The Square


 "Acting upon the square" is a familiar metaphor for fair and honest dealings with others. The square has carried that meaning for many generations as evidenced by writings traced to ancient China. In the Great Learning, it is stated that abstaining from doing unto others what one would not have them do to him "is called the principle of acting on the square." We might recognize the positive form of this saying as the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The Square is prominent throughout the rituals and ceremonies of Freemasonry and is one of the first symbols introduced and explained to the Freemason. During the initiation ceremony, the new Freemason is told the Square should remind him to conduct his life upon the square, indicating moral and ethical behavior. During the Lecture, the Square is described as part of the Furniture of the Lodge dedicated to the Master, as it is the Masonic emblem of his office. It is also one of the six Jewels of the Lodge, teaching morality. The Square is also identified as one of the Working Tools of the Fellowcraft Mason, where it admonishes the Freemason to square his "actions by the Square of Virtue."

The Square, as used in Freemasonry, is an instrument with two legs that intersect at a right angle. Though there is debate regarding the exact instrument envisioned in the early rituals, there is no doubt that the square was used to measure the accuracy of angles, to ensure that they were indeed right angles. As such, it is natural for the Square to be an emblem of accuracy, integrity, and rightness. As building materials are cut to fit the building in the proper dimensions, we must also build our character, which must be tested by a moral and ethical standard represented by the Square.

From early times, the square has represented right and honesty. For Freemasons, the Square represents morality, of the ethical and right conduct that must form the basis for our every action and as the foundation of society. In an early exposure of the Masonic ritual, the question is asked, "How many make a Lodge?" The response is specific, "God and the Square." Together, God provides instruction to man to develop his moral and spiritual character, while the Square reminds us as Freemasons that we must constantly test our behavior by the Square of Virtue.

It is also important to note that we must keep God and the Square together. While the Square is an emblem of the virtuous moral, ethical, and spiritual conduct required of all Freemasons, it is our faith in God that provides the basis for that behavior. If society is not careful and loses its faith in God, then its foundation for moral and ethical conduct drifts from that decreed by God. When this occurs, men come to think that morality is of human invention and the moral law loses its meaning and power. It leads to a society without standards, which will become unstable and eventually fall.

How simple is the Square, revealing the oldest wisdom of man and the very genius of Freemasonry. As evidenced by our usage, the Square rules the Freemason as well as the Lodge in which he labors. The candidate enters a rectangular Lodge and walks a circuit with squared steps. He is brought to light to observe the Square upon the Altar and observes the Master wearing the Square, as the emblem of his office. Freemasonry is not just a ritual. It is a way of life, a way of living. It provides moral and ethical instruction based upon a faith in God that allows us as Freemasons to build our moral and spiritual character. Each of us has our own Square within us, our conscience, which we must use to test our every thought, action, and word to determine if it is true by the Square of Virtue.

The Square is a symbol of the moral law upon which human life must rest if it is to stand. Without the moral law as our guide, we flounder and fall in this world. If the Freemason does not build his ethical and spiritual character upon the moral law and live in obedience to the laws of God, our lives are incomplete and doomed to failure. David in Psalm 15:1 writes, "Lord, who shall abide in your Tabernacle? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth…" It is our obligation as Freemasons to "square our actions by the Square of Virtue" in all our dealings with our fellowman. If we "act by the Square," our moral and ethical character will be above reproach and we will have a stable and content life.

It is fitting to close this discussion of the Square with the following poem penned by an unknown poet.

It matters not whate'er your lot or what your task may be,
One duty there remains for you, one duty stands for me.
Be you a doctor skilled and wise, or do your work for wage,
A laborer upon the street, an artist on the stage;
One glory still awaits for you, one honor that is fair,
To have men say as you pass by: "That Fellow's on the Square."

Ah, here's a phrase that stands for much, tis good old English, too;
It means that men have confidence in everything you do.
It means that what you have earned, and that you've done your best,
And when you go to sleep at night, untroubled you may rest.
It means that conscience is your guide, and honor is your care;
There is no greater praise that this: "That Fellow's on the Square."

And when I die I would not wish a lengthy epitaph;
I do not want a headstone large, carved with fulsome chaff.
Pick out no single deed of mine, if such a deed there be,
To 'grave upon my monument, for those who come to see.
Just this one phrase of all I choose, to show my life was fair:
"Here sleepeth now a Fellow who was always on the Square."