As interesting as the subject is, this article will avoid delving into the historic and colorful disputes and plots that involve these two bodies. What I intend to do here is speak only in regards to the Catholic Canon Law and Freemasonry as it is practiced in the world today.
My qualifications to authoritatively address this issue comes from being a very active Freemason for over ten years, during which time I authored two books, wrote over one hundred articles, lectured on the subject of Freemasonry in numerous parts of the world, was editor-in-chief and editor of two well-read Masonic publications, Fellow of the Phylaxis Society, held many of the highest elected and appointed offices on the local and statewide level, and was one of the most decorated Prince Hall Freemasons in the world (View 2004-Masonic-Resume).
Though I converted to Catholicism and no longer hold membership in a Masonic Lodge, without apology I hold that the Freemasons who I had to opportunity to know and befriend over the years are some of the finest human beings that I have ever had the pleasure to know. When my life encountered great suffering, these were the men, from various races, religions, and professions, whose hands reached down to assist my family and me. Therefore, my analysis of the irreconcilable differences that Catholicism has with Freemasonry is not directed towards any of the men who call themselves Freemasons, but only towards particular aspects of their Masonic philosophy that inveighs against the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Neither is this an expose into the rituals of Freemasonry. I am confident that I can explain why the Catholic Church holds such a strong stance against the Masonic order without side bending into matters that might prove to be more of a distraction than to provide a clear answer to the instant question.
THE HEART OF THE ISSUE
I know Catholics who are Freemasons and I know Catholics who do not believe that abortion is an intrinsically evil act. There may always be Catholics who do not believe or accept what the Church teaches. When I was received into the Church in 2006 as a convert I took a solemn oath to “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims,” because it is revealed by God. Therefore, for me, it was never an option. It is obligatory; if I am to remain a Catholic, I must believe what the Church teaches, and there is great comfort in that for me. However, that obligation to believe comes with a responsibility to know and try to understand why the Church teaches what it does. I find that it is this brand of intellectual laziness that is to blame for Catholics being ignorant about what the Church teaches and a key reason for their fall into grave sin.
In the instant case, by specifically identifying all Masonic groups as ‘forbidden societies’, the 1917 Code of Canon Law (#2335) was a much better guide for Catholics, on this issue, than the 1983 Code of Canon Law (#1374), which forbids Catholics from joining any organization that acts against the Church.
Looking at these two Canons, side by side, we can see why some Catholics thought/think that Masonic membership was/is no longer banned by the Holy See:
- Canon #2335 (1917) – “Persons joining associations of the Masonic sect or any others of the same kind which plot against the Church and legitimate civil authorities contract excommunication simply reserved to the Apostolic See.”
Canon #1374 (1983) – “A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.”
In 1983 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith attempted to clarify the Church’s continued posture against Freemasonry in Declaration on Masonic Associations. This document, which was signed by Pope John Paul II, read:
“It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church’s decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous Code.”This Sacred Congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance in due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.
“Therefore 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. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
“It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981” (cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981).
This document proves to be very helpful when it is read together with the 1983 Canon. In that Canon it states that “A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty . . . “ In his 1983 letter Cardinal Ratzinger connected the general qualifier “an association which plots against the Church” with the specific Masonic qualifier “Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have . . .” That is, the Catholic Church forbids her sons and daughters from belonging to the Masonic order precisely because it believes that the Masonic order is an association whose ‘principles’ are a threat to her and a danger to her members.
Now that we know that is the ‘principles’ of Freemasonry that the Catholic Church believes are a threat, it is time for us to discuss the ‘principles’ of Freemasonry.
THE PRINCIPLES OF FREEMASONRY
To understand why the principles of Freemasonry are irreconcilable to the Catholic Church, we must begin with examining the principles of the latter. The focal principle of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. It is through him, the God who became man for our sake, that we have true life. The opportunity for life in Christ Jesus is motivation for the Church to celebrate her sacraments. Sacraments are actions of the Church through which Christ continues to minister to his people.
“If Freemasonry were just offering an alternative path to salvation, it would rank among the other religions that Catholics cannot belong to.” The principles of Freemasonry, broadly speaking, are just like those that you would expect to find in any ritual based system; that is, to leave the initiate in a better/more enlightened place than her/she was found. Freemasonry attempts to make the initiate a better person by giving him/her (there are some sects of women Freemasons, though not recognized as legitimate by the mainstream Masonic groups) tools of operative masonry and teaching him/her how to apply their speculative meaning to their life. Here, Freemasonry sees itself as being a partner, rather than an enemy, to all monotheistic religions.
In comparing the two principles side by side, essentially, what we are talking about here is righteousness or holiness (though Freemasonry would not use the latter word). The question is, ‘How is that man finds himself righteous before God or holy?’ The Catholic Church teaches that it is the grace of God that makes men holy, and it is through Christ that we are sanctified and made right before God. In contrast, Freemasonry teaches that man, without the aid of grace from TGAOTU (the Grand Architect of the Universe, as god is syncretically called to in the lodge), can become a better person by applying the speculative meaning of the implements of operative masonry to his life.
Because Freemasonry offers its adherents a path to righteousness that excludes Jesus Christ, albeit without the sacraments of the Church, it knows Freemasonry to offer an alternative/divergent path to salvation than the one that she is offering. Even though Freemasonry does not speak of salvation in its rituals the logical presumption is that if a life of applying the Masonic tools to one’s life does not lead to salvation, then the ultimate end is something much worse. Principles of self-determinism and self-justification are abundantly offered in the Masonic rituals, and, in that regard, it plots against the Church by diverting her children from those virtues and behaviors that have made saints of men and women for two thousand years for something that has not been proven to get anyone to Heaven.
I want to make the additional point here that though I am speaking in regards to Freemasonry in particular, for many of the same reasons why a Catholic cannot be a Freemason, they cannot be a Mormon, a Muslim, a member of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, or even some college fraternities or sororities.
AN ATTRACTIVE SIEGE AGAINST THE CHURCH
If Freemasonry were just offering an alternative path to salvation, it would rank among the other religions that Catholics cannot belong to, but what makes the Masonic order a thorn in the side of Catholicism is the appealing nature that it has to all Christians. That is, it is an acceptable thing to tell a Catholic that they cannot be a Muslim, because Islam clearly and loudly posits that it teaches an alternative truth than the one offered by the Church of Christ. Freemasonry does not offer the Catholic Church that favor. On the contrary, it calls itself and ‘handmaid to religion’, it has a Protestant Bible on its altar and welcomes other monotheist sacred text on it, most Freemasons are middle-class Protestants, sacred Scripture is read during all the degrees of Freemasonry, allegorical references are made during the degrees that are pleasing to Christians, sometimes church hymns are even sung during the degrees, and the brotherhood that the Masonic order offers is very attractive to men who are tired of being at home with the wife and kids. Therefore, Freemasonry is not only offering an alternative truth to what the Catholic Church is offering, it is offering it in a way that is quite deceptive and attractive.
THE OFFERING OF ALTERNATIVE TRUTH
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, there is only one truth and that is Jesus Christ, God himself, who came and said that “I am the way, the life, and the truth” (Jn. 14:6). Any other way, truth, or life than Jesus Christ is a lie.
As a byproduct of the Age of Enlightenment, in 1717, through the Grand Lodge of England, Freemasonry re-positioned itself as the ‘Universal Brotherhood’ – that one organization that brings all men together, from every background, monotheistic religion, race, and creed, into harmony with each other. To achieve this goal, two things needed to be done; first, all discussion about politics and religion were banned from the lodge; second, God was given a new name that all Freemasons, regardless of their personal religion, could agree upon – he would be called ‘the Grand Architect of the Universe’ (GAOTU).
In consequence of this decision, from the outset, Freemasonry rejected The Truth (the person Jesus Christ) – it rejected the God who said, “You shall not other gods besides me . . . For I, YHWH, your God, am a jealous God” (Exo. 20:2-5). This Big Tent god, the father of every religion, the god of ‘Many Understandings’, who the Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson so eloquently invoked during his prayer to kickoff the 2009 Presidential Inauguration Week in Washington, D.C., is false – there is no such god! Repeatedly in sacred Scripture does the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Father of Jesus clearly distinguish Himself from the pantheon of false gods.
Freemasonry deigns to bring all men together by rejecting the very God who has promised to draw humanity into true unity with himself. Moreover, the lodge forbids the use of the name of the one person who has already made us all one in his Body and Blood – that is, the name of Christ Jesus. If God has already given us the means to true unity through his Church, then why would we join an organization that is opposed to its teachings and mission?
Even for the Masonic Order to hold that it is an organization that brings all men together is a principle that plots against the Catholic Church, which concertedly holds that it is the one gift/organization that Jesus Christ started himself, through his apostles, through which all men would be one with him. That is, Freemasonry offers itself as an organization through which all men can be one with each other, while the Catholic Church offers herself as an organization through which all men and women can be one with God. This is an irreconcilable conflict.
The principles of the Masonic order plots against the Church because it teaches an alternative truth, but because truth is not a thing, but rather a person – Christ Jesus (Cf. Jn. 14:6), essentially, Freemasonry teaches another Gospel (not that there is another) (Cf. Gal. 1:6), but this is what it does. Sacred Scripture is clear in saying that the word of God is truth (Cf. Jn. 17:6) and the truth is what sets us free (Cf. Jn. 8:31-32). This is the mission of the Church – to guide us along the path to dwell in truth and freedom, but Freemasonry acts against that, by perpetuating a system of alternative truths and self-determinism.
CATHOLICISM AND FREEMASONRY – A MATCH NOT MADE IN HEAVEN
We all know that the Masonic order, Lions, Rotary Club, Girl Scouts, and etcetera, do good many things for many people, and we even know atheists who do many good deeds. Indeed, God does make allowance for our deficient labors by always conforming them to his glory. Yet the life of the Cross is not just about doing charity, rather we are called to share the love of Christ Jesus through that charity; that is, to love as Christ loved us. To love in this way is impossible to do through an organization that has been historically opposed to and constitutionally forbids its members from proclaiming the Gospel inside of the lodge.
The Holy Spirit cannot use us effectively when our bodies are voluntarily persisting in such an uncooperative state. That is, the commission to make disciples of all nations and to Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit can never be accomplished by the way of Freemasonry (Cf. Mt. 28:19). The great danger in all organizations outside of the Church is that not one of them did Christ Jesus promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against, as he promised to his Church (Cf. Mt. 16:17-18).
I am not saying that people who are affiliated with the Masonic order or organizations like it are all going to Hell! What I am saying is that the Canon Law of the Catholic Church is absolutely sound and correct and all Catholics should be obliged to follow it. Because Freemasonry and all organizations like it hinder our relationship with God more than they help it, these organizations can never positively help us get to Heaven. In contrast, the sacraments of the Catholic Church are all that are necessary for eternal life. In other words, if your goal in life is Heaven then there is no grace-filled value in belonging to organizations that do not proclaim Christ Jesus as The Truth.
As for myself, at the hour of judgment, I would much rather confess to God the Father that I obeyed the will of his Church, rather than that I obeyed the will of my flesh. I would much rather confess that I had cooperated with his Church, rather than that I had cooperated with organizations that plotted against his Church. Therefore, be vulnerable only to God and faithfully receive the sacraments of the Church.