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The Grand Orient of France and the Three Great Lights

The grouping of England, America and France as "Allies" in the
present war has furnished civilization with many peculiar
situations, in which Masonry shares. Believing that our Members
will be deeply interested in knowing the facts surrounding the
non-intercourse of English-speaking branches of the Fraternity with
the French, we announce a series of articles, of which this is the
first, dealing with various aspects of the situation.
The first, distinctly historical in its scope, is a paper which was
prepared by Brother Ramsey in response to a question proposed at a
Study Club meeting of Anamosa Lodge No. 46, in which the sole
effort was to present the reasons why the Grand Orient took the
position it did regarding the use of the Bible, and the subsequent
action of American Grand Lodges. At the Lodge discussion when this
paper was read, two ministers of the Gospel were present. One of
them had travelled in France, and was familiar with the subject,
which caused him to take a most sympathetic attitude toward the
French viewpoint.
The second contribution on this subject comes from the pen of
Brother R.E. Kellett, Grand Master of Manitoba, and though it bears
the title "Internationalism and Freemasonry," its dominant theme is
the position which the Grand Orient of France occupies in the
Masonic category. The essay was written before the entrance of
America into the war. It has been read before the Masters' and Past
Masters' Lodge of Christchurch, New Zealand, bringing out a
discussion which we hope to be able to digest for our readers in
due time. This discussion, occurring in a Lodge most intimately
associated with the Mother Grand Lodge, revealed a wide diversity
of opinion on the subject, as it will undoubtedly do among our own
members. We mention this particularly, not only because it reveals
the broadmindedness and temperate spirit of our New Zealand
brethren, but because the very fact that a whole session of the
Masters' and Past Masters' Lodge was devoted to it is in itself
significant of the scholarly qualities of the paper.
The third essay, "Freemasonry in France," has been written at our
request by Brother Geo. W. Baird, 33d, P.G.M., of the District of
Columbia, whose name is already a familiar one to our readers, and
who was made a Mason in Portugal in a French Lodge. Through his
position as Fraternal Correspondent of his Grand Lodge, Brother
Baird has had an exceptional opportunity to keep himself in touch
with world movements. This article will appear in an early number
All of these contributions evidence an eagerness on the part of the
writers that some way shall be found by which the nonintercourse of
nearly forty years shall be eliminated. Justification for a careful
research of the facts, if needed, may be found in the recent action
of the Grand Lodges of New York, California and Kentucky,
permitting their soldier members to visit Lodges in France.
The Question Box and Correspondence columns of THE BUILDER are open
to you, Brethren. We wish to hear both sides, and know that there
are many who will not be slow to take up the cudgels in support of
the historic position heretofore taken by our Grand Lodges. If this
discussion shall be the means of ultimately acquainting our members
with the facts, it may also give French members of the Society an
up-to-date expression of the American positiona result which may
perhaps be of influence to both sides, in the future.
JUST forty years ago, or to be exact, on September 14th, 1877, the
Grand Orient of France voted to eliminate from its ancient
constitution the following article: "Freemasonry has for its
principles the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and
the solidarity of mankind." It adopted in lieu thereof, the
"Whereas Freemasonry is not a religion and has therefore no
doctrine or dogma to affirm in its constitution, this Assembly has
decided and decreed that the second paragraph of Article 1, of the
Constitution (above quoted) shall be erased, and that for the words
of the said article the following shall be substituted:
1. Being an Institution essentially philanthropic, philosophic, and
progressive, Freemasonry has for its object, search after truth,
study of universal morality, science and arts, and the practice of
benevolence. It has for its principles absolute liberty of
conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no person on account
of his belief, and its motto is 'Liberty, Equality and
At the next annual session of the Grand Body in 1878 a move was
made to conform the ritual to the change of the constitution and a
committee directed to make report and recommendation for
consideration at the following session.
Accordingly in September, 1879, upon report of the committee, a new
ritual was adopted wherein all reference to the name and idea of
God was eliminated, but liberty was given to the Lodges to adopt
the new or old rituals as they should see fit. We are told, and can
easily believe, that this action was taken in the Grand Lodge
session amidst great excitement and in spite of a vigorous and
determined opposition of the minority. Naturally, and as a matter
of course, the change in the Constitution and ritual permitted the
removal of the Bible from the Altar.
It is not too much to say that the Masonic world stood shocked and
astounded at this radical departure taken by the French Masons.
Probably nothing in Masonic affairs with the exception of the
Morgan episode ever excited such widespread interest and
apprehension. The Masonic press in every country was filled with
vigorous discussion and many felt that it foreshadowed the division
of the Craft into two great sectionsone believers in Deity and
non-political, and the other atheistic and democratic.
Grand Lodges especially in all English-speaking countries lost no
time in condemning in bitterest terms the action of the Grand
Orient and in severing fraternal relations. In our own State (Iowa)
in the Grand Lodge session of 1878, the Grand Master said:
"The Grand Orient of France having obliterated from its
constitution the paragraph which asserted a belief in the existence
of Deity, and by such action placed itself in antagonism to the
traditions, practice and feelings of all true and genuine Masons in
this jurisdiction and the world, deserves no longer a recognition
as a Masonic body from this Grand Lodge. Some years ago that Grand
Orient persisted in an invasion of the American doctrine of Grand
Lodge sovereignty, to the extent of organizing lodges in the
jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana and other states. We
then cut loose for a time from all fraternal intercourse with
French Masons rendering obedience to that Grand Orient. Having not
only set at naught the supreme authority of American Grand Lodges
over their respective jurisdictions, but that of God over men and
Masons, we should wipe our hands of all such bogus Masonry."
The deep concern with which the Grand Lodge of Iowa viewed this
matter was but an indication of the sentiment prevailing in Grand
Lodges of all English speaking countries at that time and in order
that we may realize something of this let us read the resolution of
our Grand Lodge in 1878:
To the M. W. Grand Lodge of Iowa:
"The special committee to whom the committee on the M. W. Grand
Master's address referred so much of the same as relates to the
Grand Orient of France, submit the following report:
"While we cordially agree with and endorse all of the views of our
M.W. Grand Master and the Committee on this subject, yet we
consider that its importance requires more than a mere resolution.
If the course of the Grand Orient of France is allowed to go
unrebuked and become the recognized law, we may well say farewell
to Masonry. It is the glory of our Institution that we do not
interfere with any man's religious or political opinions. At the
same time we discountenance atheism and doubt, disloyalty and
rebellion. No atheist can be made a Mason and the first inquiry
made of a candidate, after entering the lodge is, in whom does he
put his trust? These are the essential requisites, and the
cornerstone on which our Masonic edifice is erected. Remove them,
and the structure falls. What is the course that the Grand Orient
of France takes ? They have entirely blotted out this necessary
qualification, and leave it to the "ipse dixit" of each initiate to
decide as he prefers, thus entirely ignoring the imperative belief
in God and His attributes, as understood in all enlightened
countries. American Masons will not submit to such a monstrous
proposition, and the mere thought of it is well calculated to
arouse our indignation and dissent. We protest against such an
innovation, and "wipe our hands" of it. Let such sentiments
prevail, and our enemies will desire no better argument with which
to destroy us. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and England have set
noble examples to the Masonic world, by remonstrating, and breaking
off all intercourse with these iconoclasts. Several of our Grand
Lodges have followed their example, and others will doubtless soon
join their ranks. We feel that we speak the sentiments of the
Masons of Iowa when we say that we disapprove and condemn the
course of the Grand Orient of France, and we desire to express
these opinions still more emphatically by the resolution hereunto
"RESOLVED, That the Grand Lodge of Iowa, having learned with
surprise and regret that the Grand Orient of France has departed
from the ancient landmarks, by blotting from the constitution and
ignoring the name of God, and not making a belief in Deity a
prerequisite for initiates, does hereby express its indignation at
the course she has taken, and herewith severs all relations
heretofore existing between us.
"RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Grand
Orient of France, and to each of the Masonic jurisdictions with
which we are in amicable relation."
With both friends and enemies of Masonry unreservedly condemning
the action of the French Brethren it would seem that there must be
little justification or defense. But as is usually the case there
were two sides to the issue. There were some peculiar circumstances
including such a radical departure, and the most interesting part
of this discussion will be to learn the motives and objects which
actuated those responsible for it. Do not forget, that if allowed
to exist at all in Catholic countries, as frequently they could
not, Masonic Lodges necessarily had to he much different in
character than are ours in this "land of the free and home of the
brave." France and the French people had been under the dominion of
the Catholic Church from time immemorial and at that period a large
majority of the population were its members. The Church controlled
all affairs of the State. Of course Masons were struggling for
liberty, justice and equality in order to accomplish the separation
of the Church and State and to loosen the hold of the Church on the
school system and public affairs, it was essential that the
reformers should be united and that none should be excluded by
reason of his belief. Thus the Grand Orient stood as the logical
nucleus around which an organization might be effected. They needed
the support of all men of every shade of religious belief, hence
the declaration of absolute freedom of thought and the elimination
of all dogma, always,as they expressed it"the starting point of
narrowness and persecution." This was in 1877. In 1907thirty
years laterFrance accomplished the division of the Church and
State and Catholicism no longer remained "The Religion of France."
There was another factor in the controversy The Scottish Rite
body of Masonry, with which the Grand Orient had been in continual
controversy for many years over matters of jurisdiction and the
right to confer certain degrees. The Grand Orient Masons have
always resented the accusation that they promulgated unbelief and
atheism. In fact, and in support of an opposite contention, they
cite the circumstance, that when the amendment to change the
constitution was proposed, at a meeting of the Council, preliminary
to the Grand Session, a Protestant minister, M. Desmons, drew the
report in support of the resolution in which he argued that the
disappearance of the original article of belief would not imply a
profession of atheism, but merely an admission into the Craft of
men of all opinions, and that Masonry should welcome men of all
doctrines and every shade of thought.
Here is the idea of a member of the Grand Orient, expressed only a
few weeks since:
"The Grand Orient of France, while it respects all philosophical
beliefs, insists upon absolute liberty of belief. This does not
mean that we banish from our lodges the belief in God. The United
Grand Lodge of England on the contrary desires to make a belief in
God in some manner compulsory. The Grand Orient of France is much
more liberal, since in proclaiming the absolute liberty of belief
it permits to each one of its members the liberty to believe or not
to believe in God, and by so doing desires to respect its members
in their convictions, their doctrines and their beliefs.
"This is the reason why fraternal relations do not exist between
the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France.
We regret this exceedingly. England has always been considered,
rightly in other respects, a country of liberty. It is difficult to
understand under the circumstances why the Freemasons of this great
and noble nation should want to deprive their brothers of France of
this same liberty."
Brother J. G. Findel, the well known scholar, historian and
journalist, in writing to the London Freemason in 1878, ably stated
the contentions of the French body in these words:
"But it is not my intention to give such general declarations on
the true meaning of the Royal Art, as it seems more necessary to
help to a right understanding of the resolution of the Grand Orient
of France. Our French brethren have not deserted the belief in the
existence of God and immortality of the human soul, in striking out
the discussed words of the first article of the constitutions, but
they have only declared that such a profession of faith does not
belong to Masonic law. The Grand Orient has only voted for liberty
of conscience, not against any religious faith. Therefore, the true
meaning of the French constitution is now only, that each brother
Mason may believe in God or not, and that each French Lodge may
judge for itself which candidate shall be initiated or not. The
French vote is only an affirmative of liberty of conscience, and
not a negation of faith.
"The excommunication of the Grand Orient of France by the Masonic
Grand Lodges, is therefore an intolerant act of Popery, the
negation of the true principles of the Craft, the beginning of the
end of cosmopolitan Freemasonry. The excommunication of the Grand
Orient of France only proves the sectarian mind of the
excommunicating Grand Lodges, which have forgotten that Masonry has
for its purpose to unite all good men of all denominations and
professions: they profess the separating element, and destroy the
Craft, and waste the heritage of our more liberal and more tolerant
forefathers. The Masonic union will in future be a mere illusion,
if the AngloSaxon Masons condemn the French, German, Italian
Masons, &c., and vice versa."
The great questions of recognition, invasion of jurisdiction,
establishment of irregular lodges and many other matters which grew
out of this movement can hardly be followed here. They are worthy
of further discussion.
What we started to tell was "Why the French Grand Orient removed
the Bible from its altar." It has been noted in a very brief way
how they did it and under the exigency of the situation "got by
with it" with a good conscience. That they were actuated by high
purposes few will deny, but most Grand Lodges then held and still
aver that Masonry can not be Masonry without strict adherence to
the requirement of a belief in God. Few of the Grand Lodges
severing relations have ever resumed them. Such action is still
within the range of future possibilities. Who can tell ?
Owing to lack of space, we have, with Brother Kellett's permission,
divided his article into two parts. In the present issue he
summarizes for us the attitude and activities of the Grand Orient
of France. He uses official sources, and, while at first blush it
may appear that the Grand Orient has encroached upon political
preserves, it will be well for us to hear Brother Kellett through,
before rendering ourselves a decision. In the second installment
will be presented the point of cleavage between Anglo-Saxon Masonry
and the Masonry of France.
With meteoric suddenness the present war has ruthlessly cut off
many lines of communication and channels of intercourse between
nations and peoples. Freemasonry has suffered with the rest. This
catastrophe has so jarred the mechanism of our daily lives and
impaired the development of the human race as to make us realize
more than ever before the distinct advantage to be obtained from
international co-operation. To attain the highest efficiency,
socially, morally, commercially and otherwise, the cooperation of
one people with another is necessary. We are interdependent one
upon the other. The organization of the relations among men on a
universal basis, embracing the whole of the inhabited world, has
been demonstrated to tend to the greatest good.
When each of the peoples of the earth lived unto themselves alone
little progress was made, especially along the higher ethical lines
that tend to the broadest development of a nation. Love of self
reigned supreme the law of the jungle prevailed, and might proved
right. The evolution of the years modified these ideas, as peoples
came to know one another better through the intercourse of trade.
Old prejudices gradually broke down, and civilization took a wider
meaning. International conventions were called to consider the
betterment of relations between people and people. These gave birth
to international services, all tending to unite the civilized world
in common action for general progress, and to assure to human
activity the fullness of its powers. We had reached the point where
we were dreaming of a better life, universal peace, harmony and
progress. The masses today are uttering a cry of hope that the
present barbaric struggle may not be in vain, but may prove to be
but a stepping stone to even better things. May their hopes come to
No association exists which more naturally tends towards
internationalism than Freemasonry. Anderson's Masonic Constitution,
promulgated in 1723, said the following:"Ye shall cultivate
brotherly love, which is the foundation and the master stone, the
cement and the glory of this ancient confraternity, for we as
Masons are of all races, nations and languages." An eminent
present-day writer on Freemasonry has said of it: "High above all
dogmas that bind, all bigotries that blind, all bitterness that
divides, it will write the eternal verities of the Fatherhood of
God, and the brotherhood of man." Its origin, past history,
organization and philosophy all lead in that direction, and have no
other goal than universal brotherhood.
A great deal of good can be accomplished by a world-wide fraternal
connection between Freemasons of all countries. Masonry's aim is
the Fraternity of men and the spread of the principles of
Tolerance, Justice and Peace. How better can this be accomplished
than by mutual understanding ? If we continue to hold ourselves
aloof, will we ever attain the object we seek? Is it not astounding
that Freemasonry should still be divided, and so far from being
united? Would it not seem that every Mason should use his influence
to help weld the chain of the international fraternity for the
accomplishment of universal unity, peace, tolerance and mutual
It is my purpose to point out to what extent the Freemasons of the
world are disunited, and what the main lines of cleavage are. In
particular, I desire to give some information about the Grand
Orient of France, which is a representative institution of that
class of Freemasonry towards which Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry has had
particular antipathy.
According to the latest available statistics, there are
approximately 2,100,000 adherents to Freemasonry scattered through
all countries in the world. These have been divided into three
distinct groups. Authorities say they do not differ materially in
customs, principles, or traditions. In what then can they rightly
differ? The divisions are made because of the greater or less
importance given to religious ideas.
To quote the International Bureau of Masonic Affairs, established
in Switzerland with the aim of completing an arrangement whereby
Freemasons of all countries may mingle with one another in the
Lodges, visit one another, and learn to know one another, these
divisions may be given as follows:
"(1) The first group regards as-being of absolute necessity the
adoption of what are called the 'Landmarks,' and in particular
these two, viz., a belief in the G.A. of the U. and the presence of
the Bible on the altar. Some of this group decline to receive into
its Lodges Masons who belong to groups which do not admit these two
landmarks. Others of this group also revere the G.A. of the U., and
possess the symbol of the Bible, but they do not close their doors
to any visitor who proves himself to be a Mason, even when his
obedience admits neither the formula of the G.A. of the U. nor the
Bible. Our brethren of the Grand Orient of France are welcomed with
pleasure by them.
"(2) The second group which comprises part of Latin Masonry, leaves
to its adepts the right to believe in God, even in the esoteric God
of the religions, and imposes on them no act of faith, which does
not hinder it from admitting to its Lodges all visiting brethren,
to whatever obedience they may belong, and without any other proof
than their title as regular Masons. This group holds the principle
of mutual tolerance, the respect of others and one's self, and
absolute liberty of conscience it does not allow of any dogmatic
"(3) The third group comprises purely Christian Masonry,"
Very much of interest could be said in giving an account of the
effort made by the International Bureau of Masonic Affairs to the
furtherance of mutual friendship and brotherhood among the
Freemasons of all lands. Considerable progress was made, and
particularly on the Continent of Europe, it developed considerable
enthusiasm for the fraternal object aimed at. The war for the
present has brought their peace activities to a close. In one of
their later official Bulletins they say regarding it:
"If we were pessimists we should once for all give up our plans,
our endeavours and our work in behalf of an improvement in the
relations among men. But we know that in spite of everything our
cause is the best, and that nothing, not even the most overwhelming
upheavals, must discourage us.... It will behoove the friends of
peace and of fraternity to proclaim to the world that the ideas of
which they are the guardians may be defeated, but that they never
die and never surrender."
Many times in commenting on the progress of their work in their
official Bulletin this Bureau has deplored the fact that antagonism
still exists between certain Masonic bodies because brethren too
readily believe all the evil that is propagated about the Masonry
of another country without taking the trouble to ascertain facts by
making enquiries at a reliable source. They say credence is too
readily given to hateful affirmations, which are adopted without
examination, and they make the plea that brethren make the
necessary enquiries from the proper source. They add further: "It
would suffice to see one another in order to know, to love, and to
appreciate one another."
Not wishing to lay myself open to any charge of unfairness, acting
upon this suggestion I wrote the following letter:
"Winnipeg, July 24, 1916.
"Grand Secretary, Grand Orient of France, "Rue Cadet 9, Paris.
"Dear Sir and Brother:
"Freemasonry, being a so-called universal institution, one of whose
main tenets is the universal brotherhood of man, occupies a
somewhat anomalous position today, at least in so far as France and
English-speaking countries are concerned. Masonically we do not
recognize one another.
"United as we are in the great titanic struggle now going on in
Europe, it would seem that we should also be fraternally united. At
any rate, the present would be a most opportune time for
considering the matter, as it would surely get sympathetic
"The organization which I represent is a Masonic organization, in
that its members are Past Masters of regular Lodges in this
jurisdiction, but it is not affiliated as an organization with the
Grand Lodge of Manitoba, A. F. and A. M. We purposely have not
sought such affiliation because we want more freedom of subjects
for discussion than organized Masonry here would allow. All of our
members are members of the Grand Lodge, so that the thought and
decisions of our Association have a certain indirect effect on the
action of the Grand Lodge.
"I make this explanation to make it clear to you that I am at
present making no overtures from the Grand Lodge, and have no
authority to do so. I simply want to find out from you information
with regard to the Grand Orient of France, with the view, if
possible, through our Association, of breaking down the barriers
between Masonry here and Masonry in France. I am therefore going to
be perfectly frank in my questions, and trust that you will think
them more pertinent than impertinent, for impertinence is not
intended. I am actuated by a sincere desire to secure mutual
recognition, if possible.
"It may be said frankly at the outset that the Grand Orient of
France is generally looked upon by the rank and file here as an
absolutely impossible organization for us to recognize in any way.
You are generally considered to have departed from the ancient
traditions of the Order, to be frankly atheistic, and to be in a
great measure a political organization. I have heard it said by
some here that you have mixed Lodges of men and women, and that you
have made numerous innovations in Masonry that are not in accord
with the ancient tenets of the Order.
"These are charges which I can neither endorse nor deny, not having
the necessary knowledge. As your organization is the largest
Masonic organization in France, I can hardly imagine though that it
can be so 'terrible' as some would have us believe. Will you
enlighten me ?
"I believe you were at one time in friendly intercourse with the
Grand Lodge of England. Why was this cut off? I presume there was
some argument in connection with it if so, what was your side of
the contention ? Does the Grand Orient of France control only the
first three degrees, or these and the higher degrees as well ?
"There are other questions I might ask, but I have probably asked
enough to lead you to give me complete information as to your claim
for recognition. I hope you can find time to answer this by letter,
and if you have any printed matter that would give fuller
information I would be pleased to receive it.
"It would be a great pleasure to me if this would result in the
barriers between us being pulled down, so that we can grasp one
another with fraternal grip and work together for the general good.
"Yours sincerely,
"President Past Masters' Association, A. F. and A. M., Winnipeg."
In due course I received the following reply:
"Paris, October 6, 1916. "To Very Dear Bro. Kellett, Winnipeg.
"Very Dear Brother,I have the honour to inform you that your
letter, dated July 24th last, has been duly received by the Grand
Orient of France. Some time before its receipt, and at the request
of our Bro. Quartier-le-Tente of Switzerland, copies of our
Constitution and of our General Regulations were mailed to you.
Today I am mailing you a copy of the pamphlet, 'The Freemasonry of
the Grand Orient of France.' The perusal of these two pamphlets
will be sufficient to demonstrate to you exactly what the Grand
Orient of France really is. I also desire to reply to the questions
which you have asked me.
"It is easy to say that the Grand Orient of France has abandoned
the ancient traditions of the Order, but it is very difficult to
prove it. To state that we are frankly atheistic is to commit the
greatest error. It will be sufficient that you read the second
paragraph of the first article of our Constitution, which reads as
"'Freemasonry has for its basic principles mutual tolerance,
respect for others and for oneself, and liberty of conscience.'
"I can affirm that the Grand Orient of France is neither deist,
atheist, nor positivist. All philosophical conceptions are
represented within its body.
"In what manner is the Grand Orient of France a political
organisation? It includes among its members (it must not be
forgotten that France is a Republic) citizens belonging to all the
various phases of political opinion. You will thus see that the
Grand Orient of France is not bound to any party, and cannot in
consequence be considered a political organisation. All
philosophical questions are discussed in our Lodges, including
political and social economy, and each member may, during the
course of these discussions, express freely his personal opinions
in a fraternal and friendly manner suitable to Masonic re-unions.
"The Grand Orient of France consists of: Lodges which confer the
first degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason)
Chapters which work up to the Eighteenth Deg. (Rose Croix),
Philosophical Councils or Aeropages, which work up to the Thirtieth
Deg. (Kadosh) and the Grand Lodge of Rites (Supreme Council of the
Grand Orient of France). This confers the Thirty-first,
Thirty-second and Thirty-third Degrees. The Grand Orient of France,
which was founded in 1736, includes at present 472 Lodges, 75
Chapters, and 31 Philosophical Councils or Aeropagei. Contrary to
the information that has been given you, we have not under our
jurisdiction mixed Lodges of men and women, nor Lodges of women
only. We do not even recognise such Lodges.
"As you may have seen in our Constitution, and as I have stated
previously, the Grand Orient of France, while it respects all
philosophical beliefs, insists upon absolute liberty of belief.
This does not mean that we banish from our Lodges the belief in
God. The United Grand Lodge of England, on the contrary, desires to
make a belief in God in some manner compulsory. The Grand Orient of
France is much more liberal, since in proclaiming the absolute
liberty of belief it permits to each one of its members the liberty
to believe or not to believe in God, and by so doing desires to
respect its members in their convictions, their doctrines and their
"This is the reason why- fraternal relations do not exist between
the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France.
We regret this exceedingly. Is it not painful to contemplate that
these two Masonic bodies continue to ignore one another, even at
the moment when England and France are so closely and cordially
united for the defence of Right, Justice and Civilization? Do the
English and French soldiers, who are fighting side by side and
giving freely of their blood for the triumph of this just cause,
trouble themselves about the philosophical beliefs of one another?
Nevertheless, an intimate fraternity exists between them, which
excites the admiration of the civilized world.
"England has always been considered, rightly in other respects, a
country of liberty. It is difficult to understand, under the
circumstances, why the Freemasons of this great and noble nation
should want to deprive their brothers of France this same liberty.
"I ardently desire to see these difficulties, which appear to me to
be based upon mutual misunderstanding, removed. As a Freemason and
as a Frenchman this is my fervent wish. I ask you to accept, very
dear brother, the assurance of my most fraternal sentiments.
"The President of the Council of the Order."
The information received may, therefore, be regarded as authentic,
and what I have to say regarding the Grand Orient of France will
not be based on mere hearsay. A careful reading of the letter
quoted above, the Constitution and the pamphlet referred to, cannot
but impress one with the-earnestness and the whole souled fraternal
spirit of the Grand Orient. Their methods are different from ours,
but this is due to the circumstances of their environment, which
has influenced them quite materially. One cannot help but notice
that they have the same aims and possess the same aspirations as we
have, and that they seem, if anything, more earnest than we are in
working towards the desired endthe advancement and good of
mankind. They seem to direct most of their activity along
external and social lines. The ideal ever before them seems to be
the moral and intellectual improvement of their members.
Their whole Lodge life is aimed to train their members for a life
of activity in the interests of humanity. It has been said that
Masons who live in Protestant countries can hardly realise the
privilege they enjoy. Authorities say the Freemasons of France have
been subjected to narrow-minded intolerance and prejudice that
they have been excommunicated, persecuted, insulted and detested
and that their benevolent activities have been met by all the
hindrances, calumnies, slanders and active opposition pitiless
clericalism could invent. By the very force of events Masonry in
France became the directing force of the democracy. Masonic Lodges
became centres where liberal minds could gather for exchange of
views. Even there they had to be discreet, for the police were on
the watch. Circumstances in France have been such that it would
have been, as one has expressed it, "a crime against the Masonic
idea for the members to shut themselves up in classic Masonry."
This condition existed in the years following the establishment of
the third Republic after 1870. For a number of years, though, they
have not been seriously threatened by their old enemies. The aspect
of affairs has changed. That period of intoleranceintolerance
from a Clerical source is responsible for the stand the French
Masons took with regard to "God and Religion" and "Politics." But
I will say more later on those two topics. They may have committed
errors, but in my opinion have done nothing for which they should
be punished today.
They regret being separated from the brethren of other countries,
and, as we have seen from the letter quoted, they would welcome the
fraternal hand from us. Separation is, I believe, due to
French Masons seem to regard the institution as still in its
infancy, not yet definitely formed, a progressive institution. They
are not averse to trying out-reforms. They do not consider the
institution is such as they should be satisfied with and refuse to
change in any respect. They believe it should be changed, in
anything but principle, if it will help to realize the dream of a
world at peace and civilized in a truly Masonic sense. Their
programme is entirely philosophical. Their Lodges are schools,
existing to mould independent thinkers, free from prejudice and
intolerance to take their part in the citizenship of the nation.
Stated briefly, their principles, etc., as set forth in their
official pamphlet, "The Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France,"
are somewhat as follows:
They recognise no truths save those based on reason and science,
and combat particularly the "superstitions and presumptions" of
French Clericalism. Their primordial law is Toleration, respect for
all creeds, all ideas, and all opinions. They impose no dogma on
their adherents. They encourage free research for truths
scientific, moral, political and social. Their work among members
is to develop their faculties and to augment their knowledge by
study and discussion. Men of all classes are taken into their
Lodges to work in common "for the emancipation of the human spirit,
for the independence of the people, and for the social welfare of
Their system of morality is based on the teaching that to be
happier one has to be better. The scientific study of the human
heart establishes for them the fact that social life is the most
indispensable weapon in the struggle for existence. Those who live
a common life and band themselves together endure, while those who
isolate themselves succumb. The association of individuals develops
love and expands in the heart desire for the welfare of all. They
particularly point out that morality can be attained outside of
religious superstitions or philosophical theories.
French Freemasonry, in addition to striving to emancipate its
members and separate morality from religious superstition and
theory, recognises its mission to make citizens free and equal
before the lawto develop the idea of brotherhood and equality.
She enunciates the principle that it is the primitive heritage of
man, his individual right, to enjoy fully the fruit of his work to
say and to write that which he thinks to join himself to his
fellows when he sees fit to make that which seems good to him to
associate for common purposes of any kind, material or
intellectual to put into practice, his ideas and his opinions to
teach that which he learns in the course of experience and study,
and to demand from society respect for the liberties for each and
This may sound very socialistic, but the conditions of the country
may have required a declaration of that kind from Masonry. I cannot
help regarding this as simply a distinct protest against the
encroachments of Clericalism.
This pamphlet further declares that Masonry works for the assuring
of the triumph of democracy, so that citizens can take "a direct
part, as considerable as possible, in carrying on of public
affairs, and in exercising the greatest possible part of that
national sovereignty towards which the people of France have
marched for a century without being able to attain."
French Freemasonry interests herself in social laws because she
believes that through them men will realize the simultaneous
welfare of the individual, the family and general society. History
bears witness to the necessity of so moulding these laws as to
overcome the rivalry of selfish interests from whence spring the
miseries, the sufferings and hatreds of society. Social problems
they, therefore, consider legitimate Masonic problems if Masonry is
to fulfil its mission in its broadest sense. They believe the
things that menace the progress of human society should be
discussed, so that indirectly they may be drawn to the attention of
public opinion, and through that laws will be demanded to remedy
them. Under this heading they cite particularly that they aim at
legislation to combat misery which is the most active cause of
degeneracy, bad morals and crimes legislation to protect the child
gainst moral, intellectual and physical atrophy legislation to
lighten the burden of the woman in the family and in society
legislation to recognize the dignity of abour, to ensure the safety
of the labourer, and to help n solving the strifes of labour. They
realize fully the vastness of the task they set themselves in
intellectual, moral and social development, but Freemasonry, being
a permanent institution, has the time for it, and does not
therefore allow herself to be deterred because of the size of the
task a step at a time finally succeeds.
They describe their Lodges as being ateliers, in the sense of being
study classes or schools. Their membership is recruited by
voluntary impulse, as with us, the only condition of membership
being that of being free, as we Masonically understand it, and of
having good morals.
No dogma, religious, political or social, is imposed on their
members. Each member has absolute liberty of thought, which he is
led to modify or change along the lines of progression as his own
sense may dictate when, by discussion, more extended knowledge and
more numerous facts present themselves.
The condition that every free man of good morals, whatever his
ideas may be, can introduce into the discussions of the Lodge
principles and aspirations of the more diverse kind as to political
and social conditions has the result of educating and moulding
opinion in the best possible way. As when one stone is struck upon
another a jet of light is produced, so when ideas clash,
enlightenment likewise follows.
By virtue of a well-balanced scheme, to the centre of which these
incongruous thoughts move from the absolute order maintained in the
discussion, they understand themselves and criticise themselves.
They analyse and refine the one, the other, and evolve a common
reflected opinion.
The result is every French Freemason goes from Lodge, if not
transformed, at least better informed, improved in every way. The
truth which the Masonic study has created percolates indirectly
into profane society, with manifest results.
French Freemasonry thus offers its initiates a means of re-union
where they can inspect their efforts and their researches. She
places them in the centre of human researches. "By the framework,
by the symbols, by the custom, she makes them develop, without
knowing it, the best that is in them, intellectually and morally,
besides realizing the fruitful union of heart and spirit." She
elevates individuals by inciting them to make themselves strong,
desirable and true, just and good. She protects her members at the
same time against excess by maintaining internal discipline.
By conducting these studies the Grand Orient of France keeps before
her members, and indirectly before the people generally, the most
practical model and the most ideal. She has already exerted a
powerful influence on the different institutions of the people. Her
task is to inculcate, more and more true order for the betterment
of humanity. In specifying more and more this ideal she works to
the end of bringing about the most favourable conditions, and at
the same time the most legitimate conditions, of happiness.
This "elevated school of intellectual and moral nobility" shines
not to lose itself in mere abstraction, but studies what would seem
to be of practical benefit to humanity. She gives her force,
trained by intelligence, to the service of Light and of the Spirit.
With study and research always going on and never interrupted, the
Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France cannot therefore become
dogma. New thought and reason is ever being evolved. Further
investigation is forever upsetting proven theories.
As to their methods of working to these ends, the pamphlet gives
some very interesting information. Their annual Convention,
composed of delegates from all the Lodges, meets in Paris every
year in the month of September. One of the most important functions
of this Convention is to fix the questions which ought to be
referred, for the consideration of the Lodges during the ensuing
year. The programme is discussed, added to and taken from, and
finally adopted and sent out to the Lodges. By this method the
General Convention condenses the thought of Masonry throughout all
the Lodges, and members are kept in touch with all the studies
pursued in other Lodges than their own. The Masonic thought of the
whole country is systematized and crystallized.
Aside from the Convention programme, each Lodge keeps a teacher to
study problems of philosophy, morality, socialism, and history, and
bring before the Lodge what he considers worthy of discussion. The
Lodges work, therefore, largely on their own initiative, and these
new discussions are reported at the next Convention, and may
perhaps be put on the general programme for the following year.
To us these discussions might seem to lead on to dangerous ground
and have bad effects. With reference to this they say:
"The discussions which these problems provoke are always conducted
courteously and amicably. Tolerance is the first rule of the
Masonic Association. It is thus that men belonging to philosophical
or political schools, of the most diverse kind, may find
harmoniously, without noise and without vain agitations, the
solution of the problems which interest the prosperity of the
nation and the progress of humanity."
Among the principal questions examined in the Conventions and in
the Lodges for some years back are the following, taken from a list
they give:
The status of women and children in modern society.
The struggle against alcoholism.
The struggle against crime, more especially juvenile crime.
The means of combating prostitution, vagabondage, and mendicancy.
The reform and simplification of legal procedure.
Reform of the Magistracy.
Civil Service administration.
Public instruction, the taking it out of the hands of the clergy.
Betterings of methods of taxation.
Condition of the working man and how it may be bettered.
Cheap dwelling houses.
Agricultural credits.
Working men's credits.
Means of encouraging the apprentice system.
Homes for working women.
Study of morality outside of all religious dogma.
The finding of a morality, lay and scientific.
Study of the various philosophical systems.
What I have just given is but a brief synopsis of what is contained
in their pamphlet, "The Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France,"
which, being an official publication for the purpose of setting
forth their aims, aspirations and reasons for being, may be
regarded as a fair statement.
What might also be called hereditary objections are hard to
overcome, and some of you may now be disposed to think their
philosophy and work mere socialism, to be scoffed at and carefully
avoided by Masonry. The Sermon on the Mount was equally, if not
more, socialistic, yet you do not think of putting it aside on
account of that. A great English scholar once said that Christ's
Sermon on the Mount may be justly regarded as the charter of
Christian Socialism.
Objection may be raised that this kind of thought, working in
French Masonic Lodges, would inevitably lead to the Masonic
institution in France becoming a mere political organization. Such
I do not believe to be the case, and in rebuttal of your thoughts,
if they lean that way, I would refer you again to the statement in
the letter I have quoted, that their membership is made up of men
from all political parties in France. Along the same line I will
quote paragraph 15 of their Constitution, which says:
"Lodges have the right of discipline over all their members and
over all Masons present at their working.
"They prohibit all debates on the acts of Civil authority, and all
Masonic intervention in the struggles of political parties.
"The presiding officer rules the meeting."
The Grand Orient of France has also at various times issued
instructions enforcing the above rules. To quote:
"If, as citizens, the members of the Federation are free in their
political actions, as Freemasons they must abstain from bringing
the name and the flag of Freemasonry into election conflicts and
the competition of parties."Circular 1885.
"All political debates at Masonic meetings are strictly
forbidden."Circular 1885.
If French Masonry has a political influence, and no doubt it has,
it is an indirect influence which we in this jurisdiction might do
worse than emulate. The latest political influence they are
credited with exerting is that which established secular schools in
place of monastic schools. A few facts in connection with this will
indicate why the French people, non-Masons as well as Masons,
demanded this separation. In France in 1897 there were fourteen
convictions in the Courts against monastic teachers for "outrages
on decency." In 1898 there were thirteen more convictions for
similar offences. Severe sentences were imposed in each case by
Catholic judges.
Is it any wonder that the monasteries were abolished and secular
schools established? Masonry has been blamed in magazine articles
for bringing this change about. No official action was taken. Some
informers may have been Masons, but not all of them. Who would not
inform? I have not been able to find any evidence to substantiate
the charge made against Masonry, but if similar conditions existed
in this country I should be sorry if the Masonic institution here
were not red-blooded enough to exert an influence to right such a
wrong. If that would condemn us to being called a political
institution, I for one would rejoice in the name.
The Grand Orient of France is not a political organization, nor
does it aim to be. It does aim to be an influence in moulding the
opinions of its members, so that when they are called upon to act
and vote as citizens they may do so with a view to the general
good. We might well copy much from their Masonic educational
system, to the profit of our Masonic institution, both individually
and collectively. Our interest in public questions is largely
material. Only where the financial interests are directly affected
do we as a people seem to bring ourselves to the point of
investigating, criticizing, and demanding the correction of faults
in our public government. We overlook altogether the by far greater
problems of governmentsociological questions, moral reforms, and
other phases of public betterment which French Masons make a study
of. If there were the possibility of a Boodling Scandal in
connection with these other questions they might be more live
topics of interest with us.
(To be continued)
LET us now briefly consider the great point of cleavage between
Anglo-Saxon Masonry and the Masonry of the Grand Orient of France.
This cleavage is based largely on the suspicion, if not on the
definite charge that French Masonry is atheistic in its practices
or in its tendencies.
The Grand Orient of France was organized in Paris in 1736. Its
constitution was of the model of Anderson's original Constitution
1723. The Grand Orient was recognized as legitimate Masonry by the
Grand Lodge of England, and in fact by all legitimate Masons
throughout the world. At that time in all Masonic Constitutions
there was an absolute absence of dogma concerning in which all men
agree that is to be good men and true, men of God and religion,
and Masons were bound only to that religion in which all men agree
that is to be good men and true, men of honor and honesty. The aim
of the fraternity was purely humanitarian, its principles broad
enough for men of every diverse opinion. The desire was simply to
unite them, whatever their private religious beliefs, in uplift
work for themselves and for humanity.
Changes came first in England. About the middle of the eighteenth
century, the so-called Landmarks regarding a declaration of belief
in the G. A. of the U. and the placing of the Bible on the Altar,
were adopted. Following this, for the greater part of a century the
French Constitution adhered strictly to the original plan of the
fraternity and did not contain that formula which has since, in
some places, come to be regarded as essential. During this time
neither the Grand Lodge of England nor any other recognized Grand
Lodge took any exception to this notable omission. French Masons
were considered neither "Godless" nor "Atheistic." As time went on,
the French Constitution was changed to conform to that of the Grand
Lodge of England. One writer has said this was co-incident with a
closer political approach of the two nations, England and France.
The constitution of the Grand Orient of France followed the English
copy until shortly after the Franco Prussian war, when they
reverted back to what it had been originally. Co-incident with this
change, history records political estrangement between France and
England which continued until recent years. When France reverted
back to her original constitution, the Grand Lodge of England
immediately afterwards severed relations with France, and generally
speaking, Masonry of English speaking countries followed suit,
claiming that the change made by the Grand Orient of France was
Atheistic in tendency.
Can French Masonry be said to be atheistical ? Atheism is the
doctrine that there is no God. It is no longer considered
reasonable for anyone to dogmatically assert that there is no God,
and it is a question if such a being as an atheist exists today.
There is no unbelief.
Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod,
And waits to see it push away the clod,
He trusts in God.
Whoever says, when clouds are in the sky,
"Be patient, heart light breaketh by-and-by,"
Trusts the Most High
Whoever sees, 'neath winter's fields of snow,
The silent harvest of the future grow,
God's power must know.
Whoever lies down on his couch to sleep,
Content to lock each sense in slumber deep,
Knows God will keep.
Whoever says, "Tomorrow," "The Unknown,"
"The Future," trusts the Power alone
He dares disown.
The heart that looks on when the eyelids close,
And dares to live when life has only woes,
God's comfort knows
There is no unbelief
And day by day, and night unconsciously,
The heart lives by that faith the lips deny
God knoweth why!
To be atheistic, French Masonry would need to have made the
dogmatic assertion, "There is no God." This it has never done. It
neither affirms nor denies anything relative to God. To suppose
that French Masons deny the existence of God is to totally
misunderstand them. They are as much averse to a dogmatic assertion
of that kind as to one of the opposite kind. They are simply
against a dogmatic assertion of any kind, as Masons, believing that
Masonry is antidogmatic. Many, and possibly all, of their members
would doubtless declare a belief in God at the proper time but not
as Masons in a Masonic Lodge.
The French Masons found their attitude on the first edition of the
Constitution, which obliges Masons only to that religion in which
all men agree that is, to be good and true, or men of honour and
Let us briefly examine what ground there is for their stand, and
see whether or not we are justified in condemning it. For this
purpose I want to direct your attention to:
Concerning God and Religion.
A Mason is obliged 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
charged in every country to be of the religion of that country, or
nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only
to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving
their peculiar opinions to themselves that is to be good men and
true men of Honour and Honesty by whatever Denominations or
Persuasions they may be distinguished whereby Masonry becomes the
centre of union and the means of conciliating true friendship among
persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.
OUR OWN CONSTITUTION Concerning God and Religion.
A Mason is obliged 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. He, of all men, should best understand
that God seeth not as man seeth for man looketh on the outward
appearance, but God looketh to the heart! A Mason is therefore
particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his
conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may,
he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the
Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practice the sacred duties of
Morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion, in
the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love they are taught to
view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive by the
purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence
of the faith they may profess. Thus Masonry is the centre of union
between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating
friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a
perpetual distance.
Freemasonry, an essentially philanthropical and progressive
institution, has for its object the pursuit of truth, the study of
morality, and the practice of solidarity its efforts are directed
to the material and moral improvement and the intellectual and
social advancement of humanity. It has for its principles, mutual
tolerance, respect for others and for one's self, and absolute
liberty of conscience. Considering metaphysical conceptions as
belonging exclusively to the individual judgment of its members, it
refuses to accept any dogmatic affirmation. Its motto is: Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity.
As to whether the Grand Orient of France has departed farther from
the spirit and the letter of Anderson's original Constitution than
we have is not open to much controversy. The change they made in
1877 rather reverted back to it than went farther away from it.
To show the real misunderstanding that has occurred with regard to
their position let me quote from the minutes of their General
Conventions when the change was made. We can then understand what
the real meaning of their action was.
At the French Masonic Convention of 1876, on the proposal of a
Lodge in the department of the Rhone, a Committee was appointed to
consider the question of suppressing the second paragraph of the
first article of the Constitution, concerning God and Religion. The
Committee recommended that the proposition be postponed, and in
recommending this the reporter of the Committee, Bro. Maricault,
made the following statement:
"Your Commission has recognized that bad faith alone could
interpret the suppression demanded as a denial of the existence of
God and the immortality of-the soul human solidarity and freedom
of conscience, which would be henceforth the exclusive basis of
Freemasonry, imply quite as strongly belief in God and in an
immortal soul as they do materialism, positivism, or any other
philosophic doctrine."
Postponement met with opposition. Bro. Andre Roussell, in
advocating immediate action, among other statements made the
"I am anxious to recognize with my brother, the reporter of the
Commission, that Freemasonry is neither deistic, atheistic, or even
positivist. In so far as it is an institution affirming and
practicing human solidarity, it is a stranger to every religious
dogma and to every religious Order. Its only principle is an
absolute respect for freedom of conscience. In matters of faith it
confirms nothing and it denies nothing. It respects in an equal
degree all sincere convictions and beliefs. Thus the doors of our
temples open to admit Catholics as well as Protestants, to admit
the atheist as well as the deist, provided they are conscientious
and honourable. After the debate in which we are at present taking
part, no intelligent and honourable man will be able to seriously
state that the Grand Orient of France has acted from a desire to
banish from its Lodges belief in God and in the immortality of the
soul, but, on the contrary, that in the name of absolute freedom of
conscience it proclaims solemnly its respect for the convictions,
teachings, and beliefs of our ancestors. We refrain, moreover, as
much from denying as from affirming any dogma, in order that we may
remain faithful to our principles and practice of human
Bro. Minot, in speaking on the same subject, said: "The
Constitution of 1865 had realized a transitory progress. The work
must be completed and purified by suppressing dogma and by
rendering Masonry once again universal, by the proclamation of the
principle of absolute freedom of conscience. Let no one be mistaken
in this. It is not our aim to serve the interest of any philosophic
conception in particular by our action in laying aside all
distinction between doctrines. We have in view only one thing:
Freedom for each and respect for all."
The recommendation of the Committee prevailed, and action was
postponed. In 1877, after a year's study by the Lodges, the change
was adopted by an almost unanimous vote. The reporter of the
Committee at the time said: "Who is not aware, at this moment, that
in advocating this suppression no one among us understands himself
as making a profession of atheism and materialism. In regard to
this matter every misunderstanding must disappear from our minds,
and, if in any Lodge there should remain any doubt in reference to
this point, let them know that the Commission declares without
reservation that by acceding to the wish of Lodge No. 9 it sets
before it no other object than the proclamation of absolute liberty
of conscience."
When the proposition of the Committee had been adopted by the
General Assembly, the President proposed, as an amendment, the
insertion of these words: "Masonry excludes no one on account of
his beliefs." Many regarded this as superfluous, but the President
was insistent, in order that it might be clearly established in the
eyes of all that Masonry is a neutral territory, in which all
beliefs are admitted and treated with equal respect. The suggestion
was adopted.
It may be interesting to note that the original proposer that the
Grand Orient of France should suppress the formula of the G. A. of
the U. was a clergyman of the Protestant Church, and he stated, in
justification, as follows:
"In suppressing the formula respecting the G. A. of the U. we did
not mean to replace it by a materialistic formula. None among us in
proposing this suppression, thought of professing atheism or
materialism, and we declare formally and emphatically that we had
no other end in view than to proclaim absolute liberty of
I have given the words and opinions of those responsible for the
change in the Constitution so that there may be no room for
misunderstandings. The Grand Orient of France, in making the
change, has done no more than was done by the Government of Great
Britain when she admitted members to seats in the House of Commons
by allowing them to make an affirmation only when their convictions
would not allow them to take a religious oath. The same custom
prevails in our Courts of Justice.
Their position will bear a little further examination to make clear
its consistency. The story, as depicted by our Ritual, tells of a
great loss and a life-long search for this something, which was
lost. Masonry ends at the point when something else is substituted
to temporarily make good that loss, and at the point where Masonry
ends we are expected to begin the search.
Various explanations have been given as to what this is that was
lost, and which all Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile,
Christian and Pagan, are seeking for. The simplest and clearest
explanation of this that was lost is that it was "the way back to
"The way back to God." That is the door then to which Masonry
leads. Cannot any of us go as far as that door with any, be he
Agnostic, Deist, Buddhist, or any other, so long as he conforms to
Anderson's original specifications, and is a good man and true, a
man of honour and honesty? At the door, of course, we would
separate, each to follow on his own way. But happily we can come
back to the Lodge again and again for mutual encouragement, and for
strength for a fresh start on our several paths, all of which are
alike dark and obscure.
It is not the function of Masonry to solve the riddle of life but
to propound it and stimulate and encourage each of her initiates to
search for his own solution. It takes each man so far, and there
leaves him to find the answer for himself. By the very fact that
Masonry itself gives no answer, it demonstrates clearly that the
answer is not the same to every man. All this would seem to lead to
freedom from dogma of all kind and justify France and Belgium in
the stand they take.
I do not wish to be understood to say that it is wrong for a Mason
in Lodge to declare belief in God. But I would like to be able to
accept as brethren any good men and true, men of honour and
honesty, who are earnest searchers after the same truth as we are,
even though they do not insist in Lodge on a declaration of belief
in God. French Masons appear to be worthy men, doing a wonderful
work for the cause of progress and enlightenment.
Another so-called grievance against the Grand Orient of France is
that they have taken the Bible off the altar. Many of us have
imagined that because the Bible is one of the Great Lights
according to our Ritual and usage that its place has been in
Masonic Lodges from time immemorial. To most the presence of the
Bible on the altar is in some way a landmark. Surprising it may be,
but the Bible was not even mentioned in Masonic Rituals until 1724,
and it was in 1760 that Preston moved that it be made one of the
Great Lights of Masonry. One might properly question whether
Anglo-Saxon Masonry did not violate a landmark when she introduced
religious dogmatism into Masonry in the middle of the Eighteenth
As Masons, we have before us the great object of the fraternal
brotherhood of man. This will carry with it peace and prosperity.
Is not the attainment of this worth the abolition of narrow
intolerance ? Let us maintain, if we wish, our own principles
concerning God and religion, but forever banish all dogmatism as to
what others shall do in this connection, so long as they are
earnestly working to attain the great principles of Masonry. Does
not the situation demand the serious thought of every Master Mason?
Should not Tolerance and Fraternity prevail ? France is holding out
the brotherly hand to us, saying: "Let by-gones be by-gones, and
let us look solely to the future." Should we as Masons hold at more
than arm's length an institution which consistently devotes itself
to those lofty aims and pursuits which we preach better than we
Even as the Arts, Sciences, and other phases of human activity have
benefited by international discussion and concord, so also can
Masonry benefit. If Masonry is to sustain in the future its
splendid record, and attain the object she seeks, is not world-wide
international co-operation necessary? How else can we attain a
Universal Brotherhood?
With the present world crisis the time has come when Freemasonry
should stand forth, free from all entrammelling influences, in its
grand simplicity. Our Lodges should be centres of thought,
influence and effort, holding no task alien that will advance the
cause of righteousness on earth. To this end we could learn much by
confraternity with such an organization as the Grand Orient of
France. Is "Brotherly Love" to be nothing more than a label which
we carry but which does not properly belong to the goods at all ?
There are two "Obediences" in France, and three in Germany. They
are as separate and distinct as is the Grand Lodge of the '
District of Columbia and the Negro Grand Lodge of the District of
Columbia, but it is not easy to make all of our people understand
The Grand Orient (1) is the older of the French bodies: The Grand
Lodge of France separated from the Scottish Rite in 1804 but its
Lodges still meet in the same building with the A.A.S.R. and the
personnel in the Rites is almost identical. We have always been on
terms of intimacy with the A.A.S.R. in France and in all South
American countries, and with them the Scottish Rite is often
mentioned as "Universal Masonry," though the writer knows of no
friction between the Scottish Rite and Symbolic Masonry in any part
of the world. Symbolic Lodges have separated from the A.A.S.R. in
order to conform to the English and American system for the purpose
of securing fraternal intercourse.
Formerly (and properly) a Mason who could prove himself, was a
welcome visitor in any Lodge in any part of the world, unless the
jurisdiction from whence he came had been interdicted and any
change from this plan is modern and is an innovation.
The writer was made a Mason in a Lodge in Portugal, in 1867, in the
French Rite, and in the French language. The obligation was taken
on a Holy Bible of the King James edition, the Bible which was
translated out of the original tongues. This Bible is used by
Protestants, Jews and Mohammedans, and being from the original
tongues it is reasonable to believe it has less errors and less
changes than the Douay edition which is translated out of the Latin
vulgate. The personnel of the Lodge that gave us light was made up
of nominal Roman Catholics, about 70 per cent Jews about 20 per
cent and Protestants about 10 per cent. When asked what our
religion was, we replied "The Constitution of the United States and
the Ten Commandments" which seemed to satisfy the Lodge. They were
liberal, tolerant men.
The Lodge books recorded no living man's name, as in all other
priest-ridden countries each man was required to take a sobriquet,
or a nom-de-guerre as they said, for the reason that it was a penal
offense to be a member of the Masonic Fraternity in Portugal and
when the priests finally did discover the Lodge and caused its
destruction, there was not the name of a living man on any record.
The members went to and from that Lodge singly or in pairs, each
lighting himself up the long flights of stairs with his wax taper
(a rolino).
It is not generally known that the Mohammedans believe in and read
our Bible. Mohammed himself believed in Jesus Christ and all his
followers do. One of the most bigoted sects of Islam is the
"followers of Jesus," and its see is on the north coast of Africa.
The Musselman believes more in the Koran than in the Bible and it
has the advantage or recommendation of containing no words which
would shock the mind of a child. The Koran is in the Arabic, and
there has never been a translation except an English edition, but
neither Arabs, nor Turks nor Egyptians ever read that edition if
they cannot read Arabic they are dependent on others to read for
In English Lodges a Mohammedan is obligated on the Koran and a
Christian on the Holy Bible. The purpose of the obligation is to
bind the postulant and for this reason he is obligated on what he
believes to be most binding. This is recognized generally, but
where we know only one book of sacred literature we are too apt to
believe there should be no other. We are taught that the Holy Bible
is the divine revelation of the mind and will of God to man but
others differ with us in that, but if we can impose an obligation
that will bind any and all, our principal purpose will have been
Freemasonry has been defined as "a system of morals, veiled in
allegory and illustrated by symbols." It has never been claimed to
be a religion, though the priests call it a "sect." In the Entered
Apprentice degree we are taught that Masonry unites men of every
country, sect and opinion and conciliates true friendship among
those who might have remained at a perpetual distance. This, the
French believe, is the acme of tolerance and they take it
literally. We claim no "apostolic succession" nor do we essay to
administer extreme unction, give absolution nor offer any assurance
of admission to the Holy of Holies above, but we do strive to make
better men of our members.
We have no idea of the slings and arrows hurled constantly at
Masons, in priest-ridden countries until we have been there. The
long years of peace and harmony we have enjoyed have spoiled us and
unfitted us for sympathy with our stricken brethren abroad. Lodges
in Italy and France have been raided. The Lodge was interrupted by
police at Voltaire's funeral. The writer was once detained at
Mentone, on the border between Italy and Monaco, and witnessed the
seizure of a Bible which an English-speaking woman was carrying
into Italy. The guard acting under orders, would not permit it to
be carried into the country, but held the Bible for her until she
should pass out of Italy.
There have come to us from abroad many appeals for a more intimate
fraternalism. An invitation to an International Masonic Congress
was sent to more than two hundred "Masonic Powers" about 1901,
including the Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter, etc., of the District of
Columbia, and the writer moved in Grand Lodge that a delegate be
sent but there was not even a second to the motion, so lightly did
they regard it.
"Masonic Powers" with European Masons means all Masonic
organizations, as Grand Lodges, Grand Chapters, Grand Commanderies,
Consistories, etc., and these invitations went to all the addresses
the Swiss Masonic Bureau could obtain. It was stated it was a
congress, not a conclave so that the doors were not tiled nor were
the esoteric sections to be discussed as the writer understood it
and as it turned out to be. The proceedings of that Congress were
printed, and to my surprise (and maybe amusement) I found the
following report of what took place at the banquet.
"Dr. Watts, (Washington)W. President and Brethren: I have the
honor of presenting to this distinguished body of Freemasons in
Congress assembled, greeting from the Most Worshipful Grand Master
and Brethren of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, United
States of America.
"I have to say that the Grand Master is full of sympathy with the
object of the Congress as outlined in the several explanatory
circulars received from Monsieur Paul-Emile Bonjour, the Grand
"Permit me further to say that we are of the opinion that any
movement in keeping with the sublime principles of the Order and
that does not in the least degree conflict with the ancient
landmarks, has our approval and fraternal co-operation.
"Thanking the projectors for their kind invitation to participate
in the deliberations of this present Congress, I beg leave also
personally to express my appreciation for the courteous attention
I have received during the time I have been in the city.
"On behalf of my Grand Lodge we wish the Congress success and
desire that beneficial results may follow its labor which shall
prove a blessing to all especially the brethren."
Had I not written very soon after this an essay on Negro Masonry
for the International Bulletin (2) the delegates who heard that
very creditable address would have supposed that the Grand Lodge of
the District of Columbia had sent that negro delegate.
The speech of Dr. Watts was in English but the others were in
French. The writer made a full report on the above, which was
printed in the 1902 report of the Grand Lodge of the District of
Columbia and may be found on page 339 et seq.
And now we come to the Grand Lodge of France! Why should we not at
once accord it recognition? It may be asked what French Masons have
done to merit this. Their Masonry was received from England and the
writer believes the French are now working more in accord with the
first constitution of the Grand Lodge of England (Anderson's) than
are many American Lodges, which should be sufficient.
Owing to the espionage of the "Holy Fathers" the French history of
Masonry has been greatly abridged and often suppressed, so that we
have not the volumes to draw on that we would wish but there are
enough for this purpose.
During the War for American Independence, called "The Revolution,"
there existed in Paris a Lodge "Les Neuf Soeurs" of which the
American Commissioner, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, the
peerless Naval Captain, Houdon, the unmatched sculptor, Voltaire,
the fearless, the great Helvidius and many other eminent men were
members. At that time there were atrocious oppressions of the
people not only by the rich and influential, but by the priests.
In the Lodge Neuf Soeurs there was Elie Dumont, a young lawyer,
with a score of followers who took up the people's cause against
oppression. For a verification we beg leave to invite reference to
Les Memoires Secretes, Vol. XXI, and to Ed. Tachereau, Vol. XXI,
and Besuchet Precis Historique, Vol. II.
One example is that of Jean Calas, a Hugenot who had been sentenced
to punishment "on the wheel" by the tribunal of Toulouse, and he
was thus executed. His offense was that he had assaulted his son
who had been perverted to Romanism. His widow and his children were
despoiled of their property and belongings by confiscation and they
finally took refuge in Geneva and were sheltered by Voltaire. Their
cause was espoused by Voltaire who advocated it by printed
memorials, which he widely distributed. Elie Dumont defended the
Calas family in the French Courts without fee or reward and after
three years of labor, succeeded in having the judgment arrested and
the widow's property returned to her.
In the same tribunal in 1746, a man and his wife named Siren, were
condemned to death for an assault on their son who had been
perverted to Romanism and who had forbidden the son from continuing
his acquaintance with the men who had proselyted him. The rest of
the family took refuge in Geneva and their case was appealed by
Elie Dumont, who, after five years succeeded in having the judgment
reversed, so far as the confiscation went, and the family of Siren
was permitted to return to France and take possession of their
property. We could multiply these examples indefinitely if it were
needed, but it is not.
That Masonic Lodge became the target for Romish persecution and
accusation. It was charged with atheism. Masonry was branded as a
society of atheists in general but Voltaire was the central figure
of their atrocious attack. Dumont and his followers persisted in
the defense of the inherent rights of the people and lighted a fire
of indignation, which kindled in the people a consciousness of
their inherent rights and was closely interwoven in the French
Revolution which followed and which history has so vividly
recorded. Voltaire was obliged to leave Paris to escape
assassination. He took up his home in Ferney, near Geneva in
Switzerland, where he was held in high esteem. Napoleon I, who was
a Mason, had held the Pope of Rome a prisoner and this added to the
anger of the priests who believed and still believe that the Pope
is the "Father of Princes, the ruler of the Christian world and the
Vicar of Jesus Christ" and that there can be no proper government
without his sanction.
If a man goes on the street and cries "mad dog, mad dog," he will
jeopardize the life of every dog in sight, though there may be no
mad dog at all. And if a mob, believing a priest carries the keys
of Heaven and Hell in his girdle, hears his cries and accusations,
they will give respectful and obedient attention to his utterances
without further consideration. This is practically the condition
which existed in Paris when the priests began to denounce
Freemasonry in general, and Voltaire in particular. As they made
Voltaire the central figure of attack it may be proper to examine
his case. Take the twenty-four volumes of Voltaire which have been
printed in English and there cannot be found in them a word to
justify the accusation that he was atheistic. He was without doubt,
a Deist. In the little town of Ferney a chapel was built by
Voltaire for his neighbors to worship in. A marble tablet over the
door has engraved on it these words:
which is, "Erected to God, by Voltaire, 1758." When asked why he
dedicated his chapel to God he replied: "In London they erected
their Temple to Saint Paul, in Paris to Saint Genevieve, but I
erect mine to God."
When dying he said "I die worshipping God, loving my friends, not
hating my enemies, but despising superstition." (Vide Appleton's
New American Cyclopedia.) His accusers were the priests and the
same frocked fraternity is still accusing Masonry.
The Anti-Masonic Congress which was convened at Trent in 1896, was
attended by more than 200 Bishops of the Romish Church and many
times that number of priests and zealous laymen. That Congress was
"Called together with the concurrence and favor of Pope Leo XIII
who in a special brief, bestowed his benediction and approval on
its aims and purposes. Twenty-two influential Cardinals, over two
hundred Bishops, the most important clerical associations, the
whole of the clerical press, sent their adhesions to this
Tridentine Council. Over five hundred ecclesiastics from the
highest to the lowest were present and all European States,
England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal,
Italy, the United States of America, the South American Republics
were more or less numerously and influentially represented."
"General and particular aim: To wage war on Masonry as an
institution on Masons as individuals in all countries and places
where the order exists to wage war on Masonry as a body by
collecting supposed documents and facts assertions of perjured
Masons as evidence and thus bring to light, or rather coin, by
means of the press or special publications all the misdeeds of the
fatal institution all the demoralizing influences it exercises
through obscene or sacrilegious rites, corruption and occult
conspiracies on man and civilization to wage war on individual
Masons by opposing them in every phase of their existence, in their
individual homes, in their industries, in their commerce, in their
professional avocations, in all their endeavors to participate in
public life, local or general, etc."
A French reporter, Mr. Leo Taxil, had been employed to ferret out
and report on the vagaries of Masonry, and in his report he gave
them an account of a smithery in a cave under the Rock of Gibraltar
where iron tools were fashioned for use in devil worship.
The speeches of the "Holy Fathers" on that occasion were drastic,
atrocious and anything but Christian-like. This Congress was as
late as 1896, and must still be fresh in the memories of Masonic
students. And from it, we draw the lesson that the purpose of those
people has not changed with time. So it is but fair to ask shall we
accept the testimony of these prejudiced, fanatical sorcerers
against the French Freemasons ?
The Grand Orient of France by giving countenance to a spurious body
of Scottish Rite Masons in Louisiana, in 1858, caused
English-speaking Masons, generally to suspend relations with that
Orient, one after another until such time as the Orient should
revoke its sanction of that spurious body. (Vide Report of Grand
Lodge of D. C. for 1870, pages 6 and 7.) It was not an
interdiction, but a tentative suspension of relations which the
Orient was at liberty to automatically heal by the revocation of
its sanction of that spurious A.A.S.R. body of New Orleans.
That spurious body has long since gone out of existence but the
Grand Orient has never made any overtures to the Grand Lodge of
District of Columbia nor any other American Grand Lodge so far as
the writer has been able to discover.
But in 1878, the Report of the Grand Lodge of District of Columbia
(p. 20) says:
"The action of the Grand Orient of France in expunging from its
constitution the necessity for a firm belief in Deity and the
immortality of the soul was called up as unfinished business and on
motion, it was ordered that the resolutions accompanying the report
be considered separately.
"Resolved, That the action of the Grand Orient of France in
ignoring the foundation principles of Masonrythat of a firm
belief in God and in the immortality of the soulmeets with
unqualified disapproval of this Grand Lodge."
This is the last entry we can find in our reports of the Grand
Now (as the priests say) "let us consider this beautiful mystery."
It is certainly not an interdiction. There is no intimation of
clandestinism, nor of irregularity nor threat of permanent breaking
off of relations.
We Protestants disapprove of their failure to exact a firm belief
in the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul, more I
think because we are Christians than for any other reason. We
believe even more we teach the "resurrection of the body through
faith in the merits of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah," though the
Jews among us cannot agree with that, but it is there, and it
cannot be found in the Anderson Constitutions, under which the
Grand Lodge of France is working today. We are perhaps
unconsciously, gradually blending our Christian faith with
Freemasonry, while we believe or teach that the latter unites men
of every Nation, sect and opinion and concilates friendship among
those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
The writer happens to know that there is a Lodge in Swansea, Wales,
under the obedience of the Grand Orient of France which has the
Bible on its altar on which it obligates. The Deputy Grand Master
of the Grand Orient assured us that they dedicate their Lodges to
the Great Architect of the Universe, and that they permit the
sacred writings to be kept on the altar of any and every Lodge that
wants it. And this they regard as becoming tolerance.
The Grand Lodge of France, however, has never offended us in any
way. It has not been even charged of having committed the
infractions which have strained our relations with the Grand
The Grand Lodge of France is a separate, distinct and sovereign
body recognized as such by the Supreme Grand Council from which it
was separated. It is in fraternal amity with many sovereign Grand
Lodges and has never, until now, asked formal recognition of any
American Grand Lodge. At the beginning of this European war the
Grand Lodge of France started a line of auto-ambulances, opened
soup-houses and lunch rooms, and equipped a hospital for the use of
wounded soldiers and for the aid of the indigent and needy of all
nations without regard to "race, creed, or previous condition of
We are now sending about 30,000 soldiers a month to Europe, most of
whom go to France among these are many Masons. They naturally want
to visit and as our relations are strained with the Orient we
should make it possible for them to visit the Lodges of the Grand
Lodge of France.
Personally we have advised our soldier-Masons of the District of
Columbia that they are at liberty to visit the Lodges of the Grand
Lodge of France, but as relations are strained with the Grand
Orient we have advised that its Lodges be not, at present, visited.
(1) Orient means East.
(2) Printed in three languages.
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