A Christian Appraisal of Freemasonry (17th Impression) by Walton Hannah (Saint Austin Press, 1998, 232pp, RRP $40.70. Available through Ignatius Press, Brisbane)
Darkness Visible, Walton Hannah's study of Freemasonry, originally published in 1952, has been reprinted for the first time in ten years. During the almost three hundred years since the foundation of the Grand Lodge, there have been not a few critiques of Freemasonry.
The Catholic Church's long- standing condemnation of Freemasonry and its prohibition of Catholics becoming Freemasons is well known. Darkness Visible is arguably the best critique of Freemasonry in English and its reprint is opportune, especially given recent controversies regarding the undue influence of masonic membership amongst the judiciary.
Hannah set himself the task of demonstrating that Freemasonry was incompatible, not merely with Catholicism, but with Christianity in general. Although he was to die a Catholic priest, Hannah was an Anglican clergyman at the time of writing Darkness Visible, addressing his work primarily to Anglicans, who formed in England the backbone of Freemasonry. He wisely avoids discussion of lurid Masonic conspiracies, for which there is little if any solid evidence. Indeed, Hannah acknowledges that there are amongst Masons men of the "highest distinction and repute" (p. 16). He also recognises and commends Freemasons for their benevolent and charitable works and the examples they have set through these works (p. 52). Instead, Hannah focuses his critique upon the texts of Masonic rituals themselves.
Darkness Visible is divided into two sections. In the first, Hannah examines various elements of Masonry that are incompatible with Christianity, such as the question of the rashness of Masonic oaths and the religious aspects of Freemasonry. He also discusses the ecclesiastical condemnations of Freemasonry through the centuries by a variety of Christian denominations. This chapter is arguably the highlight of part one. Hannah notes that the Catholic Church condemns Freemasonry because it teaches indifferentism and because of the nature of masonic oaths. The Greek Orthodox Church's condemnation (1933) focused upon the similarities between Freemasonry and mystery cults.
The author concludes this chapter by stating: "One startling fact emerges, which should make the Christian Mason more than a little thoughtful. No Church that has seriously investigated the religious teachings and implications of Freemasonry has ever yet failed to condemn it (p. 78). In the forty-six years since the book was first written, the number of Christian denominations that have studied and condemned Freemasonry has steadily increased.
However, the real strength of Darkness Visible lies in the second section: the copies of the Masonic rituals, particularly the first degree initiation ceremony, the second degree passing ceremony and the third degree raising ceremony. That these rituals are accurate is indicated by their verbatim similarity with Masonic rituals printed for the use of Freemasons; the use by Freemasons of the copies of Darkness Visible in learning the texts of various Masonic rituals, as the text therein was easier to use than official Masonic copies! (see Introduction p. 4). With the reprinted text available, a reader is able to judge whether Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity or not.
Such a reader would not, it seems, have to read far into this section to form a conclusion. Can an organisation be compatible with Christianity, which makes no reference to Christ, yet states that non- members are in a state of spiritual darkess and only through Freemasonry can they be brought into a state of spiritual light?