(LifeSiteNews) – Many Catholics think that freemasonry is a well-intentioned economic institution necessary to join in order to climb the corporate ladder while supporting charitable works that relieve poverty and help society progress toward a more humane tolerance of our fellow men, in the spirit of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
More educated Catholics know that the Church forbids involvement and membership in the Masonic Lodge, though some who claim the name of both Catholic and freemason avow that the Lodge is not hostile to the Church. They claim it is long overdue that Rome cease its persecution of freemasons by lifting its prohibitions against Catholics joining freemasonry.
Finally, there are those who see in the Masonic Lodge a dangerous enemy to the faith, one to be strongly opposed, condemned, and exposed for its plots against both civil society and the Church. Among these latter opponents of freemasonry number the many popes who have condemned freemasonry in the strongest manner possible, from its first appearance in the early 18th century.
In Rome’s first response to the rise of Masonic Lodges, Clement XII, in 1738, in the papal bull In Eminenti, judged freemasonry so serious a matter, and membership in it so dangerous, that he imposed an automatic excommunication, latae sententiae (a hidden sentence), on any Catholic who joined the freemasons. The lifting of the excommunication was reserved to the Holy See; later popes required that the Catholic who had joined the Lodge make known to his bishop the names of any other Catholics whom he knew to also be freemasons.
Clement XII’s sentence of excommunication was expressly renewed by successive popes many times over. It was incorporated into the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and although not explicitly mentioned in the 1983 Code, a special intervention and clarification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), titled Declaration on Masonic Associations and Irreconcilability of Christian Faith and Freemasonry, instructed that the Church’s discipline and judgement regarding freemasonry remained unchanged from the 1917 Code. The intervention referenced the explicit confirmation of the excommunication by the CDF in 1981, titled Declaration Concerning Status of Catholics Becoming Freemasons. The CDF thereby maintained the penalty, which remains in effect even to today.
Why have the popes of the last three centuries so strongly condemned freemasonry? Why have they imposed a sentence of excommunication, reserved to the Holy See, upon any Catholic who joins the Masonic Lodge?
In the Encyclical Humanum Genus, Leo XIII laid out several fundamental reasons Freemasonry has been condemned as irreconcilable with Christianity. Three of these are of special note for the devout Catholic.
Absolute secrecy: blood oaths and hidden plots
First, all members of the freemasons are bound by oaths of secrecy. In warning Catholics against joining the Masonic Lodge, Leo XIII pointed to the severity of the masonic secrecy as the first indication of a more criminal intent behind the façade of brotherhood: “Candidates are generally commanded to promise – nay, with a special oath, to swear – that they will never, to any person, at any time or in any way, make known the members, the passes, or the subjects discussed.” Why such secrecy? Why fear that members and plans may become known?
“He who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light,” Our Lord teaches in the Gospel, “lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (Jn 3:19)
Exposure being the great fear of all organized crime, severe secrecy – while not absolute proof – certainly stands as a tell-tale sign of deeper, evil intent. Not only does the Masonic Lodge bind all members by an oath of secrecy, but it hides many things from lower members that are known and planned by those of higher rank. In this way secrecy guards the Lodge from the uninitiate infidel and separates lower plebs from the higher-ups.
Again, Leo XIII shrewdly warned, “there are many things like mysteries which it is the fixed rule to hide with extreme care, not only from strangers, but from very many members, also; such as their secret and final designs, the names of the chief leaders, and certain secret and inner meetings, as well as their decisions, and the ways and means of carrying them out.” In this way, everything about the freemasons is shrouded in secrecy.
One real effect of such secrecy is that lower members of the Lodge may become unwitting tools in the criminal designs of higher members, of which they have little or no knowledge. The binding nature of the masonic secrecy that protects such designs is not taken lightly within the Lodge: the oaths sworn are blood oaths in which a man forfeits his life if he betrays the secret activities of his fellow masons or refuses obedience to a superior.
Leo XIII’s details of the criminal slavery into which men enter when they join the Masonic Lodge reveal its affinity to the Italian mafia, an affinity perhaps much closer than is generally understood, based on the intent to secure impunity for crime, on pain of death for any man turn traitor.
“Moreover, to be enrolled,” the pontiff wrote, “it is necessary that the candidates promise and undertake to be thenceforward strictly obedient to their leaders and masters with the utmost submission and fidelity, and to be in readiness to do their bidding upon the slightest expression of their will; or, if disobedient, to submit to the direst penalties and death itself. As a fact, if any are judged to have betrayed the doings of the sect or to have resisted commands given, punishment is inflicted on them not infrequently, and with so much audacity and dexterity that the assassin very often escapes the detection and penalty of his crime.”
Condemning the subservience to which the masonic oath reduced the Lodge’s members, Leo XIII lamented, “But to simulate and wish to lie hid; to bind men like slaves in the very tightest bonds, and without giving any sufficient reason; to make use of men enslaved to the will of another for any arbitrary act; to arm men’s right hands for bloodshed after securing impunity for the crime – all this is an enormity from which nature recoils.”
A far cry from the freedom, equality, and brotherhood of which freemasonry boasts.
The express intention to destroy the Church, in particular the papacy
However, the real hostility and danger of freemasonry, and the reason for its strict secrecy, is to be found in its hatred of the Apostolic See and its intention to destroy the Church by destroying the papacy. This was clear already by the time of Leo XIII and was manifested dramatically in open protests in Rome during the pontificates of Pius X and Benedict XV.
In 1884, referring to the involvement of the freemasons in toppling the Papal States and their work to remove all influence of the Church within civil society, with the goal of finally destroying the papacy itself, Leo XIII wrote:
“But against the apostolic see and the Roman Pontiff the contention of these enemies has been for a long time directed. The Pontiff was first, for specious reasons, thrust out from the bulwark of his liberty and of his right, the civil princedom; soon, he was unjustly driven into a condition which was unbearable because of the difficulties raised on all sides; and now the time has come when the partisans of the sects openly declare, what in secret among themselves they have for a long time plotted, that the sacred power of the Pontiffs must be abolished, and that the papacy itself, founded by divine right, must be utterly destroyed. If other proofs were wanting, this fact would be sufficiently disclosed by the testimony of men well informed, of whom some at other times, and others again recently, have declared it to be true of the Freemasons that they especially desire to assail the Church with irreconcilable hostility, and that they will never rest until they have destroyed whatever the supreme Pontiffs have established for the sake of religion.”
The secrecy of the masons has as its goal nothing less than the ruin of the Roman Catholic Church through the destruction of the papacy. “They have for a long time plotted, that the sacred power of the Pontiffs must be abolished… that the papacy itself, founded by divine right, must be utterly destroyed… They especially desire to assail the Church with irreconcilable hostility… They will never rest until they have destroyed whatever the supreme Pontiffs have established for the sake of religion.”
Such hatred for the See of Rome showed itself openly in 1917, when the freemasons celebrated their bicentennial by marching in front of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with banners declaring, “Satan must reign in the Vatican. The Pope will be his slave.” The event was witnessed in person by St. Maximillian Kolbe, who subsequently founded the Militia Immaculatae to counter the efforts of the masons against the Church and to work for their conversion.
Denial of original sin, redemption, and supernatural revelation
Finally, underlying the express intention to destroy the Church and the papacy, the freemasons espouse doctrines in direct contradiction with Catholic faith. They firmly deny original sin and all supernatural divine revelation. Instead, following the rationalist philosophers of the Enlightenment, the masons hold that human reason stands as ultimate judge of all things, and that human nature is neither inclined to sin nor in need of the redeeming grace of Christ.
It should be clear that the denial of original sin necessarily includes the denial of the whole work of redemption accomplished through the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, since without the Fall there is no need to be redeemed. The ultimate basis for this denial of original sin and redemption in Christ lay in the freemasons’ rejection of supernatural revelation. It is this rejection that sets the Masonic Lodge in such bitter hostility toward the Church. As Leo XIII exposed:
“They deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence, nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority. And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend the same with perfect purity, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed.”
Following the Enlightenment’s hyper-exaltation of human reason and the natural order, to the denial of faith and the whole supernatural order of grace, the masons cannot tolerate the Church’s claim to divine authority in the teaching of doctrine and morals, or in the dispensing of divine help through the grace of the sacraments.
Rejecting supernatural revelation as a denigration of human reason, the freemasons by consequence deny man’s need for redemption, since it is through revelation that we know of Adam’s sin, which gives rise to the need for a Redeemer.
Leo XIII made clear that such a denial of original sin necessarily leads to a corrupting of morals for both the individual and society.
“Moreover,” he wrote, “human nature was stained by original sin, and is therefore more disposed to vice than to virtue. For a virtuous life it is absolutely necessary to restrain the disorderly movements of the soul, and to make the passions obedient to reason. In this conflict human things must very often be despised, and the greatest labors and hardships must be undergone, in order that reason may always hold its sway. But the naturalists and Freemasons, having no faith in those things which we have learned by the revelation of God, deny that our first parents sinned, and consequently think that free will is not at all weakened and inclined to evil. On the contrary, exaggerating rather the power and the excellence of nature, and placing therein alone the principle and rule of justice, they cannot even imagine that there is any need at all of a constant struggle and a perfect steadfastness to overcome the violence and rule of our passions.”
Underscoring the way in which a corrupting of morals served the masons’ greater purpose of bringing men under their control, Leo XIII linked this with the extreme secrecy of their designs. “Since generally, no one is accustomed to obey crafty and clever men so submissively as those whose soul is weakened and broken down by the domination of the passions, there have been in the sect of the Freemasons some who have plainly determined and proposed that, artfully and of set purpose, the multitude should be satiated with a boundless license of vice, as, when this had been done, it would easily come under their power and authority for any acts of daring.” The moral degeneracy of society both follows from the mason’s express denial of original sin and conveniently serves the masonic purpose of using men in the execution of criminal activity.
Incompatibility with the Catholic name
Why, then, have the popes condemned Freemasonry? Because the Masonic Lodge was founded with the express goal of destroying the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See of Rome, because it denies original sin, the redemption accomplished by Christ, the necessity of grace, and the entire reality of supernatural revelation. Binding members to strictest secrecy by oaths of blood, the freemasons hide their ultimate designs under a show of external goodwill, boasting of the brotherhood of their societies.
It should come as little surprise that the popes have warned the Catholic faithful so insistently against the dangers of the Masonic Lodge, condemning it in the strongest terms, and imposing on those who join the penalty of excommunication. Its inherent incompatibility with Catholic faith was put perhaps most clearly by Leo XIII at the end of Humanum Genus: “Let no man think that he may for any reason whatsoever join the masonic sect, if he values his Catholic name and his eternal salvation as he ought to value them. Let no one be deceived by a pretense of honesty. It may seem to some that Freemasons demand nothing that is openly contrary to religion and morality; but, as the whole principle and object of the sect lies in what is vicious and criminal, to join with these men or in any way to help them cannot be lawful.”