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freemasonry in france

by George W. Baird
P. G. M., District of Columbia

The Builder, 1918

There are two Obediences in France, and three in Germany. They are as separate and distinct as is the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and the Negro Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, but it is not easy to make all of our people understand this.

The Grand Orient is the older of the French bodies: The Grand Lodge of France separated from the Scottish Rite in 1804 but its Lodges still meet in the same building with the A.A.S.R. and the personnel in the Rites is almost identical. We have always been on terms of intimacy with the A.A.S.R. in France and in all South American countries, and with them the Scottish Rite is often mentioned as Universal Masonry, though the writer knows of no friction between the Scottish Rite and Symbolic Masonry in any part of the world. Symbolic Lodges have separated from the A.A.S.R. in order to conform to the English and American system for the purpose of securing fraternal intercourse.
Formerly (and properly) a Mason who could prove himself, was a welcome visitor in any Lodge in any part of the world, unless the jurisdiction from whence he came had been interdicted and any change from this plan is modern and is an innovation.
The writer was made a Mason in a Lodge in Portugal, in 1867, in the French Rite, and in the French language. The obligation was taken on a Holy Bible of the King James edition, the Bible which was translated out of the original tongues. This Bible is used by Protestants, Jews and Mohammedans, and being from the original tongues it is reasonable to believe it has less errors and less changes than the Douay edition which is translated out of the Latin vulgate. The personnel of the Lodge that gave us light was made up of nominal Roman Catholics, about 70 per cent; Jews about 20 per cent and Protestants about 10 per cent. When asked what our religion was, we replied The Constitution of the United States and the Ten Commandments which seemed to satisfy the Lodge. They were liberal, tolerant men.
The Lodge books recorded no living man's name, as in all other priest-ridden countries each man was required to take a sobriquet, or a nom-de-guerre as they said, for the reason that it was a penal offense to be a member of the Masonic Fraternity in Portugal and when the priests finally did discover the Lodge and caused its destruction, there was not the name of a living man on any record. The members went to and from that Lodge singly or in pairs, each lighting himself up the long flights of stairs with his wax taper (a rolino).

It is not generally known that the Mohammedans believe in and read our Bible. Mohammed himself believed in Jesus Christ and all his followers do. One of the most bigoted sects of Islam is the followers of Jesus, and its see is on the north coast of Africa. The Musselman believes more in the Koran than in the Bible and it has the advantage or recommendation of containing no words which would shock the mind of a child. The Koran is in the Arabic, and there has never been a translation except an English edition, but neither Arabs, nor Turks nor Egyptians ever read that edition; if they cannot read Arabic they are dependent on others to read for them.
In English Lodges a Mohammedan is obligated on the Koran and a Christian on the Holy Bible. The purpose of the obligation is to bind the postulant and for this reason he is obligated on what he believes to be most binding. This is recognized generally, but where we know only one book of sacred literature we are too apt to believe there should be no other. We are taught that the Holy Bible is the divine revelation of the mind and will of God to man but others differ with us in that, but if we can impose an obligation that will bind any and all, our principal purpose will have been accomplished.

Freemasonry has been defined as a system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. It has never been claimed to be a religion, though the priests call it a sect. In the Entered Apprentice degree we are taught that Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion and conciliates true friendship among those who might have remained at a perpetual distance. This, the French believe, is the acme of tolerance and they take it literally. We claim no apostolic succession nor do we essay to administer extreme unction, give absolution nor offer any assurance of admission to the Holy of Holies above, but we do strive to make better men of our members.
We have no idea of the slings and arrows hurled constantly at Masons, in priest-ridden countries until we have been there. The long years of peace and harmony we have enjoyed have spoiled us and unfitted us for sympathy with our stricken brethren abroad. Lodges in Italy and France have been raided. The Lodge was interrupted by police at Voltaire's funeral. The writer was once detained at Mentone, on the border between Italy and Monaco, and witnessed the seizure of a Bible which an English-speaking woman was carrying into Italy. The guard acting under orders, would not permit it to be carried into the country, but held the Bible for her until she should pass out of Italy.
There have come to us from abroad many appeals for a more intimate fraternalism. An invitation to an International Masonic Congress was sent to more than two hundred Masonic Powers about 1901, including the Grand Lodge, Grand Chapter, etc., of the District of Columbia, and the writer moved in Grand Lodge that a delegate be sent but there was not even a second to the motion, so lightly did they regard it.
Masonic Powers with European Masons means all Masonic organizations, as Grand Lodges, Grand Chapters, Grand Commanderies, Consistories, etc., and these invitations went to all the addresses the Swiss Masonic Bureau could obtain. It was stated it was a congress, not a conclave; so that the doors were not tiled nor were the esoteric sections to be discussed as the writer understood it and as it turned out to be. The proceedings of that Congress were printed, and to my surprise (and maybe amusement) I found the following report of what took place at the banquet:

Dr. Watts, (Washington) - W. President and Brethren: I have the honor of presenting to this distinguished body of Freemasons in Congress assembled, greeting from the Most Worshipful Grand Master and Brethren of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, United States of America.
I have to say that the Grand Master is full of sympathy with the object of the Congress as outlined in the several explanatory circulars received from Monsieur Paul-Emile Bonjour, the Grand Secretary.
Permit me further to say that we are of the opinion that any movement in keeping with the sublime principles of the Order and that does not in the least degree conflict with the ancient landmarks, has our approval and fraternal co-operation.
Thanking the projectors for their kind invitation to participate in the deliberations of this present Congress, I beg leave also personally to express my appreciation for the courteous attention I have received during the time I have been in the city.
On behalf of my Grand Lodge we wish the Congress success and desire that beneficial results may follow its labor-- which shall prove a blessing to all -- especially the brethren

Had I not written very soon after this an essay on Negro Masonry for the International Bulletin the delegates who heard that very creditable address would have supposed that the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia had sent that negro delegate.
The speech of Dr. Watts was in English but the others were in French. The writer made a full report on the above, which was printed in the 1902 report of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and may be found on page 339 et seq.

And now we come to the Grand Lodge of France! Why should we not at once accord it recognition? It may be asked what French Masons have done to merit this. Their Masonry was received from England and the writer believes the French are now working more in accord with the first constitution of the Grand Lodge of England (Anderson's) than are many American Lodges, which should be sufficient.
Owing to the espionage of the Holy Fathers the French history of Masonry has been greatly abridged and often suppressed, so that we have not the volumes to draw on that we would wish but there are enough for this purpose.
During the War for American Independence, called The Revolution, there existed in Paris a Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs of which the American Commissioner, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, the peerless Naval Captain, Houdon, the unmatched sculptor, Voltaire, the fearless, the great Helvidius and many other eminent men were members. At that time there were atrocious oppressions of the people not only by the rich and influential, but by the priests.
In the Lodge Neuf Soeurs there was Elie Dumont, a young lawyer, with a score of followers who took up the people's cause against oppression. For a verification we beg leave to invite reference to Les Memoires Secretes, Vol. XXI, and to Ed. Tachereau, Vol. XXI, and Besuchet Precis Historique, Vol. II.

One example is that of Jean Calas, a Hugenot who had been sentenced to punishment "on the wheel" by the tribunal of Toulouse, and he was thus executed. His offense was that he had assaulted his son who had been perverted to Romanism. His widow and his children were despoiled of their property and belongings by confiscation and they finally took refuge in Geneva and were sheltered by Voltaire. Their cause was espoused by Voltaire who advocated it by printed memorials, which he widely distributed. Elie Dumont defended the Calas family in the French Courts without fee or reward and after three years of labor, succeeded in having the judgment arrested and the widow's property returned to her.
In the same tribunal in 1746, a man and his wife named Siren, were condemned to death for an assault on their son who had been perverted to Romanism and who had forbidden the son from continuing his acquaintance with the men who had proselyted him. The rest of the family took refuge in Geneva and their case was appealed by Elie Dumont, who, after five years succeeded in having the judgment reversed, so far as the confiscation went, and the family of Siren was permitted to return to France and take possession of their property. We could multiply these examples indefinitely if it were needed, but it is not.

That Masonic Lodge became the target for Romish persecution and accusation. It was charged with atheism. Masonry was branded as a society of atheists in general but Voltaire was the central figure of their atrocious attack. Dumont and his followers persisted in the defense of the inherent rights of the people and lighted a fire of indignation, which kindled in the people a consciousness of their inherent rights and was closely interwoven in the French Revolution which followed and which history has so vividly recorded. Voltaire was obliged to leave Paris to escape assassination. He took up his home in Ferney, near Geneva in Switzerland, where he was held in high esteem. Napoleon I, who was a Mason, had held the Pope of Rome a prisoner and this added to the anger of the priests who believed and still believe that the Pope is the "Father of Princes, the ruler of the Christian world and the Vicar of Jesus Christ" and that there can be no proper government without his sanction.

If a man goes on the street and cries mad dog, mad dog, he will jeopardize the life of every dog in sight, though there may be no mad dog at all. And if a mob, believing a priest carries the keys of Heaven and Hell in his girdle, hears his cries and accusations, they will give respectful and obedient attention to his utterances without further consideration. This is practically the condition which existed in Paris when the priests began to denounce Freemasonry in general, and Voltaire in particular. As they made Voltaire the central figure of attack it may be proper to examine his case. Take the twenty-four volumes of Voltaire which have been printed in English and there cannot be found in them a word to justify the accusation that he was atheistic. He was without doubt, a Deist. In the little town of Ferney a chapel was built by Voltaire for his neighbors to worship in. A marble tablet over the door has engraved on it these words:


which is, Erected to God, by Voltaire, 1758. When asked why he dedicated his chapel to God he replied: In London they erected their Temple to Saint Paul, in Paris to Saint Genevieve, but I erect mine to God.
When dying he said I die worshipping God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, but despising superstition. (Vide Appleton's New American Cyclopedia.) His accusers were the priests and the same frocked fraternity is still accusing Masonry.

The Anti-Masonic Congress which was convened at Trent in 1896, was attended by more than 200 Bishops of the Romish Church and many times that number of priests and zealous laymen. That Congress was Called together with the concurrence and favor of Pope Leo XIII who in a special brief, bestowed his benediction and approval on its aims and purposes. Twenty-two influential Cardinals, over two hundred Bishops, the most important clerical associations, the whole of the clerical press, sent their adhesions to this Tridentine Council. Over five hundred ecclesiastics from the highest to the lowest were present and all European States, England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the United States of America, the South American Republics were more or less numerously and influentially represented.
General and particular aim: To wage war on Masonry as an institution; on Masons as individuals; in all countries and places where the order exists; to wage war on Masonry as a body by collecting supposed documents and facts; assertions of perjured Masons as evidence and thus bring to light, or rather coin, by means of the press or special publications all the misdeeds of the fatal institution; all the demoralizing influences it exercises; through obscene or sacrilegious rites, corruption and occult conspiracies on man and civilization; to wage war on individual Masons by opposing them in every phase of their existence, in their individual homes, in their industries, in their commerce, in their professional avocations, in all their endeavors to participate in public life, local or general, etc.

A French reporter, Mr. Leo Taxil, had been employed to ferret out and report on the vagaries of Masonry, and in his report he gave them an account of a smithery in a cave under the Rock of Gibraltar where iron tools were fashioned for use in devil worship.
The speeches of the Holy Fathers on that occasion were drastic, atrocious and anything but Christian-like. This Congress was as late as 1896, and must still be fresh in the memories of Masonic students. And from it, we draw the lesson that the purpose of those people has not changed with time. So it is but fair to ask shall we accept the testimony of these prejudiced, fanatical sorcerers against the French Freemasons?

The Grand Orient of France by giving countenance to a spurious body of Scottish Rite Masons in Louisiana, in 1858, caused English-speaking Masons, generally to suspend relations with that Orient, one after another until such time as the Orient should revoke its sanction of that spurious body. (Vide Report of Grand Lodge of D. C. for 1870, pages 6 and 7.) It was not an interdiction, but a tentative suspension of relations which the Orient was at liberty to automatically heal by the revocation of its sanction of that spurious A.A.S.R. body of New Orleans.
That spurious body has long since gone out of existence but the Grand Orient has never made any overtures to the Grand Lodge of District of Columbia nor any other American Grand Lodge so far as the writer has been able to discover. But in 1878, the Report of the Grand Lodge of District of Columbia (p. 20) says:

The action of the Grand Orient of France in expunging from its constitution the necessity for a firm belief in Deity and the immortality of the soul was called up as unfinished business and on motion, it was ordered that the resolutions accompanying the report be considered separately.
Resolved, That the action of the Grand Orient of France in ignoring the foundation principles of Masonry--that of a firm belief in God and in the immortality of the soul--meets with unqualified disapproval of this Grand Lodge

This is the last entry we can find in our reports of the Grand Orient.

Now (as the priests say) let us consider this beautiful mystery. It is certainly not an interdiction. There is no intimation of clandestinism, nor of irregularity nor threat of permanent breaking off of relations.

We Protestants disapprove of their failure to exact a firm belief in the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul, more I think because we are Christians than for any other reason. We believe even more we teach the resurrection of the body through faith in the merits of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, though the Jews among us cannot agree with that, but it is there, and it cannot be found in the Anderson Constitutions, under which the Grand Lodge of France is working today. We are perhaps unconsciously, gradually blending our Christian faith with Freemasonry, while we believe or teach that the latter unites men of every Nation, sect and opinion and concilates friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
The writer happens to know that there is a Lodge in Swansea, Wales, under the obedience of the Grand Orient of France which has the Bible on its altar on which it obligates. The Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orient assured us that they dedicate their Lodges to the Great Architect of the Universe, and that they permit the sacred writings to be kept on the altar of any and every Lodge that wants it. And this they regard as becoming tolerance.
The Grand Lodge of France, however, has never offended us in any way. It has not been even charged of having committed the infractions which have strained our relations with the Grand Orient.
The Grand Lodge of France is a separate, distinct and sovereign body recognized as such by the Supreme Grand Council from which it was separated. It is in fraternal amity with many sovereign Grand Lodges and has never, until now, asked formal recognition of any American Grand Lodge. At the beginning of this European war the Grand Lodge of France started a line of auto-ambulances, opened soup-houses and lunch rooms, and equipped a hospital for the use of wounded soldiers and for the aid of the indigent and needy of all nations without regard to race, creed, or previous condition of servitude.
We are now sending about 30,000 soldiers a month to Europe, most of whom go to France; among these are many Masons. They naturally want to visit and as our relations are strained with the Orient we should make it possible for them to visit the Lodges of the Grand Lodge of France.
Personally we have advised our soldier-Masons of the District of Columbia that they are at liberty to visit the Lodges of the Grand Lodge of France, but as relations are strained with the Grand Orient we have advised that its Lodges be not, at present, visited.

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