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“Every association of men, as well as this of Freemasons, must, for the sake of order and harmony, be regulated by certain laws, and for that purpose, proper officers must be appointed and empowered to carry those laws into execution, to preserve a degree of uniformity, at least to restrain any irregularity that might render such associations inconsistent.”
HUTCHINSON, SPIRIT OF MASONRY.
SYMBOLICAL DESIGN. The Past Master's degree presents us with a peculiar feature in the symbolism of the masonic system. While, as masons, we admit the general equality of men in their relation to their common Creator, and acknowledge with proper humility that we are all traveling on the level of time to " that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,” we do not deny the advantage and propriety of distinctions in society, based on a difference of talent, virtue and position; and we know that while some must rule and govern, others must of necessity be called upon to obey. It is to this view of the gradations of society that the fifth degree alludes in its ceremonies and instructions. While th: other degrees involve the duties and obligations of the vas ous stages of human life, this degree confines itself to the consideration of only one aspect of these many duties. It is symbolic of the good, the wise, and the just ruler—whether
it be of the sovereign over his people, the master over his household, or the father over his children. It inculcates, by appropriate, yet singular, and sometimes unfortunately perverted ceremonies, the necessity of judgment, discretion, wisdom, firmness and determination in him who undertakes to govern his fellow-men, and of obedience, submission, order and discipline in those who would live happily and quietly under constituted authority,
'Tors degree was originally, and still is, in connection with Symbolic Masonry—an honorary degree conferred on the Master of a lodge. When a brother, who has never before presided, has been elected the Master of a lodge, an Emergent Lodge of Past Masters, consisting of not less than three, is convened, and, all but Past Masters having retired, the degree is conferred upon the newly-elected officer; and this conferring of the degree constitutes a part of the installation ceremony.
How long this custom has prevailed, we are unable to determine; but it is probable that ever since the organization of the institution, some peculiar mark of distinction has been always bestowed upon those who were selected to rule over the craft. The earliest written reference on this subject is found in the first edition of Anderson's Book of Constitutions. A description is there given of the “manner of constituting a new lodge.” The Grand Master, after proclaiming the Master, is said to use “some other expressions that are proper and usual on that occasion, but not proper to be written.” From rituals of a not much later period that are in existence, it is evident that the author here refers to the very brief mode of conferring the Past Master's degree which was then in use, and which consisted of no more than a communication of the methods of recognition.