Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt, 33°
Sovereign Grand Commander, Supreme Council for Germany
Scottish Rite Masons have a duty to
make this a better world for all mankind.
is a vision connected with the origins of the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite when it was called “The Holy Empire.”
In the rituals of some of the degrees brethren are requested
not only to follow the way to self-improvement but also to
contribute to the improvement of the world as a whole.
“We hope for a better future for mankind.
Mankind ought not only to survive, but also to strive
towards the ideals of the Holy Empire” is heard in the
German version of the 32nd Degree. “Freedom, Justice, Reason,
and Charity are the names of the columns of the last,
indestructible temple of mankind.” This assignment is
directed towards all Freemasons, but for the brethren of our
Rite it becomes a duty. Positive actions are essential and
on the outcome of these actions humanity will be evaluated.
However, it must be stressed that the
brethren of our Rite are first of all Freemasons.
Independent of the degrees and positions they may hold in
the Rite, we expect them to be active members of their
lodges and to contribute to the steady growth of their Grand
Lodges. An active engagement in the Scottish Rite
intensifies interest and enthusiasm for Freemasonry as a
whole, and it also leads to fruitful collaboration in the
symbolic lodges. A healthy growth of the Craft is a
prerequisite for a flourishing Scottish Rite.
Today we may ask how Freemasonry has
developed during the last decade. If we consider only the
number of registered members, a scary impression emerges for
most countries indicating that Freemasonry does not seem to
have any future. This impression is reinforced if the
present proportion of Freemasons in a country (the number of
Freemasons divided by the population) is compared with the
corresponding proportion in the 19th century or in the first
part of the 20th century. However, the interest in
Freemasonry is still growing, as shown by the increasing
number of publications, including research reports, on
Freemasonry and on specific subjects related to Freemasonry.
The Internet also provides an increasing number of
publications on this subject.
Presently in western cultures the Zeitgeist—the
spirit of the time—is characterized by a loss of the sense
of community and of the sense of solidarity, together with a
loss of common sense. There is a reluctance for long-term
relationships that results in a growing number of aloof
people who are not fully integrated in society. This pattern
of behavior directed towards partnerships and family,
continues at work and in associations, clubs, and religious
communities, and also affects Freemasonry. However, the
aloofness changes abruptly if a person feels threatened by
external dangers. An example is provided by the tsunami
catastrophe in the Indian Ocean. But such events have only a
limited duration. Furthermore, communities born out of fear
have too strong a focus on the common threat to be able to
develop positive views, hope, and confidence. From the
beginning such communities bear the seeds of decay.
Without the age of “Enlightenment,” western
societies would have remained in dull political absolutism
and stuffy medieval knowledge. But the Enlightenment has
also permitted the development of individualism, which today
has perverted to boundless egocentrism and a primitive form
of individual materialism.
Freedom has been misinterpreted as
liberation from responsibilities towards our fellow human
beings and society. But without an individual sense of duty
and sense of responsibility, freedom in our western
societies would be stripped of its defenses and would be
helplessly exposed to the threats of its enemies. With this
misinterpretation, freedom cannot prevail.
As Scottish Rite Freemasons we should seek
to transform our so-called old fashioned weakness into
strength. We are the successors of a rich tradition, that
also indicates ways into the future. We are the keepers of
proven ethical principles and values. We provide community,
solidarity, and brotherhood in an environment in which human
togetherness is in danger of disappearing. If we are able to
successfully convey the notion that in our temples can be
found that which cannot be found elsewhere, then we do not
have to worry about the future of Freemasonry.
Very often the attempt is made to bridge the
difference between expected behavior and present-day reality
by referring to some prominent personalities of Freemasonry.
Certainly, many outstanding personalities of Freemasonry
have left lasting impressions on common life and history.
However, our actions are crucial in the present time. We
should educate and form the pioneers of the future.
Freemasonry with its specific feature of
presenting an educational road map is not well suited for
the formation of heroic legends. Is Freemasonry therefore
less important? It allows brethren of very different
identities to meet and thereby helps us to understand that
these differences contribute to the good functioning of
The more people know, the more they thirst
for understanding, the more they yearn for truth, the more
they long for the purpose of life, and the more these
desires emerge from darkness to light. The purpose of our
Rite is to make good men even better and, whenever possible,
develop leaders with strong moral and ethical
backgrounds—leaders who are willing to take over
responsibilities in society. The outcome of such efforts
cannot be evaluated on celebrity attained, power achieved,
or wealth accumulated. The assessment must be based on
increases in human kindness, protection of human dignity,
and realization of human rights.
A united community of brothers diminishes
the misery of existence in a world in which for many
organizations man is only a usable and, if required,
disposable resource. A world in which men are thought of
only as depreciable human capital or as easily manipulated
consumer masses cannot be a vision for the future. Such a
community of brothers will not show hostility towards
foreigners but provide strength to achieve assimilation.
Such a community—such a brotherhood— evens out weaknesses,
allows forces to be bundled, and leads from darkness to
light. This is the message to be conveyed now.
The duties of a member of the Scottish Rite
include developing an awareness of the importance of his own
thinking, his behavior, his openness for other people, his
power of integration, and his brotherly charity. The work in
the Scottish Rite helped to give an answer to the question:
“What can I know?” It also wrestles with the question: “What
shall I do?” Especially well informed, “Enlightened,”
rational people should not make the mistake of assuming that
everything is feasible or controllable.
Others may restlessly search for what Rene
Girard called “things that are hidden since the beginning of
the world.” But the discovery of a “world formula” may not
be necessary: sometimes a “soft internal sound of things”
provokes enchantment and amazement.
The attempt to penetrate the depth of
Freemasonry across time and space will always get blocked if
this ability is missing, which Antoine de Saint-Exupery
formulated more or less as follows: “Good vision is only
possible through the heart.” The construction of the bridges
that we Freemasons want to build does not have to follow the
rules of engineering. Our bridges are based on human
kindness and charity and are anchored in the hearts of men.
The Freemason’s road starts with searching.
Symbols and Rituals may give some answers. Self-knowledge
becomes an assignment. Awareness and knowledge about the
world begin to develop, changes take place. Veils are ripped
off, but behind each removed piece a new one shows up, and
the road is hidden behind other veils.
Through its rich symbolism and rituals, the
Scottish Rite is well suited to open up new horizons and new
dimensions of thought to members who seriously strive for
mental enrichment. In spite of extended historical research,
many aspects of early Masonic history remain mysterious. It
is almost impossible to differentiate between ancient,
handed-down notions and later added-on concepts. We don’t
know if fragments of valuable ancient knowledge have been
erased by well meaning, enlightened modernists trying to
make concessions to the spirit of their times. Some reform
may have destroyed more than it created.
Certainly, Freemasonry must adapt itself
reasonably to the changing times, just as the awareness and
consciousness of its members is characterized by the society
of their time. However, in times of ever-faster arriving
information and of accelerating changes in fashions and
habits, proper care and sensibility must be exercised during
revisions to our rituals in order to recognize the valuable,
eternal elements. Our road into the future is open. But it
is open only in the forward direction. Our traditions and
customs, which we must understand and keep alive, protect
our back and provide us with force and energy.
Today’s Freemasons must seek to analyze and
understand the complex situation of our present world as
well as possible. The Scottish Rite has set itself the task
to evaluate old and new knowledge from common life, science,
and art and to make it available for the future. Our members
should apply them in the practice of everyday life thereby
contributing to shaping society and some of its
Globalization with its terrifying speed of
change has brought not only progress but also new threats
and distresses. Our non-dogmatic views and attitudes
immunize our members against fundamentalism with its effort
to increase the trenches between people and cultures instead
of attempting to bridge them. Our traditional ethical values
are mental weapons against any form of oppression, abuse of
power, and terrorism.
Although a world-wide Masonic headquarter
does not exist, we still have the concept of a world-wide
brotherhood of Freemasons that embraces the globe. Therefore
we can hope that as nations and cultures approach each other,
the social situations in the long run will approach. However,
specific high quality elements of different cultures must be
preserved for humanity as a whole. This would create quite
good conditions for Freemasonry in the future. Freemasonry
will be and should be a guarantor for culture and
Our vision of the future is a world worth
living in and loving. The rule to be followed to attain it
is: “Ordo ab chao.”
Note: This paper was
presented at the 17th World Conference of Supreme Councils
held in Sydney, Australia.
Wilhelm Schmidt retired as C.E.O. of a
large German social health insurance company and has
been involved in many Masonic activities since 1967.
Among other offices he was Grand Orator of the Grand
Lodge A.F. & A.M. for six years and Deputy Grand
Master of the United Grand Lodges of Germany for six
years. Ill. Schmidt is strongly involved in
rebuilding Masonry in countries of the former Soviet
bloc. He has been a Scottish Rite Mason since 1970,
an active member of the Supreme Council for Germany
since 1988, and its Sovereign Grand Commander since