THREE PRINCIPLE ROUNDS
SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.XIII April, 1935 No.4
THREE PRINCIPAL ROUNDS
And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he
lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because
the sun was set; and took of the stones of that place, and put them
for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he
dreamed, and beheld a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it
reached to heaven; and beheld the angels of God ascending and
descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I
am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.
These words (Genesis XXVIII, 10-13 inclusive)v are the foundation of
that beautiful symbol of the Entered Apprentices Degree in which the
initiate first hears. . . the greatest of these is charity, for our
faith may be lost in sight, hope ends in fruition, but charity
extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity.
At least two prophets besides the describer of Jacobs vision have
spoken aptly reinforcing words Job said (XXXIII, 14-16):
For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a
dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in
slumberings upon the bed: Then he openeth the ears of men, and
sealeth their instructions.
And St. John (I,51):
And he said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto you, Hereafter ye
shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending
upon the Son of Man.
Since the dawn of thought the ladder has been a symbol of progress,
of ascent, of reaching upward, in many mysteries, faiths and
religions. Sometimes the ladder becomes steps, sometimes a stairway,
sometimes a succession of gates or, more modernly, of degrees; but he
idea of ascent from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge
and from materially to spiritually is the same whatever the form of
In the Persian Mysteries of Mithras, the candidate ascended a ladder
of seven rounds, and also passed through seven caverns, symbolized by
seven metals, and by the sun, moon and five planets. The early
religion of Brahma had also a seven stepped ladder. In the
Scandinavian Mysteries the initiate climbed a tree; the Cabalists
made progress upward by ten steps. In the Scottish Rite the initiate
encounters the Ladder of Kadosh, also of seven steps, and most of the
early tracing boards of the Craft Degrees show a ladder of seven
rounds, representing the four cardinal and three theological virtues.
At one time, apparently, the Masonic ladder had but three steps. The
Prestonian lecture, which Mackey thought was an elaboration of
Dunkerlys system, rests the end of the ladder on the Holy Bible; it
By the doctrines contained in the Holy Bible, we are taught to
believe in the Divine dispensation of Providence, which belief
strengthens our Faith, and enables us to ascend the first step.
That Faith naturally creates in a Hope of becoming partakers of
some of the blessed promises therein recorded, which Hope enables
us to ascend the second step. But the third and last being Charity
comprehends the whole, and he who is possessed of this virtue in its
ample sense, is said to have arrived at the summit of his profession,
or more metaphorically, into an etherial mansion veiled from mortal
eye by the starry firmament.
The theological ladder is not very old in Masonic symbolism, as far
as evidence shows. Some historians have credited it to Matin Clare,
in 1732, but on very slender evidence. It seems to appear first is a
tracing board approximately dated 1776, and has there but three
rounds. As the tracing board is small, the contraction from seven to
three may have been a matter of convenience. If it is true that
Dunkerly introduced Jacobs ladder into the degrees, he my have
reduced the steps from seven to three merely to emphasize the number
three, so important Masonically; possibly it was to achieve a certain
measure of simplicity. Preston, however, restored the idea of seven
steps, emphasizing the theological virtues by denominating them
The similarity of Jacobs Ladder of seven steps to the Winding
Stairs, with three, five and seven steps has caused many to believe
each but a different form of the same symbol; Haywood says (The
Builder, Vol.5, No.11):
Other scholars have opined that the steps were originally the same
as the Theological Ladder, and had the same historical origin.
Inasmuch as this Theo-logical Ladder symbolized progress, just as
does the Winding Stair, some argue that the latter symbol must have
come from the same sources as the former. This interpretation of the
matter my be plausible enough, and it may help towards an
interpretation of both symbols, but it suffers from an almost utter
lack of tangible evidence.
Three steps or seven, symbol similar to the Winding Stairs or
different in meaning and implications, the theological virtues are
intimately interwoven in the Masonic system. Our many rituals alter
the phraseology here and there, but the sense is the same and the
According to the dictionary (Standard) Faith is a firm conviction of
the truth of what is declared by another . . .without other
evidence: The assent of the mind or understanding to the truth of
what God has revealed.
The whole concept of civilization rests upon that form of faith
covered in the first definition. Without faith in promises, credit
and the written word society as we know it could not exist. Nor
could Freemasonry have been born, much less lived through many
centuries without secular, as distinguished from religious, faith;
faith in the integrity of those who declared that Freemasonry had
value to give to those who sought; faith in its genuineness and
reality; faith in its principles and practices.
Yet our ritual declares that the third, not the first, round of the
ladder is the greatest of these because faith may be lost in
sight. Faith is not needed where evidence is presented, and in the
far day when the human soul may see for itself the truths we now
except without demonstrations, faith may disappear without any con-
sciousness of loss. But on earth faith in the divine revelation is
of the utmost importance to all, especially from the Masonic
standpoint. No atheist can be made a Mason. Any man who misstates
his belief in Deity in order to become a Mason will have a very
unhappy experience in taking the degrees. Young wrote:
Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death To break the
shock blind nature cannot shun And lands though smoothly on the
The candidate that has no bridge across the gulf will find in the
degrees only words which mean nothing. To the soul on its journey
after death, the third round may indeed be of more import than the
first; to Masons in their doctrine and their Lodges, the first round
is a foundation; lacking it no brother may climb the heights.
Hope is intimately tied to faith: Faith is the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The dictionary declares hope to be desire with expectations of
obtaining: to trust confidently that good will come. But the
dictionary definition fails to express the mental and spiritual
importance of hope. Philosophers and poets have done much better.
Where there is no hope, there can be no endeavor, says Samuel
Johnson, phrasing a truism everyone feels though few express. All
ambitions, all human actions, all labors are founded on hope. It may
be crystallized into a firm faith, but in a world in which nothing is
certain, the future inevitably is hidden. We live, love, labor,
pray, marry and become Masons. bury our dead with hope in breasts of
something beyond. Pope wrote:
Hope spring eternal in the human breast; Many never is, but always
to be, blest, blending a cynicism with the truth.
Shakespeare came closer to everyday humanity when he said:
True hope is swift, and flies with swallows wings; Kings it makes
gods, and meaner creatures, kings.
Dante could find no more cruel words to write above the entrance to
Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here.
Nor can we be argued out of hope; doctors say of a loved one, she
must die, but we hope; atheists attempt to prove there is no God -
we hope. Facts demonstrate that our dearest ambition can never be
realized - yet we hope. To quote Young again, we are all:
Confiding, though confounded; hope coming on, Untaught by trial,
unconvinced by proof, And ever looking for the never seen.
And yet, vital though hope is to man, to Masons, and thrice vital to
faith. our ritual says that charity is greater than either faith or
To those whom charity means only handing a quarter to a beggar,
paying a subscription to the community chest, or sending old clothes
to the Salvation army, the declaration that charity is greater than
faith or hope is difficult to accept. Only when the word charity
is read to mean love, as many scholars say it should be translated
in Pauls magnificent passage in Corinthians, does our ritual become
logically intelligible. Charity of alms can hardly extend through
the boundless realms of eternity. To give money to the poor is a
beautiful act, but hardly as important, either to the giver or the
recipient, as faith or hope. But to give love, unstinted, without
hope of or faith in reward - that, indeed, may well extend to the
very foot of the Great White Throne.
It is worth while to read St. Paul with this meaning of the word in
mind; here is the quotation from the King James version, but with the
word love substituted for the word charity:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not
love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though
I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all
knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all
my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,
and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and
is kind; Love enveith not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed
up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not
easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but
rejoiceth in the truth.
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth
all things. Love never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they
shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there
be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we
prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that
which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I
thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish
things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to
face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am
known. And now abideth faith, hope, love; these three; but the
greatest of these is love.
It is of such charity that a Masons faith is made. He is, indeed,
taught the beauty of giving that which is material; the Rite of
Destitution shows forth the tender lesson in the first degree;
Masonic Homes, Schools, Foundation, Orphanages and Hospitals are the
living exponents of the charity which means to give from a plenty to
those who have but a paucity.
The first of the principal tenets of our profession and the third
round of Jacobs Ladder are really one; brotherly love is the
greatest of these and only when a Mason takes to his heart the
reading of charity to be more than alms, does he see the glory of
that moral structure the door to which Freemasonry so gently, but so
Charity of thought for an erring brother; charity which lays a
brotherly hand on a troubled shoulder in comfort; charity which
exults with the happy and finds joy in his success; charity which
sorrows with the grieving and drops a tear in sympathy; charity which
opens the heart as well as the pocket book; charity which stretches
forth a hand of hope to the hopeless, which aids the helpless, which
brings new faith to the crushed . . .aye, these, indeed, may extend
through the boundless realms of eternity.
Man is never so close to the divine as when he loves; it is because
of that fact that charity, (meaning love,) rather than faith or hope,
is truly, the greatest of these.