Vol. XVIII No. 11 — November 1940
"Will Freemasonry survive?" Perhaps no question is more often asked by thoughtful brethren — asked of any one whose experience or knowledge may seem to the inquirer to promise an answer based on something else than hope.
Twenty-two Grand Lodges in Europe have been eliminated. "Eliminated" covers all the methods, from the occupation of Temples by force, the confiscation of records, the listing of Freemasons as "persons inimical to the state", to murdering of Grand Masters and the shooting of brethren. With the exception of Alpina in Switzerland, and in Greece and Sweden, Grand Lodges simply do not exist in Europe today — and the end is not yet.
Some Grand Lodges escaped total loss by "folding up" in advance of the act of a Dictator — it is believed that those in Czecho Slovakia managed to save a little of their property by seeing the handwriting on the wall and acting in time. Others exist only in memory. And the question which agitates the civilized world where Freemasonry still does exist — England, Ireland, Scotland, all the countries of the British Empire, Canada, the United States — is: Admitting that there will be an end to Nazi-ism, Fascism, Communism in Europe, will the Grand Lodges reestablish themselves, will Freemasonry once more be permitted to exist undisturbed by the secret police, the ukases of Dictators, persecutions under the guise of "law and order?"
It is only possible to fortell the future by the past. The old saw "History repeats itself" is founded on observation of the cyclic trend of human events. It requires no deep study of human history to find the cycle of tyranny, call it by what name you will; for one reason or another the people are troubled, anxious, suffer ill fortune; a revolution occurs, either bloody and physical or mental and political; a strong man seizes the moment and the power; by promises or actual grants he enthuses the people for the new regime; to retain power he and the circle who grow to power with him keep the people occupied either with a "new world to come" or with actual war and conquest; there comes a time when the people realize that the promises cannot be fulfilled, or the war falls; again suffering and anxiety overwhelm the people; the reaction is sharp and terrible; the dictator is overthrown; a new regime comes into power; upon the wreck of the old a new world is built.
It was so in Egypt, in Rome, in England, in France, in Germany, in the Colonies which became the United States, although not always has the pattern included the Dictator. In the Revolution, Washington could have been anything he wished — Dictator, King, Potentate, Emperor! That he did not wish is simply one more tribute to his far seeing humanity and statesmanship.
It, therefore, seems reasonable to predict that the dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini must end in time. By what means? One man's guess is as good as another's. By victory for Great Britain? By revolution from within? By death and the falling of its own weight of a system of "government" which is purely a government of men by men, and not by laws made by men for all men?
The question, however, is less how the dictatorships will come to an end than when — and here, again, the event is in the hands of God.
It seems, however, logical to say that as all dictatorships and all governments by men have ended, in the past, these, too, will pass away.
Then the question must be rephrased; when new forms of government arise in war-torn Europe and there is no more dictatorship, will the Freemasonry which has been so effectively stamped flat arise again?
This seems to resolve itself into a question as to the vitality of the idea of Freemasonry in men's hearts. Is it enough alive to resurrect the crucified body? Can that which has been eradicated for years-one, two, five, fifty years — be brought back? Will not fear of the same persecutions in the future hold men inactive, even if a new and better present day beckon to the recreation of that which was shot starved, murdered out of existence in the 1939- to 194? debacle in Europe?
Again must reference be had to history for the answer. Li Hung Chang, great Chinese philosopher, on a visit to this country was invited to witness a horse race.
"It has been demonstrated," he answered, "that one horse can run faster than another horse. Why doubt the fact and go to see it demonstrated again?"
It has been demonstrated throughout history that it is impossible to kill an idea by physical force. Men have been burned at the stake, broken on the wheel, beaten to a pulp, torn, dismembered, murdered in a thousand cruel ways, without those who had the physical power being able to eradicate the idea which was so offensive that the holder of it had to recant or die. The history of the Christian religion is filled with physical persecutions of those who disagreed with the priests in power. A quite incredible number of people — more than fifty thousand according to some historians — were burned at the stake during the religious persecutions of the Inquisition in Spain. Yet Spain remained a religious country; more incredible still, loyal to the church under which the persecutions took place.
It is true that, threatened with torture or death or life imprisonment, many "recanted" the "heretical" ideas for which they suffered at the hands of authority. Galileo, for instance, recanted on his knees his "heresy" that it was the earth which moved, the sun which was still. He was old, a man broken in health — very sensibly, many think, he abjured his discovery rather than die or suffer. The great DeMolay is said to have broken under torture. But does any thinking man believe that either felt differently in his heart, merely because physical suffering was his, or threatened?
Every man has some private beliefs and convictions, which he keeps to himself from expediency. It may be political — he keeps quiet rather than lose his job. It may be religious — he continues with the church of his fathers because of wife and family, when his heart is elsewhere. It may be social — he may wish he were not married, or that he were married to another; he says nothing, making the best of his situation because of his children, or his position in society, or for any of a dozen reasons.
But his opinion is the same, regardless of his acts.
Freemasonry has been persecuted time out of mind. We have only to look to our own history during the years 1826 to 1840 to see an example. At the time of the Morgan affair in New York state, a political party made an issue of Freemasonry, and the cry that "Freemasons murdered Morgan" went around the world. Grand Lodges ceased to meet. Lodges gave up their charters. Freemasons tore the insignia from their coats, less women spit upon them in the streets. For fourteen years Freemasonry was in total eclipse in a large part of the country.
The hysteria passed. And what happened? Lodge books, supposedly long since burned, came out of hiding. Charters, supposedly destroyed, reappeared. Old Temples were opened. New ones were built. Lodges which had continued to meet in secret — just a few brethren, collected occasionally in a private home, without charter, without Grand Lodge, without "constituted authority," if you will — these Lodges came back into the public eye and men once more were able to be proud of the fact that they were Freemasons.
Follows a story told to an American Freemason by an eminent brother of a Lodge in Europe; he escaped by a twenty-four hour lead from the secret police who hounded him, wanting the record books of his Masonic Lodge.
"No, it is not dead — Freemasonry. You cannot kill an idea with a gun. We will meet — when we can. Would you like to visit one of those secret meetings? Come with me. It is a quiet street, yes? Dark. Empty. The houses are shuttered. It is war, you know, and the police are strict . . .
"One comes — he knocks at a door. As the door opens, he cries, loudly. 'Heil Hitler'. The secret police are everywhere, you know — it is wise to be openly patriotic. But inside the house there is no more 'heiling!' Ach, no. And during the hour, seven or eight come, one at a time. They come separately. They knock gently. All cry 'Heil Hitler' as they enter. But not — not inside. No. Mine host takes us down to the basement. The windows are very tight; it is the blackout, of course.
"An odd room for a Lodge room, you will say. True. In one corner, a stove. In another, two card tables, with cards spread out. In the center a small table, a basket of apples. And on the table a book of police rules — rules for the government of the civil population. You must not be out after such an hour, you must report at the police station if you change your address, you must carry your identification card at all times — all that.
"When all the brethren have come who are expected, odd things happen. Chairs are rearranged. There is a South, a West, an East. The basket of fruit is removed. An apple is given to each of those who will act as Wardens. They stick their fountain pens into the apples and use them — apple and pen — as a Warden's Pillar. Yes!
"And then he who will act as Master appoints a Chaplain and commands him to do his duty. He goes to the center table and picks up the book of police rules — a hated book. He holds it out in his hands — and prays — Ach, yes, he prays.
" 'Great Architect of the Universe, wilt thou bless this book to thy service and our use? Thou knowest we dare not have thine own book — thy Great Light-in this house. But make this book unto us a symbol of thine; let thy great Presence rest here as once it did in a happier hall, a better time . . . in the name of the All Seeing Eye we ask it — amen.'
"The book of police rules is opened upon the little table. A square and compasses are improvised from pens and pencils. The Master opens the Lodge. They hear the old familiar ritual — Oh, be sure it is very softly spoken. They discuss what problems they have — perhaps relief to some brother whose circumstances are poor; perhaps how to get food to some starving brother in a concentration camp if they do nothing else, they are still brethren, meeting on the level —
"There is a loud knock above. The police come in. They storm down stairs. But there is nothing to see. The book of police rules — it is closed. Pens and pencils are in pockets. Eight men sit about two card tables, playing cards — and not even here is it yet forbidden that a man play cards with his friends. The Police search. There is no Bible. The blessing of God upon the book of police rules is not to be seen of police eyes. The police depart ....
"There are such little Lodge meetings everywhere — Ach, yes. You cannot kill an idea with a gun ..."
Take it to yourself, Oh, reader! You live in free America. Your Lodge meetings are a matter of public knowledge. You wear the square and compasses proudly on your coat. Overnight, it is all changed. A Dictator has come. Freemasonry is forbidden. All secret meetings are forbidden. Your Temple becomes a government office building. Your property is confiscated. Your Grand Lodge gives up its ghost. Are you less a Freemason in your heart? Would you not meet in secret, with a few you could trust? Would you not keep the old Lodge alive? Would not the light of Freemasonry yet burn in your heart? Can any one kill it in your mind — with a gun? And when at last freedom came again, would Freemasonry in your heart, in your town, in your jurisdiction, be dead?
Human nature is much the same all the world over. The brethren of stricken Europe, though not large in numbers, were great in faith. The old Freemasonry of Germany, Austria, Italy, Norway, Denmark, France was an earnest, honest, devout Freemasonry. As well think that because Hitler substitutes the myths of German legend for God, therefore all Germans who believed in God are now atheists, as to think that these Freemasons now abjure Freemasonry ... in their hearts!
When happier times come, Freemasonry will come out of its hiding places. Books of Lodge members will reappear. Charters will come to light. Old jewels and furniture will be discovered or new ones will be made. The book of police rules will disappear and the real Great Light come back to Freemasonry's Altars. Grand Lodges will be reestablished.
European Grand Lodges and Lodges are as dead as Dictatorship can make them.
But Freemasonry itself is not dead ... it is but asleep in men's hearts. It will not be a resurrection, but an awakening — in the better days to come.
Freemasonry can and will survive ... for you cannot kill an idea with a gun!