In earlier parts of this series (all available through links at this post), I considered the main points raised against Freemasonry by the German [Roman Catholic] Bishops’ Conference in 1980. However, the points that the German Bishops raised were not what we might call the “classical” objections that the Catholic Church has raised against Freemasonry. Those points were put across forcefully in a Papal encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo XIII (pictured) on April 20, 1884, known by the first words of its Latin text, Humanum Genus (“the race of man” or “the human race”). It is to these more classical objections that I would now like to turn.
It is important for Freemasons to understand Humanum Genus, its claims and its flaws. For well over a century, Humanum Genus contained the primary statement of the justifications underlying the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to Freemasonry. Although the specific points raised by the German Bishops have gotten a lot more press in the last generation, it is important to understand that the real basis of Catholic teaching has much more to do with Papal teaching than the statements of the German bishops. I suspect that many Catholics think that what the German bishops said was basically what Pope Leo XIII had said about a century earlier. This is entirely incorrect. Thus, to respond productively to the Catholic position on Freemasonry, one must not only respond to the currently popular German Bishops’ statement, but also to the older and much more important document, Humanum Genus.
In this post, I shall consider what kind of document Humanum Genus is, and I will summarize its main objections to Freemasonry. In future posts, I shall respond to these objections.
What Kind of Document is Humanum Genus?
There are many kinds of documents by which a Pope may communicate teachings to Catholics. Roughly in descending order of authority, these documents include the following:
- an apostolic constitution
- a Papal encyclical
- a Papal ecclesiastical or apostolic letter
- a Papal speech.
(The terms “Papal bull” and “Papal brief” are more a statement of the format of the pronouncement rather than the rank of the statement in its authority. Papal bulls are more formal, and the most authoritative statements tend to be in that format.)
Knowing what kind of document a given pronouncement is has implications for the nature of ‘the line being drawn in the sand,’ as it were. Humanum Genus is a Papal encyclical. As such, although important, the teachings in Humanum Genus are not of such a nature as to invoke necessarily the Catholic notion of papal infallibility.
This is a crucial point in discussions of Roman Catholicism, Humanum Genus, and Freemasonry. By the strictest interpretation, Humanum Genus is not a statement that falls under the umbrella of Papal infallibility. As such, it can be revised, corrected, or even abandoned and disowned by subsequent Popes.
Such things have occurred during Roman Catholic history. The Jesuit order was disbanded by Papal order in the late 18th century, and reconstituted about fifty years later. The Knights Templar were officially disbanded seven centuries ago, although they were declared not guilty of heresy (in a document lost until recently).
As I shall demonstrate in the next few posts of this series, there are excellent grounds on which Roman Catholic authorities could decide, essentially, to abandon Humanum Genus. This would have a great impact, both on Masonic brothers who are Roman Catholic, and on the many faithful Catholic gentlemen who are wondering how to consider Freemasonry.
A Summary of Humanum Genus
[Note: The text of Humanum Genus below is quoted from the English translation of the official Vatican website. The numbers in square brackets refer to the paragraph numbers given on that website.]
In Humanum Genus, Pope Leo XIII stated that the human race was divided into two opposing parties, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. In saying this, the Pope was not stating anything controversial; this division goes back at least to Augustine’s 5th century work, The City of God, which, indeed, the Pope quoted near the beginning of Humanum Genus. Shortly after quoting Augustine, however, the Pope made this remarkable statement:
At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons. No longer making any secret of their purposes, they are now boldly rising up against God Himself. They are planning the destruction of holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom, if it were possible, of the blessings obtained for us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. All of this is by way of prelude, as it were. Pope Leo XIII made it his business to deal with Freemasonry in a comprehensive way in Humanum Genus. He stated his specific objective in this letter as follows:
It is now Our intention, following the example of Our predecessors, directly to treat of the masonic society itself, of its whole teaching, of its aims, and of its manner of thinking and acting, in order to bring more and more into the light its power for evil, and to do what We can to arrest the contagion of this fatal plague. 
In Humanum Genus, the Pope raised several specific objections against Freemasonry. These may be summarized as follows:
1. Masonry has as its aim, “the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world which the Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things in accordance with their ideas, of which the foundations and laws shall be drawn from mere naturalism” .
2. Masons “contend that Church and State ought to be altogether disunited” , that is, Masons support separation of Church and State.
3. Masons have opposed the Pope himself, so that the Pope “was … thrust out from the bulwark of his liberty and of his right, the civil princedom” .
4. Masons argue “that the sacred power of the Pontiffs must be abolished, and that the papacy itself … must be utterly destroyed” .
5. Masonic toleration of different religions has a secret agenda. “Again, as all who offer themselves [that is, as candidates for Freemasonry] are received whatever may be their form of religion, they [that is, the Masons] thereby teach the great error of this age—that a regard for religion should be held as an indifferent matter, and that all religions are alike. This manner of reasoning is calculated to bring about the ruin of all forms of religion, and especially of the Catholic religion, which, as it is the only one that is true, cannot, without great injustice, be regarded as merely equal to other religions” .
6. Masonry permits its members to either believe or disbelieve in God .
7. Backing away from the existence of God, the Masons have an uncertain morality .
8. “[T]he … Freemasons, having no faith in those things which we have learned by the revelation of God, deny that our first parents sinned, and consequently think that free will is not at all weakened and inclined to evil” .
9. Masons declare that “marriage belongs to the genus of commercial contracts, which can rightly be revoked by the will of those who made them.” .
10. Masons declare that “in the education of youth nothing is to be taught in the matter of religion as of certain and fixed opinion” .
11. Masons declare that, when it comes to religion, “each one must be left at liberty to follow, when he comes of age, whatever he may prefer,” that is, Masons support freedom of choice of religion .
12. Masons support the idea of a government of the people .
13. Masons support the idea of a state in which no specific religion is favored .
As I shall show in subsequent posts, a close analysis of these claims provides many grounds by which the Roman Catholic hierarchy could decide to reverse the traditional Catholic position on Freemasonry. This is because either (a) the claims are outright false, being based on other organizations than Freemasonry, or (b) the claims no longer reflect something that is offensive to official Catholic doctrine (such as freedom of choice of religion).
Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
[The image of Pope Leo XIII is in the public domain. It was obtained on Wikipedia.]