-by- Thomas E. Weir
Grand High Priest, Maryland

Some churches are complaining today that Masonry is
not compatible with Christianity. An examination of the
evidence suggests that the question should really be, "Is the
church compatible with Christianity?" The question,
honestly put, does not beg an answer but suggests first that
church history is too full of instances of pride, cruelty and
violence for the church to cast the first stone. Secondly, it
suggests that the present controversy should never be
reduced to an attack by the church and a defense by
Masonry. When such lines of battle are drawn, the roles
expected of both sides may become too rigid for the
advancement of knowledge and understanding.
It must be stated at the outset that no counterattack
against Masonry's detractors is intended. Religious bodies
tend to be conservative. All bureaucracies, including those
of organized religion, tend more to preserve the status quo
than to pursue the goals for which the institution was
founded. Religious bodies are no more exempt from this
pattern that secular bureaucracies. Therefore, this essay
should not be considered as a criticism of the Roman
Catholic Church. When there was no competition for the
universal Church except for a handful of heretics, there was
no need for the church to alter its opinion of itself or its
competitors. Dr. James M. Robinson, when at Emory
University, said that if the Roman Catholic Church
dispersed, one or more of the main line Protestant
denominations would rush to fill the need for a conservator
of traditional power and claims of the Church. Some
readers may remember instances when a dominant
Protestant church overshadowed life and values in its
community. Admirers of such churches argued then and
argue now that the church's dominance made a better
Nor should the conclusion be drawn that the Roman
Catholic Church is singled out for anti-Masonic bias. Some
American denominations, such as the Lutheran Church,
Missouri Synod and Free Methodists, have long-standing
anti-Masonic biases. The separation of the Free Methodist
Church from the main body of Methodism grew out of the
Morgan affair.
We may miss the point of the relationship of "the
Church" and Masonry if we limit our examination to these
two bodies alone. Should we not be asking how Masonry
gets along with everyone else but the Church and how the
Church gets along with everyone else but the Masonic
The emergence of Masonry as a world movement came
at a bad time for the Roman Catholic Church. In the
eighteenth century, when the Premier Grand Lodge was
founded and Masonry was spreading like wildfire, the power
of the Roman Catholic Church and its political allies was
perilously threatened. The Church had long depended upon
the power of Spain, with its Catholic Majesties, and France,
"the eldest daughter of the Church. By 1737, when the
Vatican first denounced Free-masonry, Spain had passed her
peak. In a few years, France and England would fight a
bloody war to determine who would sit on the Spanish
throne. France had suffered the first of a series of defeats
at the hands of the English. In Scotland, an attempt to seat
the Catholic "Old Pretender" (styled James III) on the
British throne by force of arms had failed. Even the Holy
Roman Empire, a loose confederation of German and
Italian states and which has been described by historians as
neither holy, Roman or an empire, was decaying and would
shortly disintegrate. On all fronts, the Catholic Church was
losing ground. It was unbelievable, but the Jesuits were
expelled from Spain in the eighteenth century. In France,
Gallicanism and Jansenism undermined the power and
authority of the Church. Reformed churches had become
reasonably secure in Protestant Europe not many years
earlier. Presbyterian order prevailed in Scotland only in
1690. The Thirty Years War between Catholic and
Protestant factions of the Holy Roman Empire ended less
than a hundred years earlier. Therefore, the Catholic
Church and its relationships with individuals and
organizations must be seen in the light of world politics. It
is therefore not surprising that the expansion of Masonry
was seen as a threat by the eighteenth century Catholic
Church. A Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted (i.e.
operative and Speculative) Masons, founded on principles of
the brotherhood of man - all men - and the Fatherhood of
God introduced a new social element that was an implicit
challenge to the supremacy of the Church in social matters.
Although early Masonic ritual was explicitly Christian,
Masons did not acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as
the only vehicle in which God might move about His earth.
The evidence also suggests that Masonry was much more
involved in politics in Mediterranean countries than
expected or allowed in modern English-speaking Lodges.
The use of Masonry as a political force may have been the
most objectionable aspect of the relationship between Lodge
and Church. The Roman Church had real reasons to fear
Masonry in the eighteenth century.
From its beginnings, Roman Catholicism was a politically
based church. We are all familiar with the story of
Constantine and his battle with Maxentius for control of the
Roman Empire. As his Army approached the Milvian
Bridge, now in the suburbs of Rome, Constantine saw a
cross in the air and heard the motto, "In This Sign Conquer"
(In Hoc Signo Vinces). Constantine became a Christian like
his mother and organized the Church like the Empire. As
there was an Emperor to rule the Empire, so there was a
Bishop (the Bishop of Rome) to rule the Church. Consuls
and proconsuls ruled the territories into which the Empire
was divided, just as Archbishops and bishops ruled the
territories of the Church. When Constantine moved his
court to Constantinople (Byzantium), the power of the
Pope was substantially increased. His authority spilled over
into secular politics.
The temporal rulers, both the Emperors that followed
Charlemagne and the local feudal giants, held substantial
sway over the Church until the time of Pope Gregory VII,
a German by the name of Hildebrand, and the "Investiture
Controversy." Until then, the general practice was that
Bishops would be chosen by local rulers and the Pope
notified. Gregory claimed the right to invest Bishops with
their "spiritualities and their temporalities." That is, the
Pope claimed the right to decide who would represent the
Church at York, not merely to agree to who empower the
representative of the King of England in the Cathedral of
York Minster. It was an important counter in the balance
of power between Emperor and Pope. Bishops wielded
great secular power, not just religious readership. For
example, a great portion of the actual land in Medieval
London was taken up by politically active Bishops and
Abbots. The account books of the Bishop of Ely about 1400
suggest that the expense of running a proper Bishop's seat
of power in London cost more than the stipends of the
hundred priests who served the parish churches in the City
of London. An unneeded portion of the Abbot of Hyde's
residence was the Tabard Inn of Canterbury Tales. Bishops
and "mitered" abbots sat as the third house of parliament.
Even today, they are entitled to a seat in the House of
Hildebrand was opposed by Henry IV. The most
memorable moment in the long battle was after Gregory
excommunicated Henry. The latter, dressed in sackcloth
and ashes, barefoot in the snow, pleaded for forgiveness
before the gates of the papal castle at Canossa. After the
death of both of these bullheaded Nordics, the Church
gained a modest but exceptionally important victory. The
power of the Church continued to grow until 1204, when
Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council became
virtual masters of European politics. Almost exactly a
hundred years later, the Church's power had so fallen that
the Pope and the curia were virtual prisoners of the King of
France and seemed more included to do his will than God's.
From 1378, the Church was fractured with Popes claiming
loyalty to Avignon, Pisa and Rome. In 1414, the Council of
Constance declared Popes John XXIII (Baldasarro Cossa)
and Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna) deposed and installed
Martin V in Rome. The church never fully recovered its
political power.
The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite has provided
Masons and the public with the text of the papal letter
HUMANUM GENUS of Pope Leo XIII, dated April 20,
1884, which vilifies Masonry and the "Spirit of the Age."
Most ages, including our own, earn the condemnation of
moralists. We need think little before we produce a long list
of ills in our society which demand correction. We can be
quite specific. Leo XIII was generally less specific. He
makes up, however, what he lacks in specificity about
Masonry with expansive claims for the Church. He equates
the Kingdom of God on Earth with the Church he heads.
Unfortunately, newspapers daily remind us of the failure of
a variety of churches and religious leaders of a wide variety
of persuasions to come up to the standards of God or even
those of their own religious bodies.
Amid vague and inadmissible charges, such as doing
Satan's work, the real anger of Pope Leo XIII is shown
toward the end of the missive. Masons, he declares, seduce
people away from their proper rulers and promote usurpers.
In a way, familiar to Americans, this charge is true.
Certainly Washington, and a host of other organizers and
achievers of American independence were Freemasons. The
same was true in Italy. Garibaldi and others were Masons
and, in creating a unified Italy form a myriad of tiny
kingdoms, duchies and republics, they displaced the Pope as
an earthly monarch. The Papal States, once ruled by the
Pope, became part of a national Italy.
Unfortunately, the Church failed to appreciate that this
divestiture may have been far more beneficial to the Roman
Church than maintenance of its temporal establishment. By
ridding itself of the political administration of its territories,
the care of its frontiers and the wars Cesare Borgia and
Pope Julian II seemed to enjoy fighting, the Roman Catholic
Church may now devote all its energies and resources to
expressing the love of God which we see in Jesus Christ. In
this endeavor, Freemasonry wishes them every success.
Freemasonry has recently come under widespread attack
from religious bodies, especially in Great Britain. The
Methodist Church there has forbidden use of their facilities
for Masonic activities. The Synod of the Church of England
has adopted a report critical of Masonry, although a critic
recently called the Church of England "a stronghold of
Freemasonry for more than 200 years. (Knight, Stephen, The
Brotherhood, Dorset Press, 1984, p. 240.) The Free Church of
Scotland condemned the Fraternity, although newspaper
accounts of their discussions reported that the speakers said
they did not know much about Masonry. The Church of
Scotland, which numbers many Masons among its ministers,
condemned Masonry at its 1989 General Assembly.
Why have modern churches with histories of benign
relationships with Freemasonry suddenly become frightened
about the religion and ethics of the Craft?
This recent concern on the part of British churches
follows the literary efforts of Stephen Knight. His Jack the
Ripper: The Final Solution, published in 1976, (London;
Grafton Books) alleged that the Ripper murders were the
result of a monstrous Masonic conspiracy, involving royalty
and high level government and police officials. According
to Knight, the plot was designed to rescue the Duke of
Clarence, oldest son of the Prince of Wales, and second in
line to the throne, from an ill-advised, secret marriage to a
Catholic girl living in Whitechapel, the sector of the London
slums where the murders were committed. The daughter of
this marriage, a Roman Catholic, was therefore third in line
to the throne. The times were politically unstable, if not
outright republican. If the marriage and the birth of the
child were to become public knowledge, abundant tinder
would be heaped upon the smoldering embers of revolution.
The murders, Knight contended, were to silence the women
who knew about the marriage.
Knight's attempts to prove that the victims were
murdered in strict conformity with Masonic ritual are, at
best, silly. His rationale of the mechanics of the murders
defies logic. However, the book was scandalous enough to
sell well and written well enough to create an air of
paranoia with regard to the Craft.
Knight followed the success of Jack the Ripper: The Final
Solution with The Brotherhood, (Op. cit) expanding the attack
on Freemasonry on a wide front. He charged that in
England Masonry has corrupted law enforcement, the courts
of justice, banking, employment practices and social life.
These charges have vague references and cannot be verified
or refuted. However, in the case of "Operation
Countryman," Knight was correct to point out that a series
of crimes committed in London between 1971 and 1977 had
involved the collaboration of police officials and common
criminals, all of whom were Masons. Personal efforts to
obtain an official report on "Operation Countryman" from
Scotland Yard have met with silence. The Rev. Cyril Barker
Cryer, secretary of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076,
advises that no government "white paper" was published.
Knight is particularly severe in the area of religion. He
contends that Masonry is nothing short of Devil worship, a
religion with its own distinct god, described at times as "The
Great Architect of the Universe." It should be noted that
the description of God as "The Great Architect of the
Universe" is not a Masonic innovation, but is a
representation from art of the Church of the Middle Ages.
It is unlikely that the more malignant critics of
Freemasonry can ever be satisfied. Trying to cut the cloth
of our ancient order to fit their tastes would certainly be a
waste of time. On the other hand, we have an obligation to
our Craft and to ourselves and to the dignity and
demonstrable compatibility of the Craft with Christianity,
Judaism and the other great religions of the world to correct
those elements which were either ill-considered or which
might seem to dilute our faith or offend the religious
sensibilities of members of the Craft.
We should certainly be concerned about the growing
number of respected Christian denominations who have, in
the wake of Knight's "revelations," adopted condemnations
of our Fraternity. Our churches, although they no longer
have the influence in society they once enjoyed, are most
important in the life and for the family of the sort of man
we wish every Mason to be. Every Mason who reads the
reports of these concerned denominations, especially when
it is his own denomination, if he takes his church and what
it does or says seriously, will be moved to judge the validity
of the criticisms of the Craft by his church. Each Mason
who is a member of a church which denounces the Masonic
Order must decide for himself whether or not an association
that uniformly preaches friendship, truth, morality and
brotherly love and practices those virtues, human nature
being what it is, somewhat less uniformly is compatible with
the fundamentals of his faith and the claims propounded by
his particular denomination. Knight's accusations are highly
charged emotionally, and, human nature being what it is, a
few Brethren within our ranks will be moved to leave.
As an ordained minister of the United Methodist
Church, many of whose Bishops, ministers and other leaders
are and have been members of the Craft, I feel that
Freemasonry and Christianity are not only compatible, but
that Freemasonry provides a practical means of putting into
effect many of the great teachings of the Christian faith. I
hope that Jewish and Muslim Brothers and those of other
faiths feel the same about their religious and Masonic
obligations and practices.
Is the criticism of Masonry justified? Have others whose
vocation or avocation is religious leadership wondered about
the meaning or significance of Masonic ritual and practice.
Certainly Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian criticism of
the Royal Arch ritual should not be rejected without
examining the challenged portion to see if there is something
to be corrected, not because it was criticized, but because,
according to our own standards of reason, religion and
Masonry, it should be corrected.
Americans and Britons will remember how difficult it
was for the thirteen American colonies to obtain a serious
and discerning hearing for their criticisms of their
relationship to the Mother Country. In the heat of that
communications effort, Patrick Henry said, "Caesar had his
Brutus, Charles I had his Cromwell, and George III...."
When the cries of, "Treason," subsided, he continued, "And
George III may profit from their example. History also
reminds us of the shortsightedness of Marie Antoinette and
Louis XVI, as well as the false security of Czar Nicholas II.
No Mason desires a conflict between his Craft and his
church or synagogue. However, churches are composed of
human beings and have the capacity to be wrong. They
frequently exercise that capacity, by engaging in witch hunts,
the slaughter of heretics and religious wars, to say nothing
of the petty imperfections of individual persons and
We are, therefore, under no moral or logical compulsion
to change anything just because a group of mortals, albeit a
church, so decrees. However, we should not hesitate to
amend our ritual, our rules or our accustomed practices
where such amendment will bring us closer to the principles
of Masonry or tend to make instruction in and the practice
of Masonry more effective.
If the current controversy prompts us to a beneficially
critical look at our ritual, they have done us a good turn.
The questions raised have sent me back to Bible and books
with the result that I feel very strongly that examination of
our ritual and the assumptions upon which the ritual is built
brings to light concepts which should be amended by
Masonry itself, without regard to the approval or
disapproval of others.
Rather than responding to the whole array of criticism of
Masonry on religious grounds, let us take the one that
generated much of the heat in recent debate, the ritual of
the Royal Arch Degree. He contends that in the ritual,
"The name of the Great Architect of the Universe is
revealed as JAH-BUL-ON - not a general term open to any
interpretation an individual Freemason might choose, but a
precise supernatural being - compound deity composed of
three separate personalities fused in one. ("Ibid., p. 236.)
Knight explains JAH-BUL-ON as follows: Jah (or
Jahweh) is identified as the God of the Hebrews, Bul (or
Baal) as the Canaanite fertility God and On as the Egyptian
god Osiris.
He quotes Albert Pike (1883) as saying, "No man or
body of men can make me accept as a sacred word, in part
composed of the name of an accursed and beastly heathen
god, whose name has been for more than two thousand
years an appellation of the Devil."(Ibid., pp. 236 f).
The Church of England echoed Knight's contentions with
the headline, "Aspects of Masonic ritual condemned as
blasphemous." (Church Times, London: G. J. Palmer & Sons,
No. 6488, p. 1). The working group appointed to study
Freemasonry for the General Synod concluded, inter alia,
"that JAHBULON, the name or description of God which
appears in all the rituals is blasphemous."Ibid. They
contended that the name of God must not be taken in vain
or combined with those of pagan deities. Their data and
conclusions are both mistaken, but they do suggest an area
for careful appraisal by Royal Arch Masons.
The principal objections, by Biblical and historical
standards, to our present practice in Royal Arch Masonry
are set forth below.
1. Matters of Fact: The ritual states that Jah, Bel and
On are the name of Deity in Syriac, Chaldean and Egyptian.
This is not true. It would be more accurate to say that Jah,
Bel and On are thought to be the names of Syriac, Chaldean
and Egyptian gods, but even this conclusion is inaccurate, as
described below.
a. Syriac: There is no evidence to suggest that Syriac
existed at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple. Syriac
is an Aramaic dialect used in Edessa (north of Mesopotamia
and a sometime Crusader dominion) and in western
Mesopotamia. "It was similar to, but not identical with, the
Aramaic dialect used in Palestine during the time of Jesus
and his apostles." (The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible,
New York: Abingdon Press, 1962, Vol. 4, p. 754a). The
earliest written Syriac, fragments of the New Testament,
dates from the 2nd Century A.D., the earliest Syriac Old
Testament was written in the 3rd Century A.D.)
In contrast with Syriac, the use of Aramaic as a
colloquial language was acquired by Jewish exiles and would
have been widely known at the time of rebuilding the
Temple. Nehemiah 8:8, "So they read in the book of God
distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to
understand the reading," may refer to an Aramaic
paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 749a.)
"Jah" does not appear in the Bible except as a prefix or
suffix, is the preliterary name of God used by the southern
Hebrew tribes, and at the time of the rebuilding of the
Temple the term was well-established as a Hebrew
abbreviation of the name of the Covenant Deity. It is not
the name of Deity in the Syriac language.
b. Chaldee: The once powerful Babylonian Empire
had been crushed by the time of the rebuilding of the
Temple. The survivors were called Chaldeans. In the
Chaldean language, Bel or Baal, from the Akkadian root
belu, means "he who possesses, subdues or rules," and
always refers to Marduk, the state-god of Babylon. Bel is
the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Canaanitish God, Baal,
the principal god of the indigenous Palestinians at the time
of rebuilding the Temple. Because of its bitter religious and
social connotations, Bel cannot have been used to refer to
Deity by our Companions who rebuilt the Temple.(Vide
ibid., Vol. 1, p. 376.; Cf. B. Davidson, Analytic Hebrew and
Chaldee Lexicon, London: Samuel Bagster, n.d., 1963, p. 85.)

c. Egyptian: The use of On in our ritual is probably
based on Genesis 41:45, 50 and 46:20 which refer to
Asenath, wife of Joseph and daughter of Potipherah, "priest
of On." Apparently, the author or authors of the ritual
understood the "On" in these passages to refer to an
Egyptian god, On. Instead, On, in Egyptian, means Sun.
The Egyptians did not call the Sun god On. In the Old
Kingdom Re was the sun god. In later syncretism, the term
was Amon-Re. A major effort at monotheism was made,
about 1375 B.C., by Pharaoh Amen-hotep IV, who changed
his name to Akh-en-Aton and concentrated worship in Aton,
the sun disc. The failure of the effort is reflected by the
change of the name of Pharaoh Tut-ankh-Aton to Tut-ankh-
In the Biblical passages quoted, "On" is a place name, an
Egyptian city whose better known Greek name is Heliopolis.
The less familiar Hebrew equivalent is Beth-shemesh.
However, it is important to note that in the Septuagint,
the translation (285-245 B.C.) of the Hebrew Old Testament
into Greek, the Tetragrammaton of Exodus 3:14 is
translated into a Greek word pronounced "ha own." This
Greek word can be literally translated, "Being," and itself
gives scope to much interesting interpretation.
2. Historical Setting: At the rebuilding of the
Temple, which we commemorate in the Royal Arch
degree, the strife between Israel and her neighbors was
intense. This fact is commemorated in the ritual of Cryptic
Masonry where, based on Nehemiah 4:13-22, the builders of
Zerubbabel's Temple are described as using a sword for
defense and a trowel for construction. It is inconceivable
that our ancient Companions would have engaged in a
ceremony using the words, Jah, Bel and On, however
innocent such practice might seem in our enlightened age.
To a large degree, the Old Testament, especially the
writings of the Prophets, is a history of the conflict to keep
the identity and worship of God clearly defined and free
from contamination with pagan contamination. The
Prophets made the choice clear. On one hand was (and is)
the unseen monotheistic God of Israel (honored in the
Shema, "Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one
Lord...,"Deuteronomy 6:4.) and whose name was too holy to
be pronounced. Opposing were the pagan gods, tangible,
fabricated and dominated by their human creators and
transported like baggage.Isaiah 46. Isaiah reminds us,
"Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you
transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am
God, and there is none like me...."46:8,9. Without doubt,
the use of Jah-Bel-On would have been far more offensive
to our ancient Brothers and Companions at the rebuilding
of the Temple than it may be to our present critics. In a
word, they would have been horrified.
Admittedly, early Hebrews appropriated the word Baal,
meaning "lord" or "owner", as a name of Deity, in spite of its
ascription by their enemies to the Canaanitish god of storm
and fertility. Saul named a son Esh-baal, meaning "Man of
Baal,"I Chronicles 8:33 and 9:39. and David named a child
Beeliada, meaning "Baal knows." (I Chronicles 14:7.)
Significantly, Eshbaal's name was changed to Ishbosheth
(Man of Shame), (2 Samuel 2:8 et seq.) and David changed
the name of the child to Eliada, "God knows" (II Samuel
5:16). It was difficult for prophets, such as Elijah, to draw
a line between Yahweh and Baal in the minds of the
populace. Especially under the leadership of highly placed
Baal worshipers such as Queen Jezebel, many actually
abandoned Yahweh. By the time of the Prophets, Baal and
his worship were anathema to orthodox Jewish leaders.
The irreconcilable strife between Jah, Jahweh or Jehovah
and Baal or Bel may best be illustrated by the contest on
Mt. Carmel between Elijah (note the Jah in his name) and
the priests of Baal (I Kings 18), and by the denunciations of
the Book of Hosea.
At the time of rebuilding the Temple, the conflict
between the Companions who worshiped Yahweh and the
worshipers of Baal was, at best, intermittent warfare.
Our ancient Companions, who rebuilt the Temple and
whom we seek to emulate, could not be comfortable with
our ritual. Similarly, the Companions of the Grand Chapter
of England have eliminated all references to pagan deities
from their ritual. Let us see if the critics of Freemasonry
respond with equivalent understanding, tolerance and