Sovereign Grand Commander
C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33

Patriotism, a cardinal virtue of the Freemason, is the honor we pay to the past and the hope we express for the future.

Almost everyone knows the first verse of “America the Beautiful,” the immortal song by Katharine Lee Bates. It begins with the words:

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!”

Fewer of us, however, are familiar with the third verse:

“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”

It could be argued that this verse is the most Masonic stanza of the song---that it sums up the Masonic attitude toward patriotism. For when Masonry speaks of patriotism, it is not speaking of a mindless and unthinking devotion to country, or some sort of reflex reaction at the sight of our flag. These are unworthy of thinking men and women.

Patriotism, for a Mason, involves conscious and deliberate choices, not automatic conditioned responses. Bates writes that America is beautiful for heroes who were tested and proved in a battle not for land, or power, or conquest (the major motives for wars throughout man’s history), but in a battle for liberty, for an ideal, a vision of human dignity and potential.

These heroes, and heroines, loved their country---that is to say the ideals of freedom, the right of the individual to self-determination in political, religious, social and intellectual matters---more than they loved themselves, and loved “mercy more than life.” That is to say, they valued compassion, caring, and charity more than mere existence.

Those sentiments of true patriotism could have come from any of the Degrees of the Scottish Rite. We are taught that “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are the foundations of a free government,” that “Man assumes his proper rank as a moral agent when with a sense of the limitations of his nature arise the consciousness of freedom, and of the obligations accompanying it,” and that “charity, clemency, and generosity are essential qualities of a Mason.” Bates then writes:

“America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”

She is alluding, of course, to Malachi, the last book of the Hebrew Bible: “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (3:3) She hopes that God will so purify the thoughts and actions of America that its every act will be an acceptable offering; that any success an American might hope for would be a noble success, a success which was not personal nor selfish but intended for the benefit of others.

And again, the Scottish Rite teaches that our thoughts should be for others, not ourselves. Perhaps the most famous quotation of Albert Pike, engraved in the wall of the House of the Temple above his bust, is “What we have done for ourselves dies with us. What we have done for others and the world lives on and is immortal.” That is the “gain divine,” the “offering in righteousness.”

This, then, is patriotism as Masonry understands it. It is a conscious, thoughtful dedication to the welfare of others, the people who comprise the nation. It is the heroism of men and women who are prepared to offer the sacrifice of their own lives that others may enjoy the benefits of liberty. Patriotism, a cardinal virtue of the Mason, is the honor we pay to the past and the hope we express for the future.

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It is always a pleasure to welcome visitors to the House of the Temple, 1733 Sixteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009-3103. Located on Sixteenth Street between R and S Streets, seven blocks NE of the Dupont Circle Metro stop, Red Line, the Temple is open to Brothers, guests, and the general public for tours from 8 am to 2 pm on weekdays. The Temple is also open on weekends and holidays for groups of 25 or more provided special arrangements are made in advance with the Grand Executive Director's office (202)232-3579. Visitors are requested to register at the door.