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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.