Late last summer, my folks were visiting from Washington State. While sitting around the breakfast table, I remarked for no particular reason (as I am wont to do) that to ‘sublime’ is to change state from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid phase. I remember, when I studied Chemistry in college, discussing this subject and viewing graphs of different substances showing how their phases changed with changing temperature and pressure. The term ‘triple point’ was used to describe a point where the temperature and pressure were balanced so that a substance could be either solid, liquid, or gas. I explained to my mother that an example of sublimation at normal temperature and atmospheric pressure was dry ice (carbon dioxide in a solid form) which changed directly to a gas (CO2) without first becoming a liquid.
My mother contradicted me, and said she never heard of such a thing. She said that ‘sublime’ was an exalted or glorious state of human perfection and quickly ran to get a dictionary.
Our American Heritage Dictionary defines sublime as 1. Characterized by nobility; majestic. 2. a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth. b. Not to be excelled; supreme. That same dictionary defines sublimate as 1. Chem. To cause (a solid or a gas) to change state without becoming a liquid. 2. Psychol. To modify the natural expression of (an instinctual impulse) in a socially acceptable manner.
A scan of the internet brings us the Wikipedia definition of Sublime (Philosophy) as the quality of greatness or vast magnitude, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic.
In a sense, my mom and I were both right.
But why, you might ask, am I writing about the definition of ‘sublime’ in a Masonic Blog? The simple answer is that I have been reading a lot of Renaissance Philosophy lately, as it relates to the symbolism of speculative Freemasonry. That philosophy is filled with discussions on the Hermetic Tradition, Cabalism, Rosicrucianism, Astrology, and Alchemy. Alchemy, for instance, is the ancient art of transformation or transmutation and was the precursor of modern chemistry. Again, Wikipedia gives us the definition of Alchemy as both a philosophy and a practice with an aim of achieving ultimate wisdom as well as immortality, involving the improvement of the alchemist as well as the making of several substances described as possessing unusual properties.
When I reflected on what I had been reading, it occurred that there was more to the “Sublime degree of a Master Mason” than just an arbitrary term I assumed had been used to name the third degree. From an alchemical sense, the third degree is the sublimation, or transformation of a man from a more profane to a higher more exalted state of being (turning lead into gold). It is a process of lifting a man up and putting him on a path toward the achievement of ‘ultimate wisdom’. The third degree is not the end, however but the beginning of a lifelong journey toward spiritual and intellectual growth.
I feel like I am just now starting to take those first few tentative steps and beginning my journey toward more light in Masonry. I can’t help but regret that I didn’t start my Masonic studies earlier. My hope is that my example can be an encouragement to others to begin their own journeys earlier and thereby influence a new generation of Masons to seek Masonic Formation.