The greatest secret
A review of Gerard Moate's 'Christianity and Craft Freemasonry. A Pastoral Guide for Christian Ministers'
This booklet of Gerard Moate was especially written to inform church ministers about Freemasonry and help them provide pastoral guidance on the subject. It succeeds admirably in its purpose, at least with this minister who had little understanding of the subject. For one whose church’s first two vicars were masons and whose combined ministry was over half the life of the church, this provides an enlightening and valuable road map to understanding their beliefs and practices.
This substantially updated treatise (originally printed in 1987) begins with the greatest secret of Freemasonry, which unfortunately I can’t reveal here! The second chapter delves into Freemasonry, showing how it emerged in the eighteenth century on the wings of the Enlightenment rather that from ‘Knights Templar, Jewish Kabbalist, Egyptian mystery cults, Rosicrucianism and astrology’ (7). Moate has thoroughly investigated what seems like all the available sources, gives a potted history of the craft, explains the three ‘degrees’ basic to all Masonic lodges and sheds light on their initiation ceremonies. This substantial chapter finishes by asking what really underlies Freemasonry. Is it Morality? Brotherhood? Charity? Christianity? Or Secrecy?
This groundwork laid; the subsequent chapter looks at Christian responses to Freemasonry. It begins by looking at the unequivocal condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church of the craft for over two centuries before some accommodation with them was attempted by the English Catholic hierarchy in the 1970s. This was quashed in 1980 by firstly, the German bishops (‘membership of the Catholic Church cannot be reconciled with simultaneous membership of Freemasonry’), and then by a declaration from the Vatican in 1981.
Protestants haven’t been as consistent or as clear in opposition towards Freemasonry as the Roman Catholic Church has. Moate successively looks at how nonconformists, the Church of Scotland and then the Church of England have viewed them. The strongest critique of Freemasonry in the last century was by Walton Hannah in the academic journal Theology (54, Jan 1951:3-10), and even that might have amounted to little if it weren’t for an interesting story.
Press baron Max Aitken (Beaverbrook) disliked ABC Geoffrey Fisher (known to be a freemason) and therefore used the power of his Daily Express to “make a ‘scandal’ out of it” (29). The result was that the Church Assembly debated the subject in 1951. Much was made of the fact that no one who wasn’t a lodge member really understood Freemasonry, Hannah’s theological arguments were ignored and the ABY Cyril Garbett sealed off the debate by turning to Fisher and saying ‘I am reassured by your Grace being a member of the Order’. The proposal against Freemasonry was defeated but Hannah’s ongoing critique even led to reform within the Masonic movement.
Moate goes on to examine the decline of Masonic clergy in the Church of England from the 50s, and then in chapter four looks at ongoing discussions on Freemasonry in General Synod. In the 1987 sessions key figures such as ABY John Habgood, Dr Christina Baxter and Dr John Sentamu debated the subject which led to a continuing decline of open support for Freemasonry among church leaders. Recent support of the craft has mainly been limited to Cathedrals, a dozen of which hosted Masonic parades to celebrate their tercentenary in 2017.
The fifth chapter looks at eleven areas of Christian concern regarding the organisation which handily enough uses the acronym FREEMASONRY! This is very helpful, as is the last chapter which outlines some useful pastoral guidelines for relating to members of the craft. The reasons for membership are then explored from interviewing masons and ex-masons, before finishing with a challenge to the Church to consider ways in which it might have failed to appeal to men leading them to seek brotherly fellowship elsewhere. There are also three informative appendixes which explain Masonic terms, abbreviations and different worldwide orders and degrees.
The last two chapters are worth the price of the book alone and Moate surprisingly says that if you have read this (sixty page) booklet you will probably know more about Freemasonry than many Masonic apprentices! I found this book very well researched, highly enlightening, and pastorally sensitive. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to engage with the subject of Freemasonry.
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