From the completion of the Rosslyn chapel to the official opening of the Grand Lodge of England on 24 June 1717, the organisation that had evolved from the Templar Order to become Freemasonry remained hidden until the power of the Vatican was reduced following the Reformation. The Reformation began in Germany on 31 October 1517 with the publication of the ninety-five theses of Martin Luther, an Augustinian University professor at Wittenberg, proposing a debate on the sale of indulgences. The Catholic church branded Luther as an heretic when he taught that salvation was a free gift to all people through the forgiveness of sins by God’s grace alone, and that it was not therefore necessary to have a Pope. This Jesus-like thinking was not well received at Rome, and Luther was excommunicated in 1521.
Martin Luther’s ideas travelled to England, but the English Reformation is mainly due to the conflict between King Henry VIII and the Pope due to the king’s desire to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1534 the King took control of the church, and the Church of England replaced the Catholic Church. Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I, restored the Catholic Church in 1553 but her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, reversed her decision and England became a strong Protestant nation.
To day there are about one hundred thousand lodges, each with its Worshipful Master and its officers who can initiate candidates and advance their members. After the building of Rosslyn chapel, the “operative lodges” of Scotland, made up of skilled stonemasons, continued their growth during the next hundred years in parallel to the more “speculative lodges” made up of aristocrats that had been admitted through living resurrection. As the St Clair disappeared from the public eye, the origin of the system was lost. The ceremonies were still dully performed, but without the understanding of their origins. King James VI of Scotland became also King of England under the name of James I. He was the first king to become Freemason in 1601. James was raised as a Presbyterian, but he was accused by the English to be pro-Catholics. However he was above all a speculative Freemason who commissioned a new version of the Bible, known as “the King James Bible”, that omits the two anti-Nasorean Books of Maccabees. This version does not show any sympathy to the Catholic Church as it pulls attention on “knowledge” and “people”, in contrast to the secretive and political selfishness of the Catholic Church of the time.
Modern Freemasonry proclaims to be -and to have always been- non-sectarian, but there is little doubt that it was anti-Catholic at the beginning of the seventeenth century when it became public with the support of King James. He obliged the then-secret society to choose a leader and to organise itself. He made William Shaw, a senior Freemason, his General Warden of the Craft with the order to improve the entire structure of Freemasonry. On 28 December 1598 he published “The Statues and ordinances to be observed by all the “Master Maissouns” within the realme”. In 1600 he also authorised the publication of a new document drawn up by the Masters, Deacons and Freemen of the Masons of Scotland and known as “The First St Clair Charter”. Shaw offered a Royal Warrant for the Order if King James was accepted as Grand Master, but the lodges refused. Shaw regularised the ritual, but it was still based on an older verbal tradition. The lodges did not broadcast their existence but they started to list the names of their members and to keep minutes of their meetings. The regulations of both operative and speculative Masonry by Shaw formalised the ritual into what is known now as the three degrees of Craft Freemasonry. This he did by integrating the operative masons as junior subsidiaries of the speculative masons; the former became, in this way, attached to a lodge of speculative masons. To become a Speculative Mason, the candidate had to be a Freeman of the borough where the lodge was situated and, soon, the speculative masons was distinguished from the operative mason by the title “Freemason”. The structure was ready to expand to England and the whole Western world.
Craft Freemasonry was limited to two degrees before Shaw reorganisation. He introduced a third level of speculative Freemasonry between Entered Apprentice and Master Mason (known initially as the Master’s Part). This Fellow Craft degree shows that these masons were not workers of the stone, but workers in “the Fellow Craft” of speculative Freemasonry. It is also a development of the Mark Mason degree.
The Second, or “fellowcraft” degree, does not give much new knowledge to the candidate, but it introduces the idea of “hidden mysteries of nature and sciences” and the notion of “Galilean Heresy”. The content of this degree is as old as anything else in Freemasonry, but it was put together recently largely by Francis Bacon. At that time, the Catholic Church saw some danger in those who investigated science and started to persecute them. The Inquisition in Rome tried Galileo, who used new techniques in 1610 to confirm that the sun, and not the earth, was the centre of the universe. He was forced to recant in 1616 although Eratosthenes first discovered the concept in the third century BC and by Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543). References to this discovery are part of the tests to reach the second degree of Freemasonry. (8)