No. 16 -- The newsletter of The Freemasons Chamber -- December 2000

That a belief in the Supreme Being…." (Part VI)

On September 14th 1877, the Grand Orient of France voted to eliminate from its ancient constitution the following article: "Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and the solidarity of mankind." The Masonic world was plunged into horror at this "act of atheism". This was certainly the most radical move in modern Freemasonry. Many grand lodges severed fraternal relations with the Grand Orient. However, there were Masonic scholars and bodies who attempted to understand the reasons behind this drastic amendment. This installment deals with the role which French Lodges saw for themselves. Any Brother wishing a complete set of the three discussions by leading Masons, may request an e-mail copy. - Editor.

In reality, the French change reverted back to Anderson’s Constitution

As to whether the Grand Orient of France has departed farther from the spirit and the letter of Anderson's original Constitution than we have is not open to much controversy. The change they made in 1877 rather reverted back to it than went farther away from it. To show the real misunderstanding that has occurred with regard to their position let me quote from the minutes of their General Conventions when the change was made. We can then understand what the real meaning of their action was.

At the French Masonic Convention of 1876, on the proposal of a Lodge in the department of the Rhone, a Committee was appointed to consider the question of suppressing the second paragraph of the first article of the Constitution, concerning God and Religion. The Committee recommended that the proposition be postponed, and in recommending this the reporter of the Committee, Bro. Maricault, made the following statement:

"Your Commission has recognized that bad faith alone could interpret the suppression demanded as a denial of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; human solidarity and freedom of conscience, which would be henceforth the exclusive basis of Freemasonry, imply quite as strongly belief in God and in an immortal soul as they do materialism, positivism, or any other philosophic doctrine."

Postponement met with opposition. Bro. Andre Roussell, in advocating immediate action, among other statements made the following:

"I am anxious to recognize with my brother, the reporter of the Commission, that Freemasonry is neither deistic, atheistic, or even positivist. In so far as it is an institution affirming and practicing human solidarity, it is a stranger to every religious dogma and to every religious Order. Its only principle is an absolute respect for freedom of conscience. In matters of faith it confirms nothing and it denies nothing. It respects in an equal degree all sincere convictions and beliefs. Thus the doors of our temples open to admit Catholics as well as Protestants, to admit the atheist as well as the deist, provided they are conscientious and honourable. After the debate in which we are at present taking part, no intelligent and honourable man will be able to seriously state that the Grand Orient of France has acted from a desire to banish from its Lodges belief in God and in the immortality of the soul, but, on the contrary, that in the name of absolute freedom of conscience it proclaims solemnly its respect for the convictions, teachings, and beliefs of our ancestors. We refrain, moreover, as much from denying as from affirming any dogma, in order that we may remain faithful to our principles and practice of human solidarity."

Bro. Minot, in speaking on the same subject, said: "The Constitution of 1865 had realized a transitory progress. The work must be completed and purified by suppressing dogma and by rendering Masonry once again universal, by the proclamation of the principle of absolute freedom of conscience. Let no one be mistaken in this. It is not our aim to serve the interest of any philosophic conception in particular by our action in laying aside all distinction between doctrines. We have in view only one thing: Freedom for each and respect for all."

The recommendation of the Committee prevailed, and action was postponed. In 1877, after a year's study by the Lodges, the change was adopted by an almost unanimous vote. The reporter of the Committee at the time said: "Who is not aware, at this moment, that in advocating this suppression no one among us understands himself as making a profession of atheism and materialism. In regard to this matter every misunderstanding must disappear from our minds, and, if in any Lodge there should remain any doubt in reference to this point, let them know that the Commission declares without reservation that by acceding to the wish of Lodge No. 9 it sets before it no other object than the proclamation of absolute liberty of conscience."

When the proposition of the Committee had been adopted by the General Assembly, the President proposed, as an amendment, the insertion of these words: "Masonry excludes no one on account of his beliefs." Many regarded this as superfluous, but the President was insistent, in order that it might be clearly established in the eyes of all that Masonry is a neutral territory, in which all beliefs are admitted and treated with equal respect. The suggestion was adopted.

It may be interesting to note that the original proposer that the Grand Orient of France should suppress the formula of the G. A. of the U. was a clergyman of the Protestant Church, and he stated, in justification, as follows:

"In suppressing the formula respecting the G. A. of the U. we did not mean to replace it by a materialistic formula. None among us in proposing this suppression, thought of professing atheism or materialism, and we declare formally and emphatically that we had no other end in view than to proclaim absolute liberty of conscience."

I have given the words and opinions of those responsible for the change in the Constitution so that there may be no room for misunderstandings. The Grand Orient of France, in making the change, has done no more than was done by the Government of Great Britain when she admitted members to seats in the House of Commons by allowing them to make an affirmation only when their convictions would not allow them to take a religious oath. The same custom prevails in our Courts of Justice.

Their position will bear a little further examination to make clear its consistency. The story, as depicted by our Ritual, tells of a great loss and a life-long search for this something, which was lost. Masonry ends at the point when something else is substituted to temporarily make good that loss, and at the point where Masonry ends we are expected to begin the search.

A History Of Scottish Freemasonry In India 1838 – 2000 (Part X- concluded)

(Continued from "The Freemason" No. 15, with a request for further information and

items from Brethren, by the Rt Wor District Grand Master, Bro Bomi S Mehta)

District Grand Lodge Of India: 1992-2000

For five years, Bro. Karkaria's regime bore the brunt of this discord amongst Freemasons in India, and he tactfully steered the District Grand Lodge during this difficult period. During the last two years of his regime, unsuccessful attempts were made to restore amity.

On 16th February 1993, Bro. Brigadier Sir Gregor MacGregor of MacGregor, Bart., the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason visited the District Grand Lodge, accompanied by Bro. Arthur O. Hazel, Rt. Wor. Grand Secretary. Lodge Universal Peace No. 1208, not having adequate support in Calcutta, was shifted to Secunderabad in 1996. The regime of Bro. Karkaria also saw, as a part of Masonic education, the birth of "The Indian Mason", with Bro Larry Grant as the Founding Editor. This quarterly publication dedicated to widening Masonic knowledge amongst Brethren of the District was well received by all.

Bro. Bomi S. Mehta took charge of the District as the District Grand Master of India from Bro. Dhunjishaw D. Karkaria on 6th November 1997, to lead the District into the 21st century. In February 1998, the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, Bro. The Rt Hon The Lord Burton, accompanied by Lady Coralie Burton and the Rt. Wor. Grand Secretary, Bro. C. Martin McGibbon visited India. They visited Lodge Madras No. 1342 in Chennai on 12th February, followed by a visit to Lodge Barton No. 475, Lonavla at its Installation Meeting on 14th February and a visit to Lodge St. Andrews-in- the-East No. 343, Pune a day later. On 16th February, the Most Worshipful Grand Master Mason, Bro. The Rt Hon The Lord Burton installed Bro. Bomi S. Mehta as the Rt. Wor. District Grand Master, with the Sandhurst Temple in Freemasons' Hall, Bombay overflowing with Brethren.

On the occasion, Bro Bomi S. Mehta said, "We sincerely dream that in the 21st century, love, peace and harmony will return amongst Freemasons in our country. In some years, we will be celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the founding of Scottish Freemasonry in India and we hope and pray that the world will be a better place to live in then.

"The District Grand Lodge has at present under its jurisdiction 29 Daughter Lodges and over 1200 members. We view its progress with gratification and satisfaction. It now stands on a solid foundation with a strong edifice, beautiful from outside and peaceful from within, gradually raised by the selfless services, and dedicated devotion of great Masons, who headed and directed its destiny, and whose achievements and accomplishments could not be individually and specifically mentioned here. At the same time, we cannot ignore the silent and solid contribution of our members, past and present, known and unknown, who have sincerely strived to uphold the rich heritage of our Order by the faithful and fruitful practice of all its tenets. We are pleased that our Daughter Lodges have always stood by us, dutifully and solidly.

"We are greatly indebted to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for its guidance, and its unstinted co-operation and support for all these years. We welcome with joy the visits of our Most Worshipful Grand Master Masons from time to time, along with the Grand Secretary. Such visits are always a matter of inspiration and of assurance that though far away, we are not forgotten. The world wide phenomena of falling attendance at Masonic meetings and lack of interest in Masonic activities can be seen in India also, but an ancient Order founded on tried and tested principles of morality and virtue shall overcome, as it has in the past. Our survival for 160 years is itself sufficient to proclaim and prove our utility and worth. For all these manifold favours, we can only look upwards and say a simple but most sincere and reverential prayer:

"We thank Thee, Most High for Thy manifold mercies.

Grant that we complete our allotted task to our joy and Thy Glory."

Editorial Board: Bro Tofique Fatehi, Bro Ahmed Bharucha, Bro Larry Grant.
Published for The Freemasons Chamber by Larry Grant, Post Box 1610, Mumbai 400001, India
Phone 91-22-2151001. E-mail
Master Masons are welcome to request free copies. Please send full name, name and number of lodge, and address. Copies also available by e-mail.

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