Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
Q. What is the origin of the Third Degree?

A. In the Operative Lodges of the Middle Ages, that is before 1500 A.D., there was only one degree, one ceremony of admission to membership of a Lodge.

This was almost certainly for the fully-trained mason, or “Fellow of craft”, at the conclusion of his apprenticeship. As apprentices were merely chattels of their masters in those times, they had no kind of status in operative Lodges.

During the 1500s, a degree for the Extended Apprentice was developed, and records of this degree appear in the minutes of an Edinburgh Lodge in 1598. Then the Second, or Fellow Craft Degree, signified a fully qualified mason, fit for election as Master. The term Entered Apprentice signified an apprentice under training, who had been formally admitted to a Lodge.

The conferment of a separate Third Degree is recorded in London, Edinburgh and Dublin from 1725 onwards. There were only two degrees when the first Grand Lodge was founded in 1717 and Reg. 13 in the first Book of Constitutions, 1723, confirms that the second or senior degree was entitled “Master and Fellow-Craft.”

It is therefore evident that the Third Degree was not a new invention. The original First Degree was split into two, the modern E.A. and F.C. Degrees, and thus the original Second Degree then became the Third Degree in the new Three Degree system. The one Degree instituted in the Middle Ages was an indication of qualification for the mason to become a Master Mason. The expansion of the Ritual over the centuries brought into existence a Third Degree for the Master Mason.

Two further points. There are references in manuscripts to descriptions of the First and Third Degrees at dates prior to the first recorded conferment of the Degrees.

The content of the Third Degree continued to be developed till about 1800, especially regarding the form of the Hiramic Legend.