(LifeSiteNews) – What exactly is Freemasonry? In particular, does it constitute an actual religion? If so, it would stand to reason that no Christian could be a member of the Masonic Lodge and remain a Christian, any more than he could join Islam and remain faithful to Christ.
Most Freemasons, upon being asked if the Lodge is a religion, will firmly deny this, claiming instead that Freemasonry is open to anyone of any religion. They may even point out that many Christians, Catholic and Protestant, are members of various Lodges. There are, however, several facts about Freemasonry, testified to both in their own documents and in the words of their own members, that indicate that Freemasonry is not only religious-leaning, but a full-blown religion in its own right.
The question of whether Freemasonry is a religion can be boiled down to a few more concrete questions about some of the elements that are essential to religion: Does Freemasonry have its own theological doctrine about God or itself as a religion? Does it have its own moral system? Does it have its own rituals of worship, its own mysteries or sacred ceremonies? Does it promise its members happiness, salvation, or reward in this life and after death?
Freemasonry, indeed, has all these things. Below I will take a closer look at just a few of these elements: Freemasonry’s doctrine about God, its understanding of itself as a religion, and its sacred rituals.
The Lodge’s doctrine about God and itself as a religion
The first point to highlight in regard to Freemasonry’s theological doctrine is that from its earliest documents Masonry claims the prerogative of being a universal religion above every particular sect, denomination, or personal persuasion.
The 1723 document titled, Constitutions of the Freemasons. Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c. of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity. For the Use of the Lodges, (also called Anderson’s Constitution) written by Reverend James Anderson of the Church of Scotland, contains two articles calling Freemasonry its own religion, Articles I and VI.2.
Concerning GOD and RELIGION
… Though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all men agree, leaving aside their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at perpetual Distance. (Italics my own).
According to Anderson’s Constitution, considered by the Masons themselves to be one of their founding, governing documents, Freemasonry is supposed to be “that Religion in which all men agree, leaving aside their particular opinions to themselves,” and “the Center of Union.” In other words, the Masonic claim that the Lodge is a universal brotherhood is precisely a claim that it is a universal religion.
The second article in Anderson’s Constitution that calls Freemasonry a religion is found in a prohibition against internal quarrels: Article VI.2.
BEHAVIOR after the LODGE is over and the BRETHREN not GONE
… No private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge about Religion, or Nations, or State Policy, we being only, as Masons, of the Universal Religion above mention’d… (Italics my own).
Freemasonry sees itself as a kind of syncretic, universal religion that maintains only what is commonly believed about God, drawing from other religions but differing from them all. In demanding that members set aside their own particular opinions in favor of this universal religion, Masonry has done several things. First, it has relegated the religions from which members have come – for the most part, Catholicism and Protestantism – to the level of mere opinion (a necessary pre-condition for the establishment of a purely secular state). Second, it has placed these religions under the judgment of natural human reason, making reason the arbiter of divine things. Third, it has judged that these religions should be set aside in favor of something new, something purportedly “in which all men agree.” Fourth, in subordinating all other religions to Freemasonry, it has established Freemasonry as a religion in its own right.
That Freemasonry is and calls itself a religion should not be entirely surprising, since the Masonic Lodges are derived historically from the medieval Catholic guilds for stone-masons. In the medieval guilds, both economic partnership and religious piety came together. The intention behind the guilds included: professional training in some craft, protection of the rights of workers, assistance in finding employment, securing adequate pay, and advancement in the profession, as well as the fostering of the practice of Christian virtue and piety, with special indulgences and privileges attached to the devotions and feast days of the various guilds.
Between the synthesis of Christian piety and work that we find in the medieval guilds, on the one hand, and the rise of Freemasonry as a naturalistic, universal religion with ostensible economic advantage, on the other, two things took place in Europe that would shape the new religion: the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment.
With the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the theological unity of Christendom was shattered. The Protestant principle that every man can authoritatively interpret Scripture for himself quickly led to the multiplication of dissenting denominations, each distinguished from every other by differences in theological doctrine.
The seventeenth century Enlightenment then subordinated all matters of faith of whatever Christian denomination, Catholic or Protestant, to the judgments of natural human reason. Truths of faith, long held in Christendom to be neither provable by reason, nor subject to it, but above reason’s ability to fully understand or judge, were now regarded as matters of mere opinion. Indeed, the disagreements among the various churches and denominations of Christendom were largely seen to be the cause of Europe’s endless quarrels and wars. The political crises and bloodshed caused by the bitter theological disagreements of the Protestant Reformation led to the rejection of faith altogether in the Enlightenment.
It is this background that paved the way for the rise of Freemasonry in the eighteenth century. With the collapse of the Catholic medieval guilds, the Lodge established itself as the new locus for economic stability and advancement. Following the splintering of Christian Europe into endlessly multiplying churches and sects, with all their theological disagreements, Freemasonry established itself as “that Religion in which all men agree.” Incorporating the naturalistic principles of the Enlightenment philosophers, Freemasonry rejected all supernatural revelation and subordinated all matters of religion to the judgment of natural reason.
The influences named above can all be seen in the Masonic insistence that, whatever the names for God by which members are accustomed to address Him in their own religion, in the Lodge they are to call Him by the name “Grand Architect of the Universe.” The reference to God as a builder – a Mason of Masons, as it were – prescinds from any particularly Christian title, such as the blessed Trinity, and arises from something natural reason can acknowledge easily enough, that God has made the world – no need to confess Christ as Son of God, or to acknowledge that God has revealed anything supernatural.
The Lodge’s sacred rites
Since every religion has to do with the worship of God, if Freemasonry were indeed a religion, we should find in it some form of divine worship. As it turns out, the Lodge has its own altars, a hierarchical priesthood, sacred garments, rites, and oaths.
According to the testimony of David Gray, Catholic convert from Freemasonry, who rose to the “Sublime Degree of Master Mason” and held the office of “High Priest of a Royal Arch Chapter,” “The Sacraments of Freemasonry are the three degrees of Entered Apprenticeship, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. It is through these rites and mysteries that the initiate is enlightened and is given the working tools that will enable them to progress in the craftsmanship and to become worthy of further advancement.” (From The Catholic Catechism on Freemasonry, A Theological and Historical Treatment on the Catholic Church’s Prohibitions’Against Freemasonry and Its Appendant Masonic Bodies).
Gray critiques these sacred rites of the Lodge as a naturalistic path of salvation, a form of “Pelagianism revisited.”
“What the fraternal religion of Freemasonry is offering through its Sacraments,” he argues, “is a personal and self-determined path to salvation. This teaching that man can save man, not through supernatural means, but, rather, through naturalistic methods and personal effort is the heresy of Pelagianism revisited. Through its Sacraments, Freemasonry is offering its initiates the autosoteric method of deliverance from immorality through personal freedom and due attention to moral discipline, which is the opposite of the Christian hetrosoteric delivery method that man must be saved by another (namely, Jesus Christ).”
Regarding the symbolic garments of initiates, Gray reveals that in Masonry a “white lambskin apron represents ‘purity of life and rectitude of conduct that is essential and necessary to gain admittance into that celestial Lodge on High where the Supreme Architect of the Universe forever presides.’ The idea of a new white garment covering an initiate’s body is not a concept lost on any religion and is something the stonemasons would have been familiar with from the Sacrament of Baptism in both Catholic and Anglican Churches where candidates for Baptism are clothed in white over-garments.”
Upon the conferral of a Masonic degree, among other things, the ritual consists in the assumption of the obligations pertaining to that degree, and a blood-oath of secrecy made to God before a candle-lit altar, with the stonemason’s square and compass set upon an open Bible.
Much more could be said of Masonic rituals, since they are many and varied, but let this suffice for now. Upon the admission of its own governing document, it is a “universal religion” that rises above the “particular opinions” that threw Protestants and Catholics into centuries of conflict, a religion perfectly available to the man of reason who refuses to subject his reason to the improvable claims of faith.
Being its own universal religion, Freemasonry has long set its hostility against Christianity, and the Catholic Church, in particular. As Gray points out, in spite of differences that exist between various Masonic Lodges and their attendant rituals and customs, “The fact of the matter is that all Freemasonry shares the same principles and it is those principles that plot against the Church. Whether some Freemasons express those principles in the public sphere and other Freemasons express them only in their private relationships is only a distance in the accidents or the articulation, but not in the substance.”
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