Freemasonry is an international movement with roots in medieval European laborers' guilds that in the modern era often took on a coloration of anticlericalism or anti-Catholicism. The movement was started in the 12th century by English masons as a religious fraternity under the protection of St. JOHN THE BAPTIST, in part to protect the secrets of their craft. The movement soon traveled to the Continent, where it took root in FRANCE, GERMANY, SPAIN, and ITALY. Edward VI (r. 1547–53) of England tried to abolish it for conspiracy.
In the 18th century, many men with no connection to the building crafts joined the group; they organized groups of “accepted” Masons whose purpose was to discuss esoteric and political ideas. Many occult and magical notions were pursued. Some Masons helped develop DEISM, believing that GOD had created the world like a craftsman but then set it loose to be governed by Newton's three laws. Politically, Masons often developed ideas of revolution and helped spark the American and French Revolutions. Such 18th-century notables as George Washington (1732–99) and Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) were Masons.
In Catholic countries (especially Italy and France) Freemasonry assumed both an antimonar-chical and an anticlerical cast, attracting the condemnation of several popes (speaking as both rulers of the Papal States and leaders of the church), from Clement XII (r. 1730–40) in 1738 to LEO XIII in 1884. The papal attitude was influenced by the role of freemasons like Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–82), who led the unification of Italy and the consequent destruction of the PAPACY's temporal powers. In the United States there is clear evidence of hostility between Freemasonry and Catholicism during the 19th century. The 1917 Code of Canon Law proscribed membership for Catholics (cn. 2335). Over the years, however, masonry has taken on more of a fraternal and less of an ideological demeanor.
In the past, their secret nature and occasional revolutionary activity created many enemies for the Masons, including the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. A popular literature grew up portraying the movement as a sinister secret society planning to take over the world.
Masonry is not mentioned in the 1983 revision of the Code. However, Cardinal Ratzinger, now BENEDICT XVI, issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations (November 13, 1983), stating, “The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.” To the dismay of critics, the declaration did not distinguish between the different types of Freemason associations, such as the African-American type, which differs widely in theory and practice.
Paul A. Fisher, Behind the Closed Door: Church, State and Freemasonry in America (Bowie, Md.: Shield, 1989); Arturo de Hoyos and S. Brent Morris, Freemasonry in Context: History, Ritual, Controversy (Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2004); A Study of Freemasonry (Atlanta: Home Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1993).
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4065000279