Sunday, July 19, 2009

Roman Colleges of Artificers

It was the German writers on the history of the Institution, such as Krause, Helmann, and some others of less repute, who first discovered, or at least first announced to the world, the connection, that existed between the Roman Colleges of Architects and the Society of Freemasons.

The theory of Krause on this subject is to be found principally in his well known work entitled Die drei altesten Kunsterkunden. he there advance the doctrine that Freemasonry as it now exists is indebted for all its characteristics, religious and social, political, and professional, its interior organization, its modes of thought and action, and its very design and object, to the Collegia Artificum of the Romans, passing with but little characteristic changes through the Corporationen von Baukunstlern, or "Architectural Gilds," of the Middle Ages up to the English organization of the year 1717; so that he claims an almost absolute identity between the Roman Colleges of Numa, seven hundred years before Christ, and the Lodges of the nineteenth century. We need not, according to his view, go any farther back in history, nor look to any other series of events, nor trouble ourselves with any other influences for the origin and the character of Freemasonry.

This theory, which perhaps the most popular one on the subject, requires careful examination; and in the prosecution of such an inquiry the first thing to be done will be to investigate, so far as authentic history affords us the means, the true character and condition of these Roman Colleges.

It is to Numa(Amun), the second king of Rome, that historians, following after Plutarch, ascribe the first organization of the Roman Colleges; although, as Newman reasonably conjectures, it is probable that similar organizations previously existed among the Alban population, and embraced the resident Tuscan artificers. But it is admitted that Numa gave to them that form which the always subsequently maintained.

Numa, on ascending the throne, found the citizens divided into various nationalities, derived from the Roman, the Sabines and the inhabitants of neighboring smaller and weaker towns, who, by choice or by compulsion, had removed their residence to the banks of the Tiber. Hence resulted a disseverance of sentiment and feeling, and a constant tendency to disunion, Now the object of Numa was to obliterate these contending elements and to establish a perfect identity of national feeling, so that, to use the language of Plutarch, "the distribution of the people might become a harmonious mingling of all with all."

For this purpose he established one common religion, and divided the citizens into curias and tribes, each curia and tribe being composed of an admixture indifferently of Romans, Sabines, and the other denizens of Rome.

Directed by the same political sagacity, he distributed the artisans into various gilds or corporations, under the name of Collegia, or "Colleges." To each collegium was assigned the artisan s of a particular profession, and each had its own regulations, both secular and religious. These colleges grew with the growth of the republic; and although Numa had originally established but nine, namely, the College of Musicians, of Goldsmiths, of Carpenters, of Dyers, of Shoemakers, of Tanners, of Smiths, of Potters, and a ninth composed of all artisans not embraced under either of the preceding heads, they were subsequently greatly increased in number. Eighty years before the Christian era they were, it is true, abolished, or sought to be abolished, by a degree of the Senate, who looked with jealousy on their political influence, but twenty years afterwards they were revived, and new ones established by a law of the tribune Clodius, which repealed the Senatus Consultum. They continued to exist under the empire, were extended into the provinces, and even outlasted the decline and fall of the Roman power.

And now let us inquire into the form and organization of these Colleges, and, in so doing, trace the analogy between them and the Masonic Lodges, if any such analogy exists.

The first regulation, which was an indispensable one, was that no college could consist of less than three members. So indispensable was this rule that the expression tres faciunt collegium, "three make a college," became a maxim of the civil law. So rigid too was the application of this rule, that the body of Consuls, although calling each other "colleagues," and possessing and exercising all collegiate rights, were, because they consisted only of two members, never legally recognized as a College. The reader will very readily be struck withe identity of this regulation of the Colleges and that of Freemasonry, which with equal rigor requires three Masons to constitute a Lodge. The College and the Lodge each demanded three members to make it legal. A greater number might give it more efficiency, but it could not render it more legitimate. This, then, is the first analogy between the Lodges of Freemasons and the Roman Colleges.

These Colleges had their appropriate officers, who very singularly were assimilated in stations and duties to the officers of a Masonic Lodge. Each College was presided over by a chief or president whose title of Magister is exactly translated by the English word "Master." The next officers were the Decuriones. They were analogous the Masonic "Wardens," for each Decurio presided over a section or division of the College, just as in the most ancient English and in the present continental ritual we find the Lodge divided into two sections or "columns," over each of which one of the Wardens presided, through whom the commands of the Master were extended to "the brethren of his column." There was also in the Colleges a Scriba, or "secretary," who recorded its proceedings; a Thesaurensis, or "treasurer," who had charge of the common chest; a Tabularius, or keeper of the archives, equivalent the modern "Archivist;" and lastly, as these Colleges combined a peculiar religious worship with operative labors, there was in each of them a sacerdos, or priest, who conducted the religious ceremonies, and was thus exactly equivalent to the "chaplain" of a Masonic Lodge. In all this we find another analogy between these ancient institutions and our Masonic bodies.

Another analogy will be found in the distribution or division of classes in the Roman Colleges. As the Masonic Lodges have their Master Masons, their Fellow Crafts, and their Apprentices, so the College had their Seniores, "Elders," or chief men of the trade, and their journeymen and apprentices. The members did not, it is true, like the Freemasons, call themselves "Brothers," because this term, first adopted in the gilds or corporations of the Middle Ages, is the offspring of a Christian sentiment; but, as Krause remarks, these Colleges were, in general, conducted after the pattern or model of a family; and hence the appellation of brother would now and then be found among the family appellations.

The partly religious character of the Roman Colleges of Artificers constitutes a very peculiar analogy between them and the Masonic Lodges. The history of these Colleges shows that an ecclesiastical character was bestowed upon them at the very time of their organization by Numa. Many of the workshops of these artificers were erected in the vicinity of temples, and their curia, or place of meeting, was generally in some way connected with the temple. The deity to whom such temple was consecrated was peculiarly worshipped by the members of the adjacent College, and became the patron god of their trade of art. In time when the Pagan religion was abolished and the religious character of these Colleges was changed, the Pagan gods gave way, through the influences of the new religion, to Christian saints, one of whom was always adopted as the patron of the modern gilds, which, in the Middle Ages, took the place of the Roman Colleges; and hence the Freemasons derive the dedication of their Lodges to Saint John from a similar custom among the Corporation of Builders.

These Colleges held secret meetings, in which the business transacted consisted of the initiations of neophytes into their fraternity, and of mystical and esoteric instructions to their apprentices and journeymen. They were, in this respect, secret societies like the Masonic Lodges.

There were monthly or other periodical contributions by the members for the support of the College, by which means a common fund was accumulated for the maintenance of indigent members or the relief of destitute strangers belonging to the same society.

They were permitted by the government to frame a constitution and to enact laws and regulations for their government. These privileges were gradually enlarged and their provisions extended, so that in the latter days of the empire the Colleges of Architects especially were invested with extraordinary powers in reference to the control of builders. Even the distinction so well known in Masonic jurisprudence between "legally constituted" and "clandestine Lodges," seems to find a similitude or analogy here; for the Colleges which had been established by lawful authority, and were, therefore, entitled to the enjoyment of the privileges accorded to those institutions, were said to be collegia licita, or "lawful colleges," while those which were voluntary association, not authorized by the express decree of the senate or the emperor, were called collegia illicita, or "unlawful colleges." The terms licita and illicita were exactly equivalent in their import to the legally constituted and the clandestine Lodges of Freemasonry.

In the Colleges the candidates of administration were elected, as in the Masonic Lodges by the voice of the members. In connection with this subject, the Latin word which was used to express the art of admission or reception is worthy of consideration. When the person was admitted to the Fraternity of a College, he was said to be cooptatus in collegium. Now, the verb cooptare, almost exclusively employed by the Romans to signify an election into a College, comes from the Greek optomai, "to see, to behold." This same word gives origin, in Greek, to epoptes, a spectator or beholder, one who has attained to the last degree in the Eleusinian mysteries; in other words, an initiate. So that, without much stretch of etymological ingenuity, we might say that cooptatus in collegium meant "to be initated into a College." This is at least, singular. But the more general interpretation of cooptatus is "admitted or accepted in a fraternity," and so "made free of all the priviledges of the gild or corporation." And hence the idea is the same as that conveyed among the Masons by the title "Free and Accepted."

Finally, it is said by Krause that these Colleges of workmen made a symbolic use of the implements of their art or profession, in other words, that they cultivated the science of symbolism; and in this respect, therefore more than in any other, is there a striking analogy between the Collegiate and the Masonic institutions. The statement cannot be doubted; for as the organization of the College partook, as has already been shown, of a religious character, and, as it is admitted, that all the religion of Paganism was eminently and almost entirely symbolic, it must follow that any association which was based upon or cultivated the religious or mythological sentiment, must cultivate also the principle of symbolism.

I have thus briefly but succinctly shown that in the form, the organization, the mode of government, and the usages of the Roman Colleges, there is an analogy between them and the modern Masonic Lodges which is evidently more than accidental. It may be that long after the dissolution of the Colleges, Freemasonry, in the establishment of its Lodges, designedly adopted the collegiate organization as a model after which to frame it own system, or it may be that the resemblance has been the result of a slow but inevitable growth of a succession of associations arising out of each other, at that head of which stands the Roman Colleges.

This problem can only be determined by an investigation of the history of these Colleges , and of the other similar institutions which finally succeeded them in the progress of architecture in Europe. We shall be prepared to investigate with understanding of Krause, and to determine whether the Lodges are indebted to the Colleges for their form alone, or for both form and substance.

We have already seen that in the time of Numa the Roman Colleges amounted to only nine. In the subsequent years of the Republic the number was gradually augmented, so that almost every trade or profession had its peculiar College. With the advance of the empire, their numbers were still further increased and their privileges greatly extended, so that they became an important element in the body politic. Leaving untouched the other Colleges, I shall confine myself the Collegii Artificum, "the College of Architects," as the only one whose condition in history are relevant to the subject under consideration.

The Romans were early distinguished for a spirit of colonization. Their victorious arms had scarcely subdued a people, before a portion of the army was deputed to form a colony. Here the barbarism and ignorance of the native population were replaced by the civilization and the refinement of their Roman conquerors.

The Colleges of Architects, occupied in the construction of secular and religious edifices, spread from the great city to municipalities and provinces. Whenever a new city, a temple, or a palace was to be built, the members of these corporations were convoked by the Emperor from the most distant points, that with a community of labor they might engage in the construction. Laborers might be employed, like the "bearers of burdens" of the Jewish Temple, in the humbler and coarser tasks, but the conduct and the direction of the works were entrusted only to the "accepted members" - the cooptati - of the Colleges.

The colonization of the Roman Empire were conducted through the legionary soldiers of the army. Now, to each legion there was attached a College or corporation of artificers, which was organized with the legion at Rome, and passed with it through its campaigns, encamped with it where it encamped, marched with where it marched, and when it colonized, remained in the colony to plant the seeds of Roman civilization, and to teach the principles of Roman art. The members of the College erected fortifications for the legion in times of war, and in times of peace, or when the legion became stationary, constructed temples and dwelling houses.

When England was subdued by the Roman arms, the legions which went there to secure and to extend the conquest, carried with them, of course, their Colleges of Architects. One of these legions, foe instance, under Julius Caesar, advancing into the northern limits of the country, established a colony, which, under the name of Eboracum, gave birth to the city of York, afterwards so celebrated in the history of Masonry. Existing inscriptions and architectural remains attest how much was done in the island of Britain by these associations of builders.

Druidism was at the time the prevailing religion of the ancient Britons. But the toleration of Paganism soon led to an harmonious admixture of the religious idea of the Roman builders with those of the Druid priests. Long anterior to this Christianity had dawned upon the British islands; for, to use the emphatic language of Tertullian, "Britain, inaccessible to the Romans, was subdued by Christ." The influences of the new faith wer not long in being felt by the Colleges, and the next phase in there history is the record of their assumption of the Christian life and doctrine.

But the incursions of the northern barbarians into Italy demanded the entire force of the Roman armies to defend the integrity of the Empire at home. Britain was abandoned, and the natives, with the Roman colonists who had settled among them, were left to defend themselves. These were soon driven, first by the Picts, their savage neighbors, and then by the Saxon sea robbers, whom the English had incautiously summoned to their aid, into the mountains of Wales and the islands of the Irish Sea. The architects who were converted to Christianity, and having lost their connection with the mother institution, they became thenceforth simply corporations or societies of builders, the organization which had always worked so well being still retained.

Subsequently, when the whole of England was taken possession of by the Saxon invaders, the Britons, headed by the monks and priests, and accompanied by their architects, fled into Ireland and Scotland, which countries they civilized and converted, and whose inhabitants were instructed in the art of building by the corporations of architects.

Whenever we read of the extension in barbarous or Pagan countries of Christianity, and the conversion of their inhabitants to the true faith, we also hear of the propagation of the art of building in the same places by the corporations of architects, the immediate successors of the legionary Colleges, for the new religion required churches, and in time cathedrals and monasteries, and the ecclesiastical architecture speedily suggested improvements in the civil.

In time all the religious knowledge and all the architectural skill of the northern part of Europe were concentrated in the remote regions of Ireland and Scotland, whence missionaries were sent back to England to convert the Pagan Saxons. Thus the venerable Bede tells (Eccl. Hist., lib iii., cap. 4, 7,) that West Saxony was converted by Agilbert, an Irish bishop, and East Anglia, by Fursey, a Scotch missionary. From England these energetic missionaries, accompanied by their pious architects passed over into Europe, and effectually labored for the conversion of the Scandanavian nations, introducing into Germany, Sweden, Norway, and even Ireland, the blessings of Christianity and the refinements of civilized life.

It is worthy of note that in all the early records the word Scotland is very generally used as a generic term to indicate both Scotland and Ireland. This error arose most probably from the very intimate geographical and social connections of the Scotch and the northern Irish, and perhaps also, from the general inaccuracy of the historians of that period. Thus has arisen the very common opinion, that Scotland was the germ whence sprang all the Christianity of the northern nations, and that the same country was the cradle of ecclesiastical architecture and Operative Masonry.

The historical error by which the glory of Ireland has been merged in that of her sister country, Scotland has been preserved in much of the language and many of the traditions in modern Freemasonry. Hence the story of the Abbey of Kilwinning as the birth place of Masonry, a story which is still the favorite of the Freemasons of Scotland. Hence the tradition of the apocryphal mountains of Heroden, situated in the north-west of Scotland, where the first or metropolitan Lodge of Europe was held; hence the high degrees of Ecossais, or Scottish Master, which play so important a part in modern philosophical Masonry; and hence the title of "Scottish Masonry," applied to one of the leading Rites of Freemasonry, which has, however, no other connection with Scotland than that historical one, through the corporation of builders, which is common to the whole of the Institution.

It is not worth while to trace the religious contests between the original Christians of Britain and the Papal power, which after years of controversy terminated in the submission of the British Bishops to the Pope. As soon as the Papal authority was firmly established over Europe, the Roman Catholic hierarchy secured the services of the builders' corporations, and these under the patronage of the Pope and the Bishops, were everywhere engaged as "travelling freemasons," in the construction of ecclesiastical and regal edifices.

Henceforth we find these corporations of builders exercising their art in all countries, everywhere proving, as Mr. Hope says, by the identity of their designs, that they were controlled by universally accepted principles, and showing in every other way the characteristics of a corporation or gild. So far the chain of connection between them and the Collegia Artifcum at Rome has not been broken.

In the year 926 a generally assembly of these builders was held at the city of York, in England.

Four years after, in 930, according to Rebold, Henry the Fowler brought these builders, now called Masons, from England into Germany, and employed them in the construction of various edifices, such as the cathedrals of Magdeburg, Meissen, and Merseburg. But Krause, who is better and more accurate as a historian than Rebold, says that, as respects Germany, the first account that we find of these corporations of builders is at the epoch when, under the direction of Edwin of Steinbach , the most distinguish architects had congregated from all parts of Strasburg for the construction of the cathedral of that city. There they held their general assembly, like that of their English brethren at York, enacted Constitutions, and established, at length, a Grand Lodge, to whose decisions numerous Lodges or hutten, subsequently organized in Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, France, and other countries, yeilded obedience. George Kloss, in his exhaustive work entitled Die Freimaurerei in ihrer wahren Bedeutung has supplied us with a full collation of the statutes and regulations adopted by these Strasburg Masons.

We have now reached recent historical ground, and readily trace these associations of builders the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England at London, in 1717, when the Lodges abandoned their operative charters and became exclusively speculative. The record of the continued existence of the Lodges of Free and Accepted Masons from that day to this, in every civilized country of the world, is in the hands of every Masonic student. To repeat it would be a tedious work of supererogation.

Such is the history, and now what is the necessary deduction. It cannot be doubted that Krause is correct in his theory that the incunbula - the cradle or birthplace - of the Modern Masonic Lodges is to be found in the Roman Colleges of Architects. That theory is correct, if we look only to the outward form, and mode of working of the Lodges. To the Colleges are they indebted for everything that distinguished them as a gild or corporation, and especially are they indebted to the architectural character of these Colleges for the fact, so singular in Freemasonry, that its religious symbolism - that by which it is distinguished from all institutions -is founded on the elements, the working tools, and the technical language of the stonemasons' art.

But we view Freemasonry in a higher aspect, when we look at it as a science of symbolism, the whole of which symbolism is directed to but one point, namely the elucidation of the great doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the teaching of the two lives, the present and the future, we must go beyond the Colleges of Rome, which were only operative associations, to that older type to be found in the Ancient Mysteries, where precisely the same doctrine was taught precisely in the same manner. Krause does not, it is true, altogether omit a reference to the priest of Greece, who, he thinks, were in some way the original whence the Roman Colleges derived their existence; but he has not pressed the point with the pertinacity which its importance requires. He gives in his theory a pre-eminence to the Colleges in which they are not in truth entitled.

Encyclopedia of Freemasonry