom they swore. Sometimes the ancients took hold of the horns of the altar, and touched the sacrificial fire, as in the league between Latinus and Aeneas where the ceremony is thus described by Virgil:
Tango was; mediosque ignes, et numina, testor.
Sometimes they extended the right hand to heaven, and swore by earth, sea, and stars. Sometimes, as among the Romans in private contracts, the person swearing laid his hand upon the hand of the party to whom he swore. In all solemn covenants the oath was accompanied by a sacrifice; and some of the hair being cut from the victim’s head, a part of it was given to all present that each one might take a share in the oath, and be subject to the imputation. Other ceremonies were practiced at various times and in different countries, for the purpose of throwing around the act of attestation an increased amount of awe and respect. The oath is equally obligatory without them; but they have their significance, and there can be no reason why the Freemasons should not be allowed to adopt the mode most pleasing to themselves of exacting their promises or confirming their covenants.
4. It is objected that the oath is attended with a penalty of a serious or capital nature. If this be the case, it does not appear that the expression of a penalty of any nature whatever can affect the purport or augment the solemnity of an oath, which is, in fact, an attestation of God to the truth of a declaration, as a witness and avenger; and hence every oath includes in itself, and as its very essence, the covenant of God’s wrath, the heaviest of all penalties, as the necessary consequence of its violation. A writer, in reply to the Synod of Scotland (Scot’s Magazine, October, 1757), quotes the opinion of an eminent jurist to this effect:
It seems to be certain that every promissory oath, in whatever form it may be conceived, whether explicitly or implicitly, virtually contains both an attestation and an observation; for in an oath the execration supposes an attestation as a precedent and the attestation infers an execration as a necessary consequence. Hence, then to the believer in a superintending Providence, every oath is an affirmation, negation, or promise, corroborated by the attestation of the Divine Being.
This attestation includes an observation of Divine punishment in case of a violation, and it is, therefore a matter of no moment whether this observation or penalty be expressed in words or only implied; its presence or absence does not, in any degree, alter the nature of the obligation. If, in any promise or vow made by Freemasons, such a penalty is inserted, it may probably be supposed that it is used only with a metaphorical and paraphrastical significations and for the purpose of symbolic or historical allusion. Any other interpretation but this would be entirely at variance with the opinions of the most intelligent Freemasons, who, it is to be presumed, best know the intent and meaning of their own ceremonies.
5. The last, and, indeed, the most important objection urged is, that these oaths are construed by Freemasons as being of higher obligation than the law of the land. It is in vain that this charge has been repeatedly and indignantly denied; it is in vain that Freemasons point to the integrity of character of thousands of eminent men who have been members of the Fraternity; it is in vain that they recapitulate the order-loving and law-fearing regulations of the Institution; the charge is renewed with untiring pertinacity, and believed with a credulity that owes its birth to rancorous prejudice alone. To repeat the denial is but to provoke a repetition of the charge. The answer is, however, made by one who, once a Freemason, was afterward an opponent and an avowed enemy of the Institution, W. L. Stone (Letters on Masonry and Anti-Masonry, Letter vii, page 69), who uses the following language:
Is it, then, to be believed that men of acknowledged talents and worth in public stations, and of virtuous and, frequently, religious habits, in the walks of private life, with the Holy Bible in their hands—which they are solemnly pledged to receive as the rule and guide of their faith and practice—and under the grave and positive charge from the officer administering the obligation, that it is to be taken in strict subordination to the civil laws- can understand that obligation, whatever may be the peculiarities of its phraseology, as requiring them to countenance vice and criminality even by silence?
Can it for a moment be supposed that the hundreds of eminent men, whose patriotism is unquestioned, and the exercise of whose talents and virtues has shed a luster upon the church history of our country, and who, by their walk and conversation, have, in their own lives, illustrated the beauty of holiness? Is it to be credited that the tens of thousands of those persons, ranking among the most intelligent and virtuous citizens of the most moral and enlightened people on earth—is it, I ask, possible that any portion of this community can, on calm redirection, believe that such men have oaths upon their consciences binding them to eternal silence in regard to the guilt of any man because he happens to be a Freemason, no matter what be the grade of offense, whether it be the picking of a pocket or the shedding of blood? It does really seem to me impossible that such an opinion could, at any moment, have prevailed, to any considerable extent, amongst refitting and intelligent citizens.
Oaths of interest to the Craft are obviously of various kinds and are not limited to the peculiarly Masonic obligations assumed when receiving the Degrees. A few references may be quoted from the Bible. Numbers, 19-21, is an instance where the warning punishment is ceremonially accompanied by the blotting out of the record with other Significant and symbolic acts. adjuration, a solemnly earnest appeal, is in evidence by Deuteronomy xxvii, 15-9, where the curses that warn precede the alternative blessings thus:
Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman and putteth it in a secret place.
And all the people shall answer and say Amen.
Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother.
And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbollrs landmark.
And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way.
And all the people shall say Amen.
Cursed be he that perverted the judgment of the stranzer, fatherless, and widow.
And all the people shall say, Amen
Then follows in chapter xxviii the promised reward for those who keep the faith: “And it shall come to pass if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth.”
Joshua vi, 26, has a curious allusion, “And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.” First Samuel xiv, 94, is a similar instance.
Attestation by an oath, to bear witness by solemn assertion of one’s willingness to suffer if untrue, we have the case of Exodus xxii, 10, 11. “If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbor’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.” another instance is that of Nehemiah x, 29, “They clave to their Brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.”
A modern continuance of the ancient ceremonial method of pledging future personal conduct is in the coronation of a king. In England the coronation oath is to be administered by one of the archbishops or bishops in the presence of all the people, who, on their parts, reciprocally take the oath of allegiance to the crown.
The archbishop or bishop shall say: “Will you solemnly promise and Swear to govern the people of this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dominions thereto belonging according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the respective laws and customs of the same?”
The king shall say: “I solemnly promise so to do.”
Archbishop or bishop: “Will you to the utmost of your power cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?”
King: “I will.”
Archbishop or bishop: “Will you, to the utmost of your power, maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel, and the Protestant reformed religion established by law?
And will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the bishops and clergy of England, and to the churches therein all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain to them, or any of them?”
King: “All this I promise to do.”
After this the king, laying his hand upon the holy Gospels, shall say: “The things which I have here before promised I will perform and keep; so help me God,” and then shall kiss the Book;.
An unusual form of oath is that still taken by deemsters of the Isle of Man. The word deemster is a corruption of doomster, originally meaning the person who pronounces doom or Sentence in their court of justice—in other words, a judge. This has been required of all Manx deemsters for a thousand years:
By this Book, and the Holy Contents thereof, and by the Wonderful works that God hath miraculously wrought in the Heaven above and in the Earth beneath in six days and seven nights, I, the person being sworn do swear that I will without respect, favor or friendship, love or gain, consanguinity or affinity, envy or malice, execute the laws of this Isle, and betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring’s backbone doth lie in the midst of the fish! So help me God and the Contents of this Book.
Sundry old pledges found in trade and professional associations have also an interest for us as members of a Craft. There is the one even yet administered to those following in the footsteps of the father of surgery, Hippocrates. He flourished during 460-361 B.C. and much technical data upon his surprising skill and great fame are found in the works by Adams and Mumford. So prominent an expert was Hippocrates that he was given the sacred Eleusinian rites as if possessed of royal attributes. He has left on record a solemn pledge of his profession (see Mumford’s Surgical Memoirs): I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this oath and this stipulation: To reckon him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and to relieve his necessities if required, to look upon his offspring on the same footing as my own Brethren, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation, and that by precept, lecture and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the rules of Medicine, and to no others. While I continue to keep this oath inviolate, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this oath, let the reverse be my lot!
An oath of the Masters and Wardens of the Mysteries, Mystery being then a word used for a trade organization, is found in the Liber Albus, the White Book (page 451, 1861 edition) compiled 1419 A.D. This book contains the various laws of London and in referring to the several trades mentions the following pledge, evidently taken when the officers were installed.
You shall swear, that well and lawfully you shall overlook the art or mystery of (name the trade and or society here) of which you are Masters, or Wardens, for the year elected. And the good rules and ordinances of the same mystery, approved here by the Court, you shall keep and shall cause to be kept. And all the defaults that you shall find therein, done contrary thereto, you shall present unto the Chamberlain of the City, from time to time, sparing no one for favor, and aggrieving no one for hate. Extortion or wrong unto no one, by color of your office, you shall do- nor unto anything that shall be against the estate and peace of the King, or of the City, you shall consent. But for the time that you shall live in office, in all things pertaining unto the said mystery, according to the good hews and franchises of the city, well and lawfully you shall behave yourself.—So God you help, and the Saints.
The Book ok Oaths, printed in 1649 at London, aims to give “The several forms thereof, both Ancient and Modern, Faithfully Collected out of sundry Authentic Books and Records not heretofore extant, compiled in one Volume” and on page 125 has the oath of the Knights of the Round Table “in the time of King Arthur,” an indefinite period usually assigned within the fifth and sixth centuries. However, the quaint pledge has afforded an example for later chivalric Bodies and thus is of importance to Knights Templar.
Not to put off your armor from your body but for requisite rest in the night. To search for marvelous adventures, whereby to win renown. To defend the poor and simple people in their right. Not to refuse aid into them that shall ask it in any just quarrel. Not to hurt, offend or plan any lewd (sinful) part, the one with the other. To fight for the protection, defense and welfare of friends. Not to purchase any goods for particular profit but Honor and the title of honesty. Not to break faith promised or sworn, for any cause or occasion whatsoever. To put forth and spend life for the honor of God and Country, and to chose rather to die honestly than to live shamefully.
All these illustrations of various oaths may well be seriously noted in the spirit of the message brought by Moses (Numbers xxx, 2), “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
the source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry