CANON TYDEMAN’S ADDRESS
Reproduced from the United Grand Lodge’s letter of 11 December 1985 to Grand Officers and to Secretaries of Lodges.
THE WORDS ON THE TRIANGLE - AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW
An address to Grand Chapter on 13 November 1985 by E Comp the Revd Canon Richard Tydeman, Grand Superintendent in and over Suffolk.
ME Pro First Grand Principal and Companions, recent attacks on Freemasonry have shown up all too clearly that the Royal Arch is one of our most vulnerable fronts, and the thing that our critics have seized upon as proof of our evil intentions is the composite word or words on the triangle in the very centre of every Chapter.
Unfortunately we are not giving the right impression at all. Only the other day I was accosted by a vociferous churchwarden: "How can you", he said, "How can you, a minister of religion, take part in ceremonies which invoke heathen gods by name?", and as evidence for his accusations, he brandished before me, not a copy of Stephen Knight’s book, but a copy of the minutes of last November’s Grand Chapter containing the address by ME Comp the Revd Francis Heydon, the then Third Grand Principal.
Let me say at once that I have no wish to quarrel with E Comp Heydon, who is a personal friend of mine, and I know he based his talk on an article by the late E Comp Norman Hackney for whom I had a great respect. All the same, I am afraid I must beg to differ from their conclusions.
Let me remind you of what was said last year: that the words on the triangle are intended as a description of God "as the three original Grand Masters might have done so, remembering that they all spoke different languages", the three languages quoted being Hebrew, Syriac, and Egyptian. Norman Hackney, in his original article went even further than that and maintained that here we have "the Name of God in three languages; just that: no more and no less."
Now, Companions, in my view this explanation falls to the ground because it is based on the false assumption that Hiram Abiff was (let me quote again from last year) "a Kenite of the tribes that lived on the shores of the Red Sea in part of the Egyptian empire", and would have spoken Egyptian. Where this idea came from I cannot imagine, because Scripture informs us quite clearly in two places, that Hiram Abifi’s mother was a widow, of one of the northernmost tribes of Israel, as far from Egypt as you could get, and his late father had been a man of Tyre, which was even further away, so although Hiram could have spoken both Hebrew and Syriac, he certainly would not have addressed God in Egyptian.
The absurdity of the situation can be illustrated by a modern parallel: it would be like saying that a man whose mother came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and father from Edinburgh is therefore likely to speak with a cockney accent.
Tradition dies hard and it may well be that many zealous companions will go on quoting Syriac and Egyptian and perpetuating this extraordinary jumble of explanations. I will not say that they are wrong but I will say that I think they are definitely unwise in the present climate of opinion. As the Apostle Paul once remarked: "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient" — and it is most certainly not expedient to lay ourselves open to charges of idolatry or syncretism at a time when Churches are seriously examining our beliefs and doctrines.
So what can we offer instead of this Egypto-Syriac conglomeration? Fortunately there is a perfectly good explanation of the words on the triangle, using only the Hebrew language — an explanation that cannot be faulted in any way, and here it is.
The first syllable indicates eternal existence, the continuing and never-ending I AM. The second syllable, as we are told later (unfortunately only as an alternative) really does mean in Hebrew, "in heaven" or "on high" and the third syllable is a Hebrew word for Strength or Power.
Thus we do not need to go into apologies for faulty scholarship in the past, and we can leave Syria and Egypt and Chaldaea out of it altogether; for what we are pronouncing are not three names of God (or worse still the names of three gods, as some would suggest) but we are pronouncing three aspects or qualities of the Deity which are well known and well used, in Christianity and in other religions, namely His Eternal Existence, His Transcendence, and His Omnipotence. In other words we are describing The True and Living God — Most High — Almighty. It is as simple as that.
Unfortunately there are many printed rituals which still refer to the letters on the triangle as a name and not as a word. The Methodist committee evidently have such a copy, for their report says: "It has been suggested to us that this word is a description of God, but the ritual refers to the word as the name of God". With such evidence it is hard to see how they could conclude otherwise. But there are many other rituals which stress that the circle contains the name of God, and the triangle contains descriptive words. This is the explanation which, in my view, should be encouraged.
Now, I have been a mason long enough to know that nothing that is done in another Lodge or Chapter can be described as "wrong", it can only be described as "different". I am sure that when our ritual was revised in 1836 it all made perfectly good sense to those who revised it. Whether it still makes sense today is a matter of opinion, for there are so many "differences" that the situation has become absurd. In our Province alone we have twenty-one different Chapters with twenty-two different workings!
Has the time come when a new revision is due? Next year will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the last revision, and it might be more expedient for us to initiate such a revision ourselves, rather than have it forced on us by pressure from within and without: for there is no doubt that the continued reference to the word on the triangle as a name will bring us into disrepute with the world outside, and will cause an increase in the misgiving which already exists among our own members.
It is for this reason that I beg leave to draw your attention to my Alternative View of an entirely Hebrew interpretation which emphasises our reverence for God whose sacred and mysterious Name is inscribed on the circle, while thetriangle proclaims Him in no uncertain terms as "The True and Living God — The Most High — The Almighty".