Freemasonry, like every other good and true thing, has been subjected at times to suspicion, to misinterpretation, and to actual persecution. Like the Church, it has had its martyrs, who, by their devotion and their sufferings, have vindicated its truth and its purity. With the exception of the United States, where the attacks on the Institution can hardly be called persecutions--not because there was not the will, but because the power to persecute was wanting--all the persecutions of Freemasonry have, for the most part, originated with the Roman Church. "Notwithstanding," says a writer in the Freemasons Quarterly Magazine (1851, page 141), "the greatest architectural monuments of antiquity were reared by the labors of Masonic gilds, and the Church of Rome owes the structure of her magnificent cathedrals, her exquisite shrines, and her most splendid palaces, to the skill of the wise master-builders of former ages, she has been for four centuries in antagonism to the principles inculcated by the Craft." Leaving unnoticed the struggles of the corporations of Freemasons in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and the seventeenth centuries, we may begin the record with the persecutions to which the Order has been subjected since the revival in 1717.
One of the first persecutions to which Freemasonry in its present organization, was subjected, occurred in the year 1735, in Holland. On the 16th of October of that year, a crowd of ignorant fanatics, whose zeal had been enkindled by the denunciations of some of the clergy, broke into a house in Amsterdam, where a Lodge was accustomed to be held, and destroyed all the furniture and ornaments of the Lodge.
The States General, yielding to the popular excitement, or rather desirous of giving no occasion for its action, prohibited the future meetings of the Lodges. One, however, continuing, regardless of the edict, to meet at a private house, the members were arrested and brought before the Court of Justice. Here, in the presence of the whole city, the Masters and Wardens defended themselves with great dexterity; and while acknowledging their inability to prove the innocence of their Institution by a public exposure of their secret doctrines, they freely offered to receive and initiate any person in the confidence of the magistrates, and who could then give them information upon which they might depend, relative to the true designs of the Institution. The proposal was acceded to, and the Town Clerk was chosen. He was immediately initiated, and his report so pleased his superiors that all the magistrates and principal persons of the city became members and zealous patrons of the Order.
In France, the fear of the authorities that the Freemasons concealed, within the recesses of their Lodges, designs hostile to the Government, gave occasion to an attempt in 1737, on the part of the police, to prohibit the meetings of the Lodges. But this unfavorable disposition did not long continues and the last instance of the interference of the Government with the proceedings of the Masonic Body was in June, 1745, when the members of a Lodge, meeting at the Hotel de Soissons, were dispersed, their furniture and jewels seized, and the landlord amerced in a Penalty of three thousand lives.
The persecutions in Germany were owing to a singular cause. The malice of a few females had been excited by their disappointed curiosity. A portion of this disposition they succeeded in communicating to the Empress, Maria Theresa, who issued an order for apprehending all the Freemasons in Vienna, when assembled in their Lodges. The measure was, however, frustrated by the good sense of the Emperor, Joseph I, who was himself a Freemason, and exerted his power in protecting his Brethren.
The persecutions of the church in Italy, and other Catholic countries, have been the most extensive and most permanent.
On the 28th of April, 1738, Pope Clement XII issued the famous Bull against Freemasons whose authority is still in existence. In this Bull, the Roman Pontiff says, "We have learned, and public rumor does not permit us to doubt the truth of the report, that a certain society has been formed, under the name of Freemasons, into which persons of all religions and all sects are indiscriminately admitted, and whose members have established certain laws which bind themselves to each other, and which, in particular, compel their members, under the severest penalties, by virtue of an oath taken on the Holy Scriptures, to preserve an inviolable secrecy in relation to everything that passes in their meetings." The Bull goes on to declare, that these societies have become suspected by the faithful, and that they are hurtful to the tranquillity of the state and to the safety of the soul; and after making use of the novel threadbare argument, that if the actions of Freemasons were irreproachable, they would not so carefully conceal them from the light, it proceeds to enjoin all bishops, superiors, and ordinaries to punish the Freemasons "with the penalties which they deserve, as people greatly suspected of heresy, having recourse, if necessary, to the secular arm."
What this delivery to the secular arm means, we are at no 1088 to discover, from the interpretation given to the Bull by Cardinal Firrao in his Edict of Publication in the beginning of the following year, namely, "that no person shall dare to assemble at any Lodge of the said society, nor be present at any of their meetings, under pain of death and confiscation of goods, the said penalty to be without hope of pardon."
The Bull of Clement met in France with no congenial spirits to obey it. On the contrary, it was the subject of universal condemnation as arbitrary and at ispahan. Thory, who gives this account (Acta Latomorum i, page 237) does not tell us whether the project of an Ispahan Lodge was ever executed. But it is probable that on his return home the Ambassador introduced among his friends some knowledge of the Institution, and impressed them with a favorable opinion of it. At all events, the Persians in later times do not seem to have been ignorant of its existence. Holmes, in his sketches on the Shores of the Casptan gives the following as the Persian idea of Freemasonry: In the morning we received a visit from the Governor, who seemed rather a dull person, though very polite and civil. He asked a great many questions regarding the Feramoosh Khoneh, as they called the Freemasons' Hall in London- which is a complete mastery to all the Persians who have heard of it. Very often, the first question we have been asked is, "What do they do at the Feramoosh Khoneh? What is it?" They generally believe it to be a most wonderful place, where a man may acquire in one day the wisdom of a thousand years of study; but every one has his own peculiar conjectures concerning it. Some of the Persians who went to England became Freemasons- and their friends complain that they will not tell what they saw at the Hall, and cannot conceive why they should all be so uncommunicative.
We have, from the London Freemason (of June 28, 1873) this further account; but the conjecture as to the time of the introduction of the Order unfortunately wants confirmation:
Of the Persian officers who are present in Berlin pursuing military studies and making themselves acquainted with Prussian military organization and arrangements, one belongs to the Masonic Order. He is a Mussulman. He seems to have spontaneously sought recognition as a member of the Craft at a Berlin Lodge, and his claim was allowed only after such an examination as satisfied the Brethren that he was one of the Brethren.
From the statement of this Persian Freemason it appears that nearly all the members of the Persian Court belong to the mystic Order, even as German Freemasonry enjoys the honor of counting the Emperor and Crown Prince among its adherents. The appearance of this Mohammedan Freemason in Berlin seems to have excited a little surprise among some of the Brethren there, and the surprise would be natural enough to persons not aware of the extent to which Freemasonry has been diffused over the earth. Account for it as one may, the truth is certain that the mysterious Order was established in the Orient many ages ago. Nearly all of the old Mohammedan buildings in India, such as tombs, mosques, etch are marked with the Masonic symbols, and many of these structures, still perfect, were built in the time of the Mogul Emperor Akbar, who died in 1605. Thus Freemasonry must have been introduced into India from middle Asia by the Mohammedans hundreds of years ago.
Since then there was an initiation of a Persian in the Lodge Clemente Amitie at Paris. There is a Lodge at Teheran, of which many native Persians are members.
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