In this post, I shall consider what Humanum Genus has to say about the ultimate objectives of Freemasonry. As it happens, Humanum Genus has a perception of Freemasonry and its aims that is both fundamentally flawed and highly inaccurate. I describe the inaccuracy, and give my opinion about the historical bases of this deeply distorted perception.
(Note: The numbers in square brackets below, such as “,” refer to the numbered paragraphs of Humanum Genus as given in the English translation on the official Vatican website.)
What Humanum Genus Says About the Objectives of Freemasonry
In its opening paragraphs, Humanum Genus makes its first claims about Freemasonry, claiming that Masonry has a particularly fiendish agenda:
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. 
Later, the document makes the following general claim:
[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 .
Such claims sound horrible, but we must remember that they live and die on the basis of specific evidence. What specific evidence does Humanum Genus produce to support such a claim? Many specific statements are made about Freemasonry in the document, claims with which I shall deal later in this series. However, early on, Humanum Genus makes a statement that it calls “the fundamental doctrine” of Freemasonry, the basis of all Masonry’s other supposed moral errors, and it is this fundamental doctrine that I shall consider in this post.
In the world of Humanum Genus, Freemasonry is a branch of Naturalism, that is, the philosophical school which claims that reality is solely composed of the matter and energy studied by the physical sciences, and that there is nothing spiritual or supernatural about reality. Humanum Genus then goes on to state the following:
[T]he fundamental doctrine of the naturalists … is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide. Laying this down, they care little for duties to God, or pervert them by erroneous and vague opinions. For they deny that anything has been taught by God; they allow no dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by the human intelligence, nor any teacher who ought to be believed by reason of his authority. And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend the same with perfect purity, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed. 
It would be difficult to misrepresent Freemasonry more thoroughly in so few words. Let us consider the reality behind Humanum Genus’s warped perception of Freemasonry.
The Truth About Freemasonry
Pretty much everything that Humanum Genus states about Freemasonry in the passages quoted above is inaccurate. Freemasonry is not a form of philosophical naturalism. Far from being opposed to the idea of divine revelation, Freemasonry embraces the concept.
Freemasonry is Not a Form of Naturalism
“Naturalism” is the philosophical position that the world is just as we perceive it through our senses. In the world of naturalism, there are no spiritual phenomena, there are no supernatural phenomena, there is no divine revelation and no authoritative religious doctrine. The strictest form of Naturalism makes the claim that there is no such being as God. A somewhat less strict form of Naturalism allows for Deism, the idea that God exists, but does not interfere with the affairs of human beings or the workings of the world. Neither form of Naturalism is acceptable to theistic religions such as the classical forms of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, which bear witness to the central importance of God’s revelation to the world.
(Technical Note: What Humanum Genus calls “naturalism” is known in the technical language of philosophy as ontological / metaphysical / philosophical naturalism. As such, it is distinct from the philosophical position of methodological naturalism (an important position within the philosophy of science), and from movements in the arts and literature that are also called “naturalism.”)
Freemasonry is not a form of Naturalism. Consider the following:
- One of the universal characteristics of regular Freemasonry is that all candidates for Masonry must declare belief in a Supreme Being.
- The opening and the closing of the Lodge are accompanied by lengthy and detailed prayers to the Divine Being, something that would be senseless from the perspective of Naturalism. Petitionary prayer (that is, prayer where one asks for things), such as we see in the Lodge, is also distinctly absent from Deist practice.
- During the initiatory rituals of Freemasonry, the candidate is called upon to offer personal prayer.
- The impressive Obligations of each degree of initiation are taken by each candidate “in the presence of Almighty God.”
- The traditional charge given to the candidate upon initiation specifically mentions the candidate’s duty to God as having overarching importance.
Freemasonry Values Divine Revelation
Through its ritual, Freemasonry demonstrates the highest degree of respect towards divine revelation. Within the Masonic Lodge, an item of central importance is the Volume of the Sacred Law (VSL), as a symbol of God’s revelation to humanity. Consider how the VSL is treated in Masonic ritual:
- The opening of the VSL at the opening of the Lodge for business and ritual, and the closing of the VSL at the close of the Lodge, are themselves solemn and dignified rituals that emphasize the importance of the VSL to Freemasonry.
- During the time that the VSL is open upon the altar of Freemasonry, outside of certain ritual requirements, none are permitted to pass between it and the Worshipful Master of the Lodge, that his view of it may be unimpaired as he directs the work of the Lodge.
- During the three basic initiatory rituals of the Blue Lodge, the candidate is conducted about the Lodge in a manner that emphasizes the centrality that the VSL is to take in his life.
- The candidate takes upon himself the solemn and sacred Obligations of each of the three Degrees of Masonry in a way that emphasizes the importance that the word of God is to take in his life forever after.
- One of the highlights of any regular business meeting of the Lodge is the ceremonial presentation of a copy of the Volume of the Sacred Law to newly made Master Masons, complete with a speech by a Lodge officer enjoining the new Master Masons to familiarize themselves with it and, indeed, to build their lives upon its precepts.
Given that Freemasonry is neither Naturalist nor Deist, it should be clear that Freemasonry does not have the religion-destroying agenda and objectives that Humanum Genus stated it does. There certainly have been Naturalist organizations that had an anti-religious agenda; Freemasonry was not and is not one of them. However, the key to understanding the basis of Humanum Genus's misperceptions about Masonry lies in understanding the historical background of at least one anti-religious Naturalist organization.
The Historical Basis for the Misperception
Given the many ways in which the very rituals of Freemasonry testify that Masonry is not Naturalism, why would Humanum Genus present such a distorted perception? My sense of the situation is that the author of the document had on his mind another organization that had impersonated and even infiltrated European Freemasonry, a century earlier: the Illuminati.
This is evident in the description that Humanum Genus gives of those whom it supposed were Freemasons:
… Candidates are generally commanded to promise - nay, with a special oath, to swear - that they will never, to any person, at any time or in any way, make known the members, the passes [that is, the modes of recognition], or the subjects discussed.… Moreover, to be enrolled, it is necessary that the candidates promise and undertake to be thenceforward strictly obedient to their leaders and masters with the utmost submission and fidelity, and to be in readiness to do their bidding upon the slightest expression of their will; or, if disobedient, to submit to the direst penalties and death itself. As a fact, if any are judged to have betrayed the doings of the sect or to have resisted commands given, punishment is inflicted on them not infrequently, and with so much audacity and dexterity that the assassin very often escapes the detection and penalty of his crime. 
… But … to bind men like slaves in the very tightest bonds, and without giving any sufficient reason; to make use of men enslaved to the will of another for any arbitrary act ; to arm men's right hands for bloodshed after securing impunity for the crime - all this is an enormity from which nature recoils.… 
By and large, these statements do not describe the practices of Freemasonry. Yes, Masons do swear not to reveal the modes of recognition, and it is within the regulations of many Grand Lodges that Masons are to keep the business of the Lodge confidential. We do not swear to keep the identities of Lodge members secret; indeed, in many American jurisdictions, we put the names and photos of officers of the local and Grand Lodges on the Internet. We do not swear mindless obedience to the Masters of the Lodges, nor do we bind ourselves to lethal penalties for disobeying those masters, nor do we inflict such punishment. Who would do such a thing?
The Bavarian Order of the Illluminati (founded May 1, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, pictured) did indeed function in this manner, at least on paper. I am aware of no actual assassinations carried out by the Illuminati of its disobedient members, but certainly the instilling of a very strict obedience was promoted in its documents, which were discovered and published by the Bavarian state beginning in the 1780s. Beyond that, the Illuminati did indeed have the agenda of replacing aristocratic governments and destroying the power of the Church by force. The Illuminati did indeed support Naturalism and an essentially atheist worldview.
The Illuminati included within its lower degrees the degrees of Freemasonry. During its relatively brief period of activity, the Illuminati infiltrated dozens of Masonic lodges in Europe and fed Masons into the Illuminati order.
(I describe the real history of the Illuminati in a post on another blog. I am at work on a history of the Illuminati and am available to speak on the topic to Masonic and other audiences. I may be contacted through my home page; see my Blogger profile.)
The exposure of the Illuminati in the 1780s made an immense media splash throughout Europe. Subsequently, they were rumored to have survived their suppression by government authorities, and to have inspired both the French Revolution and the rising tide of Marxism, which shared with the Illuminati the goal of changing government and the role of religion in society. It appears that Pope Leo XIII was misled by these rumors to believe that Freemasonry shared a common cause with the Illuminati, and the Pope wrote Humanum Genus with this misperception firmly in mind.
The tendency to make this kind of conflation of Freemasonry with the Illuminati is seen within the text of Humanum Genus itself. The document claims:
There are several organized bodies which, though differing in name, in ceremonial, in form and origin, are nevertheless so bound together by community of purpose and by the similarity of their main opinions, as to make in fact one thing with the sect of the Freemasons, which is a kind of center whence they all go forth, and whither they all return. 
No evidence is produced to support this claim. Of course, simply making such a claim does not make it so. This is a good example of a certain type of weak circular argument: the Masons are claimed to be Naturalists, and are condemned on the grounds whereby theistic religion condemns Naturalism. But although Humanum Genus produces arguments to condemn Naturalism, it produces no evidence to support the more fundamental claim, that Masons are Naturalists to start with. How very unfortunate.
This would not be the last time that Pope Leo XIII was misled by rumors about Freemasonry. It must be remembered that, shortly after promulgating Humanum Genus, the Pope was taken in by that most masterful of anti-Masonic fakers, the hoaxer Léo Taxil, who convinced the Pope and much of Europe regarding the diabolical character of Freemasonry, on the basis of a lurid set of forged documents and stories regarding a Satanic cult supposedly embedded within the Fraternity. (To those interested in learning more about the Taxil hoax, I very strongly recommend Chapter 2 and Appendix 1 of the excellent book by brothers Arturo de Hoyos & S. Brent Morris, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry? [New York: M. Evans, 2004].)
Humanum Genus presents a severely distorted image of Freemasonry, which the document conflates with the Bavarian Illuminati of the late 18th century and, perhaps, revolutionary Marxists of the late 19th century. As such, Humanum Genus’s criticism of Freemasonry as a Naturalist organization that denies the importance of divine revelation in human life is highly misplaced. Freemasonry affirms the importance of divine revelation; not only does it not seek to destroy religion, Masonry seeks to instill in its members an awareness of the need to fulfill their duties to God.
(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)
[The image of Adam Weishaupt is in the public domain. It was obtained through Wikipedia.]