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Masonry, Judaism And Christianity - Part 1

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Part 1 of 2

The committee to whom was referred the petition of Jacob Norton and others, professing the Jewish religion, praying this Grand Lodge to cause such changes to be made in the Masonic usages and ritual, as will conform the work of the Order to what they regard as ancient usage, beg leave to present the following Report: -

The committee invited Bro. Norton to meet them and express his views on this subject, which he did very fully, candidly and ably. After due and careful consideration, your committee unanimously recommend that the petitioners have leave to withdraw. The committee make this recommendation for reasons which they will endeavour to state, as briefly as a respectful consideration of the subject will admit of.

Your committee would observe in the first place, that the petitioners desire that all reference to the fact or the doctrines of the Christian religion, in the work or in the lectures of Freemasonry, should be expunged. The petitioners say in their petition, that "Masonry was intended to unite men of every country, sect and opinion." This is not so. All reasoning, therefore; upon such premises, is erroneous. This society was not designed to" unite men of every opinion." For example:- If a man believe that there is a GOD, and yet holds, that He is not the object of divine worship; is not a being to whom prayers are to be addressed; that the Bible is not his inspired word; that an oath is not binding; that there is no such thing as a moral obligation to lead a pure life; he is not a person whom Freemasonry would unite with her Institution; and why not?

We answer, because his opinions do not agree with her principles.

The basis of this Fraternity is indeed broad, very broad, but not so broad as "to unite all men of all opinions."

Freemasonry opens her doors to men of every country and of every sect in religion:- to Jews and to Gentiles. She does not close her portals against any man for his religion. In this she is tolerant, in the fullest degree. The Jews in this country are allowed to enter our Institution and enjoy all its privileges, of whatever name or nature. No restrictions, whatever, are placed upon them, because, of that religion, which has drawn upon them the most terrible persecutions, in almost every land but our own. In this Fraternity they are admitted to an equality with all others, and no distinction whatever is allowed to their prejudice. However the Jew may be looked upon and treated in the world, in a Masonic Lodge, he is recognized and treated as a brother.

In this sense our Institution is not exclusive, and embraces men of all religions without invidious or prejudicial distinctions. When the Lodge has done this, she has done all that her professions require her to do. If we did not do thus, our Jewish brethren would have good cause of complaint.

The petitioners do not pretend that they are oppressed in this respect; that they are not admitted freely and fully to an equal enjoyment of all the privileges and benefits of the Institution. But they wish to have the ritual and usages of Freemasonry, as it exists in this State, and as it has existed here since its introduction into this country, so changed that its ceremonial shall be perfectly agreeable to their religious views.

It appears to your committee, that any alteration for such a reason, would be to make Freemasonry do the very thing which the petitioners say it should not do, viz. make the society sectarian. For if a Jew have the right to require the work of the Lodge to square with his peculiar views, so may a Romanist or a Protestant make the same demand. A Quaker may object to any obligation; the Deist may object to all prayers; the Swedenborgian to all reference to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; the Papist to the use of an English version of the Bible; the Mormon to the use of any Bible at all. The Socialist may object to the rule of obedience and the practice of preferment, and to all distinctions whatever. When Freemasonry professes to receive into her pale men of every religious sect, excluding none on account of their religion, she does not mean to stultify herself by pretending that all her lectures and ceremonies are so constructed as to please every individual, by exactly according with every shade of his religious views. Such a pretension would be sheer folly, since no Institution can do this, and no honest society would pretend to do it.

What this Institution does profess to do is, to exclude no man from her pale because of his religion; to make no invidious distinctions between men of different religious sentiments. If she compelled a Jew to offer up a prayer, in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, or compelled a Christian to pray differently from the mode of his faith, then there would be oppression. If a Jew prays at all, she leaves him to pray as he thinks most proper; and the liberty she allows to a Jew she allows to a Christian. To permit a Jew to pray as he pleases, and to compel a Christian to pray as a Jew does, and only as the Jew does, would be wrong and oppressive. An Israelite believes that he should pray to the Most High alone; the Christian believes, as sincerely, that he should offer up his prayers in the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and he cannot conscientiously pray in any other way. The Jewish brother says, I cannot be compelled to pray in a way which is contrary to my conscientious belief. Very well; - in this Institution, nobody requires him to do so. But he is not satisfied with this degree of liberty. He demands that the Christian shall pray as he does, or else not pray at all. The Christian replies, that it is as much against his conscience to neglect to pray, in the name of Christ, as it is against the conscience of the Jew to pray in His name.

If the Grand Lodge should pass an edict, requiring all prayers to be in Jewish form, and in no other, then it would be guilty of violating the assurance which the candidate receives at his initiation. It would be making a distinction that would be oppressive. The true and just course is the one, which this Grand Lodge has ever pursued, and that is, to leave this matter entirely without legislation. The Jew and the Christian, of whatever creed, is allowed to offer prayer in the form which he deems the most acceptable to the Most High. No one can be, in this matter, aggrieved, who is neither required to pray in a particular form, nor required to pray at all, unless he is disposed to do so. Any absolute prescription of a form, on the other hand, by the Grand Lodge, would be an infraction of the principles of the Order.

A compliance therefore on the part of this Grand Lodge, with the request of the petitioners, to instruct the Lodges under its jurisdiction to permit only such prayers as will not conflict with any person's religious opinions, "provided he has Faith in GOD, Hope in immortality, and Charity with all men," - would be to make Freemasonry proscriptive and sectarian, which is the very thing against which our Hebrew brethren profess to petition.

Furthermore, if this petition were to be granted, and the changes made which are to be desired, where is this change to stop? Can we have only Jewish prayers, and yet have a Christian Bible upon our altar? Will not consistency require, that we should have no longer the light of Masonry, as it has shone ever since its benign ray struck upon this continent, but only one part of it, viz., the old testament, and that in the Hebrew tongue?

Again, if this request be complied with, how can we refuse to receive and grant the petitions of others, who are neither Jews nor Christians, who believe in GOD, but who do not believe in the immortality of the soul? Must we not change our lectures and charges? Must we not fling away the sprig of acacia? Can we keep that precious emblem of immortality, when it becomes offensive to the religious notions of one who believes in God, but does not believe in the immortality of the soul?

Where, we ask, is this thing to end? If we should commence the work of change, that we might adapt our Order to the conflicting opinions of all who may enter its pale, it requires no great sagacity to see, that the result would be a complete annihilation of this Institution?

Thus far, we have considered simply the expediency of making some of the changes asked for by the petitioners. We come now to the question, whether this Grand Lodge has the power or the right to make these proposed alterations? On this point your committee cannot hesitate, for a single moment, to answer this question, most decidedly in the negative.

We have received Freemasonry with its landmarks, with all its landmarks, from England. Among these is the "dedication to the holy Saints John." We have so received it, and we have so imparted it. Our Jewish brethren request us to change this dedication, and to make such other alterations "as are consistent with their religious belief."

This Grand Lodge can do many things, but there are some things which it cannot do, and to remove an "ancient land mark" is one of the things that it cannot do. If it should pass a vote changing the "dedication," it would not only transcend its legitimate authority, but it would do an act, which the obligations of the subordinate Lodges would compel them to entirely discard. What they as Lodges and as individuals have received, they must impart, and that too in the way in which they have received it, and in no other way. Without further discussion, we might rest the case here, as clearly made out on the ground that the Grand Lodge have no authority, whatever, to grant the request of the petitioners, and if they should do so, it would avail nothing, since the obligations of the members of the subordinate Lodges would impel them to resist any such ordinance of the Grand Lodge.

But for the satisfaction of our Jewish brethren, whose petition is couched in the most respectful terms, we are willing to go a step behind this position, and briefly refer to the historical aspect of this question.

In reply to what we have already said, our brethren might inquire, if we should deem it our duty to adhere to our practice, if it could be shown that we had not received the correct work and lectures? In answer, we have only to say, that we know no other Masonry than that which we have received. And we have no reason to believe that what we received, was any other than the true. So far as the subjects of the petition before us are particularly involved, we believe that :the history of Masonry will clearly prove that our practice is strictly correct. The petitioners refer to the fact, that since 1813, when the Grand Lodges of Ancient York and England coalesced under the title of the "United Grand Lodge of England," the same practice which they petition for, was adopted. With the present practice of the Grand Lodge of England; we have nothing to do. The question which mainly concerns us on this point is, what was the practice of those Grand Lodges from which we received Masonry, at the time that we received it.

In 1733, R.W. Henry Price, of this city, received from England, the first Charter ever received for any Lodge whatever, on this continent. This Charter conferred Grand Lodge powers. In the year 1752, St. Andrew's Lodge received from Scotland a Charter, which resulted in the establishment of another Grand Lodge, and so there were here two rival Grand Lodges. In the year 1792, they united and formed what is now our G rand Lodge of Massachusetts. These facts take us at once to England before 1733, and to Scotland before 1752. The practice which obtained at these periods, in those Grand Lodges, was the practice which we received, and which of course should constitute the "Landmarks" at this day. What were these landmarks touching the points referred to by the petitioners? In answering this question we are very much indebted to the Rev. Dr. Oliver of England, from whose work entitled "A Mirror for the Johannite Masons," we have made liberal extracts.

Dr. Anderson writes, under date 1679, (?) that many of the fraternity's records of this and former reigns were burnt in the next and at the revolution: and many of them were too hastily burned in his own time, for a fear of making discoveries; so that there is not so ample an account as could be wished of the Grand Lodge. When in 1720, Dr. Anderson compiled a book of constitutions, by order of the Grand Lodge, he adds, "the Freemasons had always a book in manuscript, called the book of Constitutions, containing not only their charges and regulations, but the history of architecture, but they had no book of constitutions in print until his Grace the present Duke of Montague, when Grand Master, ordered me to peruse the old manuscripts, and digest the constitutions with a just chronology."

Dr. Anderson, together with others who were constituted his associates, drew up a series of Lectures for the use of the Lodges. These were widely disseminated, and constituted an authentic digest of the pure and legitimate doctrines of Masonry. These lectures formed the basis of all succeeding ones; and, says Dr. Oliver, throughout the whole series, the Saints John are named as the patrons of the Order. They accompanied all the warrants which were sent to foreign parts; and we accordingly find that at that early period, in every country of Europe, where Masonry was planted under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England, the Lodges were called by the came of St. John.

When Masonry was revived in 1717, and these lectures were authorized by the Grand Lodge of England, we have no reason to doubt that the landmarks were then pure and unchanged; as an illustration of what was then held touching the subject under consideration, we quote the following question, which occurs in their lectures:

[Report to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts]

The Masonic Review - 1854