The bishop of Fréjus-Toulon and author of the book 'Can We Be a Christian and Freemason?' discusses Christianity and Freemasonry, two ontologically incompatible notions.
Aleteia: There are many stumbling blocks between Freemasonry and the Catholic Church …
Bishop Rey: Yes, between Freemasonry and the teaching of the Catholic Church, there are many points of dissonance! The first is esotericism. With Freemasons, doctrine is transmitted only to a small circle of initiates. Already in the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus condemned the heresy of Gnosticism, a doctrine according to which salvation passes through a knowledge of God acquired through initiation into esoteric practices. In Freemasonry, the initiate is bound to absolute secrecy.
In the Catholic Church, there is no such secret teaching. The Bible, the catechism, the Vatican Council texts, and the teaching of popes and bishops are accessible to all. The Gospel is intended for each and every man and woman, without restriction and without distinction of caste or rank. The Church, too, is a visible institution open to all, “a sign and instrument of salvation” (Vatican II).
Ritualism is also a central point of friction. Freemasonry uses a symbolism with codes and rites of its own (clothing symbols, during the assemblies and for particular initiations). What possible link could there be between the ritual of Freemasonry and that promoted by the Church, for whom initiation is ordained to the sacramental life and the economy of grace?
Philosophical and moral relativism is also included. For Freemasonry, no truth is definitive, intangible, or absolute. Indeed, from its point of view, the truth always escapes us or is called to be constructed by man and for man; dogma is in principle opposed to human freedom.
Faith, on the contrary, teaches us that truth has the face of Christ who has identified himself with it: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14: 6). This truth is accessible to human reason and is proclaimed in the Church by the Creed, which includes the main dogmas, that is to say, the certainties that our faith confesses about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Divine Motherhood of the Virgin Mary … Dogmas constitute so many “windows” that Revelation opens onto the mystery of God.
The Church also challenges the religious relativism professed by Freemasonry, in the name of tolerance and the autonomy of Reason, by placing all religious convictions on an equal footing. Conversely, respecting everyone’s freedom of conscience, the Church sees in Christ the key to the ultimate understanding of the mystery of man and his destiny: “There is no salvation in any other” but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
Freemasonry is often associated with some form of elitism. Is this also a fundamental difference?
Of course! Born in poverty in a manger, tragically crucified, Christ identified himself with the poor throughout his life. It is to them that he has announced the Good News of Salvation. In its wake, the Church, in her pastoral care, exercises a preferential option for the poor. Her universal message excludes all elitism. This evangelical stance is in contradiction with recruitment by coopting and the selection of members in Freemasonry, according to criteria by which some people lobby to better influence the political and societal changes in the world.
What about secularism?
The Church advocates open secularism because of the autonomy of terrestrial realities governed by their own laws. Yet, she also emphasizes that these cannot be separated from God at any price. The word “lay” appears in the Christian tradition from the very beginning. Some speeches by those responsible for Freemasonry, however, appear to promote a secularism that denies the public expression of faith and relegates it to the private sphere. In a way, they are trying to make secularism a state religion.
Freemasonry asks its members to believe in a “Great Architect of the Universe.” It gives the appearance of leaving them the freedom of their religion. For a Christian, would not this great Architect of the universe be simply God?
There exists within Freemasonry a multiplicity of beliefs about the relationship to the religious, from declared atheism to so-called “Christian Freemasonry” lodges. Some, like the Grand National Lodge of France, indeed speak of the “Great Architect of the Universe.” This recognition of a divine dimension, inaccessible to man, cannot be equated to man’s encounter with a personal God, manifested in Christ, who comes to meet us to reveal the fullness of his love (Col 1:26-28). Our faith is not limited to belief in the existence of God, but reveals to us the salvation that He works through the redemption of Christ, whose grace makes us partake of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4).
Does Freemasonry somehow compete with the Church?
The official goal of Freemasonry is to work for humanity’s material and moral improvement, as well as its intellectual and moral betterment. In this, she shares the Church’s concern to work for a better world. Over the ages, there has been a desire on the part of some of the leaders of Freemasonry to build a new humanity on the ruins of the Catholic Church by overthrowing the faith it teaches. Albert Lantoine, an early 20th century member of the Supreme Council of France’s Scottish rite, said: “Freemasonry is the only human religion.”
On the position of the Catholic Church, how should we interpret canon 2335 of the old Code of Canon Law (1917): “Those who give their name to a Masonic sect or other similar associations that plot against the Church or the legitimately established civil powers, thereby contract an excommunication simply reserved to the Apostolic See”? Do all lodges plot against the Church?
As the former grandmaster of the Grand Orient of France Paul Gourdeau stated: “These two cultures, one based on the Gospel and the other on the historical tradition of republican humanism, are fundamentally opposed: either the truth is revealed and intangible, pointing to a God at the origin of all things, or else the truth finds its foundation in the constructions of Man, always in question because he is infinitely perfectible” (Humanisme Magazine, n° 193, Oct. 1990). As a result, “registering in Freemasonry means separating from Christianity” (Leo XIII). Not to mention a general conspiracy against the Church. Some former Freemasons, who left their lodge after they discovered Christ, do not hesitate to mention in some circles the Freemasons’ hatred of the Catholic Church in what she is and what she promotes. I think of Serge Abad-Gallardo’s last book-testimony, with the evocative title of I unwittingly served Lucifer.
The Roman declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith signed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 1983 states that “the negative judgment of the Church on Masonic associations remains unchanged in the new Code of Canon Law, because their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church, and joining these associations remains forbidden by the Church.” Is this a turnaround to avoid any confusion?
The Magisterium of the Church has not changed on its doctrine since the first condemnation by Clement XII in 1738, but her pastoral attitude has evolved. It is part of a logic promoted by the Second Vatican Council, during which the Church embarked on the path of dialogue with “all men of good will,” whatever their opinions or beliefs. As Pope Francis recalls, firmness of principles can go hand in hand with benevolence towards those who do not share them.
If the Church recognized the possibility of being Freemason and Christian, would it not be a new “land of evangelization”?
As Christians, we have a real mission of evangelization to accomplish. The attraction to Freemasonry highlights some pastoral shortcomings within the Church: insufficiencies in the doctrinal and moral formation of Christians, lack of interiority and prayer life, lack of brotherhood and places of reflection or sharing, insufficient quality in its liturgical life and in the expression of its rituality which is yet so rich, the need for the evangelization of the elites … So many areas to explore and invest in to bring relevant ecclesial answers. But it is in the Church and from the Church that evangelization is conceived and expressed through the poor instruments that we are. We can testify of our faith only by constantly drawing on the source of the divine grace which Christ makes spring forth continuously in his Church. It is a converted life that converts others. It is the exemplarity of a life taken by Christ that comes to meet their deepest expectations.
Freemasonry is also a network of influence and power in many sectors of society. On that point alone, why can’t we join a Freemason Lodge?
The end does not justify the means, and man must not betray his convictions (and for a Christian, his baptismal commitment) for material or professional well-being. “What use is it to a man to win the whole world if he comes to lose his soul?” (Mt 16:26). In the speech of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12), Jesus warns us that the Christian, rowing against the current of “the spirit of the world” in the sense that St. Paul gives, will necessarily be “a sign of contradiction” ( Lk 2:35). The Gospel requires us to join the world without becoming of the world, but rather bringing it a prophetic word that is both critical and full of mercy.
What attitude do you have towards Freemasons?
Several attitudes seem necessary. In the first place, we shouldn’t focus on the “Masonic plot” by exaggerating the influence of Freemasonry, or seeing it everywhere. Secondly, one cannot underestimate its influence because of the size of its network. Many have observed that in France, in matters of society, bioethics, family, or Catholic schools, the program of the main Masonic lodges of France had been partially or completely brought to fruition. Finally, we should not demonize the members of Freemasonry: among them, there are many people of integrity and generosity who are qualified and committed to the service of the common good and to a genuine humanism. Christians share with them the values of progress, humanism, and freedom, and this is what allows us to have dialogue in truth and in charity.
This article was originally publish in the French Edition of Aleteia. It has been translated and adapted for an English-speaking audience.