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Article # 104
A Project for a "Modern" Freemasonry

Author: M.W.Bro.Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master of the Regul    Posted on: Saturday, September 11, 2004
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[M.W.Bro.Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy

has in his previous article dealt with the origin and evolution of the Masonic

Thought and Philosophy, with particular reference to The Neo-Platonists of

Cambridge. The M.W.Brother has in this paper presented by him at the meeting

of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy held in Rome on July 3 rd 2004 expressed his

views on Modern Freemasonry stressing the sociological and cultural aspects of

Freemasonry. Please read on…]

A Project for a "Modern" Freemasonry

M.W.Bro.Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy.

When Free-Masoned "projects" are mentioned, people inevitably think about arguments that have already been confusingly discussed and declared. Nevertheless, the true facts shows that, regarding the Free Masonry, it has never been articulated, proposed and carried on any organic "project".

We often hear talks about "modern" Masonry, more adapted to our times, made of young people, of Grand Masters dressed in "Jeans", leaving the dark old peculiar suit in the cellar, but yet they continue to name the Lodges with anachronistic names like "Garibaldi", "Mazzini" and so on. I have been wondering for years now, how do you manage to be a "mazzinian" nowadays, to reproduce in our society, a society referred by sociologists as a "postmodern" one, the principals of a sociopolitical vision formulated almost 200 years ago?

That was my starting point, convincing myself that the first phase of a project for a "modern" Free Masonry, which doesn’t mean anti-traditional, should necessarily be classified as "sociological" and aiming to value as to how Free Masonry can insert and position itself within the social tissue and not being withdrawn and rejected, as happened often in the past.

My idea was to initially introduce the Free Masonry as one of the many "associative" phenomena which are likely to be found in our civil society. The Free Masonry is, in fact, an association, obviously armed with all of her peculiar "Initiations and Esoterics", but nevertheless an association.

This first step, in my opinion, would let us out of the ghetto to which we have been restricted for ages, the cult one, often enough because of disinformation and the pure ignorance of journalists and so called researchers of the subject.

The result of this innovative approach has gone beyond my greatest expectations. Actually, not only the free Masonry has been inserted into the very important "Italian 2004 Report" by the Eurispes Research Institute, which reflects the socio-economical-political situation of the country, but the section it was inserted under, has a definitely respectable title: "The discrete fascination of Free Masonry". But above all, it is the content of the Eurispes Research that is particularly interesting to us. The two true Masonries referred to in the Report are only The Regular Grand Lodge of Italy and the Grand Orient of Italy, which is already a useful information and serves as a reference point to those who are interested in this truth, that unfortunately, in this country, counts almost a hundred self declared Grand Lodges lead by as many self declared Grand Masters.

The Regular Grand Lodge of Italy, as you know, is the only true Italian Masonry recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Orient of Italy, to whom that recognition has been withdrawn in 1993, is the more numbered one. The content of the Report, like I said, is intriguing especially considering these facts and confirms the difference between the two Grand Lodges, GLRI and GOI. In fact, at the end of the section dedicated to the GOI, there is an affirmation as follows:"………." on the contrary, the section dedicated to the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy opens with the title: " the GLRI, the politically correct Masonry". It is known that condicio sine qua non in order to be classified as a "Regular" Masonry is staying away from "politics", and we would like to underline that the competent and accurate researchers of the Eurispes are, obviously, impartial. After this first phase, defined as the "Sociological" approach, the second phase regards the "Philosophical" context of Free Masonry, also relating to the contexts within which the single Masonic truths are operating. My personal point of view, which I will briefly review and that we will value together if appropriate enough to be presented and proposed, has already been officially presented in public at the Cornerstone Society, one of the most important historical –philosophical associations close to the United Grand Lodge of England, that gave me the possibility to present, to a competent and interested audience like our British Brethren, my theory in two consecutive parts at their annual conference, held last year in Sheffield and a few weeks ago in London at the Freemason’s Hall.

So vast was the diversity of opinions, that have been expressed, over the last one hundred years, about Freemasonry and its historico-philosophical significance, that in trying to come to terms with them, one is likely to be overwhelmed by confusion. Some of these opinions are somewhat arbitrary insofar as the subject-matter is concerned, and merely reflect the ideas of their authors.

When talking about the ‘philosophy of Freemasonry’ one has to ask oneself, whether the philosophical category can really be applied to modern Freemasonry or, rather whether, defined by the well-know concept of "a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols", Freemasonry should not simply call itself a moral and ethical code of conduct, which is not underpinned by any particular organized system of thought.

I set out from such a point of enquiry, and through the analysis and study of the documentation available to us. I have been able to find an unquestionable influence of Neo-platonic thought on the birth and development of "speculative" Freemasonry.

But where can we find traces of moral philosophy within the vast, and at the same time, incomplete and discontinuous Masonic documentation at our disposal?

We all broadly agree in deriving the greater part of the Masonic catechisms from the ancient statutes (Ancient Rites) of the Medieval Operative Masonic Guilds. Yet it must be stressed that only within the Masonic ritual of the late eighteenth century it is possible to find the first traces of what we might call Masonic "philosophy".

In fact, it becomes evident from the documentation that, in its initial stage, Freemasonry was only practical or rather "operative" and no particular attention was paid to ethical and moral matters. The admission of the non-operatives led (thanks also to their social influence) to a greater consideration of Freemasonry, which thus slowly changed its connotations and perceptions. Being a Freemason came to constitute a cause for social prestige.

It is evident that from 1717 onwards a notable development of the ritualistic and ceremonial elements begins to take place, with a much greater presence of moral and ethical components, in comparison to previous decades. Between 1680 and 1730 in fact, various modifications were gradually introduced to the ceremonies by accepted Masons, but the changes, in any case, were not completely carried out by 1730, and the process of extension and evolution went on throughout the eighteenth century.

Without doubt the most important mutation was the division of the esoteric doctrine, and consequently the entire ritual, into three parts. To my mind between "accepted" Masons and "speculative" Masons, since elements that may be classed as "speculative", appear only in a phase following the official birth of Freemasonry (1717).

The first, in my view, merely characterized the transitional phase from operative to accepted Freemasonry. Whereas speculative Freemasonry was born and developed afterwards, inspired and permeated by platonic thought, and as such created for itself that particular autonomy and distinct reality, having its own type of absolute originality.

The choice of Florentine Neo-Platonism and its Anglo-Saxon continuation, represented by the Cambridge Neo-Platonists, is intended not only as a quest for that philosophy which best suits Masonic thought, but also as a quest for that philosophy, which does not conflict with various religious expressions and especially with Christian religious expression (in light of secular disputes between the Church and Freemasonry). To associate thinkers such as Pico della Mirandola or Marsilio Ficino with other thinkers, such as Giordano Bruno for example, is, in my view, not only simplistic but also misleading. The antithesis is particularly evident in the concept of Eros, the core of Neo-platonic thought. The platonic theory of love, which the Florence Academy had sought to unite with Christianity, was in fact to be twisted by Giordano Bruno, who sees in Eros proof of the colossal force of man. It is Eros which equips man with that ‘heroic fury’ which enables him to have a vision of the infinite universe and to break the ties which link it to religion. So, if Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino never look for conflict with Christian theology, seeking to let platonic concepts coexist with Christian theology, in Bruno, on the contrary, the platonic concept of Eros becomes an out and out weapon against Christian doctrine. The Italian Neo-Platonists, contrary to Bruno, set out as guardians of a tradition which they absolutely do not want to demolish, but to preserve.

Thus, it absolutely does not mean that a thinker of the caliber of Giordano Bruno has to be rejected or abandoned, just that his theories have to be also examined through a critical point of view that every Mason must always posses.

The same Giordano Bruno, who always fought against any form of dogmatism, would not be pleased to know that his doctrines are being interpreted by the letter, often as if they were the words of God itself, and his figure idolized by the Masons, sometimes even in a grotesque and embarrassing way (the faked pyre in Piazza Campo dei Fiori on the 400th anniversary of his death).

With that we are now down to the third and last phase, perhaps the most delicate one,that concerns the esoteric aspects of our course as a Free Mason. It’s obvious, that by getting closer to the esoteric part is supposed that the Free Mason has completed a whole series of preparative studies in the matter that would possibly lead him towards an adequate comprehension.

Sometimes are being mentioned mysticism, ermeticism and esotericism, and by having a very little to do with the cause it inevitably leads to confusion and misunderstandings.

Going after "San Graal" in the name of an anachronistic templarism and looking for improbable Masonic references in the " Rolls of the Dead Sea" doesn’t really help the Free Masonry to achieve the credibility and dignity it righteously deserves for its history and tradition.

My hope is that in the future the study of Free Masonry, a social-cultural phenomenon of a great importance, would be based on scientific criterions and therefore on historical, philosophical and exegetical facts

M.W.Bro.Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master of the RegulM.W. Bro. Fabio Venzi, was installed as the M.W.Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy on April 6 th 2002 by M.W.Bro.Dr.Giuliano di Bernado. He will hold office for three years period 2002-2005. M.W.Bro Fabio Venzi is an erudite Masonic scholar and a well read intellectual. He has delivered numerous lectures and presented many papers in Research Lodges and Masonic Societies. He has graciously granted us permission to post his lectures and articles in our web site. R.W.Bro. Bruno Gazzo, the illustrious webmaster of the Premier Masonic web site Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry had kindly helped us to obtain the gracious permission of M.W.Bro. Fabio Venzi. We are very much beholden to both of them and profusely thank them.

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