FREEMASONS: The name of the members of a well-known secret society, derived from those medieval stonemasons who were allowed to migrate at will, as distinguished from their fellow workmen in the gilds. The latter were restricted to certain localities and confined to their gilds, while the former went from land to land, and formed a widespread organization under the supervision of the supreme lodge at Strasburg. The institution of the lodge lasted longest in England, receiving a new impetus through the burning of London in 1666. Far different, however, is "symbolic freemasonry," which is a secret organization for the erection of a spiritual temple of humanity in the heart of man. The change from the ancient masonic craft to modern freemasonry began as early as the end of the sixteenth century. After the rebuilding of London and the completion of St. Paul's, the majority of lodges disappeared, but the four which survived formed a grand lodge at London on St. John's Day (June 24), 1717, surrendering manual masonry, and seeking a new sphere in moral and social life. The original organization of medieval masonic fraternity was retained, however, especially the distinction of masters, journeymen, and apprentices, as well as mutual help, the application of a detailed symbolism in words, pictures, and signs, and the solemn obligation to secrecy covering everything pertaining to the lodge. In 1721, one of the founders of this union, James Anderson, an English Presbyterian minister, drafted a "constitution" for this cosmopolitan organization, which bound all "freemasons" to a faithful observance of the moral law, humanity, and patriotism. In religion, however, they are non-sectarian, and profess only that faith in which all men of honor agree. Doctrines going beyond that are tolerated as private opinions, but no one is permitted to make propaganda for them. The characteristics of masonry are, therefore, humanistic morals, the cultivation of fraternity, and a deistic belief. It was the outcome of English deism and latitudinarianism, and was soon adopted in Germany in radical religious circles. In those Roman Catholic countries where no Protestantism existed, masonry even obtained the importance of an opposing church, and freemasonry is accordingly regarded as in league with Satan. In the encyclical humanism genus on freemasonry, dated Apr. 20, 1884 (2d ed., Treves, 1885), Leo XIII. solemnly condemned it, as other popes had repeatedly done since 1751.
From England masonry soon spread to the British colonies and to the continent of Europe. In 1725 it was in Paris; in 1733 in Florence and Boston; and in 1737 in Hamburg. In 1738 the Prussian crown-prince, afterward Frederick the Great, was solemnly initiated at Brunswick by a deputation from the Hamburg lodge Absalom. As king he energetically labored for the spread of the system, and in 1744 was made grand master of the grand lodge "Zu den drei Weltkugeln" in Berlin. As the tendency of masonry is essentially subjective, many internal dissensions arose. In addition to the Brotherhood of St. John, divisions were formed with a knightly organization and the most varied degrees of fantastic terminology and mysterious ceremonial. Rationalism in Germany helped to introduce masonry among the middle classes, where it still has a strong hold on account of the advantages, especially in social respects, enjoyed by many of its adherents, such as physicians and merchants.. Spiritually it has not advanced. For Evangelical churches with their charitable interests, freemasonry is wholly superfluous. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the freemasons.
In Europe the number of masons is estimated to be over 300,000, most of them belonging to the grand lodges of Great Britain. In America, in addition to freemasons proper, who number about 750,000, there are similar societies with about 4,650,000 members, divided into Odd Fellows (820,000), Knights of Pythias (475,000), Ancient Order of United Workmen (361,000), Maccabees (244,000), Modern Workmen of America (204,000), and about twenty smaller orders, this entire body spending annually about $25,000,000 for benefit money.