The History and Legend of Scottish Rite Origins
The Story Unfolds…
Like much of early Masonic history, the origins of the Scottish Rite are uncertain. This is primarily due to the lack of historic documentation prior to the early 1700’s and not to any great veiled mystery. The few records kept were subject to loss, fire, weather and aging. So we can at best only speculate on many of our origins by looking at the few documents, historical references and legends that remain.
What We Know
In 1754, near Paris, Chevalier de Bonneville established the Chapter of Clermont. The Chapter resided in the College of Jesuits of Clermont, hence the name. It is said to have been created to honor the Duc de Clermont, then Grand Master of the English Grand Lodge of France.
The Chapter of Clermont was a “Chapter of the Advanced Degrees” and initially entailed six degrees and was later extended to 25 known degrees. The six initial degrees were 1˚, 2˚ and 3˚ St John’s Masonry, 4˚ Knight of the Eagle, 5˚ Illustrious Knight or Templar, 6˚ Sublime Illustrious Knight.
Interestingly enough historically, prior to the time of the Rite’s creation, James II had been in residence at Clermont in exile from Britain from 1688 to his death in 1701. As noted by German Masonic historian, Lenning… “whilst in exile, James II residing at the Jesuit College of Clermont in France, allowed his closest associates to fabricate certain degrees in order to extend their political views.” Lenning believed this to have been an attempt on the part of James and his associates to regain control of the British throne for the House of Stuart. If Lenning is right, this places the origins of the “Rite of Perfection” in the hands of James II and the Jacobite (Stuart) Freemasons who at the time were in exile from Great Britain throughout France and Italy. Lenning also contends that these degrees were introduced into French Freemasonry under the name of the Clermont System.
James II died in exile in 1701. His son James III is said to have continued his father’s Masonic legacy and later created further higher degrees.
Perhaps James II saw in the Jesuit morality plays of the College of Clermont a vessel for passing on a set of moral lessons. Some of the world’s greatest playwrights had emerged from Clermont. Jesuit tutelage had previously produced great writers such as Lope de Vega, Moliere, Racine, and the Corneille brothers. Ensconced in exile, I believe James II did find the inspiration and the training to help produce what would later become the first six degrees. From out of the darkness… comes light.
To be continued… (Author’s note… An in depth look at the Templar influence in Scottish Rite masonry’s origins can be found by visiting the Rosslyn Templars’ website.)