Freemasonry and Catholic religion
It could be a surprise for English masons, but in Catholic Poland there is a great tension between freemasonry and the church. In popular opinion, Freemasonry is a secret, conspiring organisation, constantly plotting to undermine the values of a society, morality and the state. The very conservative Catholic Church shows Freemasonry as its arch enemy.
Despite an easy and popular opinion, the relationship between the Masonic movement and religion are not at all that clear. This is because both religion and Freemasonry are not homogeneous trends. In addition, it must also be stressed that in today's world of religion and the church are not completely identical (as best evidenced by the huge disparity between the numbers of people who claim to be Christians (Catholics) and those who practice going to church (not to mention the sacramental life).It is also worth noting that Freemasonry can not be compared with Christianity, because Freemasonry was not and is not a religious movement. All we can analyze the mutual relations between the two organisations, however, it does not lead to competition. We must also add that on the basis of canon (church) law that is currently running, joining Freemasonry does not automatically result in the penalty of excommunication
Christianity vs Freemasonry
In the very center of Christianism there is a the Greatest Commandment:
"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."
Of course, there are many interpretations of this writing, about which scholars and theologians argue, but one thing seems pretty obvious. Man is called to love - both in respect to his the Creator, and to other people. Paradoxically, the same order of ethics can be found in the philosophy of Freemasonry! Freemasons (especially those belonging to the regular branch) believe that there is a driving force of the world (the Great Architect), but also believe, that all men are brothers, equal to each other. Liberal Freemasonry is a little bit closer to what we can call "agnostic beliefs": it does not say of the existence of the Great Architect (each of us doing it on your own, using your mind), but we firmly believe in universal equality and brotherhood.
As you can see, the assumptions of both concepts (Christianity and Freemasonry) are broadly consistent. The question then arises, how the rivalry and fierce hostility is possible?
The Church and the Freemasonry
In the eighteenth century the highest circles of the church hierarchy strongly opposed the Freemasonry. We must remember, it was a time of a great philosophical breakthrough in Europe. The ideas of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason were still discussed among people. They questioned the long-established opinions and proposed a new way of thinking. The king's power had to come from the people (not from the anointing of God). The Bible ceased to be a source of science (heliocentric theory of Copernicus, Galileo's work). People began to appreciate the value of independent thinking. Recentshakes associated with the Martin Luther led to the Reformation. The church was systematically losing its political influence, social power, and wealth. In such a situation, Freemason lodges - groups of people belonging mostly to the intellectual elite of society were deadly threat. As a result, Pope Clement XII declared in 1738 papal bull forbidding Catholics to join the Freemasons under pain of excommunication. It should be noted that the exact same punishment threatened for belonging to a Protestant church ...
Interestingly, the early eighteenth century Freemasonry was by no means anti-Church. On the contrary - many lodges supported the cahtolic Stuarts in England and sought to restore Catholicism as the state religion. A Constitutions (basic document governing the Masonic philosophy) written by Anderson, especially its second edition was quite religious. It is not a surprise - Anderson was a cleric himself. Many priests entered the ranks of Freemasonry (in Poland, they were even... Freemason Primates!).
Freemasonry's approach to church changed after the outbreak of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century (but still it mainly concerned lodges operating on the continent). The progressive secularism and widespread criticism of the Church, (which was the mainstay of ancient regime) tended masons to speak against the clergy. The church's reaction was warlike.
Negative, or even openly hostile church's attitude to Freemasonry lasted for decades, but with varying intensity. Howeverm it took legal form of excommunication Mof asonic brethren, described in canon law (in force until 1983).
What is particularly striking, Pope John Paul II tried to alleviate the position of Rome. Currently there is no automatical excommunication. The canon do not specify mentions Freemasonry:
Who attends to the association acting in any way against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; whoever supports this kind of association or drives him to be punished with an interdict. (Canon 1374)