In my previous essay, Former Freemason Explains Freemasonry – pt. 1, I sought to clarify the term ‘Freemasonry’ (i.e., Free & Accepted Masons and Ancient Free & Accepted Masons) within its proper usage and delineation of being a religious fraternal organization, started in England in 1717, and consisting today of hundreds of autonomous craft Grand Lodges, and into which millions of persons have been initiated and, thereby, have become Freemasons. The term ‘Freemason’ cannot be applied to anyone who has not been initiated into the first degree of Freemasonry (Entered Apprentice), nor can the term ‘Freemasonry’ be applied to degree systems or orders outside of ‘craft lodge’ Freemasonry, such as the Scottish Rite, Royal Arch, Eastern Stars, and etcetera; rather, the nomenclature for those bodies would be ‘Masonic.’
Now, moving from the organizational terms, here in this essay, I will present to the reader the principles and purpose of the three craft lodge degrees of Freemasonry (i.e., Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason), and why the principles and purpose of these foundational degrees inveigh against Christ and His Church. This essay will demonstrate why Freemasonry can and ought to be properly called a fraternal religion.
The Problem and Admission
There is one problem and one admission that this essay must immediately tender before the demonstration is made. One of the problematic areas of Freemasonry, in regard to our examination into its incompatibility with Catholicism, is the fact that the European craft masonry guild system subsists in Freemasonry today. Evidenced by its ancient charges, such as the ‘Regius Poem’ (written circa. 1350 and 1450), the craft stonemason guild was ferociously and faithfully Catholic, before it was ferociously and faithfully Anglican. Therefore, our examination of Freemasonry must take into consideration the fact that not all their terminology and traditions are not post-1717 innovations. This fact is problematic, because it forces us to make distinctions between those terms and traditions that were perfectly acceptable to centuries of European Catholics, versus the innovations that would have been rejected by the early operative stonemasons. For this reason, Freemasonry has inherited a great deal of religious character, ornaments, and traditions, but neither of these are what makes Freemasonry a fraternal religion.
The admission that I need to make in this examination is that if not for acceptance of competing and divergent Protestant denominations in Europe, the craft stonemason of England may not have found themselves in a position in the early 1700s with multiple competing craft lodges operating in London, England. In fact, the heavy emphasis on establishing harmony and brotherhood in the Grand Lodge of England’s 1723 Anderson’s Constitution, was necessitated principally because of division and hostility between guilds and guild members due to various religious and, thereby, political differences. It was a noble effort to attempt to resolve their religious differences and to bring the craft masonry guilds back into harmony with each other, but it was truly beneath human dignity to subordinate their individual members religions under a new religion, which Anderson’s Constitution called, “The center of union” and “The universal religion.” Grounded in the lie of indifferentism, this new pseudo-religion of Europe went forth to spread confusion, dissension, and political animus for the next three centuries.
A Religion by Marks
In the early 2000s, I had been asked to be an associate editor to an upstart Masonic magazine called ‘The Masonic Globe’ and one my first contributions to that magazine was an essay entitled, “Freemasonry is a Religion.” Of course, most Freemasons are Protestant, and, thereby, hold (in the face of evidence to the contrary) a very strong defensive posture against such claims that Freemasonry is a religion. As for myself, at the time of writing that essay, I was still an Agnostic with Deist tendencies; so, it was not that I was unbiased – I was anti-Christian and I wanted to prove a point that Christian Freemasons were fooling themselves.
My argument in that essay was that if we were to examine the qualities of all conventional monotheistic religion, we would find that each of them were endowed with same four marks: (1) it posits that there is a God or gods; (2) it posits a Moral Law; (3) it offers the means for their adherents to draw nearer to God/the gods or the means for personal betterment and a life after death on earth, and (4) it has the ability on a global or local level to enforce or normalize tradition, regularity, moral law, and orthodoxy through an authority figure(s) and/or by means of a magisterial interpretation of a sacred text. I then went on to offer many examples of how Freemasonry is endued with each of those four marks.
My argument of the four marks of conventional monotheistic religions were not in direct refutation of the traditional counterclaim made by Freemasons, that Freemasonry is not a religion. Rather, my presentation of the four marks were simply to reframe the conversation outside of the rote four talking points that Freemasonry is not a religion because (1) it does not have a dogma or theology; (2) it does not have a magisterium to enforce orthodoxy; (3) it does no confer sacraments, and (4) it does not claim to offer a path to salvation by works, secret knowledge, or by any other means. I was apt in demonstrating the sophism of each of those four points; again, my goal in the essay was to represent the topic so that I could prove how Christian Freemasons were fooling themselves.
What was missing from my earlier marks was the term ‘sacrament,’ which I did not have knowledge of at that time. In Catholic theology, sacraments are actions of the Church, instituted by Christ, through which “divine life is dispensed to us through the works of the Holy Spirit” (CCC. 774, 1131). In more common usage, a sacrament is the vehicle by which the recipient of the sacraments receives assistance beyond which they did not have access to on their own. The latter applies specifically to what what is going on in the three degrees of craft Freemasonry. The three degrees of Freemasonry are a natural (non-divine) sacramental system through which the initiate is imparted the means by which to make themselves a better person; a means which they would not have had access to had they not become a Freemason.
With that enlightened understanding, here is my revision of the common marks of religion that Freemasonry is also endued with: (1) it posits that there is a God or gods; (2) it posits a Moral Law; (3) it offers sacraments or the means for their members to draw nearer to God/the gods or the means for personal betterment; (4) it intends for those sacraments or means to lead to a life after death, and (5) it has the ability on a global or local level to enforce or normalize tradition, regularity, moral law, and orthodoxy through an authority figure(s) and/or by means of a magisterial interpretation of a sacred text.
The Autosoteric Sacraments of Freemasonry
It should have been easy enough to prove that Freemasonry is a religion given that the founding document of the Mother Grand Lodge of Freemasonry explicitly states that it is a “Universal religion,” but sometimes words are just particularly arranged letters that need to be proven, before they are known to be true, and understanding the natural sacramental quality of the three degrees of Freemasonry assist greatly in the proof.
The Sacraments of Freemasonry are the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. It is through these sacred rites and mysteries that the initiate is enlightened and is given the working tools (e.g., square, compass, gavel, trowel, and etcetera) that will enable them to progress in their craftsmanship and to become worthy of further advancement. Outside of Freemasonry the initiate would not have had received the instruction provided through the degree about the operative and speculative meaning of the working tools or how to apply the tool to their life to make themselves a better person. For example, as an operative mason would use a level to make their work straight, the Freemason is taught that the level measures equality and it intends to give as a reminder that death is the great equalizer, and upon the level, each mason travels to that “undiscovered country from whose born no traveler returns.”
The severe incompatibility that Catholicism has with Freemasonry is in this conferral of its sacraments because what Freemasonry is teaching their initiate here is that there is a personal and self-determined path to salvation. Through the conferral of these degree sacraments, Freemasonry is teaching the initiate that man can save man; not through supernatural means, but, rather, through naturalistic methods and personal effort. Moreover, through its sacraments, Freemasonry is offering its initiates an autosoteric method of deliverance from immorality through personal freedom and due attention to moral discipline, which is the opposite of the Christian heterosoteric delivery method that demands that man must be saved by another (namely, Jesus Christ).
There is a lot left on the table here regarding the examples that could be offered concerning the particulars of each degree (e.g., working tools, vestments, questions, and answers), but as this series unfolds, there will be more opportunities to examine those particular areas in more detail. For now, it suffices to make the clear point that the degree system of Freemasonry is an autosoteric sacrament, which is irreconcilably incompatible with Catholic soteriology. There is no salvation through the working tools of Freemasonry, and man cannot save himself. For this reason, Pope Clement XII (In Eminenti apostolatus specula – 1738) and Pope Leo XIII (Humanum Genus – 1884) both promulgated that Catholics are forbidden from affiliating with Freemasonry, because Freemasonry is a form of naturalism; that is, the belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes without divine causation or inspiration.
Photo: public domain.
 “Undiscovered country” is a popular line from many lessons given on the meaning of the level in the Fellow Craft degree in Freemasonry that was borrowed from Hamlet.
David L. Gray is a 2006 convert to the Catholic Church from agnosticism and Freemasonry. He earned his Master of Arts Degree in Theology from Ohio Dominican University, and today is the President and Publisher of Saint Dominic’s Media. He is writing at OnePeterFive on the topic of the Catholic Church’s prohibition against Freemasonry and its Appendant Masonic Bodies; drawing from his book, The Catholic Catechism on Freemasonry. Learn more about him and his work at https://www.davidlgray.info/