Christianity and Freemasonry
Rev. J. L. C. Dart
The following comes from:
Alphonse Cerza, Anti-Masonry: Light on the Past and Present Opponents of Freemasonry (Fulton, MO: Ovid Bell Press, 1962; 410p.), appendix G, 296-302.
Dart speaks for himself here, and magnificently. The page numbers reference the page above the number. A few of the jewels are placed in maroon.
Rev. J. L. C. Dart wrote this in 1951 against Rev. Walton Hannah’s article against Freemasonry in the Theology (January, 1950), a magazine in London. An ardent anti-Mason and shortly later, Hannah wrote his vicious Darkness Visible: A Christian Appraisal of Free Masonry (London: Augustine Press, 1952, 5th ed. 1953; 232p.; 10th rev. ed., London: Britons Pub. Co., 1963; Saint Austin Press, 1998), which would go through several prints and is still available.
for more and the book—
Character Counts: Freemasonry U.S.A.’s National Treasure and
Source of Our Founding Fathers’ Original Intent
Rev. J. L. C. Dart
Published in the January, 1951 issue of Theology, a
magazine of London, England,
in answer to the first article published by the Reverend Walton Hannah.
The author of this article is the Reverend J. L. C. Dart, past assistant grand chaplain, England,
and a past master of Mailing Abbey Lodge No. 1663, E. C.
When it is remembered that very many of the most respected of our leaders today consider themselves honored to be numbered amongst Freemasons, Mr. Hannah’s attack upon the fraternity in the January number of “Theology” seems scandalous.
A great deal that Mr. Hannah writes suggests foolish mummery. A few minutes reflection upon some of the great names, great in every walk of life, who have been proud to be Freemasons, ought to suggest to everybody that the Craft cannot be the futile thing which he suggests it is. But, lest that conviction should gain ground, Mr. Hannah hastily takes another line. It is both futile and deadly. It is a damnable heresy, a mystery religion, a revival of gnosticism, an attempt to destroy Christianity. But, of course, not many of its adherents understand its true character. Few attempt to strip away the veils which hide its reality. Most take it at its face value and enjoy dressing up and indulging in puerile ceremonies. Once again glance at the names of some of the great men who have ranged themselves under the banner of Freemasonry. Was Isaac Newton a nit-wit? And Christopher Wren? Was Frederick the Great a feeble play-boy? But those were men who lived long ago. Yes, but search and see. It will be found that some of the most distinguished men of every generation have been Freemasons, and our own is no exception. How unpardonable it is to suggest that a society, well known for its public charity, can be composed only of fools or knaves!
With respect to the lighter side of Masonry, Mr. Hannah has been too credulous. With regard to its serious side, too clever. He has read
a number of books, which do, in fact, suggest that Freemasonry has some affinity with the mystery religions, but he has not understood what he has read. For, just as there are anthropologists who try to prove that Christianity itself, and especially on its sacramental side, is derived from mystery religions, so are there scholars who do the same for the Craft. What Mr. Hannah has failed to understand is that there is a greater gulf than that which used to separate Jews from Gentiles. Sometimes even orthodox Masonic writers play with the ideas of the other two systems, in much the same way that a Christian like Dr. James will use some of the theories of The Golden Bough. Mr. Hannah does not know enough about his subject to distinguish between orthodox, heterodox, and “tentative” authors.
The three bodies among which Freemasons are divided may be called Regular, Continental and Theosophical. The Continental Freemasons are organised under Grand Orients and are political, atheistical, and bitterly anti-clerical. They are spread over all the world, but more especially in Latin countries. There are a few, but very few, Regular Masons in these countries also. Theosophical Masonry acquired importance largely through the work of Mrs. Besant. It comprehends such bodies as the Star in the East. . . . It admits women to full membership. It attempts a synthesis of religions. Regular Freemasons are organised under Grand Lodges which are in-dependent of one another, but, nevertheless, are bound to the Grand Lodge of England, or the Grand Lodge of Scotland, in much the same way that the Dominions are linked to Great Britain. Regular Freemasons are found all over the world, except that, possibly, they do not practise today behind the Iron Curtain. They are fanatically non-political and maintain firmly that belief in God is the great foundation of the Masonic system. They refuse all co-operation and fellowship with both Continental and Theosophical Masons, so much so that any Regular Mason who was known to have attended a lodge of either of the other groups would have his name struck off the register of his Grand Lodge.
Into the curious details which Mr. Hannah gives about ceremonial it is not necessary to go. It is not possible to deny some of his imaginings without seeking to vouch for the truth of others, thus being unfaithful to Masonic obligation. The scales are heavily weighed in any argument of this kind in Mr. Hannah’s favour. He can say what he likes and describe when he likes, and he must be allowed to get away with it. This kind of attack by ridicule upon things, uncongenial, or misunderstood, is very easy and has often
been made. The “mingle-mangle, numpsing, and hocus-pocus” jests of the Puritans about sacramental worship are cases in point.
Although it is not possible to consider Mr. Hannah’s descriptions in detail, I can join issue with him about some of the more important principles which he raises. First, there is the question of a Freemason’s oath. It must be borne in mind that no one is compelled, persuaded, or even asked to become a Freemason. The institution does not actively recruit new members. Indeed, every candidate has to declare on his honour that no pressure has been put upon him by his friends, nor has he been enticed to come forward by mercenary or any other unworthy motive, but that he freely and voluntarily offers himself as a candidate. Then he solemnly undertakes that he will never say or do anything which might disclose to non-Masons the secrets of the Order. If he should break this promise he acknowledges that he would deserve certain punishments. I pass over the fact that Mr. Hannah has not got these right. The point is of no importance. But what does matter is that the deserved penal ties all concern this life. There is no wickedness in saying to a friend, “If I do so-and-so you can knock me down. It will serve me right.” The Freemason does not say, “I swear by God” or “I take God to witness” or “As I hope for eternal salvation.” What, in effect, he says is, “If you will let me into your society and share with me your secrets, then I solemnly undertake to be worthy of your confidence and never improperly to divulge what you tell me. If I do, then you may punish me. I shall deserve it.” Then he proves that his promise is to be taken seriously by praying to God to enable him to keep it faithfully. Strictly speaking the obligation is not a vow at all. What fantastic nonsense it is to say that it violates Christian principles!
The question of the restoration of a candidate to light is equally absurd. Mr. Hannah would have us believe that the Craft teaches that all Christians are in a state of darkness until they receive the blessing of Masonic light. To every candidate the question is put, “In all cases of difficulty and danger in whom do you put your trust?” The candidate must answer “In God.” If he cannot, or will not, he is rejected. Is it not obvious that a man who can give the required answer to that question has already attained to a very considerable spiritual light? The light of Masonry is not in conflict with the light of religion. It is something peculiar to itself, and there I must leave the matter.
By far the most serious of his charges which in his ignorance Mr.
Hannah brings against Freemasonry are concerned with the doctrine of God. First, he accuses the fraternity of being indifferent to the nature and character of God, and then he goes on to maintain that it has a peculiar God of its own. He is right when he says that Regular Masonry demands faith in God as a necessary condition of membership. “But,” says he, “any kind of God will do. If a man believes in Allah, or Krishna, or Jehovah, he is as welcome as one who believes in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That also is true, but the deduction which Mr. Hannah goes on to make is wholly wrong. Freemasonry insists on a belief in God because it holds that if men do not believe in one, and in a future life, they can have no trustworthy standard of life, or code of morals. They can have no real sanctions or values. Expediency must be their only rule. But, when once belief in God is affirmed, no further inquiry is necessary for Masonic purposes. It is absolutely true that there is nothing in Freemasonry which conflicts with any man’s religious.. beliefs or duties. Every Freemason believes, and he is expected to believe, in his own God and should strive to obey his commands. That is why the Volume of the Sacred Law open in lodge may be a Bible or a Koran, or any book which members accept as containing the revelation of the will of him whom they worship. That is why they may all be open together. As is his custom, Mr. Hannah misinterprets this. It is not because Masons think that “all gods are equally good and all bibles equally true.” It is because they empect that every Mason will believe that the God whom he worships is the true God, and because they respect one another’s religious convictions. The Great Architect of the Universe I know to be the Blessed Trinity in Unity. My neighbour may believe that he is Allah, or Shiva, or whom he will. We allow no religious controversy in lodge, but each worships Him in whom he believes, and we speak of Him by symbolic titles, which we all believe are true in themselves, and which we know are common to us all. We are convinced that it is right that, in this divided and suffering world, men of different creeds should be able to come together on the common platform of faith in a supreme Ruler and Judge of the World in order that they may work for unity and peace amongst men, encourage brotherhood, and engage in charity.
It would not be true to say that Masonry has no doctrine of God at all. It most certainly teaches that God is not just the First Cause or merely a “force.” For Freemasons he is personal. He is the Great Architect of the Universe, who created all things as he willed. He
is the Grand Geometrician, an idea not far from that of Jeans, who says that creation looks to him like a mathematical thought. He is the Most High. He is absolute holiness and justice. But what is there in these ideas that need frighten a Christian? Are they not true? Does the fact that Hindus and Parsees agree that they are true make them heretical or dangerous? Because Jews hold them, are they impossible for a Christian?
It is when he reaches the Royal Arch that Mr. Hannah touches the summit of his futility. For then, dropping the accusation of in-difference he accuses Freemasonry of being a revival of gnostic heresy and of attempting to undermine Christianity. It presents for the adoration of its initiates an idea of God which is derived from the pagan religions of antiquity. But are Christians bound to believe that there was nothing but falsehood in paganism and that preparation for the Incarnation was confined to the Jews? Are they bound to believe in fact, that God did leave himself without witness amongst the heathen? If so, then St. Paul was sadly misled. What does the Royal Arch really teach? That God is one eternal, unchanging, transcendent, self-existent, the Lord and Ruler of all creation, the righteous Judge of all flesh, the universal Father, who is to be approached by his creatures only with the very deepest reverence. What is there here to which any Christian, any Catholic, need take exception? Is not the God of Christian worship “the true and living God most high?” I agree, with all my heart, that this does not include the full revelation of God, but does it not afford a perfectly legitimate meeting place from which men who hold it may start off together to perform works of charity? Although such a foundation of mutual belief is not the best that can be imagined, it is surely as worthy of respect as the “mutual funk” which would seem to be the basis of the United Nations. But I have not yet heard anyone denounce that institution as anti-Christian! Must we wait until Muslims and Hindus and Parsees have accepted God’s manifestations of himself in the Incarnation before we can join with them to ameliorate the lot of the widow and the orphan? Is it wrong to pray with them to God when we are engaged in organising works of mercy and pity? The Pope says it is—but then, not long ago, he told his subjects that it was wrong for them to say the Our Father with separated Christians who were longing and praying for the restoration of Christian unity. Did we Anglicans approve of that?
Christianity, we are often told, is an exclusive religion. It can never equate itself with others, for it is the custodian of the Good
News, the final and complete revelation of God to this world. I agree. It is not the best of religions; it is the only true religion. But that does not compel Christians to deny that there are elements of truth in most religions, and it does not mean that it is wrong for them to have friendly intercourse with Samaritans and other neighbours, who have not yet been led to realise the truth as it is in Jesus. At least, not so have I learned Christ. The world in which we live is darkened by fears, greeds, hatreds, and ambitions. The only true light in our darkness is our Lord and Saviour. But because of our divisions and strifes and blindnesses not all can see him. Free-masonry is trying to build a neutral platform on which men of very different loyalties can meet and learn to know and respect one an-other and engage in Christ-like charity. It is not hiding the light of Christ or substituting anything for him. On the contrary by trying to promote mutual understanding it is hastening the day of his triumph. That is how any Christian, who really believes his religion, should judge.
As a matter of fact, Freemasonry contains in its own system a great deal more than a suggestion that God cannot be perfectly known until he is seen in Christ. Mr. Hannah mentions, but shies away from, the question of the Higher Degrees. Well he may, for they destroy his contentions. They are “Freemasonry”; they are built up on the craft degrees, but no one is allowed to proceed to them who cannot profess that he believes in the Blessed Trinity. The Higher Degrees are completely Christian and orthodox.
But Rome has spoken out loudly about the evil of Freemasonry. She is in direct contact and conflict with Continental Masonry, and it is largely through her own action that the Grand Orients have become so hostile to religion. She knows very little about Regular Masonry. Rome condemns any religious or quasi-religious organisation of which she has not complete control. She is an autocracy, and all autocrats, such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin have prohibited the Craft. Dictators cannot bear any limitation to their authority, which accounts for the persecution of religion, as well as Freemasonry, behind the iron curtain, and the Roman Catholic ban on united prayer. Scoutmasters know that Rome’s attitude is by no means invariably helpful. Rotary has lately been banned—why it is hard to say, for it is little more than a luncheon club, which tries to promote international friendship and understanding between different classes and professions. It has no religious platform at all.
At present Regular Freemasonry is not a separate religion, or a
schism, withdrawing men from the Church into its organisation. So far from doing that, it exhorts its members to discharge faithfully the duties of the particular religion to which they belong. But there are hostile forces contending for its soul. There are men, even in England, who regret its religious side and would like it destroyed so that Grand Lodges and Grand Orients could work together. There are others who really hold the gnostic doctrines which Mr. Hannah attributes to Regular Freemasonry. There are men who would make it into a new religion. At the present moment the Grand Lodges will have nothing at all to do with them, but any-thing like an official condemnation of the fraternity would play directly into the hands of the destructive elements. That very thing happened on the Continent. It was the papal ban which changed Grand Lodges into Grand Orients, and made them the bitter enemies of the Church which they are today. God forbid that that should happen in England. The way to prevent it is not to ostracise it, but for priests and devout laymen to come into it and keep it from being captured by the enemies of true religion. Is it worth while? Freemasonry, beyond doubt, is one of the most alive institutions in the world today. Its growth is phenomenal. New Lodges are being chartered by the Grand Lodge of England alone at the rate of over one hundred a year. Why should we drive this enthusiastic body of men into the arms of the devil and convert a society, which today is one of the most highly organised powers that exists for good, into the enemy of the Church?
I am a Catholic and a priest. If I believed that Freemasonry compromised either my allegiance to my Saviour, or my loyalty to his Church, I would drop it as I would a rattlesnake. But I know that it does not and I know what I am talking about.
for more and the book—
Character Counts: Freemasonry U.S.A.’s National Treasure and
Source of Our Founding Fathers’