Science, Virtue, Labour
Venerable Master and dear Brethren:
When we, the profane, knock at the portals of the Temple to be initiated into the mysteries of Masonry, with palpitating heart and our whole being trembling with emotion before the presence of the Unknown, three reassuring words are dinned into our ears: Science, Virtue, and Labour.
These magical words whose flattering promise at one time made Pythagoras and Herodotus sail over tempestuous seas in imperfect ships to search for their solutions in the penumbra of priestly Thebes, this powerful Trinity which, if it descended upon the earth would convert it into a paradise and worthy abode of the gods, these three words, Science, Virtue, and Labour or the deification of intelligence, the deification of the sentiment, and the deification of activity, should be the theme of the present conference which should study it within the bosom and concept of modern Masonry.
"Science?" You may ask what science is found in the Masonic Temple. Science might have taken refuge in it during barbarous epochs in order to erect the sublime architectural monuments of the past centuries, just as the fine arts did in the quiet and peaceful cloisters of the monasteries, but today science is free, open to all, and certainly it is not to be sought in the weekly meetings of the lodges but in the universities, scientific centres, and the studies of learned men.
Agreed, dear brethren! Science is free as the light which is its inspiration! Masonry has been its wet nurse, has guarded it like a sacred flame while the storm raged, and when calmness returned, it surrendered it to the world to illuminate it with its rays! What would have become of science if the Egyptian priests and ancient magicians had not surrounded it with mystery? Like a seed, its endosperm hardly broken, exposed to the fury of the elements, it would have perished in the hands of ignorance and neglect. By subjecting the neophytes of science to hard tests because the mysteries of Isis, Eleusis, of the great Mother, etc. were Masonic matters Masonry was assured that by the means the earth in which the seed would be planted would make it grow, that the one who would receive the light would defend it against all sudden impetuous attacks.
Later, a Religion, pretending to be the sole possessor of the Truth, desired to control and tyrannizes science, which spoke of other truths, and proclaimed other doctrines. That religion was powerful and science suffered a long captivity. Who liberated it? Masonry proclaiming the freedom of human reason and working for its recognition.
Yes! Science is already free but its spirit lives in the temple as amidst the ruins of Rome breathes the spirit of her heroic men even after the promulgation of her wise laws! And in this concept we invoke here the name of Science, and Masonry will again fight for her when she is in danger, as it struggles so that the Philippines would open to her its closed horizons.
With respect to the word Labour, do not smile when you think of what we do in our weekly meetings of three hours at most. True it is that in the secular world machines deafen with their moving arms of steel and their powerful flywheels and eccentrics stir the air about them; true it is that the immense factories, like active beehives, employ the child, the young man and woman, the wife, and the aged in the production of thousands of articles necessary to life; true it is that labour makes all the molecules and pores of the world vibrate with life, from the bowels of the earth where the miner digs coal, a thousand times more useful than the prized diamond, to the high peak of snow-clad mountains which the locomotives scales breathing fire and dragging along with human thought; true, very true that our activity is nothing beside that of the diver who descends to the abyss of the seas, of the explorer who penetrates mysterious continents, of the engineer who, not contented with the free lanes of the oceans, goes out to cut continents, open canals, plow through the air in search of new routes! All this is true, but let us not forget that if these wonders can now be seen, it is due to Masonic liberty and the good distribution of workers instituted since antiquity by the Egyptian masons.
When we see an active and robust youngster besides a decrepit and feeble mother, we recall how she has carried him in her bosom, taken care of him as a tender infant and given him the milk of her breasts.
In ancient times the Masonic workshop was a true workshop where they discussed the building plans of such temples as that of Bulak, the cathedrals of Strasburg and of Cologne, etc., still admired in the world today. Human liberty took refuge within the Masonic workshops of Saint Wehma and from there fought against the feudal lords of feudal Germany. In the Masonic workshops also laboured day and night the spirit of man to destroy the sinister Bastille, overthrow a throne, equalize men, and complete the great work of the Nazarene! What? The workman who cuts the stone from the quarry with which to build the walls of a palace, home of pride and pleasure or the walls of a prison, the cavern of despair and lamentations will this mason of ancient times perchance work more than the modern mason whose intelligence is sharpened and fortified in order to destroy every degrading inequality and to build for redeemed man his resplendent abode, perhaps kneaded with the blood of tyrants?
No, dear brethren: The modern mason works and should still work. Let the masons of free countries attend to the expansion of commerce and of charitable enterprises, well and good! But they should not rest so long as the world nurtures a tyrant; so long as the night gathers in its echoes the moans of the oppressed, so long as there are slaves, so long as there are oppressors! And this work is perhaps the greatest that Masonry has imposed on itself and the only one worthy of its universal name.
Now let is proceed to the study of Virtue, which I have purposely left last, considering it the most important theme of Masonry.
"Virtue, Virtue! You are nothing but a name!" said Cato, nineteen centuries ago, and perhaps many among you repeat now the same phrase upon hearing the strange word! Schiller exclaimed: "When shall I cease to hear about you, oh Virtue? The day when you are praised less you will abide among man."
What virtue do we practice within this hall? Perhaps in the bottom of our hearts your consciences smile sadly as if disillusioned at the sound of this word, seeing that even within these temples we cannot restrain our passions. Perhaps, you are right, but before going further, let us see what we understand by virtue, because it embodies an idea which is on the lips of everyone and on which not all peoples are agreed.
To the Chinese, virtue is respect for elders, ancestor worship, and numerous rituals and ceremonies. To the Indian it is physical immobility and inaction, considering a saint one who can remain in a fixed posture for months and months. To the Hebrews it consists of fear of Jehovah, compliance with the material precepts of Deuteronomy, and awaiting the advent of the Messiah in order to possess the whole world. To the Greeks virtue consists of stoicism, in knowing how to endure all ills with perfect equanimity and for this reason the Spartan consecrated to it all his dearest sentiments and his natural impulses, believing it to be fierce and heartless. To the Buddhists it is kindness and love for one's fellowmen. On the other hand, to Rome virtue is integrity, manliness, and for that reason calls virtue what we would call "virility." To her a virtuous man is manly, who knows how to sacrifice himself in times of great peril; how to die for the laws, the name, and the glory of Rome. Christianity came and upset many beliefs, and at the beginning of what did Christian virtues consist? Hereditary Christianity, the essence of the sum total of all religions, reflected in her virtues all the merits of the others and sanctified humility, stoicism, purity, adding to these, like a true Oriental, charity a virtue that later Mohammedanism elevated to a sublime height.
Later on the doctrines were adulterated, faith weakened, the religious spirit fermented into sects. Those who preached equality and poverty desired to become masters and wealthy. Then virtue was confused with intolerance and fanaticism, and harmless at best, assumed unnatural forms. Forced celibacy became a virtue, though God had commanded man to grow and multiply. It became a virtue to abhor the beautiful, to hate love, although all nature is beautiful, and the entire creation from the moon to the flower preaches love. Fasting and abstinence became a virtue although man needed to unfold and multiply his strength to use it in the service of his fellowmen. It became a virtue to torture and humiliate one's self, when pain is the protest of nature and the snake thrives in the mud and God in Heaven; in short, ignorance itself became a virtue, though wisdom is a divine attribute, intelligence is a gift, and man can redeem himself only through his profound studies.
Barbaric centuries, dear brethren, were those when the emanations from the cloistered confused human intelligence. But it could descend even lower, and greater and deeper still was the fall of reason. These were then called virtues: To hate men who do not profess the same faith, to destroy and burn them; to recite words after words, nonsense after nonsense and perhaps blasphemies after blasphemies before the image of sanctified and deified men. They called virtue the belief in the impossible and the rejection of the conclusions of science and of experience; virtue, faith in the absurd, to give to the Pope for the support of his pomp and the money denied to the young man for his education; virtue, the madness, the senseless, the ridiculous and even vices provided they are cloaked with religion.
Human reason having descended to this abyss and frightened by its fall, looks back to the past and sighs for the virtue of heroic ages.
What are you, oh Virtue? Are you a vain name, the will power that resists all natural sentiments? Are you perchance a word invented by some malevolent egoist in order to arouse the generous sentiments of candid men dazzled by the luster of your glory and afterwards exploit them for his benefit? Have the powerful invented you to accustom the oppressed to be humble, or do the unhappy invoke you to shame their oppressors? Are you a protest or are you a cheat? Are you the patriotism which groups nations into large families or are you the individualism which cause conflict among men?
If we are to accept the principle held by the common people that it is virtue to favour others even to one's own detriment then in Spain it would be virtuous to be idle, not to be an orator, and to be a patient and long-suffering creditor; in China, as in the rest of the world, it is to allow one's self to be deceived by all; in France to give but never to accept pourboires, etc.
In the face of so many contradictions in human appreciation, conscience needs a norm.
By Virtue we understand the constant fulfillment of duty, just as by vice the constant infraction of virtue. In this sense the word Virtue enters fully the Masonic workshop and it can be considered the object and the sole life of Masonry.
By Virtue we understand the constant fulfillment of duty. We must clarify the meaning of the word "duty" in this definition. What is man's duty in this modern age?
The principle of "Do good" is very vague. The saying "Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you" is defective because how many things there are that we should do to others that we do not want others to do to us! Alms for example, is one. The command "Love your fellowmen as you love yourself" is beautiful but impracticable. It is divine but it is not human. There is no man who could feel affection for just anybody at sight.
The duty of modern man to my way of thinking is to work for the redemption of humanity, because once man is dignified there would be less unfortunate and more happy men that is possible in this life. Humanity cannot be redeemed so long as there are oppressed peoples, so long as there are some men who live on the tears of many, so long as there are emasculated minds and blinded eyes that enable others to live like sultans who alone man enjoy beauty. Humanity cannot be redeemed while reason is not free, while faith would want to impose itself on facts, while whims are laws, and while there are nations who subjugate others. For humanity to be able to attain the lofty destiny toward which God guides it, it is necessary that within its fold there should be no dissension nor tyranny, that plagues do not decimate it and no groans and curses be heard in its march. It is necessary that its triumphant career march to the tune of the hymns of glory and liberty with a bright face and serene forehead.
Thus Masonry preaches and practices the sacred principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity among all men and they compose the Masonic virtues, the only virtues whose practice would banish among men wars and abuses and bring about that state of which all great reformers dream. In this concept, for the present, virtue has no other temple but the Masonic temple from which emerge some gleams of light that illumine the minds of many lay thinkers. In this concept virtue is no longer a barren, bare, unnatural, fierce or devout quality. Virtue becomes beautiful than the liberty, equality, and fraternity of all men.
Myriad worlds roll in peace and freedom through the vast expanse of space without end and in their divine course they intone a hymn of love to their creator; the eagles cross the space in majestic flight and they watch and respect one another; the fiercest animals in their caves or in the loneliness of the desert each go to his hunt without destroying one another, without being tyrannical; the trees raise to the sun their majestic crowns and whisper and confide to the zephyr the song of thanksgiving for the light that vivify them and dress them with color; the flowers lean out their fresh heads, filling the air with perfume and smiles; life, joy, love, liberty are all born everywhere even from death and dirt itself.
Only man remains the enemy of man, tyrannizes his fellowmen, oppresses everyone, transmits his anger and his diseases to the animals that fall under his power and rejoice in the humiliation of his brothers. A cry announces his birth, misery and battles darken the tortuous path of his life with tears, blood, and gall; vices, diseases, and passion which cause his death are usually accompanied by terror and suffering, and like the tyrants, howling and crying tears of fire, envying the fate of the peasants, man, the lord of creation, envies the fate of the insects, the fate of the butterfly which, flying from flower to flower, feeds on nectar, is born at dawn and dies with the day without luckily seeing the sad shadows of the night!
From "Science, Virtue, Labour", a speech delivered by Dr. José Rizal in 1883 at Solidaridad Lodge No. 53, Madrid, Spain. [providence unknown although widely reproduced online]
José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (1861/06/19-1896/12/30)