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ÉTUDES MAÇONNIQUES - MASONIC PAPERS
by W.Bro. ALAIN BERNHEIM 33°
THE HISTORY OF THE PRESENT GRAND LODGE OF FRANCE REVISITED
papers, notes and comments have been issued during the year 2002 concerning the
Grand Lodge of France.
Some were written in best faith. As a freemason who was born in France, I deeply
appreciated what moved their authors: a desire to put an end to what they
considered an unjustified ostracism.
the impartial historian I tried to be for the past thirty-five years, sometimes
in spite of my personal feelings and friendships, cannot remain silent when
facts are ignored or set in a wrong light and, purposely or not, misconstrued.
a person be injustly accused of a crime, the lawyer in me does not believe that
false witnesses should be called at the bar to prove a case of unguilty. Words
such as ‘The Grand Lodge of France is one of the oldest, if not the oldest grand
lodge functioning today’ will
impress only those who know little or nothing about French masonic history.
Original Grand Lodge of France
expression Grande Loge de France is first found in a document delivered
in Paris, 25 November 1737, by the Earl of Derwentwater to the Baron of Scheffer :
‘We grant him our full power to constitute one or several lodges in the
Kingdom of Sweden; to make Master-Masons, and to name the Masters and Wardens of
the lodges he will constitute, which lodges shall be subordinated to the Grand
Lodge of France’.
the earliest French grand lodge was founded in 1728 or 1729 – the exact date
is unknown – during a stay in Paris of the Duke of Wharton (1698-1731).
Wharton was elected in London Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge, 25 June
1722, and became afterwards Grand Master in France.
Grand Mastership became known as late as 1956 when a manuscript copy of the
eldest-known set of Constitutions for the use of French lodges, voted upon in
1735, was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale. That document includes
‘Regulations modeled after those given by ... Philip, Duke of Wharton, Grand
Master of the lodges of the Kingdom of France, with the changes made by the
present Grand Master, James Hector McLean ... given with the agreement of the
Grand Lodge, at the great assembly held 27 December 1735 ...’.
first successors in office were a Scotchman, James Hector McLean (1703-1750),
and an Englishman, Charles, Earl of Derwentwater (1693-1746), elected 27
December 1736. French Grand Masters followed : Louis de Pardaillan, duc
d’Antin (1707-1743), elected likely in 1738, Louis de Bourbon-Condé, comte de
Clermont (1709-1771), elected 11 December 1743, and Louis Philippe Joseph, duc
de Chartres (1747-1793), elected 24 June 1771, who became duc d’Orléans at
the death of his father in 1785.
Grand Orient of France
1773, after fourteen meetings held in Paris, a majority of Masters of the Grand
Lodge of France approved a set of new rules entitled Statutes of the Royal
Order of Freemasonry in France. They were sent to all the lodges of the
French Kingdom together with a circular letter of thirty-five pages dated 26
words Grand Orient de France, used until then only to show the place (the
‘Orient’) where a document was drawn up, became a different meaning in the
new Statutes : ‘The Grand Orient of
France comprises the Grand Lodge [herein defined as an executive body of
seventy-seven members] and all the
Worshipful Masters or Deputies of lodges, from Paris as well as from the
Provinces, who may be able to attend its assemblies’.
essential change introduced in these Statutes was that all Worshipful Masters
were henceforth to be elected by their respective lodges whereas, under an
unwritten law, most Parisian Masters owned their office for life by virtue of a
personal Warrant and were termed ‘unmovable’.
disagreeing Parisian Masters seceded and kept on working under the name and
former Regulations of the Grand Lodge of France.
the French Revolution was over, commissaries were nominated from both sides with
the purpose of re-uniting the two bodies. The Grand Lodge commissaries agreed
with the modifications introduced in 1773. The Treaty of Union which put an end
to the existence of the Grand Lodge of France and re-united French Masonry under
the Grand Orient was ratified on 22 June 1799. Except for a couple of
independent ‘Scottish’ lodges in Paris, French masonic unity was achieved.
was to last six years only.
Supreme Council of France and his Craft Lodges (1804-1894)
July 1804, comte Alexandre de Grasse-Tilly (1765-1845) returned to Paris from
the United States. Under the authority of Letters of Credence dated 21 February
1802, delivered to him in Charleston by the Supreme Council of the United States
of America, he elevated several Brethren to the 33° and founded the Supreme
Council of France in October 1804.
body helped and authorized the creation of a short-lived (Craft) Scottish Grand
Lodge, October 17. It met for the first time, October 22, and merged with the
Grand Orient through a Concordat which
was signed 5 December 1804 and denounced, 6 September 1805.
the abdication of Napoléon (1815), the Supreme Council stopped meeting. However
nine of its active members joined the Grand Orient near which they founded a
Supreme Council of Rites, ancestor of the present Grand College of Rites under
the Grand Orient.
Supreme Council of France re-awakened in 1821. One year later, it created in its
bosom a ‘Central Grand Lodge’ which warranted Craft lodges working the first
three degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite under the authority of
the Supreme Council.
peculiar situation, one Grand Orient (1773) with a Supreme Council and one
Supreme Council (1804) which warranted Craft lodges, went on in France until
the Grand Orient recognized the (irregular) Supreme Council of Louisiana by a
decretal signed by Grand Master Mellinet on 5 November 1868, forty-four American
Grand Lodges severed their relations with the Grand Orient within the next ten
the same grounds, Albert Pike, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the
United States (S. J.), severed the relations of his Supreme Council with the
Grand Orient of France, 2 May 1870, and ‘renewed its communications’ with
the Supreme Council of France.
and the Grand Orient of France
its yearly meeting in September 1877, the Annual Assembly (Convent) of
the Grand Orient changed the wording of the first article of its Constitution,
originally drawn up in 1849, which it had already modified in 1865. The 1865
wording was : Its principles [of Freemasonry]
are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and human solidarity. It
considers liberty of conscience as an inherent right of each man and excludes no
one because of his beliefs.
1877, these two sentences were changed into : Its
principles are liberty of conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no one
because of his beliefs.
Grand Lodges in the world understood the new wording as a declaration of
agnosticism, if not of atheism, and ceased to acknowledge the Grand Orient as a
regular masonic body. Since most American Grand Lodges had broken with the Grand
Orient a few years earlier, nine only thought fit to take further steps at that
The second Grand Lodge of France
1822, French Craft lodges were warranted by, and worked under the authority of,
the Supreme Council of France. Toward the end of the 19th Century,
they wished to acquire their independence. A new body, without any tie with the
original Grande Loge de France of the 1720s, was warranted under an
identical name by a decretal of the Supreme Council of France, 7 November 1894.
The full independence of this new Grande Loge de France was granted by
two further decretals of the Supreme Council of France, enacted in 1904 and
Grand Orient of France recognized the Grand Lodge of France in 1905. At that
time, the Grand Orient comprized 386 lodges, the Grand Lodge seventy-five. Due
to feelings of fraternity which originated in the First World War, twenty-three
American Grand Lodges either recognized, or authorized intervisitation with, the
Grand Lodge of France between September 10, 1917, and November 19, 1919. Twelve
did the same toward the French Grand Orient during the same period.
since it was a Supreme Council which warranted the Grand Lodge of France in
1894, the latter body was never recognized by, nor was it ever in amity
with, the United Grand Lodge of England.
the 1st degree ritual of the new Grand Lodge of France, the Candidate took the
OB standing, his right hand upon the General Statutes. The OB included the words "in the presence of the
GAOTU" and the traditional penalty. On March 3, 1903, the Annual Assembly
of the Grand Lodge decided that the expression GAOTU will be included in the
rituals, but that the Lodges would be free to make use of it or not
(Transactions of the Conseil Fédéral of the Grand Lodge of France,
January-April 1903, pp. 21-24).
The National, Independant and Regular
Grand Lodge for France and its Colonies
In September 1913, one lodge seceded from the Grand Orient, constituted itself as a third French Grand Lodge under the name : Grande Loge Nationale Indépendante et Régulière pour la France et ses Colonies (National, Independant and Regular Grand Lodge for France and its Colonies). It was recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England two months later, by three American Grand Lodges (Mississipi, Missouri, Virginia) between 1914 and 1915, by nine more up to 1939, by thirty-seven further ones up to 1959, and by Alaska and Hawai in 1981 and 1989. In 1948, it changed its original name into the present one : Grande Loge Nationale Française (French National Grand Lodge).
Between 1913 and 1959, no relations whatsoever existed between this Grand Lodge and its two elder French sisters. Between both latter ones, relations were more or less intimate, according to the inclinations of the respective Grand Officers in charge.
World War II
In September 1953, the Annual Assembly of the Grand Lodge of France moved for the first time of its history that the Obligation must be taken upon the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry and the VSL remain open when its lodges were at work. The decision was voted upon and accepted one year later at its next Assembly.
the mean time, 15 May 1954, five European Grand Lodges (Netherlands,
Switzerland, Luxemburg, Austria, Germany) signed together the Convention of
Luxemburg. One condition to become a member thereof was to break with irregular
or non-recognized Grand Lodges within a period of five years, ending May 15,
secret talks began 26 May 1955 between the Grand Lodge of France (1894) and the Grande
Loge Nationale Française (1913). A joint committee met six times until
September and agreed upon a draft specifying under which conditions both bodies
would unite together. The executive body (Conseil Fédéral) of the Grand
Lodge of France took cognizance of the draft, 26 November 1955, found it
unacceptable and decided not to submit it to its Extraordinary Assembly called
January next for the purpose of ratification.
Grand Lodge of France was accepted a member of the Convention of Luxembourg in
September 1956, a step ratified at its Annual Assembly a couple of weeks later.
November 1958, the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge of France prepared the draft
of a ‘Charter of Union of the Grand Lodges of France’ with the intent of
uniting together with the Grande Loge Nationale Française. Between 6
February and 16 June 1959, representatives of the three bodies met five times.
They failed to reach an agreement.
September 1959, the Grand Lodge of France suspended its relations with the Grand
Orient for one year, a decision which was to become definitive if the Grand
Orient did not return to regularity within that period.
to its 1959 Year Book, the Grand Lodge of France was then in amity with eleven
North American Grand Lodges (Alabama, California, District of Columbia,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and
The Treaty of Fraternal Alliance between Grand Orient and Grand Lodge of France
years later, the Grand Lodge of France changed its mind for at least some of the
May 1960, a
communiqué of the United Grand Lodge of England was issued in The
Times, proclaiming anew the irregularity of both the Grand Lodge and the
Grand Orient of France.
which the Grand Lodge of France wished to enter into with the Grande Loge
Nationale Française in September 1961 could not begin because of attacks
from the latter on the former.
The Grand Lodge
of France realized it was in the process of loosing its few remaining
international relations : the United Grand Lodges of Germany had broken in
1960, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy did the same or decided upon a suspension
in order to escape complete isolation from a national as well as from an
international point of view, the Grand Lodge of France concluded a ‘Treaty of
Fraternal Alliance’ with the Grand Orient. After a stormy session, it was
ratified by 140 against 82 votes at its Annual Assembly, 17 September 1964.
the next day, the Supreme Council of France rescinded its decretals from 1894,
1904 and 1927 by which it granted and acknowledged the independance of the Grand
Lodge of France. Out of a total membership of some eight thousand Brethren,
about a thousand left the Grand Lodge of France and, after contemplating
founding a new Grand Lodge, rejoined the Grande Loge Nationale Française
in May 1965.
ratification of the Treaty in September 1964 resulted in the split of the
Supreme Council of France (1804)
active members, all of whom belonged to the Grand Lodge of France, opposed
drawing closer to the Grand Orient but they objected rejoining the Grande
Loge Nationale Française as well. Their Grand Commander, Charles Riandey
(1892-1976), repeatedly stated he shared that opinion.
at its meeting of 18 December 1964, when the Supreme Council learned that
Riandey held secret encounters with Grand Officers of the Grande Loge
Nationale Française, it requested his resignation. As a consequence, the
Supreme Council of the United States (Southern Jurisdiction) and that of the
Netherlands suspended their relations with the Supreme Council of France middle
of January next.
9 February 1965, Grand Commander Riandey thought necessary to be re-initiated in the Craft degrees by the Grand Master of the Grande Loge Nationale Française, Ernest van Hecke, and demitted from the Supreme Council the next day.
Charles Riandey, Paul Naudon (33° since 1960 and an Active Member since 1963) together with four 33° brethren and four other French Masons were initiated or re-initiated up to the 33° by the Supreme Council of the Netherlands, February 14. They founded the Supreme Council for France, consecrated in Paris, 24 April 1965.
The Supreme Council of France (1804) was subsequently termed irregular by most Supreme Councils of the world.
was the Grand Lodge of France ‘De-recognized’ by some American Grand Lodges
ignoring the above facts, a recent article 
set a political explanation for the ‘de-recognition’ of the Grand Lodge of
France by North American Grand Lodges :
has often been said that almost all concepts of Masonic regularity, if the most
basic requirements of our craft are met, are based on politics. And thus,
politically, the most damning single
[my italics] element which lead [led ?] to de-recognition by ‘mainstream’
North American grand lodges was the Grand Lodge of France’s recognition of the
Prince Hall Affiliated lodges of black US servicemen stationed in Europe after
WW II – this, in an atmosphere of de Gaulle era anti-Americanism, was fuelled
by competing grand lodges, all eager to be the ‘chosen one’ in the battle of
eminent jurisdiction. By a strange twist of history, the concept of ‘one grand
lodge per Masonic jurisdiction’ is rapidly becoming a thing of the past as one
US jurisdiction after another realizes recognition between ‘mainstream’ and
Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges [original capitalization. A. B.].
strange explanation. A qualified member of the Grand Lodge of France wrote to me
of a Prince Hall Grand Lodge is first found in the report read before the Grand
Lodge of France Annual Meeting in 1991
(p. 62), the then Grand Chancellor [...] having invited a delegation he had met
a few days before at the Annual Assembly of the [unrecognized] Grand Lodge of
Belgium, namely Charles B. Beane, Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of
Massachussetts, and Willis Garrett, Assistant Grand Master of the Prince Hall
Grand Lodge of Maryland. [...]
Prince Hall is mentioned in the Grand Chancellor’s
report for 1997 (p. 79) : « Our MW GM recalled [...] that the GLDF
had recognized Prince Hall Masonry in 1952... ». However the minutes of
the 1952 Grand Lodge Meeting do not show words to that effect. The first mention of
a treaty of amity and mutual recognizance with a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, that
of Georgia, is found in the minutes of the 1999 Grand Lodge Meeting (p.141) ... [a second one] with the Prince Hall GL in Washington (D. C.)
in the Chancellor’s 2000 Report (pp.
following letter, written 21 June 1965 by a member of the Committee on Fraternal
Relations of the Grand Lodge of Vermont to the Grand Secretary of the Grand
Lodge of France, seems to reflect the true reasons why the Grand Lodge of France
was de-recognized by North American Grand Lodges :
I regret to inform you that our Committee on Fraternal Relations
recommended to our Grand Lodge, which convened June 9-10 last, that the Grand
Lodge of Vermont, F. & A. M., withdraw its recognition from and cease its
exchange of Grand Representatives with the Grand Lodge of France, effective
It is my thought that one of the main reasons for this action is the
reputed close connection between the Grand Lodge of France and the Grand Orient
of France, and with the added thought about the attitude of the Grand Lodge of
France and the Grand Orient de France relative to the required display of the
Holy Bible during Masonic work.
a dozen North American Grand Lodges remained in the Grand Lodge of France’s
Year Books until 1973. But none ever since 1974.
the informative books which were issued about the events of 1964 :
Marcel Cerbu, Le Combat des Francs-Maçons (1976). Bro. Cerbu was Chancellor of the Grand Lodge of France in 1964.
Confession d'un Grand Commandeur de la Franc-Maçonnerie - Mémoires
posthumes - Introduction et annotations de Raoul L. Mattei (1989). Ill\ Bro. Mattei, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council
for France (1976-1981), edited with comments the posthumous Memoirs of Charles
Riandey, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of France (1961-1965) and Grand
Commander of the Supreme Council for France (1965-1974).
Raoul Mattei, Chronique d'un schisme maçonnique (1994).
For instance Bro. J.W. Worlein, ‘A Visit to the Grand Lodge of
France’ (The Philalethes, April 2002).
For instance Bro. M. Poll, ‘The Recognition Game’ (The Philalethes,
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia
(1961 ed.), pp. 263.
[Lobingier] The Supreme Council, 33° (1931): 820. The Southern
Jurisdiction ‘henceforward recognize(d) the Supreme Council of the 33d degree,
for France and its Dependancies over which the Ill\
Crémieux presides’ (Official Bulletin SJ, vol.
I: 70). Pike analyzed the relations between both French Supreme Councils and the
Southern Jurisdiction in his Address from March 29, 1860 (Transactions
SJ 1857 to 1866, reprinted 1878, pp. 98-101). In his Allocution from October 15,
1888 (Official Bulletin SJ, vol. IX, Appendix, pp. 28-31) he summarized the reasons why
relations were broken with the Grand Orient after its recognition of the Supreme
Council of Louisiana in 1868.
See note 3.
Paul M. Bessel, ‘U.S. Recognition of French Grand Lodges in the
1900s’ (Heredom 5, 1996, pp.
221-244). Also [Lobingier] The Supreme Council, 33° (1931): p. 818 &
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961
ed.), p. 522.
communication (June 2002) from a Grand Officer of the GLNF.
English : French National Grand Lodge, not ‘National Grand Lodge of
France’ as Bro. Worlein wrote.
The reason for the failure had nothing to do with Landmarks but was a
much more prosaic one : the contemplated United French Grand Lodge was to
be headed by a Committee of nine members, three from each Grand Lodge. The fees
however were to be paid according to the membership of each Grand Body. As a
result, the Grand Orient would have one-third of the votes but must pay more
than one half of the costs, a stipulation it declined to accept.
 See Note 1.