Page 10 - MFM March 2016
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THE SEEDS OF TOLERANCE

IN 18TH-CENTURY EUROPE AND BEYOND,               In theory, then, the brethren were agreed
FREEMASONRY STRUGGLED WITH
CONFLICTING MORAL AND SOCIAL                     on the issue of religious tolerance. But this

ATTITUDES TOWARD TOLERANCE                       was not so easily put into practice. Within
                                                 Templar Masonry, Catholics, particularly in
by Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire                       Italy, found it difficult to submit themselves

 Pre-Enlightenment Europe was not a              to the authority of German Protestants.
friendly place for those outside the majority.   In Scandinavia, where false rumors were
During the 18th century, two out of every        circulating about the King of Sweden possibly
three years was marked by war, revealing         converting to Catholicism, Lutherans feared
bloody divides between dueling Christian         their Catholic brothers would try to bring

factions. Tolerance was perceived as a           them back into the bosom of Rome.

weakness – a failure by men and kings to         Masonry’s claim to universality also struggled
bring others back to the “true faith.”           to move beyond the frontiers of Western

 But as the Enlightenment dawned over the        Christianity. Catholics and Protestants could

Western world, so did curiosity about other      socialize in 18th-century lodges, but Jewish
cultures. A new notion of what it meant to be    and Muslim access to Freemasonry tested
a “citizen of the world” gained popularity,      brotherly tolerance, as did the admission of
along with the idea of a global community.       men of color.

Within this atmosphere of cosmopolitanism,       Acceptance and prejudice
Freemasonry was created.                          The challenge was immense: In a society

 The 18th century went on to be a period in      based on religious prejudice and slavery,
which the virtues of tolerance were learned      was it possible to recognize such individuals
throughout Europe, both in society at large      as equals without plunging established order
and in Masonic lodges. It would prove to be      into chaos?
a long, difficult learning process, punctuated
by outbursts of intolerance.                      In continental Europe, granting Jews a high
                                                 rank that carried Christian significance, like
A complicated “universality”                     Sovereign Prince of Rosicrucian, triggered
 The founding text of Freemasonry, the           the wrath of Christian Freemasons. “Those
                                                 who have the circumcision for baptism” were
1723 Constitutions of the Grand Lodge            frequently excluded from lodges altogether.
of London, first defined the contours of a
genuine universal spirit within the fraternity.   In major European capitals far from the
Its first section, “concerning God and           Mediterranean, Muslims were warmly
religion,” opened the brotherhood to all         welcomed in Masonic lodges and even rescued
except the “stupid atheist” and “irreligious     from financial difficulties. In the mid1780s,
libertine.” From a practical standpoint, this    Mohamed Techeliby, a sea captain and
accommodated the religious plurality of the      privateer from Algiers, made a Masonic tour
British Islands, dominated by various forms      of Europe with a certificate from the English
of Christianity. But theoretically, it also      Lodge of Gibraltar. But in Mediterranean
opened the door for brothers of any religious    ports, where Barbary privateering was still a
belief, Christian or otherwise. It made it       reality, it was nearly impossible for a Muslim
possible for a truly universal fraternity,       to enter the brotherhood.
united in values, if not beliefs.

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