The Enigma of the Royal Arch
The Royal Arch raises passions. There are those who find Chapter the most enjoyable of Masonic meetings, and those who find it dull and bewildering. It has always had a special status in Freemasonry, but we have to admit it is a continuing source of confusion. We struggle with its place in Pure Antient Freemasonry. Is it the completion of the third degree, a continuation of the Craft or is there no connection between the Craft and the Royal Arch at all? At our initiation each of us promised without evasion, equivocation or mental reservation, ever to conceal our secrets; never to indite, carve or mark the least trace of them. How then, on being exalted, can we be expected to believe that they were engraved on a plate of gold by the three Grand Masters? The Royal Arch is a fictional tale teaching a moral lesson, a story of inspiring if invented events. Symbolism, allegory, and metaphor are proper and useful literary devices, but there is a logic to their use. Consistency and coherence matter if the story is not to disappoint, and the Royal Arch fails to meet the desired standards. The relationship between the Craft and the Royal Arch has long been an enigma. To understand why, we must go into the eighteenth century and examine both orders there. As the story unfolds we will see how the incoherence stems from a wrong turn taken towards the century's end, and how reversing it can provide a new meaning to the Royal Arch. The central focus of this book is on the Royal Arch in England and Wales, but its ritual and status in Scotland, Ireland and the York Rite offer contrasting perspectives from which to view our own.
“The Enigma of the Royal Arch” analyses the logical and historical inconsistencies of our order and provides answers to them all.
Dr West shows how that Freemasons do not see the Royal Arch as the keystone of the masonic structure.
He describes the way other constitutions manage the order and finds an important difference to solve a significant problem faced by the English constitution.
In analysing the logic of the ritual in England, he reveals a central incoherence between the legend of the third degree and that of the Royal Arch. After all, a secret never to be indited is inconsistent with one engraved on a plate of gold.
He asks whether the Royal Arch is Ancient or Antient - and uses the two words to resolve the meaning of “Pure Antient/Ancient Freemasonry”.
He demonstrates that the 18th century had two separate and distinct legends, one about the Mason Word, a certificate of competence, and the other about the loss of the pronunciation of the sacred name. It is the compression of the two legends into one that is the root of the incoherence that causes the failure of all modern attempts to connect the Royal Arch with the Craft.
He indicates that the Royal Arch was once a Christian allegory referring to the life of Christ and that while de-Christianising the Craft was easy, the attempt to do the same to the Royal Arch undermined its meaning.
He suggests we can re-build the de-Christianised Royal Archto teach moral or spiritual lessons in a secular culture.
While change is difficult in our order, we should remember that what we have today is the result of many changes in the past. Indeed the third degree might have been very different. The Hiramic legend might not have been part of Freemasonry.