I would like to start this month’s message by calling your attention to a very interesting work of architecture. This world famous eight-storied tower contains seven bells and a spiral staircase of 293 steps. This building is considered by many to be a magnificent work of architecture. The original architect is unknown. Construction began on this legendary structure on August 9th, 1173. The Tower has a cylindrical body, encircled by arcades with arches and columns resting upon the base, topped by a belfry. The central body is basically a hollow cylinder, which comprises of an external wall facing of shaped ashlars, in white and grey San Giuliano limestone and an inner wall facing of worked limestone. The famous bell tower of Saint Mary was completed in 1360 by Tommaso Pisano, who erected the belfry. Of course, I am referring to the “Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
I call this magnificent edifice to your attention because, as early as 1178, there was evidence that the building was “leaning” or out of plumb. Although slight and barely noticeable at first, it was not adequately addressed. As time has passed, the inclination has become worse, despite conservation efforts. Ultimately, the inclination reached 5.5 degrees. In 1988, the tower was finally closed to the public to prevent further leaning. Although barely noticeable at first, the tower has fallen more and more out of plumb over time. The fact that the building is out of plumb has become the identity of this magnificent edifice, which is tragic, considering the beautiful architecture and nearly 200 years of work that went into the tower. This is my point—few people know this tower based on the incredible example of workmanship, they know the tower because it is out of plumb.
As I write this month’s message to you, I am reminded of Amos 7:7-9. This passage is one of our first Masonic introductions to the plumb line:
“Thus He showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall made with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said: “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.”
Who was this Amos? Amos, whose name can be translated as “the laden or burdened one” lived around 760 B.C. He was considered to be a man of humble background who possessed a sense of unquestioned obedience. He was also considered a prophet of righteousness, to whom God shows a series of visions. The first visions, described in the Book of Amos, are very destructive. In Amos 7:7-9, God shows Amos another vision, one which will appeal to all of us as Freemasons—this time the vision is of God holding a plumb line.
You’ll be reminded that a plumb line is a simple tool, which consists of a line from which a weight is suspended and is used as a vertical reference. It is directed exactly toward the earth’s center of gravity, and as such it ensures that new constructions are perfectly upright. It can also be used to reveal whether an existing structure is square. You cannot tell if a structure is built perfectly upright by merely looking at it, but a plumb line will soon reveal its soundness. If a wall (or tower for that matter) leans, it is out-of-plumb. Operative masons have used the plumb line for many centuries.
What I find of particular interest to our beloved Craft about this passage is that God is shown in two building roles—first as the architect who has designed and built a wall perfectly plumb. Secondly, He is a surveyor who has returned with a plumb line to assess the soundness of the wall. As Masons, we refer to God (or Deity) as the Grand Architect of the Universe.
In doing some research about the time of Amos to put this into perspective, I learned that this was a time of prosperity; there was a rise of a new social class in which wealth and power come to Israel, which disrupted the social structure. Up until this time, Israel was considered a covenant community, with no real class distinction. Men were considered equal before the law, God, and man. But with this period of prosperity and social class, this had changed. The rich began to squander their wealth on status symbols, and some of the finer things in life and not to help their fellow man. Instead of giving a hand up to those who needed their assistance, they used their wealth to keep their poor brothers in subjection.
Despite the change in social structure, these people were still very religious. This new class was not irreligious, in fact they tithed, especially the rich. They held impressive religious festivals and made pilgrimages. These people thought they had the favor of God, but as evidenced by Amos’ prophesy; God was not pleased by their moral corruption.
Why did God say, “I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel?” Because, as we are taught as Masons, the plumb “admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man.” The people of Israel had sinned and in spite of the warnings of Amos without correcting their corrupt behavior. God made it very plain that each man must try himself by the unerring standard of the plumb line. The plumb line is the symbol of uprightness of character, of integrity, of honest and fair dealings among persons. To plumb one’s life and actions is to test them by the eternal laws of God. In all these tests, the people of Israel had failed. That’s why He said, “I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.”
As Masons, we are reminded of this important lesson in our ritual. We have to measure our own lives to see if we are out of plumb and make the corrections before it is too late. We must learn to walk uprightly in all our undertakings. Although it may be slight, we are charged to make the necessary corrections. It doesn’t matter what other people think or what kind of Masonic honors we have achieved. The standard by which a Mason must be judged is by his own evaluation of his conduct and by the principles which he knows to be absolute and unchanging.
We, too, are a magnificent architectural edifice and we must always check to see that our structure is plumb. We can learn a lesson from the magnificent tower in Pisa to set the plumb line and make corrections to our Masonic edifice before, like the magnificent tower in Pisa, the leaning tragically becomes our identity.
Yours in Brotherhood,
Robert J. Gregory, WM