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Originating in the Middle Ages, most historians pin stonemasons' guilds as the origin of freemasonry. In fact, the oldest Masonic document comes from the year 1390.
Freemasonry is the world's largest secret society, and having spread all over the globe from England (which is where the first "grand lodge" was established), its influence is present in every single institution.
In its own constitution, the society claims to be a "worshipful fraternity."
Holding itself up as an institution that surpasses the material world, the rituals and ceremonies among masons are supposed to be kept secret: That's why only glimpses have been revealed over the centuries through art. But more recently, undercover videos have proven the accuracy of the art.
Pope Clement XII condemned Freemasonry in 1738. This was just about 20 years after the first grand lodge was set up in London, England in 1717.
Although the Catholic Church was the Masons' biggest enemy and central target, many non-Catholics saw the threat to society that Freemasonry represented and joined the fight against them.
As time passed and Freemasonry kept growing, a significant number of Protestants joined the Catholic Church in opposition to it, as they saw Freemasonry as a force diametrically opposed to Christianity in general.
The best example would be the Anti-Masonic Party. Established in the late 1820s, it became not only a third political party, but the first in U.S. history.
It was led by two American newspaper publishers, Solomon Southwick and Thurlow Weed. More prominent were its two other leaders: William Wirt and John Quincy Adams. Wirt once served as the United States attorney general, and Adams as the president of the United States.
Adams wrote a famous letter in 1833 to Stephen Bates. In the letter, he calls Masonic institutions an enormous nuisance, shows his approval for political anti-Masonry and closes by mentioning the "murder of Morgan."
Adams was speaking about William Morgan, a self-described master Mason who threatened to publish an exposé revealing the secrets of Freemasonry. His death shortly followed this threat and ignited the Anti-Masonic Party.
Serving as a force against the irreligious beliefs of Freemasonry, the Anti-Masonic Party attempted to counter their every move.
Where the Masonic dogmas consisted of destroying religion on its way to power, the anti-Masons tried to destroy Freemasonry by promoting law, order and virtue.
Many popes during the 18th and 19th centuries condemned Freemasonry. Perhaps one of the more famous condemnations came in 1864 with Pius IX. in his Syllabus of Errors, he referred to the Masons as "the synagogue of Satan."
Two decades later, Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Humanum Genus. In it he warns that Freemasons desire to assail or assault the Church, they have no faith in God's divine revelation, they want to destroy the chief foundations of justice and honesty and they aim at the destruction of the Christian name.
A year later, in 1885, Msgr. George F. Dillon wrote a book endorsed by Pope Leo XIII identifying the secret power behind communism as Freemasonry. He also went on to identify aspects of Freemasonry as being rooted in contemporary Judaism and its denial of Christ's divinity and messiahship.
In Freemasonry, there are many different levels. Once somebody rises to the rank of master Mason, they can follow either the Scottish rite or the York rite. The Scottish rite is more common in the United States, while the York rite is more popular in places like England.
Within the Masonic world, religious symbols are used in everything — almost always with a Christian (specifically Catholic) undertone. Along with all the seemingly Christian symbolism, and although Masons have to believe in a higher being, specific religion is forbidden within the lodge.
Today Freemasonry is estimated to have somewhere around 6 million members — with a full third (2 million) coming from the United States.
The 1917 Code of Canon Law states Catholics cannot be Freemasons, declaring that affiliation with Freemasons incurs excommunication.
This law was reaffirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1983 through Cdl. Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI). The declaration condemns Masonry as "irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church," forbids membership and says faithful who do enroll are in grave sin and therefore cannot receive Holy Communion. This statement was presented to Pope John Paul II who approved it and then ordered its further publication.
Watch the full episode of Mic'd Up — "Synagogue of Satan."