"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Masonry Unmasked"

I really shouldn't go here, because I'm sure FreemasonryWatch and other excitable spectators will pile on...

I'm supposed to be finishing a manuscript and shouldn't have time to read Masonic books, but I couldn't resist going through a new copy of John Salza's Masonry Unmasked: An Insider Reveals The Secrets Of The Lodge. It is a book written to disuade Catholics from becoming Masons, and to encourage Catholics who are already Masons to leave the fraternity. There's even a special prayer for Catholic masons in the back of the book to encourage them to give up the evils of the Lodge.

Salza's not a dumb guy, and this is no shrill screed like other attempts by evangelicals who are angry that they aren't allowed to proselytize in Lodge. And it's because of its calm tone in the beginning that I was so disappointed by the book. I don't have any problem with Salza dragging out all of the papal bulls and decrees since 1736 against Masonic membership – the official position of the Church is based on canon law and papal interpretation of that law. And if modern Catholics are comfortable with those interpretations and the doctrine of papal infallibility when speaking ex cathedra, then they must obey those rules to the letter and stay out of Freemasonry. Along with the Rotary and the Lions and the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias.

Obviously by the number of Catholics in America, Mexico, South America, Italy, the Philippines and elsewhere who become Masons in spite of those papal strictures, there is a disconnect between what the Church alleges about Freemasonry and what the individual Mason finds within the Lodge. The 21st century Mason is not likely to find anti-Catholic scheming going on in his lodge, and certainly not at the Grand Lodge, or national appendant body level. That hasn't ALWAYS been true, as Salza rightly points out. The AASR-Southern Jurisdiction spent decades locked in a loud, public battle against Catholicism in the New Age magazine. Almost every issue, up until the election of John F. Kennedy, contained at least one article that swiped at "popery, monkery, the Romish church, papists," and most especially in America, Catholic schools. The period right after the Civil War, and again between the two World Wars were times in America of widespread anti-Catholic distrust and hatred. The Masons didn't have a corner on that market. Catholics had been a persecuted minority in the colonial days, and only Maryland was briefly tolerant of Catholics before the American Revolution. For all of the talk in the First Amendment about religious freedom, an overwhelming number of the founders would have trusted a Libyan "Musselman" before they'd have let a Catholic move in next door.

The biggest complaint of the Church in the end of the 18th century had nothing to do with whether Freemasonry was a false religion or not. It had to do with the "free thinkers" who were members of lodges who encouraged the sort of freedom of thought and expression that toppled kings from their thrones and dislodged popes from their positions as interpreters of scripture and lawmakers on all things spiritual. Popes saw the handwriting on the wall if more countries went the way of the American colonies. Indeed, when the Papal States were whittled down from a massive block of property across the south of France and Italy to just a few square blocks in Rome in the 1860s, at the hands of Freemasons like Garibaldi, along with Catholic holdings in central and South America by revolutionaries who were Masons, obviously the Church saw nothing but enemies being bred in Lodges. That is why the Church made Masonic membership an act of grave sin, and said that Masons fought against the Church. Masons really did.

Freemasonry in the US hasn't fought openly or covertly against the Church in decades. All that jazz about stomping on the papal tiara in the 30° of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite was because Albert Pike was a Protestant who lived through the most overheated period of Catholic hatred in history. (Look up the Know Nothings and the "Pope Stone" in the Washington Monument sometime. Pike was a piker when it came to catholic bashing.) Those sentiments are long gone, and most Americans haven't given Catholicism a second thought since 1960, except when unfortunate headlines appear about priests and altar boys. The Church has a whole lot more to worry about than the effect of Freemasons on it.

(I burst out laughing while reading the otherwise excellent Good-Bye Good Men by Michael Rose over references to "evil" Masons having some kind of terrible influence on Catholic seminaries. Salza repeats the episode, and both authors imply that a Past Master of a Masonic lodge is so indoctrinated in indifferentism that he couldn't possibly have a favorable opinion of Christianity or Catholicism outside of the lodge in his personal or professional life. Balderdash. Stop looking under the bed for Masonic boogeymen – you have enough troubles of your own. The radical gay movement that dominated the Catholic seminaries in the 1970s and 80s had precisely ZERO to do with Freemasonry, and you both know it.)

But what bothers me most is that Salza was a Mason for several years, and he knows just what goes on in lodge and what does not. The same old evangelical gripe comes out – that Masons "exclude" the worship of Christ in Lodge and replace it with an indifferent, generic "Grand Architect of the Universe." Salza knows darn well why overt Christianity – or Judaism, or Islam, or Bahai, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Scientology, or Tennessee snake handling – is forbidden in the lodge. It is so that each member may privately worship God in his own manner, however he sees fit, without intruding on the beliefs of his Brother, because a man's personal faith is NONE OF THE LODGE'S BUSINESS. But Salza plays the usual rhetorical game, of dragging out good old Albert Mackey's moldy quote from 1873 that "Freemasonry is a religion." Never mind that Salza would be hard-pressed to find a single Masonic scholar after 1960 who agreed with that sentiment. And I have yet to find a Grand Lodge that comments publicly on the issue that does not categorically state that Freemasonry is NOT a religion.

Salza quotes from Henry Wilson Coil's Encyclopedia citing Coil's opinion of Masonry as a religion. In the revised 1996 edition of the Encyclopedia the entry (probably written by Allen E. Roberts) says that individual Masons may wind up trying to use the fraternity as a substitute for religion, but that's a personal choice. Let me quote from the summary:
Religion is an important even a necessary element in the life of a man or a nation. Man's feet are upon the ground but his soul aspires to the Infinite. Intimations of immortality are all around us, manifest to savage and civilized alike. Religion touches everything, but it must be understood that Freemasonry is not "a religion." As a whole, it has no dogma, not theology. It has no plan of salvation and most importantly it claims no divine origin. To tear out the religious threads from the fabric of Freemasonry would almost destroy the garment just as removing all religious and philosophical thoughts, works and ideas from any library would empty its shelves. Freemasonry is a learning place open to all men of good report and inventions. It teaches universal moral principles. It has a vast depository of religious history and teachings. It is a powerful influence for good in the world. Thousands of clergy, of all faiths, have been and are Freemasons. They see it not as a religion, but a firm foundation stone upon which they can continue to build.
Freemasonry is not and never has been a religion. It has been for centuries past and will be for centuries to come the custodian and teacher of religious philosophy and truth."

(Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, p. 518 – "Religion")

Coil's doesn't speak for Freemasonry any more than Mackey did – those are their opinions. But if Salza had called the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, my guess is that every current Grand Lodge officer would have assured him that Freemasonry is not a religion. That is the only official statement that should be of any consequence to him, as a Wisconsin Mason.

I don't mind if Salza defends his stance on Catholicism and Freemasonry, but I wish he'd do it honestly. At the back of my mind, I guess what really bothers me about this book is something that may seem trivial to most people. Salza became a Mason and was by his own description an excellent ritualist (which makes me wonder if he learned just the words, or the intent of the words – but that's another day). He became an officer in his lodge. And he took the same obligation that all Masons took. He could have written a well-documented book on the subject without resorting to making a specific point of telling all of the ritual ceremonies, passwords and signs, with a childish "ah-HA!" enthusiasm. As I say, he seems to be a fairly well-read man, with a strong moral conviction – after all, he did leave the Lodge when he sensed a conflict between it and his faith. I can't complain about that. But he knows, or should have known, that the secrets of Masonry that all Masons promise not to reveal have nothing to do with some deep, dark motive of secrecy in the normal sense of the word. Masonic secrecy is about honor, about trust, and about keeping one's word – in the context of gentlemanly behavior handed down to us since the 1700's. The world won't stop on its axis if a Mason tells someone a password or a handshake, knowing full well that the bookstore is filled with exposés of Masonic ritual. But he loses his sense of honor when he does it. And I guess that's one more reason why I regard his book as dishonest, because with all of his talk about fidelity to his faith in God, he gave up part of his honor to men.

I was raised as a Catholic, but like many Catholics, I had – and still have – profound disagreements with Rome on a variety of issues. Those are my issues to sort out, and Salza makes a few compelling points, when viewed through the narrow prism of papal encyclicals. But he is dead wrong when he bases his arguments on Masonry being a religion, on especially U.S. Masonry fighting against the Church, and on the nonsense that Masonry teaches a means of salvation that is in conflict with Christianity. Masonry is silent on ALL religions within the confines of a lodge meeting, and I have no more business dragging Christianity into it than I do into a City-Council meeting or a trial courtroom or the floor of the UN, or any other place that is designed to be silent on creed. Freemasonry teaches each man to take a more active interest in his own faith, whatever it may be. If a man is seeking fraternalism that is strictly Catholic-specific, he should become a Knight of Columbus. Freemasonry has always attempted to unite good men, not divide them, and the prohibition of religion and politics as items of discussion within lodge occurred for specific historical reasons.

I should point out that Salza is an attorney, and he contends that Freemason Franklin D. Roosevelt de-Christianized America by stacking the Supreme Court with Masonic justices who bitterly fought for strict separation of Church and State. He seems to regard that as bad, while I'm guessing he'd be in the minority of most citizens. His website is a fascinating treasure trove of his orthodox views, guided by strict adherence to Catholic doctrine. For instance, his views on an Earth-centered universe:
Geocentrism is the view that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the universe (sun, moon, stars, planets) revolves around the earth. Most geocentrists also believe that the earth stands still, and does not rotate on its axis. Geocentrism is in contrast to heliocentrism, which is the view that the earth rotates on its axis and, along with the other planets, revolves around the sun. While it is permissible for Christians to hold the heliocentric view, heliocentrism can only be advanced as a theory, not a certainty (because neither heliocentrism nor geocentrism can be scientifically proven definitively). In fact, three Popes (Paul V, Urban VIII and Alexander VII) have officially declared that heliocentrism is opposed to Sacred Scripture, and condemned the notion that heliocentrism was a truth to be believed with certainty. Instead, the Scriptures, the Apostolic Tradition and teachings of the Church support a geocentric cosmology vis-à-vis a heliocentric one. Nota Bene: I am a faithful Catholic, not a scientist. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When presented with a question of faith (such as how God created the universe), I look to the Scriptures, the Tradition and the teachings of the Catholic Church for the answer. I do not rely upon modern scientists who have been unable to prove heliocentrism and disprove geocentrism, especially those who deny the inerrancy of Scripture and generally abhor the Catholic faith.
How he can rationalize away little things like satellite observations and deep-space probes of the last several decades, I have no idea. But if this is the kind of reasoning he uses in a courtroom, he has fools for clients, or at least owes them a refund.

I daresay that Salza is a young enough guy that he has never lived in a world that was openly antagonistic to Catholics on a widespread basis, the way it has existed in other periods in the U.S. (Charles Carroll, one of the richest men in the colonies, was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, and there was a group within Congress who wanted to keep his name off of it, because of his faith). The stupidity of groups like the Klan claiming Catholics were buying land in the Midwest to build a new Vatican, led to armed vigilantes keeping watch up and down the National Road looking for Catholic real estate scouts. Those days are long gone. But there is a renewed effort in the Church that seems to be raising the specter of evil Freemasonry, on the grounds that it is anti-Christian and teaches indifferentism. The Church has far more problems today than infiltration by Masons, and is in need of reexamining its position. However, with Pope Benedict XVI on the throne of Peter, who wrote the 1983 decision reaffirming condemnation of Masonry, that doesn't seem likely for some time.

(* Please note that I have revised this article to reflect information that the edition of Coil's that I was quoting from is the 1996 edition that was revised by Allen E. Roberts. In the 1961 version, I am given to understand, Coil DID in fact claim Masonry was a religion, perhaps building on Mackey's earlier statements. The Encyclopedia has been revised to reflect different and more recent scholarship. Again, the danger of of applying one Mason's opinion to the fraternity – Coil's, Mackey's, mine or Salza's.)


  1. Considering he thinks that the world is no more than 14,000 years old, ignoring all scientific evidence to the contrary, should we take this guy seriously?
    I happen to know many devout Catholics who are active in my district. As a former catholic myself, I agree with you about the need for a change in the church doctrine.

  2. According to Bishop Ussher's calculations, the Earth is only 6.011 years old.
    On this October 23rd.
    Lightfoote clarified it, as 9:00 AM.

    I know, it all feels like the Playbill notes for "Inherit The Wind."

  3. By all appearances, all of the religious objections to Masonry seem to be more about controlling members of said faiths than any substantive proof that Masonry as an institution is in direct conflict with any given faith's teachings.

    The charge of relativism is no more applicable to Masonry than it is to the AAA.

    I disagree with you W.B. Hodapp when you say that the Lodge is completely silent concerning religion. In my jurisdiction, we are told that a belief in a Supremem Being is requisite for membership, and the Craft encourages us to be active participants in our respective houses of worship. While not an official communication of the Grand Lodge, I have been exhorted by various Brothers to appeal to the God of my understanding in times of crisis and in times of joy. To me, this is a statement on religion, but not sectarian religion in that it does not endorse one faith over the other.

    Forgive me if I am picking at nits.

    Be Well,

    Traveling Man

  4. Great article Brother Chris!


  5. Nicely said, as always, Chris.

    Some days I wish Pike had fallen at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Life would have been simpler for all of us.

    So it goes.

  6. Since I brought up religion, I might as well bring up politics, too. It seems that Freemasons aren't the only group us Catholics are struggling with:

    "Can A Catholic be A Democrat?"

  7. Traveling Man said:
    "I disagree with you W.B. Hodapp when you say that the Lodge is completely silent concerning religion. In my jurisdiction, we are told that a belief in a Supremem Being is requisite for membership, and the Craft encourages us to be active participants in our respective houses of worship. "

    You misunderstand. I mean simply that the Lodge is silent on the personal beliefs and practices of its members, apart from requiring a belief in a Supreme being. How we choose to worship is none of the Lodge's concern.

    These types of books and articles continue to baffle me because the anti-Masonic evangelists continually claim that what goes on in a lodge room is "worship," therefore non-Christian, therefore anti-Christian. How an ex-Mason who has attended dozens of lodge meetings comes to that conclusion escapes me every time I read it.

  8. Excellent post, Bro Hadapp


  9. Sorry, that should be Bro H*o*dapp, of course. Darn these fat fingers of mine!


  10. Brother Chris,

    Those of us who are both Christian clergy and Freemasons are equally baffled by Christians who have been Masons and now are anti-Masonic. I do not understand what they thought they were seeing in Freemasonry that led them to such an opinion.

    Some of it seem sincere, some of it seems to be a willful misunderstanding for the sake of $$$$ and the selling of books and tapes.

    And, as you have stated, I have a hard time having respect for anyone of has shown that they cannot keep their word.


  11. Recovering Catholic here, too, Chris. The "Tennessee Snake Handling" reference was particularly well done.

    Like you, I am disappointed when a seemingly good man fails to live up to the ordinary expectations of an honorable life.

  12. W.B. Hodapp:

    You are correct. I misunderstood. I think my present Masonic Schedule must be placing my powers of observation and reasoning somewhat under a cloud.


    Traveling Man

  13. Hey Bro Hodapp,
    I am very pleased to see that you commented on that wack-job Salza. I am a recovering Catholic as well, and Like Bro. Bonney said, these guys write these exposes in order to make a buck and sell books. Brother David Julian made a point-by-point refutal of Salza's book. Here is the link


    It is a HUGE essay, where David Julian writes a response to Salza's book then afterward writes another rebuttal in response to Salza's 160 page rebuttal Bro Julian's review. Good back-and-forth there.

    Travel light,

  14. I know. I read through part of it. A 160 page rebuttal. Must've been a slow week in court – it's half the length of his book.

    Again, if he wants to stand by papal encyclicals and bulls back to Clement VII, that's fine. But I find it curious that Cardinal Ratzinger in his 1983 "clarification" was able to so blithly ignore the differences between differing variants of US and European Masonry, viz. the allegation of "fighting against the Church," and the degree to which some Grand Orients and spurious groups like the P2 lodge really did fight against the Church, as opposed to the majority of Masonry that is not.

    And EVEN IF we all were to cave tomorrow (which we won't) and say, "Okay, we give. Mackey, Coil, PIke and Hall all said Masonry is a religion, along with the PGM of Wisconsin. You have us." How is what goes on in a lodge room a "worship service?" But more important, if it were (which it isn't), isn't Paul VI's statement in 1965 sufficient to cover peaceful coexistence between Catholics and Masonry? To wit:

    The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men . . .

    The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

    Pope Paul VI, "Nostra Aetate", 10/28/1965

    I don't pretend to be a Catholic scholar, but as someone who was raised a Catholic (and as some in the extreme wing of the Church would no doubt believe, "tainted" by a Jesuit education), I find this ongoing controversy unbelievable. There were attempts under John Paul II, largely by a German Masonic delegation, who attempted to get the Church to reconsider the 1983 position, but that ended when Ratzinger/Benedict XVI assumed power. He's very conservative, and he wrote the "clarification" himself. So it looks like the status quo will continue.

    Meanwhile, I continue to meet Catholic Masons all over the country who don't seem the least bit concerned over it. Why Mr. Salza is so vitriolic on the subject, I do not know.

  15. I do not understand what they thought they were seeing in Freemasonry that led them to such an opinion.

    Bro. Tim, last year I was part of an interesting online discussion with a sort-of ex-Mason who claimed all sorts of things. Upon further investigation, he was never an officer, was not active in his lodge, and only went to several meetings. His "knowledge" of Masonic religion, etc., was based almost exclusively on some videos and books he'd seen by a southern baptist anti-Mason.

    If you don't go to meetings, and if you don't see, much less understand the degrees, then it's pretty easy for someone to twist your mind by claiming all sorts of things.

  16. I dunno. How many of you guys go to church to hear the minutes read, pay the bills, and argue about fluorescent vs. incandescent?

    Maybe they do that in Salza's church!

  17. Excellent post brother! I just read it after finding a link looking for other masonic information. I to have often wondered and many times been dismayed by certain religions lack of tolerance toward freemasonry. I find it promotes nothing but brotherhood and unity amongst it's adherents. Greetings from the great state of Utah and Bonneville Lodge #31

  18. John Salza is completely correct! The Catholic Church has been consistent and unequivical in it's condemnation of the lodge. Salza has done his research to the max and the conclusions are unambiguous: Catholics (that is REAL CATHOLICS, not "former Catholics" nor "recovering Catholics") may never join a lodge.

    There is no such thing as a "pick and choose Catholic". You are either in full communion accepting all that the Church teaches or your not --- thus placing yourself outside the Church.

    It is interesting that all of the previous comments against Salza come from those who self identify as being "former", "recovering", "pick and choose", "tainted by Catholic education" etc. I hate to break the bad news to you guys....by placing yourself in any of these categories means you are not really Catholic at all!

    So sad that anyone would trade the riches of the Catholic Faith and Heavenly Eternity for a few fleeting years of lodge camaraderie.

  19. In my opinion, it seems to me that Salza has done what a few others have done, and used his time in Masonry to promote himself for writing books, having lectures (which he's paid for), and selling videos. As Leo Taxil said, "it dawned upon me that there was lots of money in being a Munchausen of the right kind".

    As you mention, his ramblings about pseudoscience make him stick out as the oddity, and to not be trusted, instead of Freemasonry, real science, and proven fact. On top of that, he seems very unpatriotic, to uphold condemning freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democracy, liberty, and education for all, as that is what the Papal Bulls actually condemned. Maybe he should seek moving to Vatican City?

  20. 2016 Just reading this excellent post. Thank you. Ron Swan MM

  21. Any man whose version of Faith includes the idea that God would be unhappy with him working or affiliating with men of other faiths are, by definition, not suited to membership in Freemasonry.

    It's not supposed to be suited for everyone.


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