The Catholic Church
By Rev. Robert I. Bradley, S.J.
What is the truth regarding the present official attitude of the Catholic
Church toward Freemasonry? To begin this inquiry into that which is now
in effect, we should go back to what was stated in the Church's canon law
before there was any doubt about where the church stood on Masonry. The
former code (which, incidentally, was promulgated on Pentecost, May 27,
1917, just two weeks after Our Lady's first apparition at Fatima) contained
a canon which definitely capped all the previous papal condemnations of
it. Canon 2335 reads as follows:
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, however, when the revision
of the Code of Canon Law was underway, the prevailing spirit of "ecumenical
dialogue" prompted questions among various bishops as to whether or
not Canon 2335 was still in force. Responding to these questions, a letter
from Cardinal Francis Seper, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, to the presidents of all the episcopal conferences,
dated July 18, 1974, stated that: (1) the Holy See has repeatedly sought
information from the bishops about contemporary Masonic activities directed
against the Church; (2) there will be no new law on this matter, pending
the revision of the Code now underway; (3) all penal canons must be interpreted
strictly and (4) the express prohibition against Masonic membership by
clerics, religious, and members of secular institutes is hereby reiterated.1
This rather awkwardly structured letter (which, for whatever reason,
was not published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official journal
of record for the Holy See) came to be interpreted in many quarters as
allowing membership by laymen in any particular Masonic (or similar) lodge
which, in the judgment of the local bishop, was not actively plotting against
the Church or legitimate civil authorities.
This state of affairs, in which undoubtedly a fair number of Catholics
in good faith became Masons, lasted for some years. Then, on February 17,
1981, Cardinal Seper issued a formal declaration: (1) his original letter
did not in any way change the force of the existing Canon 2335; (2) the
stated canonical penalties are in no way abrogated and (3) he was but recalling
the general principles of interpretation to be applied by the local bishop
for resolving cases of individual persons, which is not to say that any
episcopal conference now has the competence to publicly pass judgment of
a general character on the nature of Masonic associations, in such a way
as to derogate from the previously stated norms.2
Because this second statement seemed to be as awkwardly put together
as the first, the confusion persisted. Finally, in 1983 came the new Code
with its Canon 1374:
Persons joining associations of the Masonic sect or any others of the
same kind which plot against the Church and legitimate civil authorities
contract ipso facto excommunication simply reserved to the Apostolic
A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is
to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in
such an association is to be punished with an interdict.
Cardinal Ratzinger's Declaration
Following the promulgation of the new Code, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued
a new declaration: (1) the new Canon 1347 has the same essential import
as the old Canon 2335, and the fact that the "Masonic sect" is
no longer explicitly named is irrelevant. (2) the Church's negative judgment
on Masonry remains unchanged, because the Masonic principles are irreconcilable
with the Church's teaching ("earum principia semper iconcilabilia
habita sunt cum Ecclesiae doctrina") (3) Catholics who join the Masons
are in the state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. (4) no
local ecclesiastical authority has competence to derogate from these judgments
of the Sacred Congregation. 3
With these official statements of the Universal Church now on record
4 , it should be clear that the
lamentable confusion of so many Catholics regarding Freemasonry must be
seen as only a temporary aberration -- to be written off as one most costly
consequence of a mindless "spirit of Vatican II." But we may
hope that, as in other issues that have plagued the Church in the last
score of years, there is a providence in this, a veritable blessing in
disguise. For now, more clearly than ever before, we should see just why
the Catholic Church has been -- and will always be -- so opposed to Masonry.
It may at first seem plausible that the main (if not only) reason for
its being condemned by the Catholic Church is that Masonry is conspiratorial.
Its plotting against the Church (and, in the old Code, its also plotting
against the State) is the one descriptive statement mentioned in both versions
of the Code of Canon Law. Moreover, as the first curial document we cited
(that of 1974) seems clearly to imply, the one requisite condition for
permitting Catholics to join a Masonic lodge is that the lodge in question
was not actively plotting against the Church and the State. Yet, for all
its initial plausibility, this opinion seems to be inadequate. The proof
of this is evident not only from the two subsequent curial documents (of
1981 and 1983), but more decisively still from the entire previous history
of Roman documents, both curial and papal, treating of Masonry.
Beginning in 1738 with Clement XII's encyclical In Eminenti
(just twenty-one years after the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England,
the event usually recognized as the commencement of the modern Masonic
movement) and running through ten successive pontificates, the Church's
case against Freemasonry finds its culminating statement in 1884 in Leo
XIII's encyclical Humanum Genus. Masonic deceitfulness regarding
its real objectives in society -- and its consequent policy of secrecy
regarding the authorities of Church and State, and including even the rank-and-file
of its own membership -- has always been noted by the popes, and most tellingly
by Leo XIII. 5 And in the century
since then and in our own country this conspiratorial policy has been amply
However useful this knowledge of Masonic strategy is for our understanding
of the authentic nature of the movement, it is quite secondary. It is wholly
subordinate to that which defines the movement itself: the content
in function of which conspiracy is but "method," the end
determining and justifying the means. That content -- that end --
is what we must now examine, if we are to find the fundamental and explicit
reason for the Church's condemnation of Freemasonry.
This fundamental reason can be briefly stated. The following summary
passage from Leo XIII's Humanum Genus suffices.
. . .that which is their ultimate purpose forces itself into view --
namely, the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order
of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution
of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which foundations
and laws shall be drawn from mere "Naturalism." . . .
Now, the fundamental doctrine of the Naturalists, which they sufficiently
make known by their very name, is that human nature and human reason ought
in all things to be mistress and guide. Laying this down, they care little
for duties to God, or pervert them by erroneous and vague opinions. For
they deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of
religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence,
nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority. And
since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully
to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other
divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend the
same with perfect purity, it is against the Church that the rage and attack
of the enemies are principally directed.7
Catholicism and Freemasonry are therefore essentially opposed. If either
were to terminate its opposition to the other, it would by that very fact
become something essentially different from what it previously was; it
would in effect cease to exist as itself. For Catholicism is essentially
a revealed religion; it is essentially supernatural, both in its
destiny and in its resources. Beyond all natural fulfillment, it tends
toward an eternity of ineffable union with God in Himself; and beyond all
natural resources, it begins that union here and now in the sacramental
life of the Church.
Masonry, on the other hand, is essentially a religion of "reason."
With an insistence and a consistency matching Catholicism's self-definition,
Masonry promises perfection in the natural order as its only destiny --
as indeed the highest destiny there is. And it provides for this perfectibility
with its resources: the accumulated sum of purely human values, subsumed
under the logo of "reason."
Literally a logo, the Masonic compass and square are the symbol of
a Rationalism that claims to be identified with all that is "natural."
The consequent syncretism, blending all the strands of human experience
-- from the cabalistic mysteries of an immmemorial Orient to the technological
manipulations of a post-modern West -- is the basis for Masonry's claim
to be not just a religion but the religion: the "natural"
Religion of Man. That is why its claim to date from the beginning of history
-- its calendar numbers the "Years oof Light" (from the first
day of Creation) or the "Years of the World" -- is no mere jest
on its part. And that is why its opposition to the Catholic Church antedates
the Catholic Church's opposition to it. For it cannot abide the Church's
claim to be the One True Church, and the consequent refusal by the Church
to be relegated to the status of a "sect" which Masonry would
have it be.
Since the Church's claim to be the One True Church is ultimately founded
and validated on the reality of the One True God, the opposing Masonic
claim must ultimately derive from a perception of God that diametrically
opposes the Church's faith. And so it does. Although Pope Leo does not
explicitly speak of this essential opposition between Catholicism and masonry
in terms of the First commandment of God -- "I am the Lord thy God,
thou shalt not have strange gods before me" -- surely the most radical
and simplest way of situating this opposition is to say just this. The
Masonic "God" is an idol. What the Masons really worship
is Man -- or the Spirit who has deceived man from the beginning:
the masked Spirit of Evil. This is the one primal reason why the Catholic
Church has condemned, and will always condemn, Freemasonry. It is clearly
sufficient to stand by itself as the only reason -- and in a most
fundamental sense, as Leo XIII seems to imply, that is the only reason
Gravely Evil Misuse of Oaths
We can, however, give a second reason for the Church's opposition to
Masonry. Not strictly independent of the first reason, based as that reason
is on the First Commandment, we can yet distinguish a second reason --
based on the Second Commandment. Some ten years earlier than Humanum
Genus, there appeared (even in English translation) a brief (barely
more than pamphlet-sized) but penetrating work, A Study of Freemasonry,
by the great bishop of Orleans, Felix Dupanloup.8
All the more impressive because of his "liberal" credentials,
Dupanloup duly notes the facts, and the gravity, of the Masonic conspiracy.
But what he stresses, besides the same primary point subsequently stressed
by Leo XIII, viz., the Masonic violation of the First Commandment, is its
violation of the Second Commandment by its gravely evil misuse of oaths.
The famous (or, rather, infamous) oaths that run through the entire ritual
of Masonic initiation are more than mere promises based on personal honor.
They formally invoke the Deity, and have for their object a man's total
commitment to a cause under the direst sanctions. The Catholic Church sees
in such oaths an inescapable grave evil. Either the oaths mean what they
say or they do not. If they mean what they say, then God is being called
to invert by His witness loyalties (viz., to Church and to State) already
sanctioned by Him. If the oaths are merely fictitious, then God is being
called to witness to a joke.
It is not the secrecy of what goes on "behind the lodge door"
that elicits and justifies the Church's condemnation of Masonry. It is
rather the formal violation of the Second Commandment which these proceedings
inescapably entail. The vaunted Masonic secrets, moreover, are scarcely
that secret any longer. There is in fact a frequent Masonic plea to the
effect that there are no secrets in Masonry -- that all is open to a truly
open mind. On this point we may take the Mason at his word: he is speaking
more truly than he knows!
The case for the Catholic Church's condemnation of Freemasonry is open
and clear. By its very nature as formulated in its philosophical statements
and as lived in its historical experience, Masonry violates the First and
Second Commandments of God. It worships not the One True God of revelation
-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- but a false god, symbolically transcendent
but really immanent: the "god" called "Reason." And
it invokes without adequate cause the Name of the One True God. After such
a case as this, to cite the secrecies of initiation and the further secrecies
of machination called "conspiracy" is not only anti-climactic,
it is beside the point.
To conclude: we Catholic should now see the Masons more clearly for
what they essentially are. They are the heirs (unwitting or otherwise is
irrelevant) of a religion which purports to be the one religion of the
one "God" -- and therefore the enemy, intrinsically and implacably
so, of Catholicism. Freemasonry in its modern mode is "modernity"
in the deepest (i.e., the philosophical and religious) sense of that term.
It is, in a word, "Counterfeit Catholicism." For its "God"
is the "Counterfeit God": the one who would be as God, the one
who is the prince of this world, the one who is the Father of Lies.
- The English edition which I used was published in Philadelphia in 1856.
- CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS -