Giving Thanks for Pilate’s Accusation

This was an educational talk for the October 2019 stated meeting of Worth Commandery № 19, KT.


Giving Thanks for Pilate’s Accusation:

A Perspective from the Maltese Priory

Context

According to the Gospels, when Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to execution by crucifixion, he ordered that a sign be placed over Jesus’ head while on the cross. The exact phrasing of the sign is unclear, but the most famous rendition is from John 19:19-20, which reads as follows:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

This title, which was a criminal accusation from Pilate, has survived to present day, and evolved into a title of unparalleled honor among Christians for Jesus of Nazareth, now Jesus the Christ. It is represented by the Latin initialism INRI.

History of the Term

There are two primary terms related to INRI. The first is the title “King of the Jews,” which was used exclusively by Gentiles such as the Magi, Pilate, the Romans, and so forth. The Jewish population of Judea instead used the term “King of Israel.” Each group objected to the other group’s epithet towards Jesus for different reasons, while Pilate himself objected to the use of the term “King,” due to the implication of revolution against his governorship of Judea. The author of the Gospel of Mark himself makes a careful and conscious distinction between the two terms, and who uses them.

The first reference to “King of the Jews” that we see is in Matthew 2:1-2, when the Magi talk to Herod, asking “where is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” This sets a terrible series of events into movement. Herod tries to interrogate the Magi, but fails. His failure to discover the identity of the perceived pretender to the throne leads to a genocidal edict to kill all Bethlehemite males under the age of three.

The first reference to either term in the Passion Narratives occurs during Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate. In each of the Gospels, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, John 18:33). In the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke), Jesus replies, “You say so.” However, in John 18:33-37, the exchange is substantially different:

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

After interrogating Jesus, Pilate has him scourged and humiliated. The soldiers clothe him in purple robes and a crown of thorns, mocking his status as a “king” (Matthew 27:29-30, Mark 15:17-19, John 19:2-3). The primary criminal charge leveled against Jesus is claiming to be a king (John 19:12). Once Jesus is crucified, some version of “The King of the Jews” is placed over his head (Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, Matthew 27:37, John 19:19-20). According to some translations of Luke 23:28, such as the ones found in the 1599 Geneva Bible and the King James Version, it was specifically written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The last use of “King of the Jews” occurs in Luke 23:36-37 and Matthew 27:42 when the Roman soldiers mock Jesus as he is dying on the cross.

Use by the Church

The Early Church often referred to Jesus as the “King of the Judeans.” This was a huge risk for members to take, as this was tantamount to treason, and by calling themselves “followers of Jesus,” they were essentially associating themselves with a revolutionary agent. This was more strongly emphasised by Christ’s name, which we have Romanized as “Jesus,” but was originally Yeshua or “Joshua,” and meant “liberator.” 1

As the Early Church evolved into the Western Church and the Eastern Church, so too did the initialism used on representations of the cross. The Western Church uses INRI, which stands for the Latin phrase IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM. The Eastern Church instead uses INBI, which is the initialism of the Greek phrase, IESUS HO NAZORAEOS HO BASILEUS TON IUDAEON. 2 The Greek word basileus means “monarch,” usually in reference to a king or an emperor. 3 The Eastern Church also frequently uses the variant INBK, for IESUS HO NAZORAEOS HO BASILEUS TU KOSMU, which translates to English as “Emperor of the Universe” instead of “King of the Jews.” According to Catholic tradition, Saint Helena (who is revered by both the Western and Eastern Churches) brought the tablet with the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew inscriptions to Rome. 4

Esoteric Latin Interpretations

There are a number of Latin sayings or mottos that have been generated from INRI. 5 Among them include:

  • In Necis Renascor Integer – In Death I Am Reborn Intact and Pure.
  • Iustum Necare Reges Impios – It is Just to Kill Impious Kings
  • Igne Nitrum Roris Invenitur – By Fire, the Nitre of the Dew is Discovered
  • Intra Nobis Regnum Iehova – The Kingdom of God is Within Us

Of note are two particular versions which have been carried into many esoteric traditions, including some degrees in Freemasonry 6:

  • Igne Natura Renovatur Integra – By Fire, Nature Renews
  • Insignia Naturae Ratio Illustrat –  Reason Illuminates Nature’s Symbols  

Esoteric Hebrew Interpretations

Esoteric traditions often tie the letters of INRI to the Hebrew words yam, nur, ruach, and yebeshas. 7 Yam translates to “vast body of water,” and represents the element of water. Nur translates to “fire.” Ruach translates to “breath” or “wind” and represents air. According to Albert Mackey, yebeshas was translated by Jean Baptiste Marie Ragon to mean “earth” 8, although there is little evidence that this is even a real Hebrew word. Regardless, if this is the correct interpretation, then the word INRI is a representation of Jesus Christ as the Creator of all.

One of the more interesting interpretations of INRI is drawn using letter-based correspondences from an esoteric Hebrew text called the Book of Formation, written some time between the 2nd Century BC and the
2nd Century AD. The Book of Formation describes correspondences between Hebrew letters, elements, numbers, planets, and Zodiac signs. From Formation, we can draw this cycle, as described in Modern Magick by Donald Kraig 9:

  • “I” is tied to Yod, which corresponds to Virgo. It represents untouched nature and birth.
  • “N” is tied to Nun, which corresponds to Scorpio. It represents death.
  • “R” is tied to Reesh, which corresponds to the Sun. It represents light and resurrection.
  • The final “I” once again represents untouched nature and birth.

This correspondence gives us the basic function of man’s journey to Christ. We are born in our natural state. We choose to die in Christ and be resurrected in Christ. We are reborn as new beings. This applies to both our emotional and spiritual journey in Christ while on Earth as well as our journey to and past Judgement Day. This is the process of INRI.

Exactly What it Says on the Tin

The most important of the inscriptions above Christ’s head, however, may have been the one in Hebrew. It read, Yshu Hnotsri Wmlk Hyhudim, which, when initialized, gives us the letters “Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh,” the ineffable Hebrew name of God. Pilate, probably unknowingly and unintentionally, declared exactly who Jesus was to the world at large. When challenged by the Jewish leaders to change the inscription, he gave us the famous response, “Quod scripsi, scripsi,” or, “what I have written, I have written.”

Sources

  1. Wren, Brian A. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.
  2. Doornbos, Daniel. “Definition and Meaning of INRI.” Research Paper, Golden State College, Masonic Societas Rosicruciana In Civitatibus Foederatis, 2008.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weiss, Roberto. The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1969.
  5. Zeldis, León. Masonic Symbols and Signposts. Lancaster, VA: Anchor Communications, 2003.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Mackey, Albert G, and Charles T McClenachan. An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences. 2nd ed. L. H. Everts & Co., 1884.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.

Protected by the Cherubim

1 Kings 6:14,19:

“So Solomon built the house, and finished it. And the oracle he prepared in the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD.”

When Solomon finished the Sanctum Sanctorum with the help of Hiram Abiff, he seated the Ark of the Covenant beneath the extended wings of the Cherubim. When he completed and dedicated the Temple to the glory of God as we witnessed in the Most Excellent Master’s degree, the glory and name of God manifested itself as a cloud of flame and black smoke. This fulfilled the promise that God made to King David.

What do the Cherubim and the fiery presence of God on their wings mean for us as masons, though?

The Cherubim in Scripture

The cherubim fulfilled several functions: they protected the ark of the covenant, they touched the inner walls of the temple, and they supported the presence of God. In 1 Chronicles 28:18, they are referred to as God’s chariot. This was known as the “Mercy Seat,” and in Greek was called the hilasterion, or “that which removes sin.”

Chapters 1 & 10 of the book of Ezekiel explain that the Cherubim are used by God as his chariot to move around Chaldea and to leave the temple in Jerusalem. The concept of God’s chariot was and is considered so important in Judaism that there is an entire school of thought known as Merkabah Mysticism or Chariot Mysticism

The central theme of Chariot Mysticism is stories of ascent to heaven, and God’s presence on His throne. This theme manifests in the school’s primary practice, which is called the Work of the Chariot and focuses on meditation and contemplation. In the Work of the Chariot, practitioners go through a series of veils, each guarded by an angel, and secured by a password and sign. The password and sign for each veil was the name and signet of the angel guarding it.

As the practitioner passes through each veil, he unfolds more and more of God’s divine revelation, and re-joins his soul with God. This process, including passing the veils using passwords and signs, should be very familiar to us as Royal Arch Masons.

The process of reintegration with God is also a central theme of Jewish and Christian mysticism. Revelation  22:14 states

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

This ties back to Genesis 3:24:

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Once again, we see the Cherubim as guardians – this time, as guardians of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life is the key to both the Garden of Eden and the city of New Jerusalem (assuming they are not, in fact, the same place). In order to enter New Jerusalem, or reintegrate with God, we must follow its path.

The Tree of Life details ten different stages that man must reach in order to reintegrate with God, followed in a specific order (as detailed by the flaming sword of Genesis). Traveling through ten stages means that there are nine veils, gates, or archways to pass, much like the nine arches that we learn about in the Royal Arch Mason and Select Master degrees. 

The Cherubim in Ritual

In the Royal Master degree, the Cherubim are involved from the start. The candidate is received by walking into the room, under the extended wings of the Cherubim, and around the Ark of the Covenant. This is different from his reception in the Capitular degrees in that it he is not formally received, and his conductor does not give him an explanation of how and why he is being received in the way that he is. It is also more of a symbolic act on the candidate’s part than an instruction from the conductor. 

The cherubim that extend their wings over the Ark of the Covenant are a representation of God’s strength and protection, because they both support God’s presence, and protect the Ark of the Covenant. For a candidate, every degree is a request for further light. When the candidate passes under the wings of the Cherubim, and into the circle of angels, he is showing that any quest for more truth must first start by placing oneself in the strength and protection of God.

We know that while they supported the name and fiery presence of God with one set of wings, the Cherubim also touched the inner walls of the Temple with their other set of wings, but could not be seen from outside the Sanctum Sanctorum. This is very important to us as Freemasons, because King Solomon’s temple represents us as human beings. As the strength, protection, and chariot of God, the Cherubim connect the inner walls of our mental, emotional, and spiritual temple to the presence of God that is inside each and every one of us, even though nobody can see that from outside of our hearts. Our inner spiritual lives are guarded from the world.

The Tree of Life can be divided into three pillars that are named Severity, Mercy, and Harmony. The two Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant can be seen as representing Severity and Mercy, while the fiery presence of God represents the pillar of Harmony. The top of the pillar of Harmony in the Tree of Life is known as the Crown, and represents total integration with God. The Cherubim and Ark from Scripture and our ritual are a reminder that the Tree of Life – which is our key to Eden and New Jerusalem – is inside of us.

In Conclusion

As Royal Arch Masons and Royal & Select Masters, we are performing our own Work of the Chariot. Every degree we have taken, and every degree we confer, is one more veil that we leap through. The more we learn about ourselves, and the more we improve ourselves through Freemasonry, the closer and closer we come to reintegrating with the Divine fire that lives both inside of us and all around us. 

The Cherubim remind us that God lives in every one of us. Our hearts are filled with his fire and presence. We know the name of God – we just have to look within ourselves and surrender to His strength and protection.

Preserving the Word

The Legend of the Cryptic Degree

Presented by Companion Gabriel Jagush at a stated assembly of Texas Council #321, Royal & Select Masters, on October 2, A∴ Dep∴ 3018.

The Common Work

The American Royal Master and Select Master degrees of the Cryptic Council originally have their origins as offshoots of Ecossais degrees from the Burgundy region of France. These degrees all deal with the method of preserving the “true Word.” They are known as “Cryptic” degrees, “Ninth Arch” degrees, “Secret Vault” degrees, or “Sacred Vault” degrees. They all share common themes: there is always a treasure, and there is always a vault, cave, or underground hiding spot.

In the original legend, the Builder of the Temple engraved the Word on a triangular neck jewel that he always kept on his person. In a moment when his life was endangered, he threw the jewel – and consequently, the Word – into a well in the northeast corner of the Temple. Much time later, three workers or builders found the jewel in the well at noontime. Later, the legend was changed so that the hiding of the Word was pre-planned and deliberate.

This legend appears in the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible, and is found – in some form – in every Masonic Rite all over the world. One of the first references to the Cryptic legend is found in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, which details the preservation of secrets as revealed to Enoch – something we learn about in the Royal Arch degree. Enoch’s story in the Sacred History bridges the gap between the Capitular degrees, which deal with recovering the Word, and the Cryptic degrees which deal with preserving the degrees. Our Cryptic degrees themselves take place a long time after Enoch’s story.

We know there were two vaults – Enoch’s and Solomon’s. Solomon’s builders found Enoch’s vault, and Solomon later constructed his own separate vault where he deposited the Word. Early versions of the Select Master degree treat of both arches, but our present-day version only deals with Solomon’s arches.

Throughout the world in every Rite, the Craft degrees only deal with the loss of the Word, and the Capitular degrees only deal with the restoration of the Word.

All versions of the Select Master degree have common themes:

  • There is always a treasure.
  • There is always a vault, cave, or underground hiding place.
  • There is always loss of the knowledge of God, either by the fall of Adam, the wickedness of mankind after the flood, or the plot against Hiram.
  • There is always a method of preservation, either by hollow pillars, an ark, or a messiah figure.

The manner of preservation doesn’t really matter – what matters is that they are all places of refuge or safe places to hide secrets. The ark itself is an innovation from later versions of the degree, and is entirely made-up for the purpose of our degrees.

The Treasure

The historical object of the Cryptic degrees is to detail how a secret treasure was hidden – in our case, the idea was developed by Hiram Abiff, and executed by King Solomon. In a literal sense, the secret treasure is the physical manifestation of the Word, or the name of God, on top of the Ark of the Covenant. However, as Masons, we should understand that what is being preserved is the knowledge of the Ineffable Name of God, not necessarily a representation or written form thereof. In a narrative sense, it is as important to modern Masons as ever, because without knowing how the word was preserved, the Royal Arch degree doesn’t make sense. It is the completion of the story, and the way we fill in all the “plot holes” in the degrees. More importantly, however, it is a proof and lesson that as Masons, we should desire to know God above all else, and treasure His name.

The Secret Vault

Descending into the secret vault can represent many things. When I think of the more light-hearted parallels, I think of how passing each arch is like a passing year in, or deeper level of, a friendship, love of a spouse, trust of a brother, or knowledge gained. However, that’s not the primary purpose of the secret vault.

The secret vault is, emblematically, a grave, and by descending into it, we emulate the process of dying. Zabud encounters the point of no return when he goes through the door that was left ajar. After that, he must either die, or join the Select of the Twenty-Seven, but he can never un-open that door. Just as Zabud went past the point of no return, so will we, eventually. We can’t undo becoming Select Masters, and we certainly can’t reverse death.

However, what awaits us in the secret vault is the Word. Here on earth, we can only guess at what God is really like, or what awaits us after we die. Much as Zabud is totally clueless until he descends into the vault and becomes one of the twenty-seven, we don’t know what awaits us until we embrace death and join the ranks of those that have died. How different would this story be if Zabud had rejected Solomon’s offer and been executed? How different will our story be if we reject God’s truth?

The Discovery

Discovering the sacred treasure in the Royal Arch degree and discovering the secret vault in the Select Master degree represents an allegory for the effect that discovering the nature of God has on our lives. The Word itself was used for the government of the Craft, and seen as being so important that it needed to be preserved. After preservation, it survived the destruction of the Temple and was hidden away safely until it was discovered by the three Most Excellent Masters of the Royal Arch degree, who found it by being willing to do any work, even if they risked their lives by doing so. The Word is so important that the Select of the Twenty-Seven were willing to defend it at all costs, and were more deeply connected to each other than anyone else in the Craft. The Word completes our Masonic journey.

In the same way, knowledge of God governs our lives, and it’s so important to us as a species that we’ve done everything we can to preserve it, be it through telling others, or by writing holy texts. God, and knowledge of God, survives every calamity and every disaster. God is always waiting for us to find Him, and we should pursue Him at all costs – even if we risk our lives. This pursuit binds us together as believers more closely than anyone else. Much how the Word completes our Masonic journey, God completes our lives, and much how the Word was hidden in the Temple, knowledge of God is hidden inside each and every one of us.

The Trust Reposed

Well, it seems that things are going okay. This past Tuesday was a long meeting. There were multiple awards to hand out, all the initial business of the first meeting of the year, and so on. We didn’t get out until 9 PM, which is really something we need to try and avoid. Life would be a lot easier if we didn’t have the Chapter/Council meetings back-to-back.

Some of the proposals I made seemed to be met with a lot of skepticism – but quiet skepticism. I am remaining optimistic. One thing that I’m proud of is that with the exception of one part where I skipped a short section, I have got the ritualistic opening/closing down really well.

I’m excited to see what kind of change I can help affect here, and how I can help my Chapter & Council grow.

The Point of No Return

Tomorrow night is my first meeting as the presiding officer in my Chapter and Council. I’ve been working on the meeting agenda like a madman staring at the wall, looking for hidden messages. There may be such thing as over-preparing, but for now, I’m just gonna roll with it and let myself obsess over it.

I’m going to be proposing some practical stuff, and a bunch of idealistic stuff. It’s gonna be great. I really do hope that this is something that the Chapter and Council see as a positive thing. I also have some education lined up for Council, but I don’t know if we’ll have enough time. I hope we do.

I’m praying with gratitude for luck, wisdom, and guidance. I guess I’ll report back later with results?

Assuming the Role of Leadership

Pray for me, y’all.

It was my profound honor to be installed as the Most Excellent High Priest in my Royal Arch Chapter, and the Thrice Illustrious Master in my Cryptic Council.

For those not familiar with these terms, the Royal Arch Chapter and Cryptic Council are two separate bodies you can join within Masonry after becoming a Master Mason – the MEHP and TIM are, respectively, the “President” of each local body.

I’m very young for a presiding officer. Very, very young. Additionally, I haven’t been doing this very long – I’ve only been a Mason for almost two years, and I’ve been a York Rite mason for not quite a year and a half. This is truly a trial by fire – not a bad way, I assure you.

I’m grateful to my Companions for electing/installing me. It’s kind of terrifying, to be honest, even though this is something I want. I can only hope that this nervousness motivates me to do the best job I can. I know that things will go well, though. Texas Chapter & Council have a huge network of past presiding officers that have been, and will be, great mentors to rely on.

This is going to be a fun year.

Waco or Bust

[tags Allied Masonic Degrees, Invitational Bodies, Joining, York Rite, Ritual]
[delay 2018-06-09 08:00:00 CST]
I’m a member of the Allied Masonic Degrees (AMD) now!

I attended TAMDA Day, which is a Friday/Saturday weekend get-together hosted by the Texas Allied Masonic Degrees Association. Things got started off on Friday night with being initiated into the Order of the Scarlet Cord (“elected to the First Grade”). This was pretty interesting stuff, but I was also a little lost at first – since AMD is a collection of several different Rites & degree systems, you can take them out of order. For the OSC, you “need” to have gone through the Order of the Secret Monitor first! I had a good time, anyway.

In the morning, I was “admitted” a Grand Tiler of Solomon. This was a pretty neat degree to witness. This degree, the Select Master degree in the Cryptic Council, and the Intimate Secretary degree (the 6°) in the A&ASR-SJ Lodge of Perfection, are all descended from the same degree, the *Elu des Vingt-Sept*, or the *Select of the 27*. It’s very similar to both, but also very different. I liked it a lot.

I was also inducted into the First Grade of the Order of the Secret Monitor as the exemplar candidate. This was put on by Holy Stone Council #274, which is filled with guys from Jewel P. Lightfoot Lodge #1283. This was a cool degree. The Companions who put on the degree knew their parts really well, and made it a very immersive experience. The lecture was unusual – far more practical than most lectures that I’ve heard. I really liked the apron, and I’d like to see if I can find or make a replica of it.

We got to see the Architect and Superintendent degrees, but not the Grand Architect. That’s the one in the middle. The Architect degree was put on by Robert Bruce Bannon Council, and it was pretty good – also immersive. Perhaps slightly gross.

In the afternoon, we were “elevated” to the degree of Royal Ark Mariner. Man, that regalia is so pretty. Unfortunately, I don’t remember a whole lot of it! One of the things about doing festivals and reunions is that you blast through degrees and end up retaining very little.

After TAMDA Day concluded, some of us went and got “dubbed” as Knights of the Masonic Order of the Bath. This degree was hilarious. I can’t say more, but I can say that I may have been knighted using a stolen butterknife.

AMD was dope. 10/10 would recommend.

Hail, Companion Knights!

Hail Companion Knights – it’s been a while. No huge updates on my part, other than the fact that today, I was initiated into the York Rite Sovereign College (Trinity No. 154), or, “dubbed a [Companion] Knight of York.” The ritual was pretty cool, although I wish that some of the audience/officers took it more seriously. The esoteric lecture was wonderful and seemed to me to be very Rosicrucian in nature, which took me by surprise. Unfortunately, that’s as much as I can divulge.

We were blessed by the presence of a little cricket who was hopping about the lodge room, causing officers to try and keep themselves from laughing while doing degree work, which was hilarious. Sadly, someone stomped on him as we were leaving. RIP Companion Knight Jiminy.
I am looking forwards to the next meeting. For degree conferrals, we all wear tuxedos, so I’ll have to get cracking!

Recently, I was informed that I have been invited to the Allied Masonic Degrees. More updates on that as we go!