Jim Daniel explores the implications of a compromise made more than 200 years ago that affects the Royal Arch today. Should we attempt to redefine it, or continue to embrace it?
What, if anything, might be done to improve the relationship between our Craft degrees and the Royal Arch, the two constituent parts of pure Antient Masonry? They are still stuck together by the 'Sussex fudge' - the compromise wording agreed between the Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges in early 1813 to describe the relationship of the Royal Arch with their soon-to-be United Grand Lodge under the Duke of Sussex.
The Ancients regarded the Royal Arch as the culmination and essence of their Craft - to the extent that the Royal Arch degree in effect constituted the fourth degree in their system. But the official attitude of the Moderns to the Royal Arch degree was that it was an irregular and unrecognisable innovation in the body of Freemasonry. The committee appointed by the Duke of Sussex to resolve this problem had to define 'pure Antient Masonry' so that the Royal Arch was not excluded, for if it had been, the Ancients would not have agreed to the union.
According to Douglas Burford, in his Batham Royal Arch Lecture (1995), the final form of the eventual compromise, the Sussex fudge, was not agreed until sometime between 25 November 1813, when the Preliminary Articles for the union were signed at Kensington Palace, and 27 December 1813 when the final version was signed by the two Grand Masters. In Burford's view there is a distinct possibility that when Article 2 was originally drafted its first sentence read:
'It is declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of four degrees, and no more, viz. those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, the Master Mason and also, the Supreme Degree of the Holy Royal Arch.'
However, in the final version, that first sentence was obviously altered to read:
'It is declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three [ie not four!] degrees, and no more, viz. those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order [ie not Degree] of the Holy Royal Arch.'
And it is this revised definition of the 'Preliminary Declaration' that is still found in the current Book of Constitutions. Burford notes the 'calculated ambiguity' of the definition and calls it a 'quite extraordinary equivocation'. Others have also noted this anomaly. In Bernard Jones's Freemason's Book of the Royal Arch (1957) he writes:
'Such an anomalous condition could come only as a result of compromise arrived at after hard bargaining- a compromise possible only in the English way of thought - but it must be admitted that the compromise, illogical as it is, has worked. Outside the English jurisdiction the Royal Arch is a separate degree.*'
The fudge, as obvious as the definition of 'pure Antient Masonry' itself is audacious and anomalous - written, as it was, a century after the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717. Under no other jurisdiction is the Royal Arch as closely connected with a Craft Grand Lodge as it is under the English Constitution, where as part of this indissoluble link, for example, Rulers of the Craft and many other senior officers occupy ex officio equivalent positions in Supreme Grand Chapter. Yet this ambiguous and anomalous definition has sufficed from 1818 (when Supreme Grand Chapter was eventually formed) until today.
However, by 1853, when it was belatedly included in the UGLE's Book of Constitutions, the second article of the Preliminary Declaration had already been stripped of its second sentence, which read:
'But this article is not intended to prevent any lodge or chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the Constitutions of such Orders.'
That sentence was omitted because, after the death of the Duke of Sussex in 1843, some of his fudge came unstuck: the Degrees and Orders beyond the Craft, particularly the Ancient and Accepted Rite ('the Rose Croix') began to flourish and UGLE felt its authority and status were being undermined.
Some 150 years later, pure Antient Masonry faced another challenge. With membership numbers declining, an attempt was made in 2003 to clarify and thus strengthen the Craft/RA relationship by adding another sentence to the definition of pure Antient Masonry, but this was abandoned in 2009. In some Provinces and Districts, over 50 per cent of the Craft members are also in the Royal Arch, but many others fall below today's average of about 40 per cent overlap in membership. What, then, about the future?
'We are stuck with the Sussex fudge, and, as my mother used to say, you can either like it or lump it'
We should all be concerned, not just about finding new members in an ever-changing world, but also about their retention.
I wonder whether, instead of worrying about the precise meaning of the Sussex fudge, we just accept it for what it is - a wonderfully British compromise that after two centuries now defines us and makes us unique. By embracing it we might strengthen the connection between the Royal Arch and the Craft without having to redefine or navigate around pure Antient Masonry. For, realistically, that is the only choice available to us. We cannot redefine the Royal Arch or cast it adrift as an independent Order without also throwing out the very definition of pure Antient Masonry by which our Grand Lodge has distinguished itself from the rest of the masonic world, and which we have maintained through thick and thin since 1813. To do so would so weaken the constitutional structure on which UGLE, the Premier Grand Lodge, is founded that even the basic principles that we have defined for regular Freemasonry may be questioned.
But perhaps there is one institutional change that might also help. Would it not be an idea to return to an arrangement similar to that of the Ancients' lodges where there is much closer union between the Craft and Royal Arch? Perhaps even by allowing Craft lodges somehow to join with their chapters to work the Royal Arch exaltation ceremony. Each lodge member would then see from the summons that on certain nights his lodge would be working the Royal Arch. He would see the order as an integral part of pure Antient Masonry and as the next natural step for him to take to complete his journey. The Articles of Union and the Preliminary Declaration in the Book of Constitutions would continue to be honoured, work would be found for those occasions in lodge when there is no Craft work to be done, and so on.
This idea may prove to be unpopular or simply too difficult to enact, but one thing is certain: we are still stuck with the Sussex fudge, and, as my mother used to say, you can either like it or lump it.
Jim Daniel was Grand Secretary and Grand Scribe E from 1998-2002.