The Degree description below is reprinted with the permission of the Scottish Rite Journal.

Lodge of Perfection Degree Descriptions


Fifth Degree

Perfect Master

Jim Tresner, 33°, Grand Cross
Guthrie, Oklahoma



Photo: Oil painting by Bro. Robert H. White, 32°

     The symbolic reenactment of the funeral of Hiram the Builder forms the theme of the Fifth Degree.  We are told of the legend that each year, on the anniversary of his burial, a worker was selected to represent the Grand Master Hiram, was briefly entombed and then brought forth, and was expected to live his life thereafter by the very highest standards of excellence of behavior.

The crossed pillars on the Fifth Degree apron represent Jachin and Boaz, which Biblical literature informs us Hiram named and set up on the porch of the Temple.  In addition to their traditional Masonic meanings, they here represent Hiram himself.

Resting upon them is a cube, symbol of the finite universe.  But here the cube also represents the Temple of Solomon.  Among its many meanings, the Temple is considered as a model or representation of the universe, of life, and of the spiritual life each man must build. 

Thus, the pillars represent Hiram, and the cube represents the work of God (the universe) and the work of Hiram (the Temple).

Surrounding the cube are three circles in orange, blue, and red.  The circle is, of course, one of the oldest symbols of God, and these three represent His Wisdom, Power, and Beneficence.  They surround, enclose, and protect His creation and the creations of His creatures.

The green border, lining, and flap of the apron, as well as the green cordon, represent spring or rebirth—the coming again of life after the death of winter.

The compasses are open on a quadrant to 60° to represent the other ancient symbol of God, the equilateral triangle.

Again the ceremony of the Degree centers around death, not as a negative or destroying force, but as the door through which we must pass to have eter­nal life.  Thus, while the border of the apron of the Fourth Degree is black (represent­ing sorrow, mourning, and death), this border represents moving past death into new life, rebirth, and joy. 

The Degree also reinforces the ancient Masonic obligation to see our Brethren decently interred.  It may be difficult for us, today, to understand the importance our Brethren of the last century placed on decent Masonic interment.  But in Pike’s day, the bodies of impoverished citizens were given the most callous and ghastly shallow burial in potter’s fields, which were often despoiled by thieves or unearthed by animals.  In contemporary America, our duty to the dead consists more in seeing their unfinished work completed and their memories preserved.

This is a good place to discuss the idea of Death, as presented in the Scottish Rite. Brethren sometimes remark that there is a great deal of death imagery in the Degrees, and they are correct. But the death imagery in the Rite is almost always an affirmation of life.

It serves two functions. At one level, there is a deep fear of death in most people—an unreasonable fear, in the light of the teachings of religion, but a fear nonetheless. That fear prevents many people from truly living. Using the same techniques of confrontation to be found in a modern clinic for the treatment of phobia, the Rite presents the image of death so that the fear can be overcome.

More importantly, the Masonic Degrees carry on the tradition of the ancient mysteries that new, richer, and expanded life can come only from death of some sort. Thus in the three Blue Lodge Degrees, we have the death of the ego represented by the entrance of the Entered Apprentice into the Lodge (for one cannot be a Brother if he selfishly places himself first in all things). We have the death of the ego-intellect in the Fellow Craft Degree (for one cannot experience intuition and insight if one is bound to their pre-conceived ideas and opinions). And in the Master Mason Degree, we have the death of the sense of apartness and individuality which keeps us from experiencing spiritual unity with our Brothers and with the Deity.

Later, in the 14°, Pike identifies the lessons of the 5° as “Honesty, Sincerity, and good Faith.” There are two central points the candidate should understand from the Fifth Degree.  The first in honesty.  But, for the Scottish Rite Mason, honesty is more than simply telling the truth.  Honesty means that we do not mislead by innuendo nor slant information, truthful in itself, in such a way that people draw false conclusions.  Honesty involves fulfilling commitments and doing what we have said we will do.  It means looking out for the interests of the other person, not just for “Number 1.”

And Pike also reminds us in this Degree of the great importance of work and of doing that work well.  As its second point, the Degree teaches it is honorable to leave behind us tasks well and truly accomplished, just as it is shameful to leave nothing. We owe a debt to posterity; it is only in that way we can repay the debt we owe to our predecessors.  And we owe a debt to others, to place their interests at least on a level with our own. 

The The Scottish Rite Journal - February 1996

Jim Tresner is Director of the Masonic Leadership Institute and Editor of The Oklahoma Mason. A frequent contributor to the Scottish Rite Journal and its book review editor, Illustrious Brother Tresner is also a volunteer writer for The Oklahoma Scottish Rite Mason and a video script consultant for the National Masonic Renewal Committee. He is the Director of the Thirty-third Degree Conferral Team and Director of Work at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma, as well as a life member of the Scottish Rite Research Society, author of the popular anecdotal biography Albert Pike, The Man Beyond the Monument, and a member of the steering committee of the Masonic Information Center. Ill. Tresner was awarded the Grand Cross, the Scottish Rite's highest honor, during the Supreme Council's October 1997 Biennial Session. 

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