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Continental Freemasonry, also known as Liberal Freemasonry, Latin Freemasonry and Adogmatic Freemasonry, includes the Masonic lodges, mainly (but not exclusively) on the continent of Europe, that recognise the Grand Orient de France (GOdF) or belong to CLIPSAS. The majority of Freemasons belong to lodges that recognise the United Grand Lodge of England and do not recognise Continental Freemasons, regarding them as "irregular".
Two branches of Freemasonry
Today, Freemasonry is often said to consist of two branches "not in mutual regular amity";
- the Anglo/American "Regular" tradition of jurisdictions, typified by the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) (mostly termed Grand Lodges), and
- the European "Continental" tradition of jurisdictions, typified by GODF (mostly termed Grand Orients) with varying and shifting amity.
In most Latin countries, the GODF-style or European Continental Freemasonry predominates, although in most of these Latin countries there are also Grand Lodges and Grand Orients that are in "regular amity" with the UGLE and the worldwide community of Grand Lodges that share "regular" fraternal relations with the UGLE. The rest of the world, accounting for the bulk of Freemasonry, tends to follow more closely to the UGLE style, although minor variations exist.
History of the schism
There are many reasons why the schism in Freemasonry occurred, and why it still persists. The first instance of derecognition occurred in the United States shortly after the American Civil War. In 1869, the Grand Orient de France (GODF) recognized a Masonic group in Louisiana which was not recognized by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana (GLL). This was seen by GLL as an invasion of its jurisdiction, and it withdrew its recognition of GODF. At the request of GLL, several other American Grand Lodges also withdrew recognition. There is some evidence that racial motivations may also have played a part in this derecognition. The GODF had recently passed a resolution stating that "neither color, race, nor religion should disqualify a man for initiation" and the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, at that time, strictly excluded blacks and those of mixed race. However, this initial split was not unanimous in the US. Many American Grand Lodges continued to recognize the GODF well into the 20th century.
The schism widened in 1877 when the GODF changed its constitutions to allow for complete religious "Laïcité". While the Anglo-American tradition had long required (and still does require) candidates to overtly express a belief in deity, the GODF removed that requirement, stating that Laïcité "imposes that all men are given, without distinction of class, origin or denomination, the means to be themselves, to have the freedom of choice, to be responsible for their own maturity and masters of their destiny." In other words, the GODF would admit atheists, while those lodges in the Anglo-American tradition would not. The United Grand Lodge of England thus withdrew its recognition, and declared the GODF to be "irregular." As other jurisdictions tended to follow the lead of either GODF or UGLE, the schism grew.
Background on the belief in Deity
There is some debate as to exactly when Freemasonry in the Anglo-American tradition started requiring its members to have a belief in Deity. There are hints that this was the case from the earliest days of Freemasonry: The Regius Manuscript, the oldest known Masonic document dating from around 1425–50, states that a Mason "must love well God and holy church always." James Anderson's 1723 Constitutions state that "A Mason is oblig'd by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law, and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine." However, these do not explicitly state that a belief in Deity is required.
Nonetheless, it should not be understood that the difference was limited to the mere requirement in belief. Following the 1877 changes, the Grand Orient also removed all references to the Grand Architect of the Universe from its rite, and removed the Volume of the Sacred Law (which in France was the Bible) from its ritual. These elements had been present in French freemasonry before 1849.
Political discussion in the lodges
Another point of difference between Continental and Anglo-American Freemasonry is whether political discussion is allowed within the lodges. Such discussion is allowed in Lodges following the Continental tradition, while it is strictly banned in the Anglo-American tradition.
Relationship with the Catholic Church
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Continental Freemasonry has been concentrated in traditionally Catholic countries and has been seen by Catholic critics as an outlet for anti-Catholic disaffection. Many particularly anti-clerical regimes in traditionally Catholic countries were perceived as having strong Masonic connections.
The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia credited Freemasonry for the French Revolution and its persecution of the Church, citing a claim made in a document from the Grand Orient de France. The Encyclopedia saw Freemasonry as the primary force of French anti-clericalism from 1877 onwards, again citing official documents of French Masonry to support its claim. According to one historian, Masonic hostility continued into the early twentieth century with the Affaire Des Fiches and, according to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State can be credited to the Grand Orient de France, based on Masonic documents.
In Italy, the Church linked the anticlerical and nationalist secret society, the Carbonari, to Freemasonry and blamed the anticlerical direction of Italian Unification, or Risorgimento, on Freemasonry. Into the 1890s the Church would justify its calls for Catholics to avoid dealings with the Italian state with a reference to the state's supposed "Masonic" nature.
Mexican Freemasonry was also seen as following the pattern of Continental Freemasonry in other Latin-speaking countries, viewed as becoming more anti-clerical during the nineteenth century, particularly because they adopted the Scottish Rite degree system created by Albert Pike, which the Catholic Church saw as anti-clerical.
Even as late as 2005, the president of Spain's Union of Catholic Professional Fraternities blamed the anti-clerical measures of the Socialist government on a "tremendous crusade by Masonry against the Church."
Freemasons attached to the more mainstream branch of Freemasonry, affiliated with the United Grand Lodge of England and the 51 US Grand Lodges, have often claimed that the anticlericalism of the Continental Branch of Freemasonry is a "deviation" from proper Freemasonry.
Continental Freemasonry in different parts of the world
Continental style freemasonry has had various levels of influence in different parts of the world:
Throughout Central and South America, both Continental and Anglo-American jurisdictions exist. Continental style Grand Orients, however, are in the majority. In Brazil, for example the largest and oldest Masonic body, the Grande Oriente do Brasil is recognised by Anglo-American jurisdictions.
In many Latin American countries, the split in Masonic obedience has mirrored political divisions. Rivalry between two factions in Mexican Freemasonry, for example, is said to have contributed to the Mexican civil war.
Continental style Freemasonry originated in France and continues to have the largest Masonic presence in that country. The "Grand Orient de France" is the largest Masonic jurisdiction, with the "Grande Loge de France" (also within the Continental tradition) second in membership (the third largest Masonic body is the Anglo-American style "Grande Loge Nationale Française").
Other European countries
Continental style Freemasonry is also prevalent in countries such as Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain, although here too there are rival bodies following the Anglo-American tradition. It is present, but not in the majority, in most other European countries. In Germanic states, Anglo-American and Swedish Rite traditions predominate.
Although there are a number of Continental style organizations that are active, Continental style Freemasonry remains in the extreme minority in North America.
There are independent groups, such as the George Washington Union (GWU), the Omega Grand Lodge of the State of New York, and Le Droit Humain (LDH), that belong to the European, Continental tradition.
Continental Freemasonry is mostly active in French speaking areas. It tends to originate from the French and Belgian former colonists. Many African leaders, such as Omar Bongo of Gabon and Pascal Lissouba of the Republic of the Congo belong to Masonic lodges.
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- "So far does this militant atheism of 'Latin Freemasonry' in France go," (Johnston 1918, p. 71).
- "Nevertheless, the Vatican, with its long experience of Latin Freemasonry, has not altered its opposition to and disapproval of all brands of Freemasonry" (Glazier & Hellwig 2005, p. 330).
- "which are convinced that the social, moral and intellectual liberation of men and women will be the result of an unending struggle against dogmatic limitations, sectarian forces and ideologies that violate adogmatic freemasonry;" from The Belgian Freemasons' Website
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- "Everyone knows that the Grand Orient Lodges of Europe and Latin America have been anti-clerical from the start. For the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to advise Catholics against joining these Grand Orient Lodges would be like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People advising blacks against applying for membership in the Ku Klux Klan", William Whalen, The Pastoral Problem of Masonic Membership
- "Masonry, which prepared the Revolution of 1789, has the duty to continue its work" (Gruber 1910, VII. Outer Work footnote 163 cites: the Circular of the Grand Orient of France, 2 April 1889,
- "French Masonry and above all the Grand Orient of France has displayed the most systematic activity as the dominating political element in the French "Kulturkampf" since 1877" (Gruber 1910, VII Outer work).
- Franklin 2006, p. 9 (footnote 26) cites Larkin, Maurice, Church and State after the Dreyfus Affair, pp. 138–141: "Freemasonry in France", Austral Light, 6: 164–172, 241–250, 1905
- "In truth all the 'anti-clerical' Masonic reforms carried out in France since 1877, such as the secularization of education, measures against private Christian schools and charitable establishments, the suppression of the religious orders and the spoliation of the Church, professedly culminate in an anti-Christian and irreligious reorganization of human society, not only in France but throughout the world" (Gruber 1910, VII Outer work).
"From the fall of the MacMahon government in 1877 to the start of World War II, Masonic politicians controlled the French government. They passed anticlerical laws designed to restrict the Church's influence, especially in education" (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967, p. 135).
- "It also links Freemasonry with the Society of the Carbonari, known as the "Charcoal Burners", who at that time were active in Italy and were believed to be a revolutionary group" (McInvale, Reid (18 June 2013), Roman Catholic Church Law Regarding Freemasonry, Texas Lodge of Research, retrieved 1 August 2013
- "Masonry has confiscated the inheritance of public charity; fill the void, then, with the treasure of private relief" (Pope Leo XIII (1999), Custodi di Quella Fede (Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII promulgated on 8 December 1892), Eternal Word Television Network, p. Para 18).
- "As the 19th Century went on, Mexican Masonry embraced the degree system authored by Albert Pike and grew ever more anticlerical, regardless of Rite" (Salinas E., Oscar J. (Senior Grand Warden-York/Mexico) (10 September 1999), Mexican Masonry – Politics & Religion, archived from the original on 15 June 2011)
- "The president of the Union of Catholic Professional Fraternities, Luis Labiano, said this week a "tremendous crusade by Masonry against the Church" exists in Spain." Spanish Catholic organization blames Masons for “tremendous crusade” against Church, 27 September 2004, Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
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