by Gianfranco Ravasi  from: Il Sole 24 ore February 14th, 2016 English Translation

On an American review, some time ago, I was reading that the international bibliography on freemasonry exceeds one hundred thousand entries. The atmosphere of secrecy and mystery enveloping the different “freemasonries” and masonic “rites” in a sort of nebula, whether right or wrong, surely contributes to this interest; not talking about the same genesis of freemasonry, which according to the English historian Frances Yates, “is one of the more discussed and disputable problems of all the field of historical research” (strangely, this essay was dedicated to the Enlightenment of Rosicrucianism, translated by Einaudi in 1976).

Of course, we do not want to explore this hodgepodge of “lodges”, “orients”, “arts”, “affiliations” and denominations, the history of which, for better or for worse, often intersected with the political one of many nations, (I am thinking, for example, to Uruguay, where I recently attended some different dialogues with representatives of the community and the culture of masonic tradition), in the same way, to trace some demarcation lines  among the authentic freemasonry,  and the false, the degraded, or the para‐masonry, and the several esoteric or theosophical circles, is not possible.

To draw a map of the ideology which contains a so fragmented universe, is also arduous, so that perhaps we can talk about an horizon and a method, more than about  a codified doctrinal system. In this fluid setting, we find some rather defined crossroads, like an anthropology based on the freedom of conscience  and intellect, and on the equality of rights, and a theism which recognises the existence of God, but leaving  undefined the definitions of his identity. Therefore, anthropocentrism and  spiritualism  are two routes  rather well traced on a map that is variable and movable, that we are not able to trace in a meticulous way.

Yet we are satisfied just to inform you about an interesting little book, that has the very circumscribed aim  to define the relation between  freemasonry and catholic church. Let us understand each other: this book is  not an historical analysis of this relation, nor of the eventual contaminations between the two subjects. In  fact, it is evident that freemasonry has acquired some Christian even liturgical models. We must not forget,  in fact, that in the  seventeenth century, many English lodges recruited some members and masters among  the Anglican clergy, so much so that one of the first and fundamental masonic “constitution” was compiled   by the Presbyterian pastor James Anderson, who died in 1739. It stated, among other, that an adept “will  not be a stupid  atheist nor an unreligious libertine”, also if the proposed credo, in the end, was the most  undefined, “the one of a religion all men agree with”.

Now, the oscillation of the contacts between Catholic church and freemasonry was characterized by very  different movements, coming also to evident hostilities, marked by anti ‐clericalism, from one side, and  excommunications, from the other side. In fact, on the 28 th  of April, 1738, pope Clemente XII, the  Florentine Lorenzo Corsini, promulgated the first explicit document on freemasonry, the apostolic Letter In  eminenti apostolatus specula, where he stated “the duty to condemn and forbid … the said Societies, Unions, Meetings, Assemblies, Gatherings or Conventicles of Free Masons and Françs Maçons or whatever  called”. A condemn that has been reiterated by the popes who will follow, from Benedetto XIV to Pio IX and  Leone XIII, who affirmed the incompatibility between the belonging to the Catholic church and the masonic  affiliation. The Codice di Diritto Canonico (Code of Canon Law) of 1917, that  at canon 2335 stated that “He  who enrolled himself to the masonic sect or to any other associations of the same kind which plot against  the Church or the legitimate civic authorities, ipso facto incurs the excommunication, reserved by the Holy  See”,  was lapidary.

The new Code, in 1983, tempered that formula, by avoiding the explicit reference to freemasonry, keeping  the essence of the punishment, also if it was destined in a more general sense to “he who names an association plotting against the Church” (canone 1374). But the more articulated ecclesiastic text on the un‐

compatibility between the belonging to  the Catholic church and freemasonry, is the Declaratio de associationibus massonicis, that was issued by the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on the 26th  of November, 1983, signed by the Prefect at that time, cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. It stated indeed the value of the assertion of the new Codice di Diritto Canonico, by reaffirming that “the judgement of the Church on the masonic associations” remained “unchanged, because their principles always have been considered un‐compatible with the doctrine of the Church and  therefore the affiliation to that remains  forbidden”.

The little book we are now referring to, is interesting because ‐ besides of an introduction by the present

Prefect of the Congregation, cardinal Gerhard Müller ‐ it presents two articles commenting this Declaratio,  which had been published at that time by “Osservatore Romano” and  “Civiltà Cattolica”, and two  documents issued by two local episcopacies, the German Episcopal Conference (1980), and the one of the Philippines (2003). Both are significant texts, because they face the theoretical and practical reasons of the un‐compatibility between freemasonry and Catholicism, like the concepts of truth, religion, God, man and  the world, spirituality, ethics, rituality, tolerance. In particular, the method used by the Philippine’s bishops  is significant, because they articulate their argumentation in three trajectories: the historic one, a more  specifically doctrinal one, and that of the pastoral leanings. All is articulated according to the scheme of the  catechesis of questions and answers: they are 47 and allow us to go deep also in some particulars, like the  ceremony of initiation, the symbols, the use of the Bible, the relation with the other religions, the oath of  brotherhood, the hierarchical degrees, and so on.

But those different declarations on un‐compatibility between the belonging to the Church and freemasonry  do not prevent the dialogue, like it is explicitly stated in the document of the German bishops, who indeed at that time had listed some specific fields of discussion, like the communitarian dimension, the charity, the  fight against the materialism, the human dignity, the mutual acquaintance.  Furthermore, that particular attitude of certain catholic fundamentalist milieu who – to damage some representatives, also the  hierarchical ones ‐ used the arms of the apodictic accusation of their masonic affiliation, must be  overtaken. Reaching the conclusion, we must overtake any mutual “hostility, outrages, prejudices”,  because ,  “in comparison with past centuries, the tone, the level and the way to express the differences,  are improved and changed”, also if these differences clearly persist.


Gianfranco Ravasi 


Gianfranco Ravasi  is an cardinal of the Catholic Church. He currently serves in the Roman Curia as President of the Pontifical Council for Culture. On 20 November 2010 Ravasi was created cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.


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