The Church and the Craft
by William E. Parker, MPS
Organized Freemasonry began in London with establishment of the Premier Grand Lodge in 1717. In France, while there are reports of lodges being established at an earlier date, the years 1725-1730 are most frequently accepted for Masonry's beginnings there. During trips to England, a number of Frenchmen became Freemasons and there were lodges with French names, lodges composed essentially of French members; e.g., Des Amis Reunis, L'Esperance, L'Egalite, and L'Immortalite de L'Ordre. Upon returning to France, they would quite naturally take their Freemasonry with them. Diplomats, businessmen, travellers, and military personnel all contributed to continuing Craft interest on the Continent. By the beginning of the 18th Century, "la mode anglaise" was well established in France.
The French copied English customs, English fashions, and eventually English Freemasonry. It was an era of clubs and societies of all types, and Freemasonry found fertile ground in France. But, in the copying, the French made it uniquely Gallic in character, molding it along philosophic, esoteric, and chivalric lines. Up until about 1737, widespread public knowledge of Freemasonry was somewhat limited, although the Craft had been quietly prospering. At about that time, news of the Craft began to appear more widely and intense curiosity resulted. And, from 1737-1751, a number of printed "exposures" appeared, some of which had value, some of which were misleading, but all of which quite naturally sparked public interest. Masonic membership of some lodges was primarily from the aristocracy and well-to-do classes; i.e., the intellectuals, the army officer corps, the clergy, the nobility, and even branches of the Royal Family. If there were also a few lodges of "lesser" social personages such as shopkeepers, merchants, and small business owners, eager to emulate the nobility and share in "Masonic secrets," still many of the country's most influential men were members and the Craft inevitably prospered.
There were several reasons for the Craft's attraction to the French. Lodges of the era were highly Gallic in character, in being lieus of philosophical thought and ideas. If political and religious discussions were, in theory, banned, yet the French mentality readily adapted to the philosophical tenor the lodges offered. The chivalric degree associations were appealing, there was an aura of mysticism involved and, as always, there was the appeal of being part of a select group.
The rapid growth of the Craft had stirred the interest of French authorities; and Cardinal Fleury, last of the great Cardinal Ministers, with motives undoubtedly both religious and political, wanted to reduce its growing influence. But, given the Craft's highly aristocratic membership, the matters of state to resolve, and his advanced age, to perhaps coin a phrase, Freemasonry was simply "one more cross to bear." An interesting historical incident of the era concerns a Mlle. Marie Armabade Carton and the then Lt. General of Police Rene Herault. "La Carton," a dancer at the Paris Opera and known as "Manon," was for years the mistress of Samuel Demard, Louis XIV 's financier, by whom she had three daughters. Among others, she had also been the mistress, in 1730, of Marshal Saxe, not only a soldier, but also a high-ranking Freemason, and thus her connection with our story. Concerned about the Craft's possible "political" aims, in 1737, Fleury gave Herault the task of discovering the Freemasons "great secret." Herault decided to utilize the "talents" of Carton which, though long past her prime, were still considerable, to seduce a certain English aristocrat, Lord Kingston, an eminent English Freemason. Kingston, it seems, had seduced one of Carton's daughters causing the young girl to leave her husband and join Kingston in England. Herault believed Carton would be eager to avenge her daughter. Thus, during a Paris visit by Kingston, a "chance" meeting with Carton was arranged and events moved swiftly. During private meetings, she alluded to knowing the Craft's secrets, being obtained from previous lovers. Totally captivated by her charms and the promise of her "surrender," Kingston was induced to prove his own knowledge and reveal lodge ceremonies, upon which she duly "surrendered." When transmitted to the police, while the disclosures revealed lodge ceremonies, the alleged "great secret" was still missing and there was, of course, no political agenda involved. Carton's daughter eventually returned to her husband, Carton herself retired in time to a comfortable and respectable life, Kingston died several years later of a disease apparently passed on by an unknown woman, and Fleury and Herault knew little more than previous informants had passed on.
But, what of the Church of Rome? Since the reign of Henry VII and his break with the Roman Church, bitter relationships had existed between England and the Pope, each tolerating the other more out of necessity than desire. And, added to the purely religious issue was undoubtedly that of a political context. Indeed, it would be impossible for the Church to wholly separate the two, as often evidenced. The history of Italy must also be considered, being replete with Machiavellian political machinations of countless groups such as the Borgais, the Medice the Colonna, and the Orsini. The Church thus had a long history of involvement in and dealing with such issues, whether real or imagined.
In the Church view, the Freemason's "heresy" (the "heresy" being acceptance and toleration for all religions) was undoubtedly just another issue to be addressed, albeit a serious one. How that issue was addressed began a problem which has lasted over two and a half centuries. April 24th, 1738, saw Pope Clement XII's famous condemnation "In Eminenti." The Bull condemned Freemasonry as a secret society, directed the "faithful" to oppose the craft, called for excommunication upon violators, i.e., supporters of Freemasonry, and directed the Inquisition to enforce the decree, enlisting the aid of civil authorities. In France, however, Louis XV and his council had more serious matters than worrying about a men's club with members called Freemasons. The King, therefore, did not bother to submit the Bull to Parliament, as was required to be official, perhaps out of sympathy, perhaps just good politics, perhaps both. Why create another problem if it could be avoided? It is also likely the French Parliament, known for Gallican independence, might well have resented Rome's attempt to dictate policy inside France and rejected the Bull, thus creating further strains in the long-running Gallican-Church struggle. Thus, the Paris parliament neither registered, nor promulgated, the Bull in France, hence it had no legal status and consequently little impact. The King reportedly had threatened to send any Frenchman who became Grand Master to the Bastille, but the threat likely came from Fleury. Yet, on June 24th, 1738, just weeks after the Papal Bull was issued, the Duke d'Antin was elected Grand Master, serving until his death in December, 1743, yet retaining close friendships with both the King and Fleurv. Montesquieu, President of the Bordeaux Parliament, the Count de St. Florentin, the Secretary of State, numerous members of the aristocracy, and even the King's valet, Bontemps, were members as were many others. Yet, all remained in Royal favor! And, in 1743, Louis de Bourbon, Count de Clermont, a grandson of Louis XIV, thus a blood relation to Louis XV, became Grand Master serving until his death in 1771.
During this era, both the Cardinal Minister and the King were more concerned with political issues than Roman edicts, thus exercising their usual Gallican independence. Perhaps the King's "tolerance" was simply a method to maintain control over the Craft and a better knowledge of its proceedings, or perhaps he simply wasn't concerned about the matter. In any event, the French paid little real attention to the Papal pronouncement and Freemasonry continued to flourish. It is significant that such high-ranking personalities assumed the post of Grand Master in 1738 and 1743. We shall never know for certain the King's reasoning, but we do know Louis XV "tolerated" the Craft to the point of numbering many of his advisors as members. It has even been stated that the King was himself a Mason, but substantiating documentation to corroborate this is lacking and must be considered as simply a Masonic "legend" until proven otherwise. But, what were the motives behind the Papal Ban?
The Stuarts, in exile from England, formerly at St. Germain near Paris, were now in Rome and the current "Pretender", James III, was still waiting for an opportunity to obtain the English Crown. The English and Stuartists were feverishly spying on each other and rallying supporters, the Stuarts mounting several unsuccessful invasion attempts, the last in 1745. There were Paris lodges in the 1720's which were Jacobite, thus Stuart partisans, quite possibly involved in "political" activities, contrary to true Masonic principles, and Fleury would naturally be concerned about such activities. And, there was a Jacobite, Stuartist, Lodge operating in Rome from 1735 to 1737, with an "opposing" "English Hanoverian" Lodge active in Florence in Tuscany. Some believe the Florence Lodge's activities, undoubtedly pro-English in nature, to be the basis behind the 1738 Bull, and cite the Church's efforts through the Inquisition endeavoring to suppress the Lodge and silence or imprison its members.
The late eminent French Jurist, Alec Mellor, a practicing Catholic, historian, author, and Freemason, advanced a theory that James III was fearful English Freemasonry, operating in Catholic countries, was the "spearhead" of a Protestant "infiltration." Mellor's thesis is that James felt any gains made by the Protestants would be at the Catholics' expense, thus making a Stuart return to England more difficult. Consequently, James convinced Clement XII to issue his Edict. The Church of Rome would certainly view any organization which advocated freedom of thought and religious toleration as a threat to its own authority. Also, whether or not one accepts Mellor's thesis, Rome would hardly look favorably upon an organization with principles molded largely by two Protestant Ministers, Anderson and Desaguliers. Mellor states the Bull would thus have both political and religious motives; i.e., his thesis and the fundamental anti-tolerant Church position. Continuing Mellor's thesis, if it was know Freemasonry was being condemned, at least in part, in order to advance the Stuart's cause in England, opinion would surely turn against that cause. hence, Mellor says part of the Bull was purposely vague "...and for other just and reasonable causes known to us..." He believes these words, apart from the more general condemnations, refer to the unstated political motive. Was the Masonic "secret" part of the basis for the condemnation? Some say yes, but Church informants were well advised on the lodges' proceedings, and several exposes were then available. Was the condemnation because of the Masonic "oath," which is really an "obligation," not an oath? Certainly, Rome would not accept any group which professed secrets, had an obligation to protect these secrets from non-members, including the Church, and had a tolerant philosophy, accepting all who knocked at its door. While uncertain, it has nonetheless been contended it is the "oath" and the professed "secrecy" which lie at the root of the 1738 and subsequent condemnations. As for the "penalties", the Church should have immediately recognized, as would any clear-thinking person or organization, their symbolic nature, used merely as part of the method of imparting great moral truths. Still, viewing the Church's history, and considering the political and cultural atmosphere of the era, it is conceivable they viewed the alleged "secret", "oath/obligation" and "penalties" in a different light, looking back at their own long use of such. Was the Papal Bull issued only for the Stuart "political" issue, but hidden behind the facade of other causes? If so, when the Stuart restoration was no longer probable, why was the condemnation not lifted?
It is probable that the Stuart issue, if indeed it even existed, was likely only a part of the overall reasoning. Remember, Rome was then a temporal as well as religious power, jealously guarded its prerogatives, and was both fearful of and certain to take steps against anything it felt might be a threat to that power. Finally, once Rome has taken a public position, it rarely, if ever, reverses itself so as not to jeopardize its proclaimed dogma of "infallibility."
In May 1751, Benedict XIV 's "Providas" reiterated the 1738 condemnation, again railed against Masonic "secrecy" and "oaths", appealed to the Monarchs that the execution of Bulls is their duty, and stated that such societies as Freemasonry are "reproved by good decent people." Mellor says the "political/hidden" motive was not mentioned, an omission he felt reinforced his thesis. Still, the Church felt strongly enough on the question to again condemn the Craft, indicating the very real possibility there were indeed other reasons involved. Since the 1738 Bull is purposely vague in portions, however, no matter how compelling a thesis may be made by some authors, we are left in the final analysis with speculation only as concerns the "hidden" motive. Considering the continuing Church condemnations, was the Craft confused with other organizations, perhaps "secret" groups such as the Carbonari, professing anti-clerical and conspiratorial aims? We know that the Carbonari operated in France and Italy for a period of time. However,unlike such secret organizations, except in time of persecution or abnormal circumstances, such as occurred during the Nazi regime, Freemasonry has never kept its existence secret. And, spurious "Masonic" Obedience have developed which deviate from traditional Masonic landmarks, such irregular groups often professing anti-clerical sentiments. If public opinion has mistakenly confused such bodies with Regular Masonic Obedience, it's doubtful the well informed Church authorities did.
On July 12, 1790, the French Legislative Assembly enacted the "Civil Code of the Clergy", which totally reorganized Church State relations, reducing the Church from its privileged status to a mere servant of the State, and the anti-clerical Revolutionary Government began a "de-Christianization" campaign. The centuries-old excesses of the Church would leave lasting "scars" upon the French when they were finally "liberated" from its oppressive yoke. On allegations that French Freemasonry was involved in plotting the Revolution, throughout the entire history of Papal denunciations, there has been no mention of Masonic involvement in the Revolution, a tide which devastated both the Catholic Church and Freemasonry in France. If Rome believed even in the slightest there was any Masonic involvement, they would assuredly have issued a papal announcement. Such has never occurred. It must be accepted, therefore, the condemnations were for other reasons. (See The Northern Light, Nov. 1992.) Indeed, with many of the highest dignitaries of the nation as members, it is hardly likely they would have fomented a movement which would inevitably be detrimental to the Order and to themselves. For example, members of the era included the King's cousin, the Duke de Orleans, the King's brothers, the Counts de Provence and Artois, the Duke de Montmorency-Luxembourg, the Marquis de Lafayette, Talleyrand, and countless others.
The rise of Bonaparte brought yet another dimension to French Freemasonry. In July 1801, for political reasons to solidify his reign over France, he signed a Concordat with Pius VII again giving Rome authority, albeit somewhat limited, over the French Church. But, if the Church re-emerged, it was nonetheless more battered than triumphant. Having suffered a traumatic shock in the Revolution, it would never again regain its past glory and power. And, as time progressed, relations would become increasingly strained between the Emperor and Pius VII. With the Church now well in hand, Bonaparte was able to be crowned Emperor on Dec. 2nd, 1804. If French Freemasons in general, essentially of the Catholic Faith, paid little heed to the Concordat's impact, the Clergy, conversely, formerly members of the Craft in fair numbers, adhered less and less, finally disappearing entirely from the lodges. With the signing of the Concordat, there was as time passed both a resurgence of Church influence and anti-clerical activity in France, this latter eventually again evidencing itself in anti-clerical government policies particularly under the Third republic. With continual Church persecutions against the Craft, it is perhaps not overly surprising that some anti-clerical attitudes developed.
Insofar as Freemasonry is concerned, an epochal event occurred in 1877 with the Grand Orient deleting from its Constitutions the requirement for a belief in God, the Immortality of the soul, and the presence of the three Great Lights in Lodges. This action naturally resulted in withdrawal of recognition by Regular Grand Lodges and the Grand Orient entered into an "Irregularity" from which it has never emerged.
There have been numerous Papal condemnations through the years. In April 1884, for example, Leo XIII's "Humanum Genus" reiterated previous condemnations, the "Masonic peril" they denounced, the "evil doers" in the Freemasons, the "Masonic intent to destroy Christian religious and social disciplines and replace them with a system of naturalism," and called upon the Church and its allies to do battle with "the sect of Satan." In that the United States, unlike France, had not then been subject to the intense political pressures of the Catholic Church, in its desire to control the nation's religious thought, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend the French thought in their complex Church-State relationships.
This issue was brought to a climax in 1904 when Emil Combes, a Minister of the French Republic and a Freemason, submitted a law to separate the Church and State. Enacted into law in December, 1905, the measure also ended the Concordat and guaranteed freedom of worship for all. In 1917, Benedict XV, through Canon Law 2335, reiterated excommunication for Catholic members of the Craft. Vatican sources restated in 1949 and 1950 the law was still in force and that it forbade Roman Catholics to become members of "the Masonic Sect and organizations which are hostile to the Church and legitimate Civil authorities." This has long been a source of concern to Freemasons everywhere, not just in France, in that Masonic Obedience considered "Regular" are not hostile either to the Church or to civil authorities. To the contrary, the Craft's attitude has been open with a full willingness to discuss with the Church any misunderstandings which may exist. And, insofar as civil authority is concerned, Freemasonry obliges its members to support all lawful civil authority, and never to engage in any action which might be considered detrimental thereto.
Through the years, there have been strong voices in France, both within and without the Church, laboring for a reconciliation. For example, in the 1960's and '70's, the Jesuit Priest Father Michael Riquet, labored long and hard to this end. From a lay standpoint, Bro. Alex Mellor, in particular, with close ties to the Vatican, was a strong proponent for Regular Freemasonry in his own efforts to aid in bringing about a "rapprochement" between the Church and the Craft.
Nor have such efforts been confined solely to "informal" levels. In 1971, the Grand Master of the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise (French National Grand Lodge), A.L. Derosiere, met with representatives of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to freely and openly discuss viewpoints of both parties. There have also been public meetings wherein G.L.N.F. representatives have met with interested citizens to address questions and issues in an open forum. Undoubtedly as a result of such initiatives, recent years have seen interpretations by some Church officials that only Masonic groups which plot against the Church were affected by the Bulls, and that other Masonic bodies were not subject to the Ban. In 1974, Cardinal Seper, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation, issued a letter indicating Canon 2335 had to be interpreted in a restrictive sense and that Catholics who join Freemasonry are excommunicated only if the policy and actions of that group of "Freemasons" are known to be hostile to the Church.
A number of important pronouncements have occurred during the latter half of this century paradoxically both positive and negative insofar as a 'rapprochement' between the Roman Church and Freemasonry is concerned. On the one hand, for example, the Church authorities of the Scandinavian countries indicated a "relaxed" attitude towards Catholics being Freemasons. Conversely, after a lengthy study and citing Masonic relativism, or tolerance of diverse religions and ideas, and other aspects, the German Episcopal Conference on May 12, 1980, indicated an incompatibility existed to be both a Catholic and Freemason. Then, on Feb. 17, 1981, the Sacred Congregation emphasized that Canon 2335 remained totally in effect whatever actions might be undertaken in individual instances. If Cardinal Seper's "new look" at Freemasonry had been widely praised, both within and without the craft, it was inevitable the Vatican would eventually review the entire Masonic question and issue more official guidelines.
From such review came Canon Law 1374 in 1983, as part of the Church's new code of Canon Law, which apparently seemed to relax the restrictions against the Craft, omitting specific references to the Craft and lessening certain penalties. Paradoxically, however, commensurate with C.L. 1374's issuance, Cardinal Ratzinger, new Prefect of the Sacred Congregation, and a member of the German Conference which issued the 1980 ruling, issued a Declaration that the Church's condemnation of all Masonic unions remains unchanged, that Masonic principles have always been held repugnant to Church teachings, that joining the Masons remains forbidden, and that Catholics who join are involved in mortal sin.
From the foregoing, it can be seen there are, at times, opposing and conflicting viewpoints emanating both from the Vatican and Catholic officials elsewhere. And, in Feb. of 1985, the official Vatican newspaper, "L'Osservatore Romano" published an article entitled "Irreconcilability Between Christian Faith and Freemasonry," restating the Church's traditional objections to the Craft; i.e., "accepting members of all religions", "secrecy", and "unknown strategies" or "conspiracies."
In France, however, the Church's position has not posed a significant hinderance to Masonic membership by and large. Nominally a Catholic nation, yet French attitudes toward the Church for the past 200 years have been uniquely Gallic, being somewhat ambivalent; i.e., to accept the overall Christian values of the Church but to exercise freedom of thought and not to be fettered by blind obedience to Church dogma. Since 1913, of cause, Regular Freemasonry in France has been represented by the French national Grand Lodge, the only Regular and Recognized Masonic Obedience for Symbolic Masonry and now numbering some 20,000 Members. And, for the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, drawing its members from the G.L.N.F., the Supreme Council For France with 11% - 12 % of that number is likewise the only Regular and Recognized Masonic Obedience. French Freemasonry is clearly alive and well. If there has, unfortunately, been a heritage of hostility by the church against a certain "conception" of Freemasonry, the G.L.N.F. is not a part of that "conception". To clarify its position, to avoid misunderstandings, and to distinguish itself from Irregular Obedience, such as the Grand Orient of France, the G.L.N.F. has clearly and unequivocally publicly stated its adherence to a belief in God and the high moral principles em- bodied in Regular Freemasonry, its unswerving policy of refraining from any possible machination against Church or State, and its joy at the prospect of seeing a better climate of understanding develop between those who at all times put their trust in God. In summary, if the new Church Code of 1983 has made no mention of Freema- sonry, yet Cannon 1374 again cites associations which manifest against the Church with no distinction drawn between "Regular" and "Irregular" Bodies. And, Church pronouncements indicate that while a certain " rapprochement" appears to have occurred between the Roman Church and Freemasonry, at least superficially, in the final analysis overall Church policy vis-a-viz the Craft appears to be unchanged. The future, obviously, is an unknown quantity. But, it can only be hoped that continuing dialogues will be developed in the ongoing efforts to secure a better relationship between Church and Craft.
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