Pillars or columns have always held a peculiar and important place in Freemasonry and are objects of great interest to the Craft in general.
As Fellowcrafts we are directed to study the symbolism mainly of the five Noble Orders of Architecture, but more especially the three original ones, the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian, they being representative of the three pillars on which a Mason's Lodge is supported, wisdom, strength and beauty. The other two are the Tuscan and Composite. The operative Mason was required to have something of these Five Noble Orders from the practical point of view.
An "Order" in Architecture is a combination of column including capital and base, and horizontal entablature or pert supported, designed in relation one to the other. The column by itself is not the order. The Tuscan is the first of the Five Orders.
There is no certainty as to its origin; it was not used by the Greeks, and it is unlikely that the Romans invented it. It was probably used by the Etruscans. The Composite Order, also called the Roman, the last of the Five, is a combination of the Corinthian and the Ionic. As it was a Roman invention it was unknown to the Greeks.
The Doric is the first and simplest of the three Greek Orders. It was evolved by the Greeks of the western territories at the same time as the Greeks of the eastern territories were creating the Ionic Order. The true Doric style is found in Greece, Sicily -and Southern Italy, the finest example being the Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens (447 - 432 B.C.). This was the Order mostly favoured by the Greeks and they used it almost exclusively in Temple buildings. It was too severe and plain for the Romans who needed something more ornate for their buildings.
It was found that the length of a man's foot was generally one sixth of the height of his body, so the height of the pillar, including the capital, was made six times its thickness at the base. Thus, the Doric pillar exhibits the proportions, strength and beauty of the body of a man. Although it is thought that the Style originated in Egypt the reason for its being called Doric is based on legend. In about 1,000 B.C., the Dorians, a tribe to the north of Corinth, involved and conquered southern Greece and established settlements also, in Sicily and South-west Italy. The Dorians gave their name to the Style of architecture that became characteristic of the lands over which they ruled.
The Ionic is placed second to the Doric although the two Orders were developed simultaneously. The Romans adopted it but treated its details with less beauty and refinement. The best example is the Erechcheion on the Acropolis at Athens, but the true Rome of the Order was in Asia Minor. It is suggested that whereas the Doric pillar was modeled on the form of a man, the Ionic pillar was fashioned on the proportions of the female figure. The height of the pillar was made eight times its thickness at the base to give it a slender look, and in its capital, volutes or scrolls were placed hanging down at the right and left like curly ringlets, and with festoons of fruit arranged in place of hair. The flutes were made to fall down like the folds in the robes of matrons. Thus, the Ionic pillar has the delicacy, adornment and proportions characteristic of women.
The Corinthian is the third of the three Greek Orders. It first appeared as a variant of the Ionic, the difference being almost entirely in the capital. Being less used by the Greeks than the other two, this order was fully developed by the Romans. The richness and exuberance of its decoration appealed to Roman instinct, and so they used it more frequently in their buildings than any other Order of Architecture. .
It was modeled on the tenderness of a maiden, for the outlines and limbs of maidens being more slender on account of their tender years than those of men or women, admit of prettier effects in the way of adornment. The pillar is more slender than that of the Doric, being usually ten times the diameter at the base.
This has been a very brief summary of the subject to acquaint you with a few facts concerning terms used so frequently in our ritual, "The Five Noble Orders of Architecture, but more particularly the three original ones, the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian, they being the pillars on which a Mason's Lodge is supported, viz. wisdom, strength and beauty" being one such reference.
How are the three Orders applied in Masonry?
The Ionic pillar, symbolical of Wisdom, is allotted to the Master who must possess that Wisdom necessary to rule and govern the Lodge efficiently and employ and instruct the Brethren in Freemasonry.
Wisdom is knowledge and the Scriptures say: Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold". Just as a Mason strives to gain the Master's chair, so he must strive to gain Masonic knowledge to enable him to obtain that Wisdom which is necessary for a full appreciation of the principles and tenets of the Order. In doing so, he becomes a keener and better Mason fit to take place among the supporters of a Mason's Lodge.
The Doric pillar, symbolical of Strength, is allotted to the Senior Warden, who, in ancient times. was responsible for the actual operations of the workmen according to the plan of the Master. The Senior Warden must possess Strength to enable him to perform the important duties allotted to him. Strength, without Wisdom, is dangerous; therefore, he is directed at his investiture to act in conjunction with the Master.
Strength of character is obtained by carefully watching all thoughts, words and actions. Every member of the Lodge is engaged, under the direction of the Senior Warden, in building the spiritual temple 'of his own character; perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder.
The Corinthian pillar, symbolical of Beauty, is allotted to the Junior Warden. He is in charge when the sun is at its meridian, when life giving properties and brightness are at their highest point. At this time of the day work ceases for a period and peace prevails. There is brief rest after toil, intimate conversation among Brethren, and general relaxation of mind and body so that pleasure and profit may be the result. The power to express Beauty of thought, word and action is given to man alone of all the living kingdom. It is in the period' of relaxation that such Beauty of character becomes most manifest provided it is properly controlled.
It can be properly controlled if the Mason gives due attention to the teachings of the Three Great Emblematic Lights in Freemasonry - duty to God, regularity of conduct towards all mankind, and passions and prejudices kept within due bounds. Every brother must ensure that Beauty adorns the inward man.
Perhaps the finest reference to these Orders and their Masonic significance is to be found in the lecture in our Ritual.
Derived, in part, from a publication of The Research Lodge of New South Wales, April 2004, as published in the August 2005 bulletin of the Southern California Research Lodge, F&AM