At first glance the 1723 Constitutions follow a similar structure to the Old Charges, comprising a traditional history, a set of charges or injunctions as to belief, and a list of regulations. But the similarity is superficial. Although the form is designed to mirror mediaeval precedents and add historical gravitas (‘compiling and digesting this Book from the old Records… preserving all that was truly ancient and authentic’), the substance differs materially. This was intentional.
The Old Charges contain oaths in which Masons swear to be true to God and the Church and profess fealty to the king. The oaths are to a Trinitarian God and the expressions of loyalty and deference to an absolute divinely-appointed monarch. Both speak to a commitment to a deemed natural and God-given social order: ‘true to the lord, or Master, that you serve… that his profit and advantage be promoted’. They represent a social and political framework that was once considered immutable. As the centuries progressed this was subject to flux, but the oaths persisted unaltered and remained the stated credo. And although the purpose of such oaths can be interpreted as providing ‘political insurance’ and justifying wage negotiations that were technically illegal, they were nonetheless for many genuine statements of belief.
In contrast, the 1723 Charges and Regulations are based on Enlightenment principles that the Grand Lodge of England sought to advance via the publication of the 1723 Constitutions ‘for the Use of the Lodges’, and by declaring that ‘all the Tools used in working shall be approved by the Grand Lodge’.
Over the following decades a catechism was added to the Ritual. This remains in use today and requires each Master-elect to consent to a series of social and moral obligations:
To be a good man and true, and strictly to obey the moral law.
To be a peaceable subject, and cheerfully to conform to the laws of the country in which you reside.
Not to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against government, but patiently to submit to the decisions of the supreme legislature.
To pay a proper respect to the civil magistrate, to work diligently, live creditably, and act honourably by all men.
To hold in veneration the original rulers and patrons of the Order of Masonry, and their regular successors, supreme and subordinate, according to their stations; and to submit to the awards and resolutions of your brethren when convened, in every case consistent with the constitutions of the Order. You agree to avoid private piques and quarrels, and to guard against intemperance and excess.
To be cautious in carriage and behaviour, courteous to your brethren, and faithful to your Lodge.
To promote the general good of society, to cultivate the social virtues, and to propagate the knowledge of the art.
James Anderson altered the 1723 Charges (and other components) in a second edition of the Constitutions, the 1738 Constitutions, written by Anderson alone. The changes were not accepted and in a subsequent edition by John Entick, the 1756 Constitutions, the Charges were restored to their original form and remained in that form in later versions of the Constitutions.