There are many false (and quite ridiculous) stories regarding Freemasonry and one that is often spread about is that Freemasonry is a religion, or worse, a secret religious sect. This could not be further from the truth, but as this misconception has been around for a while now it has become difficult to expel. So this article aims to give an understanding of where Freemasonry stands with respect to religion.
Freemasonry began in the 17th century, evolving from the companies and guilds of the Stone Masons. In Medieval England the general population was Christian and Stone Masons were no exception to this. Stone Masons in medieval England followed set regulations, or “Charges,” in order to ensure that the “mysteries” of their craft were kept strictly within their own guilds and companies. These regulations were read to the new members of the craft, who would swear an obligation to adhere to them, such that they behaved in a manner suitable to the standards already in place among their fellows. These regulations are today know as the “Old Charges.” In the earlier Book of Constitutions there was a second set of “Old Charges” aimed at the Stone Mason’s Apprentices. In the 1723 version, however, apprentices were treated similarly to other members but with specific articles referring to them incorporated within the body of the whole Book of Constitutions.
These earlier “Old Charges” were in place before the schism within the Christian Church, which occurred in the 16th century. Before this time the Christian Church in the west was united and, as we know, lead by the Pope. During these times the Pope was very much involved in the politics of the day and this lead to the Reformation, when, for different reasons, Martin Luther of Saxony (Germany) and King Henry VIII of England split away from the Pope’s rule to form different styles of Protestant Christianity.
As well as the false stories that Freemasonry is a religion, there are other stories completely to the contrary. Equally as false and misleading, these alternate stories and myths depict Freemasonry as irreligious or even devil worshippers. None of these opinions have any basis in fact, but they are spread nonetheless.
These “Old Charges” have now been incorporated into the ritualistic ceremonies carried out today in the first degree in Freemasonry. Below are the words found in the oldest of the “Old Charges” as printed in the older Book of Constitutions, believed to have been initiated by Stone Masons, which clearly states:
“1 I am to admonish you to honour God in his holy Church; that, you use no Heresy, Schism and Error in your Understandings, or discredit Men’s Teachings”
Below is the first “Old Charge” that “belongeth to Apprentices:”
Imprimis. YOU shall truly honour God, and his holy Church, the King, your Master, and Dame; you shall not absent yourself, but with the Licence of one or both of them, from their Service, by Day or Night.
Note here the words “his holy Church,” implies worship in its rightful place (the Church) and not within a Stone Mason’s lodge. It is also interesting to note that these “Old Charges” were believed to have been written before the Reformation and schism within the Christian church, which occurred in the 16th century, indicating quite clearly that the men who wrote this charge were Christians and loyal to the Pope and Catholic Church. The printed front page of this earlier Book of Constitutions carries these words “Taken from a manuscript wrote about 500 years since,” and is dated as printed in MDCCXXII (1722).
The second version of the Old Charges, taken from the Book of Constitutions produced for the first Grand Lodge of England (1717) in 1723, introduces into Freemasonry the acceptance of all religions into the fraternity, with the first of these “Old Charges”clearly stating:
“I. 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 ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving 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 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.”
Written in the 1720’s at the time when there was conflict in Britain between the Roman Catholic Jacobites and the Protestant Hanoverians; and as followers of both these Christian religions were already members the fraternity, the words “Religion in which all Men agree” suggest this refers to both sides of the Christian divide. Then further down the words “by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished” suggest that all monotheistic religions were accepted (not just the Protestant and Roman Catholic religions) Finally, the words“leaving their particular Opinions to themselves” implies refraining from all religious discussion, as is still the case today. This, being the very first in a list of many of the “Old Charges,” points out the importance that the belief in God was an essential tenet of membership of regular Freemasonry, but that the religion that each member followed was to be kept to its own place of worship and the subject of religion was not to be discussed within a Freemasons Lodge.
The same rule applies today as the harmony of the lodge is at all times paramount and it is known that religious discussion often causes discord and, as such, all regular Freemasons know to leave all thoughts as such outside the meeting, including all festivities. So with this rule in place men (and women) of all political and religious persuasions can meet together in peace and harmony; if this can be achieved by Freemasons, then why not by everyone else too.
CONCLUSION: The only conclusion that can be gained from the above is that Freemasonry is NOT AND NEVER HAS BEEN a religious order but simply a fraternity of men or women who believe in a single God and worship God in their own religious way and in their own Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Gurdwara or Temple. Finally, as to becoming a Freemason demands a belief in God, then the stories of Freemasonry being irreligious or “devil worshipers” couldn’t be farther from the truth.
FOOTNOTE: the reason why a Freemasons’ Lodge is often referred to as a “Temple” is that it is designed in such a way as to represent King Solomon’s Temple, referred to in the Old Testament. A Freemasons’ Lodge is definitely NOT a place of worship, but as King Solomon’s Temple was of such magnificence, it is admired by Freemasons and our allegories and rituals are based on its magnificence and the skill of those who designed and built it.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, current Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.
© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved