Brethren, We have the privilege this morning to participate in the consecration of a new lodge, The Matthew Lodge No 9688. Consecration of a new lodge within the illustrious Province of Bristol is an occasion for the Founders to rejoice and reflect. Rejoice in your success in bringing together a body of like-minded brethren desirous of exchanging masonic fellowship at a common venue. Secondly, rejoice in your collective conviction that there are in your community at large men receptive to the ideals of Freemasonry. Thirdly, rejoice in your successful petition to the Most Worshipful Grand Master for the Warrant of Constitution which authorises the consecration ceremony being enacted this morning. And we rejoice with you.
At the same time brethren, it is pertinent that we reflect upon the responsibilities you have undertaken. We are not recognising a formal venue such as a club intended only for social intercourse. What is being enacted is an institution in which you will exchange fellowship founded upon noble and time-honoured masonic principles which underpin our Order as a Society of Brethren.
That you have these objectives in mind is clear from the consideration you have given to the choice of name for your lodge : The Matthew Lodge. As I understand it, you were inspired by this name because the Bristol-built caravel The Matthew of 1497 occupies a place of great honour as the first British ship to sail across the mighty Atlantic in the name of King Henry VII five centuries ago and return, having found a new continent, since called America. You have also paid tribute to Bristol’s contribution to the development of national and international maritime enterprises. As a ship of discovery, The Matthew symbolises to you life’s journey of discovery, successfully sailing over its peaks and troughs with the aid of the stabilising influence of the three masonic masts of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. These are weighty exhortations to inspire a prospective candidate for our Order. May I, with humility, share with you a few more points as they occur to me in reference to The Matthew to illustrate the nature and exemplify the principles of our Order?
Matthew means more than just the name of a three-masted caravel. The name Matthew is derived from the Hebrew Mattija, the name given by Jesus to the customs officer who, as you know, was appointed as one of His Apostles (Mtt IX.9). It means ‘gift of God’, as indeed this 70-foot ship could have appeared to John Cabot. For, at a time when raising funds for his expedition was far from plain sailing, the most accessible collection of oak trees suitable for the construction of a ship was on the Welsh side of the Severn on the estate of Cabot’s most prominent financial sponsor, Richard Amerike. To a person with some religious sensibility faced with a desperate struggle to obtain a ship for a voyage which was to be the culmination of years of research and campaigns to canvas support, this combination of events could have appeared as an intervention by St. Matthew, the patron saint of customs officers, to which fraternity Amerike belonged. Indeed, Cabot might have found comfort in his choice of ‘Matthew’ as the name of the ship.
The Matthew was an extraordinary ship and John Cabot was her skilful, talented and dedicated Master Elect. It is a documented historic achievement that she was capable of the voyage for which she was built. She was not only a first-class ship of her kind in her day. She was also a one-class ship. Everyone wishing to sail with her was expected to offer freely and voluntarily, the highest deposit possible, namely his life and pure heart. Only such commitment could show that the constant care of everyone on board was to ensure the safety and success of the ship and her sponsors. The volunteers included a wide range of professionals : expert mariners, a sea pilot, successful merchants, a priest, a barber-surgeon, and seamen : 19 men including Cabot himself. Qualities such as courage, humility, integrity, honesty, generosity, respect for the Deity and gratitude for the blessings of Providence could be expected to prevail. Reinforced by care and concern from the commander, these qualities promote collective good order through co-operation between those who can work best and best agree. Thus is established that benchmark for the ultimate in personnel management, namely, the whole hearted and informed support for the chain of command.
Within eleven weeks of sailing, on 20 May 1497, The Matthew returned to Bristol from her transatlantic voyage of nearly 4000 miles across uncharted northern waters with her crew still in full heart and harmony. This is eloquent testimony that her Master and crew had vindicated themselves, not so much for what they had done, although that was admirable enough, but for what they were - each a man among men. These 19 men and The Matthew have together demonstrated that the development of modern technological assistance undreamed of in her days, have not diminished in the slightest degree the importance of the human factor for such corporate success as that of The Matthew in 1497 or of the Apollo missions and the modern replica Matthew five centuries later. Our Order has much to contribute to develop the human factor and render ourselves more useful to our fellow creatures.
Brethren, in the diligent pursuit of knowledge there is none greater than the knowledge of self and its control. Matthew’s Gospel (Mtt. XV.11) tells us that it is “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” Nearly two millennia later, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis also wrote in The Memoirs of Aga Khan (Cassell, 1954) , “In our ordinary affections one for another, in our daily work with hand or brain, we most of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, of merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit.” Opportunity to understand and control self is offered at each advancing step of Masonry; being constantly reinforced at every meeting when a Brother, whatever his status may be outside the lodge, may wait upon another and look after him with fraternal care and concern.
May the Great Architect of the Universe bless and guide you, the Founders and The Matthew Lodge No 9688, that your endeavours demonstrate the moral of an ancient parable. A tree planted to bear fruit for all the dwellers upon earth will yield its produce even to those who throw stones at it. Sustained by your spirit and spirituality may you proceed with fidelity and firmness coupled with humility. And, ignoring the stone throwers around us, sail forth as surely and steadily as your great namesake, to become a jewel in the masonic crown of the Province of Bristol.