Written in 1914, “The Builders” by Joseph Fort Newton defines the origins, the history and the ideals of Freemasonry. In educated but not elevated language, Newton breaks his book into three sections. Each section proceeds logically from his assertions to his conclusion that Masonry and its ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality have benefited the world.
The first section of “The Builders” is called “Prophecy” and deals with the history of stone masonry as practiced from the ancient Egyptians to the Middle Ages. While dispelling any ideas that the Freemasons can actually trace their history back to the Temple of Solomon, Newton does provide evidence for an inspiration to be found in that Temple. From the building of the pyramids to the Knights Templar, Newton explains how dedication to the craft fostered fraternity amongst its members.
The author moves onto part two by taking on more documented “History”. From the building of Gothic cathedrals to the advent of Protestantism, he outlines the influence of the Church as it waxes and wanes and ultimately persecutes its own. In so doing, the Church sets free the Masonic order from its stone mason heritage and compels it to begin its own enlightenment.
No discussion of Freemasonry would be complete without acknowledging the schisms within the order and the hostility found without it. Newton lists those who mocked and derided the order or wrote of its evils. He also writes of the various disagreements over the power of each lodge. From the times of the four Grand Lodges to the complaints of the Irish lodges, the author points out that even these disagreements were beneficial to the order. The discussion furthered the spread of Masonic ideals.
Once the Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717, the order began to build fraternities instead of buildings. These fraternities share a philosophy and spirit the author expounds upon in the third section of “The Builders,” called “Interpretation.” Here, Newton teaches that all Freemasons are brothers regardless of social or economic status. Tools of the stone mason trade are used to teach lessons or morality and consideration. Every man regardless of station is asked to affirm his belief in the Great Architect and his dedication to aid his brethren.
Finally, throughout this book, Newton assures the reader that any secrecy found within a Masonic Lodge is not to keep anyone in the dark, but rather to maintain the solemnity of the lessons. With little of the outside world to distract and all sense turned to the ceremony, an initiate has the opportunity to focus fully on his relationship with all companions, divine and earthly.
In the beginning of this century when so much bad news revolves around individuality and the problem of differences, a book written at the beginning of the last century can remind its readers of the values found in brotherhood, working together for a common good and building camaraderie.