Symbolical Masonry, by H.L. Haywood, , at sacred-texts.com
The educators of the Middle Ages taught seven branches of learning in their school and these were divided as I have already said, into two groups, the first of which was called the "trivium" (meaning "where three roads meet"), and the second, "quadrivium" ("where four roads meet"). Grammar, rhetoric, and logic, comprised the former group usually, and it was these subjects that the young student in college first studied: the latter group included arithmetic, music, astronomy, and geometry. When all of these subjects were mastered the man was said to have a "liberal education" and the school in which they were taught was called (as it still is) a "college of liberal arts."
This educational system was in vogue when the earliest Operative lodges were practising, and it was inevitable that the Masons, who refused to permit their guild to become a mere labour organisation, should incorporate the Liberal Arts and Sciences into their schemes of study and in their literature. Brother Conder informs us that as early as the fourteenth century the London Society of Masons "required the Master Mason to be acquainted with the seven liberal sciences." In the "Ahiman Rezon," a book of constitutions much used by the "Ancients" in the eighteenth century, we have a reminiscence of this in the following bit of doggerel:
This doggerel is really a free paraphrase of a few lines from the oldest of our Manuscripts, written about 1390, and it goes to show that for four or five centuries the arts and sciences had held a prominent place in the thought, as well as in the ritual and constitutions, of Freemasons.
In the beginning of the eighteenth century the Liberal Arts and Sciences were embedded in the First Degree after the revision of the ritual they were moved to the Second Degree, where they very naturally served Preston's scheme for making this degree a short course of instruction. There they still remain; if they can no longer fulfil Preston's great purpose they may still very fittingly serve to remind us of the place which such culture must have in the life of every complete and well-furnished Mason.
To enter into any detailed analysis of the seven subjects is obviously impossible here, though it might prove more interesting than we would think; but we may well ask ourselves, why are these arts and sciences set in the middle of the Ritual? Why do the Lectures devote so much space to them? What possible connection can they have with a man's Masonic life? I believe that we can find a satisfactory answer to these questions by recalling a bit of history.
During the so-called Dark Ages what few scholars there were in Europe devoted themselves almost entirely to studies that had little or no connection with human life; they debated such questions as, What are the attributes of Deity? What are angels? What are demons? What is being? What is existence? How many angels can stand on the point of a needle? etc. After the great Revival of Learning had come, with its rediscovery of history, of nature, of human life, and of classical literature, the scholars turned from the old subjects to themes that were nearer to life—history, the arts, science, politics, and so on. The men who took up these studies were called Humanists because they were more interested in questions related to the life and needs of humanity than they were to the dry-as-dust discussion of metaphysics; and they urged in favour of their new studies that they would "humanise" men who would pursue them.
I believe that Masonry is justified in retaining the Liberal Arts and Sciences in its Ritual just because they still have power to humanise us, to "improve us in social intercourse," to make us broader of mind, more tolerant in opinion, more humane in action, and more brotherly in conduct.
Besides, knowledge of them, even a little knowledge of them, can make us more useful to the lodge. The brother who understands enough grammar to write a paper to be read to his brethren; who has studied enough rhetoric to learn how to speak well in open lodge; who has so disciplined his mind by logic as to think straight and clear without prejudice or passion; who has an appreciation of a fine art like music so as to be mellowed and softened by the charm it throws about one's personality; who has had
his mental outlook broadened and his store of knowledge enriched so as to have useful information to place at the disposal of the Craft; such a brother, it seems to me, is one who exemplifies the Masonic love of light.
We may go a step further. Suppose a lodge member is critical, captious, fault-finding, prejudiced, and ignorant; he adds nothing to the Brotherhood and he is a cause of trouble. If the lodge could persuade him to ascend the seven steps of the arts and sciences consider how it would affect him; his prejudice and vanity would drop away, for these are fruits of ignorance; his captiousness would vanish, for that comes from a lack of culture; his enlarged mind would make him more tolerant of others’ opinions and more patient with others’ faults, for great knowledge always begets humility. The man who has captured even a little vision of the wide world of knowledge can never be bigoted or vainglorious because he has learned how little he himself really knows. Masonry needs the Arts and Sciences for the sake of brotherhood itself!