The degrees of the Scottish Rite are one-act plays, often staged with costume, scenery, special effects and the full rigging of any production. Their purpose is to examine different philosophies, ancient religions and systems of ethics. Through all of these, people have tried to answer certain universal questions. The degrees of the Rite do not tell a person what he should think about these questions. Instead, they tell him about what great thinkers and civilizations of the past have thought and they try to create a situation in which the candidate or brother can gain insight. Agreeing with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living, the Rite helps with this self-examination by providing reference points.
Theater is the oldest known means of teaching, especially of teaching abstract ideas. It was one of the principal means of instruction in the Middle Ages as well as in ancient Greece and Rome. Masonry borrows the techniques of theatre to make its lessons more impressive and to aid the candidate in forming the beginnings of what it is hoped will be a lifelong pattern of study and thought. Most of the degrees are set in ancient Israel, because it is from the legends surrounding King Solomon’s Temple that Masonry takes many of its parables and lessons. Ancient Egypt and medieval Europe also serve as degree settings.
Almost every Master Mason who is afforded an opportunity to petition for the Scottish Rite Degrees naturally raises the question in his mind, “Why should I take the Scottish Rite Degrees?” It is a fair and quite appropriate question for him to ask as it is of utmost importance that the prospective initiate have a clear and definite understanding of what the Rite stands for and is endeavoring to accomplish. Here are a few reasons.
The Scottish Rite Degrees give us a sense of historical values and standards. Today is the child of yesterday, and no one can understand the significance of the epochal events that are shaking the world unless he sees them from the vantage point of history. Out of the crises of the past, man has discovered principles that are as solid as the mountains, as enduring as the stars.
The moral truths that prevailed in Jerusalem, Athens and Rome are just as valid, just as imperative, in the digital 21st century. In his confidence in the reality of these principles, man has built his faith in the permanent value of moral truth. Here is to be found the basis of optimism, of faith in the free institutions and of confidence in a civilization resting on ethical principles. No man can witness the degrees of the Scottish Rite and be either a cynic or a pessimist. They renew his faith in God, in man and in the process of history.