Just what is meant by Morality

As regular readers know, I am often asked questions that relate to Freemasonry, and knowing that having sound morals is at the heart of Freemasonry, I wasn’t surprised to be asked “exactly just what is morality?” Well, firstly, English being the strange language it is, let’s understand morals, as in morality, and moral, as to a story; same word, different meaning! My first thoughts (on morality, and the real subject of this article) were, surely that would simply be a sentence, two at the most, to answer; how wrong I was. Researching the root cause of why the Roman Catholic Church finds the basis of Freemasonry so offensive, I was surprised to come across morality as one of the reasons, surely morality is just that and can’t differ. So we’ll begin with a dictionary definition, first the Oxford Dictionary:

  • Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour
  • A particular system of values and principles of conduct
  • The extent to which an action is right or wrong.

Cambridge Dictionary:

  • relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws
  • behaving in ways considered by most people to be correct and honest

One from Webster’s 1913 dictionary:

  • The doctrines of rules of moral duties, or the duties of men in their social character; ethics. 

The other definitions are much the same, but as we’ll start with the morality of a Freemason, for Freemasons there is no distinct definition shared, so it has to be assumed that every new candidate knew what was meant by morality.

In the Old Charges of the 1723 issue of the Freemasons first accepted Book of Constitutions, purported to have been produced by the Reverend James Anderson (a Presbyterian priest – it is known that others contributed also), in the first of these charges, concerning God and religion, a Freemason is told:

“A Mason is obliged, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law;

It continues to remind us all that an atheist nor an irreligious libertine cannot be a Freemason and as Freemasonry can exist in any land, so the religion of that land is what these local Freemasons must follow. So a Freemason can be of any monotheistic religion but religion is banned from discussion in a Masonic Lodge (leaving their particular opinions to themselves) less the harmony of that lodge is disturbed. Finally, concluding the first of the Old Charges:

“To be good men [women too today] 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 remain’d at a perpetual Distance.

So it can be assumed that morality here was one relating to religion, more especially the Christian religion at this time, but note the acceptance of other religions, so each member sought his moral code with respect to his personal religion.

In an oration by Chevalier Ramsay, which was made at the start of the Roman Catholic Church’s hatred of all thing Freemasonry, Chevalier Ramsay said of Freemasonry:

“The second requisite of our Society is sound morals. The religious orders were established to make perfect Christians, military orders to inspire a love of true glory and the Order of Freemasons to make lovable men, good citizens, good subjects, inviolable in their promises, faithful adorers of the God of Love, lovers rather of virtue than of reward.”

Chevalier Ramsay was born into Calvinism but later converted to Roman Catholicism, and was a Roman Catholic at the time of his oration.

However, throughout my research, many times the Roman Catholic writers accused the Freemasons of naturalism, hence natural morality (whatever that is). It was in 1830 that Pope Pius, in a Brief called Litteris Altero renewed earlier condemnation of Freemasonry replying to a letter from the Bishop of Cologne he condemns the influence of Freemasonry in education and the lax of morals of the new generation.

Discussing the acceptance of Roman Catholics as members of the British government, Gladstone wrote:

“Absolute obedience, it is boldly declared, is due to the Pope, at the peril of salvation, not alone in faith, in morals, but in all things which concern the discipline and government of the Church. Thus are swept into the Papal net whole multitudes of facts, whole systems of government, prevailing, though in different degrees, in every country of the world.”

This was when all religions were free to be practices in Britain. Then comes Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Humanum Genus in 1884:

“If these be taken away, as the naturalists and Freemasons desire, there will immediately be no knowledge as to what constitutes justice and injustice, or upon what principle morality is founded. And, in truth, the teaching of morality which alone finds favour with the sect of Freemasons, and in which they contend that youth should be instructed, is that which they call “civil,” and “independent,” and “free,” namely, that which does not contain any religious belief.”

In France, the Grande Oriente de France, in 1877, made the belief of a Supreme Being to be up to each individual Lodge under their governance, allowing one of the ancient principles and tenets of Freemasonry to be dispensed with, thus losing amity with the world’s regular Freemasons. (Supreme Being is the Masonic way of referring to God, covering the names given to God in all monotheistic religions, perhaps as way to not offend any of religion and include all.) Later Pope Leo XIII write of the:

“substitution of naturalism for Christianity, the worship of reason for the worship of faith, so-called independent morality for Catholic morality,,,,”

Whilst I clearly protest here that the Roman Church is mixing Freemasonry, which evolved from the church and cathedral building stonemasons guilds and groups of travelling stonemasons, who were deeply religious, with the emergence of the Age of Enlightenment, which was the time when religious “revealed knowledge” was being challenged. It is my opinion that Freemasons were expected to follow the moral guidance of their personal religion, and all Freemasons were expected to have a very high moral standard.

So what of religious morality? In the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching, they state morality under three titles; Morality, Moral Sense and Moral Theology. There are various descriptions in Catholic Encyclopaedias and dictionaries, I have chosen two, a dictionary called the New Catholic Dictionary of 1929, and an older one from 1896 simply name the Catholic Dictionary. The new version first:

Morality may be defined as human conduct in so far as it is freely subordinated to the ideal of what is right and fitting. The ideal governing our free actions is common to the race, but the uniformity regards principles rather then their application. Whilst there are exceptions, in general, it may be said that the common voice of the race proclaims it to be right for a man to reverence his parents; to care and provide for his children; to be master of his own appetites; to be honest and just in his dealings, even to his own damage; to show benevolence to his fellows in time of distress; to bear pain and misfortune with fortitude. The advance in morality lies in the better application of the accepted principles, in the widening of their binding scope, and in the removal of inconsistent corruptions. 

The relation of morality to religion has always been a subject of keen discussion. The positivist and idealist schools teach that morality is independent of religion, the observance of the moral law is impossible because morality has a necessary relation to a man’s last end, which is God, and secondly, the obligatory character of morality is based upon the Divine Will. Moreover, on account of original sin, man’s vision of the moral law has become obscured, and the control of his passions has been lost, and hence without Divine aid he cannot long observe the moral law. It has been shown repeatedly in the histories of individuals and of nations that morality divorced from religion has no binding force. The chief conditions necessary for the growth and development of morality in the individual and in community are a right education of the young in the home and the school, where religion and virtue are impressed upon the child, a healthy public opinion, and a sound legislation.

Moral Sense – the feeling for what is right, with or without any accompanying intellectual judgement. There is no question here of a specific faculty operating: the consensus of opinion is opposed to assuming any such faculty. The moral sensibility presupposed by the term seems rather to be the result of interplay of the imagination and the feelings with the intellect, in respect to moral ideals, and the ideas of personal dignity and responsibility.

Moral Theology – is the science of moral obligation. Its field is the commandments of God of the Church, and of every lawful authority, hence, all our duties towards God, our neighbour, and self.

In the older Catholic Dictionary there is only Moral Theology, which is lengthy, so I have captured only the first part below:

Moral Theology is the science of the laws which regulate duty. It is distinguished from moral philosophy, or ethics, which is concerned with the principles of right and wrong, and with their application, so far only as they can be discovered from the light of nature; whereas moral theology estimates the moral character of actions by their conformity, or want of conformity, not only to the natural standard of ethics, but also to the Christian revelations and positive law of the Church.

It is different from dogmatic theology, which investigates the truths of revelation,,,, moral theology, on the other hand looks primarily to duty and practice, not to speculative truth: it considers faith as a moral obligation, and the truths of faith as principles of conduct. But perhaps we shall give it a better, if less scientific, idea of moral theology by describing it as the science of priests sitting in the confessional, the science which enables them to distinguish right from wrong, mortal sin from venial sin, counsels of perfection from strict obligation, and so to administer the sacrament of penance.

But as Freemasonry covers all religions, I thought we would also look at Islam, whose high morality standard is at the forefront of their religion. Not being personally familiar with Islam, I have turned to Islamic pages on the Internet. The web site https://www.islamweb.net/en/article/134385/morality-in-islam states:

Unlike other systems, the ethical system in Islam derives from a divine source. This divine source is the revelation from Allah. Therefore, this system cannot be changed, or manipulated to fit our desires. It applies regardless of time or place.

So a Muslim is expected to behave in a manner that reflects these high moral standards. Another Islamic web site (https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/1943/morality-and-ethics-in-islam/) states:

Islam is a comprehensive way of life, and morality is one of the cornerstones [of] Islam.  Morality is one of the fundamental sources of a nation’s strength, just as immorality is one of the main causes of a nation’s decline.  Islam has established some universal fundamental rights for humanity as a whole, which are to be observed in all circumstances.  To uphold these rights, Islam has provided not only legal safeguards, but also a very effective moral system.  Thus, whatever leads to the welfare of the individual or the society and does not oppose any maxims of the religion is morally good in Islam, and whatever is harmful is morally bad.

Given its importance in a healthy society, Islam supports morality and matters that lead to it, and stands in the way of corruption and matters that lead to it.  The guiding principle for the behaviour of a Muslim is “Virtuous Deeds”.  This term covers all deeds, not only acts of worship.  The Guardian and Judge of all deeds is God Himself.

The most fundamental characteristics of a Muslim are piety and humility.  A Muslim must be humble with God and with other people.

It strikes me that Freemasonry is very compatible with the all of the above statements, both Islam and Roman Catholic and it is a shame that history has felt the need to exclude Roman Catholic’s from joining in with Freemasonry, and unfortunately there are many of other faiths that may feel the same way.

One wonders if the people of Earth would have found a high moral code of behaviour without religious teaching, and from the behaviour of the few it seems to me quite clearly that this is not the case, although low moral, or immoral, behaviour can be found in both religious followers and the non-religious alike, but all people with these high moral standards found in all of our world’s religions are welcome into Freemasonry. For the Grande Oriente de France and it’s Masonic Fraternity, religion is not a requirement, but high morality is.

In conclusion, it is apparent that a high moral code by simple definition is: 

“The standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, behaving in ways considered by most people to be correct and honest and a particular system of values and principles of conduct, the doctrines of rules of moral duties, or the duties of men in their social character; ethics.”

For many this centres upon the way we all behave towards, and care for, each other and, for the above mentioned religions, this involves an aspect of humility, charity and following the dogmas as stated in their Holy Book and in their sacraments. But is important to point out, and this is something that the Roman Catholic writers of the past have completely misunderstood, that Freemasonry doesn’t teach morality, it acts out examples in its rituals, but it expects all Freemasons to follow “the moral law,” from wherever it originates even before they can be “made Freemasons.”

So the moral to this story is that Freemasonry doesn’t teach morals, as in behaviour, but that Freemasons are expected to follow the “moral law” as set out in the personal religion they follow, and Freemasonry encourages each member to become a better person.

These articles are written and researched 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 or Provincial Grand Lodge.

© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved

About Steve

Steve is part of the publishing team of Al-Khabar. He was initiated into Neptune Lodge 5150 EC In 1986 and completed his third degree by being exalted into Neptune’s Royal Arch Chapter in 1989; he also enjoyed two successive years in the Chair of KS in 1993/4. He has also enjoyed being a Mark Master Mason and a Royal Ark Mariner. He has been honoured with the position of Past Provincial Deputy Grand Registrar. All the articles are his own and represent no Official Masonic Body

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