A meeting of European Grand Masters was held on 5th November 2007.
44 Grand Masters meet in London on 5th November 2007. Below is the text of a paper delivered by the Grand Master Mason of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Sir Archibald D. Orr Ewing.
Grand Masters and Brethren, I have been invited to briefly address you this afternoon, and I would like to begin by firstly noting several of the passages in the Aims and Relationships of the Craft, which as you may be aware is an agreed statement issued by the Grand Lodges of Scotland, England and Ireland in 1938. As follows:
Paragraph 5 states “Everyone who enters Freemasonry is, at the outset, strictly forbidden to countenance any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society, he must pay due obedience to the law of any state in which he resides…..”
Paragraph 6 states “While Scottish Freemasonry inculcates in each of its members the duties of loyalty and citizenship, it reserves to the individual the right to hold his own opinion with regard to public affairs. But neither in any Lodge nor at any time in his capacity as a Freemason is he permitted to discuss or to advance his views on theological or political questions”
Paragraph 7 states “The Grand Lodge has a1ways consistently refused to express any opinion on questions of foreign or domestic state policy either at home or abroad, and it will not allow its name to be associated with any action however humanitarian it may appear to be, which infringes its unalterable policy of standing aloof from every question affecting the relations between one Government and another, or between political parties, or questions as to rival theories of Government.
And finally for the moment Paragraph 10 states;On more than one occasion the Grand Lodge has refused, and it will continue to refuse, to participate in conferences with so-called International Associations claiming to represent Freemasonry, which admit to membership bodies failing to conform strictly to the principles upon which the Grand Lodge of Scotland is founded. The Grand Lodge does not admit any such claim, nor can its views be represented by any such Association.
There are of course other paragraphs in the Aims and Relationships of the Craft and I am sure that most of you will have read or heard these words. However, I make no apologies in reminding you of them, as I wish to emphasise that in Scotland these Aims are required to be read out in open Lodge at least once a year, and every Scottish Mason is very familiar with them.
They are not esoteric writings from a bye-gone age, or broad policies that can be ignored if inconvenient, or subjected to the sometimes irrational interpretation of a legal or political mind. These Aims are very well understood by every Scottish Brother and are as valid today, (if not more valid), than when written many years ago.
The reason I have read out these particular passages is that when we have International Conferences on Freemasonry or European Forums with permanent Secretariats there is a grave danger that, however well intentioned or however inadvertently, we will breach these Aims and Relations - most probably in actuality, and almost definitely we will be perceived to have done so by our Brethren.
We frequently proclaim to the outside world that there is no world-wide Masonic governing body, yet there exists organisations entitled the World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges, with a permanent Secretariat, and the European Masonic Forum, again with a permanent Secretariat. The latter list amongst their main goals and objectives the following:
· to support the progressive integration of Europe
· To promote effective integration of recently established European jurisdictions into European and global Freemasonry…..
· to discuss ways how Freemasons could positively affect the development of society
· To support the development of society on the basis of Masonic values and principles.
Amongst the challenges that have been highlighted for discussion were:
· “ways of dealing with political and religious principles in a philosophical way, without discussing political and religious issues”
· “ways of contributing to the European construction, citizenship and future role”
· “the transmission of the successful Masonic principles and model for European society to developing countries of today”
To a Scottish Mason all the aforementioned principals would be anathemas as they, perhaps more than most, value their sovereign jurisdiction over their own affairs. It is for this reason that Scotland, although the birthplace of Freemasonry was the last of the British Isles Grand Lodges to be formed. Scotland had many Lodges who had been in existence far longer than any Grand Lodge and they viewed with great suspicion any attempt to be ruled from afar in Edinburgh. Today our Lodges still value their independence and their diversity, there is no common regalia and there is no such think as a “Standard” Scottish ritual, although we do have unique Scottish etiquettes and protocols.
What I have noticed about many of the pronouncements and discussions emanating from these International Masonic Conferences and Forums, is that they always state that they are not discussing religion or politics -- and then go on to do exactly that. It is as if the declaration that what they are about to say “does not involve politics or religion” - somehow absolves them to then comment on the structure of society and how it should be changed to “our” / or rather their model. It is the substance of the arguments put forth that are of relevance not the form of words, as most criticism or commentary on the perceived ills of Society, throughout history, has required a political or religious solution to change it.
However well intentioned, however apparently noble the issue, Freemasonry as a body cannot be drawn into giving a “Masonic” view. Perhaps because ‘politics’ and ‘religion’ are never properly defined, Brethren may persuade themselves that the expression of such a view is not of a political or religious nature, but the Politicians and the Church will perceive it otherwise. At best there will be a blurring of the edges between social commentary and political commentary.
This does not mean that we as individuals will turn a blind eye to social injustice, or not attempt to alleviate the sufferings of the weak or fight against intolerance so prevalent in the world today. However, we must do so as individuals, not under the banner of Freemasonry. Freemasonry must not be seen as a pressure group, we do not seek to change, or even influence, Society at large but we do seek to influence individual men and Masons. There is a huge difference. The Right Hon. Lord Farnham, Past Pro Grand Master of England summarised this philosophy when he said “Freemasonry aims to develop the individual as a good citizen and as a man with a good moral foundation. Other benefits to society may follow, but they come from individuals acting in their personal capacities and not as Freemasons”.
A reason given for the establishment of these International Forums is, prima facie, a most laudable one - to assist the new or “re- born” Grand Lodges develop, to share knowledge and expertise, to encourage regular contacts and assist in recognition. I am not going to talk about recognition or regularity at this point, as we all know that this is a complex issue and Grand Lodges hold differing views on these points, and in the final analysis will not come down to developing a checklist to be ticked, but is up to Grand Lodges to enter into bi-lateral agreements with each other.
There already exists a forum for the exchange of ideas and the development of good Masonic relationships at senior level, and that is the European Grand Secretaries conference. The format of the conference could of course always be improved, but it does provide an invaluable medium for building relationships and encouraging cross constitutional dialogue. Regular Grand Secretaries meetings are far better than regular Grand Masters meetings as of course Grand Secretaries cannot make decisions or commit their Grand Lodges, whereas a Grand Master’s decision could invoke the old proverb agree in haste repent at leisure !
However, given the aforementioned aims of the European Masonic Forum, the objectives seem rather different to that of helping a developing Grand Lodge establish its own national identity and character; in fact they appear to be exactly the opposite. It is stated that:
· “European Masonry cannot be divided any more along geographical boundaries”
· “A common Europe needs a common European Masonry, committed to by co-operating regular jurisdictions”
· “ In the 21st century Masonry, like any other institution and thought cannot be defined alongside national borders any more”
One of our great strengths is our diversity and without this a large part of the attraction of Freemasonry would be lost. There is also a danger that if we were to attempt to standardise what we do too much we risk moving towards creating a dogma, which would bring us into very perilous waters.
Some would propose that we should be moving towards a ‘European Model’ for Freemasonry, controlled by a central secretariat. What is the next step – a “World Model” for Freemasonry ? I admit that I do not yet know what this model may be and how it is different from the model that has been practiced by many Grand Lodges for hundreds of years. However, I do know that a “one-size fits all” model, which does not encourage the individual sovereignty of Grand Lodges and is not firmly based on the Aims and Relations of the Craft, is transient, and will not stand the test of time.
Note: to read the full text of the Aims and Relationship of the Craft (referred to above) click here or on the other links.