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freemasonry in society


part IV - Freemasonry, Science and Mankind

W. M. Don Falconer PM, PDGDC

Freemasonry is a benefactor of humanity and a religion of universal application that is compatible with all religious denominations, science and civilised society.



As we reach the end of our journey in search of freemasonry, we might be prompted to ask what is the present relationship that freemasonry has with religion, with modern science and with society in general. This is a very important question. Throughout our journey we have observed the close association that freemasonry has had with religion from time immemorial - not with one religious belief, nor with any particular faith, denomination or sect, but with religion as a system of faith and morality. We have also seen that the precepts and tenets of freemasonry embody the same fundamental truths as those that are the foundation of all religions that are based on a belief in one true God and the immortality of the human soul.


The vital role that freemasonry has played in the development of civilisation throughout history, in both the secular and the spiritual spheres, proves beyond doubt that freemasonry works with and for the benefit of humanity in general and society in particular. It therefore would appear to be self-evident that freemasonry must always have had a good relationship with religion and with society in general. However, the benefits stemming from freemasonry apparently have not always been apparent from the point of view of some religious leaders, not least because of the suspicions that some of them have or have had with respect to both science and freemasonry. These suspicions have been and continue to be exacerbated by the disinclination of many religious leaders to accept and assimilate new information as it becomes available. Dogmatism through all ages has been an enemy of the freedom of the people and the wellbeing of society, but freemasonry has been a constant campaigner for freedom and the well being of humanity.


Freemasonry has always had a viable relationship with science, which should not be surprising because the operative freemasons depended upon a practical application of science, as well as on the developments of science to provide the best tools, methods of measurement and materials with which to carry out their work. The liberal arts and sciences always were essential elements in the training of operative freemasons, which enabled them to design their structures and carry out their work with skill and ability and provide a practical and useful dimension to the religious implications of their work. A contemplation of the liberal arts and sciences continues to be an important element in the philosophy of speculative craft freemasonry.


Thus, throughout all ages of human existence, freemasonry has occupied a unique position for the assimilation of moral and religious values, whilst at the same time providing an ideal environment for the practical development of moral training. Freemasonry avoids dogmatism and leaves individuals free to adopt whatever creeds they choose. Freemasons may consider all aspects of science and accept or reject hypotheses in accordance with their belief that they are true or false. Before concluding a consideration of the present relationship that freemasonry has with religion, with modern science and with society in general, a review of some important aspects of the several relationships that have prevailed between these three disciplines in the past will help to establish a better understanding of the factors underlying this subject.


Religion and science


Religion and science frequently have been openly antagonistic to each other, even though both have always professed to be searching for the truth concerning the universe and its creation, about the place that humanity occupies in the universe and in relation to the ultimate destiny of human beings. The problem is typified in the Dark Ages by the story of Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), who had the temerity to challenge a dogma of the Church of Rome, which propagated the belief that the earth is the centre of the universe. Nicolas Copernicus held degrees in medicine and church law, but also continued his studies of astronomy throughout his professional life. His professional duties were concentrated on healing the sick and serving the church with his legal knowledge, but he proved that the earth rotates on its own axis while revolving around the sun. He wrote a book on the subject, but such was his fear of the persecution that inevitably would have been meted out to him by the bishops if he had made his knowledge public, that his friends published his book. Nicolas Copernicus only received a copy of his book when he was on his deathbed. In fact it was not true religion that was in conflict with science, but the church and more specifically powerful individuals within the church.


There was no change in attitude of the Roman Church toward science for about a century after Nicolas Copernicus died, until Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) another well-known scientist who, among many other things, developed the telescope and studied the heavens. Whilst still at university Galileo Galilei’s studies led him to disbelieve the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy that the stars and planets are composed of a perfect and incorruptible element called ether, carried on revolving spheres centred on the earth. Although Charles Darwin acknowledged that Aristotle’s work in biology had been a great help to him, Aristotle’s theories in astronomy seriously handicapped its progress. After Galileo Galilei reached his conclusions concerning Aristotle’s philosophy, he supported and expanded upon the discoveries of Nicolas Copernicus. In 1632 Galileo Galilei published a book on the system of worlds in our universe, which was greatly applauded by scientists. However the attitude of the Church of Rome had not changed, as a result of which Galileo Galilei was summoned by Pope Urban VIII, imprisoned and tried by the iniquitous Inquisition. Galileo Galilei was condemned to renounce his scientific creed under oath and sentenced to imprisonment for an indefinite period. Because of his age and his fear of the consequences of refusal, Galileo Galilei yielded to the Inquisition's demands. Ultimately he was released at the request of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but kept under house arrest. About a century later the Church of Rome recognised Galileo Galilei's work for its true worth and accepted the fact that the world is not the centre of the universe.


The persecution of Nicolas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei contrasts with the state of freedom in which the Reverend John Michell (1724-1793) worked about two centuries after Nicolas Copernicus and a century after Galileo Galilei published the results of their investigations. John Michell established the science of seismology and was the first to propose the existence of dark stars. He was a prominent scientist before he studied divinity. About a century and a half after John Michell a Belgian priest, Georges Edouard Lemaître (1894-1966), became famous as a scientist when he was the first to hypothesise in 1927 that all material in the universe came into existence at the instant of a big bang. These two examples indicate that religion and science coexist more compatibly now than they did during the Dark Ages, even though several of the more radical religious sects are not yet in a state of harmony with science.


Science and freemasonry


We have seen that the prodigious advances made by science, in explaining the origin and development of our universe and the evolution of life on earth, are compatible with the precepts and tenets of freemasonry. In fact the present concepts of cosmology do not preclude the existence of God, which is a fundamental precept of freemasonry, but on the contrary they suggest that the existence a Great Architect of the Universe is an essential element of the process. Furthermore, the concept of a big bang as the originating act of creation does not conflict with a freemason's belief in and the immortality of the human soul. The theories that have been advanced in an endeavour to prove that our universe operates purely as a clockwork machine, on the basis that its big bang origin requires no external initiating force, have not been substantiated. Indeed, our beliefs as freemasons should constantly remind us of Albert Einstein’s statement: "I want to know how God created this world", which he often repeated.


An apprentice in speculative craft freemasonry is told, among many other things, that freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. When he advances and becomes a fellow of the craft, he is earnestly exhorted to make a diligent study of the liberal arts and sciences, which will polish and adorn his mind. Still later as a master mason he is told that his mind, which has been moulded by a study of the secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth, is ready to contemplate the closing hours of his mortal life. He is invited to reflect upon death, confident in the knowledge that the vital and immortal element reposed in his perishable frame will enable him to overcome the fear of death and lift that mysterious veil of darkness, which will bring peace and salvation to all those who are faithful and obedient to God's commands. This search for the purpose of human life, coupled with our belief that human beings have some ultimate destiny and our faith that on our mortal death our spirit shall return to God whence it came, are all essential elements of true freemasonry that are predisposed to fostering scientific endeavours.


Religion and freemasonry


The Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, who became known as the Knights Templar, were established in France in 1118 or earlier under the leadership of their first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens, a middle-class nobleman of Champagne. It is of interest to know that in 1101 Hugues de Payens married Catherine St Clair, a niece of Baron Henri St Clair of Roslin, whose family later established Rosslyn Chapel and a member of which was appointed as hereditary patron and protector of Scottish freemasons by King James II in 1441. The original Knights Templar took an oath of obedience to a Cistercian Abbot, St Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1153), a renowned French theologian and reformer who was canonised in 1174. Operative freemasons were a significant and essential element in the Knights Templar, responsible for the construction of many castles, hospitals and ecclesiastical buildings in the Holy Land and elsewhere over a period of about 150 years. The Knights Templar were firmly attached to the Cistercian popes and were revered until the savage Inquisition established by the Dominican popes in about 1232 to detect and punish heretics, when the last vestiges of free thinking disappeared.


In 1304, when Pope Benedict XI had refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Philip IV, the French king, then tried to restore the authority of the Holy See, agents of the king poisoned him. Philip IV offered the Archbishop of Bordeaux the papacy in exchange for six favours, to which the Archbishop agreed and was crowned as Pope Clement V at Lyons in 1305. At the instigation of Philip IV, who was almost bankrupt, Pope Clement V summoned the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers to France in 1306, to discuss combining the two orders. When the Knights Templar refused to combine with the Hospitallers in October 1307, Philip IV ordered all Knights Templar to be seized, falsely accusing them of blasphemy, heresy and various heinous acts. The simple fact was that the Knights Templar had become so powerful that the popes and the French crown set out to acquire their wealth.


All Knights Templar who had been captured were subjected to intensive interrogation and torture, then in 1309 were called to face trial by the court of the Inquisition, which was then under the control of Pope Clement V at Avignon. Under torture the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, denied that the Knights Templar had perpetrated any heinous acts, but admitted that they did not accept the doctrine of the virgin birth, nor did they regard Christ as god in human form. Simply expressed, the Knights Templar adhered to the beliefs of the Nazareans, similar to those of the Celtic Christians. In 1310 a total of 67 Knights Templar were burnt at the stake. In 1311 the Papal Commission completed its hearings and Pope Clement V published a bull in 1313 abolishing the Knights Templar, but he did not rule on their guilt. However King Philip IV convened a secular council in 1314, which proclaimed Jacques de Molay guilty of blasphemy and heresy and condemned him to be burnt. When allowed to speak shortly before he was burnt, Jacques de Molay reiterated his earlier statements and said that God would avenge the deaths of those who had been wrongfully accused. On 19 March 1314 Jacques de Molay and the Preceptor of Normandy, Geoffrey de Charney, were roasted to death over a slow fire. However the perpetrators, King Philip IV and Pope Clement V, did not live long to ponder Jacques de Molay’s prophetic words or to reap any benefits from their heinous deed, because both died during 1314.


A sidelight to the martyrdom of Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney is the fact that the Shroud of Turin was secretly held by Geoffrey de Charney's wife and their family for more than fifty years, until it was first displayed in 1357 as a holy relic in a small collegiate church in the town of Lirey. The church was inaugurated in 1356 after it had been set up by a Geoffrey de Charney, believed to have been a grandson of Jean de Charney a brother of the Knight Templar who was martyred with Jacques de Molay and whose family had cared for them both after they had been tortured by the Inquisition to obtain confessions before being tried. Extensive scientific tests conclusively prove that the material used in the shroud only dates from 1260 to 1280, a few years before the martyrdom, which adds weight to the hypothesis.


Existing documents record the fact that at first the Church of Rome endeavoured to have the Shroud of Turin destroyed, but support for the Knights Templar was so strong and the known origin of the shroud so important that the owners secreted it away for several years, until the display of the shroud could no longer be suppressed. When the shroud was displayed again, the Church of Rome took extraordinary steps to conceal its real identity, saying that it must not be called an original and requiring that whenever it was displayed the shroud should be described as a figure or representation. Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas cover the history of the Knights Templar in detail in The Second Messiah, including these events relating to the Shroud of Turin. The authors provide convincing arguments that after Jacques de Molay had been brutally tortured and crucified, whilst awaiting resuscitation so that he could face trial later, he was wrapped in the cloth known as Shroud of Turin. If this hypothesis is correct, then it is the image of Jacques de Molay that appears on the shroud, which would explain why the Church of Rome tried to have the shroud destroyed and later called it a "representation".


When purely speculative freemasonry was established in England, two eminent clergymen prepared the first rituals used in lodges working under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of England, based on the documents available to them from operative freemasonry. The clergymen were Dr James Anderson (1684-1739), a member of the Church of Scotland and Dr John Desaguliers (1683-1743), an influential Presbyterian minister. Despite the religious heritage of freemasonry the important role that clergymen played in the preparation of modern masonic rituals, the hierarchies of some religious groups sometimes raise the spectre that freemasonry is an anti-religious organisation, which could not be further from the truth. Perhaps the antagonism to freemasonry that is shown by the officers and members of some religious hierarchies may stem from their fear of a loss of control over those of its members who are freemasons. If that is the reason for the antagonism it does not augur well for the freedom of thought that religions are supposed to foster, or indeed for the freedom of worship. Moreover, that attitude is the complete opposite of the teachings of freemasonry.


Membership of freemasonry is not restrictive in relation to religious beliefs, but a belief in God is essential. Also there are obvious religious connotations in the rites and ceremonies of freemasonry and embodied in the pursuit of masonic knowledge. Even so, Grand Lodges generally proclaim that freemasonry is not a religion and forbid the discussion of religious subjects in open lodge. It seems obvious that Grand Lodges are equating religious denominations, churches and sects with religion in its universal sense, which embraces all systems of religious belief. The proclamations of Grand Lodges in relation to religion also overlook at least one essential aspect of true religion, which is that a religious person does not necessarily belong to any particular faith or church or sect. The religion embodied in freemasonry is universal and independent from liturgical influences, its only creed being a belief in God and the immortality of the soul.

Freemasonry as a religion


To fully appreciate the foregoing comments, it is important to understand what is meant by religion, which is derived from the Latin religare meaning to bind. It is believed that the word religion originally referred to the binding of humans to God. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines religion as:


1. Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for and desire to please a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rites or observances implying this.


2. Recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny and as being entitled to obedience, reverence and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief, with reference to its effect upon the individual or the community; personal or general acceptance of this feeling as a standard of spiritual and practical life. (From as early as 1535)


3. Devotion to some principle; strict fidelity or faithfulness; conscientiousness; pious attention or attachment. (From as early as 1691)


4. The religious sanction or obligation of an oath. (From as early as 1704)


The Hutchinson Encyclopedia defines religion on a comparative basis, which is of special relevance when considering those aspects of religion that are pertinent to the objectives of freemasonry:


“Code of belief or philosophy, which often involves the worship of a god or gods. Belief in a supernatural power is not essential (absent in, for example, Buddhism and Confucianism), but faithful adherence is usually considered to be rewarded, for example by escape from human existence (as in Buddhism), by a future existence (as in Christianity and Islam), or by worldly benefit (as in Soka Gakkai Buddhism).”


The following summary highlights key elements common to both freemasonry and religion. They clearly show that freemasonry is a religion that is universal in its application, though it is not a religious denomination, nor a church nor a sect:


1. Freemasonry requires a belief in God and the recognition of some higher unseen power, called the Great Architect of the Universe.


2. Freemasonry fosters the development of mental and moral attitudes for the benefit of the individual and the community.


3. Freemasonry requires its members to enter into oaths or obligations of strict fidelity and faithfulness and practices rites and observances that promote its teachings.


4. Freemasonry embraces a belief in the immortality of the soul.



This concludes our journey in search of freemasonry. We have discovered that freemasonry has been a benefactor of humanity since the dawn of civilisation. We also find that, from the dawn of history, freemasonry has always used every endeavour to maintain a harmonious and useful relationship with the many and varied facets of civilised society, whilst also fostering the beneficial application of science for the advancement of the human race. A freemason's belief in the immortality of the human soul, coupled with his faith in a resurrection to a life hereafter, are clearly reflected in the principles and precepts that freemasonry has always upheld, as well as in the work that freemasonry has carried out down through the ages. These important considerations clearly support the view that freemasonry embodies a religion of universal application and that it is compatible with all religious denominations that are founded on a belief in God, who is the Divine Force of the universe. Notwithstanding the strong evidence of freemasonry's status as a universal religion, it has never sought to dissuade its members from also adhering to any religious denominations of their choice. Giuliano Bernado records his comprehensive philosophical investigation of the scientific, technological, economic, political, social, religious and spiritual aspects of freemasonry in his book Freemasonry and its Image of Man, which is very informative. Another book of particular interest is The Arcane Schools by John Yarker, who also explored these various aspects.

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