An Objective View about Freemasons (VI): The Powerful Novelty of Ecumenism and Equality
By a blog reader.
Speculative Freemasonry identified religious and political sectarianism as the main causes of conflict and created a space where Christians of different persuasions could concentrate on things that they shared in common rather than what divided them.
The Ancient Charges of a Freemason, or, The Constitutions of the Freemasons by James Anderson – the first written constitution which would later exercise an incredible influence to the extent that one can reasonably declare that it forms the basis of liberal democracy forcefully states in its preamble that:
A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation+, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.
+Note here the clear reference to the concept cuius regio, eius religio which is being superseded in ‘masonic’ thought by another concept – that for peace to truly reign men should focus on what they agreed rather than what divided them.
In the section on behavior in the lodge we see this idea stated unequivocally:
Therefore no private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge, far less any Quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State Policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Catholick Religion above mention’d, we are also of all Nations, Tongues, Kindreds, and Languages, and are resolv’d against all Politics, as what never yet conduct’d to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will. This charge has been strictly enjoin’d and obser’d; but especially ever since the Reformation in Britain, or the Dissent and Secession of these Nations from the Communion of Rome.
It couldn’t be clearer, it is spelled in black on white – the genius of British Freemasonry was to create what in effect was an ecumenical space at a time when others could only think of intrigue and settling scores, of censorship and brute force.
Pope Francis rightfully stated on many an occasion that:
“We should be unafraid to make room for peace in our lives by cultivating dialogue and fraternity among one another.”
“blessed are the builders of peace,”
That is what British Freemasonry consciously set out to achieve a full three hundred years earlier.
And what was that ‘Religion in which all Men agree’? Christians of all denominations agreed that there was a Triune God, That the Bible was the measure by which one should regulate one’s conduct and other shared beliefs that CS Lewis would later call Mere Christianity. Anything beyond that would lead only to argument and strife.
But the genius of British speculative masonry was not limited to matters of dogma – be they religious or political – it also identified and addressed another open sore in society. When speculative Freemasonry was still in its infancy, European society was deeply stratified, yet to fully transition from a feudal society into a modern one and this was tackled head-on within Freemasonry itself.
Whereas outside the lodge, people had predetermined stratified roles, within it they did not.
Whereas outside the lodge commoners did not really have any voice or influence, within it not only did they have an equal voice but also an equal vote – Anticipating universal suffrage by centuries. An aristocrat could be blackballed by a butcher.
Whereas outside the lodge a common man would need to touch his forelock to his social superiors within it the common man could be the one sitting in the Master’s chair and the prince of the realm simply an initiate. The Taylor could be the Senior Warden and the Marquis his junior.
The commoner learned he could be trusted with governing the lodge and could prove that he could govern it well. Within the lodge, both commoners and aristocrats depended on merit rather than social status to advance.
Within the lodge, the commoner learned that not only could be his master’s equal but also his better, and indeed his master understood that too.
And that was dynamite that would blow up the rigid social hierarchies that had existed for centuries to high heaven and pave the way towards the advent of a classical liberal society (The term liberal should not be confused with today’s abuse of the word – which is in fact highly illiberal)