This, which was originally an ecclesiastical term, and signifies, as Milton defines it, "a rent or division in the church when it comes to the separating of congregations," is unfortunately not unknown in Masonic history. It is in Masonic, as in canon law, a withdrawing from recognized authority, and setting up some other authority in its place.
The first schism recorded after the revival of 1717, was that of the Duke of Wharton, who, in 1722, caused himself to be irregularly nominated and elected Grand Master. His ambition is assigned in the Book of Constitutions as the cause, and his authority was disowned "by all those," says Anderson, "that would not countenance irregularities." But the breach was healed by Strand Master Montague, who, resigning his claim to the chair, caused Wharton to be regularly elected and installed (see Constitutions, 1738, page 114).
The second schism in England was when Brother Preston and others in 1779 formed the Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent owing to a dispute with the Grand Lodge of the Moderns, which continued for ten years (see Preston).
In France, although irregular Lodges began to be instituted as early as 1756, the first active schism is to be dated from 1761, when the dancing-master Lacorne, whom the respectable Freemasons refused to recognize as the substitute of De Clermont, the Grand Master, formed, with his adherents, an independent and rival Grand Lodge; the members of which, however, became reconciled to the legal Grand Lodge the next year, and again became schismatic in 1765. In fact, from 1761 until the organization of the Grand Orient in 1772, the history of Freemasonry in France is but a history of schisms.
But in Germany, in consequence of the Germanic principle of Masonic law that two or more controlling Bodies may exist at the same time and in the same place with concurrent and coextensive jurisdiction, it is legally impossible that there ever should be a schism. A Lodge or any number of Lodges may with draw from the parent stock and assume the standing and prerogatives of a mother Lodge with powers of constitution or an independent Grand Lodge, and its regularity would be indisputable, according to the German interpretation of the law of territorial jurisdiction. Such an act of withdrawal would be a secession, but not a schism.
On the other hand, in the United States of America, there have been several instances of Masonic schism. Thus, in Massachusetts, by the establishment in 1752 of the Saint Andrew's Grand Lodge; in South Carolina, by the formation of the Grand Lodge of York Masons in 1787; in Louisiana, in 1848, by the institution of the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons; and in New York, by the establishment in 1823 of the city and country Grand Lodges; and in 1849 by the formation of the Body known as the Philtp's Grand Lodge. In all of these instances a reconciliation eventually took place; nor is it probable that schisms will often occur, because the principle of exclusive territorial jurisdiction has been now so well settled and so universally recognized, that no seceding or Schismatic Body can expect to receive the countenance or support of any of the Grand Lodges of the Union.
There are these essential points of difference between ecclesiastical and Masonic schism; the former, once occurring, generally remains perpetual. Reconciliation with a parent church is seldom effected. The schisms of Calvin and Luther at the time of the Reformation led to the formation of the Protestant Churches, who can never be expected to unite with the Roman Church, from which they separated. The Quakers, the Baptists, the Methodists, and other sects which seceded from the Church of England, have formed permanent religious organizations, between whom and the parent body from which they separated there is a breach which will probably never be healed. But all Masonic schisms, as experience has shown, have been temporary in their duration, and sometimes very short-lived among sincere Brethren.
The spirit of Masonic Brotherhood which continues to pervade both parties, always leads, sooner or later, to a reconciliation and a reunion; concessions are mutually made, and compromises effected, by which the schismatic Body is again merged in the parent association from which it had seceded. Another difference is this, a religious Schismatic body is not necessarily an illegal one, nor does it always profess a. system of false doctrine. "A schism," says Milton "may happen to a true church, as well as to a false." But a Masonic schism is always illegal; it violates the law of exclusive jurisdiction; and a schismatic Body cannot be recognized as possessing any of the rights or prerogatives which belong alone to the supreme dogmatic Masonic power of the State.
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