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Clash of the dogmas

'Nevertheless, the history of Freemasonry in the Philippines is closely tied to politics'

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Business World Weekender - Phillipines

Clash of the dogmas

June 10, 2010


Manila Masonic Temple, freemasons, freemasonry

Masonic Style: The facade of the Masonic Temple on Taft Avenue. -- Photo By Jonathan L. Cellona

Manila Masonic Temple

Masonic Style: the interior of the Masonic temple on Taft Avenue, Manila. -- Photo By Jonathan L. Cellona

Manila Masonic Temple

Masonic Style: A masonic symbol showing its original roots in the stonecutter’s trade. -- Photo By Jonathan L. Cellona

Faith has ever been a source of divisiveness as well as unification of people.

One tends to forget the rift between The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines and the Roman Catholic Church until pulled up short by the news that a prominent citizen, in good standing with civic society, is suddenly barred from Church rites.

Take the case of the late Quezon Governor Rafael Nantes, who because of his status as a freemason and Born Again Christian, was denied a Catholic burial last May; instead, he was buried at a private cemetery at the foot of Mount Banahaw in Lucban. No mass could be officiated in his presence (although his mortal remains could be blessed, and prayers for his soul were encouraged).

In contrast, all civic pomp was observed in the funeral cortege, accorded an honor guard from the military and police. Dignitaries paid their respects, including president-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, and recently retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno. (Incidentally, Mr. Puno is also a freemason, in fact a past Grand Master -- the highest elected legislative officer in a Masonic Lodge -- and may suffer a similar snub from the Church in the future. Currently serving his one-year-term as Grand Master is Gen. Avelino I. Razon, Jr.)

Dictates of Canon Law

One cannot be a Mason and expect to remain a Roman Catholic in good standing with the Church. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on July 6, 2002, issued a Joint Declaration applying the provisions of Canon Law on sanctions against membership in Freemasonry, thus:

"Any Catholic publicly known to be a member of any Masonic Association, and actively participates in its program and activities, or promotes its views, or holds any office therein, and refuses to renounce such membership despite at least one warning is to be punished with an interdict" (as stated in the abridged version of A Primer on Freemasonry, published by the CBCP in September 2003).

Upon incurring an interdict declared by the ecclesiastical court, the baptized Catholic is forbidden to participate in public acts of worship such as hearing mass and receiving Holy Communion, and other Sacraments. He is forbidden to act as a sponsor in baptism and confirmation. He is also denied an ecclesiastical burial, unless some signs of repentance before death have been shown.

Where Church funeral rites are allowed by the bishop, no Masonic services shall be allowed in the Church or cemetery immediately before or after the Church rites in order to avoid "public scandal." (Masonry gives funeral rites to departed Master Masons upon request of the family, regardless of whether they were denied Sacraments by the Roman Catholics Church.)

Any Catholic who is a convinced member of Freemasonry, "notoriously" adhering to the Masonic vision, is already considered excommunicated latae sententiae -- that is, without any need for a formal judgment issued by the ecclesiastical court, he is regarded as a stranger to the Church, and deprived of the spiritual benefits shared by all the members of Christian society.

A Freemason who is a leader in his lodge and promotes Freemasonry is liable to be an interdict; and if, subjectively, he maintains a convinced adherence to the philosophy of Freemasonry, he incurs excommunication latae sententiae.

In the Church’s defense, they are ever-ready to welcome a prodigal back into the fold. For their part, Masons would be the first to say that it’s the prerogative of the Church to sanction its members, although they themselves tend to take a less rigid stance.

"We do not object to Roman Catholics who petition for membership in Masonry... a Mason, Gregorio Aglipay, founded the Philippine Independent Church because the Caucasian Roman Catholic priests refused to allow Filipino priests to say Mass and Rome supported such prejudice," Victor A. Yu, Past Senior Grand Lecturer of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines (GLP) and currently part of the team behind the publication Cabletow, e-mailed BusinessWorld.

"I do believe, however, from the laxity in the imposition of sanctions against Masons in the Philippines, that the Filipino clergy is more tolerant than their counterparts in Rome. [There were] efforts by some of our Filipino [clergy] before for the lifting of such sanctions for Filipino Roman Catholics who are Masons, but their efforts often end up in futility in Rome," he added.

A history of acrimony

Rogelio L. de los Santos noted in Patriots, Masonry and the Filipino Religious Psyche (a research project of the National Historical Institute, 2006), mentions that while the Masons were looked upon favorably by the Church in the early days (requirements for admission even included confession, and profession of faith in the Holy Trinity), by the 17th and 18th centuries, "the religious character of the Masons would be subjected to doubt and criticism, owing to members who were influenced by the liberal and anti-clerical ideas of the Period of Rationalism and Secularism" (1600-1700 A.D.).

Reverend James Anderson, the minister of a Scottish Presbyterian Church in London, said to have been influenced by John Calvin, introduced the concept of God as "the Great Architect of the Universe" in Masonic teaching. In 1723, Mr. Anderson and John Desaguliers drew up the Masonic constitution and ritual; it kept the framework of the old operative Masonic guilds but alterations were made that removed the Catholic soul and spirit from these constitutions. The Craft was opened to Jews and other non-Catholic believers, further alienating the Church.

Past Grand Master Reynold S. Fajardo, explained Masonry’s appeal in The Brethren: Masons in the Struggle for Philippine Independence (published by Enrique L. Locsin and the GLP, 1998): "Masonry preached religious tolerance based on an irreducible minimum of belief in God and the immortality of the soul, personal and civic morality, liberty, equality and peace. It emphasized the ideals of brotherhood, freedom of conscience, tolerance, as well as the absence of class, caste, and race requirement as its standards of admission."

Masonry spread its influence among the upper classes and acquired "the spirit of revolt" against both the Church and civil authorities, particularly in Spain where, noted Mr. Fajardo, it gradually became anti-clerical and acquired the character of a subversive secret society championing modernism, secularism, and democracy versus medieval theocracy.

The backlash was persecution of Masons.

A succession of 10 Popes issued condemnations deploring masonry, starting with Clement XII in 1730 who called freemasonry "wicked and perverse," subject to excommunication, with absolution given only by the Pope except in cases when the Masonic sinner is in his deathbed. Masons were blamed for seditious acts and revolutionary uprisings in Europe (Pius VI, 1775; Pius VII, 1821), anti-Catholic movements in Spanish America (Pius X, 1903), and generally causing "the ruin and devastation of the Church and the state" (Pius XI, 1922).

Given the long drawn-out discord between the Church and Masons, it is unlikely that the situation will change anytime soon. The Church maintains that its disapproval of Freemasonry is "based more on questions of religious principles than on whether a particular Masonic lodge is anti-Catholic or not." There is some unease over the perceived "influence" and "power" of Masons.

Politics and Masons

It’s interesting to note that a number of our politicians and patriots found merit in Freemasonry. It has given rise to speculation that the reason for joining the brotherhood is to make connections -- a charge that Masons object to on principle.

"It is only a perception due to its members [being in politics]. Discussions on partisan politics and religion in our meetings and activities are prohibited because such topics tend to be divisive... I must admit that there are also others who have what we call ’mercenary motives’ and they will be frustrated if they miss the essence of Masonry which is to become better men," Mr. Yu stated.

Nevertheless, the history of Freemasonry in the Philippines is closely tied to politics. Masonry was first introduced in 1856 by Spanish naval captain Jose Malcampo y Monge -- he established Primera Luz Filipina, the first Lodge, exclusive to Caucasians -- but it was the propagandists’ brush with masonry that best aided its spread to the locals.

In 1886, the young Filipino elite studying abroad -- Juan and Antonio Luna, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Jose Rizal (although there is controversy over whether he recanted in the end), et. al. -- joined Lodge Solidaridad No. 53 (later organized as a vehicle for patriotic reforms in 1888) and Lodge Revoluccion No. 65 in Barcelona, Spain. Upon their return to the Philippines, they established local Lodges (1891-1893). All the Katipunan chapters were also said to be Masonic Lodges, as Supremo Andres Bonifacio was a Mason.

"When [Padre Jose] Burgos was implicated in the Cavite Mutiny, it traumatized Rizal and the others. Those who could, left the Philippines. When they reached Spain, they felt free; they could talk against the government there. They organized themselves. At the same time, Masonry was spreading," said historian Fr. Jose S. Arcilla, S.J. in an interview with BusinessWorld.

What started as a guild in the Middle Ages -- the "operative" stone masons who worked on cathedral-building, their honorary members referred to as "accepted" masons -- became "speculative" masonry. They adopted the hierarchy (entered apprentice, fellow craft, master mason) and tools of the stone masons and gave these symbolic meanings. They also took on the rites and trappings of ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods.

"Masons used to be the engineers. It began as a quality control organization; no man with a criminal record was admitted. When that method of building became useless, they sought to build a ’temple of humanity,’ an ideal society, and this is what attracted [the revolutionaries]," said Fr. Arcilla.

How important Philippine masonry was as a factor in the fight we will perhaps never know, he wrote in his introduction to Unknown Aspects of the Philippine Revolution (St. Pauls Philippines, 2006) "Even if most of the revolutionary leaders were members of the Lodges, there is no clear evidence of an institutional link between Bonifacio’s Katipunan and Masonry. Bonifacio’s group proclaimed, like the Masonic lodges, ideals of freedom, brotherhood and equality. Hence, writers tend to identify them as one."

On the other hand, Mr. De los Santos sees a definite linkage: "It was Masonry which provided the seed-bed in which the innate aspirations for freedom, human and political rights among our Patriots would gain strong roots in order to fully flourish. It was the Craft which united and consecrated Filipino patriots to the cause of seeking reforms that would lead to the final struggle for emancipation from Hispanic rule."

Be that as it may, even if one were to look at it from a case-to-case basis, as is the Church’s wont, Masonry pulled in most of our patriots, a handful of presidents (Emilio Aguinaldo, Manuel Quezon, Jose P. Laurel and Manuel Roxas), several lawmakers (including Jose Abad Santos), legislators (including Teodoro Kalaw, Sr., whose son formally requested that the Church reconsider its stand on Freemasonry in 1968) and educators (including Camilo Osias and Rafael Palma), to name a few.

Generally, inductees must be men of legal age (21); certain organizations within the Masonic family, however, do admit women who have some Masonic affiliation by birth or marriage (e.g. the Order of the Eastern Star and Order of the Amaranth). All apply for membership of their own free will and accord. All physically undergo the ceremonies or rituals and are oriented about Masonry and religion.

Membership is approved by the Lodge and then the petition is circulated around this Masonic jurisdiction covering the Philippines, Guam, the Marianas Islands (Saipan), Korea, Okinawa and certain area in Japan (the US Base). As of last count, there is a 14,000-strong Filipino Mason population, not to mention the 2,000-3,000 added every year.

Clash of ideology

The Mason’s primary duty is to make himself as a better person; then he exemplifies his self-improvement through works for the betterment of the less fortunate in society through scholarships, medical and dental missions, and donations (to schools, orphanages, homes for the elderly, etc.) The Church would argue that this kind of philanthropy is not enough, that there must be a "super-natural bond of charity."

Freemasonry does not subscribe to a particular dogma of salvation; it remains non-sectarian, embracing all men whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, etc. To the Mason, this is upholding the fundamental right of religious freedom; to the Catholic Church, it borders on religious indifference. Sharing the latter position is The Orthodox Church, the Anglicans, and the English Methodists. Other Protestant denominations have no definitive stand on Freemasonry.

Mr. Yu divulged that United Methodists, some Baptist churches, and a number of other religions are not opposed to Masonry, that a lot of Masons are in fact also Pastors and leaders of Christian Churches. He opined that only "conservative religions, that believe that their path to God is the only way and their definition of God is exclusive to them, do not look favorably on Freemasonry.

"Masons are taught to be tolerant to other people’s faith and opinion and in some Lodges where there are members of different faiths, the Volumes of the Sacred Law of different faiths are placed in the altar to symbolize the unity of men of different faiths," explained Mr. Yu. The offshoot of such openness, he maintains, is that Masonry is able to create a viable venue for men "of different country, sect and opinion" to amicably discuss controversial issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.

While the Church respects the religious beliefs of non-Christians and promotes inter-faith dialogue, it upholds Christianity to be the true religion, the only path. Equality here refers to the personal dignity of the parties in dialogue not to doctrinal content (even less to the position of Jesus Christ as God Himself made man).

"Freemasonry considers all religions of the world as mere competitive attempts to know God, who remains unknowable. Consequently, to say that Christianity is the true religion would be unacceptable in Freemasonry," the CBCP states, adding that the Masons promote relativism, meaning no one can claim to possess a truth in an absolute way, and deism or that man is no longer accountable to God and becomes the master of the world, so one cannot speak of divine providence or revelation.

"Applied to man’s religious life, this means no one can say that he has the true religion. Applied to morality, this means that objective and moral standards do not exist. Man becomes the last arbiter of what is right and wrong," stated the CBCP. In the absence of objective moral standards, the only alternative is to fall into "subjectivism" -- consequently, Masonry is denying the Church "teaching authority" in terms of faith and morality.

In upholding only those beliefs in which all men agree, Freemasonry is accused of placing itself "above and beyond all religions." Because human reason is made the only source of knowledge, the mysteries of Christianity or what reason cannot totally comprehend are "disregarded as superstitious," whatever sounds dogmatic in Christian faith and morals is "dismissed as bigotry and fanaticism."

In addition, Christianity gives primary importance to supernatural grace received in the Sacraments, whereas Freemasonry grounds man’s enlightenment and moral perfection on man’s human effort alone. More points are raised, but in summation, Freemasonry is at odds with the Church on an intellectual, philosophical level. The basis of its appeal is also the basis of contention with the Church.

"How many truths are there? The Church preaches and defends the one truth, that’s why the masons are against the Church. The masons believe that if your free soul submits to one truth, then you are a slave of that truth. We cannot give up our truth. They cannot accept the Catholic teachings. You cannot be a mason and be a Catholic, it cannot be reconciled," explained Fr. Arcilla.

The least that the Church probably can say about Freemasonry is that it is well-intentioned but mistaken; Freemasonry would probably argue that is it actually misunderstood.

Further Reading:

Freemasonry in the Philippines