The Order of the Royal Arch
The Order of the Royal Arch has long been considered a necessary part of Freemasonry, completing the Master Mason degree.1 And many claims have been made for the antiquity of the Royal Arch degreebased on a legend of rebuilding the Temple under Zerubbabel2but unfortunately for promoters of the order, there is no evidence for either of these beliefs.
James Anderson, in his legendary History in 1723, wrote
"...wherein the Forms and Usages of the most ancient and worshipful Fraternity are wisely propagated, and the Royal Art duly cultivated, and the Cement of the Brotherhood preserved ; so that the whole Body resembles a well built Arch...."3
This has been cited as a reference to the Royal Arch degree by promoters of the order, but a dispassionate reading of the text does not support this interpretation. So, what are the earliest references?
The first known reference to the Royal Arch is found in Faulkner's Dublin Journal 10-14 January 1743 'which reported that Youghal Lodge No. 21 celebrated St. John's day with a parade in which "the Royall Arch was carried by two Excellent Masters".'4
In 1744, Fifield Dassigny published at Dublin a book entitled A Serious and Impartial Enquiry into the Cause of the Present Decay of Freemasonry in the Kingdom of Ireland in which he refers to the Royal Arch as a "false system" of "ridiculous innovations" brought to Ireland from York.5
Laurance Dermott, long time Secretary of the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, wrote that he had received the Royal Arch Degree in Ireland on 16 April 1746.
These three are the only known references to the degree prior to 1752, although, for about a decade prior to the latter date, the degree seems to have been conferred on Past Masters at York, London and Dublin.6
The first record of conferment of the Royal Arch degree was George Washington in the lodge at Fredericksburgh, Virginia, on 22 December 1753.7
Masonic scholars have long been in disagreement on the Royal Arch degree's relationship to the Master Mason degree. Although Herbert F. Inman wrote "that it is the proper completion of the Craft Third Degree none can deny,"8 Coil tells us : 'There is no evidence that any part of the Royal Arch Degree was ever part of the Third or other Craft degree, or that anything was ever lopped off from the Third Degree by Thomas Dunckerley or anyone else.'9 In the main, this historical legend can be ascribed to Dr. George Oliver. Again, while Alexander Lawrie, in his History of Freemasonry (1859) held that the Craft degrees were complete in themselves, Dr. W. J. Chetwode Crawley was firmly convinced that the Royal Arch degree was the completing part of the masonic legend.
The Premier Grand Lodge of England signed a Charter of Compact on 22 July 1766 which constituted the Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem. In this document, and the records leading up to it, Harry Carr, and many masonic writers of the latter twentieth century agreed with Harry Mendoza who wrote : "there is not the slightest evidence that the Royal Arch is the completion of the M.M.'s degree."10
In the face of this, we're told, in the earliest editions of the Laws for the Society of Royal Arch Masons issued by the Supreme Grand Chapter from 1778 to 1807, that "...by the instructions received in passing through the several probationary degrees of the Craft, (we) are prepared for our most sublime one namely, Speculative Masory, or the Royal Arch...."11
Note should be made of the language used in the Act of Union when it was "declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, vizt., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch."12
While Laurence Dermott had described the degree as "the Root, Heart and Marrow of Freemasonry"13 and the Antient's Royal Arch regulations of 1794 stressed the importance of "the fourth degree, the Holy Royal Arch"14, the Act of Union refers to the Order but does not qualify it as a degree. The minutes of a Special Convocation of the Supreme Grand and Royal Chapter on 30 November 1813 record their understanding that "by Those Articles the Royal Arch was acknowledged as the perfection of the Master's Degree...."15
Masonic authors such as J. E. S. Tuckett and Count Goblet d'Alviella have argued for the antiquity of the Royal Arch degree and its use as a completion of the Hiramic Legend, while A. F. A. Woodford, Albert Mackey and George Oliver maintained that the Third degree was "mutilated" to create the Royal Arch degree. Bernard E. Jones points out that this opinion is not supported by fact: "There does not seem to be any evidence to support the statement that the Royal Arch was originally a part of any Craft degree."16
J. Heron Lepper, says that he is unable to "accept the theory that the Royal Arch formed an integral part of the ancient masonic tradition." This view is supported by W. Redfern Kelly, William James Hughan and others.17 Gould describes it as a "side or bye degree", a "new degree of Continental origin".18
"Douglas Knoop, a professional historian of marked ability, stated definitely that there is no evidence that our Third Degree legend and our R.A. legend were ever combined in one ceremony."19 This would appear to be the consensus of scholarly opinion today.
This is not to denigrate the value or appropriateness of the Royal Arch degree within Freemasonry. The real history of its growth and development is worthy of study, as are the lessons contained in its teachings.
1.Further details can be found in Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium, London : Harrap, 1979 pp. 19-30.
2. The Royal Arch ritual, in Ireland, is based on a legend of repairing the Temple under King Josiah, instead of the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel, which is the legend used in England, Scotland, and the United States.
3. James Anderson, Constitutions London : 1723.
4.Henry Wilson Coil, Coil's Encyclopedia, p. 575. ; Bernard E. Jones, Freemasons' Guide and Compendium, London : Harrap, 1979, p. 498. ; AQC v. cxxix (1966) p. 186.
5.Cited Coil, p. 576.
6.Cited Coil, p. 576.
7.The Lodge at Fredericksburgh, a digest of the early records Ronald E. Heaton, James R. case. Norristown, Penn : R. E. Heaton, 1976.
8.Royal Arch Working Explained, London : Spencer & Co., 1933. p. 25.
9.Coil, p. 561.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol. lcccvi (1973) p. 72.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol. lcccvi (1973) p. 73.
Act of Union, article ii, signed 25 November 1813, ratified 1 December 1813
Ahiman Rezon, London : 1756, p. 47.
Ahiman Rezon, London : 1800, p. 117.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol. lcccvi (1973) p. 73.
Freemasons' Book of the Royal Arch, London : George G. Harrap & Company Ltd, 1957. p. 22.
Jones, p. 500.
History of Freemasonry Its Antiquities, Symbols, Constitutions, Customs Part 2, Robert Freke Gould. p. 458. Cited Jones, p. 501.
Jones, p. 22.