onsdag 14 november 2007

Freemasons and Catholics

Catholics are not allowed to become Freemasons. My father was a Freemason for many years and rose to become Worshipful Master of his lodge. He suggested that I might like to join, but, being forbidden to do so, I declined.

It is sometimes suggested that the Freemasons are plotting to destroy the Catholic church. The subject came up for discussion the other day, as it does from time to time, and the case of Cardinal Bugnini is sometimes cited. Bugnini, an alleged Freemason, was the principal architect of the revised Catholic liturgy, which seems to have done the Catholic church no good at all.

Never having been associated with Freemasonry, I know little about it apart from what has been published by Freemasons themselves. It has been described by one as "a system of morality taught by role-playing in small-scale allegorical theatrics, with the addition of lectures and catechisms to which the candidate gives set answers to set questions."

Freemasonry has a mythic origin claiming to be descended from the masons who constructed the Temple of Solomon, and passed down via the Knights Templar to modern times. The rituals, known as "workings", are a representation of the ancient practices. Modern Freemasonry in English speaking countries appears to have taken shape, initially in Scotland, in the earlier years of the eighteenth century and is said to have drawn on ideas of the Enlightenment. Mozart, famously, was a Mason and, as The Magic Flute portrays, it seems that Wisdom was the highest ideal.

Freemasonry flourished in France as an Enlighenment movement in the eighteenth century and promoted notions of egalitarianism, which no doubt helped to nuture the ideas behind the French Revolution, when the Goddess of Wisdom was enshrined in the cathedral of Notre Dame. And of course it can be no accident that the currency of the United States carries masonic emblems.

There is a clearly a spritual content to Freemasonry, but because there are varieties of the practice, there will inevitably be different spritualities. All require a belief in a Deity and in the afterlife, and some require members to be Christians and have their origin in the Catholic refugee flight from Scotland in the seventeenth century. The spirituality has Gnostic and Rosicrucian elements.

So what does this mean for Catholics and the Catholic Church? The usual objection is that Freemasonry is esoteric - that is, members are initiated into the teachings of the organisation in a step-by-step manner, whereas the Catholic Church is an open path. But there is a good reason for this. Any ordinary academic subject is naturally pursued step-by-step. It is often the case that what is comprehensible to a student who has studied a discipline in the correct order will seem nonsensical if presented to a beginner. And Catholicism is not really an open system either, as the doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Church, which make sense to a believer, appear nonsensical or oppressive to someone who has contact with them for the first time. Some of the teaching of the Catholic Church make no sense to anyone who has not experienced "conversion" and thereby received the "gift of faith". This is why the Catholic church comes under criticism for its views on all sorts of things, whereas to those who have received this gift of faith, they make complete sense.

Given this experiential dimension to Catholicism, it can reasonably be argued that it is itself gnostic, at least to the extent that Catholics have no need to become Freemasons. Should they feel drawn in that direction, they should make a more positive effort to commit themselves to their Catholicism. Were they to join, it would result in confusions and they should most certainly obey the teaching of the Church in this matter.

As to whether there is a plot to destroy the Catholic Church - it seems that Freemasonry encompasses a diversity of practices, some of which might possibly be anti-Catholic in sentiment. But as Catholics must not become Freemasons and what goes on in the Masonic rites is confidential, no trustworthy information will ever be revealed.

But there is no need to invoke the notion of a Masonic plot to account for the decline of the Catholic Church in Western Europe since 1960. The damage is self-inflicted and unfortunately continuing. The clergy responsible are going to have a lot to answer for. This is not a new thing; the Catholic hierarchy were reluctant to challenge the unjust status quo in eighteenth century Europe, thereby creating the breeding ground for the French Revolution. Even people like St Vincent de Paul seem not to have questioned the economic system which created the class of poor on which he and his patrician women associates lavished their charity.

There is no need to invoke conspiracy theory. The Catholic church comes under attack when Catholics stop proclaiming Christianity and conducting themselves as Christians.

The photograph is of the Freemason's headquarters in London

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