by a blog reader
As we have seen previously, Freemasonry always required a belief in Deity: the Regius Manuscript, the oldest known Masonic document dating from 1425–50, states that a Mason “must love well God and holy church always.”, and James Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions states as its primarily landmark 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.“
However, in the tumultuous decades of the late 18th century, Freemasonry in France became increasingly influenced by radical factions such as the Jacobins and increasingly progressive ideology. While Freemasonry’s role in precipitating the French Revolution is wildly exaggerated there can be no doubt that French Freemasonry advanced the principle of laïcité and also embraced an unhealthy dose of anti-catholicism and anti-clericalism. This form of French masonry as espoused by the Grand Orient de France (formed 1773) became to be known as Continental Masonry.
Continental Freemasonry took root and has been since concentrated in traditionally Catholic countries, where opponents of the Catholic church accused it of not only being part of the establishment and therefore of the status quo but also of being a reactionary bastion to progressive values.
Fundamentally, it is Continental Freemasonry that drew the enmity of the Catholic Church (not without justification) and which lies at the heart of the Church’s continued condemnation of Freemasonry in general (sadly without distinction). In the 1970s The Catholic Church was very close to making a distinction between the different types of masonry to the extent that in 1974 Cardinal Franjo Šeper, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, had sent a letter regarding Freemasonry to Cardinal John Krol, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this letter, it is stated that one may join Masonic institutions that “do not plot against the Church”. This position remained unchanged until 1981 when despite changes to the Canon Law, The Church suddenly reversed its position and reverted to its universal condemnation. Though the reason for this reversal has never been explained, one suspects it is due to the scandals revolving around the P2 lodge (an irregular lodge that continued to operate illegally well after it was formally struck off the registers of the Grand Orient of Italy ) in the wake of the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano. But we shall expand on this subject when we deal with the subject of Freemasonry and religion.
It suffices, for now, to say that many particularly anti-clerical regimes in traditionally Catholic countries were perceived by the Church as having strong Masonic connections. In Italy, the Church linked the anticlerical and nationalist secret society, the Carbonari, to Freemasonry and blamed the anticlerical direction of Italian Unification, or Risorgimento, on Freemasonry. Into the 1890s the Church would justify its calls for Catholics to avoid dealings with the Italian state with a reference to the state’s supposed “Masonic” nature.
Even as late as 2005, the president of Spain’s Union of Catholic Professional Fraternities blamed the anti-clerical measures of the Socialist government on a “tremendous crusade by Masonry against the Church.”
Continental style Lodges have also spread to most regions of the world. Throughout Continental Europe, Latin America, most of the Caribbean, and most of Africa, they are the predominant tradition of Freemasonry, while in the United States of America, the British Commonwealth, and those nations colonized by the British (including Malta) they are virtually non-existent.
In the nineteenth century, Continental Freemasonry, with the Grand Orient de France as its fountain head became ever more radical and consequentially lead to greater differences with Regular Freemasonry. It had already drawn much animosity when it unilaterally broke an unwritten law by granting warrants to new lodges formed in jurisdictions that did not belong to it but the final straw came when the Grand Orient de France formally disavowed perhaps the two most defining principles in Regular Freemasonry: The requirement of a belief in God and the ban of political discourse within the lodges.
In 1877, the Grand Orient de France changed its constitutions to allow for complete religious “laïcité” and removed the requirement for a belief in a deity, stating that laïcité “imposes that all men are given, without distinction of class, origin or denomination, the means to be themselves, to have the freedom of choice, to be responsible for their own maturity and masters of their destiny.” Ever since the GOdF would admit atheists, while Regular Freemasonry would not. The United Grand Lodge of England withdrew its recognition and declared the GOdF to be irregular. As other jurisdictions tended to follow the lead of either GOdF or UGLE, the schism widened and remains to this day.
Continental Freemasonry also decreed that political discussion be allowed in Lodges turning it into a highly militant institution advocating for ever more liberal and progressive politics.
Indeed, The Grand Orient was instrumental in the founding of the left-wing Republican Party. In the 1930s the Grand Orient was still hostile to the interests of the Catholic Church, wishing to close private schools in France (which were predominantly Roman Catholic), or failing that to reintroduce an insistence that only state schools could provide civil servants. During the first decade of the 21st century, the Grand Orient de France was concerned about a “silent revolution” of a return of religion in society. It advocated government action against (according to its own terms) an “offensive of cults in Europe”. In April 2008, when the legitimacy of the anti-cult ministerial group (MIVILUDES) was questioned, the Grand Master of the Order, Jean-Michel Quillardet, intervened personally with the Speaker of the French Parliament in order to maintain its activity.
In 2013, the Grand Orient of France stated its support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in France in a press release condemning the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois, for his public statements against same-sex marriage; in the statement, the GOdF described the bill as one which seeks to “ensure Republican recognition of free marital choice of individuals who wish it, in the name of equal rights” thereby cementing its left-wing and progressive credentials for posterity.
I have here only provided but a brief overview of the differences between British Freemasonry (Regular) Masonry and Continental Freemasonry (Irregular) but I trust at this stage you can at least glimpse the deep and irreconcilable differences between the two and thereby the incorrectness of generalizations when using the term Freemasonry.
Throughout practically the entire history of Freemasonry in Malta (300 years), all the lodges that have operated here have always belonged to Regular Masonry including the Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta and its daughter lodges. In December 2009 a distinct minority of Maltese Freemasons belonging to SGLOM withdrew their membership from the Sovereign Grand Lodge of Malta and established an irregular grand lodge called the Grand Lodge of Malta. The members of this self-styled grand lodge were all automatically expelled by SGLOM and this grand lodge if it is indeed still functioning anymore and its members do not enjoy any recognition by any regular grand lodge.
Indeed, as documented in Wikipedia, the only recognition this grand lodge seems to have obtained during its short life were those of Grand Orient de France, the Gran Loggia D’Italia, and a number of other bodies practicing Continental Freemasonry and therefore of course irregular.
In the next part, we will start to address the topic of Freemasonry and religion.