Project Canterbury

Freemasonry and the Church

By Frederic C. Morehouse

Reprinted from The Living Church, August 20, 1910.
Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, n.d.

The magnificent spectacle afforded by the triennial conclave of Knights Templar in Chicago suggests some considerations as to the relation sustained by Freemasonry, and especially its more dignified and exalted ranks, to the Christian religion and the Church. That Rome has set not only the ban on its disapproval but also of active opposition to the masonic orders need not lead us to assume that these are inconsistent with true Catholic Churchmanship, and it is at least thinkable that the anti-Christian course of Freemasonry in France has been fostered by the hostility of the Roman curia. It does not appear that the order in other lands has sustained that attitude which has been assumed by the comparatively unimportant branches in France.

Modern Freemasonry may not be lineally [3/4] descended from the Knights Templar of the Crusades, but it is founded upon like ideals. Now the knighthood of the twelfth century was a religious order, whose members truly lived in the world, but whose ideals were very similar to those which St. Francis gave to his friars minor a century later. Knighthood had its setting in the militarism of the Crusades, while Franciscans bore the more sombre accessories of Italian village life. The Knight Templar was a gentleman, the Franciscan probably a churl. The knightly white robe with its blazing cross, the armor and the mount, bore little resemblance to the grey garb worn by barefooted pilgrims. Yet apart from outward embellishments, the motives and the purposes and the ideals of Knights Templar and of Franciscans were very much the same. Both were orders within and subordinate to the Church. Both had their vows. Both sought to ennoble the common life of their respective ranks. Both were intensely religious. Neither had the remotest thought of rivalry with the Church.

But modern Freemasonry is not yet two centuries old. It springs from the reorganization [4/5] into a "grand lodge" in 1717 of four English lodges. It may also be said to be the modern expression of a certain felt need of the Anglo-Saxon--for more than three-fourths of its membership is enrolled in English-speaking lands.

Let us look at the political and religious conditions in England in the early eighteenth century, when this movement took its rise.

A century and a half had elapsed since the English Church and realm were shaken by the rupture with Rome. A half century had rolled by since the restoration of the monarchy. The German Protestant regime of the House of Hanover had entered upon its dreary course. The Georges preserved the traditions of English royalty, but yet had little in common with the brilliancy of Tudor and Stuart courts, and still less with the Anglican conception of religion which, despite their differences, was a continuous policy of English monarchs from Elizabeth to Charles II.

George I., to whom the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne formed but a prelude, broke with English past almost as completely as did the American Declaration of [5/6] Independence. The Anglicanism of the Caroline era had been frowned upon by his two predecessors, and was effectively suppressed in his own reign. Churchmen of the Caroline school were tories. The king established a whig ministry, dissolved Queen Anne's tory parliament, and used crown patronage so liberally as to ensure the return of an overwhelmingly whig parliament, in 1715. The Jacobite uprising signalized the difficulty with which England was being wholly Protestantized in the interest of the Hanoverian succession, which, at the beginning, stood on a very precarious footing; but the uprising was promptly suppressed. In matters ecclesiastical all the influence and patronage of the Crown were used to build up Continental Protestantism. England gradually settled down to that century and more of coldness in apathy in religion, of dormant Catholicity, of latitudinarianism in teaching, which only ended with the partial triumph of the Oxford Movement in the middle and later nineteenth century.

Out of those early eighteenth century conditions Freemasonry arose, and quickly spread [6/7] throughout England. It extended also into other lands, but England and, afterward, America, are its chief fields, and the place of its greatest successes. Is it not easy to see that the warmth and the fraternity and the ritualism of the lodge were a protest of the people against the coldness and the lack of sympathy and the formalism that were ascendant in the Church? The fervor of the old-time worship of two centuries before had filled a need that was as firmly planted in the English breast as in the Italian and the Spanish. Indeed, until the sudden revolution in the Church's ceremonial that began under Edward VI. but was not finally triumphant until German kings on the English throne effected its consummation, England was the "ritualistic" nation of the Catholic Church. MediƦval Roman influence was constantly curbing the ritual excesses of England and western Europe. To-day, when we are seeking to re-establish ceremonial on a historic basis, the advocates of Sarum and other old-time English uses are embarrassed by the fact that pre-Reformation English ceremonial was much more elaborate than either mediƦval or modern [7/8] Roman. Roman, and not Sarum, ceremonial, has the recommendation of simplicity. As the Church of England was historically the "ritualistic" Church of Christendom, so the curbing of its ritualism, first by Popes and then by Puritans, was always due to foreign influence. It only became finally triumphant, and ingrained into the English system, when Englishmen acquiesced in a government of foreigners, and by foreigners.

And then arose Freemasonry, with all its wealth of ritualism and its warmth of brotherhood. Is it not clear that it was because men yearned for that which had been effectually stamped out of their religion, that the masonic orders spread so rapidly among them? In theory the masonic ritual embraces bodily worship of the Incarnate Son of God, as did the early worship of the Church. Its symbols have the same foundation as the symbols of Catholic ceremonial. And Freemasonry is the standing disproof of the common contention that Anglo-Saxons are not a ritualistic race. So inbred is the love of dignified ceremonial in our racial characteristics, that when [8/9] Ritualism was driven out of the Church, Englishmen allowed themselves to be driven out with it, and Ritualism and Englishmen were together established in the masonic orders.

How can it be possible for English or American Churchmen, viewing the history of the evolution of their own race, to acquiesce to-day, when both of them are free from the rule of foreigners, in a manner of worship that is foreign to all their racial traits? To-day the masons have the ritual--and the men. And the Church has the reality for which the ritual stands--and in the great majority of our churches the Eucharist is celebrated before empty pews.

Does it not see incredible that educated Churchmen not only acquiesce in the condition, but glory in it?

And is it not the height of absurd inconsistence that masons themselves are often among the most intolerant anti-ritualists in a parish?

Some day we shall see that as the American Revolution was a revolt, not against the English race but against the English king, so, [9/10] had it been consistent and carried to its logical conclusion, it should have gone back of the Hanoverian era for its ideals in religion as it did for its ideals of government.

God created the Church; man created the lodge.

God gave the sacraments as means of grace, in the interest of holy living, and these sacraments are reposed in the keeping of the Church; man framed rules of life, which are expounded in the lodge, but in which he is unable to give means whereby those rules are made effective.

God calls all men, and women and children with them, into a brotherhood and a fellowship that exists because of a common Fatherhood; the lodge creates a limited fraternity, extending to its own members alone, and built on no common relationship between man and man.

God has made regeneration possible for His children by creation to become His children in a still higher sense; the lodge cannot provide means whereby a man may be born again after he is old.

God sustains His children, in the Church, [10/11] by a supernatural food through which His own divine life is extended to them; the lodge can create conclaves and attend banquets, but it can provide no food for the strengthening and refreshing of the soul.

The lodge reverences the Bible; but the Church is the author and interpreter of the Bible.

And herein is the distinction between a life of morality based only on teaching, and a life of spirituality based on the sacraments, clearly shown.

Freemasonry has produced good men, but no saints. Among those who are masons but not Churchmen we shall find no Sir Galahad, no Sir Perceval, no Launcelot Andrewes, no Thomas Ken, no John Keble, no Pusey, no Gladstone, no Wilberforce, no Edward King. Until Knights Templar can obtain for their order the Holy Grail, they cannot fulfil their own ambitions and ideals; and that they can only have when their conclaves center about a corporate Communion, when they restore to the Church the ritual which they took from it, and when they place the reality of the Body [11/12] and Blood of Christ upon the altar before which they bend the knee.

We call upon Churchmen who are also masons to demand that all wealth of ceremonial which they find dignified and helpful in the lodge, be restored also to their churches. We would have them be, not worse masons, but better Churchmen. We would have them, as knights, find the Holy Grail.

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