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The New United Grand Lodges of Europe
by Robert G. Davis, 33º
Published in "the Plumbline", vol 8, nr 2, summer 2000.
On June 18, 2000, a new Masonic organization was born in Paris, France. It is called the United Grand Lodges of Europe, and it was launched with a treaty of union signed by three Grand Lodges ; namely, the Grand Lodge of France (GLdF), Grande Loge Traditionnelle et Symbolique Opera (GLTSO, one of the smaller French Masonic Bodies), and the National Grand Lodge of Yugoslavia.
The organization was formed to allow all "regularly working" European Grand Lodges to share communications, ideas, visitations, and to speak as one voice as a federation of Grand Lodges. (This author notes there are vast differences of opinion in the Masonic world as to what makes one Grand Lodge "regular" in the eyes of another Grand Lodge.) The idea originated almost two years ago within the Grand Lodge of France as a project to create the United Grand Lodges of France. There are presently some 11 Grand Lodges in France, and many of these, while not considered "regular" by United States standards, have unified goals and purposes. The United Grand Lodges of Europe was created in the Grand Chapel of the Grand Lodge of France during the closing of its June 2000 Annual Communication. In addition to the three organizing Grand Lodges, there were 22 delegates from foreign Grand Lodges present to witness the founding of the new federation. One feature of the newly formed group is that it is open only to "regularly working Grand Lodges." In European Masonry, this generally means those Grand Lodges which subscribe to the principles of the Anderson’s Constitutions, or, the Old Charges ; that is, they recognize the existence of God, require a Volume of Sacred Law upon the altar, prohibit religious and political discussions, allow only males as members, and exercise jurisdiction over the three Symbolic Degrees of Masonry.
None of the three founding Grand Lodges is currently recognized by any of the United States Grand Lodges (and, thus, not the Southern Jurisdiction), and it is therefore likely the creation of this new group will initially be discounted by American Masonic jurisprudence. In fact, formal recognition of the Union may be a problem closer to home. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) immediately issued a warning against what it styled the new "European Grand Lodge" in a newsletter to its constituent Lodges and the Grand Lodges in amity with England, on the basis that none of the founding members of the organization are recognized. The UGLE, which historically takes a conservative position in these matters, expresses concern over the creation of any Grand Body which might appear to affect the traditional jurisdiction of Grand Lodges.
But the mission of the United Grand Lodges of Europe is not to become a Grand Lodge in itself. It desires to take a more universal approach to the concept of Masonic amity and brotherhood. It envisions strength in unity. It is hoped that a unification of all European Grand Lodges might go far in aiding the current growing trend towards a political unification of Europe. It may also serve as a guide to facilitate a more universal understanding of Masonry and Masonic Grand Lodge traditions such as regularity, which has been a stubborn query in Masonic jurisprudence for the better part of the past century.
The problem is that there is no universal definition of regularity. Although the founding members of the new "Union" are now considered irregular by most Grand Lodges, many of the Grand Lodges represented at the ceremony, particularly the Latin America Grand Lodges, are recognized by U.S.A. Grand Lodges. That includes very large jurisdictions like those in Brazil and Argentina, as well as smaller ones in Mexico and Uruguay.
And Masonic recognition can be a fleeting matter. In most places in the world, Masonic regularity is a matter of Grand Lodge choice, with Grand Lodges moving in and out of any given entity’s list on a fairly regular basis. The Grand Lodge of France, for instance, is the second largest Masonic Grand Lodge in France (second only to the Grand Orient of France) and the fastest growing Grand Lodge in that territorial area, yet it is not currently recognized by American Grand Lodges. But in the past 100 years, mote than half of the Grand Lodges in the United States have recognized it (see Heredom, Vol.5, pp. 221-244 for a list of those jurisdictions and an excellent discussion of the challenges in defining Grand Lodge regularity). Currently, the National Grand Lodge of France (GLNF, the third largest lii France, is the only French Grand Lodge recognized in America.
The United Grand Lodges of Europe will, therefore, likely face arduous challenges in its goal of successfully uniting the many Grand Lodges within the continent of Europe. There will be strong hesitations among would-be joiners to adhere to a newly organized Masonic Body so long as the major players in European Masonry do not show their support by joining the alliance. And a few "main line" Grand Lodges can create much havoc for a new Masonic Body in its attempts to articulate its mission.
Yet, there is indeed something to be said for the ideal behind the new union. Grand Lodges need a forum for better communications. There is more strength in Masonry when it has an united face ; and, in a global society, the old, shallow ideas of exclusive territorial jurisdiction and too narrowly defined formulas for Masonic Regularity could certainly use a broader study and a more universal refinement.
The newly founded United Grand Lodges of Europe may become the catalyst for bringing Masonry together as a more global society to develop a better understanding of the true "universality of Freemasonry." If that is its goal, then perhaps Masonic leaders everywhere should give it a chance to work.