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Fessler, Ignaz Aurelius

A distinguished German writer and Masonic reformer, who was born at Czurendorf, in Hungary, in 1756. He was the son of very poor parents. His mother, who was a bigoted Catholic, had devoted him to a monastic life, and having been educated at the Jesuit School of Raab, he took holy orders in 1772, and was removed to the Capuchin monastery in Vienna. In consequence, however, of his exposure to the Emperor Joseph II of monastic abuses, he incurred the persecutions of his superiors. But the emperor, having taken him under his protection, nominated him, in 1783, as ex-professor of the Oriental languages in the University of Lemberg. But the monks having threatened him with legal proceedings, he fled to Breslau in 1788, where he subsequently was appointed the tutor of the son of the Prince of Corolath. Here he established a secret order, called by him the Evergreen, which bore a resemblance to Freemasonry in its organization, and was intended to effect moral reforms, which at the time he thought Freemasonry incapable of producing. The Order, however, never really had an active existence, and the attempt of Fessler failed by the dissolution, in 1793, of the society. In 1791 he adopted the Lutheran faith, and, having married, settled in Berlin, where until 1806, he was employed as a superintendent of schools. He wrote during this period several historical works, which gave him a high reputation as an author.

But the victorious progress of the French army in Prussia caused him to lose his official position. having been divorced from his wife in 1802, he again married, and retiring in 1803 from Berlin, betook himself to the quietude of a country life. Becoming now greatly embarrassed in pecuniary matters, he received adequate relief from several of the German Lodges, for which he expressed the most lively gratitude. In 1808 he accepted the position of a professor in the University of St. Petersburg, which, however, he was soon compelled to relinquish in consequence of the intrigues of the clergy, who were displeased with his liberal views.

Subsequently he was appointed superintendent of the evangelical community, over nine Russian departments, and Ecclesiastical President of the Consistory at Saratow, with a large salary. In l827, on the invitation of the Emperor Alexander, he removed permanently to St. Petersburg, where, in 1833, he received the appointment of Ecclesiastical Counselor, and died there December 15, 1839, at the advanced age of eighty-three years.

Fessler was initiated in Freemasonry at Lemberg, in 1783, and immediately devoted himself to the study of its science and history. In June, 1796, he affiliated with the Lodge Royal York, zur Freundschaft, in Berlin, and having been made one of its Sublime Council, was invested with the charge of revising and remodeling the entire ritual of the Lodge, which was based on the advanced Degrees of the French system. To the accomplishment of this laborious task, Fessler at once, and for a long time afterward, devoted his great intellect and his indefatigable energies. In a very short period he succeeded in a reformation of the symbolic Degrees, and finding the Brethren unwilling to reject the high Degrees, which were four in number, then practiced by the Lodge, he remodeled them, retaining a considerable part of the French ritual, but incorporated with it a portion of the Swedish system. The work thus accomplished met with general approbation. In his next task of forming a new Constitution he was not so successful, although at length he induced the Royal York Lodge to assume the character and rank of a Grand Lodge, which it did in 1798, with seven subordinate Lodges under its obedience. Again Fessler commenced the work of a revision of the ritual.

He had always been opposed to the high Degree system. He proposed, therefore, the abolition of everything above the Degree of Master. In this, however, he was warmly opposed, and was compelled to abandon his project of reducing German Free masonry to the simplicity of the English system. Yet he was enabled to accomplish something, and had the satisfaction, in 1800, of metamorphosing the Elu, the Ecossais, and the Rose Croix, of the old ritual of the Royal York Lodge into the "degrees of knowledge, " which constitute the System known as the Rite of Fessler. In 1798, Fessler had been elected Deputy Grand Master when there were but three Lodges under the Grand Lodge. In 1801, by his persevering activity the number had been increased to sixteen. Still, notwithstanding his meritorious exertions in behalf of Freemasonry, he met with that ingratitude, from those whom he sought to serve, which appears to be the fate or almost all Masonic reformers. In 1802, wearied with the opposition of his antagonists, he renounced all the offices that he had filled, and resigned from the Grand Lodge. Thenceforth he devoted himself in a more retired way to the pursuits of Freemasonry.

Before Fessler resigned, he had conceived and carried out the scheme of establishing a great union of scientific Freemasons, who should devote themselves to the investigation of the history of Freemasonry. Of this society Mossdorf, Fischer; and many other distinguished Freemasons, were members (see Scientific Masonic Association).

Fessler's contributions to the literature of Freemasonry were numerous and valuable. His chief work was An Atternpt to Furnish a Critical History of Freemasonry and the Masonic Fraternity from the earliest times to the year 1802. This work was never printed, but only loaned in four folio manuscript volumes at the price of 30, say about $135, in present-day ratios, to persons who pledged themselves eventually to return it. It was a mistake to circumscribe the results of his researches within so narrow a field. But he published many other works. His productions were mostly historical and judicial, and made a great impression on the German Masonic mind. His collected works were published in Berlin, from 1801 to 1807, but unfortunately, they have never been translated into English. The object of all he wrote was to elevate Freemasonry to the highest sphere of intellectual character.

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