There are still many people in the world that have strange misconceptions regarding Freemasonry and when such misconceptions reach my ears/eyes, this writer will always try to set the record straight; there is no better cure to misunderstanding than the truth.
The truth is there is no connection at all, Freemasonry is a philosophical order whose sole purpose is to help good men and women become better. Having said that, it must be remembered that these degrees were the creation of Christian men who lived in the 1700’s.
Briefly, pure Freemasonry evolved from the guilds of stonemasons who had in their charges (rules) several articles relating to the good behaviour of their members, that they should obey the laws of God and the ordinances of the realm. The Royal Arch degree falls outside the beginning of this ‘pure’ Freemasonry and there are different opinions as to the origin of the degree, Some believe it was the creation of a Freemason named Ramsey, a Scotsman who was closely involved in French Freemasonry; he made a speech in 1740 known as Ramsey’s Oration where in the latter part he firmly stated his belief that the Knights Templar hid behind the veil of Freemasonry in the 12th century, when, of course, there were no speculative Freemasons, only operative stonemasons. His own created rituals included reference to ‘Royal Arch.’ However, the main accepted thinking (Reverend Doctor Brother George Oliver in his book published in 1867) is that this degree was devised by Brother Lawrence Dermott around 1738/9; he was a seceder from the first acknowledged Grand Lodge of England, later known as the ‘moderns.’ Apparently he devised it as a way of “proving” that Freemasonry was more ancient than these so called ‘moderns’ believed and that they had already ‘messed’ with the third degree (their members actually created it) – there will be a much more detailed explanation of the origins of Royal Arch in a later article, possibly in instalments.
But this short article relates to the misconception stated in the title of this document, implying that an organised religion can control Freemasonry through Royal Arch Freemasonry in the belief that this is a Christian degree. There is no possibility that any organised religion can (or would even want to) control any aspect of Freemasonry, although I am certain that our leaders would always welcome their support. In this respect I refer to all the various organised religious groups, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any that believe in the presence of a single supreme being, for to be a member of regular Freemasonry each member must be entertain such beliefs.
Unfortunately, whist Freemasonry welcomes members of all monotheistic religions, a few of these religious authorities are completely against Freemasonry and forbid their members to join; I refer here mainly to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1738 Pope Clement XII issued a Papal Bull banning all Roman Catholics from membership of Freemasonry. There has never been a clear reason for this ban (I am sure it is in Papal records), but readers should take note that Popes in those days were very much involved in politics and the running of empires, as the Holy Roman Empire extended well into northern Europe at this time. Also, some believe that the loss of control over congregations was a strong contender for this total ban. This ban was endorsed by many Popes that followed, and even to this day the ban is still in place, although the penalty of excommunication has now been reduced to that of the ‘faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.’
The story behind this article is that of a branch of Roman Catholicism wishes to ‘take over Royal Arch Masonry’ in the belief that, in so doing, they will clear particular lodges of being clandestine, that is, lodges outside the governance of a Grand Lodge.
This in itself renders this particular misconception as being totally ludicrous, as no respectable branch of the Roman Catholic Church would go against the orders of the Pope, even if it is under the impression that the Royal Arch Degree is a Christian Degree, which many in 19th century Freemasonry also considered that it was.
However the Royal Arch degree is considered by UGLE as the completion of the third degree in Freemasonry. It is centred, in its ritual, around the discovery of the Temple of King Solomon, and set in the years long before Christ. So whilst Christian Freemasons believe strongly in the words written in both Old and New Testament, they worship God in their Churches, not in Freemasonry, and this degree is open to all Master Masons regardless of their religion. Those that are exalted into a Royal Arch Chapter believe it to be very much at the heart of Freemasonry.
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
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