The Papal Bulls against Freemasonry
Although the Roman Catholic opposition to freemasonry is common knowledge, it should be known also that there were originally a great many Roman Catholic freemasons in all the countries where freemasonry flourished, among them being priests and high dignitaries of the Church, a condition which held good for many years (indeed, all through the eighteenth century in some countries), even after Pope Clement XII in 1738 and Benedict XIV in 1751 had issued their Bulls denouncing freemasonry. In Liége, Belgium (to cite an instance given by Count Goblet d'Alviella), the Roman Catholic Bishop Velbrück, who ruled his ecclesiastical Principality from 1772 to 1784, was a devoted freemason, as were many of his canons and officials. One of these, the Rev. Canon de Geloes, was founder and first Master of La Parfaite Intelligence, at Liége, which was first a French and later a Belgian lodge, while another, the Rev. Canon Nicolas Devaux, was Master of another Liége lodge, La Parfaite Égalité; other instances could be given. It is to be assumed that it was the comparative inattention paid to the Bulls in some quarters that led to a whole series of Papal edicts, beginning in 1821, confirming and renewing them.
The Roman Catholic objections to freemasonry are not difficult to understand, even though we, as freemasons, do not acknowledge their soundness. A pamphlet, Freemasonry (revised edition, 1935), published by the Catholic Truth Society, after describing Anglo-Saxon freemasons as "inoffensive and well-meaning people" and admitting that freemasonry is "beneficial to the country, or at any rate quite harmless," then makes quite clear that the solemn oath of secrecy is one of the "two main grounds of objection," the other and apparently more serious one being that freemasonry " tends to undermine belief in Catholic Christianity by substituting for it what is practically a rival religion based on deistic or naturalistic principles." In reply it should be said that 191.freemasonry is not claimed to be a religion. It is a system of morality, of philosophy. A candidate for its privileges is entitled to hold what religious principles and beliefs he pleases; the Craft will not belittle them and will respect their holder as long as he brings into freemasonry just one all-essential part of his code-a belief in the "Glorious Architect of heaven and earth." Freemasonry calls upon its members to practise the sacred duties of morality, and offers itself, as the Ancient Charges tell us, as "the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance."
Aims and Relationships of the Craft
In this connexion we may well give extracts from (but cannot reproduce entire) The Aims and Relations of the Craft, first issued by the English Grand Lodge in 1938 and since fully subscribed to by the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland: The first condition of admission into, and membership of, the Order is a belief in the Supreme Being; The Bible, the Volume of the Sacred Law, is always open in the Lodges. Every Candidate is required to take his Obligation on that book or on the Volume that is held by his particular creed to impart sanctity to an oath or promise taken upon it; While the individual freemason has the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs, neither in any lodge nor in his capacity as a freemason, may he discuss or advance his views on theological or political questions; The Grand Lodge has always consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic State policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action, however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes this policy; The Grand Lodge refuses to have any relations with, or to regard as freemasons, any Bodies, styling themselves Freemasons, which do not adhere to these principles. In 1929 the Grand Lodge of England issued Basic principles for Grand Lodge Recognition; this foreshadowed the greater part of the above declaration and laid down that any Grand Lodge asking to be recognized by the English jurisdiction shall strictly observe the principles of the Ancient Landmarks, customs, and usages of the Craft; its membership and that of its individual Lodges shall be composed exclusively of men; there shall be no masonic intercourse with mixed Lodges or with bodies that admit women to membership; the three Great Lights of Freemasonry (the V.S.L., the Square, and the Compasses) shall always be exhibited when it or its subordinate Lodges are at work.