THE BUILDER FEBRUARY 1915
INTERNATIONALISM AND FREEMASONRY
BY BRO. P. E. KELLETT, GRAND MASTER, MANITOBA
With meteoric suddenness the present war has ruthlessly cut off many lines of communication and channels of intercourse between nations and peoples. Freemasonry has suffered with the rest. This catastrophe has so jarred the mechanism of our daily lives and impaired the development of the human race as to make us realize more than ever before the distinct advantage to be obtained from international co-operation. To attain the highest efficiency, socially, morally, commercially and otherwise, the cooperation of one people with another is necessary. We are interdependent one upon the other. The organization of the relations among men on a universal basis, embracing the whole of the inhabited world, has been demonstrated to tend to the greatest good.
When each of the peoples of the earth lived unto themselves alone little progress was made, especially along the higher ethical lines that tend to the broadest development of a nation. Love of self reigned supreme; the law of the jungle prevailed, and might proved right. The evolution of the years modified these ideas, as peoples came to know one another better through the intercourse of trade. Old prejudices gradually broke down, and civilization took a wider meaning. International conventions were called to consider the betterment of relations between people and people. These gave birth to international services, all tending to unite the civilized world in common action for general progress, and to assure to human activity the fullness of its powers. We had reached the point where we were dreaming of a better life, universal peace, harmony and progress. The masses today are uttering a cry of hope that the present barbaric struggle may not be in vain, but may prove to be but a stepping stone to even better things. May their hopes come to fruition.
No association exists which more naturally tends towards internationalism than Freemasonry. Anderson's Masonic Constitution, promulgated in 1723, said the following:--"Ye shall cultivate brotherly love, which is the foundation and the master stone, the cement and the glory of this ancient confraternity, for we as Masons are of all races, nations and languages." An eminent present-day writer on Freemasonry has said of it: "High above all dogmas that bind, all bigotries that blind, all bitterness that divides, it will write the eternal verities of the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man." Its origin, past history, organization and philosophy all lead in that direction, and have no other goal than universal brotherhood.A great deal of good can be accomplished by a world-wide fraternal connection between Freemasons of all countries. Masonry's aim is the Fraternity of men and the spread of the principles of Tolerance, Justice and Peace. How better can this be accomplished than by mutual understanding ? If we continue to hold ourselves aloof, will we ever attain the object we seek? Is it not astounding that Freemasonry should still be divided, and so far from being united? Would it not seem that every Mason should use his influence to help weld the chain of the international fraternity for the accomplishment of universal unity, peace, tolerance and mutual goodwill.
It is my purpose to point out to what extent the Freemasons of the world are disunited, and what the main lines of cleavage are. In particular, I desire to give some information about the Grand Orient of France, which is a representative institution of that class of Freemasonry towards which Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry has had particular antipathy.
According to the latest available statistics, there are approximately 2,100,000 adherents to Freemasonry scattered through all countries in the world. These have been divided into three distinct groups. Authorities say they do not differ materially in customs, principles, or traditions. In what then can they rightly differ? The divisions are made because of the greater or less importance given to religious ideas.
To quote the International Bureau of Masonic Affairs, established in Switzerland with the aim of completing an arrangement whereby Freemasons of all countries may mingle with one another in the Lodges, visit one another, and learn to know one another, these divisions may be given as follows:
"(1) The first group regards as-being of absolute necessity the adoption of what are called the 'Landmarks,' and in particular these two, viz., a belief in the G.A. of the U. and the presence of the Bible on the altar. Some of this group decline to receive into its Lodges Masons who belong to groups which do not admit these two landmarks. Others of this group also revere the G.A. of the U., and possess the symbol of the Bible, but they do not close their doors to any visitor who proves himself to be a Mason, even when his obedience admits neither the formula of the G.A. of the U. nor the Bible. Our brethren of the Grand Orient of France are welcomed with pleasure by them.
"(2) The second group which comprises part of Latin Masonry, leaves to its adepts the right to believe in God, even in the esoteric God of the religions, and imposes on them no act of faith, which does not hinder it from admitting to its Lodges all visiting brethren, to whatever obedience they may belong, and without any other proof than their title as regular Masons. This group holds the principle of mutual tolerance, the respect of others and one's self, and absolute liberty of conscience; it does not allow of any dogmatic affirmation.
"(3) The third group comprises purely Christian Masonry," Very much of interest could be said in giving an account of the effort made by the International Bureau of Masonic Affairs to the furtherance of mutual friendship and brotherhood among the Freemasons of all lands. Considerable progress was made, and particularly on the Continent of Europe, it developed considerable enthusiasm for the fraternal object aimed at. The war for the present has brought their peace activities to a close. In one of their later official Bulletins they say regarding it:
"If we were pessimists we should once for all give up our plans, our endeavours and our work in behalf of an improvement in the relations among men. But we know that in spite of everything our cause is the best, and that nothing, not even the most overwhelming upheavals, must discourage us.... It will behoove the friends of peace and of fraternity to proclaim to the world that the ideas of which they are the guardians may be defeated, but that they never die and never surrender."
Many times in commenting on the progress of their work in their official Bulletin this Bureau has deplored the fact that antagonism still exists between certain Masonic bodies because brethren too readily believe all the evil that is propagated about the Masonry of another country without taking the trouble to ascertain facts by making enquiries at a reliable source. They say credence is too readily given to hateful affirmations, which are adopted without examination, and they make the plea that brethren make the necessary enquiries from the proper source. They add further: "It would suffice to see one another in order to know, to love, and to appreciate one another."
Not wishing to lay myself open to any charge of unfairness, acting upon this suggestion I wrote the following letter:
"Winnipeg, July 24, 1916. "Grand Secretary, Grand Orient of France, "Rue Cadet 9, Paris. "Dear Sir and Brother:
"Freemasonry, being a so-called universal institution, one of whose main tenets is the universal brotherhood of man, occupies a somewhat anomalous position today, at least in so far as France and English-speaking countries are concerned. Masonically we do not recognize one another.
"United as we are in the great titanic struggle now going on in Europe, it would seem that we should also be fraternally united. At any rate, the present would be a most opportune time for considering the matter, as it would surely get sympathetic consideration.
"The organization which I represent is a Masonic organization, in that its members are Past Masters of regular Lodges in this jurisdiction, but it is not affiliated as an organization with the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, A. F. and A. M. We purposely have not sought such affiliation because we want more freedom of subjects for discussion than organized Masonry here would allow. All of our members are members of the Grand Lodge, so that the thought and decisions of our Association have a certain indirect effect on the action of the Grand Lodge.
"I make this explanation to make it clear to you that I am at present making no overtures from the Grand Lodge, and have no authority to do so. I simply want to find out from you information with regard to the Grand Orient of France, with the view, if possible, through our Association, of breaking down the barriers between Masonry here and Masonry in France. I am therefore going to be perfectly frank in my questions, and trust that you will think them more pertinent than impertinent, for impertinence is not intended. I am actuated by a sincere desire to secure mutual recognition, if possible.
"It may be said frankly at the outset that the Grand Orient of France is generally looked upon by the rank and file here as an absolutely impossible organization for us to recognize in any way. You are generally considered to have departed from the ancient traditions of the Order, to be frankly atheistic, and to be in a great measure a political organization. I have heard it said by some here that you have mixed Lodges of men and women, and that you have made numerous innovations in Masonry that are not in accord with the ancient tenets of the Order.
"These are charges which I can neither endorse nor deny, not having the necessary knowledge. As your organization is the largest Masonic organization in France, I can hardly imagine though that it can be so 'terrible' as some would have us believe. Will you enlighten me ?
"I believe you were at one time in friendly intercourse with the Grand Lodge of England. Why was this cut off? I presume there was some argument in connection with it; if so, what was your side of the contention ? Does the Grand Orient of France control only the first three degrees, or these and the higher degrees as well ?"There are other questions I might ask, but I have probably asked enough to lead you to give me complete information as to your claim for recognition. I hope you can find time to answer this by letter, and if you have any printed matter that would give fuller information I would be pleased to receive it.
"It would be a great pleasure to me if this would result in the barriers between us being pulled down, so that we can grasp one another with fraternal grip and work together for the general good.
"P. E. KELLETT,
"President Past Masters' Association, A. F. and A. M., Winnipeg."
In due course I received the following reply:
"Paris, October 6, 1916. "To Very Dear Bro. Kellett, Winnipeg.
"Very Dear Brother,--I have the honour to inform you that yourletter, dated July 24th last, has been duly received by the Grand Orient of France. Some time before its receipt, and at the request of our Bro. Quartier-le-Tente of Switzerland, copies of our Constitution and of our General Regulations were mailed to you. Today I am mailing you a copy of the pamphlet, 'The Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France.' The perusal of these two pamphlets will be sufficient to demonstrate to you exactly what the Grand Orient of France really is. I also desire to reply to the questions which you have asked me.
"It is easy to say that the Grand Orient of France has abandoned the ancient traditions of the Order, but it is very difficult to prove it. To state that we are frankly atheistic is to commit the greatest error. It will be sufficient that you read the second paragraph of the first article of our Constitution, which reads as follows:
"'Freemasonry has for its basic principles mutual tolerance, respect for others and for oneself, and liberty of conscience.'
"I can affirm that the Grand Orient of France is neither deist, atheist, nor positivist. All philosophical conceptions are represented within its body.
"In what manner is the Grand Orient of France a political organisation? It includes among its members (it must not be forgotten that France is a Republic) citizens belonging to all the various phases of political opinion. You will thus see that the Grand Orient of France is not bound to any party, and cannot in consequence be considered a political organisation. All philosophical questions are discussed in our Lodges, including political and social economy, and each member may, during the course of these discussions, express freely his personal opinions in a fraternal and friendly manner suitable to Masonic re-unions.
"The Grand Orient of France consists of: Lodges which confer the first degrees (Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason); Chapters which work up to the Eighteenth Deg. (Rose Croix), Philosophical Councils or Aeropages, which work up to the Thirtieth Deg. (Kadosh); and the Grand Lodge of Rites (Supreme Council of the Grand Orient of France). This confers the Thirty-first, Thirty-second and Thirty-third Degrees. The Grand Orient of France, which was founded in 1736, includes at present 472 Lodges, 75 Chapters, and 31 Philosophical Councils or Aeropagei. Contrary to the information that has been given you, we have not under our jurisdiction mixed Lodges of men and women, nor Lodges of women only. We do not even recognise such Lodges.
"As you may have seen in our Constitution, and as I have stated previously, 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. Is it not painful to contemplate that these two Masonic bodies continue to ignore one another, even at the moment when England and France are so closely and cordially united for the defence of Right, Justice and Civilization? Do the English and French soldiers, who are fighting side by side and giving freely of their blood for the triumph of this just cause, trouble themselves about the philosophical beliefs of one another? Nevertheless, an intimate fraternity exists between them, which excites the admiration of the civilized world.
"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 this same liberty."
"I ardently desire to see these difficulties, which appear to me to be based upon mutual misunderstanding, removed. As a Freemason and as a Frenchman this is my fervent wish. I ask you to accept, very dear brother, the assurance of my most fraternal sentiments.
"The President of the Council of the Order."
The information received may, therefore, be regarded as authentic, and what I have to say regarding the Grand Orient of France will not be based on mere hearsay. A careful reading of the letter quoted above, the Constitution and the pamphlet referred to, cannot but impress one with the-earnestness and the whole souled fraternal spirit of the Grand Orient. Their methods are different from ours, but this is due to the circumstances of their environment, which has influenced them quite materially. One cannot help but notice that they have the same aims and possess the same aspirations as we have, and that they seem, if anything, more earnest than we are in working towards the desired end--the advancement and good of mankind. They seem to direct most of their activity alongexternal and social lines. The ideal ever before them seems to be the moral and intellectual improvement of their members.
Their whole Lodge life is aimed to train their members for a life of activity in the interests of humanity. It has been said that Masons who live in Protestant countries can hardly realise the privilege they enjoy. Authorities say the Freemasons of France have been subjected to narrow-minded intolerance and prejudice; that they have been excommunicated, persecuted, insulted and detested; and that their benevolent activities have been met by all the hindrances, calumnies, slanders and active opposition pitiless clericalism could invent. By the very force of events Masonry in France became the directing force of the democracy. Masonic Lodges became centres where liberal minds could gather for exchange of views. Even there they had to be discreet, for the police were on the watch. Circumstances in France have been such that it would have been, as one has expressed it, "a crime against the Masonic idea for the members to shut themselves up in classic Masonry."
This condition existed in the years following the establishment of the third Republic after 1870. For a number of years, though, they have not been seriously threatened by their old enemies. The aspect of affairs has changed. That period of intolerance--intolerance from a Clerical source is responsible for the stand the French Masons took with regard to "God and Religion" and "Politics." But I will say more later on those two topics. They may have committed errors, but in my opinion have done nothing for which they should be punished today.
They regret being separated from the brethren of other countries, and, as we have seen from the letter quoted, they would welcome the fraternal hand from us. Separation is, I believe, due to misunderstanding.
French Masons seem to regard the institution as still in its infancy, not yet definitely formed, a progressive institution. They are not averse to trying out-reforms. They do not consider the institution is such as they should be satisfied with and refuse to change in any respect. They believe it should be changed, in anything but principle, if it will help to realize the dream of a world at peace and civilized in a truly Masonic sense. Their programme is entirely philosophical. Their Lodges are schools, existing to mould independent thinkers, free from prejudice and intolerance to take their part in the citizenship of the nation.
Stated briefly, their principles, etc., as set forth in their official pamphlet, "The Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France," are somewhat as follows:
They recognise no truths save those based on reason and science, and combat particularly the "superstitions and presumptions" of French Clericalism. Their primordial law is Toleration, respect for all creeds, all ideas, and all opinions. They impose no dogma on their adherents. They encourage free research for truths-- scientific, moral, political and social. Their work among members is to develop their faculties and to augment their knowledge by study and discussion. Men of all classes are taken into their Lodges to work in common "for the emancipation of the human spirit, for the independence of the people, and for the social welfare of humanity."
Their system of morality is based on the teaching that to be happier one has to be better. The scientific study of the human heart establishes for them the fact that social life is the most indispensable weapon in the struggle for existence. Those who live a common life and band themselves together endure, while those who isolate themselves succumb. The association of individuals develops love and expands in the heart desire for the welfare of all. They particularly point out that morality can be attained outside of religious superstitions or philosophical theories.
French Freemasonry, in addition to striving to emancipate its members and separate morality from religious superstition and theory, recognises its mission to make citizens free and equal before the law--to develop the idea of brotherhood and equality. She enunciates the principle that it is the primitive heritage of man, his individual right, to enjoy fully the fruit of his work; to say and to write that which he thinks; to join himself to his fellows when he sees fit; to make that which seems good to him; to associate for common purposes of any kind, material or intellectual; to put into practice, his ideas and his opinions; to teach that which he learns in the course of experience and study, and to demand from society respect for the liberties for each and all.
This may sound very socialistic, but the conditions of the country may have required a declaration of that kind from Masonry. I cannot help regarding this as simply a distinct protest against the encroachments of Clericalism.
This pamphlet further declares that Masonry works for the assuring of the triumph of democracy, so that citizens can take "a direct part, as considerable as possible, in carrying on of public affairs, and in exercising the greatest possible part of that national sovereignty towards which the people of France have marched for a century without being able to attain."
French Freemasonry interests herself in social laws because she believes that through them men will realize the simultaneous welfare of the individual, the family and general society. History bears witness to the necessity of so moulding these laws as to overcome the rivalry of selfish interests from whence spring the miseries, the sufferings and hatreds of society. Social problems they, therefore, consider legitimate Masonic problems if Masonry is to fulfil its mission in its broadest sense. They believe the things that menace the progress of human society should be discussed, so that indirectly they may be drawn to the attention of public opinion, and through that laws will be demanded to remedy them. Under this heading they cite particularly that they aim at legislation to combat misery which is the most active cause of degeneracy, bad morals and crimes; legislation to protect the child gainst moral, intellectual and physical atrophy; legislation to lighten the burden of the woman in the family and in society; legislation to recognize the dignity of abour, to ensure the safety of the labourer, and to help n solving the strifes of labour. They realize fully the vastness of the task they set themselves in intellectual, moral and social development, but Freemasonry, being a permanent institution, has the time for it, and does not therefore allow herself to be deterred because of the size of the task; a step at a time finally succeeds.
They describe their Lodges as being ateliers, in the sense of being study classes or schools. Their membership is recruited by voluntary impulse, as with us, the only condition of membership being that of being free, as we Masonically understand it, and of having good morals.
No dogma, religious, political or social, is imposed on their members. Each member has absolute liberty of thought, which he is led to modify or change along the lines of progression as his own sense may dictate when, by discussion, more extended knowledge and more numerous facts present themselves.
The condition that every free man of good morals, whatever his ideas may be, can introduce into the discussions of the Lodge principles and aspirations of the more diverse kind as to political and social conditions has the result of educating and moulding opinion in the best possible way. As when one stone is struck upon another a jet of light is produced, so when ideas clash, enlightenment likewise follows.
By virtue of a well-balanced scheme, to the centre of which these incongruous thoughts move from the absolute order maintained in the discussion, they understand themselves and criticise themselves. They analyse and refine the one, the other, and evolve a common reflected opinion.
The result is every French Freemason goes from Lodge, if not transformed, at least better informed, improved in every way. The truth which the Masonic study has created percolates indirectly into profane society, with manifest results.
French Freemasonry thus offers its initiates a means of re-union where they can inspect their efforts and their researches. She places them in the centre of human researches. "By the framework, by the symbols, by the custom, she makes them develop, without knowing it, the best that is in them, intellectually and morally, besides realizing the fruitful union of heart and spirit." She elevates individuals by inciting them to make themselves strong, desirable and true, just and good. She protects her members at the same time against excess by maintaining internal discipline.
By conducting these studies the Grand Orient of France keeps before her members, and indirectly before the people generally, the most practical model and the most ideal. She has already exerted a powerful influence on the different institutions of the people. Her task is to inculcate, more and more; true order for the betterment of humanity. In specifying more and more this ideal she works to the end of bringing about the most favourable conditions, and at the same time the most legitimate conditions, of happiness.
This "elevated school of intellectual and moral nobility" shines not to lose itself in mere abstraction, but studies what would seem to be of practical benefit to humanity. She gives her force, trained by intelligence, to the service of Light and of the Spirit. With study and research always going on and never interrupted, the Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France cannot therefore become dogma. New thought and reason is ever being evolved. Further investigation is forever upsetting proven theories.
As to their methods of working to these ends, the pamphlet gives some very interesting information. Their annual Convention, composed of delegates from all the Lodges, meets in Paris every year in the month of September. One of the most important functions of this Convention is to fix the questions which ought to be referred, for the consideration of the Lodges during the ensuing year. The programme is discussed, added to and taken from, and finally adopted and sent out to the Lodges. By this method the General Convention condenses the thought of Masonry throughout all the Lodges, and members are kept in touch with all the studies pursued in other Lodges than their own. The Masonic thought of the whole country is systematized and crystallized.
Aside from the Convention programme, each Lodge keeps a teacher to study problems of philosophy, morality, socialism, and history, and bring before the Lodge what he considers worthy of discussion. The Lodges work, therefore, largely on their own initiative, and these new discussions are reported at the next Convention, and may perhaps be put on the general programme for the following year. To us these discussions might seem to lead on to dangerous ground and have bad effects. With reference to this they say:
"The discussions which these problems provoke are always conducted courteously and amicably. Tolerance is the first rule of the Masonic Association. It is thus that men belonging to philosophical or political schools, of the most diverse kind, may find harmoniously, without noise and without vain agitations, the solution of the problems which interest the prosperity of the nation and the progress of humanity."
Among the principal questions examined in the Conventions and in the Lodges for some years back are the following, taken from a list they give:
The status of women and children in modern society.
The struggle against alcoholism.
The struggle against crime, more especially juvenile crime.
The means of combating prostitution, vagabondage, and mendicancy.
The reform and simplification of legal procedure.
Reform of the Magistracy.
Civil Service administration.
Public instruction, the taking it out of the hands of the clergy.
Betterings of methods of taxation.
Condition of the working man and how it may be bettered. PHILOSOPHIC--
Cheap dwelling houses.
Working men's credits.
Means of encouraging the apprentice system.
Homes for working women.
Study of morality outside of all religious dogma. The finding of a morality, lay and scientific. Study of the various philosophical systems.
What I have just given is but a brief synopsis of what is contained in their pamphlet, "The Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France," which, being an official publication for the purpose of setting forth their aims, aspirations and reasons for being, may be regarded as a fair statement.
What might also be called hereditary objections are hard to overcome, and some of you may now be disposed to think their philosophy and work mere socialism, to be scoffed at and carefully avoided by Masonry. The Sermon on the Mount was equally, if not more, socialistic, yet you do not think of putting it aside on account of that. A great English scholar once said that Christ's Sermon on the Mount may be justly regarded as the charter of Christian Socialism.
Objection may be raised that this kind of thought, working in French Masonic Lodges, would inevitably lead to the Masonic institution in France becoming a mere political organization. Such I do not believe to be the case, and in rebuttal of your thoughts, if they lean that way, I would refer you again to the statement in the letter I have quoted, that their membership is made up of men from all political parties in France. Along the same line I will quote paragraph 15 of their Constitution, which says:
"Lodges have the right of discipline over all their members and over all Masons present at their working.
"They prohibit all debates on the acts of Civil authority, and all Masonic intervention in the struggles of political parties.
"The presiding officer rules the meeting."
The Grand Orient of France has also at various times issued instructions enforcing the above rules. To quote:
"If, as citizens, the members of the Federation are free in their political actions, as Freemasons they must abstain from bringing the name and the flag of Freemasonry into election conflicts and the competition of parties."--Circular 1885.
"All political debates at Masonic meetings are strictly forbidden."--Circular 1885.
If French Masonry has a political influence, and no doubt it has, it is an indirect influence which we in this jurisdiction might do worse than emulate. The latest political influence they are credited with exerting is that which established secular schools in place of monastic schools. A few facts in connection with this will indicate why the French people, non-Masons as well as Masons, demanded this separation. In France in 1897 there were fourteen convictions in the Courts against monastic teachers for "outrages on decency." In 1898 there were thirteen more convictions for similar offences. Severe sentences were imposed in each case by Catholic judges.
Is it any wonder that the monasteries were abolished and secular schools established? Masonry has been blamed in magazine articles for bringing this change about. No official action was taken. Some informers may have been Masons, but not all of them. Who would not inform? I have not been able to find any evidence to substantiate the charge made against Masonry, but if similar conditions existed in this country I should be sorry if the Masonic institution here were not red-blooded enough to exert an influence to right such a wrong. If that would condemn us to being called a political institution, I for one would rejoice in the name.
The Grand Orient of France is not a political organization, nor does it aim to be. It does aim to be an influence in moulding the opinions of its members, so that when they are called upon to act and vote as citizens they may do so with a view to the general good. We might well copy much from their Masonic educational system, to the profit of our Masonic institution, both individually and collectively. Our interest in public questions is largely material. Only where the financial interests are directly affected do we as a people seem to bring ourselves to the point of investigating, criticizing, and demanding the correction of faults in our public government. We overlook altogether the by far greater problems of government--sociological questions, moral reforms, and other phases of public betterment which French Masons make a study of. If there were the possibility of a Boodling Scandal in connection with these other questions they might be more live topics of interest with us. (To be continued)