Freemasonry in Poland — I. Antoshevsky
Freemasonry in Poland
Recently, interest in historical and modern Freemasonry has increased significantly again, especially thanks to the right-wing press, which sees all the troubles and misfortunes in the Freemasons. Many books and pamphlets have appeared which are either praising or criticizing this mysterious organization. Unfortunately, most of the criticisms reflect a biased opinion, and even worse, utter ignorance about the subject.
Freemasonry, like any historical and social phenomenon, requires careful and objective study, based not only on literature, but also on all kinds of archival Masonic documents and publications. The fact is that while early Freemasonry tried to preserve the “Masonic secret”, it currently freely publishes information about itself in order to put an end to childish and deliberately biased ideas about Freemasonry. French and English Freemasonry not only publishes annual reports on its activities to the general public, but from time to time publishes so-called ‘’declarations’’ outlining its views on some topical issue. Of course, to study Freemasonry only on the basis of printed and archival literature is also not enough. Other ways are also needed.
The Masonic question is not only a historical, economic or social issue, but also a political one in case of Russia. In Russia, where Freemasonry is officially banned, for the publicists and politicians it represents all kinds of horrors, a ‘’hydra of revolution’’, socialism, unbelief, etc.
In fact, all the cries about Masonic dominance in Russia are simply ridiculous. Although it is true that Freemasonry existed in Russia, past experience has shown the inability of the Russian intelligentsia in creating well-planned organization and strict discipline. Russian Freemasonry will be reborn only when the masses will understand its necessity.
Russian Freemasonry can only be regarded as a cultural phenomenon that has already played a role in history. The history of Freemasonry in Poland should be of interest to the Russian reader for various reasons. First, Polish and Russian Freemasonry arose and ceased almost simultaneously, and there were many common points of contact between them. Secondly, Poland, having become part of the Russian state, thereby introduced into the public life of Russia many features of its culture. Finally, Russian and Polish Freemasons were in constant and close relations and had many common tasks and goals.
Before we start talking about Polish Freemasonry, we think it is important to give some factual data on the time of the emergence of the so-called properly organized Freemasonry in Western Europe. There are many Masonic legends, which highlight the emergence of the Order to the most ancient times of human history. However, the true documented history of Freemasonry must be considered only since 1717, when four London lodges signed a decree on combining them into one great English lodge. In 1721, the English lodge elected the Great Master. Written and printed statutes and documents appeared, making it possible to accurately trace the history of Freemasonry.
When studying Freemasonry, it must be kept in mind that it has set its main goal as a struggle for the liberation of the human spirit and thought from the path of scholastic obscurantism and militant clericalism. Of course, the Catholic clergy, which played such a prominent role in the public life of Western Europe, felt mortal danger and entered into a desperate fight with Freemasonry. Almost all the anti-Masonic writings belong to the pen of the Jesuit Fathers, who follow the motto of their order – ‘’The ends justify the means’’. As an example, let us point out the famous Cologne Charter of 1535, to which the Jesuits and the rest of amateur historians love to refer.
According to the research of many completely uninterested German historians, this notorious charter is a clever fake, nothing more. In England, Freemasonry developed unusually soon. As we said above, in 1717 there were only 4 lodges. In 1723 there were 52 lodges; in 1728 - already 77, and in 1732 - 109 lodges.
From England Freemasonry quickly went to the continent and spread throughout Western Europe. Around 1726, the German Count Albert Schaumburg-Lippe entered Freemasonry, and in 1738, the heir to the Prussian throne, Frederick, also joined the ranks.
In France, the appearance of the first Masonic lodge must be attributed to 1736, the first master of which was Karl Radcliffe, and from 1738 - the Duke D'Antin. French Freemasonry has survived many difficult trials and even civil strife. However, all this did not prevent French Freemasonry from becoming the most influential and widespread organization in the world.
German Freemasonry arose mainly under the influence of the English and French. The first German lodges date to 1733 and 1737. The Great Lodge ‘’The Three Globes’’ in Berlin was established in 1744 and 137 lodges with 14,856 brothers were subordinated to this directory lodge.
In Switzerland, the first lodge was founded in 1738 by the Englishman Hamilton under the name of the ‘’Great Geneva Lodge’’.
In Italy, the first lodge was founded by the Englishman Sackville in Florence. In general, before 1773 Freemasonry in Italy was spreading extremely slowly and with difficulty, thanks to the opposition of the Catholic clergy.
Relatively early Freemasonry appeared in Spain. Lord Coleran founded lodges in Gibraltar (1727) and in Madrid (1728).
In Portugal, the first lodge was opened in 1735, but Freemasonry was not particularly widespread due to persecution by the Inquisition.
Freemasonry appeared in Holland in 1731-1734.
Around the same time, the first lodges were founded in Sweden.
Finally, in Russia, the first documentary news about Masonic lodges date back to 1731.
Because our essay is short, we are not in a position to describe, at least in general terms, the history of Freemasonry in Russia. Those who are interested in this issue are recommended the excellent work of Ms. T. Sokolovskaya “Russian Freemasonry and its Importance in the History of the Social Movement’’.
Coming to the presentation of a brief history of Freemasonry in Poland, we cannot but point out the lack of archival and printed materials on this issue.
For many understandable reasons, archives and individuals are extremely reluctant to publish the few Masonic documents in their possession. The library of Zamoysky has an especially rich collection of Masonic documents. There are also some yet to be published documents in the archives of the Warsaw Governor General.
Polish historical literature on Freemasonry is extremely small; there are only 5-6 works, one of them is written by the Jesuit priest Zalensky, with the undisguised purpose of discrediting Freemasonry. The second anonymous work entitled “History of Secret Societies - The History of Freemasonry’’ and the third one, ‘’The History of Freemasonry and Other Secret Societies’’ by Felicia Jaeger, apparently belongs to the pen of one author. Although both of these writings were supposedly written impartially and actively, a tendency towards extreme intolerance towards Freemasonry is immediately noticeable.
The only worthy and well-written book on Freemasonry belongs to the famous modern Polish writer Andrei Nemoevsky. Unfortunately, for all its literary qualities, the book of Nemoevsky is very small and only in the most general terms introduces the reader to Polish Freemasonry.
Polish Freemasonry has its own, albeit brief and extremely curious and instructive history, full of brilliant pages of prosperity and then decline and persecution. In this regard, Polish Freemasonry surprisingly resembles centuries-old history of Poland itself. Despite all its comparative short duration, Polish Freemasonry left a deep mark in all the manifestations of public life.
The beginning of the XVIII century was the beginning of the slow agony of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, torn by continuous external events and internal strife. In addition to very serious political complications, public life in the era described was also experiencing a very serious crisis. Unusual luxury and a thirst for pleasures swept the upper and middle class of modern Polish society. The Catholic clergy was slowly but surely striving to seize in their hands all branches of public life. The sciences, the arts, the upbringing and training of the younger generation, all of them fell little by little under the exclusive influence of the Jesuit fathers. But these difficult trials helped the Polish masses awaken their self-confidence and self-awareness. In 1773, Pope Clementius XIV, with a new law called "Dominus as Redempter", destroyed the Jesuit order in Poland, and from that time on, a quick and unusually fruitful revival of the Polish people ensued.
By I. Antoshevsky
(To be continued)