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Francois Marie Aurouet - Voltaire

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.”
Brother Voltaire

“Those who say that all men are equal speak the greatest truth if they mean that all men have an equal right to liberty, to the possession of their goods, and to the protection of the laws.” “Not all citizens can be equally strong; but they can be equally free; to be free is to be subject to nothing but the laws.” Brother Voltaire

There comes along in the lives of some people events that are so tragic, that those who are spared by the tragedy have their lives changed forever. The Tsunami that has killed so many people in the countries bordering the Indian Ocean, it seems to me, is one of those events. Over the centuries there have been other natural disasters of great magnitude, although I think never killing and affecting so many lives as the Tsunami of December 26, 2004.

Our Brother, Francois Marie Aurouet,[i] who in 1717 adopted the pen name of “Voltaire,”[ii] had his life changed because of a natural disaster on November 01, 1755. On that date there was an Earthquake in Lisbon which killed 30,000 people. “This quake came on All Saint’s Day; the churches had been crowded with worshipers; and death found its victims in close formation.”[iii]

There have been some who claimed that Voltaire was an atheist, but students of philosophy know this isn’t the case, and also students of Freemasonry know Voltaire was one who believed in a Supreme Being otherwise he would not have been made a Mason.[iv]

It is true that up until 1754 & 55, despite the times he had been put into the Bastille for his opinions and writings; he had remained a fairly happy go lucky person. In his youth and adulthood he had been a reveler in the salons of Paris and tended to look on the sunnier side of life. His motto as a young man was “Rire et faire rire,” which means “To laugh and to make laugh.” His philosophy on a part of life, at that time, could be summed up in this quote: “If nature had not made us a little frivolous we should be most wretched. It is because one can be frivolous that the majority do not hang themselves.” In these relatively carefree days, (at least as he tended to treat them,) when a young man had attacked him in print, Voltaire wrote, “I am pleased to hear sir, that you have written a little book against me. You do me too much honor. When you have shown, in verse or otherwise, why so many men cut their throats in the best of all possible worlds, I shall be exceedingly obliged to you. I await your arguments, your verses, and your abuse; and assure you from the bottom of my heart that neither of us knows anything about the matter. I have the honor to be, etc, etc.”[v]

However, much criticism and the event of November 01, 1755 worked on him so much that he became much more serious after that event than before, and he became an anti-cleric. Regarding the Earthquake of 1755 he “was shocked into seriousness and raged when he heard that the French clergy were explaining the disaster as a punishment for the sins of the people of Lisbon.”[vi] These things had a profound effect on Voltaire and he wrote the following prose, after which a few months later a war began, which we now know as the Seven Years War: Of which the French and Indian War in North America was a part.

“I am a puny part of the great whole.
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems for it. But in a while
An eagle tears the vulture into shreds;
The eagle is transfixed by shafts of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefields,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.
Thus the whole world in every member groans,
All born for torment and mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful ye cry, “All’s well.”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your minds conceit…..
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger in his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes,
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate;
But thinking atoms, whose far-seeing eyes,
Guided by thoughts, have measured the faint stars.
Our being mingles with the infinite;
Ourselves we never see, or come to know.
This world, this theater of pride and wrong,
Swarms with sick fools who talk of happiness…..
Once did I sing, in less lugubrious tone,
The sunny ways of pleasure’s general rule;
The times have changed, and, taught by growing age,
And sharing of the frailty of mankind,
Seeking a light amid the deepening gloom,
I can but suffer, and will not repine.”

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” Shakespeare

Here is some information, which might be known by our Prince Hall Masonic Brothers, but I would say is unknown information for most other Masons. It has to do with the Supreme Council 33° Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of the United States, Prince Hall Affiliation. Please forgive me if don’t have the name exactly correct I got it off of an old letterhead.

The first black man to receive the 33° in America was Brother David Leary of Philadelphia, who was a member of Prudence Lodge #11, and that Lodge as far as I know is still in existence in Philadelphia. The degree was conferred upon him by Brother and Count De St. Laurent who was Inspector General of the Supreme Council of France. Our Brother the Count was instrumental in the formation of the first Supreme Council of Black Men in the United States, and it was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Just one more bit of information on this is that the divisions for the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions for the Scottish Rites in America differ from one another. In the Scottish Rite I am a member of, the Southern Jurisdiction, has most of the States with the exception of the Northeast portion of the U.S. beginning in the west with Wisconsin and Illinois, in the Northern Jurisdiction. The Jurisdictions, Northern and Southern in the Prince Hall Scottish Rite Jurisdictions follow the Mason Dixon Line from one end of the Country to the other, so when you look at a map of those jurisdictions the country appears to be evenly divided. A map of the two Scottish Rites in America can be seen in the book “Inside Prince Hall,” which is a good book to have if you would like to know more about Prince Hall Freemasonry.[vii]

From the Great light of Masonry = “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand saying unto thee, fear not: I will help thee.” Isaiah 41:13 KJV

“Nature has always had more force than education.” Brother Voltaire

[i] Born November 21, 1694 – died May 30, 1778
[ii] Made a Mason April 7, 1778
[iii] The Story of Philosophy – Voltaire: By Will Durant page 246
[iv] Made a Mason in the Lodge of Les Neuf Soeurs in Paris by Joseph Lalande, Master; Comte de Stroganoff and Colonel de Laroche, Wardens; and Benjamin Franklin and Count de Gebelin Senior Deacon [escorts.]
[v] The Story of Philosophy – Voltaire: By Will Durant page 246
[vi] ibid page 247
[vii] References - Inside Prince Hall, by David Gray, MM - James A. Mingo – the Mason’s Mason, by Brother Paul V. Best - Prince Hall Masonic Directory, 1997 edition

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