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
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,
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
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
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
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:
DEO EREXIT VOLTAIRE. MDCCLVIII
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
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
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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