French Revolution and Beyond

Freemasonry was very popular in France and it was exceeded only by its variety. Before and after the chaos of the French Revolution in 1779 , the Grand Lodges in France disagreed in Philosophies , politics and rituals. An array of Masonic organizations developed which included 36 masonic groups , 26 Orders , admitted women and had nearly 1400 different degree rituals. There are still at least 13 competing Grand Lodges operating in France today most of them claiming to descent directly from the original body in 1728.


French Freemasonry divided , merged , closed , reopened , and underwent some astounding series of changes before and after the Revolution. At first the public admired the Freemasons and their motto of “ Libertie , Equalitie and Fraternitie “. But the Revolution quickly degenerated into years of murder and terror. Many people began to identify the Masons with those years of madness. Freemasonry almost vanished in France until Napoleon’s reign returned order to France.


Freemasonry traveled around the World throughout the 1800s. European Grand Lodges established provincial Grand Lodges in Africa , Asia , North and South America. European colonists frequently formed local Lodges and in many countries it became common for the tradesmen , members of the military and government workers to join as well.


It was rumored that Napoleon was a Freemason , but there was no historical proof of this. Many of his military officers , members of his Grand Council for the Empire and 22 of the 30 Marshals of France were. So were his four brothers , three of whom were made kings by Napoleon. The Emperor’s wife , Josephine , was made a mason of a female lodge in 1804. Whether or not Napoleon was a Freemason or not he did accept the title Protector of Freemasonry when he became the Emperor in 1804.


Belgium became independent in1830 and King Leopold I was a Freemason. Royalty was often part of Masonry in Scandinavian countries. However some countries did not believe that Freemasonry was free from political and religious subversion. In fact in some countries it was not. Russia outlawed Freemasonry in 1822 and continued this until the end of the Soviet regime.


Ongoing Vatican disapproval of Freemasonry continued from the 1700s , but it became so popular in many of the Catholic influenced areas that Catholics ignored the succession of pronouncements of the various Popes. Most regarded the anti-Masonic rules of the Church as political in nature and not deeply spiritual in nature. It was discovered that Simon Bolivar , the renowned liberator of South America , was a Mason . Benito Juarez , the father of Mexican independence who threw off the French occupation in 1866 was also a Freemason. Rightly , or wrongly , revolution was seen as a byproduct of Masonic infiltration in some countries.


In England , the Ancients and the Moderns patched up their fight and signed an agreement to form a United Grand Lodge in 1813. One of the main problem issues was that the Moderns felt that Freemasonry should be restricted to the first three degrees of the Entered Apprentice , Fellowcraft and the Master Mason. The Ancients felt that the Moderns had left out an important part of the Master Mason’s Degree. They then lobbied for the inclusion of an additional ceremony called the Holy Royal Arch. To complete the story of the Third Degree. In the classic case of double talk of peace treatise the oddly worded agreement defined Freemasonry as consisting of only the first three degrees including the Royal Arch Degree. The agreement also refused to require specific standardized ritual allowing local Lodges to retain their individual customs. This agreement only affected the English Lodges. Other Grand Lodges moved on and developed their own way of doing things.


The spread of the Scottish and York Rites took hold in various Lodges. Generally Freemasons loved pomp , pageantry and cool titles. The York and Scottish Rite degrees were full of them. Each told of a new symbolic story and had their own dramatic presentation , often conferring on the candidate a new impressive title. Each degree taught a moral lesson where they brought biblical and other legendary stories to life , with the individual mason at the centre of the ceremony.





©2018 by Lodge Cape Town.