The Trivium and The Printing Press

The concept of societal responsibility to educate the masses was not an ideal that was embraced by the elite of the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact, the common man was discouraged from pursuing knowledge on his own and was forced to look to the church for direction. The clergy could read and write. Commoners could not.

In roughly 1450 AD, Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith, changed all that. His invention, the Gutenberg printing press, made it possible to produce written literature affordably and in mass quantities. The common man, denied knowledge for centuries, could now seek answers on his own, without consulting his local priest.

Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom

Stonecutters, going back to the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the construction of the Pyramids, have employed the Trivium as a method to pass on the secrets of their profession. The Entered Apprentice learned as a common worker, honed his skills as a Fellowcraft, and became a teacher himself as a Master Mason.

Prior to 1450 AD, the teaching techniques of the stonecutters had been adopted by other tradesmen, including blacksmiths, bakers, armorers, farmers, and fishermen. Men could learn their trade from a master, acquire understanding through practical application, and eventually master it and teach it to others.

The system worked, but it was flawed because it did not allow men to transition to a new profession. If you were born into a stonecutter household, you became a stonecutter. Bakers produced bakers. Fishermen taught their children to fish. Higher learning was not available. Commoners couldn’t read, so the poor remained poor.

Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric

Our Masonic understanding of the Trivium comes from the Middle Chamber lecture of the Fellowcraft degree, but we view it from the perspective of an educated society. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are learning concepts associated with the formal study of written literature. Imagine your limitations if you couldn’t read or write.

The invention of the printing press opened a door to distribute written literature to the common man. It was the beginning of the Scientific Revolution that would eventually lead to the Age of Enlightenment. Watch the video below:

With Great Power comes Great Responsibility

Fast-forward to the 21st Century. Most people today can read and write. The printing press is still around, but the primary medium of communication is the Internet, and ANYONE can publish their “rhetoric” there. There’s no oversight, no editorial process, and no sense of responsibility for many of those posting on social media.

The Masonic writers of the Age of Enlightenment changed the path of human history. They disseminated printed information which was carefully crafted to explain social and political concepts the common man was unfamiliar with. Their efforts brought about the rise of democracy and the downfall of monarchal governments.

On January 2nd, 2019, I’m presenting at Lodge of Instruction on the topic of “The Trivium and the Printing Press.” It will be held at Aurora Lodge, 16 Thorndike Street, Fitchburg, MA. If you’d like to attend, have more questions on the topic, or would like me to present this module at your LOI, please email me:

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