Masons and Mormon Temple Rites
Who Were and Are the Masons?
Mel Borup Chandler is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormon"). He currently works in real estate investment and property management with his wife Sandra.
Anciently the Masons were a group of highly skilled craftsmen who belonged to a workers guild that cut, quarried and carved stone to construct sacred edifices. They are credited with building major historically significant building projects. Some have suggested they may have participated in the building of the Great Pyramids in Egypt; it is plausible, but not certain. However, they did build King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the Great Cathedrals of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The guild was arranged in ranks to ensure competency in core skill sets. In addition to their guild, they also formed a secret fraternity of members who adopted much of the learning, symbols and rituals they had acquired while building sacred edifices. The Masons inadvertently became a repository for Judaic traditions from King Solomon’s Temple, and later, Christian traditions from the Great Cathedrals of Europe..
Later they allowed select persons who were not actually members of their guild to join them in their secret fraternity. Being a member of their society was for centuries considered to be very prestigious and gave members mobility in society. George Washington was a Mason, as were many signers of the Declaration of Independence, and since then many U.S. presidents were also members, the last being Gerald R. Ford.
In Mormonism, Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum was a Mason and his younger brother Joseph followed in his footsteps. After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]] was organized in 1836, many members and leaders were Masons right up until the end of the Mexican–American War.
Masons were Guild Workers, Stone Masons, and the Operative Masons of old who took great pride in setting a workman's standard. Guild workers could have been anybody who had a special skill that could be used in a project, perhaps an architect, or a person who estimates the amount of stone to be quarried or who was able to assist in some other way to coordinate or help complete a project. A stone mason is a person who cuts rough hewn stone to be used in construction. An operative mason is a person who is skilled at carving (hammer and chisel) and restoring damaged stones, usually in ancient buildings like cathedrals, or today, even modern structures requiring special adornments.
Each tradesman was required to pass a certain level of competence to advance to the next skill level. Without that proper qualification and credentials, a person would not be allowed to require higher wages for their knowledge and labor.  Eventually, besides the actual guild, which is similar to a union by today’s standards, they formed a secret exclusive society to preserve their private traditions. Today, guilds are still common in some trades. The most notable is perhaps the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Virtually every Hollywood actor must be a member if he/she appears in a major motion picture.
The Masons came to particular prominence in 16th to 17th century Europe, because they were the builders of the great Christian cathedrals of Europe. The Masons were an integral part of the Knights Templar who made their headquarters on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which is believed to be the original site of King Solomon’s Temple. King Solomon’s Temple was said to be one of the most magnificent historical/religious buildings ever built and is still venerated today.
The temple of King Solomon was destroyed during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (C.E. refers to Common Era and can be used interchangeably with A.D. meaning Anno Domini in Latin and translated as the "year of our Lord.") The actual mosque at the Dome of the Rock today was begun as a shrine for the Byzantine Catholic Church.
The Masons themselves only claim to go as far back as King Solomon’s Temple, and some say only as far as the Great Cathedral Builders. But we know their actual traditions and rituals go at least as far back as King Solomon’s Temple and are said to mimic those. Some of those traditions would have been Jewish in origin; however, some of the tradtions are Christian in nature. Because the Masons built most of Europe’s Great Cathedrals, they would have been exposed to symbols and traditions of the Catholic Church.
The Masons were in a unique position over the centuries to observe and preserve traditions in an ecclesiastical sense. Anyone who is familiar with the architecture of sacred structures knows there is a tremendous amount of symbolism and religious teaching incorporated into the design of these types of buildings. Since builders had to be worthy, in most cases, in order to be trusted with temple-building, they were also privy to temple rituals and symbols. The Mormon Church has a different view than others regarding religious history. Instead of seeing the evolution from paganism, to the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, to Christianity, they see Adam as having a fullness of knowledge, and all ensuing prophets as knowing and teaching the Plan of Salvation and Jesus Christ. Thus, they know that God has commanded temple-building from the beginning, and that temple symbols and rituals have existed since the beginning.
Joseph Smith and Masonic Symbols
In the early days of the Mormon Church Joseph Smith was intimately familiar with Masonic rituals. In them he recognized survivals of true worship. Many of Joseph’s followers were Masons and his older brother Hyrum had been a Mason in the Palmyra New York Lodge.
While most anti-Mormon propagandists relish the fact that Joseph was a Mason, they fail to inform their hearers or readers of Smith’s impressions of Masonic ritual. As stated before, Smith recognized survivals of true worship in Masonic ritual. He found them to be informative, but had his own take on how they should be perfected and accomplished, and he was not shy about sharing his interpretations with Masons in general or the membership in his newly founded and organized Church.
Mormons believe Smith was literally and personally instructed by angels and other heavenly beings at various times, and his corrections and impressions were inspired. Smith reinterpreted the survival of true worship found in Masonic ritual and symbolism; thus Masons became a vessel in God’s plan to aid in the restoration of the gospel, as were Martin Luther and other reformers in the protestant break-away from Catholic orthodoxy.
Critics picture Masonic ritual as pre-existing the temple ritual. They see temple ritual as stolen or plagiarized from Masonry. The fact is that temple ritual is as ancient as Adam. Since it had been lost, it was new to Joseph Smith when he received it from heavenly messengers, but he recognized vestiges of it in the rituals of the Masons, hold-overs from the ancient religious edifices they only were entitled to build.
- Paraphrase of reference: Barnes & Noble’s Publishers; “Symbols of Freemasonry” pg. 6-30.
- Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Penguin Books Edition. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1990.
- Griffith, Michael T. A Ready Reply; Answering Challenging Questions About The Gospel. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers & Distributors, Inc., 1994.
- Harrison, R.K. Old Testament Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing & Company, 1970.
Article by Mel Borup Chandler