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Libertine

The Charges of 1722 commence by saying that "a Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine" (Constitutions, 1723, page 50). The word libertine there used conveyed a meaning different from that which it now bears. In the present usage of language it signifies a profligate and licentious person, but originally it meant a Freethinker, or Deist. Derived from the Latin libertines, a man that was once a bondsman but who has been made free, it was metaphorically used to designate one who had been released, or who had released himself from the bonds of religious belief, and become in matters of faith a doubter or a denier.

Hence "a stupid Atheist" denoted, to use the language of the Psalmist, "the fool who has said in his heart there is no God," while an "irreligious libertine" designated the man who, with a degree less of unbelief, denies the distinctive doctrines of revealed religion. And this meaning of the expression connects itself very appropriately with the succeeding paragraph of the Charge. "But though in ancient times, Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet 'tic now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves." The expression "irreligious libertine," alluding, as it does, to a scoffer at religious truths, is eminently suggestive of the religious character of our Institution, which, founded as it is on the great doctrines of religion, cannot be properly appreciated by anyone who doubts or denies their truth. "A Libertine in earlier use, was a speculative free-thinker in matters of religion and in the theory of morals. But as by a process which is seldom missed free-thinking does and will end in free-acting, so a Libertine came in two or three generations to signify a profligate," one morally bankrupt (On the Study of Words, Trench, lecture ui, page 90).

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