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It is with reluctance that I restart this series on what I have been calling masonic aggiornamento. Usually, we, academics, have the impression (normally a right one), of being talking to ourselves. This is just natural since the goal of our career is to seek for specialization, just to be told later, often by publishers, that we should write for the public. One of the many academic oxymorons.
Academic blogs look for this in-between. A place to write more freely, to pitch or ‘test’ topics, and, not rarely, to vent. With some luck, you get some readers, and with luck, they comment on what you are writing about (on the page, via messages or email). With greater luck, you have readers, like two friends of mine, who ask you to continue. I must, therefore, resume my blog writing by finishing the topic in which we (in case there are more of us, me, and my friends) stopped. Maybe there are more people who are interested in this comparison.
It is momentous to compare the process taking place in English Freemasonry with what happened during the Second Vatican Council. For two reasons: one is the 60th anniversary of the council in 2022, and the other is the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The anniversary of the council marked the seniority of the aggiornamento promoted by it. However, the maturity of that landmark, instead of settling down disputes, made them more alive. This is to such an extent that there are even fears of a schism within the Catholic Church, especially coming from the United States and Germany. The former resents what they understand as a liberalization of the church, the latter, its alleged conservatism.
It is possible to observe that an updating of practices and beliefs does not occur without friction and eventual fissures. Nonetheless, there are also important questions that are often disregarded, in Catholicism and, in Freemasonry. Should practices and beliefs be updated? Are these institutions, which the very existence sounds absurd for some political positions, fitted for modernization? Is it not their very essence, even their appeal, the fact that they offer a space in which a tradition may be preserved? For some critical voices, to save Freemasonry by modernizing it is like throwing a bucket of water for someone drawing.
This brings us to the second momentous event for this comparison: the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. A controversial figure, Benedict XVI was foremost a theologian, and in this capacity, served as one of the counsellors in the Second Vatican Council. By the age of 35, he was one of its youngest advisors, and by the time of his death, maybe the last live testimony of those debates. Representing modernisation for the traditionalists in 1962 and conservatism for the liberals in 2022, the Pope Emeritus represented better than anyone this crossroad.
The public debate, especially because of the enhancement of technology, is less and less prone to nuances, caveats, contradictions, and ponderation. All the things that are necessary for a real debate. This is one of the problems in trying to adjust to an agenda that moves daily, and that, regardless of anyone’s efforts, is impossible to meet. Perhaps this is the challenge of these two institutions, despite their very different ‘business’. Guided by marketing, opinion pools, headlines, likes, etc., both institutions are using the tools provided by capitalism to fight not necessarily for survival, but for relevance.
With the results of the Second Vatican Council, we learned that most people adapt to the aggiornamento. Most Catholics or Freemasons are not equipped with the knowledge, time, patience, or interest to discuss the destiny of their Church or Grand Lodge, respectively. Some have one or several of those assets, but then those discussions are portrayed and conducted as something “for the big fish.” Nonetheless, some people may find the updated forms of worship, or forms of living their Masonic experience, not matching what they are searching in it. Then, it becomes a problem of expelling the old to attract the new.
Apparently, by the campaigns in the media and by the constant transmission of the ‘radio corridor’, the UGLE will continue its aggiornamento. By the same ‘radio’ we learn that most masons do not care that much if, all things considered, they keep receiving their Grand Lodge, Provincial or Metropolitan honours, and as long as Freemasonry keeps donating to charity sumptuous sums.
The liberals (despite the reductionism of this adjective) inside the Craft usually celebrate, what in their perception may be seen as small advancements. Some policies and initiatives help to build a case for Freemasonry in front of their detractors or discontents. Nonetheless, such discontent with Freemasonry typically comes up from anti-masonry, thus being impossible to sacrifice enough goats to praise this many-headed monster on the altar of ‘public opinion’ (whatever that is). One mason that frowns upon this agenda told me, “It is like the thing meme”. I went to find it, see below. So, yes, maybe amidst this media battle for hearts and minds a basic element of ‘catering for your audience’ has been lost.
However, the disquieting of such masons only comes after some libation when fear and bravery, both in their rhetorical form, appear in equal measure. There is a small, but buzzing, group growing in discontent with the aggiornamento. For those, the public scrutiny sounds less like accountability and more like an auto da fé that would stop once there were ‘tickets being sold to watch initiations’, according to a bacchian point made by a critical voice. It remains to be seen who the Lefebvrians of English Freemasonry will be.
 The Lefebvrians (Society of Saint Pious X) is a fraternity of catholic priests that started after the Second Vatican Council. The name derives from Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a main voice against the reforms promoted by that council. The Lefebvrians keep their liturgy, rites, and values, in a pre-Vatican II state. Between confrontation (John Paul II even excommunicated some of its bishops in 1988, later reverted) and reconciliation, the Lefebvrians stand as a traditionalist group despite its small membership.