Newtonianism & FreemasonrySo you have just been passed to the degree Fellow Craft and now can't wait to be raised to the degree of Master Mason. Instead of looking forward I suggest to stop, take a breath, and enjoy your introduction to Newtonianism, and the tradition that may have influenced its creation, Kabbalah, peppered with a bit of alchemy (of course this is just the authors personal opinion, and not necessarily that of Freemasonry).
For those brothers unfamiliar with the definition of Newtonianism, and the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, allow me to share a little light.
Newtonianism is a synthesis of natural philosophy and natural theology as put forth by Sir Isaac Newton with a little help from the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal and mysterious Ein Sof, the infinite, and the mortal and finite universe, his creation.
Right about now you might be questioning what this has to do with the Freemasonry, after all not once in the first two degrees of Freemasonry did you hear the name Newton or the word Kabbalah? The answer may be everything.
Newton's copy of the Zohar
Time to do a little traveling brother, back to a time known as the Revival of Freemasonry, the time where we find Freemasonry shifting from operative to a speculative tradition. This was a time before television, computers, and cell phones, a time when events of the day were discussed over a beer in a tavern with a circle of peers, and as history informs us many of these early ale drinking brothers were academics that had one thing in common their pursuit of knowledge.
Allow me to apologize now, we are about to discuss a subject most avoid in high school and only take when forced too in college, a subject that was very much on the mind of our early brothers, philosophy.
We do know for fact Freemasonry outed itself in the very early seventeen hundreds, a time when the most discussed philosophy of the time was called Cartesian, the name given to the philosophical doctrine of a Frenchman named René Descartes, mathematician, scientist and philosopher.
The defining idea of Cartesian philosophy is what has come to be called "mind-body dualism." Descartes insisted there was a clear distinction between mind and matter. Mind, or soul, and matter, or body, are according to Descartes, two essentially and radically different kinds of substance. Mind is unexpended, indivisible, simple thinking. Its modes or properties are particular ideas or thoughts including beliefs, volitions, sensations, and emotions. While matter, on the other hand, is nothing but extension or dimensional space and is therefore divisible, its modes being shape, size, and mobility. In this philosophy there is nothing materialistic about the mind and nothing mental or spiritual about the body.
I'm pretty sure Descartes would of been lost if he had bumped into today's quantum physicists where we learn "If thoughts equal energy and energy equals matter, than thoughts become matter."
Descartes also expounded the view that an animal was an automaton lacking both sensation and self-awareness, and that only man was endowed with a soul. I'm not sure PETA would have cared for Descartes.
Descartes believed that God created the universe as a perfect clockwork mechanism of vortical motion that functioned deterministically thereafter without intervention. During the sixteen hundreds this could easily be seen as dangerous thinking, the idea that God creates the universe and steps aside, no intervention, no miracles, no sin.
Even though Descartes avoided theological debate and aligned himself with Catholicism, knowing he would probably be suspected of atheism he covered his butt by living in Protestant Holland rather than in Catholic France.
As of late many have attempted to associate Descartes with Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry even though there is no factual proof. Even if the remotest possibility did exist, which I believe doesn’t, he died over fifty years before the first two degrees of Freemasonry were even created, a time when Isaac Newton arrives on the scene challenging much of his Cartesian philosophy.
Descartes’ separation of mind and matter was a crucial step in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and laid the metaphysical foundations for the mechanical philosophy that dominated the period, that is until the arrival of Sir Isaac Newton, his inner circle, and possibly the Freemasons to follow.
Newton disagreed with Descartes as he believed that Descartes described the world as comprised totally of matter and thereby eliminated God from the equation. Newton, devoutly religious, believed that God did intervene from time to time to keep the great clock running, otherwise it would run down. He wrote several manuscripts on religious doctrine in which he seemed to indicate that science and religion were not necessarily inconsistent with one another. Tell that to today's scientists!
Newton sees God through a much bigger lens;
"He is not eternity and infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever, and is everywhere present; and, by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. Since every particle of space is always, and every indivisible moment of duration is everywhere, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and nowhere."...Isaac Newton, Principia
Now enter Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the more often than not foe of Newton, who presented the view of the that universe is entirely nonphysical, immaterial simple substances with the properties only of mind, one of points within points, each point being of the same substance but of a different quality. Within the human, the dominant monad was the soul.
Leibniz conceived God to be the supreme monad, controlling all monads within, these being hierarchical in terms of intelligence or reason. His alliance was much closer to Cartesian than Newtonianism, yet we also find him, like Newton, familiar with the Kabbalah.
"Sir Isaac Newton and his followers have also a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to their doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.”...Leibniz in a letter to his friend Caroline of Ansbach
I wonder where Leibniz would of took his philosophy if he had known of the cyclic theory briefly considered by Albert Einstein that theorized a universe following an eternal series of oscillations, each beginning with a big bang and ending with a big crunch; in the interim, the universe would expand for a period of time before the gravitational attraction of matter causes it to collapse back in and undergo a bounce. Maybe Isaac had it right, God intervened periodically.
I particularly like the theory of Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, a general relativity based theory due to Roger Penrose in which the universe expands until all the matter decays and is turned to light, so there is nothing in the universe that has any time or distance scale associated with it. This permits it to become identical with the Big Bang, so starting the next cycle. If only Isaac was alive today what fun he would have with today's expansion of knowledge.
What I have presented to this point is rarely spoken off in Freemasonry today, yet during the inception of modern Freemasonry you can be sure the names Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, and their philosophies were discussed openly amongst academic circles and in the taverns frequented by our early brothers.
Now if we consider the three prevailing philosophies of Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz as openly discussed ideas during the inception of Freemasonry, what could the hidden philosophy in Freemasonry have in store for us, is it derived from any of these schools of thought, and why hide it?
For answers to this we need to look to Rev. Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, philosopher, priest in the Church of England, and experimental assistant of Sir Isaac Newton, and considered to be the "Father of Speculative of Freemasonry".
Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers
In 1719 Desaguliers was elected Grand Master, it was during this time we find the first two rituals of Freemasonry arriving on the scene, incorporating what I believe Newtonianism and Kabbalah, and a unique experimental philosophy inspired from his mentor Newton. (The third degree, the Master Mason, would not arrive on the scene until 1730.)
Desaguliers was known to promote Newtonianism when ever possible, and what better way to promote it than incorporating it into a recently formed member’s only society. Here in this newly formed organization we find Desaguliers creating an allegorical play of sorts with a hidden philosophy where the perspective members embark on a journey through a mysterious world of symbolism, created to "enlighten" brothers on universal truths that have been hidden for centuries, including a particular one that his mentor Newton immersed himself into, Kabbalah.
Think of the rituals created by Desaguliers as a unique experiment where the initiates are given cryptic clues requiring the individual himself to unlock their meaning and thus revealing a philosophy that has the ability to alter one's perception, or to use the vernacular of today's mind science, consciousness.
In 1882 a very observant brother wrote a title named Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy: Or, The Origin and Meaning of Ancient and Modern Mysteries Explained, his name was Robert Hewitt Brown. In this rather small title Brother Brown puts forth the idea that the Lodge Room of the Masonic Temple and its many officers are actually symbolic various aspects of the zodiac, the planets, and the sun. In this now underground classic he successfully connects today's modern day religions to those of the Sun centered ancients. As to how this author ties into Newtonianism with out even realizing it, Brother Desaguliers, Newton's right hand man is credited with the creation of the planetarium; Brother Brown unknowingly was witnessing the work of Desaguliers hidden in the world of symbols.
I found it interesting when reading the story of Brother Brown, when he became convinced that Freemasonry at its core was a type of "Stellar Theology" he chose to remain silent, only after a period of serious contemplation did he publish his insightful observations, thus assisting numerous brothers on their journey to light.
"Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth."…Galileo
It is a known fact that Newton kept his religious beliefs to himself, preferring silence over outspoken ignorance. It should be remembered that during the inception of early Freemasonry the separation of church and state was a future fancy, it was wiser to appear to go with the flow than to speak out in opposition. The mystical Kabbalah could be seen as an affront to a church and state that often lived and breathed the literal interpretation of a personified god, not something Newton would have approved of.
One of the reasons this paper is addressed to the Fellow Craft and not to the Master Mason is because for over a decade the Master Mason degree did not exist in early Freemasonry, which means all the cryptic clues of the hidden philosophy of Freemasonry would have been presented upon completion of the Fellow Craft degree.
Aside from all the grandeur of the Master Mason degree, upon close inspection you'll find it a different story which at the same time seasons the first two degrees. You can be sure that in order to create continuity some of the Fellow Craft symbolism would find its way into the Master Mason degree.
Returning to the first two degrees, the Entered Apprentice and the Fellow Craft, to whom this article is addressed, we find the candidate exposed to an incredible amount of symbolism, with each degree concluded with a lecture.
Within the lectures we find various symbols explained aloud in a fashion that would appeal to the moral aspect of Freemasonry, yet in what wasn't presented aloud is a deeper allusion, an interpretation you would have to seek out yourself, and here's a little hint to where to look, Newton and his Kabbalah.