Research shows that the use of the expression, “by the square,” or “on the square” has been so thoroughly adopted throughout the world – not only by Masons by also by the profane – as meaning upright living, honesty and truthfulness, that there is little written about it.
Albert Mackey has but a few lines, and the Encyclopedia Britannica just barely refers to it as an expression of Freemasonry. Here are some additional ideas.
The Masonic Square used by our ancient Brethren was the stone masons’ square, not the carpenter’s square. They used the 24-inch gauge to measure and lay out their work and the square to prove right angles. We know that the square was used by our ancient Operative Brethren, but just when it began to have a speculative meaning is uncertain. We do know, however, that in the year 1830, while repairs were being made on the ancient stone bridge call Baal, located near Limerick, Ireland, a brass square was found under the foundation stone, and on it was inscribed these words: “I will strive to live with love and care, on the level, by the Square,” and dated 1517. There was no name and we have no idea who put it there, but at that time the average operative Mason was unable to read or write. Whoever placed it there was a Speculative Mason.
The square is the recognized symbol of morality, honest and truthfulness, and living “by the Square” means living a life that is upright, honest and truthful. What is the measure of which we are to judge this? Living “by the Square” means living by the Golden Rule, which is the basis of all major religions. Some use it in the negative:
“Do not unto others that which you would not have them do unto you.” It is the Divine Truth given by God to the first men and to every man that ever lived. It is the knowledge of fundamental right and wrong, and is one of the things that makes man different from other animals.
It is a simple thing, “Do unto others that which you would have them do unto you.” Yet, it is impossible for man so to live. We can only try, for we are part animal and the law of the animal world is the law of tooth and fang, just as the spiritual law is the law of love, and we are governed by both. God does not expect us to be perfect, but He does expect us to try to be.
One of the most difficult things for man to do is to grant another person the same right to his opinions that he demands for himself. It is difficult to realize that we might be wrong and other to be right. It is impossible for man not to be biased. His very nature makes it impossible, for there never has been one who knew absolute truth.
We should always remember that, no matter how sure we are in our decisions, there is a possibility that we may be wrong and another may be right. And that which appears to be the complete knowledge of any subject may be only the beginning.
by Shawn Donohugh
The author is a Past Master of Moneta Lodge No. 405 (now Gardena-Moneta Lodge No. 372) and a four-time Past Master of Los Angeles Harbor Lodge No. 332. He currently serves as the Secretary of Los Angeles Harbor Lodge No. 332, Secretary of the Southern California Past Master’s Association, is a member of the Grand Lodge of California’s Lodge Support Committee, and served as Senior Grand Deacon for the Grand Lodge of California in 2014-2015.