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The Christianization of Freemasonry

In this installment of Symbols & Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the Christening of Freemasonry, a sentiment that Mackey feels “… does not belong to the ancient system” of Freemasonry.

You can read more installments of Mackey’s Encyclopedia under Symbols & Symbolism here on this site and video of these segments on YouTube.

The interpretation of the symbols of Freemasonry from a Christian point of view is a theory adopted by some of the most distinguished Masonic writers of England and this country, but one which I think does not belong to the ancient system. [William] Hutchinson, and after him [George] Oliver – profoundly philosophical as are the Masonic speculations of both – have, I am constrained to believe, fallen into a great error in calling the Master Mason’s Degree a Christian institution. It is true that it embraces within its scheme the great truths of Christianity upon the subject of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body; but this was to be presumed, because Freemasonry is truths and all truth must be identical. But the origin of each is different; their histories are dissimilar. The principles of Freemasonry preceded the advent of Christianity. Its symbols and its legends are derived from the Solomonic Temple and from the people even anterior to that. Its religion comes from the ancient priesthood; its faith was that primitive one of Noah and his immediate descendants. If Masonry were simply a Christian institution, the Jew, the Muslim, the Brahman and the Buddhist could not conscientiously partake of its illumination. But its universality is its boast. In its language citizens of every nation may converse; at its altar men of all religions may kneel; to its creed disciples of every faith may subscribe.

George Oliver & William Hutchinson

Yet it cannot be denied that since the advent of Christianity a Christian element has been almost imperceptibly infused into the Masonic system, at least among Christian Masons. This has been a necessity; for it is the tendency of every predominant religion to pervade with its influence all that surrounds it or is about it, whether religious, political, or social. This arises from a need of the human heart. To the man deeply imbued with the spirit of his religion, there is an almost unconscious desire to accommodate and adapt all the business and the amusements of life – the labors and the employments of his everyday existence-to the indwelling faith of his soul.

The Christian Mason, therefore, while acknowledging and appreciating the great doctrines taught in Masonry, and also while grateful that these doctrines were preserved in the bosom of his ancient Order at a time when they were unknown to the multitudes of the surrounding nations, is still anxious to give to them a Christian character; to invest them, in some measure, with the peculiarities of his own creed, and to bring the interpretation of their symbolism more nearly home to his own religious sentiments.

The feeling is an instinctive one belonging to the noblest aspirations of our human nature; and hence we find Christian Masonic writers indulging in it to an almost unwarrantable excess, and, by the extent of their sectarian interpretations, materially affecting the cosmopolitan character of the Institution.

This tendency to Christianize has, in some instances, been so universal, and has prevailed for so long a period, that certain symbols and myths have been, in this way, so deeply and thoroughly imbued with the Christian element as to leave those who have not penetrated into the cause of this peculiarity, in doubt whether they should attribute to the symbol an ancient or a modern and Christian origin.

Greg Stewart: A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.

View Comments (4)

  • Seems the most misunderstood symbols are shown when multiples of Great Lights are placed on the alter at the same time.

  • "TO SEE WHAT IS IN FRONT OF ONE'S NOSE REQUIRES A CONSTANT STRUGGLE."
    -- George Orwell, 1946

    "THERE IS NOTHING MORE FRIGHTENING THAN ACTIVE IGNORANCE."
    -- Goethe

    GOYOPHOBIA:
    THE HATRED OF GOYIM/GENTILES BY JEWS
    ALL NON JEWS ARE ANIMALS:

    GENTILES IN HALACHA
    Foreword -- Daat Emet
    For a long time we have been considering the necessity of informing our readers about Halacha's real attitude towards non-Jews. Many untrue things are publicized on this issue and the facts should be made clear. But recently, we were presented with a diligently written article on the subject, authored by a scholar from the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva -- so our job was done by others (though we have already discussed some aspects of this issue in the weekly portions of Balak and Matot). Since there is almost no disagreement between us and the author of the article on this issue, we have chosen to bring the article "Jews Are Called 'Men'" by R' David Bar-Chayim (in Hebrew) so that the reader will be able to study and understand the attitude of the Halacha towards non-Jews.

    In this article R' Bar-Chayim discusses the attitude towards "Gentiles" in the Torah and in the Halacha and comes to an unambiguous conclusion:

    "The Torah of Israel makes a clear distinction between a Jew, who is defined as 'man,' and a Gentile."
    That is to say, any notion of equality between human beings is irrelevant to the Halacha. R' Bar-Chayim's work is comprehensive, written with intellectual honesty, and deals with almost all the aspects of Halachic treatment of non-Jews. It also refutes the statements of those rabbis who speak out of wishful thinking and, influenced by concepts of modern society, claim that Judaism does not discriminate against people on religious grounds. R' Bar-Chayim shows that all these people base their constructs NOT on the Torah but solely on the inclinations of their own hearts. He also shows that there are even rabbis who intentionally distort the Halachic attitude to Gentiles, misleading both themselves and the general public.
    For the English readers' convenience we will briefly mention the topics dealt with in R' Bar-Chayim's article:
    Laws in regard to murder, which clearly state that there is Halachic difference between murder of a Jew and of a Gentile (the latter is considered a far less severe crime).

    A ban on desecrating the Sabbath to save the life of a Gentile.
    A Jew's exemption from liability if his property (e. g. ox) causes damage to a Gentile's property. But if a Gentile's property causes damage to a Jew's property, the Gentile is liable.
    The question of whether robbery of a Gentile is forbidden by the Torah's law or only by a Rabbinic decree.
    A ban on returning a lost item to a Gentile if the reason for returning it is one's sympathy towards the Gentile and compassion for him.
    The sum which a Gentile overpays in a business transaction due to his own error is forfeit; whether a Jew is permitted to intentionally deceive a Gentile is also discussed.
    One who kidnaps a Jew is liable to death, but one who kidnaps a Gentile is exempt.
    A Jew who hurts or injures a Gentile is not liable for compensation of damage, but a Gentile who hurts a Jew is liable to death.
    One who overcharges a Gentile ought not return him the sum that the Gentile overpaid.
    A Gentile -- or even a convert to Judaism -- may not be appointed king or public official of any sort (e. g. a cabinet minister).
    One who defames a female proselyte (claiming that she was not virgin at the time of her marriage) is liable to neither lashes nor fine.
    The prohibition to hate applies only to Jews; one may hate a Gentile.
    One may take revenge against or bear a grudge towards Gentiles; likewise, the commandment "love your neighbour" applies only to Jews, not to Gentiles.
    One who sees Gentile graveyards should curse: "Your mother shall be greatly ashamed..."
    Gentiles are likened to animals.
    If an ox damaged a Gentile maidservant, it should be considered as though the ox damaged a she-ass.
    The dead body of a Gentile does not bear ritual impurity, nor does a Gentile who touches the dead body of a Jew become impure -- he is considered like an animal who touched a dead body.
    One is forbidden to pour anointing oil on a Jew, but there is no ban on pouring that oil on a Gentile because Gentiles are likened to animals.
    An animal slaughtered by a Gentile is forbidden, even if the ritual slaughter performed was technically correct, because Gentiles are deemed like animals. (Daat Emet does not agree that this is the Halachic reason for invalidating a Gentile's ritual slaughter -- but this is not the place to delve into the subject).
    Their members are like those of asses" -- Gentiles are likened to animals.

    Between the Jews and the Gentiles -- In the Aggadah, the Kabbalah, and in Jewish Thought
    R' Bar-Chayim's arguments and conclusions are clear, Halachically accurate, and supported by almost all the existent major Halachic works. It would be superfluous to say that R' Bar-Chayim fully embraces this racist Halachic outlook as the word of the Living G-d, as he himself pointed out in the "Conclusion" of his article:

    "It is clear to every Jew who accepts the Torah as G-d's word from Sinai, obligatory and valid for all generations, that it is impossible to introduce 'compromises' or 'renovations' into it."

    On the other hand, we want to make it clear that Daat Emet -- as well as any reasonable people who do not embrace Halachic laws as the word of the Living G-d -- are repulsed by such evil, racist discrimination.
    In the Hebrew text we have abridged the second part of R' Bar-Chayim's article,
    "Between Jews and Gentiles -- In the Aggadah, the Kabbalah, and in Jewish Thought," because, in our view, the Halacha is the law which obligates every religious Jew while concepts of the Aggadah, the Kabbalah, and Jewish thought are not binding on anyone, as our rabbis have already written:
    "And so the Aggadic constructs of the disciples of disciples, such as Rav Tanchuma and Rabbi Oshaya and their like -- most are incorrect, and therefore we do not rely on the words of Aggadah" (Sefer HaEshkol, Laws of a Torah Scroll, p. 60a); we have expanded on this issue in the portion of Vayeshev.

    RAMBAM, BLACKS & APES

    Was the great and revered rabbi Moses Ben Maimon (Maimonides) a racist?
    The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion refers to Moses Maimonides, a.k.a. Rambam, as “the symbol of the pure and orthodox faith.” His Guide of the Perplexed is considered the greatest work of Jewish religious philosophy, and his view of Blacks was pure Talmudic:

    1. “[T]he Negroes found in the remote South, and those who resemble them from among them that are with us in these climes. The status of those is like that of irrational animals. To my mind they do not have the rank of men, but have among the beings a rank lower than the rank of man but higher than the rank of apes. For they have the external shape and lineaments of a man and a faculty of discernment that is superior to that of the apes.”
    Several Jewish scholars have translated the “Guide,” interpreting the above passage as referring to Black Africans:
    1. Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), The Guide of the Perplexed, translated and edited by Shlomo Pines; with an introductory essay by Leo Strauss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), Chapter 51, pp. 618-19. Moses Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed, trans. and ed. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963), 2:618-19. Other translations use the term “cushites” or “blacks” in place of “Negroes.” See M. Friedlander’s translation (1904; reprint, New York: Dover, 1956), 384.
    2. Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), The Guide of the Perplexed; an abridged edition with introduction and commentary by Julius Guttmann; translated from the Arabic; Dalalat al-ha’irin; English; selections by Chaim Rabin; new introduction by Daniel H. Frank (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1995), p. 185.
    3. Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), The Guide of the Perplexed, translated from the original and annotated by M. Friedländer (New York: Hebrew Pub. Co., 1881), pp. 279-80. Here the word “Kushites” is used.
    One might also see Essays on Maimonides; An Octocentennial Volume, edited by Salo Wittmayer Baron (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941). Baron is quite explicit about the attitudes of Maimonides on slavery. On page 239, for instance, he writes, “For Maimuni [Maimonides] a slave is not fully human in matters of sex...”

    JEWISH SHIPS THAT BROUGHT THE BLACK SLAVES TO AMERICA
    The following information is documented in 4 volumes by Elizabeth Donnan, with Documents illustrative of the slave trade in America. They can be found in the National Library Washington, D.C. and in the Carnegie Institute of Technology Library, Pittsburgh, PA. Name of Ship Owners Abigail.......... Aaron Lopez, Moses Levy and Jacob Franks Crown............ Isaac Levy and Natham Simpson Nassau........... Moses Levy Four Sisters..... Moses Levy Anne and Eliza... Justus Bosch and John Adams Prudent Betty.... Henry Cruger and Jacob Phoenix Hester........... Mordecai and David Gomez Elizabeth........ Mordecai and David Gomez Antigua.......... Natham Marston and Abram Lyell Betsy............ Wm. De Woolf Polly............ James De Woolf White Horse...... Jan de Sweevts Expedition....... John and Jacob Roosevelt Charlotte........ Moses and Sam Levy; Jacob Franks Caracoa.......... Moses and Sam Levy

    HOW TO CHEAT NON JEWS

    "If there was a legal case between a Jew and a Gentile (non-Jew), then the manner of judging between them is as I will explain: if we [i.e., a Jew] will win under their laws, we judge them according to their laws and say to them: this is your law! If it is better that we judge according to our laws, we judge them according to our laws and say to them: this is our law! And do not find it difficult, and don't be surprised by it, just as one is not surprised about the slaughter of animals even though they have done no harm, for one in whom human characteristics are not complete is not truly a man, and his end purpose is only for 'man' [that is to say, the entire raison d'etre of the Gentiles is only for the benefit of the complete man --
    comment by Rabbi Y. Kapach shlita in his edition of Maimonides's Commentary on the Mishnah], and the discussion on this matter requires a separate book."

  • Freemasonry as we know it came about after the "advent of Christianity" and was thus inspired by it, in fact it was birthed within it's very womb via lodges, guilds and incorporations dedicated/consecrated to various Christian Saints with Christian Mystery plays playing an integral role. Brother Greg, you might want to consider defining the "system" to which you refer (for the benefit of the reader), as the article seems to make the presumption that Freemasonry is a primordial affair and therefore predates Christianity. It is my understanding that while one can romantically empathize with this concept, it is not an accepted fact or academic assertion. Personally, I might agree with the idea that there was an interaction or connection of some sort between the Ancient Egyptian mysteries and the operative builders of Africa and Asia and that these connections were further explored in the Roman collegia, but my emotional or intuitive feelings on the matter are still those of a fantasist in the eyes of academia. I would also feel the need to separate the various stages and contexts of the development of this thing we refer to as Freemasonry. I think it's a matter of scope.

    The De-Christianization of Freemasonry instituted under the Duke of Sussex's reign during the Lodge of Reconciliation is a milestone in the speculative Craft's history and development, but one cannot pretend as if Anglo-Saxon craft Masonry began then. Not everyone present in 1813 agreed to go along with the proposed "new way". The removal of explicitly Christian or Trinitarian affirmations, catechisms, charges, phrases, words and symbols serves to change speculative Freemasonry into something fundamentally different from what it started out as. Perhaps Freemasons can universally accept that there are multiple manifestations and that the craft is an organic institution which is influenced by context, demographics and geography. Some might say that the attempted universalization might make it feel more welcoming to non-Christians but that it does so at its own expense. It's reminiscent in many ways of the Post-Vatican II tensions between modernists and traditionalist sects within Roman Catholicism. Either way, it is historically correct to say that the removal of Christian elements from Freemasonry was/is in itself an innovation.

  • As a Mason from a culturally Jewish background, If I were to call 'foul' each time I encounter a Christian overtone in English Masonry, I'd be calling foul all the time. It's disingenuous not to realise that aspects of Christianity, or more specifically Anglicanism and the Church of England, and inextricably woven into English culture, and by implication into the UGLE. In fact, nine times out of ten, an Englishman might not even realise the ecclesiastical origins of many of the things he does or says every day (e.g. saying 'bless you' when somebody sneezes). I have certainly never felt that any of these aspects are designed to exclude non-Christians in any way. Frankly, any non-Christian who objects to these deep-seated aspects of English culture should go an live in a country where the culture is dominated by his own religion. It's no more complicated than that.

    Jeremiah 29:7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.

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