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English Methodists and the Myth of the Catholic Antichrist (c. 1755 – 1817)
Paul’s second epistle to the community at Thessalonica warned that the second coming of Christ will be preceded by the appearance of ‘the man of sin’ (or ‘the man of lawlessness’), who will work false miracles and exalt himself over God, setting himself up in God’s Temple, all in accordance with the plans of Satan (2 Thess 2:1-17). The ‘man of sin’ was subsequently linked to the Antichrist mentioned in John’s first and second epistle (1 John 2:18-22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7). Various diabolic figures from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation have also been interpreted as relating to the Antichrist. These allusions to a diabolic character were fleshed out over time. According to Norman Cohn (1975), ‘over the centuries new and terrible anxieties began to make themselves felt in Christian minds, until it came to seem that the world was in the grip of demons and that their human allies were everywhere, even in the heart of Christendom itself.’ The Antichrist was regarded as an authentic manifestation of evil, who would lead Satan’s forces in a cosmic war against the followers of Christ. The Antichrist was intertwined with millenarian expectations of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The arrival of the Antichrist, as Cohn (1957) observed, was considered no mere ‘phantasy about some remote and indefinite future but a prophecy which was infallible and which at almost any given moment was felt to be on the point of fulfilment’. 
The Seven-Headed Beast (Silos Apocalypse, Illuminated Manuscript) [Wikimedia Commons]
‘A wild beast coming up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns’
In English-Methodist discourses during the eighteenth century, it was often the Catholic popes – sometimes individually, sometimes collectively – who were mythicised as ‘the Antichrist’. The tone for these discourses about ‘Antichrist’ was set by the original founders and leaders of the Methodist movement, John Wesley (1703 – 1791) and Charles Wesley (1707 – 1788), both of whom were enthusiastic millenarians.
John Wesley’s general ambivalence and prejudice towards Roman Catholicism has been well documented by David Butler (1995), but it is specifically to John Wesley’s construction of the so-called ‘Romish Antichrist’ that we now turn. According to Butler, it was in his commentary on Revelation in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (1755) that John Wesley recorded his ‘oddest thoughts on the Papacy’. John Wesley’s preface to this section of his Explanatory Notes records how he despaired of understanding much of Revelation until he encountered ‘the works of the great Bengelius’, (i.e., Johann Bengel’s Gnomon, published in 1742), the reading of which ‘revived’ his hopes of understanding ‘even the prophecies’ recorded in the Book of Revelation. According to John Wesley, much of his commentary on Revelation was partly translated and abridged from observations found in Bengel’s Gnomon, albeit he allowed himself ‘the liberty’ to alter some of Bengel’s observations, and to add a few notes where he felt that Bengel’s account was incomplete. Where Johann Bengel ends and John Wesley begins is not always clear, but that they were seemingly much in agreement – at least in the passages that John Wesley derived or lifted from Bengel – seems reasonably certain.
John Wesley believed that the role of Antichrist, ‘the beast with seven heads’, was not assigned to just a single individual, but to ‘a body of men’ at some moments in history, and ‘an individual’ at others, which he summarised as ‘the papacy of many ages’. In particular, he seems to have had in mind all popes since the beginning of the papacy of Gregory VII in 1073. He regarded this fantastical ‘beast’ to be no mere legend but a real and imminent danger. Commenting on Revelation 13:1 (‘and I stood on the sand of the sea, and saw a wild beast coming up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten diadems, and upon his heads a name of blasphemy’), John Wesley stated that ‘O reader! This is a subject wherein we also are deeply concerned; and which must be treated, not as a point of curiosity, but as a solemn warning from God. The danger is near.’ According to John Wesley, the sea that the Antichrist was prophesied to emerge from was not ‘the abyss’ but rather ‘Europe’, and ‘the beast’ was ‘the Romish papacy, as it came to a point six hundred years since, stands now, and will for some time longer.’ John Wesley was not, it seems, entirely sure about the exact arrival of the Antichrist, suggesting that the Antichrist arrived some 600 to 700 years previously (from the perspective of his writing in the 1750s), at some point between the beginning of the papacy of Gregory VII and the conclusion of the papacy of Alexander III (i.e., between 1073 and 1181), though he fixated primarily on Gregory VII. Butler convincingly suggests that Wesley’s strongest suspicion was that Gregory VII was the original manifestation of ‘the beast’. This seems to be confirmed by a closer examination of Wesley’s commentary on Revelation. In his comment on Revelation 13:1, Wesley stated that ‘whatever power the papacy has had from Gregory VII, this the Apocalyptic beast represents’. And in his commentary on Revelation 17:11, Wesley states that: ‘the beast consists as it were of eight parts. The seven heads are seven of them; and the eighth is his whole body, or the beast himself … The whole succession of popes from Gregory VII are undoubtedly antichrist. Yet this hinders not, but that the last pope in this succession will be more eminently the antichrist, the man of sin; adding to that of his predecessors a peculiar degree of wickedness from the bottomless pit. This individual person, as a pope, is the seventh head of the beast; as the man of sin, he is the eighth, or the beast himself.’ Despite his warnings about the danger posed by ‘the beast’ in his Explanatory Notes in 1755, John Wesley seems to have believed that the beast would eventually be defeated in 1836 (following the chronology of Johann Bengel). In his commentary on Revelation 17:10, he speculates simply that in 1836, ‘the beast [will be] finally overthrown’. In fact, it seems that just 22 years later, John Wesley was already confident that the power of ‘the beast’ was already in decline. According to Butler, Wesley wrote a letter to Joseph Benson (another Methodist minister) in 1777, stating that ‘the Romish Anti-Christ is already so fallen that he will not again lift up his head in any considerable degree. … I therefore concur with you in believing that his tyranny is past never to return’. 
Two pages from John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, 12th edition
Around the same time that John Wesley was finishing his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, his brother, Charles Wesley, also made reference to the ‘Romish Antichrist’. In April 1754, he wrote a letter to an unknown correspondent. In this apocalyptic letter, Charles Wesley referred to the ‘labyrinth’ of ‘scriptural Prophecies’ that God had guided him through, and the arrival of the ‘Kingdom of our Lord in its fulness upon earth’ after certain key events: ‘the conversion of God’s antient people the Jews, their restoration to their own land; [and] the destruction of the Romish Antichrist & of all the other adversaries of Christ’s kingdom’. 
Kenneth Newport (1996), in his comprehensive survey of Methodist millenarianism (mostly premillennialism), identifies a number of other Methodist preachers who referred or alluded to the ‘Roman’, ‘Rome’ or Catholic ‘Antichrist’. For example, according to Newport, Joseph Sutcliffe (1762 – 1856), a preacher appointed by John Wesley to the Redruth Circuit in 1786, and the author of several works including a commentary on scripture and a 25-page pamphlet on the ‘glorious millennium, and the second coming of Christ’ (1798), constructed an elaborate millennial narrative combining elements of pre- and post-millennialism (with Christ’s second coming prior to his thousand-year reign on Earth, but with Christ returning to and ruling the earthly Church from heaven, and the millennium not entirely free from the vices and wickedness of earlier times, and with the millennium followed by one final cataclysmic battle between Jesus and Satan at its conclusion). In Sutcliffe’s narrative, the Roman ‘Antichrist’ (‘the pagan and the papal beast’) is defeated, the Jews embrace Christianity, and play a special eschatological role in helping to convert ‘the Turks, Tartars, Persians, and the numerous nations of the African shores’; ‘dwelling among all commercial nations, and being perfectly acquainted with their manners, customs, languages and religions, they [the Jews] are already arranged as an army of missionaries’. Later, Satan attacks the Jews, who by then are in Jerusalem, but Satan is defeated when Christ appears in visible form to slay his enemies. This is all expected to occur in the nineteenth century (beginning with the final defeat of the Antichrist circa 1820 and the battle against Satan in Jerusalem circa 1865). Then, after a thousand years of Christ’s rule of the earthly Church from the Celestial Court (i.e., a temporary paradise on Earth, a kingdom ruled from heaven, rather than located in heaven), Satan will escape his thousand-year imprisonment in the ‘bottomless pit’ to return for one last cosmic battle, but will be defeated by ‘the Lord Jesus’ who returns from heaven in ‘flaming fire’. After this, there will be the final judgement, the destruction of the wicked, and the resurrection of the righteous in the everlasting heavenly kingdom of God (presumably circa 2865). And according to Newport, Thomas Coke (1747 – 1814), the co-founder of Methodism in America and the first Methodist bishop, also developed a vibrant millenarian narrative in his Commentary on the Holy Bible (1803), in which the Antichrist already rules the Earth (presumably unbeknownst to most people), and has done so since the year 606 CE, but the Antichrist will be destroyed after his 1,260 year reign, in circa 1866, after which the Jews and Gentiles will all embrace Christianity, and the millennium will begin. 
Thomas Taylor (1738 – 1816), an influential Methodist preacher and friend of John Wesley, also argued that the ‘great Anti-christ’ was the ‘church of Rome’, in his Ten Sermons on the Millennium; or, the Glory of the Latter Days (1789). According to Taylor, ‘a glorious time’ was coming, when ‘Jesus will reign, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess him to be Lord’. This blessed time will, Taylor suggested, involve the ‘destruction of Antichrist’, ‘the chaining of the dragon’, ‘wars and fighting ceasing’ and ‘the gathering in of the Jews’, among other events. Turning to the subject of Antichrist, Taylor observed that ‘every person, persons or thing, which oppose Christ, may be termed Anti-christ’. According to Taylor, the Antichrist thus consists of many groups, including ‘the Jews’, ‘the Turks’ and ‘Socinians’. But for Taylor, the ‘great Antichrist’ was the Catholic Church. For example, whilst he summed up the reasons for ‘the Jews’ being on the list in just one sentence (‘the opposers of Christ, in that they reject his government, will not have this man to reign over them, and thereby judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life’), and similarly ‘the Turks’ and ‘Socinians’ in one sentence apiece, the Catholic Church received several pages of criticism. According to Taylor, ‘but what is most generally understood by that term’ [i.e., Antichrist], ‘and what the scriptures in very clear terms mark out, as well as history, for Antichrists are, the doctrine, hierarchy and discipline of the church of Rome. The Pope and Cardinals, together with the whole herd of secular and regular priests and begging friars, joined with their whole train of legends for doctrines, may be said to be the great Antichrist’. Taylor outlined over several pages of the sermon what he considered to be the sins of the ‘church of Rome’, including as highlights, ‘infallibility’, ‘transubstantiation’, ‘praying to the dead’, ‘purgatory’, ‘priestly absolution’, ‘persecutions’, ‘torture’ and ‘the Inquisition’. He suggested that in its ‘superstitious discipline’ and ‘horrid cruelties’, the ‘church of Rome’ was the ‘whore of Babylon’. 
Significantly, Adam Clarke, a prominent Methodist preacher and bible scholar from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, whose anti-Judaism and anti-Catholicism I examined as part of a collaborative project between the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and the John Rylands Research Institute, also embraced many hostile myths and stereotypes about Catholics (and Jews), but rejected the millenarian ideas of the previously discussed Methodists. Adam Clarke was born c. 1760 – 1762 (the exact year being unknown) in Londonderry. He died of cholera in London on 28 August 1832. Clarke met John and Charles Wesley at the Kingswood school in Bristol when he was approximately eighteen years of age, and was appointed by them to preach at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire. His circuit soon extended to other towns and villages, and he was later assigned to the London Circuit. He was elected three times to the Presidency of the Methodist Conference and was widely respected as a preacher and scholar.
Unlike the previously discussed Methodists, Clarke did not believe in a gathering in or restoration of the Jews, or their mass conversion to Christianity, or their role in the final struggle against Antichrist. Instead, he suggested in his commentary on the New Testament, published in 1817, and his commentary on the Old Testament, published in 1825, that the role of Jews was simply to serve as a wretched and dispersed people, as perpetual monuments to the truth of Christianity. In his commentary on Matthew 24, he argued that the Jews, preserved as ‘a people scattered through all nations, … without temple, sacrifices, or political government’, reluctantly stand forth, despite their attempts to ‘suppress the truth’, as ‘unimpeachable collateral evidence’ of the predictions found in the New Testament. Reading the Gospel of Matthew as a prophetic text written before the sacking of Jerusalem, Clarke argued that ‘the destruction of Jerusalem’ had been foretold, and was a remarkable demonstration of ‘divine vengeance’ and a ‘signal manifestation of Christ’s power and glory’. Clarke concluded that, ‘thus has the prophecy of Christ been most literally and terribly fulfilled, on a people who are still preserved as continued monuments of the truth of our Lord’s prediction, and of the truth of the Christian religion’. Similarly, in his commentary on Jeremiah 15:4, he argued that the statement, ‘I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth’, was in respect to ‘the succeeding state of the Jews in their different generations’. According to Clarke, ‘never was there a prophecy more literally fulfilled; and it is still a standing monument of Divine truth. Let infidelity cast its eyes on the scattered Jews whom it may meet with in every civilized nation of the world; and then let it deny the truth of this prophecy, if it can’. In his preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Clarke argued that the calamities endured by the Jews, and their continued survival as a distinct and separate people despite a ‘dispersion of about 1700 years, over all the face of the earth, everywhere in a state of ignominy and contempt’, was evidence of a ‘standing miracle’, and the extraordinary will and interposal of Heaven. According to Clarke, the continued presence of the Jews as a distinct but dispersed people, ‘for many ages, harassed, persecuted, butchered and distressed’ (by ‘Pagans and pretended Christians’), as ‘the most detestable of all people upon the face of the earth’, but nevertheless preserved, was in line with a prediction in the book of Jeremiah (‘for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure’ [Jeremiah 46:28]), that God will bring an end to other nations, but not the Jews. Clarke concluded, in a somewhat ontological vein, that ‘thus the very being of the Jews, in their present circumstances, is a standing public proof of the truth of Revelation’ 
Again, unlike the Methodist millenarians, Clarke did not prophesise the destruction of the Catholic Church or speculate with confidence as to the identity of Antichrist. Reflecting on the Antichrist in his commentary on Revelation 11:7 (‘and when they [the two witnesses] shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them and shall overcome them, and kill them’), Clarke observed that the beast from the bottomless pit ‘may be what is called Antichrist’, but he concluded that other than some power opposed to ‘genuine Christianity’ and under ‘the influence and appointment of the devil’, it was impossible to say who or what Antichrist is. He noted that the conjectures about the identity of the beast (and the two witnesses) are manifold. As examples, he mentions as possibilities, ‘some Jewish power or person’, ‘one of the persecuting Heathen emperors’, and ‘the papal power’. Ultimately, the Antichrist (‘the beast’) remains an uncertain and shadowy figure in Clarke’s discourse. 
Portrait of Dr Adam Clarke, c. 1806, Methodist Archives /PLP 26/11/24
With his rejection of millenarian ideas, his limited interest in speculating about the identity of Antichrist, and his belief that Jews would be preserved in their dispersed, separate and wretched condition as perennial monuments to the truth of Christianity (rather than a gathering in of the Jews, and their embracing of Christianity), Clarke seems to have been an outlier compared to many of his Methodist colleagues from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However, whilst he seems to have been indifferent to the idea of a Catholic Antichrist, he did embrace other hostile myths and stereotypes about Catholics (as well as many hostile myths and stereotypes about Jews). Adam Clarke’s anti-Judaism and anti-Catholicism are examined in more detail in my article published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library: ‘“Monuments” to the truth of Christianity: Anti-Judaism in the Works of Adam Clarke’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, volume 93, issue 1, Spring 2017, 45-66 [link to journal volume] [link to author accepted manuscript]
 Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons: The Demonisation of Christians in Medieval Christendom (1975; repr., London: Pimlico, 2005), 23; and Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957; repr., London: Pimlico, 1993), 35.
 David Butler, Methodists and Papists: John Wesley and the Catholic Church in the Eighteenth Century (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1995), 129-134; and John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, notes on the Revelation 13:1 and 17:10-11, originally published in 1755, but the 12th edition has been used in this blog (New York: Carlton & Porter, no date), available online at archive.org, pages 650, 697-702, 714-715.
 The Unfinished letter from Charles Wesley to an unnamed correspondent, 25 April 1754, can be found in the John Rylands Special Collections, DDCW 1/51. For a transcript and discussion of this letter, see Kenneth G. C. Newport, ‘Charles Wesley’s Interpretation of Some Biblical Prophecies According to a Previously Unpublished Letter’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 77, no. 2 (1995), available online at Manchester eScholar, pages 31-52.
 Kenneth G. C. Newport, ‘Methodists and the Millennium: Eschatological Expectation and the Interpretation of Biblical Prophecy in Early British Methodism’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 78, no. 1 (1996), available online at Manchester eScholar, pages 103-122. For Joseph Sutcliffe, see pages 109-112. For Thomas Coke, see pages 121-122; and Joseph Sutcliffe, A Treatise on the Universal Spread of the Gospel, the Glorious Millenium, and the Second Coming of Christ (Doncaster: Gazette-Office, 1798).
 Thomas Taylor, Ten Sermons on the Millennium; or, The Glory of the Latter Days (Hull: G. Prince, 1789), sermon 1, ‘The Destruction of Antichrist’, pages 20-28.
 Adam Clarke, The New Testament, of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; containing the text, taken from the most correct copies of the present authorised translation, including the marginal readings and parallel texts, with a commentary and critical notes. Designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings, 3 volumes (London: J. Butterworth, 1817), commentary on Matthew 24:30-31 (and concluding notes for Matthew 24), and preface to commentary on Romans, page viii; and Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present authorized translation, including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a commentary and critical notes, designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings, 5 volumes (London: J. Butterworth, 1825), commentary on Jeremiah 15:4, 46:28.
 Clarke, The New Testament, of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, commentary on Revelation 11:7.
Adam Clarke, the Jews and Judaism (BAJS conference)
My paper for the forthcoming British Association for Jewish Studies (BAJS) conference (July 2015) will present some of the results of a project examining how Jews and Judaism were represented in the published works and unpublished manuscripts of Adam Clarke (1762-1832). Clarke was a prominent Methodist theologian, preacher and biblical scholar, best known for his eight volume commentary on the Old and New Testaments.
Whilst the research is still ongoing, the material examined so far would seem to reveal that traditional theological stereotypes were a pervasive feature in Adam Clarke’s discourse about both biblical and modern Jews. In his commentaries and sermons, he would often take a passage from the New Testament about “the Pharisees,” “the Sadducees,” “the Herodians,” or the Jewish multitude, and not only expand upon it, but also magnify any polemical antipathy that he found severalfold. For example, according to Clarke, the Jews of antiquity regarded the command to love thy neighbour as applying only to “those of the Jewish race, and all others were considered by them as natural enemies.” The Pharisees in particular were portrayed as not merely hypocritical, wicked, envious, unspiritual, blind and hard-hearted, but also “radically and totally evil”. Clarke also caricatured Jews of subsequent generations, such as the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, and made numerous references to the Jews of “the present day” (i.e. the early nineteenth century), suggesting that they had changed little from the Jews of antiquity. He argued that it was by divine providence that the Jews had been preserved as a distinct people, downtrodden, ruined and dispersed among the nations, providing unimpeachable “evidence” and living “monuments” to the truth of Christianity.
Clarke also repeated a number of anti-Catholic stereotypes which contained elements reminiscent of his representations of Jews, and which combined and coalesced with them on a number of occasions. He argued that the Jews and Catholics were both superstitious and notable for engaging in profane, blasphemous and ridiculous legends and traditions. For example, he stated in a sermon that “the church of Rome out-did, by innumerable degrees, all that had been done in the Jewish church by the worst of its rabbinical fables, puzzling genealogies, forged traditions, and false glosses on the words of God. And thus the worship of the true God was absorbed and lost in that of the Virgin Mary, and of real or reputed saints.”
This project is supported by a Seed Corn Fellowship from the John Rylands Research Institute, and is envisioned as the first of a series of projects by the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester which will explore the unique Methodist Collections at the John Rylands library (widely recognised as one of the largest and finest collections of its type in the world).
“The Demons are Interchangeable”: Damian Thompson on Anti-Catholic Conspiracy Theories
History is replete with a number of bizarre yet dangerous anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, such as the Diana Vaughan hoax, various narratives about the so-called Jewish and/or Masonic “Anti-Christ”, and the infamous ritual murder blood libels. Jews and Freemasons have also been accused of being secretive, manipulative and greedy, and blamed for supposedly controlling the press, stock markets and international finance. Anti-Catholic conspiracy narratives are no less fantastic, dangerous, and venomous. An excellent recent article in the Catholic Herald by Dr Damian Thompson – an expert on apocalyptic beliefs and Antichrist narratives – justifiably noted that we may “laugh at ludicrous anti-Catholic conspiracies. But we underestimate how many minds they poison.” He observes that conspiracy propagandists are “having a field day constructing alternative realities that frighten us and poison our minds.” And whilst those hostile to Jews and Freemasons have the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to fuel their imagination, anti-Catholics have the Monita Secreta (a forged document purported to be the secret protocols of the Jesuits). Damian Thompson, “No, the Jesuits didn’t start World War I,” Catholic Herald, 22 January 2015.
According to Thompson’s lucid consideration in the Catholic Herald, Catholics are accused, even today – or perhaps especially today in this age of the internet and mass media – of all kinds of bizarre things, such as being responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Thompson explains that according to the conspiracy theory, the Jesuits (and presumably also their so-called accomplices, the “Rothschild/Morgan/Rockefeller cartel”) came up with a diabolic scheme to build a “death ship” – which they would falsely claim to be unsinkable – in order to lure a number of opponents of their so-called US Federal Reserve cartel to a “watery grave”.
Other anti-Catholic conspiracy theories blame Catholics for starting the First World War, and instigating the 9/11 terrorist attack. As Thompson rightly notes, in the construction of these ludicrous and yet poisonous conspiracy theories: “The demons are interchangeable: Catholics, Freemasons, the Illuminati and, most persistently, Jews. The structure of the story remains broadly the same. ‘They’ are rich, powerful, secretive and plotting world domination. The righteous must act now to thwart their plans.” It is thus unsurprising that Jews and Freemasons have also been blamed for the First World War, and accused of master-minding the attack on the World Trade Center; and if someone was to tell me that a deranged theory exists, accusing “the Illuminati” or “the Knights Templar” of participating in the 9/11 attack, it would not surprise me – such is the surreal nature of the conspiracy theory.
One of the things that impressed me about Thompson’s article, is that it does not shy away from the fact that Catholics too have been “progenitors” of such theories: “Catholics need to face up to the reality that, over 2,000 years, elements in the Church have been progenitors as well as victims of conspiracy theories. Mostly this should be a source of shame – but we need to bear in mind that paranoid thinking is to some extent part of the DNA of Christianity in general; Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are also vulnerable to it.” As Thompson reports: “Alas, certain Right-wing Catholics have not been able to resist the lure of the Protocols: they were favourite reading material of Bishop Richard Williamson, disgraced bishop of the Society of St Pius X (which expelled him in 2012).” Thompson goes on to explain that: “Williamson, though an Englishman, was immersed in a French Catholic conspiratorial subculture that predates the Protocols. Ultra-clericalist Frenchmen in the Third Republic blamed all their misfortunes on Jews and Freemasons.”
Interestingly, as I discovered during my PhD, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such narratives were not confined to ultra-clerical French Catholics. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, articles and columns in popular English Catholic newspapers, in particular the Tablet (which was not then the liberal Catholic magazine it is today), also went along with such narratives, accusing Jews of conspiring with Freemasons against the Church. For example, a report in the Tablet in March 1897 noted that: “In criticizing the Anti-Semitic policy of the clerical party on the Continent, it must be remembered that the Ghetto is there the focus and centre of the Liberal warfare against Catholicism, and that Jews and Freemasons form everywhere the vanguard of the forces of infidelity. By their address in capturing and manipulating the political machinery and the power of the press, they have contrived in Catholic countries to organize a systematic persecution of the Catholic Church, and to trample on the faith and practices of Catholicism as though they represented but the belief of a contemptible and impotent minority. The alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of modern, no less than of ancient Judaism, is hostility to the Christian name.” See “Anti-Semitism in the Austrian Elections,” The Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482. During the Dreyfus Affair, the Tablet reported in February 1898, that it is suspicious that “in the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … it is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest, which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” The Tablet stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions”, The Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238. Furthermore, during the late nineteenth century, the Tablet and the Catholic Herald were somewhat credulous (though not quite as credulous as La Croix) when it came to reports of Luciferian Freemasonry (for example, during the Diana Vaughan hoax).
Thompson provides other (more theological) examples of conspiracy-like narratives. He explains that the Book of Revelation in the New Testament is “a conspiracy theory whose authors introduced early Christians to the notion of the Antichrist, littering the text with mathematical codes and lurid allegory.” Thompson correctly notes that in some Protestant anti-Catholic narratives, the Pope has been vilified as this shadowy Antichrist figure. Significantly, he also acknowledges and laments that the Antichrist has not been confined to anti-Catholic narratives, but has also been used by some prominent Catholics to vilify non-Catholics: “Today it seems repugnant to Catholics that Luther should have identified the Pope as Antichrist. We forget that both pontiffs and Catholic monarchs had previously taken great pleasure in identifying their own enemies as this Satanic figure, whom the Bible explicitly tells us will emerge from disguise shortly before Jesus returns.” Significantly, as I discovered during my own PhD research (link for brief summary of PhD), such narratives were not confined to pontiffs, Catholic monarchs, or ultra-clericalist French Catholics in the Third Republic. Prominent English Catholics during the nineteenth- and the early twentieth-centuries, such as Father Henry Manning (who went on to become the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) and Canon Dr William Barry (of the Archdiocese of Birmingham), as well as less prominent figures, repeated narratives about how the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” would arrive (or had already arrived) to lead anti-Christian forces against the Church (link for English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist”).
Thompson humbly concludes that he is “not qualified to say what the Church’s theological response should be to this aspect of its heritage.” Not being a Catholic myself, I am even less qualified to comment on the Church’s theological response to this aspects of its heritage, though like Dr Thompson, I believe the Church has a duty to respond in some way, if “it is to heal the wounds it has created.” Thompson suggests that whilst the Church did not invent the conspiracy theory narrative (for example, shadowy inventions similar to the diabolic Antichrist existed in pre-Christian Jewish and pagan myths), “in practical terms it should be alert to its persistence on the fringes of Catholicism.” Unfortunately, he suggests that Pope Francis may have his work cut out if he wishes to address the persistence of such narratives. According to Thompson: “Pope Francis is perceived – and presents himself – as a new broom in the Vatican. Ironically, this may make it more difficult to sweep away the conspiratorial mindset, since he himself hints that corrupt curial officials have seized control of dicasteries.”
Thompson suggests as a first step that the Vatican needs to learn how to better employ the internet. One can only hope that it not already too late in this age of mass media, when blog posts and tweets can circulate the globe and reach a huge audience very quickly, to dismantle the myriad of prejudiced myths and conspiracy theories (whether the role of diabolical villain is assigned to Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Ahmadi, Roma, or some other group or combination of groups). Unfortunately, one suspects that such pernicious narratives are now resiliently embedded in the digital discourse (though this should not stop us attempting to dismantle them).
English Methodist Newspapers Reporting on the Dreyfus Affair (1899)
In 1898, the main English Methodist newspapers and magazines (the Bible Christian Magazine, the Free Methodist, the Methodist Recorder, and the Methodist Times) largely ignored the Dreyfus Affair , but by July 1899, they were all publicly defending and sympathising with Captain Dreyfus. In July 1899, the Bible Christian Magazine applauded the French Judges who quashed the original “conviction of Dreyfus,” which, the magazine concluded, had been shown to be “obtained by wholesale perjury and forgery.” The magazine depicted Dreyfus as the victim of a sinister plot. In September, the magazine contended that not just Dreyfus, but the French nation was on trial at Rennes. The magazine suggested that the nation’s statesman, administrators and army stood before the eyes of the world, “a discredited product of the age.” In October, the magazine observed that it was not concerned with Dreyfus as an individual per se, but rather with the French people, who were close neighbours, with a history closely interwoven with that of the English. The Bible Christian Magazine claimed that it desired to avoid anti-French sectarianism, noting that “their downfall cannot profit us; their shame is a menace to us, for as they sink they tend to drag us with them.” The magazine thus wished to avoid condemning France to oblivion, desiring instead to restore “a sane France, a justice-loving France, a pure France.” The paper expressed its hope that France would consider the judgement that has been passed upon her by popular opinion across Europe, overcome the “flood of corruption and perjury,” and free herself from “Jesuitism.” See “Dreyfus,” Bible Christian Magazine, July 1899, 471-472; “Distraught France,” Bible Christian Magazine, September 1899, 609; “Our Next Door Neighbour,” Bible Christian Magazine, October 1899, 676-677.
The Free Methodist only contained a few very short reports on the Dreyfus Affair. In September 1899, the paper stated that the verdict at the retrial of Dreyfus excites “mingled feelings of compassion and indignation. Deep sympathy is felt for Captain Dreyfus and his noble wife. To be condemned again after suffering five years’ torture on Devil’s Isle … is very hard indeed.” The paper attributed the verdict of the judges in favour of the army rather than Dreyfus to “stupidity,” “prejudice,” and “moral cowardice.” The Free Methodist linked the Dreyfus Affair to Catholicism and the Pope, arguing that: “the Dreyfus case makes a startling revelation of the corrupt condition of the Church of Rome. The clerical papers of France, and notably those conducted and influenced by priests, have clamoured for this cruel and unjust verdict. The Pope and the bishops have maintained a criminal silence, and the Church which claims to be the true body of Christ has never one word in favour of mercy towards a man who, like his Divine Lord, is a persecuted Jew”. The Free Methodist attributed the “corruption of France and the unjust condemnation of Dreyfus” to “the clerical education system … and the hypocrisy of French priests.” The paper approved when the French Government pardoned and released Captain Dreyfus, and wished him a quick recovery. The paper noted that Dreyfus and his friends should not content themselves with a mere release, as his good name needs to be restored. The paper stated that it is doubtful however that the reputation of “the Church of Rome” can be restored after its “cruel persecution of Dreyfus.” “The Catholics who rejoiced and praised God for the outrageous judgement of Rennes have dealt their Church an irreparable blow,” the paper concluded. See “Notes and Comments,” Free Methodist: 14 September 1899, 625-626, and 28 September 1899, 657.
The Methodist Recorder similarly defended Dreyfus, and attributed the injustice to so-called “Jesuitry”. On 14 September 1899, the paper reported that “it is no exaggeration to say that the act of the Court Martial at Rennes, or rather the act of the five military Judges who re-condemned Captain Dreyfus, has filled the whole world with horror and amazement.” Only the “Anti-Semites and the Jesuits,” the paper suggested, were likely to be pleased with the result. The paper observed that France as a whole should not be condemned, as a large number of people in France believe in the innocence of Captain Dreyfus, and sympathise with the indignation felt by other nations regarding the verdict. “France is not wholly given over to fanatical Jew-baiters, idolaters of the Army, and Jesuitry,” the paper reported. The Methodist Recorder defended English Catholics and Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (the Archbishop of Westminster), noting that “the English Roman Catholics largely share the indignation of their protestant neighbours,” and that “even Cardinal Vaughan himself is on the same side.” The Methodist Recorder was probably swayed by the more positive articles in English Catholic newspapers (including the Tablet) defending Captain Dreyfus at the end of the affair (i.e. in late 1899). See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder, 14 September 1899.
Despite the comments in the Methodist Recorder defending Cardinal Vaughan, earlier articles in Cardinal Vaughan’s own newspaper, the Tablet, the semi-official newspaper of the English Catholic hierarchy, were bitterly hostile towards Captain Dreyfus, and portrayed his various defenders as part of an anti-Catholic Jewish-Masonic alliance. For example, when Captain Dreyfus was accused of treason at the end of 1894 and beginning of 1895, and sentenced to exile and imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the Tablet was very quick to believe the accusations. The episode according to the Tablet did not merely demonstrate the guilt of one man, but also revealed the so-called growing power of the Jews and Freemasons. In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus for what, in a military country like France, is one of the most heinous of crimes, is owing to the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the Tablet, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion; using their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, and the power with which these latter endow them to strike every blow that chance may afford at the Catholic faith; and they never miss a chance.” “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the reported stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand, and there is no disguise of velvet-covering to soften the grip.” The report in the Tablet concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas he “escapes with a comfortable exile, accompanied by his wife and family, and freedom to live his own life subject to the very slightest supervision.” The Tablet continued to maintain this position in 1898. The Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. “It looks,” the paper reported, “almost as if the intangibility of the Hebrew were to be elevated to the place of a new dogma of public right, as the final article of the Jacobin creed of the Revolution.” The paper argued that the Dreyfus case has become the battleground for two opposing factions. On the one side stands “the elements that represent and constitute French nationality – the old aristocracy, the army with its Catholic traditions, and the bulk of the Catholic population.” On the other side stands the “cosmopolitan forces of international journalism, Semitic finance, and infidel letters which seek to move the world by the leverage of two great powers, intellect and money.” The Tablet was again explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, and as it had before, it suggested that in certain circumstances, antisemitism was acceptable if regrettable. It stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238.
Whilst the Methodist Recorder was relatively conciliatory towards Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan and English Catholics – though on 5 October it was critical about Vaughan’s decision to defend the Catholic newspapers’ handling of the Dreyfus Affair – it did report that “the authorities of the Church in Rome, if only because of their silence, cannot be held blameless in the matter. The Pope and his Cardinals may not have had it in their power to prevent the result, but they might, at least, with their great authority, have imposed silence upon those priests in France, who, though a fanatical Press, have inflamed the popular provincial mind.” It invoked Pilate and the image of the crucifixion as an analogy to condemn those who condemned Dreyfus. It stated that the Pope and his Cardinals have “elected to play the part of Pilate and Caiaphas in another tragedy. Knowing, as they must have done in their secret hearts, that an innocent man was being martyred, they were content to let events take their course.” On 21 September, the paper applauded the pardoning of Dreyfus, noting that “no French Government would dream of pardoning an officer of the General Staff twice condemned if there were even the shadow of a doubt as to his innocence.” It again condemned “the forgers and conspirators and liars” who “go scot free, except that they are execrated not only by the world outside France, but by the best and noblest of their own countrymen.” Significantly, the paper argued against an agitation for the boycotting of the Paris Exhibition that was planned for 1900, which it regarded as unfair and unwise, as “the rotten section of the French army is not France, nor is that blind and mad section of the Roman Catholic Church of France of which ‘La Croix’ is the organ, nor yet those dregs of the French Press which stand for all that is unjust and inhuman.” English people should not hate France in general the paper concluded, but rather “honour the noble minority – if minority it still is – that has pleaded for justice to the falsely-accused.” The paper did however “confess to an intense desire to see justice avenged on the real culprits in this great drama.” See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder: 14 September 1899, 3; 21 September 1899, 3; 5 October 1899, 3.
Of the Methodist newspapers and magazines in 1899, the Methodist Times contained the most prominent anti-Catholicism in its reporting of the Dreyfus Affair. The Methodist Times argued on 21 September 1899 that the Jesuits were to blame for the Dreyfus Affair. Furthermore, whereas the Methodist Recorder mostly defended or praised English Catholics and Cardinal Archbishop Herbert Vaughan, the Methodist Times excoriated Vaughan for his attempts to deflect just criticism, and, quote, “his silence and the silence of all the English Romanist Hierarchy, when every other Christian Church is protesting against the wicked verdict of Rennes.” According to the Methodist Times, Vaughan was the “docile pupil of the French Jesuit school” (in reality, there was no connection between Cardinal Vaughan and the French Jesuits – but his newspaper the Tablet had excoriated Jews and Captain Dreyfus prior to 1899). “The Dreyfus case and the rotten condition of the French Army,” the Methodist Times argued, was “the direct result of the momentous fact that the Jesuits now dominate the French Roman Catholic Church.” The Methodist Times argued that the “great political and ecclesiastical fact of our time is that the Jesuits, after centuries of strife, have at last captured the whole machinery of the Roman Catholic Church, and are gradually crushing out of that Church all those who do not accept their views and methods.” “The more Liberal and manly American Romanism lies prostrate in the dust under the foot of Spanish Romanism,” the paper concluded. Furthermore, the Methodist Times blamed the Jesuits for events throughout Europe: “the Jesuit organisation has brought France into her present position, keeps the unity of Italy in constant peril, threatens the German Empire, will certainly destroy the unity of Austria, and, mainly through Irish agency, is always secretly seeking to undermine the unity of the British Empire.” The same issue of the Methodist Times also contained a couple of reports of Methodists delivering lectures on the Dreyfus Affair and organising protests. One Methodist minister, the Rev. D. A. De Mouilpied, delivered a lecture on France and the “Dreyfus Tragedy” at a crowded chapel in York – according to the paper, 2000 congregants assembled to hear the lecture – and the Superintendent minister organised a letter to be sent from the large congregation to Madame Dreyfus to express “profound sympathy” and “confidence in Captain Dreyfus’s innocent.” The Rev. De Mouilpied then repeated his lecture at another crowded chapel in Sheffield. According to the Methodist Times, the minister declared that the retrial was not a “miscarriage of justice, for there had been no justice”; it had simply been a “cruel and infamous farce.” See “Americanism,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 657; “York: The Dreyfus Tragedy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662; “Sheffield: The Dreyfus Infamy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662.
Unlike the Methodist Recorder, the Methodist Times called for a firm boycott of the French Exhibition, and argued that “the French people are responsible” for the Dreyfus Affair. “It is transparent nonsense,” the paper argued, “to say that we must not punish the whole nation for the sins of a handful of men, or even of the General Staff of the Army.” According to the paper, the “notorious fact” is that with the exception of a small minority, the whole nation “savagely endorses the abominable crime perpetrated by the court-martial at Rennes.” It was thus morally unacceptable, the paper argued, to go “laughing and smiling and dancing to the Exhibition,” as to do so would be to make oneself party to the “Dreyfus infamy.” Only if the French people – via their Government and Parliament – repent and repudiate the infamies committed in their name, would it be acceptable to attend the Exhibition, the paper contended. See “Notes of Current Events,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 664.
The Methodist Times also contained other reports that were critical or hostile towards Catholicism in October and November 1899. On 26 October, the paper reported and approved a letter sent by George Mivart to The Times newspaper on 17 October, which accused the Church of silently tolerating French Catholic antisemitism during the Dreyfus Affair. In November 1899, the Methodist Times contained a number of reports that the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Catholic newspapers, hated England, and were gloating over calamities faced by the British Empire. According to the paper, “the Jesuits from their standpoint are logically justified in the hatred with which they regard us. Their sentiments are exemplified in the Dreyfus infamy. The British Empire stands for civil and religious freedom, the rights of conscience and the vindication of truth. … the official hierarchy of the Papacy is, and always has been, the deadliest enemy of human freedom and of the rights of man.” According to the paper, the Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Jesuits, are hoping for or planning the downfall of the British Empire. See “Mr. St. George Mivart and the Pope,” Methodist Times, 26 October 1899, 737; “The Pope and the Jesuits Rejoice,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Jesuits’ Position Logical,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “Roman Catholicism Losing Ground,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Papal Hatred of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796; “The Jesuit Invasion of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796.
Nineteenth-century English anti-Catholicism probably influenced the reporting in some of these Methodist newspapers as much as any sympathy for Jews and Captain Dreyfus. For those with an anti-Catholic axe to grind, such as the Methodist Times, the Dreyfus Affair was a gift, as many Catholic newspapers, especially the French Catholic newspaper La Croix and the Rome based Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, but also the English Catholic Tablet, were acerbically anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic during (and before) the Diana Vaughan Hoax (1894-1897) and the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1899). Anti-Catholicism in various forms has been a prominent feature of post-reformation British culture and society. According to Bernard Glassman’s study of “protean prejudice,” during the eighteenth century, “Catholics were, by far, the most despised and feared minority group in England. … If, through the years, they had been guilty of portraying the Jew as the nefarious ‘other’ who proved the superiority of Christianity by his sinister behaviour, they, in turn, were viewed in the same way by the Protestant majority.” Though the early Methodists were sometimes “accused of being ‘Papists in disguise’ or ‘Popishly inclined’”, Methodist publications during the late-eighteenth century, and throughout much of the nineteenth century, were disseminators of anti-Catholic narratives. See Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 35-36, 44.
The Masonic and Orange Orders: Fraternal Twins or Public Misperception? (Guest Blog Post)
Guest blog post by Kenneth C. Jack. The following is an abridged version of an article which appeared in issue 39 of The Ashlar (posted with permission by Kenneth C. Jack).
Kenneth Jack resides in Perthshire, Scotland. He is active in a number of Masonic Orders, chairing a couple of them. He also enjoys writing on various aspects of the ‘Craft’, and has been published in a range of Masonic periodicals throughout the world, including: The Ashlar; The Square; Philalethes Journal; Scottish Rite Journal; and Masonic Magazine (now defunct ). He has also had non-Masonic essays published in history periodicals in the USA, including: The California Territorial Quarterly.
“Who’s the Mason in the Black?” shout the supporters of any football side (or soccer side for American readers) when the match referee awards what in their minds is a dubious decision in favour of the Scottish football club Glasgow Rangers.
Why “Mason in the Black?” Well apart from the fact referees used to invariably dress in black, there is a feeling abroad amongst supporters of other football clubs, that most football referees in Scotland are Freemasons; and as such, must naturally favour Glasgow Rangers because both are often perceived to be staunchly Protestant in their affiliations.
Glasgow Rangers are currently striving to fend off the suggestion which has been tabloid currency for many years, that they are a pro-Protestant, Anti-Catholic club, who are bigoted and discriminatory towards persons who practice Roman Catholicism. Rangers have not hidden their firm Protestant Unionist credentials from the public for a lengthy period, since their birth as a football club in 1872. The team traditionally play in the red, white, and blue colours of the Union flag, and an anti-Catholic bias has had the tacit – if not overt approval of those associated with the club for many years.
In 1912, Glasgow Merchant Sir John Ure Primrose became Chairman of the club. He was a fervent Unionist, staunchly anti-Catholic, and publicly allied Rangers to the Masonic cause. He also saw his clubs rivalry with Celtic as a money-making enterprise, and sectarianism catered to a large niche market.
Efforts to curb sectarian chanting by their supporters, is something Rangers FC has only recently addressed, their minds increasingly focused on the problem, due to pressure brought to bear by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in the latter’s crackdown on Sectarianism in Football.
Rangers great and bitter rivals are of course Glasgow Celtic Football Club which has a strong Irish Republican, Roman Catholic tradition, stemming from the fact the club was formed by Irish Marist Priest, Brother Walfrid (Andrew Kearns) in 1888, and for whom a statue now stands proudly outside Celtic Park. The supporters of Celtic FC proudly emphasise their tradition by singing Irish songs and waving the Irish tricolour at matches. Notwithstanding, Celtic Football Club seemed to have more of a pro-Catholic bias as opposed to an anti-Protestant one, as evidenced by the number of Protestants who have played for them over the years; and of course, their most famous and successful Manager was the great Jock Stein, who was a Protestant and Freemason. In fairness, it also has to be said that Rangers have publicly employed Roman Catholic players and staff in recent years.
Nevertheless, both sides have had sectarian elements attached to them throughout their history, some of whom not only sing the praises of paramilitary organisations which existed during the political troubles in Northern Ireland, but have been members of these organisations, or have supported them financially. Rangers supporters not only sang the praises of King William of Orange and his famous defeat of Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, but also did the same for the various paramilitary Loyalist groups in Northern Ireland. At the same time, Celtic supporters did likewise in their ballads praising the Pope and extolling the dubious virtues of Republican paramilitaries.
So, where does Freemasonry come into this? Well, the fact is it does not, or should not. In order to become a Freemason, a candidate needs to profess a belief in a supreme being. He has to be at least 21 years of age, free, and of good character. On that basis, good men of any religion can become Freemasons – and do. There are Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu Freemasons who all meet harmoniously within a Masonic Lodge. The chant “Who’s the Mason in the Black”? is therefore a misnomer, and leads to confusion for members of the public. But why is it that the public believe Freemasonry to be an exclusively Protestant organisation, with a bias against Roman Catholics? It is very simply because in the mind of many of them, Freemasonry is synonymous with Orangeism.
Many people believe Orangeism to be a shady, invidious ideal. The Orange Order is an unashamedly sectarian organisation; only Protestants can join the Order, and the main aim of the Order is to defend Protestantism as the dominant religion of their country. They swear to defend the faith, particularly against Papal encroachment, which they deem contrary to their core beliefs. Moreover, there has always been juxtaposition between some members of the Orange Order and Loyalist paramilitary groups.
Notwithstanding, the Orange Order is a lawful organisation, and the leaders of it point to the fact they are not anti-Catholic, but pro-Protestant; and that their beef, if they have one, is not with Roman Catholics as individuals, but the Papal Hierarchy; both in the way they choose to practice the worship of God, and their social and political ambitions.
But this does not explain why the public believe that Freemasons and Orangemen are cut from the same cloth. Although Freemasonry and Orangeism are two totally distinct Orders, that are not in amity or affiliated in any way, they do share a common history; and it is known that many men simultaneously enjoy membership of both organisations. The Orange Order came into existence in Northern Ireland in 1795; it is not the purpose of this paper to discuss the long and bloody history of Ireland and only a brief synopsis is required here concerning the origins of the Order.
In the 17th and 18th Century in Ireland, there were many local conflicts between Catholics and Protestants concerning the ownership of land, which occasionally boiled over into violence. This led to the formation of a number of secret agrarian groups. The Protestants formed the ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ and the Catholics the ‘Defenders’. In a place called ‘Diamond’ in Loughall, there was situated an Inn, owned by a Dan Winter; which was used as a meeting place for the local ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’. The Inn was attacked by a group of ‘Defenders’ and the Inn burnt to the ground. Winter was a Freemason – as were a number of his associates, including James Wilson and James Sloan; with Wilson regarded as a particularly ardent member of the Craft. Following a previous conflict at Benburb in 1794, Wilson had approached his local Masonic lodge seeking assistance in combating such attacks. However, the plea fell on deaf ears, which given the well established non-sectarian and non-political principles of Freemasonry, could not have been an entirely surprising response. An angry Wilson withdrew from his local lodge and undertook to “light a star in the Dyan which would eclipse them [Freemasons] forever.”
In the wake of the Battle of the Diamond – which in reality was a fifteen minute skirmish – Wilson, Winter, and Sloan resorted to form another society of men; this one exclusively for Protestants, who would be prepared to defend Protestant families from attack and persecution by the Roman Catholic ‘Defenders’. This new organisation was called the Orange Society in fond memory of the Protestant King William of Orange; and because the men who created it were well-informed and active Freemasons, the organisation was formed into Lodges on the Masonic model, with a neo-Masonic degree system which included: modes of recognition; pass grips; and words.
William of Orange
In years to come the Orange Order would add a number of other neo-Masonic Orders including the Royal Arch Purple and the Royal Black Institution, which were clearly modelled on the Masonic Royal Arch, and Order of the Temple. These additional Orders were seen by some Orangemen as ‘elitist’ and a blatant attempt to make the Orange Order more Masonic-like, and were resisted by them for many years. They are now considered to be part of mainstream Orangeism. This writer recalls the first time he saw a ‘Black Walk’ on television; he was well aware of ‘Orange Walks’ of course, but was surprised to see that on this occasion, in addition to the standard bowler hat, the ‘Blacks’ were wearing Masonic style aprons adorned with Square and Compass jewels.
So, it appears that the fundamental difference between members of these Orders is, that a Freemason professes belief in an all-encompassing God; whereas, an Orangeman professes belief in a Protestant God and a Protestant God only. But, is there any reason to believe that Freemasonry over the years has been distinctly Protestant in character, such that it is not just the historical link and cosmetic likeness to Orangeism that leads people to believe this of it? Certainly, a number of authors over the years have pointedly referred to Masonic Lodges as “Protestant Sects” or an organisation for “middle class Protestants.” (For more on this, see Kenneth Jack, “Freemasonry, Social Cohesion and Social Progress in 19th and 20th Century California,” Masonic Magazine, issue 6, Winter 2006. In this article, Kenneth Jack quotes a number of writers who equate Freemasonry with Protestantism).
As Freemasons often suggest, perhaps the boot is on the other foot. There have been several Papal Bulls (Edicts) issued by Popes over the years in which the Church of Rome makes clear its opposition to Freemasonry and cautions their flock from joining so-called oath bound secret societies; which are not expressly their own oath bound secret societies! Masonic scholar Jessica Harland-Jacobs makes this point when discussing the situation in Ireland during the early 19th century: “The hostile attitude of the Catholic Church – which was so obviously out of the control of Masonic authorities – contributed to Masonry’s increasingly Protestant character.” She continues: “The priests actions against Freemasons were not the sole reason for Catholics’ departure from the [Masonic] fraternity. Sometimes lodges with predominantly Protestant memberships either forced Catholic members out or prevented Catholics from joining in the first place. For example, during the 1820s Lodge No. 424, in County Antrim, instituted a rule requiring members and candidates to swear they had never “professed the Roman Catholic religion.” See Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs, Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 153-156.
It was for these reasons, that an impression gained ground both in Ireland and further afield, that Freemasonry and Orangeism were indistinguishable – and distinctly Protestant in character.