The grouping of England, America and France as "Allies" in the present war has furnished civilization with many peculiar situations, in which Masonry shares. Believing that our Members will be deeply interested in knowing the facts surrounding the non-intercourse of English-speaking branches of the Fraternity with the French, we announce a series of articles, of which this is the first, dealing with various aspects of the situation.
The first, distinctly historical in its scope, is a paper which was prepared by Brother Ramsey in response to a question proposed at a Study Club meeting of Anamosa Lodge No. 46, in which the sole effort was to present the reasons why the Grand Orient took the position it did regarding the use of the Bible, and the subsequent action of American Grand Lodges. At the Lodge discussion when this paper was read, two ministers of the Gospel were present. One of them had travelled in France, and was familiar with the subject, which caused him to take a most sympathetic attitude toward the French viewpoint.
The second contribution on this subject comes from the pen of Brother R.E. Kellett, Grand Master of Manitoba, and though it bears the title "Internationalism and Freemasonry," its dominant theme is the position which the Grand Orient of France occupies in the Masonic category. The essay was written before the entrance of America into the war. It has been read before the Masters' and Past Masters' Lodge of Christchurch, New Zealand, bringing out a discussion which we hope to be able to digest for our readers in due time. This discussion, occurring in a Lodge most intimately associated with the Mother Grand Lodge, revealed a wide diversity of opinion on the subject, as it will undoubtedly do among our own members. We mention this particularly, not only because it reveals the broadmindedness and temperate spirit of our New Zealand brethren, but because the very fact that a whole session of the Masters' and Past Masters' Lodge was devoted to it is in itself significant of the scholarly qualities of the paper.
The third essay, "Freemasonry in France," has been written at our request by Brother Geo. W. Baird, 33d, P.G.M., of the District of Columbia, whose name is already a familiar one to our readers, and who was made a Mason in Portugal in a French Lodge. Through his position as Fraternal Correspondent of his Grand Lodge, Brother Baird has had an exceptional opportunity to keep himself in touch with world movements. This article will appear in an early number of THE BUILDER.
All of these contributions evidence an eagerness on the part of the writers that some way shall be found by which the nonintercourse of nearly forty years shall be eliminated. Justification for a careful research of the facts, if needed, may be found in the recent action of the Grand Lodges of New York, California and Kentucky, permitting their soldier members to visit Lodges in France.
The Question Box and Correspondence columns of THE BUILDER are open to you, Brethren. We wish to hear both sides, and know that there are many who will not be slow to take up the cudgels in support of the historic position heretofore taken by our Grand Lodges. If this discussion shall be the means of ultimately acquainting our members with the facts, it may also give French members of the Society an up-to-date expression of the American position--a result which may perhaps be of influence to both sides, in the future. EDITOR
JUST forty years ago, or to be exact, on September 14th, 1877, the Grand Orient of France voted to eliminate from its ancient constitution the following article: "Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and the solidarity of mankind." It adopted in lieu thereof, the following:
"Whereas Freemasonry is not a religion and has therefore no doctrine or dogma to affirm in its constitution, this Assembly has decided and decreed that the second paragraph of Article 1, of the Constitution (above quoted) shall be erased, and that for the words of the said article the following shall be substituted:
1. Being an Institution essentially philanthropic, philosophic, and progressive, Freemasonry has for its object, search after truth, study of universal morality, science and arts, and the practice of benevolence. It has for its principles absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no person on account of his belief, and its motto is 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity."'
At the next annual session of the Grand Body in 1878 a move was made to conform the ritual to the change of the constitution and a committee directed to make report and recommendation for consideration at the following session.
Accordingly in September, 1879, upon report of the committee, a new ritual was adopted wherein all reference to the name and idea of God was eliminated, but liberty was given to the Lodges to adopt the new or old rituals as they should see fit. We are told, and can easily believe, that this action was taken in the Grand Lodge session amidst great excitement and in spite of a vigorous and determined opposition of the minority. Naturally, and as a matter of course, the change in the Constitution and ritual permitted the removal of the Bible from the Altar.
It is not too much to say that the Masonic world stood shocked and astounded at this radical departure taken by the French Masons. Probably nothing in Masonic affairs with the exception of the Morgan episode ever excited such widespread interest and apprehension. The Masonic press in every country was filled with vigorous discussion and many felt that it foreshadowed the division of the Craft into two great sections--one believers in Deity and non-political, and the other atheistic and democratic.
Grand Lodges especially in all English-speaking countries lost no time in condemning in bitterest terms the action of the Grand Orient and in severing fraternal relations. In our own State (Iowa) in the Grand Lodge session of 1878, the Grand Master said:
"The Grand Orient of France having obliterated from its constitution the paragraph which asserted a belief in the existence of Deity, and by such action placed itself in antagonism to the traditions, practice and feelings of all true and genuine Masons in this jurisdiction and the world, deserves no longer a recognition as a Masonic body from this Grand Lodge. Some years ago that Grand Orient persisted in an invasion of the American doctrine of Grand Lodge sovereignty, to the extent of organizing lodges in the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana and other states. We then cut loose for a time from all fraternal intercourse with French Masons rendering obedience to that Grand Orient. Having not only set at naught the supreme authority of American Grand Lodges over their respective jurisdictions, but that of God over men and Masons, we should wipe our hands of all such bogus Masonry."
The deep concern with which the Grand Lodge of Iowa viewed this matter was but an indication of the sentiment prevailing in Grand Lodges of all English speaking countries at that time and in order that we may realize something of this let us read the resolution of our Grand Lodge in 1878:
To the M. W. Grand Lodge of Iowa:
"The special committee to whom the committee on the M. W. Grand Master's address referred so much of the same as relates to the Grand Orient of France, submit the following report:
"While we cordially agree with and endorse all of the views of our M.W. Grand Master and the Committee on this subject, yet we consider that its importance requires more than a mere resolution. If the course of the Grand Orient of France is allowed to go unrebuked and become the recognized law, we may well say farewell to Masonry. It is the glory of our Institution that we do not interfere with any man's religious or political opinions. At the same time we discountenance atheism and doubt, disloyalty and rebellion. No atheist can be made a Mason; and the first inquiry made of a candidate, after entering the lodge is, in whom does he put his trust? These are the essential requisites, and the cornerstone on which our Masonic edifice is erected. Remove them, and the structure falls. What is the course that the Grand Orient of France takes ? They have entirely blotted out this necessary qualification, and leave it to the "ipse dixit" of each initiate to decide as he prefers, thus entirely ignoring the imperative belief in God and His attributes, as understood in all enlightened countries. American Masons will not submit to such a monstrous proposition, and the mere thought of it is well calculated to arouse our indignation and dissent. We protest against such an innovation, and "wipe our hands" of it. Let such sentiments prevail, and our enemies will desire no better argument with which to destroy us. The Grand Lodges of Ireland and England have set noble examples to the Masonic world, by remonstrating, and breaking off all intercourse with these iconoclasts. Several of our Grand Lodges have followed their example, and others will doubtless soon join their ranks. We feel that we speak the sentiments of the Masons of Iowa when we say that we disapprove and condemn the course of the Grand Orient of France, and we desire to express these opinions still more emphatically by the resolution hereunto appended:
"RESOLVED, That the Grand Lodge of Iowa, having learned with surprise and regret that the Grand Orient of France has departed from the ancient landmarks, by blotting from the constitution and ignoring the name of God, and not making a belief in Deity a prerequisite for initiates, does hereby express its indignation at the course she has taken, and herewith severs all relations heretofore existing between us.
"RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Grand Orient of France, and to each of the Masonic jurisdictions with which we are in amicable relation."
With both friends and enemies of Masonry unreservedly condemning the action of the French Brethren it would seem that there must be little justification or defense. But as is usually the case there were two sides to the issue. There were some peculiar circumstances including such a radical departure, and the most interesting part of this discussion will be to learn the motives and objects which actuated those responsible for it. Do not forget, that if allowed to exist at all in Catholic countries, as frequently they could not, Masonic Lodges necessarily had to he much different in character than are ours in this "land of the free and home of the brave." France and the French people had been under the dominion of the Catholic Church from time immemorial and at that period a large majority of the population were its members. The Church controlled all affairs of the State. Of course Masons were struggling for liberty, justice and equality in order to accomplish the separation of the Church and State and to loosen the hold of the Church on the school system and public affairs, it was essential that the reformers should be united and that none should be excluded by reason of his belief. Thus the Grand Orient stood as the logical nucleus around which an organization might be effected. They needed the support of all men of every shade of religious belief, hence the declaration of absolute freedom of thought and the elimination of all dogma, always,--as they expressed it--"the starting point of narrowness and persecution." This was in 1877. In 1907--thirty years later--France accomplished the division of the Church and State and Catholicism no longer remained "The Religion of France."
There was another factor in the controversy-- The Scottish Rite body of Masonry, with which the Grand Orient had been in continual controversy for many years over matters of jurisdiction and the right to confer certain degrees. The Grand Orient Masons have always resented the accusation that they promulgated unbelief and atheism. In fact, and in support of an opposite contention, they cite the circumstance, that when the amendment to change the constitution was proposed, at a meeting of the Council, preliminary to the Grand Session, a Protestant minister, M. Desmons, drew the report in support of the resolution in which he argued that the disappearance of the original article of belief would not imply a profession of atheism, but merely an admission into the Craft of men of all opinions, and that Masonry should welcome men of all doctrines and every shade of thought.
Here is the idea of a member of the Grand Orient, expressed only a few weeks since:
"The Grand Orient of France, while it respects all philosophical beliefs, insists upon absolute liberty of belief. This does not mean that we banish from our lodges the belief in God. The United Grand Lodge of England on the contrary desires to make a belief in God in some manner compulsory. The Grand Orient of France is much more liberal, since in proclaiming the absolute liberty of belief it permits to each one of its members the liberty to believe or not to believe in God, and by so doing desires to respect its members in their convictions, their doctrines and their beliefs.
"This is the reason why fraternal relations do not exist between the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France. We regret this exceedingly. England has always been considered, rightly in other respects, a country of liberty. It is difficult to understand under the circumstances why the Freemasons of this great and noble nation should want to deprive their brothers of France of this same liberty."
Brother J. G. Findel, the well known scholar, historian and journalist, in writing to the London Freemason in 1878, ably stated the contentions of the French body in these words:
"But it is not my intention to give such general declarations on the true meaning of the Royal Art, as it seems more necessary to help to a right understanding of the resolution of the Grand Orient of France. Our French brethren have not deserted the belief in the existence of God and immortality of the human soul, in striking out the discussed words of the first article of the constitutions, but they have only declared that such a profession of faith does not belong to Masonic law. The Grand Orient has only voted for liberty of conscience, not against any religious faith. Therefore, the true meaning of the French constitution is now only, that each brother Mason may believe in God or not, and that each French Lodge may judge for itself which candidate shall be initiated or not. The French vote is only an affirmative of liberty of conscience, and not a negation of faith.
"The excommunication of the Grand Orient of France by the Masonic Grand Lodges, is therefore an intolerant act of Popery, the negation of the true principles of the Craft, the beginning of the end of cosmopolitan Freemasonry. The excommunication of the Grand Orient of France only proves the sectarian mind of the excommunicating Grand Lodges, which have forgotten that Masonry has for its purpose to unite all good men of all denominations and professions: they profess the separating element, and destroy the Craft, and waste the heritage of our more liberal and more tolerant forefathers. The Masonic union will in future be a mere illusion, if the AngloSaxon Masons condemn the French, German, Italian Masons, &c., and vice versa."
The great questions of recognition, invasion of jurisdiction, establishment of irregular lodges and many other matters which grew out of this movement can hardly be followed here. They are worthy of further discussion.
What we started to tell was "Why the French Grand Orient removed the Bible from its altar." It has been noted in a very brief way how they did it and under the exigency of the situation "got by with it" with a good conscience. That they were actuated by high purposes few will deny, but most Grand Lodges then held and still aver that Masonry can not be Masonry without strict adherence to the requirement of a belief in God. Few of the Grand Lodges severing relations have ever resumed them. Such action is still within the range of future possibilities. Who can tell ?