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Research: What's the problem with Masons??

One of the seniors in my Morality course keeps interrupting class to ask about the Masons. He asks me, "Why do Catholics have such a problem with the Freemasons?" I've had to admit to him that I honestly don't know. Today, I finally found the answer.

I was taught the answer today in my Old Testament Theology course with Dr. Brant Pitre at Notre Dame Seminary. After some dark allusions to the masons in class, Dr. Pitre referred further questions to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Humanum Genus.

Before I tackle that encyclical, I first need to familiarize myself with masonic vocabulary. Like, what's the difference between masons and freemasons? And what's this I remember from American history about the Anti-Masonic Party? I turn to Wikipedia ...

Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around 5 million, including just under two million in the United States and around 480,000 in England, Scotland and Ireland.[1][2] The various forms all share moral and metaphysical ideals, which include, in most cases, a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being.

Well, that doesn't sound so bad. Sounds like the kind of watered-down milktoast ecumenism that everybody loves to endorse these days.

Before I get into the reasons that Humanum Genus and the other papal encyclicals(1) give for opposing the freemasons, I'll present a short history of the Church's stance on membership in the Freemasons.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry would lead to automatic excommunication. When the Church issued a new Code of Canon Law in 1983, it didn't explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies that it condemned. People, therefore, assumed that the Church had lifted its ban.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quickly cleared this up in Quaesitum est, which states: "... the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion." Pope Benedict XVI really cuts to the quick, doesn't he?

Now that I've gone through all this, WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL??

After associating the freemasons with the evils of socialism and communism, Pope Leo XIII defines them as a secret society and compares them to an ancient heresy: the Freemasons, like the Manichees of old, strive, as far as possible, to conceal themselves, and to admit no witnesses but their own members. (par. 9)

The pope then condemns the strict obedience of the freemasons and alludes to instances of assassination when this obedience is violated. The pope then describes their ultimate purpose: the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism. (par. 10)

The fundamental doctrine of this naturalism is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide. Therefore, only those things which the human intellect can determine for itself can be held as truth. There is no place in this for religious truth or the authority of the Church. Moreover, the Church and state must be altogether disunited. Masonic philosophy would sever the Church and state far beyond the precepts of the First Ammendment to the point that even the influence of the Church is to be avoided, such as through establishment of Catholic schools. Moreover, repressive laws should be enacted against the Church, its clergy, and its possessions which lead to its gradual diminishment. (par. 12)

By the testimony of witnesses, the pope further accuses the masons of openly declaring that the sacred power of the Pontiffs must be abolished, and that the papacy itself, founded by divine right, must be utterly destroyed. (par. 15)

The freemasons don't make their initiates renounce their faith, but instead declare their belief in a Supreme Being, indifferent to any specific faith. That the freemasons don't make their initiates expressly abjure their particular faith is a calculated measure, says the pope, disguised as fairmindedness. This perceived fairmindedness is useful in deceiving the simple-minded and heedless. Why? The freemasons thereby teach the great error of this age-that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter, and that all religions are alike. This manner of reasoning is calculated to bring about the ruin of all forms of religion, and especially of the Catholic religion, which, as it is the only one that is true, cannot, without great injustice, be regarded as merely equal to other religions. (par. 16)

The pope argues that the masons' corrupt teachings affect matrimony and the education of youth. First, the freemasons honor only civil unions, degrading matrimony from a covenantal to contractual relationship, easily disolvable.  Also, the freemasons believe that in the education of youth nothing is to be taught in the matter of religion as of certain and fixed opinion. (par. 21)

That's a strong indictment from Pope Leo XIII. He's not the only pope to attack the freemasons. Opposition to the freemasons has been maintained for over two centuries by the Church.

In my own estimation, declaring indifference to Incarnate Truth as the first principle of an institution could definitely lead to serious moral error. A path begun in this manner could quickly darken.

I will pray for further understanding on this subject. In the meantime, though, I will encourage the freemasons that I meet to reconsider their membership in such a society and to refrain from Communion until they take this matter to Reconciliation.

I pray that the Lord guide us in this matter, that He will heal the divisions of His Church, and that all people everywhere come to know the Incarnate Truth. Amen.

1. All of the following Papal Encyclicals refer, in some part, to the Freemasons: Pope Clement XII, In Eminenti; Pope Benedict XIV, Providas Romanorum; Pope Pius VII, Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo; Pope Leo XII, Quo Graviora; Pope Pius VIII, Traditi Humilitati; Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos; Pope Pius IX, Qui Pluribus.

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  1. I was a member of a Masonic youth organization from the ages of 13 to 21 - the Order of DeMolay.

    It is possible in the earlier centuries of Freemasonry, the Masons and the Church did things of which neither approved. You mention assassinations to ensure loyalty. It's possible - heck, everyone was killing people back then.

    However, today, Masonry is nothing more than a civic group - and in many parts of the country, a fading one at that.

    Through tradition, Masons (and related orders) have chosen to keep certain signs and modes of recognizing one another secret. A Mason, or a DeMolay, is known to have committed himself to a certain set of principles and high ideals for his life. To be able to recognize one is to have an instant ally and friend.

    There is really nothing secret about *what* Masonry teaches. During my initiation into DeMolay, I kneeled at an east-facing altar, placed my hands on the open words of the Bible, and dedicated myself to seven precepts - filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism.

    Church attendance was encouraged - ANY church attendance. Good scholarship and good citizenship were encouraged. Marriages and families were encouraged and strengthened. (The emphasis on "civil unions" comes from the fact that Masonry does not judge the unions of any faith, although I must admit Masonry seems to be silent or agnostic on the issue of same-sex unions.) All in all, Frank Land established the Order of DeMolay nearly a century ago in order to encourage young men to become good citizens of their country and their church.

    Of course, DeMolay and Masonry are evenhanded in their treatment of religions. Ask yourself this - if Masonry taught that the Catholic religion was "the only one that is true", wouldn't they basically just be the Knights of Columbus? If this is the standard, shouldn't the Church have a rift with any entity that does not accept the Church's own teaching that it is the only one that is true? In reference to the link I sent you earlier, could this be what is happening in DC? If DC refuses to accept the primacy of the Catholic faith regarding District policy on marriage equality, then the Church will cease all its social programs, such as adoptions and feeding the homeless.

    We were never taught that the papacy was evil. We were never taught that religion was to be avoided - in fact, EVERY meeting concluded with a prayer. And if any meeting were to pass the nine o'clock hour in the evening, it would be paused to give an evening prayer, called an interpolation. I traveled all over the country from my membership in DeMolay, and even in the craziest situations I ever encountered (which weren't that crazy), no one was speaking ill of religion in general or Catholicism specifically.

    I believe that the concerns - or fears - of the Church about Masonry may have been rooted in some truths at some time in the past (mostly centuries ago). In 2009, they are moot. Masonry bears no ill will toward the Church. Masonry does not want to see the end of the papacy. Masonry does not "corrupt" marriage and the education of youth.

    For whatever the worth of its reasons, the Church has had a long-standing feud with Masonry. If the Church wants to teach, and individuals want to believe, that Masonry is guilty of a raft of sins, it is their choice. I just wish it weren't that way, because it doesn't have to be.

  2. Many of its ideals seems to be what some of this radical political liberalism upholds today...intentionally freemasonry or not intentionally I don't know but its scary all the same...
    Even if Freemasonry today is not the same as it was then--even if it doesn't have the intention of going against Church teaching or destroying the Church--it still is a danger to faith and truth. You can see how the ideals of this political liberalism has affected the education of the people today. There is a side who intentionally wants to rid the government of any religious or moral values on the basis of their personal atheistic views. There is a side that that doesn't necessarily have atheistic views (but in fact claim to be Christian!) but still support this liberalism as a means of creating equality and harmony . Whichever approach, the means that they support in order to try to achieve this harmony has fostered and spawned heresy particularly indifferentism. Just as these political views (whether or not they have the intention of destroying religion) have posed a danger to faith, so has the ideals of freemasonry. Though I personally believe that freemasonry has a very set agenda (perhaps some are ignorant to the intentions of the sect or don't have the same intentions), in a way, whether their intentions are purposely anti-Catholic or not, it still poses a danger to the faith. I think that there are better ways to be ecumenical--to be a people of peace and harmony with love towards one another...and it can be done right here within the Church--through the Body of Christ and as the body of Christ.

  3. Then I challenge you to do the following:

    (1) State factually what are the "agenda" and the "ideals" of freemasonry.

    (2) State clearly how these are "radical," "scary," or "a danger" to the Church.

  4. Thanks, Frank and Ashton, for contributing to this blog!

    Heresies are never fully wrong, but they narrow in some way the full truth.

    Let's say the masons did exactly as you said, Frank: they called on their members to accept the "one true faith." Would they basically be the Knights of Columbus? No. They would still be the masons. They would represent a unique narrative of coming to the truth. Not only would they retain their uniqueness, they would--perhaps for the first time--acquire their true identity. And so it is with every convert to the faith. The Church does not assimilate and subsume individuals. The fullness of truth, the entire Body of Christ, is formed by all these unique paths and journeys to Christ.

    It is in this way, conversely, that the truth suffers from secrets. Stories are meant to be shared.

    Thank y'all for adding to this blog with your own insights.