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Anticlericalism and Freemasonry

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Freemasonry · Grand Lodge · Masonic Lodge · Masonic Lodge Officers · Grand Master · Prince Hall Freemasonry · Regular Masonic jurisdictions


History of Freemasonry · Liberté chérie · Masonic manuscripts

The question of whether Freemasonry is Anticlerical is the subject of debate. The Catholic Church has long been an outspoken critic of Freemasonry, and Catholic scholars have often accused the fraternity of anticlericalism.[1] The Catholic Church forbids its members to join any masonic society under pain of interdiction. Freemasons usually take a diametrically opposite view, stating that there is nothing in Freemasonry that is in any way contrary to Catholicism or any other religious faith.

Impartial scholars note that the situation is far more nuanced. Whether Freemasonry is Anticlerical often depends on how one defines Anticlericalism and what branch of Freemasonry one is talking about.

Anglo/American Freemasonry vs Continental Freemasonry

Starting in the late eighteenth century, and rapidly expanding in the nineteenth, Freemasonry became polarized over the issue of whether the discussion of religion and politics was appropriate in lodges. Those Grand Lodges that adhered to the Anglo-American form of Freemasonry (a significant majority world wide) maintained a strict rule that such discussion was banned.[2] Historian John Robinson notes this fact in reaching the conclusion that Freemasonry is not anticlerical.[3]

The Grand Lodges that followed the Continental form of Freemasonry, on the other hand, not only allowed political and religious discussions but often made official statements on political and religious topics. Some of these pronouncements can be seen as being Anticlerical[citation needed]. Such pronouncements, however, did not necessarily reflect the opinions of all Freemasons within the jurisdiction and often led to schisms and the formation of rival Grand Lodges that issued contrary opinions.

The fact that the Continental branch of Freemasonry was concentrated in traditionally Catholic countries, may account for the fact that the fraternity has been seen by Catholic critics as an outlet for anti-Catholic disaffection. Many particularly anti-clerical regimes in traditionally Catholic countries were perceived as having a strong Masonic element.[4]

Extent of the anticlericalism

According to historians Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser, Freemasonry was not anticlerical from the outset. They state that this changed in the nineteenth century (in part because of measures by the Catholic Church) and that Freemasonry (mostly continental Freemasonry), developed an anticlerical outlook.[5] They note, however, that the influence of freemasonry should not be given too much weight; even in Italy it was eclipsed in influence by non-Masonic groups such as the Carbonari.[6] They also note that lodges did not hold one consistent political line, many being completely apolitical.[7]

Historically the influence of Freemasonry has often been overstated to the point that historian Stanley Payne notes that Spanish Catholics had been accused of suffering from a "Masonic psychosis"[8] and notes that, numbering near 65,000 in 1890, “they sometimes figured prominently in Spanish liberalism and republicanism, but their direct collective influence on both politics and anticlericalism has doubtless been considerably exaggerated. "[9]

Portugal as an example

According to historian Stanley G. Payne, members of the Masonic lodges played a major role in the rise of Portuguese liberalism and anticlericalism. However, he notes that the fraternity was not always united in opinion. Masons were found on both sides of the Gomes da Freire revolt in 1817. In 1820, however, Masons were devoted almost unanimously to the liberal cause in politics, and in the 1830s they had become the principal promoters of anticlericalism. After the triumph of constitutionalism, however, Portuguese Freemasonry split into more radical and more conservative groups, and by the 1860s it had ceased to play a catalytic role in politics. The upper middle class, established in power and wealth, were less attracted to it, and by the late nineteenth century Masons were drawn mainly from the lower middle class ranks of white-collar employees. Its place in radical politics at the turn of the century was taken over largely by secret republican radical political societies, especially the non-masonic Carbonária, and by 1912 the Masons had fewer than 3,000 members.[10]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Masonry (Freemasonry) in the Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. Ridley, Jasper. "The Freemasons." New York. Arcade Publishing. 2001.
  3. John J. Robinson, A Pilgrim's Path, M. Evans and Co., Inc. New York
  4. "In France, in 1877, and in Portugal in 1910, Freemasons took control of the government for a time and enacted laws to restrict the activities of the Church, particularly in education. In Latin America, the Freemasons have expressed anti-Church and anti-clerical sentiment." Catholics and the Freemason 'Religion', Fr William Saunders, Arlington Catholic Herald
  5. Clark,Christopher and Wolfram Kaiser Culture wars: secular-Catholic conflict in nineteenth-century Europe, p. 54-55, Cambridge Univ. Press 2003
  6. Clark,Christopher and Wolfram Kaiser Culture wars: secular-Catholic conflict in nineteenth-century Europe, p. 55, Cambridge Univ. Press 2003
  7. Clark,Christopher and Wolfram Kaiser Culture wars: secular-Catholic conflict in nineteenth-century Europe, p. 213, Cambridge Univ. Press 2003
  8. Payne, Stanley G., Spanish Catholicism: An Historical Overview, p. 127, Univ. of Wisconsin Press. 1984
  9. Payne, Stanley G., Spanish Catholicism: An Historical Overview, p. 127, Univ. of Wisconsin Press. 1984
  10. Chapter 22 Portugal under the Nineteenth-Century Constitutional Monarchy, Stanley G. Payne, A History of Spain and Portugal, Vol. 2