Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XXVI. Persecutions of Freemasonry

492. Causes of Persecution.—The secrecy with which the masonic brotherhood has always surrounded its proceedings is no doubt highly grateful to the members, but it has its drawbacks. The outside world, who cannot believe that masonic meetings, which are so jealously guarded against the intrusion of non-Masons, have no other purpose than the rehearsal of a now totally useless and pointless ritual, followed by conviviality, naturally assume that there must be something more behind; and what seems to fear the light is usually supposed to be evil. Hence all governments, as long as they did not know what modern Freemasonry really is, persecuted and endeavoured to suppress it. But as soon as they discovered its real scope and character, they gave it their support, feeling quite convinced that men who could find entertainment in the doings of the lodges, would never, as it is popularly called, set the Thames on fire. One of the first persecutions against Freemasonry arose in Holland in 1734. A crowd of ignorant fanatics, incited thereto by the clergy, broke into a lodge at Amsterdam, and destroyed all its furniture and ornaments; but the town clerk having, at the suggestion of the Order, been initiated, the States-General, upon his report, sanctioned the society, many of the chief persons becoming members. Of course, when lodges were turned into political clubs, and the real business of Masonry was cast aside for something more serious, the matter assumed a very different aspect. The persecutions here to be mentioned will therefore be such only as took place against Freemasonry, legitimately so called.

493.—Instances of Persecution. Pope Clement XII., in 1738, issued a decree ngainst the Order, which was followed by a more severe edict next year, the punishment therein awarded for being found guilty of practising Freemasonry being confiscation and death, without hope of mercy. This was a signal of persecution in the countries connected with Home.

The parliament of Paris, however, refused to register the papal bull; and an apology for the Order was published at Dublin. But Philip V. of Spain declared the galleys for life, or punishment of death with torture to be the doom of Freemasons; a very large number of whom he caused to be arrested and sentenced. Peter Torrubia, Grand Inquisitor of Spain, having first made confession and received absolution, entered the Order for the express purpose of betraying it. He joined in 1751, and made himself acquainted with the entire ramifications of the craft; and in consequence members of ninety-seven lodges were seized and tortured on the rack. Ferdinand VI. declared Freemasonry to be high-treason, and punishable with death. When the French became masters of Spain, Freemasonry was revived and openly practised, the members of the Grand Lodge of Madrid meeting in the hall previously occupied by their arch-enemy the Inquisition. With the return of Ferdinand VII., who re-established the Inquisition, the exterminating process recommenced. In 1814, twenty-five persons suspected of Freemasonry were dragged in chains to confinement; but the subsequent arrests were so numerous, that no correct account is obtainable, nor can the ultimate fate of the accused be recorded. One of the noblest victims of the Spanish Inquisition and the Holy Alliance was Riego, the "Hampden of Spain," who was atrociously murdered by hanging at Madrid in 1823. "Have I got you, you Freemason, you son of the devil! you shall pay for all you have done!" howled the hangman, before strangling him. In 1824, a law was promulgated, commanding all Masons to declare themselves, and deliver up all their papers and documents, under the penalty of being declared traitors. The Minister of War, in the same year, issued a proclamation, outlawing every member of the craft; and in 1827, seven members of a lodge in Granada were executed; while in 1828, the tribunals of the same city condemned the Marquis of Lavrillana and Captain Alvarez to be beheaded for having founded a lodge. In 1848, Masons were no longer executed, but sent to the galleys; as late as the year 1854, members of masonic lodges were seized and imprisoned.

In 1735 several noble Portuguese instituted a lodge at Lisbon, under the Grand Lodge of England, of which George Gordon was Master; but the priests immediately determined on putting it down. One of the best-known victims of the Inquisition was John Coustos, a native of Switzerland, who was arrested in 1743, and thrown into a subterranean dungeon, where he was racked nine times in three months for not revealing the secrets of Masonry. He had, however, to appear in an auto-da-fe, and was sentenced to five years' work as a galley slave; but the British Government claiming him as a subject, he was released before the term of his punishment expired. Thirty-three years passed without anything more being heard of Freemasonry in Portugal; but in 1776, two members of the craft were arrested, and remained upwards of fourteen months in prison. In 1792, Queen Maria I. ordered all Freemasons to be delivered over to the Inquisition; a very few families escaped to New York, where they landed with the words, Asylum quaerimus. Among their American brethren they found not only an asylum, but a new home. The French Empire ushered in better days; but with the restoration of the old regime came the former prejudices and persecutions. In 1818, John VI. promulgated from the Brazils an edict against all secret societies, including Freemasonry; and, again in 1823, a similar though more stringent proclamation appeared in Lisbon. The punishment of death therein awarded was afterwards reduced to fine and transportation to Africa.

In Austria, the papal bulls provoked persecutions and seizures; hence arose the Order of the Mopses (471), which spread through Holland, Belgium, and France. In 1747, thirty Masons were arrested and imprisoned at Vienna. Maria Theresa, having been unable to discover the secrets of the Order, issued a decree to arrest all Masons, but the measure was frustrated by the good sense of the Emperor Joseph II., who was himself a Mason, and therefore knew that the pursuits of the Order were innocent enough. Francis I., at the Diet of Ratisbon in 1794, demanded the suppression of all masonic societies throughout Germany, but Hanover, Brunswick, and Prussia united with the smaller States in refusing their assent.

The history of Freemasonry in Central Italy during the last century and this, as may be supposed, is a mere repetition of sufferings, persecutions, and misfortunes; the members of the craft being continually under punishment, through the intolerance of the priesthood and the interference of the civil power.

But persecution was not confined to Catholic countries. Even in Switzerland, the Masons at one time were persecuted. The Council of Berne, in 1745, passed a law with certain degrees of punishment for members of lodges; which law was renewed in 1782. It is now abrogated. Frederick I., King of Sweden, a very few years after the introduction (1736) of Freemasonry, forbade it under penalty of death. At present the king is at the head of the Swedish craft. The King Frederick Augustus III. of Poland caused, in 1730, enactments to be published, forbidding, under pain of severe punishment, the practice of Freemasonry in his kingdom. In 1757, the Synod of Stirling adopted a resolution debarring all Freemasons from the ordinances of religion. In 1799, Lord Radnor proposed in the English Parliament a bill against secret societies, and especially against Freemasonry; and a similar but equally fruitless attempt against the Order was made in 1814 by Lord Liverpool. The Society is now acknowledged by law; the Prince of Wales is at the head of the craft.

494. Anti-Masonic Publications.—One of the earliest English publications against Freemasonry is "The Freemasons; an Hudibrastic Poem" (London, 1723). It is written in the coarsest style of invective, describing the Masons as a drunken set of revellers, practising all kinds of filthy rites. Several works of no literary merit appeared at various intervals between 1726 and 1760, professing to reveal the masonic secrets, but their authors evidently knew nothing of the craft. In 1768, a rabid parson published a sermon, entitled "Masonry, the Way to Hell." It is beneath criticism. Numerous works of a similar tendency, or professing to reveal what Masonry was, thenceforth appeared at short intervals in England, France, Germany, and Italy, such as "Les Plus Secrets Mysteres de la Ma^onnerie"; " Le Maschere Strappate" (The Masks torn off); "The Veil Removed, or the Secret of the Revolutions fostered by Freemasonry"; Robison's "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies," a work which must have astonished the Masons not a little, and for which they were no doubt in their hearts very grateful to the author, for he makes the Masons out to be very terrible fellows indeed. The work of the Abb Barruel is of the same stamp; it is entitled, "Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire du Jacobinisme," and is noteworthy for nothing but absence of critical power and honesty of statement. The Jesuits, though imitating the ritual of the Masons, have naturally always been their enemies, generally secretly, but sometimes openly, as, for instance, through the Italian zappatori (labourers), whose avowed object was the destruction of the Masonic Order. Protestants also have written fiercely against the Order, Lindner's "Mac-Benach" (1818), and Hengstenberg's and Moller's in quite recent years, are samples of such writings.

One of the most voluminous works against Freemasonry is that of Dr. E.E. Eckert, of Dresden. It is in three thick volumes, printed at various places (1852-80). The title is, "Proofs for the Condemnation of Freemasonry as the Starting Point of all Destructive Activity." He sees Masonry everywhere, even in Chinese secret societies! According to Eckert, Freemasons were the originators of the Illuminati and Burschenschaft in Germany, of the Jacobins and Juste Milieu in France, of the Carbonari in Italy, of the Liberals in Spain, and the Gioviue Italia! He was expelled from Berlin in consequence of his attacks on highly-placed Masons. The latest work of importance hostile to Masonry is by the late Pere Deschamps, in three large volumes, entitled, "Les Societes Secretes et la Societe" (Paris and Avignon, 1882-83). The writer, a priest, sees only evil in the fraternity, and, in fact, all evil in the world political, social, moral is due to the occult action of the Masons, whose object is the overthrow of all religion, morality, and justice.

In 1873, a German work, entitled, "The Secret Warfare of Freemasonry against Church and State" (an English translation was published in 1875), had brought the same charges against the Society's action on the Continent. And Masonry continues to be the bugbear of the Church. In 1875, Pope Pius IX. fulminated a bull against the Order; in 1884, shortly after the installation of the Prince of Wales as Grand Master Mark-Mason, the Pope issued an encyclical, Humanum genus, in which he denounced the Order as criminal, impious, revolutionary, and everything bad; towards the end of September of this present year (1896) an anti-masonic congress, convoked by the Church, was held at Trent, and attended by about six hundred priests, presided over by Cardinal Agliardi, armed with the Pope's brief condemning Freemasonry. The whole proceeding was an exact counterpart of the meeting held on the 1st February 1762, when "many gentlemen, eminent for their rank and character." including "Pomposo" Johnson, were, by the invitation of the Rev. Mr. Aldrich, assembled "to inquire into the noises made by the Cock-lane ghost. Sitting with closed doors, the Congress discussed Miss Diana Vaughan, who, in a book published by, or attributed to her, described how at an early age she was initiated into Freemasonry, and that in American lodges she had frequent interviews with Lucifer, and some of his imps. The truth or untruth of this statement was seriously debated by the "learned divines" assembled at Trent! And they left the matter in doubt. The reverend fathers seem to have been particularly shocked at the liberties taken with the devil's personality; yet they must know that the devil has for ages been an object of ridicule, the theme of ribald songs and jokes even in the mystery plays.

Dr. Bataille wrote a book entitled, "The Devil in the Nineteenth Century," which is a specimen of the grossest superstition, which was ridiculed in a reply afterwards published by a Count H.C., and wherein he regrets that a large number of high personages, particularly among the clergy, should have been thus imposed upon. Dr. Bataille in his book referred largely to devil-worship in the East; Count H.C. contradicts most of the doctor's statements.