Written by Brother Laurent Jaunaux, Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium
Birth of French Freemasonry
There is no certainty about the birth date of French Freemasonry. Two theories are raised with one common point : Freemasonry was brought to France from England.
The “official” history reports that English Gentlemen came to France and founded speculative lodges in the early 18thcentury. These lodges received French Gentlemen. Between May and July of 1728, all lodges grouped themselves under the auspices of the first French Masonic body : The English Grand Lodge of France. Its Grand Master was the Duke of Wharton, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of London.
Another history reports that the first lodges in France had been imported from the United Kingdom by the Scottish and Irish guards of the Stuart Family, while they were in exile in St Germain en Laye. Among the Scottish Guard were Freemasons. They formed lodges and rumour has it that the very first French Lodge was founded in St Germain en Laye in the late 17th century.
The English Grand Lodge of France installed its first French Grand Master in 1738, the Duke of Antin.
During the 1750’s, the English Grand Lodge of France acquired complete autonomy and changed its name to the Grand Lodge of France.
The First Crisis.
In the United Kingdom, Freemasonry was struck down by a quarrel opposing the Ancient and the Modern partisans. The Ancient wished to turn back to a very “operative” ritual and the Moderns wished to continue the way it was.
This quarrel also arrived in France, which divided the newly formed French Masonry. In 1773, a part of the Grand Lodge of France broke away and created its own Masonic body, the Grand Orient of France.
In fact, this crisis is the result of a fight between Parisian lodges and provincial ones. The provincial lodges reproached the Grand Lodge administration to be clearly oriented to Paris and to forget the other lodges.
Another grievance was about the ritual and the beginning of the higher degrees. The Parisian lodges used to practice another ritual called the “rite of perfection”.
In 1773, the Grand Orient of France was formally created. This event is very important for a good understanding of the French Freemasonry. 1773 is not only the date of the creation of two Grand Lodges ; it is the beginning of two directions in Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge of France was “Scottish” oriented, with the proliferation of higher degrees, and the Grand Orient of France choosing a “modern way”.
The Masonic relationships with the Grand Lodge of England were implicitly the same for both French Masonic bodies. In 1813 the Ancients and the Moderns Masonic bodies unified themselves in the “United Grand Lodge of England”. This new United Grand Lodge of England decided to establish fraternal relationships with the Grand Orient of France, the biggest French Masonic body at this time. We can understand the UGLE preferred to have good relationships with the Grand Orient of France because this Masonic body had lodges almost everywhere in France and it had much more members than the Grand Lodge of France.
Members of the Grand Orient of France and members of the Grand Lodge of France could visit each others lodges. Many times the two Masonic bodies wished to merge, but every time members of the two bodies refused to accept a merger.
The crisis around the Grand Architect of the Universe
In 1799, the Grand Lodge of France changed its name to the Scottish Grand Lodge of France. The Grand Lodge merged with the new formed “Supreme Council of France” in 1805.
In 1821, the Central Grand Lodge was created by the Supreme Council of France to manage the 3 first degrees of the AASR. The Supreme Council of France kept its management for the 4th to the 33rd degrees. It is the controlling power of the whole Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in France.
There was a second French Revolution in 1848. Secularism, Liberty and Hope were new ideas in the French People. It wished to return to a French Republic. A lot of Freemasons were partisans of these new ideas. The Grand Orient of France started to think about its Masonic constitution. The question was how, in a republic, people can have the religion of their choice if the Catholic religion is a state one ? The idea of secularism and free-thinking was slowly growing in the lodges of the Grand Orient of France until 1877.
To avoid the Central Grand Lodge being hit by the Secularism movement, the Supreme Council of France imposed in 1873 that all documents should begin with “To The Glory of The Grand Architect Of The Universe, under the name and the auspices of the Supreme Council of France, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Also, the Supreme Council of France and the Central Grand Lodge adopted the definition of the Lausanne Communication in 1875 about the Grand Architect of the Universe which says “The Grand Architect of the Universe is the Principle Creator of the Universe”.
Since 1875, the AASR in France follows this definition.
In 1877, the Grand Orient of France decided to suppress the invocation “To the Glory of the Grand Architect of the Universe” in its rituals.
For most of the Anglo-Saxon readers, this act can be seen as outrageous and “irregular” for a Masonic body. That is true in a country where secularism does not exists, where State and Religion are one. That was not true in the past in France when one knows French History. Tired of religious wars, tired of requesting “Church” authorization to govern the Country, the French people decided to separate Church and State. In agreement with French laws, the Grand Orient of France decided to follow the rules of its country, despite English pressure.
The United Grand Lodge of England decided to break its relationship with it because of “irregularity”.
In 1894, the Central Grand Lodge became fully independent of the Supreme Council of France. It changed its name and became the Grand Lodge of France, an independent Masonic body, managing the AASR blue lodges, continuing the Regular French Masonry.
Confusion, ignorance and misunderstanding
The system of the Rite has always been very important for French Freemasons. A new rite was growing at the end of the 19th Century : The “Rectified Scottish Rite”, a remnant of the “Strict Templar Observance”. Edouard de Ribaucourt and friends of him decided to re-build the “Centre des Amis” Lodge, practicing this rite, under the auspices of the Grand Orient of France. This Masonic rite is exclusively Christian. The Grand Orient of France was engaged in the way of secularism. The open Bible of this lodge was seen as a misunderstanding by the visitors from other Grand Orient of France Lodges.
With the help of the Duke of Connaught, Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England the “Centre des Amis” Lodge proclaimed itself as a new Grand Lodge : The Independent and Regular Grand Lodge for France and Colonies. This new Grand Lodge was automatically recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, despite its creation by only one lodge. The “L’Anglaise” Lodge joined this new masonic body.
In 1955 the Grand Lodge of France adopted a declaration of principles which read :
- The Grand Lodge of France works to the Glory 0f The Grand Architect Of The Universe (1).
- In conformity with the traditions of the Order, three Great Lights are placed on the altar of the Lodges: the Square, the Compasses and a Volume of the Sacred Law (2). Masons take their Obligations on these three Lights
- The Grand Lodge of France proclaims its unfailing loyalty and total devotion to our Country.
- Neither the Grand Lodge of France nor its constituent Lodges shall meddle in matters of political or religious controversy. For the education of Brethren, it is permitted to present talks on these matters followed by exchanges of views. However, debates on such issues shall not be followed by a ballot or the adoption of resolutions liable to compel the opinions and feelings of certain Brethren (3).
- Concerning principles other than those defined above, the Grand Lodge of France refers to the Old Charges, especially with regard to the respect of the traditions of Freemasonry and to the scrupulous and strict practice of Ritual and Symbolism as means of access to the initiatic content of the Order.
- At the Grand Lodge of France, the Great Architect Of The Universe is seen as a Principle Creator.
- At the Grand Lodge of France, the Volume of the Sacred Law is the Bible.
- See also in that regard, Art. 23 of the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of France
This declaration of principles is always true. At this time, the Grand Lodge of France recognizes Prince Hall Masonry.
After the World War II, the “Independent and regular Grand Lodge for France and Colonies” changed its name to the French National Grand Lodge (GLNF). Members of the GLNF do not have the right to visit other French Masonic Bodies. The GLNF has always been seen as a French subsidiary of the United Grand Lodge of England.
In 1958, Pierre de Ribaucourt, Edouard de Ribaucourt’s son, 30 Grand Officers of the GLNF and the lodges “Les Philadelphes” and the famous “Le Centre des Amis”, created a new Grand Lodge : The “French National Grand Lodge – Opera”. The main objective of this new Grand Lodge was to re-establish fraternal relationships with the other French Masonic Bodies, and to create a regular and recognized Masonic body “where French is the main language”. To avoid confusion with the other GLNF, the GLNF-Opera- changed its name in 1982 to the “Traditional And Symbolical Grand Lodge” (GLTS or GLTSO). Few members of the GLTS decided to restore the Ancient rituals. They founded the “National French Lodge”, using the old motto “God is our Guide”.
In 1994, some regular masons of the French National Grand Lodges decided to found a Rectified Scottish Rite Grand Lodge, including a Great Priory. They founded the Rectified and Reformed Scottish Grand Lodge of Occitania, based on the 1782 masonic rule of the Scottish Lodges. They splitted the organization in 3 independant bodies : The Grand Lodge, for St John Lodges, the Directory for St Andrew Lodges and the Great Priory for the “Benevolent Knights of the Holy City”.
There has been lots of tensions in the GLNF end of 90’s. Some brothers, to escape some these ones, created the Regular Grand Lodge of France, with the exactly same GLNF rules.
Regular French Freemasonry Today…
The Traditional and Symbolical Grand Lodge and the Grand Lodge of France founded in 1999 the “Confederation of the United Grand Lodges of Europe”, with the hope of establishing fraternal relationships with all Regular Grand Lodges in Europe (Cf. The Plumbline, Vol. 8, Nr 2, Summer 2000, by Robert G. Davis, 33°). Treaty of amity and/or amity exists between most of these regular masonic bodies.
As evidence of its regularity, the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and other US grand lodges (including PH Grand Lodges) have decided to re-recognize the Grand Lodge of France, despite the presence of the GLNF Grand Officers during US conferences. The GLNF attempts to obstruct GLDF recognition (Cf. “From the desk”, April 2001 issue, The Philalethe Society. See also the Paul M. Bessel’s website about French recognition by DC).
At least six French Masonic bodies are “regular” regarding the United Grand Lodge of England’s Landmarks. They are the Grand Lodge of France (GLDF – 1894), the National French Grand Lodges (GLNF – 1913), the Traditional and Symbolical Grand Lodge (GLTS – 1958), the French National Lodge (LNF – 1968), the Rectified and Reformed Scottish Grand Lodge of Occitania (1994) and the Regular Grand Lodge of France (2001) ).
With the advent of the Internet, all regular Masonic bodies are becoming known worldwide. French regularity has always existed and slowly, other regular Masonic bodies are recognizing them.
A “miracle” really happened in 1738.