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Some of the less critically-minded Masons like to trace the origins of the Order back to ancient Egypt. But in its present form, Freemasonry originated in England, probably in the sixteenth Century, while the first Grand Lodge was founded in London in 1717 and the regulations, by-laws and constitutions of Masonry were laid down in what is known as Anderson's Constitutions in 1722-23. The spiritual elements underlying these precepts were decidedly "advanced" for their time, emphasizing as they did tolerance for other men's religions and the brotherhood of all human beings. Many historians have tried to connect Freemasonry to the Roman 'Collegia'. A 'Collegium' was formed by a group of three or more indivuals as an association for a trade, or social, or of a religious group, organized according to law. collegia had their own rules or "by-laws" and usually had their own meeting place. A "Collegiatea' could own property and their officials were usually held accountable for actions of the group.
In time almost every profession, art, and trade had made its own 'Collegiate' in due form by imperial Roman statute. The oldest known inscription refers to a 'Collegium' of cooks, 200 B.C.
Each collegium tried to have it's own "Scholaor", a hall or meeting place. The officers were usually the leader called a 'Magistri' or a 'Curitarious', or 'Quinquennales' or sometime the 'Perfecti Praesides'. Second were the 'Decuriones' which were like a warden. Then there were the 'Quaestors' or factors who managed the business affairs of the 'Collegiate'.
Each society had its own laws, called 'Lex College' with it's own by-laws, which were based, as on the imperial statutes of the time. Fees and dues were kept in the 'Arca' (a common chest. Some historians felt these comon funds were used for charitable purposes but others feel that these comon funds was used for expense of the upkeep of 'Scholaor' (meeting place) and for banquets.
Other Masonic scholars and historians believe the Masons may have been formed from the remains of The Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were originally a monastic order of the Catholic Church as the guardians of the Temple of Solomon site and the routes used by the pilgrims going to and from the Holy Land. Although all of the Knights took a vow of poverty, the Order itself grew very wealthy. The Order had it's headquarters in France and the King of France grew very jealous because by 1308 the Knights Templar had grown much richer then he was. He made an agreement that if the Pope would discredit the order he would seize all their assets and they would divide the Templar's riches between themselves.
Every known official of the order and many of the individual members were arrested on the night the Pope outlawed the order. They were thrown in prison and all of their property was confiscated. A major problem arose when the kings men couldn't find the reported riches anywhere in France. The King finally resorted to torturing the prisoners, even burning 54 of them alive at the stake trying to discover where the treasure was hidden.
The Pope did the worse thing he could, he excommunicated all Templar anywhere and demanded that they be arrested by the rulers of the country where they were living and they along with all Templar property was to be turned over to the Catholic Church.
The King of England found other things to do and ignored the order. The Pope was furious and demanded that the king arrest the Templar in England under the threat of excommunicating the king himself. Bowing to the threat, the English King ordered the arrest of the Templars. However the order to arrest them stated that every Templars in England would be arrested three 3 days from that date. Strangely enough, none of the Templars were found when the 3 days were up. They had all disappeared. Most had gone to Scotland where the Scottish king told the Pope that he could do what he wanted to in Rome, but not in Scotland.
The Masons publicly "Came out of the closet" so to speak, in 1717. Secret signs, secret passwords, secret handshakes and oaths with severe penalties for revealing the secrets and the identity of brother members wouldn't hardly come from a brand new organization that was making itself "public". But, how about one that had been in hiding for a couple of hundred years under threat of death for being a member???
The intellectual and spiritual foundations of modern democracy, including the American Revolution and the American Constitution, are to be found in large part in the teachings of Jean Jacques Rousseau and in the ideas cemented into the great first Encyclopedia. And it is a fact that most of the authors of that epoch-making Encyclopedia -- Diderot, D'Alembert, Condorcet, the famous Swiss philosopher Helvetius, etc. -- were Freemasons. The envoy to France from the rebellious American colonies, Benjamin Franklin, also was an ardent Freemason. So were George Washington, sixty among his generals, John Hancock and a great many of his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence. Both Washington and Franklin long held the post of Grand Master.
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