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Religion and Freemasonry

During its earliest period Christianity devoted itself to establishing its centers in southern Europe. There it found itself among a large number of religions, some of which had spread northward from Egypt, or had worked down out of Mesopotamia countries through Greece into Italy, or were powerful nature cults which had infiltrated from the mountain and forest lands of the north--there was nowhere a single organized religion called paganism. One of these religions, Mithraism, w as especially powerful because it u as the cult of the Imperial army, and for generations m-as virtually the state religion.

The religions which came out of Greece were even more difficult to oppose because like everything else of Greek origin they were highly intelligent, were saturated with the Greek feeling for culture, especially of the plastic arts, and were supported by the philosophers and scientists who for centuries were the acknowledged teachers of the Romans. Beyond the frontier, in Russia and the far north and among powerful Teutonic tribes, were other religions which would be encountered afterwards. Throughout the period as a u hole, the religion of Judaism also was in southern Europe, and like Christianity possessed within itself a powerful missionary enthusiasm.

For a period, each small Christian settlement had a leader. This leader came in due course to give his full time to his office, and was called a pastor (he was not transformed into a priest for centuries afterwards).

To give the movement unity, the pastors of a region were brought under the leadership of an over-pastor, or, as later called, bishop (episcopos). Just as the religion grew more rapidly in some areas than in others, so did a few bishops come to be more powerful than others; the paramount bishoprics were at Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Athens and Rome. After the Christian religion had become the official state religion it reorganized itself on the pattern of the Roman political government (into parishes, etc.); and because Rome was the Capital of the Empire, the Bishop of Rome grew to be the most influential bishop; but he did not become a Pope, or bishop of bishops, until about the time of Charlemagne, did not become the chief authority in all matters until after the Tenth Century, and was not declared infallible until 1870. It had always been held that a General Council had in matters of doctrine and discipline authority superior to a Pope; in 1870 this was reversed, and the Pope usurped the final authority which for centuries had belonged to the Councils.

By the beginning of the Fourth Century the Roman Empire developed two great lines of expansion; one eastward through Greece, up through the Balkans, and into Russia; one westward, toward Paris, and northward toward Germany, which was then a generic name for the northern half of Europe. Under this centrifugal pressure the Empire divided into two empires, the Western with its capital at Rome (though often the real capital was Paris, for Rome at one time was but a small village); the Eastern with its capital at Constantinople. The word "catholic" meant nothing more than the general religion; it was a synonym for Christianity, and "Roman Catholicism was Christianity in the Western Empire. Greek (or Eastern, or Orthodox) Catholicism, headed by the Patriarch (or chief bishop, or pope) of Constantinople, w as the Christianity of the Eastern Empire. If the division of the one Empire into two Empires broke Christianity's territorial jurisdiction into two jurisdictions, the Barbarian invasions from the north and from the east, cut its history in two. The religion which emerged from the Dark Ages was scarcely recognizable as the religion it had been before. Early Christianity had been spiritual, full of moral passion, humane, apostolic, a New Testament faith; the religion which took its place after the Dark Ages was a system of sacerdotalism, with a liturgy in place of a pulpit, and professionalized, celibate priests in place of pastors; saint worshiping, relic worshiping, full of superstitions, an advocate of poverty and illiteracy, and openly in league with political powers. But though this new sacerdotal Roman Catholicism was one side of the shield of the Carlovingian political system, and therefore had a formal, external unity protected by law, inwardly, in men's genuine religious faith or lack of it, it was divided into as many denominations and sects as it is now. There never was "an age of faith" or an era of unity.

Any religion, even a religion as monopolistic, unchallenged, absolutistic, possessive as Thibetan Lamaism, can control the world up to a certain point only. No religion can control the weather, the seasons, the 80il, the ocean or the streams, rock or sand, animals, or plants; nor can it alter the skilled crafts and trades, or the Arts and Sciences. Under a Medici Pope in the Vatican these were the same as when Aristotle had taught zoology more than 2000 years before. Black smithing, pottery, carpentry, stone-masonry, war, the art of medicine, navigation, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, engineering, painting, sculpture, physics, chemistry, these are the same in Boston as in Peking, and are not subject to theological jurisdictions. So it was under the Roman Catholic Church from Charlemagne to the Reformation. Its General Councils could not alter the theorems of Euclid; they could destroy a geometrician, they could not destroy geometry. They had no authority over the Arts and Sciences.

Architecture, out of the midst of which Freemasonry arose, mas one of these non-theological arts which everlastingly lie beyond religious control. It had nothing to say about theology, for it, or against it; nor did theology have anything to say to it, because the principles and skills of building are non-responsible to theology, and theology is irrelevant to them--as well talk about a Roman Catholic or a Protestant mathematics ! Freemasons themselves could believe personally in what religion they chose, Orthodox Catholicism in Athens, Mohammedanism in Belgrade; could be Waldensians, or Huguenots, or Anabaptists, or Gallicans, or Anglicans, or Copts; but the Craft's art, its customs and leans of organization, its skills and sciences, its formulas and principles, its standards and Landmarks and purposes, were neither for nor against, nor in nor out, of any one of these creeds, because it stood apart from them, and has done so ever since.

The Medieval Freemasons in England from whom modern Freemasonry descended were, as men, in the English Catholic Church, but as Masons it mattered nothing to them whether they were building a cathedral or a castle, a monastery or a fortress, a chapel or a wall, or a bridge. After England severed itself from the Papacy under Henry VIII, Masons, as men, became English Catholics; after the denominations began to multiply in the Eighteenth Century they might be Methodists, Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers, or Anglicans. Today Masons carry on the work of their Lodges with men belonging to almost every religion or denomination in the world--taking it that atheism is not a religion. Belief in God, the future life, the brotherhood of man, and morality belong to no one religion; but to man at large. The historical changes never involved a break of continuity in Freemasonry, no 'change of faith" and no compromise; the Fraternity has never been a religion or an arm of a church, but like medicine, engineering, and mathematics has always been an art; and like them, and like the soil, seasons, plants, animals, and the oceans, has been universal, and for the same reasons.

NOTE. See page 846 ff. The ancient Landmarks and the Ritual are on this subject both the first authority and the final court of appeal. See also the section under "- Old Charges " in the 1723 Book of Constitutions. The Obligations which are the sanction for private discipline and law in Masonry, contain no theological commitments or tests.



In his Inaugural Address as Worshipful Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, on November 8, 1941, W.. Bro. Lewis Edwards led Masonic research a step forward by incorporating in an illuminating account of early Operative Freemasonry in France 3 summary of two of the old Masonic romances which in that period (Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries) were circulated orally among Craftsmen everywhere. Those romances, of which there may have been a hundred, have never been searched out and collected; they ought to be, because the first form of the story of HA. . is more likely to have been among them than elsewhere.

The materials are present, and to a large extent are indexed, in the Iowa and other large Masonic Libraries; it only requires that some student shall collect them into a book, along with their settings in the history and customs of the Fraternity--who does so (as who can tell!) may win for himself that chiefest crown of research which still awaits the clearing up of the origin of the central rite in the Third Degree. (Bro. Dudley Wright collected some of these old romances, but only a few. The story of the 'Prentice Column and of Solomon and the Blacksmith are two of them.)

One of the old tales to which Bro. Edwards adverts is the romance of Renaud, one of the Four Sons of Aymon. (Was Aymon the same as Aynon? possibly; see page 113. Or the word may originally have meant "a man"; or the tale may be a remote form, or echo, of the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs.) Renaud went to the church building of St. Peter at Colognes and found work. Because he was holy, and therefore possessed miraculous powers, he did the work of ten men; and at the end of the day after the Master had given each Craftsman five pence, he offered to pay Renaud any sum he asked, but that hero refused to accept more than a penny.

His fellow laborers were so filled with envy of this workman's great power and honors that (in characteristically Medieval fashion) they conspired against him, and while Renaud lay asleep in a crypt, they took "a great Mason's hammer," or maul, and drove it "deep into his brain." They put his body in a sack and threw it into the Rhine, but by another miracle of the fishes, the carp and the trout bore up his body until it was found, and placed in a cart, whereupon the cart moved of itself out to the tomb the archbishop had prepared for the body.

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