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The Four Tassels - April 16, 1958





There is nothing in a Freemasons Lodge that more immediately arrests the attention than the mosaic pavement which represents the diversity of natural objects and the vicissitudes of life..., but what is not so obvious, unless directly pointed out, are the four Tassels pendent to the corners which are symbolical of the four moral virtues, and form an apt subject for our meditations.


The Poet Spenser, in several books of his “Faerle Queene” embodies moral virtues one by one as typical of the perfect Knights whose adventures he is describing.  It was a poetical device, and, as he says only adopted to give variety to the persona of the poem.


Spenser well knew that the vicissitudes of a cheque life demand all the moral virtues, and not merely the impersonation of a single attribute as in the old Morality Plays, for if there be any purpose in human life it is that there should be a development of the whole mane with all the traits of character that differentiate him from the beasts of the field, and with all the composite elements that are necessary for a reasonable and social being.


The wise men of all time have arranged the moral virtues under the general heads of: “Prudence, the spirit which adorns and adopts rightly; Temperance, the spirit which stops and refuses rightly; Fortitude, the spirit which persists and endures rightly; and Justice, the spirit which rules and divides rightly.”


Every man should be guided in the conduct of his life and the control of his passions by the seven principal virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice.


The first three are called the theological virtues, and are not within the scope of these remarks.


The last four are the moral or Cardinal virtues. In Masonry we use the word Cardinal quite often.  Briefly, this curious word means important, or significant and carries with it a mental image of matters of great moment all revolving around a centre-point acting as a hinge, or pivot.  Much ecclesiastical history is wrapped up in this word which is associated with the red colour of the robe worn by the Roman Catholic Cardinal.... that is, worn by a powerful priest occupying a fundamentally important place.  We go to the doors made and hung by the ancient peoples for the original idea of the meaning of the word.  There were two vertical pins or dowels projecting from the door, one from the top, and one from the bottom, each fitting into a socket, and on these pivots the door swung.  The ancients took this hinged door as a figure, or symbol, and supposed that at the top of the universe was a pivot upon which the Heavens revolved while at the bottom was another pivot, corresponding to that at the bottom of the door.


In the course of time, the old Roman writers applied the word Cardinal to the four points: East, West, North, and South and to the winds blowing from those quarters.  The East symbolizes Wisdom; West, Strength; North, Darkness; and South, Beauty.  We are told that the Cardinal -- that is the most important virtues in Masonry are Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice.


Prudence is to be seen in the choice between good and evil, or where there is a clear and well-defined contrast between these two great factors, or where there is a more positive and undeniable attraction of the good than there is of the evil, choice would be easy but gilt can be very like gold, and deceptive to the eye unless carefully scanned and our judgment is often immature, warped, and prepossessed by wrong ideas, false virtues, and foolish desires that it needs all the encouragement to choose the sterling, the true, and the things that matter.


Nor is Prudence to be restricted to the concerns of our primary senses but should also be applied to the still more intimate things of the mind and affections,




An admirable text-book of Prudence is the “Proverbs” ascribed to King Solomon in the Volume of the Sacred Law, where Prudence is spoken of in relation to Wisdom, and is there squared with conduct, levelled with actual life conditions, and plumbed with inevitable consequences.  “I, Wisdom have made Prudence my dwelling.”


Temperance consists in the reasonable use of sensual pleasures.  If one oversteps the bounds of moderation the greatest pleasures cease to please; moderation gives our pleasure a charm, but the body clogged with excesses drags down the mind.


It is perhaps unfortunate that too many men “Temperance” and “Abstinence” are looked upon as synonymous words.  The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use: many of our most valuable drugs are harmful and degrading if used to excess but in a high degree beneficial when occasion calls for them.




Temperance is the special virtue called for in prosperity; it is the rein to bodily appetites, and to boastfulness and aggressiveness.


The word at its source is related to time, and the simplest pleasures can easily occupy too much of our time -- a man can even be intemperate with work and business when it causes him to neglect his home and its obligations.


In the usually accepted idea of temperance as applying more particularly to alcoholic 1iquor no man of mature age and sound judgment should over-indulge in it to the extent of putting an enemy into his mouth to steal away his brains.


Fortitude is to be exercised in toils and dangers.  It is essentially the virtue required in adversity, and is the guard and support of other virtues.


True fortitude is the quiet possession of a man’s self.  “In quietness and rest shall be unperturbed doing of our duty your strength!”


Fortitude will enable us to bear nobly either blessings or misfortunes as they fall, without too much elation on the one hand, or too much dejection on the other.




In fact, there is but one philosophy, and its name is Fortitude: to bear is to conquer our fate. If our fate be sorrow or misfortune, it still is best, lightly as may be to endure life’s ills -- smiling through tears. “Be strong and of a good courage.”


Justice is in awarding to everyone his due and it is upon this foundation also that we raise the superstructure of Charity; and it is a denial of justice not to stretch out a helping hand to the fallen and distressed, for that is the common right of humanity.




As the base of a building must be very strong, so the foundation and principle of all our actions must be Justice.


At all angles of our every-day experience we need first one and then the other of these great guiding principles.


Prudence is required long before we come to a precipitous danger.  Which? Is a challenge that we receive at every turn; in facts choice is as persistent as one’s shadow.


Countless decisions have to be determined by previsions fore-thought and discretion; all of which are comprehended in the Virtue of Prudence.


Temperance we shall find to be a first-class physician.  If we can make it our companion, health is almost sure to sit on our brow.


It is only in music, art, poetry, nature and such aesthetic pleasures that we can waive this law of temperance, be such things lift our being to a higher sphere. In all material things we neglect Temperance at the peril of loss and degradation.




Fortitude is our best support and succour in distress.  And, since we are human, let us not ask for freedom from cares but rather strength to bear our woes; for if we would be ever sorrow less, we must be devise, or quickly dead; instead let sorrows other sorrows soothe.


Justice is the sum and substance of Virtue, and a man is virtuous who is just.  This is the one supreme quality that the Great Architect of the Universe demands.  “What doth the Lord require of thee 0 man, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God”.  


Therefore --   Let Prudence direct you,

                        Temperance chasten you

                        Fortitude support you,

                        Justice be the guide of all your actions.

Presented by W. Bro. A. Jones