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table des matières

- The Time has come to speak…
- Washington 2000 : débat
- Paris 2004 : colloque
-  Philosophia Scotica

*            *


- Washington : débat

April, 17,2000

 Bro\Alain de KEGHEL

Sov. Grand Commander of the Supreme Council(AASR-  GODF)

Excerpts of Address in open Lodge  to W\L\ « POTOMAC n° 5 » in the Or\ of Washington, DC


On April 17, 2000,  the W\L\”POTOMAC N° 5”in the Orient of Washington,DC invited a French Brother in an open Lodge Meeting to introduce a debate concerning transatlantic perspectives of Freemasonry at the beginning of the third millennium. Readers will find here excerpts from this conference presented by Bro. Alain de KEGHEL, a Freemason of the Grand Orient de France and Soveriegne Grand Commander of the A.A.S.R. Supreme Council.


…The time has come to speak.  The time has come to engage fraternally in a deep and sustained analysis of the international Masonic landscape.  All Brethren of good will are looking toward a more open-minded, more tolerant, and more Masonic approach to our Brotherhood.  To that end, increasing numbers of Masons from around the world are making the necessary efforts to build a bridge of Light.  It is a bridge of Light which does not end at national borders or within the institutional limits of Masonic bodies where-so-ever they might be found around the world.  It is a bridge that is built in order to overcome prejudices, and to open eyes, minds, and hearts, to the inherited legacies of our diverse and rich traditions.


It is indeed a great privilege and rare opportunity to gather here with Brethren of the five continents at this precise moment in time in order to share different experiences, and to try, with the help of each one present, to open more widely the doors of understanding.  So let us attempt to overcome the friction of difference that far too often marks the realities of the profane world, and as a consequence also tarnishes our Masonic world. We should do this not for the unworthy goal of Masonic proselytizing, but simply to attempt a modest dialogue between men and Masons of good will, between Brethren of distinct Masonic streams that are each, in fact, a lasting source of treasure.  Why?  We do it because similar efforts have always strengthened our spiritual, philosophical, philantropical and traditional Order. 


The Masonic Order has endured through the vicissitudes of time, culture, civilizations and society.  However, it has survived through the centuries not by following passively the movements of civil society, but rather it often has been at the forefront of change within society.  In those moments of leadership it has been at its’ strongest.  As one important illustration, simply being here in the capital of the United States of America, not far away from Capitol Hill, and from the George Washington Masonic Monument in Alexandria, brings to mind the major role American Masons, and some of their French Brethren, played in establishing modern democratic society.  This extraordinary heritage is a matter of fact.  It is also a reminder of our moral and social responsibility today in our contemporary global world.


Because French Masons realize fairly well how difficult it is for some of our Brethren across the Atlantic to understand how it came to pass in France that there is such a great variety of Masonic bodies and Masonic streams (traditions), it would be of value to discuss France to some degree.  Let me offer a short introduction to the French Masonic landscape and to make some proposals.  In doing so, we should not, nor will I, hesitate to address difficult topics like the Landmarks and The Great Architect of the Universe.  Such an approach will allow us to go deeper into these sensitive matters.  Another sensitive issue is women in Freemasonry.  We should not attempt to escape diplomatically any of the real issues.  On the contrary, no single matter should be regarded as some kind of taboo among minds that are free.


With your permission, let us consider together some issues that may be regarded as premature, or even hazardous.  This is necessary because it is our duty to test our discrimination and open our minds towards the future of the Masonic Order at the turn of the 21st Century and of the third millennium.  However, in order to do this adequately, it is obvious that we first need to know each other much better than we do.


To be direct and to the point, I will first offer a few words concerning the Grand Orient of France: No it is not a communist organization! No, it has not relinguished The Great Architect of the Universe. No, it has never initiated women. BUT… yes, it is the oldest traditional Masonic body in France, and its very strong commitment in the establishment of Freemasonry in the early years of the United States of America is well documented. Yes, it is a federation of workings (Rites) where every single Lodge has the freedom to choose a Ritual belonging either to the French Rite (This is a legacy of the old English Rite which comprises 80% of our membership.), the A.A.S.R, and the Rectified Scottish Rite (which works to T.G.A.O.T.U. (19%), as well as the Royal Arch, Memphis-Misraim, and the Emulation Rite. 


YES, the Grand Orient with more than 42,000 Brethren is the largest French Masonic organization in a country which counts a total of roughly 120,000 men as members working in a Lodge.  A number which may sound ridiculous by comparison with some 2 million Freemasons in America, but you must think about this on a European scale and always in a European context.  Consider, for example, the size of the French nation which amounts to only sixty-million people.  Of course this number is only a fraction more than one tenth of the amount of Freemasons in the United Kingdom.  However, like the USA, Great Britain is the only country in Europe where Freemasons were never persecuted and where our Masonic Order had a chance to develop without the negative interference of the churches, and politics -- if we ignore the dark times of the Morgan affair in your country. This situation, by the way, is changing in the U.K. with a Catholic Prime Minister strongly challenging the role of Freemasonry in British society.


This history explains why continental Europe does not total today much more than some 250,000 Freemasons. Out of this number, nearly half are French. To be more complete in this presentation, it should be added that France has benefited from an additional important feminine Masonic stream since the early 20th Century. The “Grande Lodge Feminine de France” accounts for some 10,000 Sisters and a mixed-gender Masonry called “Le Droit Humain” (with 15,000 members).  This also is an avenue for a growing number of Brethren (Many Brothers choose to have a dual-membership.).  It can be noted in passing that the mixed-gender Masonries tend to have a larger ratio of Sisters in their membership.


Other smaller size

“Grand Lodges” should be mentioned: “Grande Loge Symbolique et Traditionnelle (GLST)  - 2,500 members – formerly called

          “Nationale Opéra”; “Grande Loge Mixte Universelle” (GLMU) – 1000 members - born out of a subdivision of “Le Droit Humain,” in 1973; “Grande Loge Mixte de France” (GLMF) - 1300 members -; resulting from a division of GLMU, - 800 members; and “Le Rite Ancien et Primitif de Memphis Misraïm” - 2000 members – this last body working with  two streams, one for men, and the other for women.


In overall percentages, French Lodges can be broken down into the following numbers: 69% male, 20% belong to mixed-gender masonry and 11% are for women only. One may consider also that 75% of French Masons are men, but that over the last 30 years, the relative percentage of women has more than doubled rising from 10% to nearly 25%.   This is an excellent growth rate. 


It can be noted that the first recorded Masonic Lodge was created in France in 1726. The first Masonic Order in 1728 was named “Grande Loge de France” before changing its name into the “Grand Orient de France” in 1771-1773. That same year a new “Grande Loge de France” was created, again by dissident members, who then in 1799 joined yet once again the “Grand Orient de France.” Finally, a new “Grande Loge de France, which still exists today with some 20,000 members, was created in 1894.


As many of you will know, a great turmoil began in 1877 as the Delegates of the Lodges of the Grand Orient de France while attending the annual General Assembly, and after fierce debate, made a decision and voted to lift the mandatory obligation to refer to T.G.A.O.T.U. in Lodge rituals. It is interesting to note that the motion to introduce this dramatic change was introduced by a Protestant pastor and Brother who was Master of his Lodge at the time. One must today realize that this happened in the context of French post-revolutionary society which had fought successfully for a separation of the State from the Catholic Church. 


In earlier times under the Kingdom there was no desire to accept any level of ecumenism by established religion.  The situation was not good.  There simply was no tolerance of different beliefs in established religion. After the Revolution of 1789, the Catholic Church as an institution tried desperately to regain the temporal power and former prestige it had lost. It was in this context that the signature of the Concordat of 1801 had as its first consequence for French Freemasons their effective excommunication.  This occurred as a result of the EncyclicalIn Eminenti Apostolatus Speculae.  The immediate effect of this was to produce a radicalization of the relationships between the conservative Catholic Church and the Grand Orient.  Remember that the Grand Orient was at this time deist in its majority but still supportive of the gains of the Revolution.


One should therefore consider today the different social context of the change then implemented by a majority of French Masons. It is necessary to look at the historic landscape.  It can then be better understood how the moral intentions of these Brothers was not a plan, as some incorrectly assert today, “to chase God out of the Temple.”  That was not the case, at all.  Rather, it was a very clear protective action taken against what was at that time a very hostile Church.  The Masons in that time, and in that place, believed their decision expressed in a democratic vote was a way to return to the original and very liberal spirit of the Constitution of James Anderson.  That was the heart of the matter.  That is what was in their thinking.  The focus was on Anderson’s Constitution as it had been written in 1717, before the changes made in 1723. This would mean, as well, a focus on Anderson’s Constitution well before the extensive changes undertaken in 1813, and before the 1929 modifications with their so-called “eight fundamental obligations.  These are the later obligations necessary in order to attain recognition from the United Grand Lodge of the United Kingdom. 


It is not the purpose here to place too much emphasis on this most sensitive and controversial issue, because it an issue which all too easily pollutes Masonic relations and discussion.  Unfortunately, there is not much substantive reasoning at all on the topic today.  For example, there is very little examination of the historical facts, as a necessary background to the discussion.  The matter has sadly poisoned the relations between different Masonic streams. It has produced a Masonic reaction which many Masons around the world still do not understand: a kind of Masonic equivalent to the Pope has emerged with established rules of excommunication and a kind of “grand Masonic Inquisitor.” 


In France, most Bretheren simply did not care about this break in the Masonic family. They regarded this evolution in the breakdown of relations with regret and sadness, nevertheless, they lived their lives as Masons and they went their own way. This is how it was in the past, and it is still so today.  However, in the course of affairs, one Masonic body did decide in 1913 to work the “regular” way.  This was the origin of the Grand Loge Nationale De France (GLNF), which today claims some 19,000 members. You are familiar with its members, which belong to the only French Grand Lodge officially “recognized” by Grand Lodges in the United States of America.


However, you must realize that despite differences this Grand Lodge often shares the same Temples with other Masons outside of Paris. This occurs even though Brethren belonging to other streams do not work together with the GLNF in close tiled Lodge. Nevertheless, substantive relations do exist outside of the Temple. This does not mean that sometimes Grand Masters, of both lineages, do not have arguments. This is all part of the ancient game of “power.”  However, even this is changing.  Importantly, in very recent times, the respective Grand Masters of GLNF and GODF have worked to establish a new kind of relationship.  This offers some hope for a brighter Masonic future, at least in France.


One has to realize that Freemasonry developed in a different way in France as well as in several other continental European, Latin American and African countries. It is something we have to deal with. It is an issue we would be wise to to address and not ignore. There is no need to lock ourselves into unnecessary compartments and singular ways of thinking.  We need to be concerned about the weakness that results from unnecessary divisions. We would be much wiser to prefer a universal perspective. Why? Simply because our way of thinking is a legacy of the great philosophers and writers of the time of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot, and before them of individuals such Ephraïm Chambers, with his “Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” first published in 1728. This heritage of openness, healthy inquisitiveness, and universality, still has not exhausted itself.  In point of fact, the wider, more universal, view is helpful in overcoming the numerous challenges we face now together across the planet as we turn into the new millennium.  We must leave the heritage of our humanist and Enlightenment values to future generations.  In the cause of freedom, and more, this was fought and died for in France and America in the Eighteenth-Century.  This must not be lost. 


The essential point is that our Masonic message is still of value.  The great, generous and original ideal of Freemasonry to “unite people who otherwise would have remained at perpetual distance” is also a modern and vital message to our contemporary society endangered by egoism, ethnocentrism and crude materialism. At this time, everyone is speaking of globalization. But where are we as Freemasons in the contemporary world?  Are we not at risk in our current situation?  Is it not possible that the world will pass us by in the new millennium if we do not actively engage with humanity once again and give the message that is expected from us?  


My dear American Brothers we may feel uncomfortable about the present and the future for good reason.  It may be that collectively we are no longer addressing the real issues of our time as our ancient Brothers did so well in their day.  Are we dealing with the issues that have real relevance to our modern time and place as they did?  We have to be at the same time ambitious for others and humble and modest for ourselves in thinking about this. We certainly must have ambition and high hopes for the progress of our society, for our fellow citizens, for our sons and daughters, for the upcoming generations. But in doing so, we cannot act properly, or adequately, merely by looking backwards at the undoubtedly great achievements of our predecessors. That will not work.    


Of course, in your great country, in the U.S.A, you have been fortunate in having a series of prestigious heads of state as members of our Brotherhood. But even here does this not belong to the past?  President Gerald Ford was the last President to be a member of the Craft, but in today’s fast-paced world that was in some ways quite a while ago! What about today?  And it is similar in most countries around the world. Do we not have to stop and ask ourselves why the winding down is developing in this fashion?  What can we do to return to a greater effectiveness, relevance, and visibility in our respective societies? Like Ill Bro. Zeldis, past Grand Commander of Israel, recently said with some humor:  “giving a lecture on the trestle-board is fine but a bit repetitive.”  Social meetings and charities are good, but they cannot be our main and only goal. In a modern society where every person is solicited for something we have to become more attractive to those people having something to contribute to society. Let us agree that Lodges do not have to interfere in politics.  It would be wrong to do so. But does it mean that we, as Bretheren, as individuals, need to stay silent as mere spectators in the profane world?


Each of us has a different kind of commitment and expertise that we bring to the common good and to the work of improving the lives of those around us.  Our talents can be political, religious, social, economical, whatever.  The point is that an entrepreneur belonging to a Lodge should not address the management challenges he is facing the same way as an average citizen, or fellow entrepreneur. Always working in reference to our ethical values as Masons, we should be more sensitive to the important issues confronting modern society: education, discrimination, the preservation of individual rights in a computerized society, rules of ethics in biotechnology, the proper and careful management of genetic modified organisms and of modern medicine, problems of environment, as well as of aging people, youth and violence, challenges like drugs, tobacco and alcohol abuses. Young people will expect this from each one of us before they join our Lodges.  They will not join if we neglect the vital issues of our respective nations, or of the world as a whole. 


I am not referring to work in our tiled Lodges, but to activities such as our charities.  In some fashion the young will always demand that we be relevant to society.  That is the nature of being young.  For our part, we can respect our obligations and still address the genuine issues of our society. If Freemasons do not engage the world in front of them, they will without doubt lose the best and brightest of our youth.   Fraternal relations as you and I have practiced them are not enough. The youth of our respective societies have many opportunities for socializing elsewhere more in keeping with the social and cultural interests of modern times and their own expectations.  Nevertheless, how can there be Freemasonry without the most talented of our youth petitioning to join with us in service?


An additional problem, and opportunity, confronting Masonry is that our own Brethren are beginning to ask how it has come to pass that, because of revisiting the very fluid idea of Landmarks in this century, we have, in the process, managed to destroy relations between each other, that is to say, between the different Masonic traditions?  It is quite remarkable when you stop to think about it.  By comparison with churches which knowingly defend dogmas, and who represent both temporal and spiritual powers, and who could be imagined to be less tolerant as a result, we are performing shamefully.  The churches, in fact, are much more successful in improving their inter-confessional relations.


Let us take the example of the Roman Catholic Church, which today extends the metaphorical hands of the Pope all around the world even to non-Christian churches and communities.  Each day the Roman Catholic Church reaches out to other confessions, including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. How does it come to pass that Freemasons remain at the turn of this century unable to conduct some kind of similar Masonic dialogue on an equally large scale?  This would by no means necessarily require of any Mason that they change anything about their Masonry.  It simply means they could sit around a table, speaking respectfully to each other about Masonry, about the joys of being alive, and about the serious issues of modern times.  It could mean they sit and discuss how best to get rid of our self-imposed rules of recognition, exclusive jurisdiction, regularity, and so forth, none of which are in the slightest bit relevant anymore.  All of which are mere posturing.    


It is precisely these Rules and Regulations, which make a universal dialogue among all Freemasons virtually impossible.  Is it not a kind of a paradox that today the Roman Catholic Church has lifted the excommunication of Freemasons that I spoke about earlier but that Freemasons of different disciplines in fact excommunicate each other? Is it a sane and normal situation where Masonic representatives may in most cases meet easier with a clergyman than with a fellow Mason belonging to a so-called “irregular” Grand Lodge?


Having always made this argument, and being supportive of constructive change, I notice in this regard that some significant changes are beginning to occur. Even in London, pragmatism and common sense seems to be gaining ground. We see a greater reaching out than in the past to Masons from different traditions.  Step by step, we shall make progress. But let us be patient!


Of course, none of us today has a miraculous “ready-made” solution to suggest.  We can only work to find a solution step by step.  That is how we can all be pragmatic and helpful. The first step is simply to take into consideration the simple truth that there are different Masonic streams. Each of these traditions reflects specific historical, sociological, cultural, religious, spiritual and national realities. We need to take them into account, as they are, and not as we think they should be. No one of us is so privileged with wisdom that it would entitle us to enforce a universal Masonic creed. We have to be aware that illusions take us nowhere.  But we can see the result today of closed and self-righteous thinking.  It is very frustrating to all of us. Practically, we have to abandon any illusion or vain hope to change the remarkable and healthy diversity in order to reunify Masonic streams.  Why would we want to do that?


Referring back again to the French case, even the Grande Loge Nationale Française whom you recognize, is in fact French.  It is, in truth, so different from the American Masonic heritage that it could be properly considered closer to all other French Masonic bodies than to your own Lodges. But since it obeys the Masonic Rules edited more than once in London, this makes it in fact different and allows its members to attend your tiled Lodge meetings. This is a reality that is not at all offending to French Masons.  That is the way it is. 


Starting from this matter of fact, why should we not seriously consider the very real option of becoming more dynamic, more imaginative, more creative and positive in order to develop a new kind of relationship?  This would not necessarily imply any kind of formal recognition.  It would also not harm our respective rules and regulations and would not lead us to violate any of our solemn obligations? That makes common sense.   


Again let us take the example of the Roman Catholic Church: it meets and conducts a sophisticated and ambitious dialogue with the other religious communities, but it does not perform church services in which Ministers of different disciplines work together ritualistically. In other words it places its heart, and service, in favor of ecumenism, but this kind of ecumenism and openness does not result in confusion or the violation of obligations for its Ministers.


Why could we Freemasons of different lineages not act in a similar way? We need not attend tiled Lodge Meetings together.  No single French Brother from the Grand Orient should ever expect to attend such a stated communication simply because we respect your identity, your specific commitment, your discipline and your Tradition. However, on a reciprocal basis it is possible that we can make progress.  It would require tolerance and an open-minded spirit. But the time has come to sit together.  In one way, or another, we need to make sincere efforts to forge new kinds of relationships that are conducive to dialogue.  We need adequate mechanisms and tools that enable true Masonic cooperation. It would be easier to use various existing channels: historians and scholars, for example, could profitably join efforts in building toward mutual understanding and knowledge. Joint working Committees could be inaugurated in order to share thoughts on a range of issues outside of the Temple and without Ritual. 


This would be a first step.  It would considerably strengthen our credibility as a whole in a fast globalizing world where our voice could count, as it should count, and as it once did.  If we can talk with each other, we could speak to the world in ways that are heard clearly and with Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. In doing so, we would seriously commit ourselves collectively while always faithfully preserving our individual Masonic identities.


Let us work to be a new kind of Freemason.  One who is candid, and practical, but capable of utopian hopes that have ever been at the heart of real change in society and in revolution.  In fact, to return to the opening part of my remarks, I am speaking about the same type of bold and vital Freemasonry that helped to launch the American revolution and democracy.  Like Martin Luther King let us proclaim together “I have a dream.”  Such a dream of a new way has always been the hope of the future.  It must be the well-spring of our determination.  We cannot merely hope to survive.  That would be a too passive an approach.  In our dreams, in our thinking, and in our practical steps, we must move to become active players in life.  We stand at the Landmark of a new millennium and we should act and prosper accordingly. 


Toward these noble ends, we can recall to mind the proposals of the Grand Commander of the German Scottish Rite, Ill\ Br\ Gunter MUENZBERG, 10 years ago in Mexico.  He stated then: that “In a world which has changed so much, Freemasonry must come out of its old shell.  Simply compare where we are with the time our organization was founded and you will understand the crux of the matter.  It is now necessary to publish new time-specific and area-specific programs, based on Masonry’s unique wisdom and long-term vision.  The problems have been proclaimed often in recent decades by many far-sighted Freemasons, but these problems, and their solutions, have not been incorporated into the strategic thinking of the sclerotic Masonic institutions themselves.


Instead of losing oneself in formalities,… the Masonic institutions should present the moral law in appropriate, flexible outer forms. This exoteric work and duty would be made fundamentally easier, and factually possible, if the different Masonic systems would bring the norms, values, and insights, mainly esoteric, of their Masonic thinking into expression in a contemporary Magna Charta, or rule. 


This Magna Charta, so to speak, would not be dogmatic, rather, it would be flexible and adaptable through time, and place, and yet valid for all freemasons. This could replace the confusing wide array of misunderstood Landmarks currently in existence. Parallel to this necessary task,… the different Masonic organizations can and must develop relevant socio-ethical concepts in their respective countries. Freemasonry is a political factor, whether it wants to be or not. It cannot close its eyes concerning either the environment, or the people.


The Masonic institutions…. Should, of course, not get involved in politics. This would be a blind alley, and not to be pursued.  Bridge building is only possible, if the type of institutions that I am speaking about remain neutral. Completely different, however, is the situation of each single Brother. He should participate fully in society, in public life, and especially in the open and tolerant discourses where opinions are formed.  The Brother should construct his views on the basis of Masonic thought, as laid out within our constitution(s), within the theories of our rituals….


The underlying theory of principles to which our rituals orient themselves is the categorical imperative of Kant, which always condemns shallowness, and which requires the active engagement of the individual in life…. “Moving something.” should become our motto. In our time, a new “Enlightenment” is called for, but this also will require “New Charges.”


In what directions should we move?  We should move toward the duties and responsibilities of rejuvenation within our Craft. This includes the duty to orient ourselves multi-culturally, multi-nationally, and always with flexible and supple thinking, to existing circumstances.  It means we must embrace the task of self-improvement and turn away from self-devotion and self-absorption.  It means we accept the responsibility to forge consensus and agreements in order to build a numerically strong and diversified worldwide organization.  If we do this, it will mean, in the process, that masonry will recover its inherent attractiveness.  These actions will act in a natural and helpful way and they will tend to prevent Masonry from splitting into so-called “irregularities”….


Only when we follow these, or similar, paths can we engage in effective service to humanity as a strong, vibrant, diverse, and universal organization.  If we do nothing today, in another 10 to 20 years, the call for reformations will be heard even more loudly…” [end of quote].


These remarks were made ten years ago.  Almost nothing has happened since this desperate cry of a young and respectable far-sighted German Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite who one year before the end of the XXIst century finally resigned because he was confronted by a too-potent and strong conservatism within Freemasonry.   But his message still resonates today in our ears both as a warning and a legacy.  Within his remarks many of us likely will discern the direction we should go.  This Brother spoke the truth and it can be sensed in his words.  


Let us be the brave Bretheren who are able to undertake the difficult tasks of change faithfully, but also with courage and realism. It will be well worth the effort for all of us.  When you work toward such goals one thing is certain.  You will always be able to rely on Brethren of good will from around the world, not only in France, in the great Masonic task of building the ever new Temple of humanity….


Paris 2004 colloque

Suprême  Conseil

Grand    Collège  du R\E\\A\



                                                                                                       Zénith de Paris, February,22, 2004

Le  Souverain Grand   Commandeur


Dear  Sov. Grand Commander,

Ill\ Bro\,


This  message is  an announcement and an invitation to consider to join, yourself and Bretheren from your Jurisdiction, a major Masonic event about to take place at Paris France, this year in the frame of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the first Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in France and in Europe.


Instead of having our Supreme Council acting as inviting body, I have chosen for obvious reasons to let it up to the Research Lodge “SOURCES”. It is in charge of organizing an international Masonic symposium whose title is:


“The Scottish Rite: A prospective two centuries later”.


It will focus on the introduction of the A\A\S\R\ in France on an historical background. That means that it will be a true historical event in many respects. As a non-partisan and non-dogmatic gathering of famous scholars and Masons coming from various parts of the World and from different Masonic streams, it will of course remain free from any kind of ritualistic works and from Masonic regalia in order to make every one comfortable.


Among those scholars having accepted to take the floor, I may mention Br. S.Brent Morris 33°, Director of HEREDOM (Research Society of the Southern Jurisdiction) who will be the Key Note Speaker. Other famous historians belong to the panel like Bro. Jean-Pierre Lassalle 33°, Active Member of Suprême Conseil pour la France, Bro. Roger Dachez, President of the  “Institut Maçonnique de France”, Bro. Pierre Noël 33°, Historian and Active  Member of Suprême Conseil pour la Belgique, Sister Andrée Prat from DH- French Federation,  Bro. Pierre Mollier, Scholar and Director of the GODF Library at Paris and Yves-Hivert Messeca 33°, Member of “SOURCES”. The high level of quality of each of this Masons is also a promise to experience an exceptional conference

This event will take place on August 31, 2004 at Paris (France) 16 rue Cadet at 2:00 PM and you will receive very soon invitations originated by “SOURCES”.


I truly hope that you and some of your Fellow Bretheren shall take opportunity of this non- partisan symposium to visit Paris and to share with many Masons of all over the World a unique celebration.


With Brotherly Love and Faithfully



Alain de KEGHEL 33°


DE PHILOSOPHIA SCOTICA    from the "Sources" research Areopagus


          The present text stems from the collective reflection of nine Brothers from the Sources research Areopagus. It is the result of several months of patient dialog, lively discussion and rigorous debate.

          Week after week, seven projects were elaborated, criticized, amended, perfected and rewritten. The text below is worth what it’s worth, but is proposed by its contributors in all sincerity. It is not a creed, a catechism, or a declaration of principle, and is still less the official expression of the Supreme Council of the Grand College of Rites. On the occasion of the bicentennial of our Jurisdiction, its sole ambition is to contribute to the debate about the (possible) significance of the AASR today.

          Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas[1].

 "Don’t throw a stone into the well from which you once drank" (Talmud, Baba Kama, 92b)


Is it possible to summarize the essence of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) in a « brief and pertinent » text, when about 30 000 works (and countless articles) have already been written on the subject ?

Yet such is the ambition of the present work. Its aim is to rival, nolens volens, the accomplishment of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz who managed to present the whole history of modern philosophy, from Kant to Sartre, in his Philosophy in Six Lessons and a Quarter[2]. We are not at all sure of having reached our goal.

Scottish Freemasons often practice the AASR as Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain practiced prose; so in all prudence and modesty we will simply parody Montesquieu by asking “How can one be Scottish?” in the year of  True Light 6004 ?

Naturally, rigor would have us begin with the narcissistic question : "What is the AASR ?", and its follow-up : "What is the use of Scotticism ?"

In order to keep the debate open, we shall each reflect on the following question :

"What does the AASR say ?"

 Our first finding : the AASR is "universal" de facto[3]. To be more precise, wherever Masonry exists the AASR is present – in Symbolic Lodges, high grade workshops, or both. The importance of the AASR obviously varies from one country to another, but globally it is by far the most widely practiced high grade rite in the world. Incidentally, this situation was forcefully reaffirmed in the Final Declaration of the 16th Meeting of Scottish Jurisdictions (Paris, 18-20 May 2001) which emphasized «the vocation of universality, solidarity and independence of Scotticism, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year; its Rite, the most widely practiced on the planet at present, promotes an encouraging harmony among  Masons»

It should be noted that the AASR is also one of the three most commonly used systems in Blue Masonry, together with the York and Emulation rites, and that French Freemasons of all persuasions have practiced the AASR more than any other rite since the 1990s.

 Both conceptually and emotionally, the AASR appears to be the most malleable of all rites – a quality which is partly due to its genesis, practice, and history. It’s a «catch-all»[4] kind of system resembling an "assembly" of degrees (or "families" of grades), with a culture of dynamic syncretism. This is the consequence of three parallel processes :

- The formation throughout the 18th century of a vast corpus in the "encyclopedic" spirit of the age (everything "good" had to be included), heralding an approach that can be described as anthropological;

- The refusal to integrate overly radical ideologies, resulting in a good-natured tolerance which renders it antinomic to any attempt at « dogmatization », even though certain Anglo-Saxon and northern European Supreme Councils, at odds with the original spirit of Charleston, have their own ( particularly Christian) interpretation;

- The cohabitation, juxtaposition and even synthesis of various (sometimes conflicting) trends : hermetism, rationality, illuminism, the Lumières, « primitive » Christianity, kabbalah, Greco-Latin philosophy, borrowings from the Far East, the Ancient and Modern rites[5].

 These factors gave the AASR some of its characteristic features: adaptability to all climates and philosophical latitudinarianism. The AASR thus lends itself to a vast range of interpretations, speculations and reflections, in a spirit of tolerance.

Nevertheless, over the two centuries that the AASR has existed, it has become clear (to parody the Gospel of John) that there are many mansions in the house of the Great (Scottish) Architect of the Universe:

a) Some Supreme Councils, as indicated above, have interpreted the AASR in a strictly Christian sense. Their postulants (especially from the Rose-Croix Grade onwards) must profess the Trinitarian Christian faith; this excludes not only unbelievers, agnostics, polytheists and adherents of non-Christian religions but also deists, Christian theists, Unitarians and the faithful of various communities on the fringes of Protestantism.

b) On the other hand, the majority of today’s Supreme Councils have remained more or less true to the latitudinarianism of the first Supreme Council (founded in 1801), although during the 20th century a majority of jurisdictions "recognized" by Charleston formulated certain regulating principles, notably during the International Conference organized in Baranquilla (Colombia, February 1970) by Supreme Councils who declared themselves "regular". Conversely, a new open-mindedness has been demonstrated over the last ten years or so in the « Scottish » community of North America – as illustrated by the Charleston Supreme Council’s attitude towards France’s liberal «Scottish» Freemasonry.

c) In Latin Europe and Spanish-speaking America, two other "interpretations" came to light. In the late 19th century, in reaction against the positivism that had begun to dominate part of southern European and French-speaking Freemasonry, the fallacious idea emerged that the AASR was richer in symbolism than other rites. The Oswald Wirth school (1860-1943) and its review Le Symbolisme (1912) undertook to reread the AASR from an occultist perspective, even though this meant banishing traditional forms which did not suit their interpretation.

d) Finally, also in the late 19th century, various French-speaking jurisdictions, true to the original spirit of Charleston, the Convention of Lausanne (1875) and "liberal" Freemasonry, adopted an agnostic interpretation of the Rite. These included the French Grand College of Rites, and the jurisdictions present at the Scottish Congress inaugurated in Brussels in 1976.

 This is an oversimplification of these four trends, which take an "ideal-typical" (Weberian) perspective, and are an inadequate reflection of the complex reality of the AASR. No doubt it is difficult to fully identify with any one or other.

Having said that, the spirit of the AASR is open to question : Is it obsolete ? Is it a rite like any other ? Does the fact that it is two centuries «old» oblige us to handle it with care ? Can the AASR evolve? Is it adaptable ? Can it, should it be rewritten and updated for the 21st century ? It has flourished for two centuries because of its extraordinary malleability and open-mindedness. But in our day and age, fundamental scientific knowledge has progressed enormously, demonstrating the unity of the universe, the link between the infinitely large and the infinitely small in the field of physics, and the extraordinary interdependence of phenomena in all the diversity and complexity of their manifestations. Can the AASR integrate, absorb and digest these essential discoveries ? How can they be introduced into the Scottish corpus ? Would it be appropriate to do so ?

 Before developing this reflection we should specify that, although the AASR is the Masonic language we practice, we are concerned first and foremost with Masonry itself, which we hold to be a "spiritual and social body", a method for being (and for being on earth), an inspirational discipline, a school of thought, a form of brainstorming or of litotes, a cathartic method (through ritual practice), hermeneutics, ethics, morals, wisdom and, finally, a "(pneumatic) spiritual society which produces an egregore and a democratic society which produces social effects"[6]. Nothing can replace the individual practice of Masonic initiation.

In Regalia, one must therefore dare to affirm "the foundation stones of Masonry" :

- the discipline of silence in an oriented place ;

- benevolent listening to others, in due form ;

- refusal of direct dialogue ;

- "the art of litotes : suggesting a maximum by saying a minimum" ;

- "the art of  syncope : not dotting the i’s…"[7]

These original corner stones, specific to Masonry, must fit with the universal stones of tolerance, universalism, solidarity, justice and fraternity, values shared by all men of good will.

However, we refuse to turn Freemasonry into a "meta-method" which can deal with all manner of problems, or into a panacea for all ills. The 21st century is already here, but it has yet to be invented…. we cannot expect Masonry (still less the AASR) to provide recipes, ready-made formulas, cut and dried analyses, pseudo-secrets, exclusive procedures or mysterious methods to do the inventing for us. It is too easy to retain of the Lost Word only the thoughts that match our own. That is where dogmatism begins.

Above all, it would be a fine thing if Freemasonry, Scottish or otherwise, could form humble workers capable of tackling such an exalting task.

 With this concern in mind, our investigation will focus on Scottish specificity within a Masonic hermeneutics.

 A/ The AASR today, or how to comprehend the changes of our times.

 Is the AASR the Masonic mode best suited to comprehending complexity[8]? By and large, Scotticism, a touch "Spinozian", induces three categories of knowledge. The first corresponds to sensory perception and experience, but the degrees of Perfection (which lead us towards cautious and discerning relativism) remind us that our senses mislead us, that opinions are diverse and contradictory, and that human experience is relative. The second category is "pure"[9] reason, which might be a legitimate foundation for every "construction"; yet the 20th century can be described as that of the crisis of "Reason". Indeed, this period has challenged the three pillars of "modern" thinking : the idea of a (hidden or apparent) "universal order", the notion of the separation of causes and the primacy of "absolute reason".

There remains a third kind of approach – a sort of global, intuitive perception acquired after a long progression, which helps us conceive of things in their unity and which, mutatis mutandis, resembles initiation and the symbolic cognitive method. Yet this kind of knowledge, in the nature of an intimate spiritual experience, is emotional rather than rational; it can be compared to that developed by the Arab thinker Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Malik Ibn Tufayl (1100-1181) in The Self-Taught Philosopher, which tells the story of Hayy ibn Yaqdhân, alone on a desert island in the Indian Ocean. This philosophical novel provides the reader with an « initiatory » account in seven stages which leads the « seeker », The Philosopher without a  Master, from perception through the senses to the «supreme illumination». This is also the spirit of Gotthold Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise, 1779), a philosophical play about the idea of tolerance expressed through the parable of the three rings and the Gerspräche für Freimaurer (Masonic Dialogues, 1780). It features, too, in Goethe’s works Wilhelm Meister (1794-1796), Faust (which has constantly been reworked), The green snake, various poems such as Symbolum (1814) and the autobiographical tale Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and truth, 1811-1814), all of which are stamped with the “Scottish” Masonic ideal in three respects : Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty.

It is also the spirit of the AASR, capable of leading to a Stoic art of living with certain degrees of perfection, of refuting the illusion of worldly pseudo-happiness with the Knight of the Rose-Croix, of expressing the spiritual quest in a secularized form at the 28th degree, or of expressing an evolutionist, encyclopedic and dialectic approach, as suggested by the ladder of the 30th degree.

In our world, there is an imperious necessity to find a thought system (or systems) and/or method which can hunt out the potential errors of certainty, separation and "logic" without falling into the erring ways of uncertainty and the "incorrectly inferred".

Where do we stand on the mosaic pavement ? Perhaps being oneself – existing – means first and foremost learning to discover errors, falsities and misinterpretations, to denounce illusions, chimeras and superstitions, and to avoid digression, erring and confusion. It means asserting the primacy of the critical mind, it means believing in the indefinitely progressive nature of knowledge : «Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them : the starry sky above and the moral law within».[10]

So what matters is to find an approach that consists of constantly coming and going between these two poles.

Hence the need for a dialog between arts, letters, all the human and the so-called «exact» sciences, in order to give greater coherence to the way we understand the world. Modernity is characterized by the explosion and fragmentation of knowledge and skills, together with the growing complexity of reality and the omnipresence of uncertainty.

But how can we appropriate scientific knowledge that is ever greater and more dispersed, and combine it with knowledge acquired from other sources ? Such are the pillars of today’s great Masonic project, a modern-day venture that can only be understood and elaborated through the archetypal human being, considered as the axis mundi (axis of the world).

Since we can no longer be universal (unlike Pico della Mirandola), we have to establish a new "organization of thought"[11] or a project for a University of all knowledge[12]. This has always been one of the (at least implicit) characteristics of the AASR "philosophy".

Isn’t this complexity[13] (defined as what both links and divides) identical, nolens volens, to the "mechanics" of the AASR’s construction? Provided one interprets the AASR anthropologically, this very complexity renders it capable of comprehending the world.

Today’s world is also characterized by "globalization" (which one may challenge, wholly or partly), by an unprecedented technical and scientific revolution, a society of networks and a transformation of habits, cultures, fashions and daily life[14].

In our Scottish language, isn’t the expression Holy Empire the symbolic and Masonic way of referring to the Oikoumene (the unity of humankind and the whole inhabited earth)? On this inhabitable earth (or which needs to be preserved as such), it is important to strongly reiterate that there should be no room for wars, socio-economic and moral misery, oppression, pandemics, ignorance and fear. We should be wary of viewing the future of the world from the perspective of the middle and upper classes of the « Northern » countries alone, especially as they bear a certain (albeit indirect) responsibility for this situation.

In the face of this Promethean hope and need, where should we place our response and our action? Somewhere between Marx’s prophecies ("Men make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing") and François Ascher’s ironies  ("These events are beyond our control, let’s pretend we have organized them") ? Masonic action is situated at another level.

The idea is not to transform Freemasonry into a club (still less a political intermediary), but to help Masons propose a philosophy of life, so that everyone – at his own level, with his own tools, faith and hope – can be a living stone in the Temple of humanity and can take part in the vast construction (at every level from the human micro-cell to humanity in its entirety) of the will to live together and of living together.

This project presupposes that each person builds his inner Temple, within his Workshops. This task must be planned, enriched and matured in the accustomed form so that, when the Mason is of age, it can contribute to the universal construction. The idea is not to appropriate (or even seek out) recurrent issues from the profane world, to yield to the siren song of popularity ratings, but rather to draw from the bosom of Masonry with its customs, legends and rites (notably the AASR) the very substance which can and must (for the benefit of all) be taken outside the Temple in order to «spice up» the fare. The Knight of the Rose Croix must feed the hungry. Every Mason, Scottish or otherwise, should try to be the salt of the earth: «But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted ? »[15].

If we are in darkness – the darkness referred to in the Gospel of John – we may curse the night (to no avail) or dream of the flames of Revolution. But we can also believe in a dawn (faith) which will inevitably arrive (hope), and, while waiting, light a candle, no matter how humble (charity). The AASR can be one of the many lights that guide mankind on this quest. We repeat that this requires the anthropological dimension of the AASR to be analyzed, understood and used. “Scottish” Masons are modern, because the AASR is an archetypal rite: it is of today, as it is of yesterday and of tomorrow. Its thirty-three degrees encompass eternal and ubiquitous values. It is neither a small-scale model of a world nor a syncretic ideology of an age, but a utopian project (therefore something to be hoped for and attempted) for structuring human groups – an art of living together. By integrating the anthropological structures of the Scottish Temple into his inner Temple, each Mason can contribute his stone to the construction of humanity .

Between universalism (The Temple of Humanity) and the right to difference (You are my Brother, but I accept your difference), how can we live together in the Holy Empire ? How can we define a new cultural democracy capable of associating respect for otherness and tolerance, policies of preferential treatment and universal values ? Should we begin with sense, in order to reconstruct social ties? After the breakdown of family models, what modes will we find to be (as François de Singly so aptly coined it) "free together"[16] ?

How can we define work in the 21st century ? With most people’s current experience – no work, unsatisfying work, disappointing work or work which has lost its sacred character – can we hope that tomorrow will bring “autonomous” (outside the realm of necessity) work for all by reducing the individual’s "heteronomous" work (dictated by society’s requirements) ? Will free time (for whom ? how ?) be the symbolic change of the Holy Empire  (kadosh) ? Have we (in the « North », needless to say) attained the leisure civilization? How could the “symbolic” (but assertive) heirs to the operative Masons disregard this question[17] ? How can a Mason and a Knight envisage these data within his symbolic field ? Should we glorify leisure instead of work ?

We should be wary of this pseudo-modern reinterpretation, the scourge of today’s Masonic structures. In Masonry, words have specific meanings. Masonry does not honor work in the usual sense of the term, but great works, the “Œuvre”. It is not enough to possess a watch (even a Swiss one); we must take as much time as is necessary. In the Lodge it is not GMT that counts, but time as it is authentically experienced. Masons work outside profane time and space, in a different temporality and spatiality.

However, this labor requires clarity. The Masonic path leads from the construction of the inner to the outer Temple. In order to progress from our partially decoded («enlightened») singular to a comprehensible universal and a hope of Order, we should first decipher the Chaos, sound and fury within ourselves. A “fairer” society does not necessarily make an individual “better” and “more enlightened”. One can only accede to knowledge of oneself, of others, of the world and of the Wholly Other by exploring one’s inner self, by working the rough stone, by giving relevance to V.I.T.R.I.O.L (Visitate Interiora Terrae, Rectificandoque, Invenies Occultam Lapidem = Visit the interior of the Earth, and by rectifying [by knowing the world], you will find the hidden stone [your inner temple  =  Gnothi Seauton). Freemasonry in general, and the AASR in particular, reveal to the individual what he cannot discover alone, but what he is capable of receiving from himself (according to Socratic maieutics). Collectively, Masonry (through the intermediary of the various structures) can only express general orientations regarding generous universal values. Every Mason is free within his heart of hearts. In the profane world, he thinks and acts “freely”, as he sees fit :

«Do what you have to, come what may».

It is worth repeating that no outer temple can be constructed by Masons whose inner Temple is unsound. When disorder reigns within, it is foolish to suppose that one can change the world. The action to which we refer originates in patient initiation into the thirty-three Scottish degrees, and is essentially concerned with the domain of spirituality[18]. A Mason must progress from having to being. According to the symbolism of the ladder, this ascending progression is concomitant with descent into the very depths of one’s being (each to his own path, be it psychoanalysis, self-analysis, various forms of introspection, asceticism, mysticism, etc.) Then can the Mason act, and the action becomes self-evident. The (archetypal) Scottish Freemason clearly does what he has to do: death to the old world (Entered Apprentice), tireless traveler (Fellow Craft), witness to the sacrificial violence (Master), internalized duty (degrees of Perfection), through true love (Rose-Croix), pure in heart, «bearer of pure arms» (Kadosh), «without hatred or weakness», discerning Justice and Equity (31°), exoteric chivalrous action and the eschatological message understood (32°). What will be will be, but the Mason is serene, because he knows that his action here and now will fit into a future that both encompasses and exceeds him, from Alpha to Omega, Ordo ab Chao, in the service of the Order, itself minister (i.e. etymologically servant) of humanity.

 B/ « Scottish » hermeneutics, or in favor of an alternative to "metanarratives"[19]

 Freemasonry is also a "metanarrative". When analyzed anthropologically, the AASR is one of its most significant versions. But the Masonic narrative poses more questions than it provides answers. The fact is that the Masonic myths are «true false narratives», albeit truer than ill-understood reality. Freemasonry is therefore more of a hermeneutics than a globalizing ideology. Through its myths, rites and grades, it refers to the origins, development and blossoming of thought. It both interprets today’s world and lets itself be interpreted by it. Masonry prepares for the future without claiming to «reveal» it. Within the art of hermeneutics (tekhnê hermeneutikê), perhaps the AASR is one of the most pertinent forms of Masonic interpretation of the observable phenomena of reality.

The AASR invites us to "understand and act" as suggested by the Ritual of Kadosh. But if the Masonic field is that of symbolic decoding, Freemasonry is also an art of living, a "meditation" that can help us accept the "here and now". The encyclopedism of the AASR enables us to link it with Epicureanism, Platonism, Stoicism, the Christian tradition, gnostic trends, Jewish and Muslim mysticism, oriental philosophies, the humanism of the Renaissance, the spirit of the Reformation, Cartesianism, the legacy of Newton, the Lumières, and many more besides. Yet we should be wary of substituting only literature or, even worse, pseudo-encyclopedism, narrow positivism and blinkered scientism, for Anderson’s project structured around the liberal arts and practices, customs and techniques attributed to the builders of the Temple of Solomon (Old Charges). The strength of Masonry lies in its symbolic tools.

So the AASR can help us learn to live and thus to die, to enjoy life and thus to suffer, to be, to be with and to be within, i.e. to have the strength, lucidity and hope to distinguish between the changeable and the permanent, to perceive "the things that depend on us and those that do not" (as indicated by the Manual of Epictetus – actually written by Arrian – whose "philosophy" is largely apparent in the grade of Secret Master). At stake with the AASR is as much the construction of an ideal city as the edification of the inner Temple, thus of the self : "I am who I am. I am what I am. I am"[20]. The AASR might then be one of the Masonic tools for this deconstruction/construction of the ego. This is perhaps the essence of "Masonic humanism" and the spirit of the AASR.

One can also see in it great hope in mankind’s consubstantial quality, although the 20th century has amply demonstrated that Homo so-called sapiens, individually or collectively, is capable of the worst.

One can also put forward the idea that humanism is a notion which should reflect on the legitimacy of the rules that govern the desire to live together. Humanism must affirm not only the individual’s dignity and the principle of autonomy, but also the preservation and reinforcement of social ties and values that go beyond individuals. This is upheld by a certain humanist tradition from Rabelais and Montaigne to Ricoeur, from Maimonides to Levinas, from Ibn Rûshd Averroës to Ibn Khaldun[21], and which is also expressed (in all modesty) by Scotticism.

Although the AASR remains an authentically Masonic method,  hermeneutics and anamnesis (a recollection of the past and/or pathos brought to a conscious level), it can help contemporary societies to better express their questioning. There are four main tracks open to whoever has already built his own path in his head :

a)                       the departure from clericalized religions, the secularization and/or metamorphosis of beliefs must allow for the emergence of a veritable secular spirituality capable of opposing the resurgence of new « sectarian » religious forms and outbreaks of fanaticism[22]. If we avoid making it worldly or pseudo-esoteric, Masonry can propose a universal mode of reliance (religare).

b)                       The notion of shared, diffuse, interactive power should be incarnated in a political, cultural, social and economic democracy founded on equal rights and duties, and in « fairer and more enlightened » societies from the family to the global village.

c)                       The elimination of illiteracy from the world and the invention of appropriate transmission of knowledge should make for equal opportunities for all. Masons, Scottish or otherwise, take a certain pleasure in the fact that "intellectual leaders" have tended to disappear over the last three decades. An eclectic attitude to knowledge is emerging, along with prudence and diversity of approaches and the rejection of a single model to explain reality. Reading, deciphering, understanding, acting from within oneself towards the exterior, remain fundamental Masonic principles.

d)                       Will the 21st century be that of morality ? No matter, the Mason must find his inspiration and insist on the message of the Presbyterian minister Anderson: that men of high moral values, who might otherwise never have met, should be united through Freemasonry. Having said that, we should not be afraid to reconsider the great classical questions : What are the natural foundations of morality ? and of its social origins ? Is there a universal morality ? How can we define Good and Evil ?

Alongside the great permanent themes, practical questions arise in relation to recent discoveries, the most important of which is bioethical reflection[23]. Practical ethical issues now arise in new areas such as economics, business, leisure, and culture. Command of the new techniques, especially those of life technology, should help mankind signify the wish to define and construct the conditions for a new way of living together. A vast domain of responsible behavior opens up to the Masons – or, to be more precise, Masons should use the tools they have always had to work on mankind’s eternal questions, here and now.

Every Freemason should join this battle as he sees fit, in accordance with his principles and convictions, not forgetting that other Brothers can take up the fight in different but equally legitimate ways. The universal Republic of Masons should be a model for (rather than a copy of) profane political constructions. Masonry adheres to the project of a center of the Union, and the AASR’s universality should constantly remind Scottish Masons of this. Masonry cannot become the spokesman for any one philosophy, group or association, no matter how eminent in the profane world. Moreover, although the various structures, secular associations, must observe authentically democratic practices, the profound «nature» of the Order and the Lodge is fraternal isonomy (such perfect equality/equivalence among Brethren that they become «interchangeable» - which is true equality - rendering electoral competitions and suchlike useless). In its jurisdictions, the AASR demonstrates that Masons are (should be) «equivalent», even though the initiatory progression is differentiated and graded. There is no contradiction. The AASR is an «elective brotherhood».


 Does being a Mason mean, above all, looking for meaning (even though this quest can easily acquire prescriptive connotations)? We presume that Freemasonry – notably through the AASR – encompasses the four Kantian questions :

1.     What can I know ? (philosophy)

2.     What should I do ? (ethics)

3.     What may I hope for ? (political philosophy)

4.     What is man ? (philosophical anthropology).

For a Mason, referring to Kant (though without idolatry) means believing in the notion of practical reason which does not wait in vain for the progress of knowledge to define Duty (an essential theme of the degrees of Perfection). It is a safeguard against the illusions of scientism, « stupid » subjectivism and simplistic relativism.

Being a Mason means rediscovering and enriching (not parodying) this fourfold cognitive approach.

Being a Mason means attempting to make a constant social requirement of this quest for meaning.

When the AASR is well understood, it can provide a perspective and a context (further to Kantian analysis) for the above-mentioned questioning :

In philosophy, being a Mason means working to enrich the humanism that opposing forces sought to dismiss throughout the last century.

In ethics, despite our previous presuppositions, we have to admit that Kantian universal morality is partly obsolete. Being a Mason, therefore, means accepting that there are no absolute criteria for defining an ethic or  moral code.

In political philosophy, being a Mason means thinking out (but especially experiencing for oneself) both the permanent and the recent conditions of life in society.

Finally, being a Mason in the 21st century, means bringing the anthropological structures of the Masonic imagination to life and making them pertinent:

«The construction of the Temple begins within oneself and leads outwards»[24].

In response to these various questions, the thirty-three degrees of the AASR seem to say (implicitly or explicitly) that one should search not for meaning but for the errors to be avoided. Is the world as we see it? As we "re-construct" it ?

Meaning is always produced, constructed, relative, random and provisional. The AASR emulates Nathan the Wise[25] who preferred the impulse that leads us to seek the truth to the notion of "absolute truth". Freemasonry – child of the Enlightenment and illuminism, of gnosis and the cogito, of positivism and esotericism, of Christianity and Stoic atheism, of Protestant latitudinarianism and Newtonian physics – and the AASR – born of Franco-American adventurers – appear to provide no definite answers to our essential, existential questions. The Widow and her Scottish offspring (now grown up) doubt everything, even doubt itself (and beware of Masonic dogmatism and clericalism when this is not so!). Yet it is impossible for a Master Mason (and a fortiori for a Scottish Knight), to avoid these questions, unless they simply endure existence (that of rough stone). Meaning is both «orient-ation» and signification (intentional expression). We do not attain meaning intentionally; it steals into our minds as if through incidence[26].

Yet the quest for collective and personal meaning cannot dispose of individualism, avatar of modernity. Indeed, in the tradition of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, this is not a question of egoism but of finding and constructing one’s inner self. Nowadays, however, personal choices seem to have supplanted structural constraints and collective destinies. We must combat the hedonistic, egoistic, autistic, self-congratulating individual in favor of the autonomous subject who takes an active role in his own life but whose goal remains collective solidarity, while reminding each and everyone that rights and duties go together.

However, contemporary individualism does not necessarily mean withdrawing into oneself. It can lead to active involvement in the world. It refers to the theory of "self-government" developed since Greco-Latin philosophy. It features in various degrees of Perfection (Intimate Secretary, Provost and Judge). The AASR is in line with the emergence of an altruistic individualism, born in the West. The Opus Magnum is to make a human being – in the fullest sense of the term – out of a rough stone,.

Apart from that, we should get away from identity conflicts through (and for) self-discovery. Psychoanalysis has put an end to the unified notion of the ego, and the Cartesian cogito is now considerably weakened (as demonstrated by Antonio Damazio[27]). Yet everyone feels the need to give his existence unity, which Ricoeur calls "the narrative identity"[28]. This is one of the objectives of initiation :

«And so long as you have not grasped it

 This : die and become !

 You will only be a gloomy guest

 On this dark earth…»[29]

Thus, on the long initiatory path, the individual can (must?) (re)construct himself. But there is nothing more difficult than being «free» - master and creator of one’s own human adventure. Perhaps this is the ultimate illusion. In any case, it requires each individual to have the means to assert (or attempt to assert) his freedom.

Finally (perhaps most importantly), it is worth (re)affirming that "Happiness is [still] a new idea"[30] for the world, though we should remember that absolute happiness is "not an ideal of reason, but of imagination” according to Kant’s formula. Happiness is not a bellhop, at one’s beck and call. It is like the evening visitor and perhaps belongs to the realm of Grace. No doubt it has to do with the Lost Word – an essential theme in Scottish Masonic mythology. It is certainly not the accumulation of money, power and prestige. It tells us that the Coming (Advent) is never definitively past, but that it is always possible to create (here and now, inside one’s head) utopia and uchronia – a place beyond space and time.

In order to glimpse and sometimes grasp this, one should avoid always living « elsewhere », indulging in nostalgia for an embellished past or for a lost or future paradise, hoping for uncertain tomorrows[31]. One should also resist the crypto-pessimism of a neo-Celinian intelligentsia, and refuse forced adherence to anti-humanist thought systems, religions that are dogmatized by clerics and ideologies of pseudo-happiness that inevitably drift towards some kind of Gulag or the totalitarian consumerism[32] conveyed by advertising and caricatured by programs such as Big Brother. It is also important, however, not to let the various Masonic structures become «worldly».

We should prefer sobriety to glitter, meditation to public debate, the discretion of the true servant to gaudy display.

Perhaps happiness is to be found in nature[33]? Or on the mosaic pavement ? Nothing to do with conventional happiness Ibiza-Bangkok-Hollywood style, nothing to do with the gloomy litany of man’s exploitation of man (Wall Street, the rat race, the hypertrophy of the ego, the American way of life, the chimeras of televisual glory, dining out, the desire to play God). It is still possible to dream of simple happiness in the twofold tradition of Oriental and Greco-Latin wisdom, and of the ethics of the  Book. This joie de vivre depends on the transformation of one’s vision of the world, the exercise of one’s freedom, and love for others. It develops through personal appropriation, by borrowing widely in order to shape one’s own vision of existence. According to individual temperament, desires, hopes and tastes, it means discovering the true pleasures of the table and the body – cycling round the world if you so desire, constructing your life like a novel, helping (loving) your neighbor, taking a child by the hand, giving everything away like the widow in the Gospel[34], fighting for a better world, or reconstructing it in your head, and then, like Cyrano de Bergerac, «one evening, under the pale, red rose sky», dying while «cracking a good joke in a good cause».

Even more important is to be, to be what one really is : «In every human being, there is an optimum of what he could become. There are things that he could never become, and so many people waste their lives trying to become what they cannot be, while neglecting to be what they could become. This is a waste of time and a failure. So in the first place a person should have a certain image of what he could and could not become, what are the limitations and what are the possibilities…»[35]

If we better ourselves a little, mankind will be a little less mediocre. This is the greatness of every Mason who seeks, this is the perennial strength of the Order.

This is where we realize the significance of the Royal Art (the operatives’ building work, symbolic work through secret geometry) in general, and of the AASR in particular. Everything is symbol here – no popularity ratings, no press releases about everything and anything, no showy parades. The very uncertainties of these Masonic structures recommend them, as we can be almost sure that their exoteric "answers", at least, will not lead us astray : the "errors" of Freemasonry are rarely dangerous, being usually merely "ridiculous" (and as we know, ridiculousness never killed anyone). Finally, this is the only “real” promise of Freemasonry, the Socratic promise, the universal reign of ironic reason, the «truth does not contradict truth» of Ibn Rûshd (Averroes), the Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides, the "marrow" of the Abbey of Thelema, Montaigne’s « What do I know ? », Descartes’ "methodical doubt", Kant’s "critical philosophy"[36], Nietzsche’s «The Gay Science» and the "implacable law" of happy (therefore hidden) lands such as the Realm of King Pausole whose «Book of Customs" was reduced to a two-part (very « Kadosh ») proclamation:  "Do no wrong to your neighbor. Observing this, do as you please".

«There is never a last word. Continuous space and the need to adapt to every new circumstance  : such is life.

True  initiation is constant apprenticeship. We have to relearn what we thought we had understood, and it is not always certain that we can take what we have  experienced for granted…»[37].

So let us humbly say by way of a very provisional conclusion, that among the many philosophies, thoughts, systems, myths, doctrines and "wisdoms" that concern being, and being in the world, there is a little Masonic tune, and among the rites, régimes, grades, degrees and persuasions of the Res Latonarae***, a little Scottish music makes itself heard – our little Scottish tune.


[1] Virgil, The Georgics, II, 489. «Happy is he who is able to know the causes of things»

[2]     With a preface by Francesco Cataluccio, Paris, Rivages Poche. Petite bibliothèque, 1996. Cf. also Un tour d’horizon philosophique en 1 heure 12 by Jean-François Dortier, in Philosophies de notre temps, Auxerre, Ed. Sciences humaines, 1999, p. 1-40.

[3]     Modesty compels us to point out that the de facto internationalism of the AASR does not imply an intrinsically universalistic Scottish  «nature».

[4]     In the positive sense of the term, as used notably by American political analysts.

[5]     Contrary to the implication of the term «ancient», most of the higher degrees in the AASR come from the tradition of the Moderns.

[6]     Report by the 3rd Commission : is Masonic spirituality an answer to contemporary problems ? Research work by the Sources Areopagus, Paris, 2000, p. 32.

[7]     On this theme, see Travaux de Sources, 2000, op. cit., p. 39 and Bruno Etienne, Une voie pour l’Occident. La Franc-Maçonnerie à venir, Paris, 2001, p. 173-174.

[8]     For a first approach to this problem, see (among a rich and high quality bibliography) the collective work Philosophies de notre temps, Auxerre, Sciences humaines éditions, 2000.

[9] We have already indicated on several occasions that the AASR is also rather Kantian. In the Critique of Pure Reason, in answer to the question what can I know, Immanuel Kant explains that the field of knowledge (i.e. that of the competence of the sciences) is the only possible domain of experience. Scientific knowledge has its place within our investigation, although we restrict our inquiries to the links between the brain and thought.

[10] Immanuel Kant, The Critique of  practical reason, 1788 ; Paris, Grasset, 1985, p. 12.

[11]    Cf. Edgar Morin, La Méthode, Paris, Seuil, 4 volumes, 1977-1991.

[12]    See on this subject, the project carried out at the Paris Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, of which the various volumes are regularly published by Odile Jacob.

[13]    Cf. Edgar Morin, La complexité humaine, Paris, Flammarion, 1994.

[14]    On this subject, consult the review Sciences humaines HS n° 34, October/November 2001.

[15]    Gospel of Matthew, V, 13.

[16]    Title of the collective work he directed: Libres ensemble. L’individualisme dans la vie commune, Paris, Nathan, 2000.

[17]    The excessive use of the interrogative form in this text may cause some surprise, but we believe that Masonry does not provide contingent collective answers. We believe that Masonry is a privileged place where each Mason comes (in the company of others, but of and for himself) to find, forge and polish the tools he will use as he thinks best in the profane world, as a citizen of that world.

[18]    With or without God, the spirit, «produced» by matter or a principle independent of it, must «exceed» matter.

[19]    Cf. Jean-François Lyotard, La Condition postmoderne, Paris, Minuit, 1979.

[20]    Cf. various verses from Exodus, notably, as God said to Moses : Ehyeh asher ehyeh [I shall be : I am] (Exodus, III, 14).

[21]    This very short list is simply intended to demonstrate the extent to which humanism belongs to all cultures.

[22]    Cf. Jean Baubérot, Pour un nouveau pacte laïque, Paris, Seuil, 1990.

[23]    Anne Fagot-Largeaut, L’Homme bio-éthique, Paris, Maloine, 1985.

[24]    Bruno Etienne, Une voie pour l’Occident. La franc-maçonnerie à venir, Paris, Dervy, 2001, p. 259.

[25]    Gotthold Ephraïm Lessing, Nathan der Weise, 1779.

[26]    Denis Piveteau and Jean-Baptiste De Foucauld, Une société en quête de sens ? Paris, O. Jacob, 1995.

[27]    L’erreur de Descartes. La raison des émotions, Paris, O.Jacob, 1995.

[28]    Paul Ricoeur, Soi-même comme un autre, Paris, Seuil, 1990.

[29]    Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, Selige Sehnsucht (Nostalgie bienheureuse), Weimar, 1809..

[30]    Cf. The dossier on Happiness : De la philosophie antique à la psychologie contemporaine, in Sciences humaines n° 75, August-September 1997, p. 18-41.

[31]         Psychopathology which has nothing to do with the creative strength of Utopia.

[32]    Pascal Bruckner, L’euphorie perpétuelle. Essai sur le devoir de bonheur, Paris, Grasset, 2000.

[33]    As suggested by the title of Etienne Chatiliez’s film, « Le bonheur est dans le pré »..

[34]    Mark, XII, 41/44 et Luke, XXI, 1-4.

[35]    Eric Fromm, Entretiens avec Le Monde, vol. 5, Paris, La découverte, 1985, p. 46.

[36] Cf. Jean-François Dortier, op. cit., L’école du doute, p. 2/6.

[37]    Jean Mourgues, op. cit., 1982, p. 67