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The Invisible College
a few observations
by Trevor W. McKeown
The current fad for popular writers on historical themes is to expend as much or more of their space to detailing their researches—often couched in the language of a murder mystery—as to the actual facts that may be revealed by their researches.
Robert Lomas has either taken to heart the ready criticisms of his earlier reviewers, or else has naturally developed into a more consciencious researcher. But he easily falls into his old habits of making claims which are only substantiated by his own earlier expressed opinions or rhetorical questions.
As in any book of this nature there will be errors, worthy of note but not to be considered as criticisms. That Archbishop Ussher never determined the exact time of creation is an easy mistake to make, considering the large number of textbook authors that continue to reprint this erroneous claim without bothering to check Ussher’s original text. To misspell his name 'Usher' is perhaps more serious but not damning. The occasional grammatical or typographical error should be properly laid at the editor’s door.
When Lomas makes the claim that "Ashmole actually belonged to a society of Rosicrucians...." a critical reader is left asking the question: what society? No documentation is given nor rationalization proposed for claiming the existence of a society. [p. 4.] What similarities does Lomas find between the Royal Society and Freemasonry? The topics of religion and politics were forbidden at both meetings. And two, possibly three, of the founding members were freemasons. [p. 66.]
While Lomas lists the original twelve founders of the Royal Society, beyond Robert Moray and Alexander Bruce, there is no proof for any of the others. Curiously enough, he fails to mention Sir Christopher Wren who has often been claimed to have been a freemason and for whose membership there currently appears to be some proof.
After noting that Robert Boyle coined the term Invisible College [p. 63.] and conceding that "It is unlikely that Boyle himself was ever a Freemason" he then posits the unsupported rhetorical question: "Was Boyle’s Invisible College really an early lodge of Freemasons?" [p. 66.] When Lomas states that Robert Boyle and John Wallis "both wrote about other formative groups and each used symbols and ideas which are characteristic of Freemasonry to describe these other meetings" he doesn't describe those symbols and ideas. There is no way of evaluating how common they were in other circles of society. [p. 70.]
His claims that others were freemasons do not withstand scrutiny. Based solely on the frontispiece engraving to John Wilkin’s A History of the Royal Society by John Evelyn, published in 1667 Lomas writes: "When I first saw this plate I was amazed at the use of so much symbolism, which, had I seen it included in a more modern engraving, I would have said was Masonic. Is it purely coincidence that John Evelyn made so much use of symbolism that is still used in present day Freemasonry." It could well be coincidence. The use of biblical imagery, and depictions of workmen’s tools and Solomon’s Temple was not uncommon to the period and, no more than the pentagram, did their use imply masonic influence. [p. 72.]
Further claims for the membership of others in Freemasonry are equally unsubstantiated. No attempt is made to prove Sir Thomas Gresham’s membership. It is just implied. Francis Bacon’s membership is based on a single frontispiece illustration.
There is extant an illustration of Richard Steele in a plate of masonic lodges yet no other record suggests he was a mason. There is extant an illustration of Chevalier D'Eon De Beaumont in female costume and masonic regalia, yet there is no record that he ever wore his regalia after assuming the clothes of a woman. A single illustration does not constitute proof and Lomas does his readers a disservice by implying it does.
Lomas repeats his claim that the carvings in Rosslyn Chapel are evidence of the earliest evidence of speculative freemasonry and claims proof with the use of statistics. As a statistician by training and occupation, he should be ashamed. The use of statistics for analyzing non-quantifiable phenomenon is highly controversial and not conclusive. [p. 87.]
Lomas stresses the importance of the five-pointed star in masonic symbolism and notes its prevalance in Scoon Palace, built in 1802 and the Mansfield Mausoleum, built in 1807. He fails to note its complete absence from masonic ritual and its minimal usage elsewhere. Although it occasionally appears as the bright glimmering light, this is an unsupported usage. The five-pointed star or pentagram appears on some regalia and seals but other usages are rare. Lomas says that Moray always ended his signature with a five-pointed star after 1641, insinuating that it’s usage was linked to his initiation although there is extant correspondence predating his initiation that also displays the pentagram and the pentagram is part of his family crest. [p. 221.]
The use of building and tradesmen metaphors was common enough to show it was not exclusively masonic yet Lomas claims that Charles II was a freemason because Robert Moray refers to him, in a single letter, as a "Master Builder."
With neither relevence nor citations, Lomas remarks: "I have heard it said that Cromwell was also a Freemason." [p. 161.] His claim that James [VI(I)] was a freemason [p. 79.] is based on a single secondary source written sixty years after the fact as an exercise in establishing the antiquity of the Lodge of Scoon and Perth. This is no proof. It is revealing that Lomas claims great detective work in uncovering James' so-called membership, when in fact this has been a topic of masonic debate for the last century.
What of Lomas' premise that hidden within the Royal Society was a secret masonic lodge? Based on two members proven to have been freemasons and a similar ruling against discussion of religion and policy, Lomas has woven a fabrication of causality that will not withstand the most casual of investigation. That both modern Freemasonry and the Royal Society were products and promoters of the Enlightenment is unquestionable. That the teachings of Freemasonry played a role in the development of the Royal Society is evident. That the Royal Society was masonic in origins, inspiration and goals is an unproven hypothesis.

The Invisible College, The Royal Society, Freemasonry and the Birth of Modern Science, Robert Lomas. London : Headline Book Publishing, 2002. ISBN: 0 7472 3969 X


© 1871-2012 Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A. M. Updated: 2004/03/26