Albert G. Mackey on the Super Excellent Master Degree
Provided by the Oklahoma Chapter and Council Education E-Newsletter (https://okyorkrite.com/)
Extracted from the According to Mackey Column in the March 2022 Issue
The following entry appears on pp. 737-738 of the 1912 edition of “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences” by Albert G. Mackey.
A Degree which was originally an honorary or side Degree conferred by the Inspectors-General of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston. It has since been introduced into some of the Royal and Select Councils of the United States, and there conferred as an additional Degree. This innovation on the regular series of Cryptic Degrees, with which it actually has no historical connection, met with great opposition; so that the Convention of Royal and Select Masters which met at New York in June, 1873, resolved to place it in the category of an honorary Degree, which might or might not be conferred at the option of a Council, but not as an integral part of the Rite. Although this Body had no dogmatic authority, its decision has doubtless had some influence in settling the question. The Degree is simply an enlargement of that part of the ceremonies of the Royal Arch which refer to the Temple destruction. To that place it belongs, if it belongs anywhere, but has no more to do with the ideas inculcated in Cryptic Masonry, than have any of the Degrees lately invented for modern Secret Societies.
Whence the Degree originally sprang, it is impossible to tell. It could hardly have had its birth on the Continent of Europe; at least, it does not appear to have been known to European writers. Neither Gadicke nor Lenning mention it in their Encyclopedias, nor is it found in the catalogue of more than seven hundred Degrees given by Thory in his Acta Latomorum; nor does Ragon allude to it in his Tuileur Général, although he has there given a list of one hundred and fifty-three Degrees or modifications of the Master. Doctor Oliver, it is true, speaks of it, but he evidently derived his knowledge from an American source. It may have been manufactured in America, and possibly by some of those engaged in founding the Scottish Rite. The only Cahier that Doctor Mackey ever saw of the original ritual, which remained in his possession, is in the handwriting of Alexander McDonald, a very intelligent and enthusiastic Freemason, who was at one time the Grand Commander of the supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction.
The Masonic legend of the degree of Super Excellent Master refers to circumstances which occurred on the last day of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan, the Captain of the Chaldean Army, who had been sent by Nebuchadnezar to destroy the city and Temple, as a just punishment for the Jewish King Zedekiah for his perfidy and rebellion. It occupies, therefore, precisely that point of time which is embraced in that part of the Royal Arch Degree which represents the destruction of the Temple, and the Carrying of the Jews in captivity to Babylon. It is, in fact, an exemplification and extension of that part of the Royal Arch Degree.
As to the symbolic design of the Degree, it is very evident that its legend and ceremonies are intended to inculcate that important Masonic virtue—fidelity to vows. Zedekiah, the wicked King of Judah, is, by the modern ritualists who have symbolized the degree, adopted very appropriately as the symbol of perfidy. The severe but well-deserved punishment which was inflicted on him by the King of Babylon is set forth in the lecture as a great moral lesson, whose object is to warn the recipient of the fatal effects that will ensue from a violation of his sacred obligations.
The full text of the 1912 edition of Mackey’s “An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences” may be found at:Mackey’s Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry: Volume I