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Saturday, November 11, 2023

Ancient & Accepted Rite for England and Wales Drops Trinitarian Christian Requirement

by Christopher Hodapp

The Supreme Council 33° of the Ancient and Accepted Rite for England and Wales (what American Masons know as the Scottish Rite) announced a significant policy change in its jurisdiction this week. Following a National Conference of Inspectors General, a letter was issued Friday stating that they are removing their longstanding requirement for petitioners to specifically declare a belief in Trinitarian Christianity.

This is an important change in this jurisdiction's membership prerequisites. Prior to this, the requirements for Masons seeking membership in the Ancient and Accepted Rite for England and Wales were as follows: 

"All candidates for membership of the Ancient and Accepted Rite under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council for England and Wales must profess the Trinitarian Christian faith and have been Master masons for at least one year in UGLE, or have joined a lodge under UGLE from a recognized Grand Lodge."

Friday's announcement reads, in part:

Members in England and Wales are often surprised to learn that almost no other Supreme Council around the world imposes any religious restriction on membership. Most Councils have never had a Christian restriction, and those that once did have almost all long since removed it. Furthermore, unlike many other Orders of Freemasonry which are Christian throughout the world, the Ancient and Accepted Rite is almost completely Universal in its nature and content. Even within the system as practiced in England and Wales, the only one of the 33 degrees with any significant Christian content is the 18°.

Nonetheless, after considering the matter in great detail over many years, the Supreme Council remains adamant that it would be inappropriate, given the foundational identity of the Rose Croix degree as a Christian working within this jurisdiction, to 'de-Christianize’ the ritual of the 18°, which we all know and hold in such high regard. Our ritual is fundamentally reflective of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and it would, in the Council's opinion, not be appropriate to remove or 'water down' the Christian character of the degree.

However, the Supreme Council is equally convinced that the Order's current stance fails to reflect the Christian—and Masonic—need to be loving towards all and to treat one another with equity. To that end. the Council has come to the unanimous conclusion that the requirement to profess the Trinitarian Christian faith should no longer be a requisite of admission to this Order, which strives to be reflective of a modem, inclusive society. In the Council's view, to remove the restriction is the Christian thing to do. There are many good people prevented from experiencing the Higher Degrees of Freemasonry, who would enjoy membership and who would be assets to our Order; there is no reason why they should not join if they wish, provided they are willing to strive to uphold the Christian ideals of faith, 
hope and charity exemplified by the life and teachings of Jesus, so beautifully represented in the 18°.

As alluded to in the letter, the traditional Rose Croix 18° as it is worked in the majority of Scottish Rite jurisdictions today is founded upon Christian imagery and symbolism — events in the life of Christ are used as an allegory for its lessons of monotheistic universality and the importance of Faith, Hope, and Charity. 

In many Scottish Rite systems around the world, the 18th is the culmination of the first half of the Rite's degrees, and it can take many years to attain that level outside of the U.S. It's not uncommon for many Scottish Rite members in certain jurisdictions to never rise above the 18th — their degrees are taken one at a time, in order, often months (or even years) apart. This dramatically differs from the U.S. where a candidate generally becomes a full 32° Scottish Rite Mason in a single day or weekend. 

Albert Pike's post-Civil War revision of the 18° for the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite in the U.S. kept the original structure and allegory of the Rose Croix degree that had originally come to America from France through Etienne Morin as part of the hauts grades making up the Rite of Perfection. (Refer to the Francken Manuscript for this early version.) While it tells the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Pike removed the original degree's obligation to live a specifically Christian life and accept all of the tenets of Christianity. He felt such an obligation violated the most basic Masonic principles of universality and tolerance. So he kept the story, but reworked the obligation of the degree.

The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite in the U.S. took a bit longer to remove the specifically Christian obligation from the 18°. In the degree, Jesus of Nazareth is the Exemplar, and any monotheistic believer can confidently take the obligation. 

The NMJ's website explains their own current version of the 18° (as revised in 1941 and later, in 1964) this way:

In 1941, Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson appealed to revise the 18° so it could be better suited for men of all faiths. He said: "This is the heart of what the Rite seeks to inculcate in its degree of Rose Croix, this common faith. (That good will overcome evil) When the battle is won, Freemasonry’s greatest secret – secret only, because the world will not learn it – will be secret no longer for then humanity will find peace in brotherhood."


[T]he Knight of the Rose Croix of H.R.D.M (Heredom), relays the life and death of Jesus. The allegory is based on the New Law he declared at the Last Supper: the law of love, which all men everywhere may understand and practice. His teachings exemplify the universal principles of life and encourage candidates to be virtuous, endeavor to eliminate vice, and practice tolerance and love. Upon the doctrine of Universality, the 18° should be interpreted by each Brother according to his own faith.

While Craft Lodge Freemasonry has been historically non-sectarian in its membership requirements since at least 1717, there are several Masonic-related appendant organizations that a Freemason can join that do have a specifically Trinitarian Christian requirement. These include the Knights Templar, the Masonic version of the Rosicrucians (SRICF), the Red Cross of Constantine, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, and more. The Supreme Council 33° for England and Wales has been unusual by having such a requirement, since no other Scottish Rite jurisdiction does.

Just as a bit of background, in May 1801, the first Supreme Council 33° for the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite was opened in Charleston, South Carolina, and eventually became known as the Southern Jurisdiction of the USA. It was followed by France (1804), Spain (1811) and the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the USA (1813). Ireland (1826) was the sixth, England and Wales (1845) — receiving its Patent from the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction — was the eleventh, and Scotland (1846) the twelfth. There are now independent Supreme Councils in over 60 countries.


  1. I await to see if the Knights Templar in England makes a similar decision.

  2. Many years ago there was a debate in the Craft about whether Buddhists believed in a god. It exhausted itself and Buddhists continued to join. When the grand commandery for Massachusetts and Rhode Island had Unitarian commanders, the question came up of whether Trinitarianism was a necessity for membership. An argument was that the promises were to protect, not to believe in. And the question of what the nature of the great architect is, would mean discussing religion, which wisely is excluded from lodge. Prayers which invoke Christ are clearly not in keeping. So there are a number of issues that have been characterized by more heat than light.

  3. Wow. Wonderful important historical post. Approximately a month ago I was visiting our good Brethren in wonderful Singapore and during refreshment I had a discussion with a Singaporean Past Master about this very subject. I respected and was intrigued by how much importance the Singaporean WBro. Placed on the 18th Scottish Rite Degree. And he was equally intrigued by how many American jurisdictions work several or all the S.R. Degrees.

    Bro. Thomas Johnson


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