Why The Holy Saints’ John?

By: Jon Patrick Sage, Re-Printed December 27, 2016

Today, December 27, by proclamation of the Grand Master of Masons of the State of Indiana- was designated for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. All Indiana Lodges were instructed to hold “Table Lodges”, which our European and Traditional Observance Brethren are very much aware, and we all have a good time… It really is a good time, and at the heart of the ceremony is the reiteration and epitome of Brotherly and Charity- two of the most important hallmarks of the Fraternity. Still, many people ask: If Freemasonry isn’t a religion, why are her patron Saints two of the most venerable fathers of the Christian faith? For that, we must delve deep into Masonic Symbolism, and then couple it with some old fashioned common sense and astrological occurrences.  However, let it also be said that the Holy Saints’ John (John the Baptist & John the Evangelist) were well rounded men, who- whether or not they were Christian- are nonetheless perfect examples of just and moral behaved individuals. 

Authors Note: Although Masonry in no way claims one particular creed or theology, it is widely accepted that the Christian Faith, and by proxy- The Holy Bible- form the majority and the basis for many of our allegorical and figurative symbolism. As it follows, if these symbolism’s are rooted in those Scriptures, then many explanations for these symbolism’s must also be found in those same Scriptures; which are also, as a whole, symbolic and would be better defined simply as a Volume of Sacred Law (V.S.L.). For this reason, the author references Christian writings and The Holy Bible in these explanations and arguments.


From the esoteric “…”, in the Masonic Monitor, we know why ancient Lodges were dedicated to King Solomon, and from the basis of the several degrees, traced to that early date, this makes sense. But, in modern times, Lodges are said to be dedicated to the Holy Saints’ John, namely St. John the Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist. How then, was the leap made, of some 1000 and some odd years [1], between Solomon and the latter Saint John the Evangelist [2]? We learn through the Biblical text and timelines that Solomon the King assumed the throne of David when he was 29 years old, at or around 490 B.C. Solomon was allowed to build the Temple at Jerusalem, and so establishes the basis for the operative legend and Masonic timeline. The Biblical accounts play no small part in the establishment of her numerous Saints, of which there were many more than only the few that we hear about today!

However these two Saints John came into the general usages of the Fraternity, and we will discuss this in greater detail, make no mistake that they were not the first, or only choices.  As a shining example, and if we are simply speaking in terms of Solomon’s temple and/or Jerusalem, then it is possible, and argued by some scholars, that one or both of the St.s’ Johns were simply confused with the St. John of Jerusalem. Indeed, this has always been my feeling, and there is some reference to it, that the St. John of Jerusalem, in the Byzantine capacity, might have been the actual St. being sought after here. But- for whatever reason, the focus was at some point shifted to St. John the Evangelist, and then, according to an account related by John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist.

If in terms of a professional capacity, St. Thomas, carrying the symbol of the square or builders rule, would have provided an already present example of the Patron Saint of masons and architects. As was the case in those days (the Medieval Period), it was customary for all Church’s, trades, cities, towns, and even most peoples and/or families, to have their own “personal” Saints of Patronage and/or protection, safekeeping. Other Early Saints, connected by chance or circumstance with early masonic guilds were St. George, and the famed Four Crowned Martyrs, or The Quatuor Coronati, the legend of which is an endlessly fascinating one.

It is interesting to note, that there always being a “certain point within a circle” associated with the two St.’s Johns, is a peculiar notion indeed. In a world of right angles and horizontals, and with the exception of the circumferences of the compass, we find a circle. Even though the circle is ultimately comprised of right angles, connected by the arc of a compass, the stand alone model used in the description of the Saints’ John has always been an intriguing idea. The circle, symbolically and in many cases, alludes to influences outside of the traditional Church and Masonic Order. By ancient lore, the circle, and in particular a flaming circle, was designated as a symbol of the sun, and hence- the celebration of, and representation of, the Zodiac, symbolism with decidedly pagan origins.

As was the case in those days, a festival with pagan origins often was adopted by the Church, and might then become the festival of that whole community. If these two occasions having to do with St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, were popular and accepted Religious and even secular dates on the ancient calendar, and furthermore; if they had (and they did), astrological significance’s, which would further ingratiate them with an Order concerned in speculative/philosophic happenings, then it is wholly understandable, along with the convenience of the names, and the places occupied by those figures, that the Masonic Order would choose both, or at least one of these, as her Patron Saint.

It is then perhaps purely though an economical study of history, that we find ourselves inexorably and undeniably connected with June 24 (St. John the Baptist Day), and December 27 (St. John the Evangelist Day). These dates have long been connected with pagan festivals. In short, and related to the Zodiac, June 21, was the Summer Solstice, which long preceded any hint of Christianity/Masonry, and is closely in line with June 24. Likewise, December 22, the Winter Solstice, is close enough to December 27 to warrant a strong connection. Presumably, according to early Church calendars, the dates chosen for the St.’s John fell by happenstance close to the aforementioned Solstice celebrations [3].

In addition to the already known and accepted Solstice celebrations, one of which occurring on or close to the day associated with St. John the Evangelist, it is then prudent to ask; how and why was St. John the Evangelist, in and of himself, chosen as a Patron Saint of Freemasonry? The answer, apart from an analogy and comparison of The Three Lesser Lights, i.e. John the Baptist, Jesus, and St. John the Evangelist, is found in the Biblical descriptions and writings of John the Evangelist.  In large part, these descriptions reside in the earliest parts of the degree of the Entered Apprentice, and then also in the Tenets of a Masons profession.

To learn to “subdue our Passions” is a foregone conclusion on WHY we want to become Masons. The word “passions”, is historically identified as human emotions such as anger, rage, strong feelings, etc. [4]. Thus to subdue these often uncontrollable and ill-directed emotions is to calm and positively focus our energies. St. John the Evangelist represented this, as evidenced by his changing, with age, from aggressive and reckless, to kind, thoughtful, and acting with purpose. Also, John is directly concerned with the first Tenet of a Mason’s profession, that being Brotherly Love, and which when practiced, easily gives way to the others- Relief and Truth. In I John Chapter 4, we find numerous and very well-articulated examples of the notion of Brotherly Love, and how that beautiful attribute figures into an agreeable model for life in general, but certainly, for the existence, and persistence of the Ancient Institution known as our Masonic Order [1].

The question now remains, how was St. John the Baptist entered into our lexicon of Masonic terms as a Patron Saint? If Masonry requires right angles horizontals, and parallels, then it would come as no accident to insist that one Patron be weighed against another; much as the Three Lesser Lights weigh and balance themselves; i.e., the Sun, Moon, and Master of the Lodge, and are regular and constant. In that vein of thought, and if John the Evangelist outlived and evangelized for Jesus (The Middle/Master of the Three Lights), it is natural to conclude that there must be a counter which would precede the Master, as it were. This, in no small way, comes in the way of St. John the Baptist. Although mentioned in prophesy as far back and even farther than Isiah, St. John the Baptist was the pro claimer and welcoming force for many concerning Jesus. In John 1:27 John the Baptist, answering questions as to whether he is the Christ, replied that “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, but whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” [1]. Thus, it has always been a common theme in the text(s) that John the Baptist was in many ways, a means of preparation and introduction of Jesus and the principles of the Gospel to the World. And so, by genealogically timed events and logic, John the Baptist is a natural beginning for the Work of John the Evangelist.

As an addendum to this conclusion, let us visit a story which persisted throughout the examination of these questions. St. John the Evangelist, after having been initiated into Masonry at an earlier date, was then found at an age upwards of ninety, having been asked by members of the early Craft to become Grand Master. John allegedly accepted this Office, but then shared the honors somewhat, and because of the zeal begun by St. John the Baptist, “drew a line parallel, ever since Free Mason’s Lodges have been dedicated both to St. John the Baptist, and to St. John the Evangelist” [2]. Although this story, taken from the dusty pages of The Freemasons Guide and Compendium, by B.E. Jones, is as interesting as it is peculiar. The account, although it is published, is apparently without much substantiation; even still, it could be one of the best clues we have today as to why one, or both, of these Saints Johns’ were selected by the Fraternity. Perhaps, it is an unlikely sequence of events of how the Saints’ John selected the Fraternity, and became her Patron Saints.

In any event, and however the course of events may have come to pass, the lectures in our degrees provide more than sufficient evidence to justify the choices of our Saints. Through the moral code of the Saints, demonstrated in their lives and recorded on the pages of the Holy Scriptures, we may find bits of Divinity, able to be liberally spread amongst the crumbs of our humble lives while on this planet, and beyond.

References

[1]       The Holy Bible, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013.

[2]       B. E. Jones, The Freemasons Guide and Compendium, London: George G. Harrap & Company, Ltd., 1950, p. 339.

[3]       “St. John The Evangelist,” New Advent, [Online]. Available: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08492a.htm. [Accessed 4 July 2014].

[4]       Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1960.