Late last year I spoke about Saint John the Evangelist and it is time now to talk about St. John the Baptist. As you know we do not put forth one faith above another and it is often strange to new members to talk about the “Saints John” in the context of the Lodge as they are often associated with the Christian religion. It is important therefore to understand why we pay respect and revere these patron saints of our Fraternity.
The first time we hear about the Saints John is on our first entrance into the Lodge. The Sr. Steward explains to the Sr. Deacon that we want “to receive the Rights and Benefits” of this Lodge, “erected to God and dedicated to the Holy Saints John.”
During the catechism between the Senior Warden and the Master at the opening of the Entered Apprentice degree, we learn that the SW comes from, “A Lodge of the Saints John of Jerusalem.”
In the instructional lecture we are reminded that in “modern times” the Lodge is dedicated to the “Holy Saints John…who were perfect parallels in Christianity as well as Masonry.”
And that’s it. We hear no more about the Sts. John in our work. What gives?
The “Saints” we are referring to are John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.
So what does St. John the Baptist have to do with Freemasonry? Notably, he is marked as the Patron Saint of Stonemasons. Our ancient brethren formed the first Grand Lodge on 24 June 1717, which is the day of the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. One of the earliest recorded lodge of stonemasons working on Cologne Cathedral was known as The Fraternity of St. John the Baptist. Ancient Grand Lodges also install new Grand Masters during this feast. (In fact that is what is happening at our Annual Communication for the Grand Lodge of Michigan this week!)
The infancy narrative about John gives us a slight glimpse into his childhood and something to model our own lives after. Much like our lessons in Lodge, his father, Zechariah, exhorted him to follow the scriptures and wisdom of deity, to honor and obey his parents, and not to be rebellious. Muslims and Sufis also honor John the Baptist and In the Qur’an, he is described as a prophet, being pious and pure in heart and deed.
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher. He was the guy who wandered about preaching a message of forgiveness. He dressed in clothes made of camels hair and ate locust and honey in the wilderness. The gospel of Mark tells is that he baptised Jesus and was beheaded for denouncing the incestuous marriage of Herod to Herodias. In Matthew we are told that he was the one that Isaiah prophesied about. He was critical of both Pharisees and Sadducees. Sadducees being both priests and aristocrats did not believe in resurrection and oral Torah tradition. The Pharisees tended to be poor, democratic, believed in resurrection and believed they were set apart from others through literal interpretation of scripture. Both believed that “doing,” or “following the rules” would allow redemption.
John, apart from these Jewish sects taught four major focuses: First one of charity. In the Gospel of Luke he enjoins the crowd to “share with one who has none.” Second one of contentment and satisfaction by not taking more than they should and to be happy with what they are given in pay and not complain. Third, that we cannot claim salvation/redemption or a future simply by our lineage, or who we are by birth. Our character determines who we will be. Fourth, that there is a coming that will baptize followers with fire.
John the Baptist is revered by many different beliefs and religions:
- Eastern Orthodox Christians see him as the bridge between Old and New Testaments.
- Gnostics believed he was part of the Divinity and there is a tone that he was the Messiah and reincarnation of Elijah who needed to be reborn to know the True God.
- Catholics revere him not only on the Feast Day, but also on his beheading (Aug 29). Those that understand the alchemy around this will want to research it further.
- LDS churches believe that John received his ordination from an angel and appeared in upper New York State.
- Islam, where he is called Yahya, reveres him as a prophet and forerunner of Jesus as a prophet. Also that John was with Mohammed when he ascended to heaven.
I have told you all of this not to preach some message of salvation, but to help set the context of the many reasons why I believe the ancients picked St. John the Baptist as a patron saint for our fellowship.
The act of Baptism of Jesus and divine election. Scripture says, “there suddenly was a light,” on Jesus that emanated from Heaven. I believe there is a correlation between that light and the act of receiving light in the Lodge.. I am not suggesting that we are elected from God to bestow salvation on the world; but I cannot miss the connection that we are elect to gain wisdom and knowledge and continue the building of the temple. In effect I believe we are called to share our light with those that would seek it with us, which is not dissimilar to the message preached by John.
John is the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem. Theories suggest that the Templars had the head of John the Baptist. After glory and then being persecuted, it is believed that the early Knights Templar were absorbed into this group of Knights after the dissolution of the Templars in 1307. It is speculated that the templar went underground inside the Hospitallers to continue its traditions and avoid persecution from the church. Would these knights possibly have the head of their patron? Possibly as it was often thought that keeping relics or portions of a saint would help benefit believers and help them in the future.
The date of the Festival, June 24, is close to, or on the summer solstice (which is June 21 this year). As our ancient brethren were very keen on the importance of astronomy and astrology this correlation should not be lost on us. The literal translation of solstice is “sun standing still”. In our minds this should have an impact on how we view the power of the universe and how important it is to know the inner workings of the physical world. It isn’t just the longest day of the year, it is the event of the Sun and bringer of light is the closest it can be to us and we should stand still in reverence. It makes sense that our astronomically versed brothers would see this relationship and find a natural point to adopt St. John into the fold.
John teaches charity as being important, and like the Lodge, the one thing that extends beyond ourselves to help others. Our ancient brothers would have seen this direct connection and quickly adopted John, teaching charity into our mythos.
St. John the Baptist represents man in the wild, searching and preaching.
It is believed that the last painting by our brother Leonardo da Vinci was his work, “St. John the Baptist”, painted in about 1516. Hermetic literature leads us to believe that John is giving the fire-sign (right index finger pointed upward), which is a key point in our Masonic heritage. While there is little connection here other than the assumed membership in our august brotherhood, da Vinci did study many of the same hermetic principles we expound in freemasonry. He was often noted to include “hints” or “nods
to these teachings, embedded in his artwork. Despite all of the nonsense fantasy around da Vinci, there are truly connections in his work.
The martyrdom of John, because he held fast to his teachings parallels our own myth of Hiram Abiff. Even torture or threat of death would not cause him to give up on his sacred trusts.
While we cannot say with 100% certainty “why” St. John the Baptist was included in the mythos of Masonry, I think it is clear that there are many parallels that cannot be dismissed as conjecture and should be studied further.
Fire, the John Gesture. Philip Coppens. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.philipcoppens.com/johngesture.html
Full text of “Holy Qur’an”. Internet Archive. accessed 21 May 2014. http://archive.org/stream/HolyQuran_prof.hasanQaribullah_sudan/HolyQuran_prof.hasanQaribullah_sudan_djvu.txt
The Holy Saints John. Ward. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/ward.html
John the Baptist. Wikipedia. accessed 21 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_the_Baptist
The Larmenius Charter and the Legitimacy of Modern-Day Knights Templar. Zubras. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.knighttemplar.org/files/LarmeniusCharter.pdf
Luke 1 (NIV). Bible Gateway. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%201&version=NIV
Luke 3 (NIV). Bible Gateway. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%203&version=NIV
St. John the Baptist: The Iconography. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.christianiconography.info/johnBaptist.html
St. John the Baptist (Lenonardo). Wikipedia. accessed 21 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._John_the_Baptist_(Leonardo)
Pharisees. Wikipedia. accessed 21 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharisees
Prophet John (Yahya). Islam 101. accessed 21 May 2014. http://www.islam101.com/history/people/prophets/john.htm
Sadducees. Wikipedia. accessed 21 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadducees
Solstice. Wikipedia. accessed 21 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solstice