St. John the Baptist Presentation
by Brother John Koch
St. John the Baptist is a name that is synonymous with Freemasonry. From our rituals to our obligations to feast days, we learn that the place where we are is dedicated to the memory of the Holy Saints John, of which one is St. John the Baptist. However, we often do not learn too much about them, as a Google search revealed that who is John the Baptist, what is his importance to freemasonry, why do freemasons celebrate feast days to them, are common searches. Thus, tonight, I am going to briefly tell you who St. John the Baptist was historically, then I will discuss his importance to freemasonry, and why we have a feast day.
First, who is St. John the Baptist historically? According to Biblical Scholar Robert Funk, in his book, The Acts of Jesus, St. John the Baptist was a Jewish Prophet and is often regarded in the Christian tradition as the precursor of Jesus Christ. This is because as part of his preaching, John often talked about a messianic figure who was coming and who would be greater than himself. In the Gospel of Mark, John is described as the messenger who was sent ahead of the messiah. He is also sometimes for the sake of clarity referred to as St. John the Baptizer, because he was not for instance a Southern Baptist, but a baptizer of men.
Biblically, St. John the Baptist is credited with baptizing Jesus Christ. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, St. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River. According to Mark Powell, in his book, Jesus as a Figure of History, historical scholars regard the baptism of Jesus and John’s role in it as an event of almost near historical certainty, and along with the crucifixion, one of the two certain facts about the life of Jesus. Historically then, St. John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher, who is a major religious figure in many faith traditions. He is considered the precursor to Jesus Christ in those traditions and is credited with baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Why though is he important to freemasonry?
According to Reverenced Harvey, of First Baptist Church in Lebanon, CT, in his speech entitled: “In Search of St. John the Baptist,” there is more that we do not know about St. John’s connection to freemasonry than we do know. There is no one answer to why he is so linked to freemasonry, especially when we could have adopted St. Thomas, the patron saint of architecture and building. What we do know is that medieval trade guilds did choose patron saints to watch over them, and likely, somewhere in our lineage, the Holy Saints John became our patron saints and we carry on that tradition today.
Regardless of the initial reason, Phillip Elam, Grand Orator for the Grand Lodge of Missouri in 1999, says no better person than St. John the Baptist could have been chosen to represent us, as his life and teachings exemplified those of freemasonry. In his article, “St. John the Baptist: Patron Saint of Freemasonry,” Elam writes: St. John the Baptist was a stern and just man, intolerant of sham, of pretense, of weakness. He was a man of strength and fire, uncompromising with evil or expediency, and, yet, courageous, humble, sincere, and magnanimous. A character at once heroic and of rugged nobility, the Greatest of Teachers said of the Baptist: “Among them that are born of woman, there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.” Moreover, as Jesus, upon learning of John’s death said: “John was a lamp that burned and gave Light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his Light.” Here we see John’s biblical connection to light, and perhaps freemasonry. As Elam puts it: In John the Baptist, we have a singular instance of purity, of zeal, simplicity of manners, and an ardent wish to benefit mankind by his example. To him we are indebted for the introduction of that grand tenet of our institution, which it is our glory to support: Peace on earth, good will toward men…
So far then, we know that St. John the Baptist is historically important and has an important, if not completely known, connection to freemasonry, why though do we celebrate a feast day to him? According to Chris Hodapp, author of Freemason for Dummies, on June 24th, Freemasons celebrate the feast of St. John the Baptist, a curious thing for a non-sectarian group to do. It is hypothesized that the reason for it though lies in the above description of John the Baptist’s importance to freemasonry and his relation to his equal John the Evangelist. Two parallel, but equal lines. The St. John’s may also be representative of our journey as freemasons from darkness to light. From the darkness of St. John the Evangelist Day to the light of St. John the Baptist Day. From the winter solstice to the summer solstice. Both passion and reason looking towards our moral codes and moral representatives, the Holy Saints John, for guidance. We are also celebrating the formal founding of freemasonry today, as the Grand Lodge of England, probably not coincidentally, was officially formed on June 24 in 1717. In conclusion, on June 24, we celebrate St. John the Baptist. A man of historical importance and an exemplar of the virtues and duties of freemasons. As Phillip Elam puts it: John the Baptist was simply a man who lived in one particular historical moment. Yet, his message of repentance, humility, devotion, and love of God transcends time and culture. It is a message that is just as urgent and just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. It is a message that was illustrated by St. John’s daily life. Moreover, it is a message that underscores so many of the values that Freemasons today exalt as ideals for the living of a moral life. Let us dedicate ourselves anew today then to the memory of this Holy St. John and live out his example.