Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library

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The Non-Operative or Accepted and Speculative Mason

The operative period of the Masonic fraternity flourished from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The 16th century saw the rise of the Reformation in Europe, and the Gothic style of architecture became less prevalent. Social conditions and laws altered considerably. These factors, coupled with the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London, and the introduction of the use of bricks instead of stone, brought about a decline in operative masonry. This decline was so great, that by the late 17th century, freemasons became so few, that only a small number of lodges remained. During this period, referred to by Masonic historians as the Transition Period, a number of important citizens commenced to take an active interest in the ancient customs of the craft, and, although not operative masons, were admitted into lodges. Because of these circumstances, they were called accepted masons. At first, the number of accepted Masons was small. By the early part of the 18th century, however, they outnumbered the operatives, and exerted a great deal of influence on the expansion of Freemasonry, and on its principles of fellowship, and charitable pursuits. On St. John the Baptist's Day, 24th June 1717, four old Lodges in London and Westminster met, and organized a governing body, called a Grand Lodge. This Grand Lodge gradually took control of all the Lodges meeting in England.

The word speculative now became linked with the word accepted; speculative meaning masonry in a symbolic sense. The two original grades of masonry were organized into three degrees: the Entered Apprentice; the Fellow Craft; and the Master Mason.

In 1723, the Grand Lodge approved a Constitution, and was soon chartering Lodges, not only in England, but in the expanding colonies, and other overseas countries.