Freemasonry and the Church

December 13, 2018


We do not believe that Freemasonry, a nondenominational institution that requires of its members a belief in a Supreme Being, is incompatible with any religion. We aver the opposite. However, over the last several centuries some organized religions have taken exception to Freemasonry, denouncing it as impious and inimical to their faith. 


If you are interested in becoming a Freemason, then you should first become aware of this history to properly decide whether Freemasonry is right for you and to prepare you in case, during your travels, you should encounter anti-Masonic sentiment couched in religiosity. Friends, relatives, even random strangers may become concerned upon discovering your initiation into our tradition. They may be motivated by a desire to save you, which may make argument futile. Even if such concerns are based on false assumptions and incomplete information (as well as, in some cases, an amount of disinformation, as we shall see below), families have been strained, men have become estranged, communion has been denied – even excommunication has been foisted – and, less than a hundred years ago even, many men were murdered due to their involvement with Freemasonry.


Thus we adjure you to take a moment to consider what is written and presented here. This material is by no means complete. Such would be impossible in the space allotted. And while we have tried to be objective, we must encourage you to do your own research. (As a place to start, consider taking time to read the Papal Bulls we cite below. And read the other side. If you have questions, bring them with you when next you return to Lodge.)


Perhaps the most predominant opponent to Freemasonry, then, has been the Catholic Church. While animosity has since diminished (the Inquisition no longer tortures and hangs Masons) it is nonetheless pertinent to note this history. Much of the official position of the 18th Century Catholic Church regarding Freemasonry has since disseminated into some quarters of mainstream Christianity, especially here in the United States. Since at least a portion of this anti-Masonic sentiment is the result of a self-confessed hoaxer, a man who went by the pseudonym “Léo Taxil” (more on him later), we believe this information is pertinent to all who stand on the threshold seeking initiation into the Masonic Lodge.


The first consolidated move against Freemasonry appears on the record in 1735, a mere eighteen years after the legendary founding of the Premiere Grand Lodge of England in 1717, when the Netherlands outlawed membership in the Fraternity, due predominantly to fears of clandestine support from England, concealed and imported in the Lodge (Freemasonry had arrived in the Netherlands from England), for the protestant House of Orange. 



Then, on April 28, 1738, Pope Clement XII issued the first Papal Bull condemning Freemasonry. This Bull, In eminenti apostolatus, condemned Freemasons to “pain of excommunication… from which no one can obtain the benefit of absolution, other than at the hour of death, except through Ourselves or the Roman Pontiff of the time.” By his own pen, he bases his allegations, which subjected Masons to “condign penalties” (aka torture at the hands of the Inquisition), on “rumor” and “common gossip” rather than any actual proof of heretical activities:


"Thus these aforesaid societies or conventicles have caused in the minds of the faithful the greatest suspicion and all prudent and upright men have passed the same judgment on them as being depraved and perverted. For if they were not doing evil they would not have so great a hatred of the light."[1]


Pope Clement XII therefore outlaws Masonry due to “the greatest suspicion”, that Masons were “most suspect of heresy.” To the modern mind this may seem alarming, especially here in a country which prides itself on due process of law. (Suspicions are no longer sufficient for incarceration and, in some cases, execution.) However, in 18th Century Europe where Mother Church held great sway, being hanged for mere suspicions of heresy (or upon confessions obtained through torture) was sadly not uncommon enough.


Testimony exists, for example, from W. Bro. John Coustos, a Swiss jeweler who had set up a Masonic Lodge in his home in Lisbon, Portugal, while staying there on business. After his landlady reported him to the Church, Coustos was arrested by the Inquisition in 1742 or 1743. Three of his Brothers were hanged. Over the course of a year, Coustos was subjected to torture no less than nine times. He was released in 1744, at the intercession of his Royal Majesty, King George II of England. Coustos is said to have died two years later (although recent evidence uncovered by Ric Berman of Quattuor Coronati Lodge in England suggests Coustos might have survived for some time.)


It is thanks to the confessions extracted from Bro. Coustos that we have some record of early Enlightenment Masonry. We thus know that ritual now common to the Royal Arch degree in the United States was being worked as part of a Noachite Rite (rituals referring to Noah and the flood) for initiation into what we now term the “Blue” Lodge. It’s important to note, though, that the Church’s chief criticism seems to be that men were meeting in secret to discuss unknown subjects and perform ceremonies unfamiliar to the Church, outside of Church Canon. And since a Bible was used in every Lodge, this could be construed as blasphemy – a serious charge in those days. Whether or not these ceremonies were irreligious or in fact pious was immaterial: they were not recognized or sanctioned by the Pontiff, God’s representative on Earth.


These ceremonies were, however, more akin to (and perhaps the offspring of) the medieval mystery plays performed for centuries and used to inculcate moral tenets among an illiterate public. In earlier times, the Bible was commonly the only printed word in the possession of medieval households, and many people learnt to read by perusing its pages. Those that didn’t were nonetheless exposed to religious lore as a result of the Bible’s prevalence, especially after King James caused the Latin Vulgate to be published into English and Gutenberg invented the means for mass production with his printing press. Thus, it should be no surprise, really, that a Fraternity based on the Craft guilds of the High Middle Ages should come to incorporate Biblical ceremony amongst its proceedings. We know from Etienne Bolieau’s Code of the Usages and Customs of the Masons, the Stone masons, the Plasterers, and the Mortarers, collated c. 1260 on order of King Louis IX, that the operative Craft guilds of medieval Paris used obligations and oaths to make Fellows of the Craft at least as early as the mid-13th Century. This wasn’t blasphemy, it was business as usual in entering apprentices into the guilds (secrecy was of paramount importance for the benefit of guild members plying their trade).


It should be further noted that the art of constructing edifices – and especially the Gothic cathedrals upon which the operative Craft most notably worked – was considered more than merely a material activity in construction. For the medieval and early Renaissance mind, building an edifice for the indwelling of Deity – aligned to the corners of the year, and fabricated in microcosmic representation of the cosmos itself – was a quasi-religious undertaking. The Graham Manuscript (an early Masonic catechism, c. 1726) shows there was a belief among operative Masons carried into the early 18th Century that the names of God, if properly pronounced, could assist in maintaining such structures.[2] Thus a tradition of angelology and secret speech was handed down, we may speculate, alongside the compasses and the square.


The above notwithstanding, Clement XII’s ban on Freemasonry would be ratified by Popes Benedict XIV, Pius VII, Leo XII, Gregory XVI, and Pius IX. In each instance the charges leveled against the Lodge seem to be more about the secrecy its members promoted to safeguard their rites – that no one but the Freemasons really knew what was going on in Lodge assembled. This seems more like distrust and fear of what remains unknown than any probative infamy or dereliction. One might suppose that, even when unfortunate Brethren of the Craft confessed under duress as to what really went on at these “secret” meetings, the Inquisitors, confronted with quotidian diversions and a less colorful regularity of proceedings than perhaps they desired, likely remained unimpressed and therefore, sadly, unconvinced. Alas, some seek especial words on the lips of the accused, and in eliciting them, come to excuse (or indulge) their own silent sins. 



Regardless, by the latter 19th Century Pope Leo XIII had shifted the focus of the Church’s anti-Masonic position. The United States, which incorporated the tenet of maintaining distinct temporal and spiritual power – the so-called separation of Church and State – had been founded for more than a Century. The old world order, where dominance of a spiritual hegemony was absolute, was fading. But for Leo XIII, the humanist ideal that temporal governance should be the purview of the governed – that is, governance by the people themselves – a central tenet to modern democracies – must have been tantamount to heresy, inspired to “overthrow…that whole religious and political order of the world.”[3]  He believed, perhaps correctly, that Masonic Lodges were forums where these ideas, potentially dangerous to his own dominion, were being advanced.


Masonic Lodges were, of course, hotbeds of Enlightenment philosophy. How could they not be? Wherever Masons assembled, discussions of moral philosophy, political theory, social responsibility, public education, charity, and similar subjects as are apt to entertain the intelligentsia of the age, in pursuit of personal freedom and expression, were sure to follow. Thus, in Leo XIII’s Bull, Humanum Genus, issued in 1884, we discover that Leo XIII condemned the Masons – not for specific acts probative of decadence as we might imagine – but due to our “pronounced opinions” only:


"[The] Masonic federation is to be judged not so much by the things which it has done, or brought to completion, as by the sum of its pronounced opinions."[4]


This somewhat alarming statement (that an institution and all who assemble therein can be judged, not by actions, but by opinions) should be troubling to the modern mind. It’s entirely opposite the idea of “freedom of speech” which we, as Americans, are fortunate enough to enjoy under the First Amendment of the Constitution. But to the Pontiff of the latter 19th Century, who allied against the spread of modernity, the idea that the people could govern themselves outside the shadow of the Church – the rise of a secular State – must have been deeply troubling. The main thrust of Leo XIII’s Humanum Genus, then, is to foreshadow the evils of “natural philosophy” and the concept that the “Church and the State ought to be altogether disunited.”[5] The benefit of living in an open, free society – one wherein Masonic ideals have played a profound influence – may make this statement in the present day seemingly remarkable.


However, thus far the main complaint of Mother Church against the Lodge seems to remain the promotion of a secular state, the challenge to Church dominion, Masonry’s secrecy in general and its use of oaths to bind men in Brotherhood. By the latter 19th Century, however, a new strain of anti-Masonry would emerge, exacerbated by the work of a particular individual in France, which even today persists in the self-reinforcing circles of an ignorant milieu. This is the “Luciferian” and “New World Order” conspiracy and it owes its entire origination to the work of self-confessed prankster, Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès. For simplicity, we will refer to him by his pseudonym, Léo Taxil.



Taxil was a French journalist and staunch anti-Catholic. He first gained notoriety for publishing illustrated sections of the Bible, salaciously contrived to demonstrate (at least in Taxil’s view) the incompatibility of religion and morality. In 1885 he pretended to convert to Catholicism. But he had a different agenda. Under his newfound faith he began to publish exposés regarding Masonry, claiming that one Diana Vaughn, allegedly a member of a libidinous satanic cult, had confessed heinous crimes to him in the workings of a Masonic Lodge. According to Vaughn, Taxil alleged, the Masons were engaged in diabolical ceremonies, invoking the devil while engaging in all sorts of wicked, decadent and ludicrous behavior. For example, Taxil claimed that Vaughn would conjure the devil into the form of a snake, which would then write in blood upon her naked back whereby she would prophesy for the Lodge. Another story had the devil appear in the form of a crocodile to officiate the marriage of a Mason and, despite the vestigial forelimbs of his crocodilian form, Taxil writes the crocodile could nonetheless play the piano incredibly well. The comedy of this image, while delighting Taxil no doubt, seems to have escaped the Parisian public of the time.




Taxil printed scores of pamphlets, under various false names, allegedly revealing the secret satanic rites of the Masons in France. He secured a large following and, interestingly, in 1887 was granted a private audience with none other than Pope Leo XIII. His notoriety only increased and Diana Vaughn became a well known name in 19th Century Paris during, what we might term, the fin-de-sciècle Occult Revival. There was only one problem. Diana Vaughn was not a satanist. Diana Vaughn was not a Mason. Diana Vaughn was, in fact, Taxil’s secretary. Thus, on April 19, 1897, at a convention assembled at the Geographic Society in Paris, convened specifically to introduce Diana Vaughn to a large and devoted element of the public who were now eager to meet her in person (including, among many other personages, representatives from the archdiocese of Paris and other notable clergy), Taxil surprised everyone when, instead of introducing the legendary sex slave of the black arts he had made infamous, he instead confessed: Vaughn, the Masonic conspiracy, the whole shebang, was a delicious hoax! A hoax he had contrived, we might imagine, to expose the contumacy of the Church and the ridiculousness of the Fraternity.



Taxil’s confession was news – it made the front page of Le Fronduer, a weekly paper in Paris.[6] He took great joy in revealing the enormity of his prank – and the butt of his joke was meant to be, not the Freemasons, but the Church. Suffice it to say, Taxil had little care for either. Nonetheless, this hoax – which Taxil developed over the course of years – yet endures. Taxil’s encyclicals have been picked up and cited by other writers, and then those writers have been cited by other writers, and so on, like a game of telephone down thorough the pages of history, and so it is the hoax perpetrated by a vainglorious prankster in latter 19th Century Paris for money and notoriety yet haunts the Freemasons still among the simpleminded who will forever seek ghosts in the past.


As example, consider the letter Taxil alleges was written by the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, Albert Pike, to Giuseppe Mazzini in August of 1871. The letter is first mentioned by Taxil in his spurious Le Palladisme, one of his encyclicals, in 1895. Without actually citing or reproducing any text, Taxil alleges that this letter proves the Freemasons were designing to destroy all religions to bring about a secular world order. The particular target of note? The Catholic Church. (This was, of course, Pope Leo XIII’s fear as expressed in his Bull, Humanum Genus, issued just eleven years previous.) The letter was a lie, no doubt, but thirty-five years later, in 1925, Taxil’s artifice is picked up and cited by Cardinal Rodriguez of Chile in his book, The Mystery of Freemasonry Unveiled. Rodriguez elaborates on Taxil’s premise, bringing it to bear on the Bolshevik Revolution and, by extension, Communism in general, claiming that Communism (of course not mentioned at all by Taxil) is actually a Masonic plot to bring about this secular world order. And Pike’s letter is the proof!



Then, thirty-one years later, in 1956, the American writer Guy Carr references the letter again in his book Pawns in the Game. With Carr driving the lie, the letter now morphs into a massive plot to specifically instigate three world wars, ending in nuclear destruction, devised to enthrone the antichrist in power over the New World Order. This is perhaps a fitting paranoia to enflame in the  consciousness of the 1950s, at the height of the cold war, but a contrivance not mentioned in either earlier iteration of the lie.


Today, you can actually read the letter online! [7] (Click here.)  It is fitting, perhaps, to note language anachronistic to the latter 19th Century, when Pike was meant to have written the letter, including verbiage such as “Nazism” and the like. Nonetheless, this spurious letter is still cited all over the web today and regurgitated by the unread as fact even though it is provably false and based on a self-confessed, elaborate hoax perpetrated against the Church with Masonry as its patsy. 


Taxil summed up his experience in creating this hoax (which at the time he believed was a masterstroke forcing societal introspection) in an interview with National Magazine in 1904. We reproduce part of that interview below, because Taxil’s words speak for themselves:


"The public made me what I am; the arch-liar of the period,” confessed Taxil, “for when I first commenced to write against the Masons my object was amusement pure and simple. The crimes I laid at their door were so grotesque, so impossible, so widely exaggerated, I thought everybody would see the joke and give me credit for originating a new line of humor. But my readers wouldn’t have it so; they accepted my fables as gospel truth, and the more I lied for the purpose of showing that I lied, the more convinced became they that I was a paragon of veracity.


“Then it dawned upon me that there was lots of money in being a Munchausen of the right kind, and for twelve years I gave it to them hot and strong, but never too hot. When indicting such slush as the story of the devil snake who wrote prophecies on Diana’s back with the end of his tail, I sometimes said to myself: ‘Hold on, you are going too far,’ but I didn’t. My readers even took kindly to the yarn of the devil who, in order to marry a Mason, transformed himself into a crocodile, and, despite the masquerade, played the piano wonderfully well.


"One day when lecturing at Lille, I told my audience that I had just had an apparition of Nautilus, the most daring affront on human credulity I had so far risked. But my hearers never turned a hair. “Hear ye, the doctor has seen Nautulius,” they said with admiring glances. Of course no one had a clear idea of who Nautilus was – I didn’t myself – but they assumed that he was a devil. Ah, the jolly evenings I spent with my fellow authors hatching out new plots, new, unheard of perversions of truth and logic, each trying to outdo the other in organized mystification. I thought I would kill myself laughing at some of the things proposed, but everything went; there is no limit to human stupidity.”[8]


And so it goes.


Today, the Catholic Church has softened its stance on Freemasonry some. Many dioceses are left to determine how to handle Masons when found as members of the congregation. In most, but not all, instances they will not suffer excommunication, but will nevertheless be held in a “grave state of sin” and therefore will be denied communion. The last pronunciation the Church has made regarding Masonry per se was in 1983. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger (who’d become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition), wrote in his Declaration on Masonic Associations, that “the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden.” [9] No mention anymore of “condign penalties” and excommunication, only a “grave state of sin”. A small but nonetheless significant development.


A less virulent strain of anti-Masonic religiosity is also encountered from the Christian right, which is sometimes interwoven with this Luciferian nonsense, and sometimes appears by itself (although the devil is always lurking somewhere in the background, it seems, ready to be brought into play). Typically from nondenominational congregations, this strain claims that Masonry is unchristian because, essentially, it allows members of multiple faiths to pray together around the same altar. Rather than see such interfaith dialogue as exemplary for discovering tolerance, as a benefit to humanity in general and a route to personal discovery in particular, this ideology is want to paint Freemasonry as a distraction away from the one true God and the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus, proponents of this worldview allege, Freemasonry leads its members away from Christ and into damnation. 


By similar logic, though, if we were to extend this reasoning to its natural conclusion, the United States must therefore also be perfidious and wicked because it counts non-Christians among its citizens. In fact, every corporation the world over (including charitable organizations) must likewise be wicked where people work side by side in one common cause, but under differing faiths. Similarly, there is a society that meets in Churches, requiring a belief in a Higher Power, that does not reveal its membership, maintains secrecy of all discussions had when convened, and leaves its members’ particular religious and spiritual beliefs to themselves – Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet few would pronounce A.A. as somehow unchristian or the work of the devil!


Nonetheless, Freemasonry does not present itself as a religion, but as a society which requires a belief in a Supreme Being. Masons’ own religious beliefs are properly left to themselves. (Bear in mind that in each faith there are typically multiple denominations, each jostling for supremacy as the correct interpretation of God’s law.) Masons often refer to the Supreme Being as “The Grand Architect of the Universe”, not because we deny praying to a Christian God but because this nominative is a nondenominational appellation for the Creator (the word “architect” is etymologically derived from the Greek work arkhitektonikos meaning, “master builder”). This appellation fits well with Masonic symbolism and allows each member to pray, in private, as he sees fit. 


Thus to decry Masonry as somehow irreligious or inherently wicked because it allows men of multiple faiths to become united in a common bond of brotherhood seems perplexing indeed. After all, Christ chose a Samaritan – significantly not a Pharisee, a Sanhedrin, or even an Essene – as his exemplar of good deeds. If we judge a tree by its fruits then, contrary to Pope Leo XIII’s pronouncement against Masonry for the sum of our pronounced opinions, Freemasonry should be judged by the acts of its members, the acts of its Lodges, and the acts of its Grand Lodges. Masonic charity speaks for itself. Typically preferring understatement to aggrandizement, and anonymity to accolades, the vast majority of Masonic charity (which is extensive indeed) is often overlooked.


For most members, then, Freemasonry is a force for positivity that helps them to become upstanding, good members of society, tolerant of different opinions, wise in discourse, ever-learning, and happy to greet the world with an open heart inspired with a love for all humanity, as Brothers united under the Fatherhood of God.


[If you'd like to purchase a copy of this essay as a saddle stitched, 5.5 x 8.5 booklet for just $5, suitable for your Lodge or to share with prospective candidates, please contact the Rocky Mountain Mason. Bulk buy available, 100 for $300.] 






1.  See In eminenti apostolatus at Papal Encyclicals Online, available at http://www.papalencyclicals.net/clem12/c12inemengl.htm


2.  For example, the lecture portion recorded in the Graham Manuscript alleges Bezaleel (one of the builders of the ark of the covenant with Moses and Aholiab) knew the secret “titles” and “pallies” of the Godhead where “preservative and he build on them in so much that no infernal squandering spirit durt presume to shake his handiwork…”. See a translation of the Graham Manuscript at http://www.themasonictrowel.com/ebooks/freemasonry/eb0112.pdf


3. See Humanum Genus available on the Vatican website at http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18840420_humanum-genus.html


4. See Humanum Genus, ibid.


5. See Humanum Genus, ibid.


6. For a complete translation of this edition, which includes a transcript of Taxil’s presentation, see Heredom, the Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society Vol. 5, 1996, pp. 137-168.


7. See for example the compelling website at http://www.threeworldwars.com/albert-pike2.htm


8. See National Magazine, Vol. 24, May, 1906, pp. 160-161.


9. See Declaration on Masonic Associations, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1983 available at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19831126_declaration-masonic_en.html

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