French Protestants
and the Freemasons

During the religious persecution of the XVIIIth century, Protestants were able to meet up with each other within the Freemasonry movement. In the XIXth century, Protestant Freemasons played an important role in politics.

The origins of Freemasonry

  • Jean Théophile Desaguliers © S.H.P.F.

“Speculative” freemasonry, which came into being in the XVIIIth century, took its origins from “operative” freemasonry, created by mediaeval masons. The movement was founded in England in 1723, when the Anderson Constitution was drawn up, which set out how it was to be run. (The French Huguenot Désaguliers, who had been forced to flee his native county at the time of the Revocation, and who later became a pastor in the Anglican Church, was one of those who helped to draw up this document.

Among the principle of the movement are a belief in God and the freedom of religious belief.

Freemasonry was introduced into France by English emigrants who were supporters of the Stuarts.

At first the lodges increased greatly in number, consisting mostly of foreigners. They were open to any religion – in terms of Freemasonry, God was the Great Architect of the universe. New members included the clergy and distinguished noblemen, (for example the Grand Master was the Duc de Chartres, the future Philippe Egalité).

From 1740 onwards, there were about ten lodges in Paris and fifteen in the provinces.

In the XVIIIth century, many Protestants joined the Freemason movement

  • A mason's apron © Collection Château de Coppet

The Freemasonry movement drew many enlightened and intelligent people. The Protestants, suffering as they did from religious persecution, were particularly keen to join ; as freemasons it was possible for them to maintain their identity and values in total secrecy : they could enjoy each other’s company while discussing the key issues of their time. As they belonged to a forbidden faith and were a minority in French society, the freemason movement made a point of never including any personal details about religion on their membership lists, thus giving them total protection.

When the edict of Tolerance was decreed in 1787, it came to light that there were many protestants in the lodges of Marseille, Bordeaux, Sedan, Strasbourg, Nantes, La Rochelle and Caen.

In the lodges of Nîmes, the protestants were in the majority.

During the Revolution, there were many freemason protestant deputies :

  • 7 freemason pastors (out of 16 pastors) in the Constitutional Assembly
  • 2 freemason pastors (out of 15 pastors) in the Legislative Assembly
  • 7 freemason pastors (out of 29 pastors) at the National Convention.

Here are the names of some freemason pastors : Antoine Court de Gébélin, Jean-Paul Rabaut-Saint Etienne and his brother Rabaut-Pommier, Jeanbon Saint André and the protestant deputies Boissy d’Anglas and Marat.

In the XIXth century

  • Marquis A.F. de Jaucourt © S.H.P.F.

Freemasonry came to a halt during the Revolution, but started again with the Concordat.

When the organic laws were signed in 1802, Protestants and Freemasons were recognized by the State.

At the time of the Empire, there were 3000 protestant freemasons. Some examples are Benjamin Constant, Guizot as a young man, François de Jaucourt, a peer of France and member of the Consistory of the Eglise Réformée in Paris for the whole of the first part of the century.

The Freemasonrry movement dwindled to a certain extent at the time of the Restoration and the Monarchie de Juillet, only to regain its impetus with the liberal empire. Many protestants were attracted to it because they were interested in discussing social problems, the issue of education, and later on they were keen to give their support to the republican state. For example, Felix Pécault, Jules Steeg, Ferdinand Buisson, Eugène Réveillaud and Henry Pyt.

Pastor Frédéric Desmons, one of the leading member of the liberal protestants, was admitted to a lodge in 1861 and, after having left the ministry became Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in France in 1887, then he went on to be a member of parliament for the Gard, and later a senator.

However, an anti-religious tendency began to set in at the end of the century, discouraging many protestants from adhering to the movement.

Today, it is in the strongly protestant areas that many freemason lodges can be found

Indeed, the number of protestant freemasons in France comes as a surprise, when one considers that Protestantism only concerns a small minority of the population. They consist of pastors, theology professors and leading members of protestant associations. However, one must also realize that some movements within the protestant Church, notably the evangelicals, have a fairly hostile attitude to freemasonry.

Bibliography

  • Books
    • Protestantisme et franc-maçonnerie : de la tolérance religieuse à la religion de la tolérance ?, Actes du Colloque de Nantes (25-26 avril 1998), Éditions maçonniques de France, Paris, 2000, p. 213
    • AMIABLE Louis, La Loge des Neuf Sœurs, commentaire de PORSET Charles, rééd. EDIMAF 1989, Paris, 1897
    • LIGOU Daniel (dir.), Dictionnaire de la Franc-maçonnerie, PUF, Paris, 2004, p. 1376
    • SAUNIER Éric (dir.), Encyclopédie de la Franc-maçonnerie, Le Livre de Poche, Paris, 2000, p. 982

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