A Look to the Centre
Charles A. Sankey
21 March 1968

Tonight, as is fitting after a third degree, I propose to take you to the centre on which the lodge was opened. At Niagara Lodge, I suggested that the square, as a symbol of confidence and of right human relations, be placed on the mosaic pavement. At Ivy Lodge, I suggested that the compasses, as a symbol of unity and of harmony had, with the square, a proper place beside the tracing board. But great as are these two great lights, they are not enough. We need that which lies beneath them, the underlying great light of Masonry. Albert Pike has written (and I selected part of this quotation for the notice of my official visits this year)

So we live our little life; but Heaven is above us and all around us and close to us; and Eternity is before us and behind us, and suns and stars are silent witnesses and watchers over us. We are enfolded by Infinity.
Life is no negative, or superficial or worldly existence. Our steps are evermore haunted by thoughts, far beyond their own range, which some have regarded as the reminiscences of a pre-existent state. So it is with us all, in the beaten and worn track of this worldly pilgrimage. There is more here than the world we live in. It is not all of life to live. An unseen and infinite presence is here; a sense of something greater than we possess; a seeking through all the void wastes of life for the good beyond it. "

Thus, having recognized individuality and having glimpsed something of unity, there is still lacking purpose. With a gradually developing experience of the "how?", with a slowly growing appreciation of the "what?", there remains unanswered that which reason requires, the "why?".

The requirement of the presence of a volume of the sacred law is an essential part of the wisdom of Masonry. "It is not all of life to live." Masonry also recognizes that this great light is universal. It thus avoids each of two errors; the first the assertion (often proclaimed by the over-zealous,- the "enthusiast" of the second degree charge on the working tools) that there is here and now for mankind one and only one acceptable revelation; and the second error (often accepted by the under-zealous) that all present revelations are equal. Let none of us question the authority of this balanced view. It is plainly set out in the first and greatest of the Ancient Charges "Concerning God and Religion".

The Constitutions of 1723 contain, in this charge, the words

--- though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation---

Such a limitation is long past. The charge in our Book of Constitution reads:

A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law, and if he rightly understand the art he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart. A Mason is, therefore, particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion, or mode of worship, be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the Architect of heaven and earth and practise the sacred duties of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess. Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

Thus at the balance point diversity and unity become universality.

When all three of our great lights are together in a craft lodge the proper place for them was found long ago. They are on, and belong on, our altar which is in the centre of the room. This is the symbolic centre on which the third degree is opened and provides a great witness to the spiritual content of Masonry. I emphasized at Coronation Lodge, and I repeat here, that the third degree has an origin quite different from that of our first two degrees. It is not a "craft" degree. It appeared in English Masonry in the 1720's after the formation of the Grand Lodge. The text of our drama may have been written by Dr. Desaguliers, the really brilliant mind and mentality behind the union of the four lodges in England and the third Grand Master (1719) The third degree has roots going back into antiquity as far and, possibly farther than the craft degrees proper. It is essential to our structure. In the first degree we move from darkness towards light, in the second degree from ignorance towards knowledge, and in the third degree through death towards immortality.

Without an extension of something of ourselves beyond one physical life span many of us would despair with Macbeth

Out, out brief candle'.
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Our universal hope is, I feel quite strongly, not of reward but of a fulfilling purpose. And let there be no avoiding this, judged from a human angle, here and now, individual man must himself have a part in that purpose. I know of no great contributor to human good will who has not become absolutely convinced of an individual part. Thus Toyohiko Kagawa

I cannot invent
New things
Like the airships
Which sail
On silver wings
But today
A wonderful thought
In the dawn was given
And the stripes on my robe,
Shining from wear
Were suddenly fair
Bright with a light
Falling from heaven
Gold and silver and bronze
Lights from the windows of heaven.
And the thought
Was this
That a secret plan
Is hid. in my hand
That my hand is big,
Because of this plan,
That God
Who dwells in my hand,
Knows this secret plan
Of the things he will do for the world
Using my hand'.

If the legend of the third degree is not rubbish,- "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" - then it has intense significance in such a purpose and in understanding such purpose.

And so tonight, as a Masonic-thing-to-live-by, I ask you to look to the centre where you and I see three great lights. Individually and collectively, and more than any mere words of mine can say, we need all three in their profound and universal symbolism, in their profound and universal significance.