The next Pope to condemn Freemasonry was Benedict XIV, and he confirmed Il Eminenti Apostolatus in a Papal Bull named Providas Romanorum Pontificum, issued in 1751, which basically reiterated the wording of Clement XII’s Constitution in order to make it clear that the condemnation of Freemasonry was irrevocable and was to be applied to the future as well as to the present.
The apparent reason for this reiteration is because, as stated in the text of Providas:
“Since, however, as We have learned, there have been some who have not hesitated to declare and to boast openly that the stated penalty of excommunication imposed by Our Predecessor ,,,, no longer carries any force, because of the fact that the very Constitution before introduced has not been confirmed by Us, as if in fact, express confirmation of a Pontifical Successor were required for the continuation of Apostolic Constitutions published by a Predecessor.”
Apparently it was felt that the Bull “In Eminenti” required further confirmation that it was meant to be forever and not simply whist Clement XII was Pope. Evidently many Roman Catholic men still continued to join Freemasonry in defiance of this ruling.
However, during this period (since the first Papal Constitution was issued in 1738) Freemasonry in France was in turmoil with new degrees springing up on a regular basis. Before we enter into details of this confusion, we should be aware that any society deemed secret was automatically linked to Freemasonry.
In 1751, the same year as the above Papal Bull, a book was published entitled “Pantheisticon: or the Form of Celebrating the Socratic – Society,” By John Tolland; originally written in Latin and translated into English, a follow on from an earlier book of 1705 by the same author. Pantheism* is derived from Pan (all) and theos (God) +ism and was (apparently still is) a society whose beliefs were quite contrary to that of the Roman Catholic Church. An extract from this book:
“,,,, the force of energy of the whole, the creator and ruler of all, and always tending to the best end, is GOD, whom I shall call the mind, if you please, and soul of the universe, and hence it is that Socratic Brethren, by peculiar term,,, are called Pantheists; this force, according to them, being not separated from the universe itself, but by a distinction of reason alone.”
*Today’s dictionary definition of Pantheism is: the belief that God exists in, and is the same as, all things, animals, and people within the universe (also: the belief in many or all Gods).
I have included the above to illustrate that, it still being the age of reason, many challenges to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were apparent.
In France (and Germany) in the latter half of the 18th century, many hundreds of peculiar degrees were created but all contrary to that of the pure Freemasonry practiced in Britain. Around this time, says Dr Oliver, the celebrated cosmopolite, Baron Knigge, was initiated into Freemasonry; his name flourishes so prominently in the history of illuminism. Illuminism began over a century before pure Freemasonry came into existence in 1717, and the term illuminism can be described in two ways:
- those who have the “light” as a direct communication from a higher source;
- and those who possess “enlightenment” as a result of a clarified and exalted condition of the human reason
But apart from Illuminism creeping its way into continental Freemasonry, many other “innovations” also found a home under its banners, e.g. Hermetic, philosophy, Rosicrucianism, magic, alchemy, divination, necromancy and many other occult arts!! Is it any wonder that the Popes and their faithful were a little upset that they were losing their flock to this invasive and unchristian new fashion? These ideas were introduced into additional degrees (560 apparently were discovered by Dr Oliver) by a variety of ‘charlatans,’ but they soon quarrelled and each then set up their own and separate systems. Soon, the true application of pure symbolic Freemasonry was lost and swallowed up on continental Europe. William Preston (Scottish Freemason – 1742-1818) spoke disparagingly of these innovations:
“That there are and have been impostors, who have introduced modern fanatical innovations under the sanction of secrecy, to deceive the credulous and mislead the unwary, is a truth beyond contradiction; and that such impostors may have intruded themselves into the assemblies of Masons may be also true. But I will take upon me to say, that such associations are unconnected with the genuine tenets of Masonry which, according to the universal system, never countenance deception, nor do the regular patrons of the Craft ever sanction imposture.”
In England “a great sensation had been created in the Grand Lodge of England by these increasing innovations, which covered pure Freemasonry with disgrace.” A remedy needed to be sought, so a mutual compact with the Grand Lodge of Germany was formed, thus annihilating one of the strangest and most dangerous of these new innovations, the Rite of Strict Observance, wherein even the names of the supposed leadership were kept secret form the ordinary members.
Unfortunately it didn’t end there as ‘the notorious Weinshaupt’ promulgated his illuminism with the intension of overturning the altar and throne and elevating the ‘empire of reason’ upon the prostrated shrines of Christianity. He doubtless found many recruits amongst continental Freemasons, but they bitterly repented when the results of his scheme became apparent, hence he did not succeed. But the Grand Orient of France, who had previously stood by the three pure craft degrees agreed in 1786 to admit four of these innovated grades, namely Elu, Ecossais, Chevalier d’Orient and the Rose Croix; it later went further and incorporated many others.
In 1783 circulars were issued by the Grand Lodges of Frankfort-on-Maine (Frankfurt) and Wetzler (Wetzlar) announcing that the fraternity in these districts had returned to pure Masonry as promulgated under the Grand Lodge of England.
So we can now see a truer picture of an understanding of why Roman Catholics cannot join Freemasonry, but alas, they remain in complete darkness as to the true facts behind pure Freemasonry, which is quite understandable after the infiltration of many charlatans into Continental Freemasonry.
It wasn’t until 1821 that a further Papal Bull was issued that mentioned Freemasonry. However, this Papal Bull was entirely aimed at the Carbonari (or Charcoal Burners) who had a very obscure and unbelievable legendary history. Before we say a little of this secret society, there is no proven connection that it formed from Freemasonry. In fact, even in this Papal Constitution, Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo, the only mention of Freemasonry is:
“Our predecessors, of happy memory, Clement XII and Benedict XIV, one of whom, by his constitution In Eminenti of April 28, 1738, and the other, by his constitution Providas of May 18. 1751, condemned and prohibited the company De’ Liberi Muratori or the Freemasons, or the societies designated by other names, depending on the difference in languages and countries, societies which may have been the origin of that of the Carbonari or who certainly served as a model; and although We have already expressly prohibited this society by two edicts issued by Our Secretary of State, We believe, following the example of Our predecessors, that severe penalties must be solemnly decreed against the society, especially since the Carbonari claim that they cannot be included in the two constitutions of Clement XII and Benedict XIV, nor be subjected to the penalties which are carried there.”
The obvious reason that the Carbonari “claim they cannot be included” is simply that there is no connection other than the claim above “that may have been the origin of that of the Carbonari.” A book, also published in 1821, called ‘Memoirs of the Secret Societies of the South of Italy, Particularly the Carbonari,’ states that ‘Jesus Christ, himself the Grand Master of the Order’ [Carbonari] (P17) – this alone would upset the Roman Catholic Church. But it also states that “in order to force growth, all Freemasons were admitted by ballot, and without undergoing the preparatory trials required from ordinary candidates.” This, apparently, is the connection with Freemasonry.
However, a little further in the book it suggests that ‘one sect is always merging with another’ and then suggests that ‘they are all, however, no other than so many ramifications of Masonry,,, as to the object they have in view: viz Independence, or at least a constitutional government, particularly in Italy.’ Pure Freemasonry has no such ambition.
The book also contains this statement, ‘this amalgamation has been the toleration of all Christian sects which Masonry contained.’ This statement is completely inaccurate as the Constitutions of the Freemasons clearly states, in its own words, ‘men of all religions.’
Finally from this book: ‘All Carbonari,,,, have the natural and inalienable right of adoring the Almighty according to the dictates of their own understanding and conscience. This is, of course, one motive of the rooted aversion of the Popes to this Order.’
The Carbonari also had in its ritual or rules the following:
“it exalts us to persevere in imitating the example of Jesus Christ, our Grand Master, who willingly suffered death to bring us nearer to salvation.”
There is nothing at all here related to Freemasonry as mention of religion was also specifically banned inside the Lodge, and all religions, not just Christianity, are acknowledged.
Political upheaval was rife and complex in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s in Italy,1 with Enlightenment thought circulating throughout, and a wide range of Italian intellectuals and ministers contributed to the growing body of Enlightenment thought and practice that emphasised secularisation and science. However, this movement confronted powerful feudal and ecclesiastical estates that controlled vast land and wealth, it combated bad government that had grown habitually resistant to rationalisation, and it struggled with the difficult task of reforming a retrograde economic system unsupportive of trade or industry that found itself out of touch with the daily concerns of the mass of society facing economic hardship and wedded to traditional religious beliefs.
The Carbonari was mainly a nationalist movement whose constitution was adopted by some revolutionaries, particularly the more liberal and educated wing of the nobility.
In 1826 another Papal Bull, Quo Graviora, was issued against secret societies. This one at first reproduced the last three (1738, 1751 and 1821), but there is no further mention of Freemasonry, but as it was their belief that all secret societies were Masonic in some way, the implication was still apparent. This Encyclical continues wit:
“We turned our attention to exposing what the state of clandestine sects was, what their number was,,,,, We easily understood that their arrogance had grown principally on account of the multitude of them, increased by new sects,,,, one must especially be mentioned, it is called ‘Universitaria*,,,, in which the young are informed, initiated to, and fashioned for every crime by some teachers,,,”
*I can find no such “secret Society or sect,” the word simply is University in Spanish
Apparently some teachers may have been expressing ‘enlightened views.’ Once again, the oath taken by these ‘secret sects’ “that they will strike with death all those members who expose those things to their superiors, either Ecclesiastical or laity,,,, isn’t it the most unjust and the greatest indignity to call God as a witness and surety of such crimes?”
This is, of course, further reference to the oath today known as the obligation, and I can only guess that the ‘superiors’ means the Roman Catholic clergy and lay preachers; but what of the crimes? Basically now we are referring to secret societies whose aim is to create a new and better society. Pure Freemasonry has never had this aim, the aim of Freemasonry is to create better men (now women too). If these ‘better men’ seek to create “new and better societies,” this is down to their individual ambitions; Freemasonry in itself has no such ambition.
Quo Gravitora continues:
“But these things those men teach, not only from a most offensive hate by which they are inflamed against Religion, but also according to a plan whereby they hope that people who are subject to your Rule on observing that the limits, which Christ and the Church instituted by Him have established concerning Sacred Matters, are overturned, may be easily aroused by this example to change and destroy even the form of civil government.”
“Have it for certain that no one can be a member of those sects, without being guilty of the most serious disgraceful act; and drive away from your ears the words of those who vigorously declare that you may assent to your election to the lower degrees of their sects, that nothing is admitted in those degrees which is opposed to reason, nothing which is opposed to Religion, indeed that there is nothing proclaimed, nothing performed which is not Holy, which is not Right, which is not Undefiled. Truly that abominable oath, which has already been mentioned, and which must be sworn even in that lower echelon, is sufficient for you to understand that it is contrary to Divine Law to be enlisted in those lower degrees, and to remain in them. In the next place, although they are not accustomed to commit those things which are more serious and more criminal to those who have not attained to the higher degrees, nevertheless it is plainly evident that the force and boldness of those most pernicious societies grow on account of the unanimity and the multitude of all who enrol in them. Therefore, even those who have not passed beyond the inferior degrees, must be considered sharers of their crimes. And that passage of the Apostle to the Romans (ch. 1) applies to them: “They who do such things, but also those who consent to those doing them.””
This must refer to the hundreds of innovative degrees that appeared in Continental Europe mentioned above, but most had died out by this time, with any remaining to be very short lived. In 1821, pure Freemasonry comprised 4 degrees, the forth, Royal Arch, was considered in England as the completion of the third. It wasn’t until a few years later that the Grand Lodge of Mark Masons was created, and it was here that, in England, additional concordant degrees were governed. But in all Freemasonry, there are no degrees higher that that of a Master Mason, the third degree.
The Scottish Rite, which was well accepted in the USA, and in other parts of the world, does not contain “higher” degrees as most are led to believe, simply concordant or addendum degrees, despite that they rise numerically. So the theory that the first three degrees are inferior degrees and they are not accustomed to commit those things which are more serious and more criminal to those who have not attained to the higher degrees is utter nonsense and has no foundation in truth, to which I can only say it is such a shame that such misconceptions have entered such a noble and ancient religion.
Finally, in Quo Gravitora, the heart of Christianity is invoked (sincerely meant) and an “offer” is made, here is an extract:
“carefully seeks the sheep He has lost, We exhort and implore them to turn back to Christ. For although they have defiled themselves exceedingly with crime, they ought not despair of Mercy and Clemency from God and Jesus Christ”
Again I invoke the Constitutions of Freemasonry, that all must have a belief in the Supreme Being; that includes the Christian Holy Trinity which was so apparently included prior to the first Grand Lodge of London. Clearly Christian Freemasons, of which there are a great number, would never have even entertained the thought that they have turned their back to Christ!!!
More on this subject will follow.
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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