A century after Galileo’s death in 1642, Italian Freemasons unearthed his skeleton. They then extracted 3 digits, a molar and a vertebra before reburying his remains in the cemetery of a Catholic Church. This bizarre Masonic ritual was the equivalent of bestowing secular sainthood on Galileo. Early in the 21st century, a museum of science in Florence named after Galileo proudly displays his relics.
Why did Freemasons bestow sainthood upon Galileo? To answer this question, this article explores first the social evolution and nature of Freemasonry and second its relationship to the Catholic Church.
Due to its roots in international construction, Freemasonry tended to be religiously tolerant and its morality was based in reason, rather than authority. These tendencies were attractive to both the business community and to the educated, which included the scientific community. These characteristics were equally repulsive to the Old Guard, i.e. the Catholic Church and the Royalty, as it undermined their traditional prerogatives. This opposition in intentions ultimately resulted in a conflict between the Papacy and the Freemasons.
The Catholic Freemasons from Florence, who tended to be humanists, were also in conflict with the Papacy. They probably conferred secular sainthood upon Galileo as a way of honoring someone who both epitomized and fought for their ideals, i.e. Reason over Authority. The secular beatification of Galileo, whom the Church had condemned as a heretic, was also a way of thumbing their nose at Papal authority based in Rome.
Rather than atheists, the Freemasons were theists and Galileo was a Catholic. As his body is buried at a Catholic Church known for reconciling secular humanism with religion and his relics displayed at a science museum, Galileo’s remains stand as a testament to the harmony, rather than the battle, between Religion and Science.
Florence’s history of science museum was recently renovated and renamed to honor Galileo. Prominently displayed are three of his digits and a gnarly molar. Housed in glass domes, they greet the visitor upon entering the building.1
His middle finger had already been on display. It was a significant part of the collection of Galileo memorabilia that inspired the formation of the museum. His vertebra is housed at the University of Padua, which is renowned for medical research. But the other relics had been missing since 1905. They were recovered in October 2009 at an auction of reliquaries in Florence.
Alberto Bruschi, a Florence collector, came upon the remains seemingly by accident. His daughter, who collected reliquaries, asked him to buy this particular one at an auction. She happened to be writing a paper on Galileo and happened to notice that the figure on top of the reliquary looked like him. They took it to experts who confirmed that they were Galileo’s missing relics.
Mr. Bruschi does not consider this a random event, but instead believes that providence assisted his unusual find. ”More than by chance, things are also helped along a bit by the souls of the dead.”
Galileo’s finger bones and molar displayed at a prestigious science museum in Florence? What is this all about?
Paolo Galuzzi, director of the Galileo Museum: “He’s a secular saint, and relics are an important symbol of his fight for freedom of thought.”2
Secular saint? Relics? Unusual constructs for those of us in the Western Hemisphere. What does this even mean? To shed some light on these questions, let us start with a brief history of Galileo’s finger bones.
The controversy surrounding Galileo did not end with his death in 1642. Due to his conviction as a heretic, the Church refused to give him a proper Catholic burial. However, his wealthy and prominent followers, including the grand dukes of Tuscany, pushed to give his remains a suitable resting place. Nearly a century later in 1737, “members of Florence’s cultural and scientific elite unearthed the scientist’s remains in a peculiar Masonic rite.”3
A notary, who was present, dutifully recorded the events. Giovanni Tozzeti, historian and naturalist, used a knife to cut off some of Galileo’s body parts. These included a molar, a vertebra, a thumb, digit and middle finger.
After obtaining these macabre souvenirs, Galileo’s remains were then placed in an elegant marble tomb in Florence’s Santa Croce church. The church has long been a shrine to humanism as much as to religion. Galileo’s permanent neighbors include Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini. This symbolic gesture from the powerful Tuscan Freemasons indicated that they were outside the Vatican’s jurisdiction.
The museum’s director says that the Masonic procedure was “symmetrical to beatification”. In other words, the ritual collection of body parts was equivalent to imparting sainthood. Although Freemasons don’t believe in Catholic saints, this rite communicated to the Catholic culture, especially Italian, that Galileo had the status of a Catholic saint. However rather than religious, he could be considered a secular saint of Freemasonry.
Why did the Italian freemasons treat Galileo as a saint? Could it have been mere reverence for a historical figure? Or instead might it have been that he was an elite member of their group?
If so, Galileo was not alone amongst his contemporaries, just more outspoken than most. Many writers have provided circumstantial evidence, e.g. symbolic hand positions and social associations, indicating that many scientists, philosophers, and politicians belonged to the freemasons. These included Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler and even Newton.
This mini-narrative evokes many questions. What is freemasonry? What is its relationship to the Catholic Church? Why was freemasonry a good fit for the scientific mentality?
To provide context and pose some answers to these questions, let us examine the history of freemasonry.
Freemasonry had three stages. There are no historical records for the first stage. As such, most theories are based upon institutions that were established long after the proto-beginnings. This ambiguity enables the masons to claim that their origins began in ancient Egypt building pyramids for the Pharaohs.
While an Egyptian origination may or may not be true, it is generally accepted that freemasonry derived from European craft guilds. Craft guilds emerged and gradually became more formalized late in the first millennium of the Common Era. The guilds probably arose to both ensure the quality of the craft and protect craftspeople from competition, both internal and external.
To ensure quality, they established three levels: novice, journeyman, and master. Each level had clearly defined duties and relationships with each other. The master produced the craft and provided the training. The journeyman helped out with the goal of becoming a master. The novice did the menial work, with the hope of becoming a journeyman. Craft production and education were intermingled and ongoing.
There were many types of guilds, e.g. shoemakers, dressmakers, weavers and stonemasons. Most of the guilds were local, in the sense that they only existed at a single municipality or community. Anyone who wanted to make dresses had to enter the dressmaking guild, etc. Plus consumers generally purchased locally made crafts from the in-house master. Freelance artists that operated independently of a particular guild were rare.
The localized nature of the craft guilds worked well with shoemakers and hat makers. However with the stonemasons, it was another story. There were many local needs for stonemasons, e.g. bridges, walls and smaller structures. However, when it came time to build an elaborate church or especially a cathedral, the local supply and experience of stonemasons was insufficient for the task. Instead, it was necessary to import specialists in, for instance, cathedral building from outside the area.
As the so-called Dark Ages turned into the Middle Ages, communities competed against each other to erect the most glorious church or cathedral to commemorate their faith. This generated an increasing demand for elaborate religious edifices. It was at this time that the construction workers, e.g. stonemasons et al, required to construct these magnificent structures became international.
No longer were these masters of construction tied to a single municipality, as were the other trades, e.g. hat makers. Instead the best of these craftsmen traveled to where the work was. Southeast Asia had a similar phenomenon when building their monuments. Sculptors et al traveled from country to country to construct Borobudur in Java or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In like fashion, a similar work force was engaged throughout Europe to build their religious structures.
Some of the workers were conscripted, while others sold their services as free men. These were the freemasons. In other words, the aristocracy, e.g. dukes and princes, did not own them, as they did much of the working class. Rather than tied to their land and lord, they were free to go where they wished. Instead of being provided with food and a dwelling place as if they were livestock, they were paid wages for their services. The sense that they were free and paid for services provided this special community with an identity all of its own.
These traveling craftsmen were bonded as a group in other ways as well. They cooperated to create a collective artistic project. They frequently traveled together. As transients to the area, they lived together in a lodge. The lodge was employed as a workshop, a resting place, and a spot where they could discuss private business, e.g. craft issues and perhaps politics. As the structure was for the exclusive use of the freemason community, i.e. the workers, a sense of secrecy was associated with the lodge. “What we say in the lodge remains in the lodge.”
There was another major difference between the freemasons and the other guilds. Because these freemasons traveled from town to town and country to country to exercise their craft, they were exposed to many different types of local customs and religious expression. Due to this cultural diversity, they had to learn to be tolerant of local customs and religious practices in order to better cooperate with the locals to get the job done.
With the passage of time, the guilds and freemasons diverged sufficiently to create a unique sense of identity for each group. The guilds were local and provincial in attitude. Further their craft tended to be more individual and produced more rapidly. For instance, the shoemaker produced his shoes without the need for a large body of workers. Further he delivered his shoes in a relatively short period of time, probably measured in weeks and months, only infrequently seasons.
In contrast, the freemasons were international and more cosmopolitan in attitude. Plus, multiple different types workers cooperated over long periods of time to create a finished product. For instance, building even a small church, much less a cathedral, requires cooperation from a diverse set of workers. Plus the length of these cooperative construction projects could be measured in years, decades or even centuries, rather than weeks and days.
Eventually a set of manuals emerged to address issues that were specific to the freemasonry community. They are called The Old Charges or alternately Constitutions of Masonry. There are over 100 extant versions. These are the earliest historical documents that firmly establish the existence of Freemasonry as a distinct organization. Scholars, however, suspect that these manuscripts formalize history, rules, regulations, and guidelines that could have existed for centuries.
The earliest version, the Regius MS, was written in verse about 1390. The next extant version, the Cooke MS, was written in prose circa 1400 or 1410. As an indication of the continuing significance of this book to the masons, various versions of the Old Charges continued to be read in lodges throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Although not identical, each version has the same basic structure. Each provides a similar common history; delineates the relationships between different classes of workers, and provides a code of behavior. Further they all stress secrecy.
The legendary history has some common elements. Even the earliest versions of the Old Charges express a reverence for the seven ‘sciences’, which include music, astronomy, rhetoric, and arithmetic. But they attribute a special significance to Euclid and his geometry, which is associated with Egypt. Later versions include the Egyptian pyramids and the Tower of Babylon as significant features of their origination myths.
As evidence for their mythical history, they point to unmistakable representations of the symbolic mason’s apron on the pyramid walls. Lodge members continued to wear this distinctive garb as a sign of membership well into the twentieth century. In addition to the ‘apron’, the masons had and have many ‘words’, hand positions, rings and symbols that were secret ways of identifying initiates.
After affirming the ancient origination, the Old Charges typically deals with the relationships between the different classes of the work force. Just like the guilds, there were masters, journeymen and apprentices. The general roles of the three classes are clearly delineated, e.g. what it is to be a teacher and a student.
The document stresses cooperation and working together towards a common goal. The master must treat their workers fairly. For instance, they must pay workers what they deserve, i.e. a living wage. In turn, the workers must earn their pay. Further, the ancient manual recommends constructive criticism as the best method for encouraging cooperation and production from the workforce. The general sentiment seems to be: Work together for the common good.
The Old Charges also address social and community obligations. The members must attend the general assembly. Participating in this collective experience presumably expressed solidarity and further bonded this special group as a unit.
Because the group traveled from place to place, they were exposed to differing customs. They were advised to attend the local church services, but to keep their beliefs to themselves. In other words, they were to respect local traditions rather than challenging or proselytizing the citizenry. We can imagine that the correct deportment in church was essential to good community relationships. In this way, business was separated from religious beliefs.
In medieval times, freemasons were instructed to attend Catholic services. After the Protestant Reformation, they were told to participate in the state church, whether English Anglican, German Lutheran, or Italian Catholic. This religious flexibility naturally and gradually evolved into religious tolerance. That brings us to the next stage of freemasonry.
Before the 18th century, the freemasons were involved in actual construction. They were the traveling craftsmen, whether painters, sculptors or stone masons, who were required on any elaborate building project. The members were real masons, who actually worked in the construction trade. Historians refer to this stage of freemasonry as ‘operative masonry’ to differentiate it from what came next.
During and after the 18th century, ‘operative masonry’ transitioned into ‘speculative masonry’. Rather than a trade guild, it became a fraternal society with a secret mystical tradition, hence the ‘speculative’ descriptor. Rather than workers, the members were wealthy gentlemen of power – the influential citizens of the community – the cultural elite.
How did this unlikely transition occur? Many lodges at this time began quietly opening their doors to local aristocrats and men of influence. By 1700, it is estimated that 70% of the members of the Freemasonry lodges in England were involved in professions other than construction. In 1717, representatives from 4 lodges met to form a new Grand Lodge, which some called ‘The Mother Grand Lodge of the World’. It was at this meeting that they officially dropped the guild aspect of Freemasonry (‘operative masonry’) and replaced it with a type of Freemasonry that was strictly mystical and fraternal (‘speculative masonry’).4
The titles, tools and products of the mason’s trade gradually became transformed from operative features of the job to become mystical and fraternal symbols. While based in operative masonry, it is quite evident that the emergent speculative masonry borrowed many symbolic elements from other secret societies of the time, e.g. the Rosicrucian society. Due the secrecy surrounding these organizations, the exact nature of the symbolic transition is shrouded in mystery.
The earlier history of operative freemasonry is quite transparent, even though the lodges were secretive. However from the time that Freemasonry became a symbolic brotherhood of the elite, the history has been murky, clouded and perhaps deliberately distorted. Even unto current times, the traditional account of freemasonry has been incredibly misleading at best.
Let’s look at some concrete examples. The intriguing activities of the lodge members combined with the potential for brotherhood was certainly a factor in the growing popularity of freemasonry in the 18th century. In addition, many lodge meetings were held in taverns where robust drinking was a featured attraction. Finally, there was also a spiritual component. From this, the lodges can be viewed as spiritual drinking clubs for the elite that contain mysterious and literally colorful rites and symbols. Confirming this perspective, political talk was supposedly forbidden at the lodges.
The global brotherhood of sports enthusiasts provides a modern example of this type of community. Heavy drinking; group bonding over a common pastime; potential for community; and non-political. Further those that are mesmerized by the sporting world distinctly discourage any political talk on game day, while they enthusiastically spout their attitudes about any topic relating to sports. The parallels seem striking.
However, freemasons of the 18th century onwards were much more than a group of drinking buddies with peculiar rites and symbols. The lodges also had a mysterious political component that is underplayed, hardly mentioned or strangely missing. Although direct evidence is lacking due to Masonic secrecy, the circumstantial evidence for this position is quite compelling.
If it was just a non-political drinking club, why did the Communist countries and Nazi Germany forbid freemasonry? Why did two Popes ban Freemasonry in 1700s on separate occasions? Why were most of the leaders of the non-Catholic countries freemasons?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on Freemasonry:
“In Great Britain, the commonwealth countries, Scandinavia, the United States and other nations with similar institutions, heads of governments, dignitaries and distinguished citizens are Freemasons.”5
Why was it that many princes from England, Sweden and Denmark were Grandmasters in the Freemason organization before becoming Kings of their respective countries? Why were many, if not most, American presidents freemasons through the mid 20th century?
Why were the ‘Who’s who?’ of the American Revolution all Freemasons? These include Ben Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, George Madison, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, and many more. Several of these were Grand Masters, e.g. Franklin at the age of 28,Washington and Paul Revere.6
Freemasonry also supplied the most significant foreign military leaders that participated in the Revolutionary cause: Lafayette from France, and Baron von Steuben from Germany. In his farewell speech to his Lodge before returning to homeland, Lafayette states that Washington didn’t trust him in a leadership position in the military until he became an American freemason7. Why? What is this all about?
If Freemasonry was merely a non-political gentlemen’s organization, why do letters and newspaper articles from the 1760s indicate that the American freemasons were heavily involved in agitating for freedom from England at least a decade before the Revolutionary War began? There is even evidence that the Boston Lodge organized and were active participants in the Boston Tea Party.
It is easy to imagine that many topics, including politics, were discussed behind the closed doors of the Lodge. It is also probable that the participants would develop long-term friendships, those whom they could count on in time of need, whether economic, political or military. Under these secretive circumstances, it is hard to believe that they weren’t hatching plots to further their collective interests. While the Master ‘Mother’ Lodge in England discouraged political talk, would the influential men of power that belonged to the French, German, Italian and American lodges really follow these strictures?
Many books and articles argue that a ‘grand master’ strategy issued from a centralized source that was blindly obeyed by the members. This seems doubtful when we consider the obstinate, individualistic and nationalistic nature of humanity. However, I think we can safely assume that the mysterious, but supposedly benign, lodges of freemasonry frequently had a political agenda, whether general or specific, that wasn’t so innocent.
Specific issues probably had a local character that was primarily relevant to individual communities. Yet there must have been something about the general nature and agenda of the organization that led the Communist countries, Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church to ban freemasonry. If it were merely a fraternal drinking group akin to sports, freemasonry would pose no threat. Why were the Lodges so repugnant to these political groups that they forbade the members from assembling in their lodges?
To suggest some answers to this question, let us return to the nature of the 18th century lodges. While the constituency of Lodge membership changed radically, i.e. from construction workers to influential men, speculative masonry retained many of the basic principles of operative masonry. Let’s review these features and see how they evolved.
Due to their international nature, i.e. traveling from country to country for work, the freemasons tended to be tolerant of both religious and cultural differences. The members were instructed to go to the local church but to keep quiet about their personal beliefs. Exclusively Catholic in Medieval times, freemasonry was gradually opened to Protestants after the Reformation.
Between 1730-1740, following its dramatic transition from operative to speculative, freemasonry was opened to individuals of any religious persuasion. In other words, the modern Freemasons began to welcome any man of power into their fraternal organization, well almost anyone, as we shall see. This tolerance must certainly have contributed to their widespread popularity.
In 1734, Reverend Anderson published his Constitution of Masonry. The book was a deliberate modernization and consolidation of the Old Charges. It enjoyed a widespread circulation in both the colonies and England. The following quotation from the book is an indication or their attitude towards morality and religious tolerance.
“A Mason is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the Moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine … ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them [masons] to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d.”8
Masons could remain in the religion of their choice. Yet it was important to hold their particular opinions to themselves.9 Personal beliefs were secondary to just getting along. The quotation also reveals that Lodge membership is only for theists, i.e. those that believe in some kind of higher power. Conversely membership was denied to non-believers of any persuasion.10
“Freemasonry was not specifically deist, but it was, and thereafter remained, open to men of differing religions, including Jews after 1723. Atheists and agnostics [libertines] were barred.”11
This position was a radical change from anything in the Christian era. Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims were regularly at war with each other over which was the true religion. Unless they converted, Jews were frequently subject to pogroms or expulsion. An individual’s very identity was tied to his religion. Identifying the religion of a person or group was very important, as it would determine whether they were included, excluded, or exterminated.
The inclusive nature of Freemasonry was very business-like. Traders are very different from soldiers or priests, as they just want to exchange goods and services. Generally speaking, an individual’s religious preferences are secondary to one’s business practices. Negotiating trade in a just and civilized fashion is far more important than one’s personal beliefs. It is easy to see how the cultural tolerance of international construction workers could translate into the religious tolerance of business leaders. Conflicts over religion would get in the way of both project completion and profits.
Deism could have easily emerged from this tolerant mindset. While believing in God, Deists are non-sectarian. They don’t necessarily identify with any particular religion. This neutral, non-dogmatic religious position could certainly be very appealing to businessmen, philosophers and scientists. Indeed in the 18th century, when speculative Freemasonry became an international craze among the elite, Deism also became the dominant belief system among the educated.
The inclusive nature of Freemasonry would certainly not be attractive to religious and political leaders who believed that they belonged to the one true religion or political system. It is certainly easy to see why Freemasonry would be repugnant to these groups. The Papacy with their Inquisitors was and is firmly committed to the idea that the Catholic Church is the only true religion. The Communist countries are against all religions, as the opiate of the people. Nazi Germany, the antithesis of tolerance, attempted to exterminate what they considered to be subhuman cultures and religious groups. Cultural and religious tolerance is one reason that the aforementioned groups might have banned Freemasonry.
A second reason for the conflict between Freemasonry and the Catholic Church is morality. The Anderson Constitution states: ‘A Mason is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the Moral law.’ What is this Moral law based upon?
Masonic Constitutions don’t quote the Bible, cite the Ten Commandments, or refer to priestly authority. Instead the Masons are simply instructed to be ‘good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty’. Honor and honesty are certainly important qualities in business, whether construction or trade. Again religious authority and scripture are secondary to simply being a good person, in this case treating others with respect and tolerating diversity.
The fact that they trace their origins to pre-Biblical times is another way they distance themselves from religious dogma. Instead they align with the stonemasons, whose simple purpose is to get the job done. Morality is a common sense affair. What characteristics maximize the potentials of completing a task, whether small or large? Benevolence, cooperation, fairness and tolerance are all important traits in both completing a construction project and conducting trade, whether local or international. Belief is secondary.
Rather than scripture or religious authority, the Masons understood that Moral Law was based upon reason or common sense. Again this mindset was a radical break from what went before. For the Communist nations, Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, morality was based upon a centralized authority, rather than common sense. It is no wonder that these groups banned the practice of Freemasonry, as it undermined their authority.
In addition to undermining the power of the Catholic Church, the rise of this business-oriented morality also eroded the traditional authority of the hereditary-based military aristocracy that had ruled Europe for centuries. Freemasonry was open to all men of power, not just those with royal blood. Among its members were wealthy businessmen, which included Jews. The inclusive nature of the Lodge undercut the importance of gene pool that had been the dominant criterion for leadership for centuries, if not a millennium. It could even be argued that the rapid rise of Freemasonry coincided with the rise of the business class as a political power.
For similar reasons to the business community, many forward-looking philosophers and scientists, e.g. Voltaire, were also attracted to Freemasonry. Rather than secret agendas, it was simply because the educated had begun elevating reason above authority as an evaluation criterion. The Freemasons rejected blind obedience to authority, whether religious or political, and instead embraced a rational approach to morality. In similar fashion, scholars, including the scientific community, began challenging traditional Greek and Roman authorities, e.g. Ptolemy and Aristotle, and embracing a systematically rational approach to observations, experimentation, and conclusions concerning our material world.
It was in this context that Galileo, Kepler and Newton could easily have become Freemasons. It was also in this context that the scientific mentality began aligning itself with the Freemasons against Church authority. Due to this alliance, scientists and their theories, including heliocentrism, became symbols of a social revolution that intended to overthrow the political power of the Papacy. If Galileo was suspected of ties with Freemasonry, then the Church would perceive his radical ideas as a political, rather than religious, threat to the Church’s authority.
Religious tolerance and a common sense morality certainly undermine the absolute obedience required in authoritarian societies. These Masonic features are fairly innocent – inadvertently, rather than deliberately, objectionable. Yet there is a third feature of Freemasonry that is entirely political.
It certainly seems plausible that the operative freemasons just went about their business, attempting to get along with the Establishment. However after powerful members of the community began to join in the 18th century, this cooperative attitude changed in a big way. What happened?
It could easily be argued that Freemasonry emerged as a way of incorporating the newly arising business class into the power structure. In the preceding centuries, the business class was distinctly lower in the social hierarchy than both the aristocracy and the priesthood. The landowning aristocrats disdained work and trade as a lower class affair and the clergy was supposedly closer to God than the rest. However in the 17th and 18th centuries, the social boundaries became increasingly blurred. This was due in part to the growing influence of international trade and the fabulous wealth that accrued to investors.
The members of the wealthy business class gradually began challenging the status quo, i.e. the prerogatives and authority of the hereditary aristocracy and the Church. Initially the challenges were indirect. Members of the business class simply married into an aristocratic family. However, it became increasingly apparent that the old social structure was blocking, or at least inhibiting, the growth potentials of this new mindset. Freemasonry could very well have been the vehicle by which the business class was able to organize a direct challenge. The agenda was simple, yet revolutionary: replacing the old order with new and more appropriate institutions. Possibly discouraged by Church and Aristocracy getting in the way of Trade and Profit, Freemasonry developed a somewhat secret agenda, simply put: Creating a New World Order.
There is an abundance of evidence for this position. Two classic novels, i.e. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, develop this feature of Freemasonry. Both devote many pages to developing the notion that Freemasonry has a secret mission to undermine the current Establishment and replace it with one that is based upon Reason and Science rather than Superstition, Nationalism and Religious Dogma.
In Tolstoy’s classic, the hero goes through elaborate rites to join a Russian lodge. He is eventually informed that Freemasonry is considers its organization and agenda above that of individual nations, i.e. its agenda is transnational. This indicates the international nature of the group and is also suggestive of the joint trade stock companies, i.e. international corporations, that were to eventually rule the world. It is easy to imagine that the leaders of industry became friends, made alliances, and formed secret pacts while participating in this global brotherhood of powerful men.
As evidence for its connection with international business, the Rothschilds, the famous and influential Jewish banking family, were intimately connected with German Freemasonry11a. Mayer Amschel, the patriarch of the family, frequently visited the lodges in the 18th century with his patron, Prince William IX. By 1811, the Rothschilds, including his son, Solomon, head of the Vienna bank, were one of the rich and powerful Frankfurt families, Rothschild, appearing on the Freemasonry membership lists11b. Hitler was referring to the House of Rothschild, which owned banks in four different countries, when he warned against an international Jewish banking conspiracy. Rather than targeting the Jews, Hitler could just as easily focused his conspiracy polemics upon the Freemasons, which he also banned.
It is telling that Tolstoy’s hero eventually leaves the lodge. He complains about the commitment and motivations of the members. Freemasonry was subject to human corruption just like any other institution. Despite the high ideals of any organization, there are always some, if not many, humans that will attempt to take advantage of the rules to further their personal agenda. This process seems to hold true whether the establishment is based in Religion, Science, or Politics.
Democracy was a great fit for the emerging business mentality of Freemasonry. In this new political order, elections, where majority rules, would determine laws and leadership, rather than hereditary rulers and religious authority. The idealistic hope was that the electorate would have a greater tendency to be swayed by Reason than Authority. More pragmatically, the business class probably felt that they could sway the opinions of the masses more easily than kings and Popes. In this context, it is reasonable to imagine that the Freemasons were attempting to replace the old world order, where kingdoms were ruled by Church and Royal gene pools, with a new world order, where nations were ruled by Democracies and Business.
United States history certainly provides evidence for this position. Many scholars believe that the US was founded at least in part on the principles of Freemasonry. For instance, America, like the Lodges, was open to people of all religions. Further the political system was based in rule by law rather than by royal decree, church authority and Papal bulls.
Recall that many, if not most, of the influential men in American history were Freemasons. This included most of the founding fathers of the US, e.g. Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, and many American presidents, e.g. Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Also a Freemason, George Mason12 was instrumental in pushing through the Bill of Rights. Religious tolerance and personal rights based simply upon reason, rather than authority, are certainly an integral part of this document.
America’s Great Seal reflects Masonic themes. As an indication of its symbolic significance, both sides are shown on the one-dollar bill. On the left, the Christian/Masonic symbol representing the all-seeing Eye of Providence floats above 13 levels of stonemasonry that appear as an unfinished pyramid. Hmmm? Stonemasonry and pyramids – very suggestive.
Above the Eye is the Latin inscription ‘Annuit Coeptis’, roughly translated as ‘[Providence] favors our undertakings’. Below the pyramid is the Latin phrase ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’, roughly translated as ‘new order of the ages’. Rather than Christian sources, both phrases can be traced back to Virgil, a Roman poet and pagan. As a whole, the symbol could be taken to mean that ‘Providence favors our undertaking: establishing a new order of the ages.’ I think it safe to assume that this ‘new order of the ages’ on America’s Great Seal refers to the US democracy with its constitution and bill of rights.
Scholars point to evidence illustrating that the Masonic political agenda led to conflicts between the Catholic Jesuits and the Freemasons from about the 17th century onward. The intent of the Jesuits was to maintain and further the absolute power and moral authority of the Pope and the Church, while the Freemasons attempted to establish governments that favored the morality of business. It could be argued that the formation of the US democracy in 1776 was a major triumph for Freemasonry as it represented a ‘new order of the ages’. The eventual establishment of democratic governments throughout the world cemented the victory. Religious tolerance and rule by law has gradually replaced traditional authority and arbitrary royal decrees throughout the world. The US democracy was the beginning.
After the American Revolution, Freemasonry was instrumental in revolts against the Old Order throughout the world. According to Collier’s Encyclopedia, the group “played an important role in the spread of liberalism and the organization of political revolution in Latin America.”12a For instance, Simon Bolivar, the famous South American revolutionary who led the breakaway from Spain, was a Freemason. The fraternal organization also acted to catalyze change in Europe. The Duke of Orleans, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, was the Grand Master of Freemasonry in France. Guiseppe Garibaldi, a prime leader of the Italian wars of unification, was a thirty-third degree Mason and Grand Master of Italy. The list of important Freemasons in revolutionary leadership positions throughout the world goes on and on.
I think we can pose an answer to our earlier question: ‘Why did the Communist countries, Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church ban freemasonry?’ Three reasons: Freemasons stood for religious tolerance and morality based upon reason. They also worked towards a new world order based upon common sense and reason rather than religious and hereditary authority.
Before ending this section, let us balance the narrative. As mentioned, Freemasonry could be looked at as a businessman’s organization. Under this way of thinking, profits are of utmost importance. Religious intolerance and blind obedience to authority, whether Pope or king, could inhibit these profits. However the intent of maximizing profits also leads to free market capitalism, the business of warfare, and the erosion of worker’s rights. In parallel fashion, both Catholicism and Freemasonry have two sides: one benevolent and one malevolent. This paper stresses the positive side of Freemasonry as a hoped for direction, rather than an actual reality. Humans have a way of corrupting any institution no matter how noble the original intent.
In summary, the emerging business class had a craving for new institutions that better suited their needs. This inevitably led to conflicts with the old order, including the Church. Rather than a conflict between Religion and Science, the real battle was between Business and the Old Guard, who fought to protect their ancient privileges.
The Freemasons, who labored to establish the new order of the ages, were both science-oriented and religious. They did not allow atheists or agnostics in their organization. However, they tended to be tolerantly Deist rather than dogmatic in their faith. Rather than antagonistic, Religion and Science were complementary for the Masons and their new world order.
Now that we know a little more about Freemasonry, let us return to Galileo and the questions associated with his secular sainthood. Recall that members of Florence’s cultural and scientific elite dug up Galileo’s remains in order to extract some bones from his skeleton in a peculiar Masonic rite. Thumbing their nose at the Vatican, these Italian Freemasons buried his remains at a Catholic Church. They saved Galileo’s extracted bones in reliquaries, which eventually found their way into the modern day Museum of Science in Florence. These Masonic relics suggest that Galileo is a secular saint.
The Florentines who performed this rite were Catholic Freemasons? It sounds like a contradiction in terms, almost like a Jewish Catholic. How could Catholics be Freemasons if two Pope banned Freemasonry?
Let’s return to our story and fill in some gaps. A Tuscan archduke was both a student and patron of Galileo after he began residing in Florence. The archdukes of Tuscany that were his supporters included the powerful Medici family. As they derived their wealth from international banking, the Medici family was distinctly pro-business. This business orientation eventually resulted in a power conflict with the Vatican in Rome. Despite this conflict with the Papacy, the Tuscans remained Catholic.
In other words, the Catholics of Florence, Tuscany and the Vatican Catholics of Rome were at odds. The Tuscans probably didn’t believe in or even adhere to the notion that the Pope was infallible and God’s representative on Earth. As Renaissance humanists, the Tuscan leaders probably didn’t recognize the absolute authority of the Papacy, even though they were Catholic.
The Freemasons were tolerant of any religion, including Catholicism, but were virulently anti-Papist, presumably due to the Pope’s unquestioned authority. In addition, they were international businessmen. For these reasons, Freemasonry was probably very attractive to these powerful Tuscans when it was on the rise in the 18th century. Due in part to this powerful Tuscan participation, freemasonry in Italy stood in opposition to the Papacy.
“Freemasonry was growing as a counterweight to church power in these years and even today looms large in the Italian popular imagination as an anticlerical force.”13
What about Galileo and the science connection with Freemasonry? Science was a natural fit with Freemasonry. As mentioned for the Freemasons, morality and the law were to be based upon Reason rather than religious authority. In similar fashion, scientific and academic truth was to be based upon factual analysis rather than ancient Greek and Latin authorities. Galileo epitomized and could even be said to be originator of these ideals.
It is no wonder that the Italian Catholic Freemasons beatified him by collecting and preserving his relics. Standing in opposition to the Papacy, we can imagine them thinking: “Although the Church you represent wouldn’t even give him a proper burial, we consider Galileo such an amazing human being that we are conferring sainthood upon him. Rather than a Catholic saint, we consider Galileo a saint of science.”
The bizarre collection of his relics in combination with his sainthood might seem repugnant to the current members of the scientific community who embrace the prevalent paradigm that all phenomena have a material basis. However, Galileo was a believer who was devastated by his conviction for heresy by the Catholic Church. Even though he had this religious side, many consider Galileo to be the first truly modern scientist due to his reliance upon experimentation combined with observation for the validation of hypotheses. As an Italian Catholic and a consummate scientist, it is difficult to believe that he would have objected to the symbolic gesture of his secular beatification.
The Freemasons, a dominant political force from the 18th through until the mid-20th century, also believed in a higher power. It was this secular group that beatified Galileo a century after his death. Like Galileo, the Freemasons, which included many scientists, were not atheists, agnostics or even exclusively materialistic. Indeed throughout the 18th century, most of the educated, including the scientific community, either belonged to a religion or were Deists.
Deists did not believe in the Pope’s infallibility or that the Bible is the absolute word of God. Instead, they viewed this higher power as Providence, the Mystery, something greater, but not religious dogma. For an entire century, the educated embraced Deism along with Science and Reason. Evidently these intelligent people didn’t have a problem reconciling Religion and Science. As we shall see in a subsequent article, it was not until the following 19th century that writers even began entertaining and proposing the notion that there is inherent conflict between the two.
During his lifetime, Galileo’s primary conflict was with Academia, not the Church. (For more see Galileo: Victim of Academia) As his body is buried in a Catholic Church in Florence that is dedicated to the cooperation between Church and humanism, Galileo’s remains stand as a testament to the harmony, rather than conflict, between the Religion and Science.
1 Even though the relics are certainly one the museum’s sexiest attractions, there are many things worth viewing besides Galileo’s relics.
2 Rachel Donadio, A Museum Display of Galileo has a Saintly feel, NY Times, July 22, 2010
3 Rachel Donadio, A Museum Display of Galileo has a Saintly feel, NY Times, July 22, 2010
4 William Bramley, The Gods of Eden, 1990, Dahlin Family Press, p. 257
5 Encyclopedia Britannica; Freemasonry p. 732
6 Thomas Jefferson was not necessarily a freemason although there is evidence that he was at some of their meetings. Neither was Samuel Adams.
7 William Bramley, The Gods of Eden, 1990, Dahlin Family Press, p. 308
8 Encyclopedia Britannica; Freemasonry p. 735
9 Encyclopedia Britannica; Freemasonry p. 735
10 French Freemasonry was the exception to this rule. Due to conflicts with the Church, the French allowed atheists into the Lodge.
11 Encyclopedia Britannica; Freemasonry p. 735
11a William Bramley, The Gods of Eden, 1990, Dahlin Family Press, p. 332
11b Jacob Katz, Jews and Freemasons in Europe, 1723-1939
12 George Mason was Thomas Jefferson’s mentor and the original author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights (1776), upon which the American Bill of Rights is based. Although lacking the celebrity status of the others, he was certainly one of the most influential men in terms of protecting the individual rights of Americans. William Bramley, The Gods of Eden, 1990, Dahlin Family Press, p. 322
12a Fraternal Organizations, Collier’s Encyclopedia, vol 10, p. 338
13 Rachel Donadio, A Museum Display of Galileo has a Saintly feel, NY Times, July 22, 2010