A Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in Memphis TN

What’s Up With That Masonic Symbol?

The All Seeing Eye of God. Many visitors ask about this symbol, mistakenly believing that it originated with the Free Masons.

The All Seeing Eye of God. Many visitors ask about this symbol, mistakenly believing that it originated with the Freemasons.

Almost every one of the stained glass windows in Trinity has at least one Christen icon or symbol. None of them elicit more questions than that of the All Seeing Eye. “So what’s up with the Masonry symbol?” people ask.

It appears at the top of the window on the East side, closest to the front of the nave, overlooking the area where Pastor and the Deacon sit, and for generations, was seen by small, fidgeting children as God’s disapproving eye on their distractful restlessness.

The "Eye" was a popular motif in Egyptian art. Here it appears in an early woodcut from the 1400's

The “Eye” was a popular motif in Egyptian art. Here it is used to represent God as the one who sees and knows all things, in an early woodcut from the 1400′s

The All Seeing Eye, also known as The Eye of God or The Eye of Providence has been used for centuries as a Christian symbol. Art work, depicting the watching eye of God started appearing in Europe in the late fourteen hundreds, usually as a huge eye floating in the sky, or looking through the clouds.

As people became more familiar with the meaning of the symbol, it began to appear with a triangle drawn around it to represent the Trinity. By the late seventeen hundreds, it had become a universally accepted symbol throughout Christendom.

Cena in Emmaus by Jacopo da Pontormo, painted in 1525 shows the use of the all seeing eye surrounded by a triangle representing the trinity.

Cena in Emmaus by Jacopo da Pontormo, painted in 1525 shows the use of the all seeing eye surrounded by a triangle representing the trinity.

When the United States was founded, the All Seeing Eye was incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States, appearing above an unfinished pyramid. The idea was that God (or Providence) oversaw and gave his approval of the growing nation. The Pyramid was made of thirteen rows, with room for more.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States.

The reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States.

Popular legend has it that the founding fathers were greatly influenced by the Freemasons and that these mason’s had one of their symbols incorporated into the Great Seal.

The truth is that among the members of the committee that designed the Great Seal, only Benjamin Franklin was a mason. He submitted his own design (which did not have an eye of any kind) and it was rejected.

The Eye of Providence as it appeared in xxx's book of symbols for use by the masons.

The Eye of Providence as it appeared in Webb’s book of symbols for use by the masons.

In 1797, a member of the Freemasons, Thomas Smith Webb, published a book that contained many icons and symbols for use by Freemasons. It contained a depiction of the Eye of Providence, however this symbol was simply an eye, surrounded by a semi-circular array of light , without a triangle. This is the earliest known use of the symbol by the masons.

The Freemason's historic symbol of the compass and the square is sometimes combined with the Eye of Providence.

The Freemason’s historic symbol of the compass and the square is sometimes combined with the Eye of Providence.

But it was not long after this that the Eye of Providence began to appear combined with the Compass and Square symbol. It was used to remind its members that The Supreme Architect of the Universe is watching over them. Because it was a secret society with many powerful and influential members, the masons have always been viewed with suspicion. In the early 1800’s Anti-masonry leagues formed and spread accusations and distrust*. It is about this time that the rumors started about Masons and the Great Seal.

The truth is, the Christian Church beat the masons to the symbol by several centuries, and even the Great Seal of the United States, predates the use of the symbol by the Freemasons by several decades.

 

*It is still the official policy of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that its members should not also be members of the Masons (This holds true for Catholics and most other protestant denominations as well)
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D_Brugge
About the Author: David Brugge is a Layman at Trinity where he serves as an Elder. He attended St. Paul’s College High in Concordia, MO. and Concordia College in Seward, NE.

4 Comments
  1. Interesting article David – Thanks!

  2. Knew some, forgot some, learned some. Thanx.

  3. I think that your article would have been enhanced if you went back much further in your historical research. The All Seeing Eye has origins in Egyptian Mythology. Interesting also, while not undeniably documented, Freemasonry has at least ‘legendary’association with Egyptian mysteries. If one reads documented histories of the Masonic Orders the dates will coincide with the Middle Ages around the time that your article mentions that the All Seeing Eye appears in the Church. My degree is in Art and Religious Studies and I know that the impact of the return of Crusaders from the the Holy Land (Middle East and Egypt as well)had a far reaching effect on European societies. The lack of documentation of the rituals and symbols of Freemasonry is by design, due to their identity with ‘the mysteries”. It is not out of the question that the “All Seeing Eye of God (Providence)” has an equally longstanding presence in Freemasonry. The presence of the All Seeing Eye of God symbol in churches is not ubiquitous, and most likely has been used by artists and architects who have a prejudice toward its use as somehow significant. In actuality, there are so many more beautiful and loving images that adorn our churches… I think where present, A.S.Eye.G, should simply be replaced. It’s ominous and ugly.

  4. David Brugge

    As I sure you can appreciate, most readers of these articles are not history geeks like you and me. I could absorb myself for days on end reading about this stuff, but when I share my stories, I see my friends eyes start glazing over.

    For that reason, I intentionally edit my articles severely, and I l struck out the ties to Egypt and other ancient religions who adopted the eye motif into their iconography.

    Interesting idea about the tie between the crusaders and Egypt. My limited knowledge in these areas had me with the impression that the fascination with Egypt started with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and Britain’s followup. I will certainly have to look into this.

    I was mostly wanting to address the idea that the All Seeing Eye was a Mason symbol as if Freemasonry had developed it and that all other uses were derivatives of it. I can not argue with you about the possibility of it being a longstanding symbol in the Rite, but lacking credible evidence to the contrary, I will hold my position.

    As for “[the] A.S.Eye.G, should simply be replaced. It’s ominous and ugly.” Well, you know what they say… beauty is in the Eye of the beholder. ;)