Can you be Catholic and a Freemason?

Can you be Catholic and a Freemason?

Between the Church and masonry, a complicated story

In the 18th century, difficult beginnings for masonry

A first date must be retained: 1723. It was an English Protestant pastor who published that year a founding text of a movement which would quickly become masonry. Taking up the ideal of proximity of certain professional brotherhoods of the Middle Ages, these Constitutions form a charter which delimits its object: a movement that has long been exclusively masculine, it assumes a spiritual dimension with a deist tendency while prohibiting its members from engaging in politics. Loyalty to the national government is even required. It would take three years for a first Masonic lodge to be established in France.

In 1738, the Catholic world spoke for the first time on the subject. The papal bull In eminenti apostolatus specula, issued by Pope Clement XII, condemns Masons to major excommunication. Why such a severe threat? It seems that the reason is also linked to the political context. Throughout Europe, a whole series of decrees and bans pronounced against lodges, by countries with both Protestant and Catholic cultures, have multiplied over the years. Here again, it is the desire to create assemblies cultivating a certain form of secrecy to preserve the freedom of its members, which intrigues and worries. “For a government, even of a democratic form, any association is suspect, because it is a union of individuals, because union creates strength and unless one is exactly informed about it, one does not know what it is. she will use this force. (1) » Associations are therefore prohibited unless expressly authorized by the prince. The time has not yet come for freedom of assembly and association. A right that revolutionary movements would claim a few decades later to fight against the influence of monarchical systems.

In 1751, it was the turn of Pope Benedict XIV to condemn Freemasonry. In the most traditional and ancient Roman law, the presence of groups and societies cultivating secrecy had already been denounced as a social danger for a long time. Furthermore, the secrecy that accompanies lodge life also generates suspicion about the esoteric (or even occult) practices that take place there. Quickly, it is the heretical character of this movement which is thus decried. The theological condemnation of the “Liberi Muratori” (Italian name of the Freemasons of the time) also decries their liberalism assuming religious pluralism for members united by a very philosophical conception of a God considered as the “Supreme Being”.

However, the founding Masonic texts are not directly opposed to Christian dogmas. But the absolutism of the oath taken by the members of the lodges poses a direct problem with the adherence to the values ​​of the Gospel which is required of all Christians. On the Catholic side, sentences for heresy are therefore severe, and can potentially be accompanied by arrests, imprisonment or even death, confiscation of property, and severe fines.

The situation reversed in the 19th century

The French Revolution and the political changes of the 19th century would profoundly change the situation. Over the decades and political regimes, Freemasonry became more and more naturally linked to the French state apparatus. Should we recall that Joseph Bonaparte, in 1804, was then master of the Grand Orient? Recruitment of members into spheres of influence is facilitated, providing a network of knowledge and influences that intrigues and attracts. Lodges and currents are multiplying. Faced with this influx of very different members, in 1877, the Grand Orient removed for its members the obligation to believe in God and in the immortality of the soul. Enough to worry the religious authorities a little more. Some currents go so far as to engage in a battle of anti-clerical ideas.

It was Leo XIII’s turn to publish the encyclical in 1884 Humanum genus which severely condemns Freemasonry assimilated to the kingdom of Satan.

On the political side, the success of Freemasonry is also accompanied by unfortunate operations. In 1904, for example, the scandal broke out involving a file on French army officers established by the Grand Orient at the request of… the Ministry of War itself. When, a few months later in 1905, the law separating Church and State was promulgated, the Catholic world saw in it the direct influence of politicians who were members of Masonic lodges. In fact, both Maurice Rouvier, then President of the Council, as well as his predecessor, Émile Combes and even Émile Loubet, the President of the Republic himself, are indeed “brothers” (just like nine ministers out of twelve of the government of the time). ) particularly active in the fight against the influence of the Catholic Church in French society.

The Code of Canon Law of 1917 thus reaffirms the excommunication of Freemasons. In 1922, the French Communist Party also prohibited its members from being members of a Masonic lodge. Later still, the Vichy government in turn banned all secret societies. In the second half of the 20th century, in France, the Grand Orient expressed itself on various occasions in the political field: to support the constitution of the Fifth Republic for example, but also the sixty-eight movement.

If the canonical code of 1983, promulgated by John Paul II no longer speaks of excommunication of Freemasons, it continues to emphasize that these obediences are incompatible with the Catholic faith.

(1) José A. Ferrer Benimeli, First papal condemnation, political motivations, 2007, Humanism, n° 278.

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