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The Grand Orient de France (GODF) is the largest of several Masonic organizations in France and is the oldest in Continental Europe (as it was formed out of an older Grand Lodge of France in 1773, and briefly absorbed the rump of the older body in 1799, allowing it to date its foundation to 1728 or 1733). It is generally considered to be the mother lodge of traditional Liberal, or Continental Freemasonry.
In 1777, the Grand Orient de France recognised the antiquity of the Lodge of Perfect Equality, said to have been formed in 1688. This, if it actually existed at that time, was a military lodge attached to the Earl of Granard's Royal Irish Regiment, formed by Charles II of England in Saint-Germain in 1661, just before his return to England. The regiment remained loyal to the Stuarts, and did not return to France until after the fall of Limerick in 1689. They returned to barracks in Saint-Germain in 1698, surviving to become the 92nd Infantry Regiment after the revolution. With these dates in mind, modern scholars usually regard the 1688 lodge as a folk tale.
The Tree of the Grand Orient, allegoric engraving of the Grand Orient de France as the centre of French Masonic organisations.
An English Lodge is also said to have been founded at Dunkirk in 1721. Another "first Lodge" was organised by exiled Jacobites under the Earl of Derwentwater in Paris about 1725. A lodge was documented at the Louis d'Argent in the Rue des Boucheries, Paris, in 1732. These were English-speaking lodges that happened to be in France. There was also a French lodge listed in the 1723 minutes of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. Meeting at Solomon's Temple, in Hemmings Row (then off St. Martin's Lane in London) the Master was Jean Theophile Desaguliers, then Deputy Grand Master and effective governor of the craft in England. In a list of members, mostly having French names, James Anderson, who compiled the first printed constitutions, is listed as "Jaques Anderson maitre et arts".
The first "deputisations" of lodges in France by the London Grand Lodge occurred in 1732, and the Grand Orient now dates its foundation from 1733, when there started to be a recognisable Grand Lodge of France. It was in 1743 that the English Grand Lodge of France became a French phenomenon, with Louis, Count of Clermont becoming Grand Master until his death in 1771. Shortly after his death, a schism occurred, with the larger party becoming the Grand Orient de France in 1773. The ritual of the new Grand Lodge followed that of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.
The Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs was a prominent lodge attached to the Grand Orient de France that was particularly influential in organising French support for the American Revolution (1765-1783) and later in the intellectual ferment that preceded the French Revolution (1789). Benjamin Franklin was a member of this Lodge when he was serving as liaison in Paris.
Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, a leader of the Liberal Aristocracy, was the Grand Master of the Grand Orient at the time of the French Revolution. In some parts of France, the Jacobin Clubs were continuances of Masonic lodges from the Ancien Régime, and according to historian Alan Forrest "some early clubs, indeed, took over both the premises and much of the membership of masonic lodges, before rebadging themselves in the new idiom of the revolution."
The Catholic Encyclopedia alleges that the Masonic book La Franc-Maçonnerie, écrasée in 1746 predicted the program of the French Revolution, and claims to quote documents of the Grand Orient of France where Freemasonry claims credit for the French Revolution. However, the New Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967 says that modern historians see Freemasonry's role in the French Revolution as exaggerated.
In 1804 it merged with the rival Grand Lodge, the Rite Ecossais.
In France Napoleon III established a dictatorship over official French Freemasonry, appointing first Prince Lucien Murat and later Marshal Magnan to closely supervise Freemasonry and suppress any hints of opposition to the regime.
The Paris Commune
According to the Marxist author Ernest Belfort Bax, Freemasons had a considerable involvement in the Paris Commune after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at reconciling the Commune with the French Government.
It was this decision that has been the root cause of the schism between the Grand Orient (and those lodges that followed it), and the rest of Freemasonry. It is a schism in Freemasonry which continues to this day. It is argued that the definition is ambiguous, that Anderson's Landmarks are his own collection and interpretation of the historical landmarks, and that changes in both interpretation and practice have occurred before and since.
The decision was not universally approved in France. By 1894 many lodges had split off in protest and formed the Grande Loge de France (GLdF) In 1910, a few members of the Grand Orient, wishing to re-introduce the concept of God the Great Architect, brought back the Rectified Scottish Rite from Switzerland. In the resulting friction with the national body, they amalgamated with the English lodge of Bordeaux to produce, in 1913, a third grand lodge, la Grande Loge Nationale Indépendante et Régulière pour la France et les Colonies françaises, now the Grande Loge Nationale Française.
Masonic Marianne, by Paul Lecreux (aka Jacques France). This bust inspired Republican variations of Marianne used during the Third Republic.
The Grand Orient was implicated in the Affaire Des Fiches, where it was accused of collecting and holding information on the religious and political affiliation of army officers, passed on by a member of the government, having been collected with the intention of blocking practicing Catholics and non-Republicans from further advancement.
Separation of Church and State
The Grand Orient advanced the concept of Laïcité, a French concept of the separation of church and state and the absence of religious interference in government affairs. In the 1930s the Grand Orient was still hostile to Church interests, wishing to close private schools (which were predominantly Catholic), or failing that to reintroduce an insistence that only state schools could provide civil servants.
During the first decade of the 21st century, the Grand Orient de France was concerned about a 'silent revolution' of a return of religion in society. It advocated government action against (according to its own terms) an 'offensive of cults in Europe'. In April 2008, when the legitimacy of the anti-cult ministerial group (MIVILUDES) was questioned, the Grand Master of the Order, Jean-Michel Quillardet, intervened personally with the President of the French parliament in order to maintain its activity.
Relationship with other jurisdictions
The GODF practices Continental style Freemasonry (known to its practitioners as "Liberal Masonry"), the defining features of which are complete freedom of religious conscience and deliberate involvement in politics. This is antithetical to the "Anglo-American" tradition of Freemasonry, which remains male only and requires a belief in Deity but which otherwise bans discussion of both religion and politics. This difference affects which other Grand Jurisdictions give GODF "recognition" and deem it "regular". Those Grand Lodges and Grand Orients that follow the Continental tradition tend to recognize GODF, while those that follow the Anglo-American Tradition do not.
Politics and religion
Unlike Anglo-American Freemasonry, the Grand Orient of France does not require candidates for membership to believe in a supreme being, and allows the discussion of political issues and religion in lodge. It upholds a series of guiding principles or ideals (valeurs), which individual members are expected to defend, and which the Grand Orient as a corporate body promotes.
Democracy - The Grand Orient is committed to the ideals of the Republic.
Laicity - The church should restrict its pronouncements to the purely spiritual, and should under no circumstances be allowed to influence the law.
Social Solidarity - The state must make provisions for the economically disadvantaged.
Citizenship - Liberty, equality and fraternity promoted through respect, tolerance and freedom of conscience.
Environment - Humanity has the responsibility to protect the environment for future generations.
Human Dignity - All humankind should be guaranteed food, shelter and care.
In discussions at all levels, up to and including the President, the Grand Orient claims to exert a beneficent influence on the French Government.
When the Grand Orient took shape in 1773, it inherited several Lodges of Adoption attached to its own lodges. These were open to masons and admitted their female relatives in their own set of rituals. They received an implied seal of approval when the Duc de Chartres, then Grand Master of France, became "Grand Master" of a new lodge of adoption in Paris, with the Duchess of Bourbon as "Grand Mistress". Briefly eclipsed by the revolution, they again became fashionable under Napoleon, before being declared unconstitutional in 1808. They were revived in 1901 as a women's society, before a final separation in 1935. The resulting organisation is now the Grande Loge féminine de France.
For many years, the Grand Orient would not allow its lodges to initiate women, but did recognize and receive women who were made Freemasons in other jurisdictions. This changed in 2010, and after some setbacks, the Grand Orient currently allows the initiation of women.
The Grand Orient stated its support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in a press release condemning the Roman Catholic Archbishop of ParisAndré Vingt-Trois for his public statements against same-sex marriage; in the statement, the GOdF described the bill as one which seeks to "ensure Republican recognition of free marital choice of individuals who wish it, in the name of equal rights". The statement continues with a call for churches to restrict their activities to the purely spiritual, and not interfere with the democratic process.
GODF lodges outside France
The GODF currently has direct jurisdiction over the following individual lodges outside France:
^"En France, dans les dernières années de l'Ancien Régime, Mirabeau (qui était Maçon, affilié à la loge parisienne "Les Neuf Soeurs") et l'abbé Henri Grégoire (qui était peut-être Maçon)" Transl. "In France, during the final years of the Ancien Régime, Mirabeau (who was a Mason, belonging to the Parisian lodge "The Nine Sisters") and the Abbe Henri Gregoire (who may have been a Mason)" Le Prince de Ligne Franc-MaçonArchived 28 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine by Paul Delsemme, Volume 10, Bon-A-Tirer
^ ab"Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke of Orleans, better known in history by his revolutionary name of Egalite, meaning Equality, was the fifth Grand Master of the Masonic Order in France." ORLEANS, DUKE OF, Letter OArchived 5 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FREEMASONRY AND ITS KINDRED SCIENCES, by ALBERT C. MACKEY M. D.
^"Already in 1746 in the book La Franc-Maçonnerie, écrasée, an experienced ex-Mason, who, when a Mason, had visited many lodges in France and England, and consulted high Masons in official positions, described as the true Masonic programme one which, according to Boos, the historian of Freemasonry (p. 192), in an astonishing degree coincides with the programme of the great French Revolution of 1789." From Masonry (Freemasonry)Archived 22 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine in the Catholic Encyclopedia
^"Masonry, which prepared the Revolution of 1789, has the duty to continue its work", Circular of the Grand Orient of France,2 April 1889, Cited as Footnote 163 in the article Masonry (Freemasonry)Archived 22 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The most recent edition (2002) does not contain any article on Freemasonry.
^"Modern historians agree that the role of Masonry in the French Revolution has usually been exaggerated." New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967 ed, Volume 6, p. 135, McGraw-Hill, New York.
^Page 153, The Freemasons: A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society, by Jasper Ridley, 2002
^"Emperor Napoleon III nominated him as grand master of the Grand Orient of France, and even though not a Mason, he was installed on February 8, 1862, serving until May 29, 1865." Entry for Bernard Pierre Magnan, Volume III, K - PArchived 14 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine 10,000 Famous Freemasons, William Denslow
^page 79, The Search for Social Peace: Reform Legislation in France, 1890-1914, Judith F. Stone, 1985, SUNY Press
^Adhésion du Grand-Orient a La République from Revue Maçonnique, Tome XI (Lyon: 1848). Available from Google Books 
^Article, "Freemasonry" by M. L. McIsaac in Patrick H. Hutton (editor), Historical Dictionary of the Third French Republic, 1870-1940, pages 401-402 (London: Aldwych Press, 1986). ISBN0-86172-046-6. "The commitments of the Freemasons in the Third Republic are revealed in the causes they chose to support. The League of Instruction, designed to promote lay education, was one of the most important of these. They championed a number of political reforms, notably a progressive income tax, child labor laws, and social welfare legislation (particularly measures to aid the orphaned, the infirm, and the elderly), although they were not organized politically and advanced no official political creed, In practice, Freemasons tended to join the Radical party and, after the turn of the twentieth century, the Socialist party. In comparison with its revolutionary origins in the Enlightenment, the Freemasonry of the Third Republic was thoroughly domesticated, but so too was the republican ideal itself. For this reason, the Freemasons' commitment to building an economically prosperous, socially advanced, politically democratic nation reinforced the basic commitmrents of the political leaders of the Third Republic. Without being an official arm of the Republic the Freemasons contributed powerfully to its self-conception."
^A. Hamon, H. Hamon, The Political Situation in France, pages 107-128 (The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11, No. 1 July 1905)
^"In 1904, the Affaire des Fiches broke when it became known that the ministry had gathered information on candidates' political and religious views from the Masonic Grand Orient." Page 18, France and the Great War, 1914-1918, By Leonard V. Smith, Stéphane Audoin, Translated by Helen McPhail, Published 2003, Cambridge University Press
^"French Masonry and above all the Grand Orient of France has displayed the most systematic activity as the dominating political element in the French "Kulturkampf" since 1877." Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Masonry (Freemasonry)". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company., it cites as footnote 158 the "Bulletin du Grand Orient de France 1890, 500 sq"
^Page 162, Religion, Politics and Preferment in France Since 1890, Maurice Larkin, 1995, Cambridge University Press