Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay

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  • Andrew Michael Ramsay was born in Ayr in Scotland in 1681, the son of a baker. He studied theology at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and graduated with a master's degree in 1707.

    In 1708 he went to London, ostensibly to learn French. There he studied with Isaac Newton and became a friend of John Desaguliers and David Hume. A year later he is recorded as having joined Marlborough's army in Flanders. Then, in 1710 he became a pupil of the liberal mystical philosopher, Fran?ois F?nelon, Bishop of Cambrai, and was converted to Roman Catholicism. On F?nelon's death in 1715, Ramsay went to Paris where he became a friend of Philippe d'Orl?ans - the Regent of France - who inducted him into the neo-chivalric Order of St Lazarus and, thereafter, he became known as Chevalier Ramsay.

    In 1723, King James granted him a certificate of Nobility, and in 1735 made him a Knight and a Baron, whereby he became Sir Andrew Michael Ramsay. He died at St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, in 1743 and is buried in the church cemetary there. 

    In 1730, while visiting England, Ramsay was initiated into Freemasonry in the Horn Lodge in London. Masonry had been active in France for some years before, but was without any real structure and had only a small membership. Upon Ramsay's return to Paris, he became quite active in the Craft and soon rose to the rank of Grand Orator.

    Ramsay was an idealist and did not believe that everything wonderful should be reserved for life after death. He wanted to build a Heaven on earth and in Freemasonry he thought he saw a way to do this.

    In France at that time, candidates were being received in increasing numbers but the ceremonies were very brief and elementary, giving the candidates little idea of the aims and objects of the Craft. Ramsay thought that this was regrettable so in December 1736 he wrote an Oration which he delivered at social boards following initiation ceremonies.
    This was to become one of the most discussed speeches ever delivered and it is certain that no other has ever received so much attention, been so misunderstood, or had so much effect on the course and development of Freemasonry.

    He aimed at giving candiates a reason to take pride in the Craft, and in their heritage. His Oration, therefore, was not a factual history of our Order but rather an allegorical account of our origins. It was, in one sense, a charge after initiation or, as some would say, the Ramsay version of the Old Charges. He did not deny the existence of the legends about King Solomon and his Temple, but passed "on matters less ancient". His Oration was essentially the speech of the idealist that he was.

    He spoke of a connection between the Crusaders and Freemasons and, in fact, said that after the Crusades, Prince Edward, the son of King Henry III of England, had brought the troops back to England where they took the name Freemasons. Furthermore, he said that:

    From the British Isles, the Royal Art is now repassing into France (which) will become the center of the Order.


    He went on to say

    The obligations imposed on you by the Order are to protect your brothers by your authority, to enlighten them by your knowledge, to edify them by your virtues, to suffer them in their necessities, to sacrifice all personal resentment and to strive after all that may contribute to the peace and unity of society.

    And he also said that

    we desire to unite all men of enlightened minds, gentle manners, and agreeable wit, not only by a love for the fine arts, but much more by the grand principles of virtue, science and religion, where the interests of the Fraternity shall become those of the whole human race, whence all nations shall be enabled to draw useful knowledge and whence the subjects of all Kingdoms shall learn to cherish one another without renouncing their own country.

    Those are surely qualities that we should look for in all true and sincere brethren today.

    Nowhere in his Oration did Ramsay suggest the creation of a new rite, but that was the effect it had. Nowhere can be found a word pointing to the various degrees of vengeance, Elus, Kadosh, etc., or to the Templars. But prior to the Oration there is no trace whatsoever of what is known as Scots Masonry. Almost overnight France became deluged with all sorts of so-called Masonic high grades and the Fraternity became obsessed with idea of Knighthood.

    Freemasonry had been introduced into France in about 1725. It was something the like of which the French had never known before, and it fascinated them. They thought it was wonderful, but they could not believe that it was possible that it had come down to them from common workmen who got their hands dirty cutting stone in quarries.

    Ramsay provided them with an answer and an excuse. He provided them with noble ancestors. The French set about the task of purifying their rituals and in a short period of time more than 1,100 degrees were invented, forming part of more than 100 rites. Most of them had a short existence although amongst those that survived were the 25 degrees of the Rite of Perfection.
    Thus, those brethren who value their membership of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and the Rose Croix do so indirectly as a result of the efforts of Chevalier Ramsay.

    The Earl of Orrery, who knew Ramsay well, wrote that

    Chevalier Ramsay, who was born in Scotland and educated in France, methinks un Ecossais Fran?ais (a Scottish Frenchman) appears like a Tulip engrafted upon a Thistle. One is afraid to venture near the Scotch Root, but one is allured towards it by the gaudy colours of the prominent Flower.

    Ramsay was a novelist, historian, religious philosopher, and teacher. He was a Scottish expatriate, yet he was welcomed home from France by the English government. He was a Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic and a Jacobite, but was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford and made a Fellow of the Royal Society.
    Foremost, Andrew Michael Ramsay was a Freemason and with his famous Oration he inadvertently changed the course of Masonic History by inspiring the creation of the hauts grades or higher degrees which eventually evolved into the Scottish Rite. The ideas in his Oration created a whole new realm within the Fraternity.



     

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