Professor of Church History and Social Science, Milltown Park, Dublin.


IT will be useful at this stage to place before the reader a summary account of the Papal condemnations of Freemasonry, which are so severe and so sweeping in their tenor as to be quite unique in the history of Church legislation.

General Tenor of the Papal Condemnations during the last two centuries Freemasonry has been expressly anathematized by at least ten different Popes, and condemned directly or indirectly by almost every pontiff that sat on the chair of St. Peter. The Popes charge the Freemasons with occult criminal activities, with "shameful deeds," with acting under the direct inspiration of the devil, if not actually worshipping Satan himself (a charge which is hinted at in some of the papal documents), with infamy, blasphemy, sacrilege, and the most abominable heresies of former times; with the systematic practice of assassination with treason against the State; with anarchical and revolutionary principles, and with favoring and promoting what is now called Bolshevism ; with corrupting and perverting the minds of youth; with shameful hypocrisy and lying, by means of which Freemasons strive to hide their wickedness under a cloak of probity and respectability, while' in reality they are a very "synagogue of Satan," whose direct aim and object is the complete destruction of Christianity, and the universal restoration of paganism in a form more degraded and unnatural than the world has hitherto known. The Popes again and again remind Christian rulers of their urgent duty, in the interests of religion and morality, and for the sake of the peace and safety of the State, to suppress all the secret societies in their dominions. Moreover the Popes include in their condemnations and censures not only those that join the Freemason sect, but also those that encourage and assist them in any way directly or indirectly.

Clement XII. -The first Papal condemnation was issued by Clement XII in 1738, twenty-one years after the establishment of the first Masonic lodge in England, and seventeen years after the formal introduction of Freemasonry into the continent of Europe. The emphatic and comprehensive terms of this condemnation were never revoked or toned down, and the sentence of Clemcnt XII has been confirmed in its full rigor by succeeding Pontiffs:

Under an outward semblance of natural probity, which they require, and which they regard as sufficient they [the Freemasons] have established certain laws and statutes binding themselves towards each other . . . . but since crime ultimately betrays itself . . . their assemblies have become to the faithful such objects of suspicion that every good man now regards affiliation to them as a certain indication of wickedness and perversion.

Hence, the Pontiff, for the sake of the peace and safety of civil Governments, and the spiritual safety of souls, and to prevent these men from plundering the House like thieves, laying waste the Vineyard like wolves, perverting the minds of the incautious, and shooting down innocent people from their hiding places, pronounces the grave sentence of major excommunication against these "enemies of the common-weal":

Wherefore, to each and all of the faithful of Christ, of whatever state, grade, condition or order, We ordain stringently and in virtue of holy obedience, that they shall not under any pretext enter, propagate, or support the aforesaid societies, known as Freemasons, or otherwise named; that they shall not be enrolled in them, affiliated to them, or take part in their proceedings, assist them, or afford them in any way counsel, aid, or favor, publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, by themselves or by others in any way whatever, under pain of excommunication, to be incurred by the very act, without further declaration, from which absolution shall not be obtainable through anyone except through Ourselves, or Our successor, the Roman Pontiff for the time being, unless in the article of death (In Eminente, an. 1738. cf. Iuris Canonici Fontes, vol. i, pp. 656,657).

This condemnation was renewed by Benedict XIV, who condemns anew the secularism [or religious indifference], the occult character, the oaths of secrecy, and the revolutionary tendencies of the Masonic sect, and calls upon all Catholic rulers to take effective measures against the Freemasons of their territories, and secure that the Apostolic prohibition of the sect be carried into effect (Providus, 1751. Ibid., Vol ii, pp.315-318). Pius VI, without explicitly mentioning the Freemasons, manifestly refers to them, when he condemns the hypocrisy, the naturalistic philosophy, and the destructive revolutionary tendencies of his time (Inscrutabili Divinae Sapientiae, 1775, sect. 2,6, and 7. ibid., vol. ii. pp.649,652-653).

Pius VII denounces the secret societies as the prime cause of the revolutionary upheavals in Europe, and stigmatizes the hypocrisy of the Italian Carbonari (whose society, he says, is an offshoot of Freemasonry, or at least modeled upon it) who were actually affecting a pretended zeal for the welfare of the Church: "They affect a special obedience and wondrous zeal for the Catholic faith, and for the person and teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom they sometimes impiously dare to call the ruler of their society, and their great teacher." He denounces their secret oaths, their indifferentism in religion " than which nothing worse or more dangerous could be thought of." Again, They blasphemously profane and defile the Passion of Jesus Christ by their sacrilegious ceremonies. They dishonor the Sacraments of the Church (for which they sacrilegiously substitute others invented by themselves) and even turn into ridicule the very mysteries of the Catholic religion. They cherish a very special hatred against the Apostolic See, which they are striving to overthrow . . . . While boasting that they require from their members to cultivate charity and all other virtues, their real moral teaching is most depraved. They brazenly defend lustful excesses; they teach that it is lawful to assassinate those that betray their secrets, and to stir up sedition against kings and other rulers, . . . and deprive them of their power (Ecclesiam, 1821. Ibid., pp.721-3).

Leo XII reproduces the three bulls of his predecessors, and bewails the fact that Christian rulers had not obeyed the wishes of the Vicars of Christ, and suppressed the Masonic sects, as the safety of both Church and State required. He stigmatizes the destructive ravages of the Freemasons and the other secret societies, in the intellectual centres throughout Europe. He accuses them of the systematic assassination of those whom they have marked out for death. He denounces their impious and irreligious propaganda, and assumes as a certain and authentic fact that all the secret sects" although differing in name, are closely united with each other by the unholy bond of the same wicked and impious designs." He again implores the temporal rulers to take active measures against them as enemies of both Church and State. He condemns in a special way the " absolutely impious and criminal oath by which the members bind themselves not to reveal to anyone the secrets of their association, and to execute the death sentence upon those who reveal them to their superiors, clerical or lay." He admonishes all the faithful to flee from those men who are " the darkness of the light," and " the [false] light of the darkness."

Benedict XV.-Finally, in the Codex Iuris Canonici issued in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV, the previous ordinances are confirmed and enforced:

All those who enroll their names in the sect of Freemasons, or similar associations plotting against the Church or the legitimate civil authorities, incur by the very fact the penalty of excommunication, absolution from which is reserved to the Holy See. If the delinquents be clerics or religious, every Catholic is under the obligation of denouncing them to the Congregation of the Holy Office ( Canon 2335 and 2336).

Members of the Freemason sects, even though nominally Catholics are treated as heretics. Hence, the faithful are to be specially warned and prevented from contracting marriages with them (Canon 1065). They are to be deprived of Christian burial (Canon 1240), etc.

Universality of the Papal Condemnations.

It will be observed in studying these Papal documents that although all individual Masons are not accused of participating actively in the crimes and shameful deeds of the Masonic body, all are held to share in the responsibility and guilt, since all members lend their names and at least their moral support to the reprobate society. Furthermore, the whole sect of Freemasons is condemned indiscriminately. Indeed, the idea that the Popes should repeat such grave and indiscriminate accusations against the Masonic society, while at the same time meaning to exclude that portion of it which was the parent body, and was always by far the most numerous and important portion, is not credible and besides, such a hypothesis is expressly excluded by some of the Popes, such as Pius IX. Moreover, most of the Papal condemnations predate the so-called schism between Anglo-American Freemasonry and the French Grand Orient. In any case this so-called schism in no way destroyed the universally recognized solidarity of the whole Masonic sect. The real strength of Freemasonry lies in the sections belonging to the non-Catholic countries like U.S.A., Great Britain, and Protestant Germany. Without the support of these, which are mostly wealthy and influential, Freemasonry could not have attained the place of strength it occupies in the world to-day. Cardinal Gasparri, writing on June 20, 1918, to Monsignor Jouin (Founder and editor of the Revue Internationale des Societes Secretes) and conveying to him the Holy Father's grateful appreciation of his work, refers particularly to Monsignor Jouin's successful efforts "in establishing conclusively, in spite of lying assertions which sometimes deceive even Catholics themselves, the identity of Freemasonry with itself everywhere and always, and the consistent continuity of the Freemasons' policy, whose design, as one sees to-day, is the rejection of God and the ruin of the Catholic Church."3

Authority of the Papal Decisions.

For Catholics the Papal condemnations of secret societies are final and conclusive. Hence, Leo XIII could state with truth, more than forty years ago, referring to the previous condemnations:

What is of the highest importance, the course of events has demonstrated the prudence of Our predecessors. The sect of Freemasons in the course of a century and a half . . has brought upon the Church, upon the power of princes, upon the public well-being, precisely the grievous harm which Our predecessors had foretold. Such a condition has been reached that henceforth there will be grave reason to fear, not indeed for the Church-for her foundations are too firm to be overturned by the efforts of man- but for those States in which prevails the power, either of the sect of which we are speaking, or of other sects not dissimilar which lend themselves to it as disciples and subordinates (Humanum Genus, 1884).

These last words might well have been spoken by the Pope had it been given to him to look into the future and see in vision the deplorable course of events during the past forty years the systematic war against religion and Christian morality in France which threatens the final ruin of that great nation; the persistent campaign of assassination waged by the secret societies against the Catholic dynasty of the Hapsburgs, as well as the attempts on the life of the Catholic King of Spain; the revolution in Portugal, with all the horrors and excesses that accompanied it ; the revolutions in Spanish America, in Cuba, and the Philippines; the various anarchical attempts in Spain itself, and especially the anarchical rising in Barcelona (July, 1909), and the subsequent agitation aroused by the Masonic and Jewish-controlled press all over the world for the organization of an international Kulturkampf the awful tragedy of Russia; the whole course of the revolutions and persecutions in Mexico, with all their accompanying horrors; the perils that now surround ordered society in so many countries ; the irreligion, immorality, race suicide, divorce, juvenile crime, destruction of home life ; the spirit of unrest and dissipation, which are now affecting the very springs of life over the whole civilized world, all traceable in large part directly or indirectly, to the influence and activities of the same sinister but half-hidden power which, in the opinion of many, is to be identified with the Antichrist foretold in Holy Writ, or is at least the herald of his coming. Hence, even to-day, we may repeat quite relevantly the words of Leo XIII, written forty-two years ago in reference to Freemasonry: "Would that all would judge of the tree by its fruits, and acknowledge the seed and origin of the evils that press upon us, and the dangers that are impending," (Ibid., p99) so that Governments may be led to enforce the repressive measures against these enemies of God and man which the Holy See has so often and so urgently advised.