The City of London and the Fall of Catholic France


Following the creation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, masonic lodges and secret societies proliferated in Europe. They attracted the aspiring middle class including philosophers, lawyers, merchants, scientists as well as nobility and the Crown heads who pursued a socio-political change that meant to abolish the old aristocratic and feudal order and introduce more equal society. These alterations, as shown by the revolution in England, were often pursued for commercial reasons, creating an excellent opportunity for land expropriation. The Jews, who suffered from social exclusion almost everywhere in Continental Europe, were very active in these pursuits hoping to build a society based on republican and protestant principles, that would enable them to hold public offices and participate in state politics. Thus, the Jews and Freemasonry worked hand in hand towards the abolition of the Ancient Regime and introduction of a Republican Society. By 1735, masonic lodges met regularly in Madrid, Paris, Hamburg, and Hague. Scotland and Ireland established independent grand lodges.

In France, the first masonic lodge was created at Dunkerque in 1721, ironically not to rally republican aims but to restore the House of Stuart.85 Four years later, in 1725, Masonic lodges were inaugurated in Paris and it took ten more years for a true assembly of representatives from all the "English" and "Scottish" lodges to form the first Grand Lodge de France on June 24, 1738. Louis de Pardaillan de Gondrin, Duke of Antin, was elected as "general and perpetual Grand Master in the kingdom of France". In a disclosure delivered by him at the “Grand Lodge solemnly assembled in Paris” he stated he “...wished to join together all men of enlightened minds, gentle mores, and pleasant humor, not only for love of the fine arts but even more for the great principles of virtue, science, and religion, in which the interest of the brotherhood becomes that of the entire human race...”86 It was Duke of Antin, Grand Master of the French Lodge, who became the Godfather of the Encyclopedié, the project undertaken by the French philosophes which formed “that library which in one work should contain the light of all nations.”87 In 1738, the Pope issued an encyclical banning all participation in Masonry but this proved largely ineffective. Apart from Freemasons, various other secret societies— the Bavarian Illuminati, the Rosicrucians and many others flourished offering European men new modes of fellowship, esoteric ritual and mutual assistance. Coffee houses, newspapers and literary salons emerged as new venues for ideas to circulate.

The prime aim of Freemasonry, which carried the tradition of the Knights Templar, was to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church and Catholic states in Europe. The City of London had already weakened the Spanish Crown and the French Crown in the Seven Years' War (also known as the British War of Conquest), and now time had come to give a final strike at France's two pillar institutions – the Catholic Church and the Catholic monarchy. The achievement of this plan had one major obstacle - the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits, who were the bastions of Papal influence. Although eradicated from the British Isles they still had hundreds of missions, educational colleges and institutions across the world, even in such far-flung places as China and India, creating new generations of Catholic men. In Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina they set up enclaves called ‘reductions’ where the native peoples could live in security and autonomy, escaping enslavement and the forced labour of encomiendas. Although there were many other Catholic orders, like Franciscans or Dominicans, the Jesuits were the only one with such integrated and rich system of education. To support their missions, the Jesuits invested in trade and their earnings made them the rivals of other traders and of government officials. They also served as royal confessors and were immensely influential at the royal courts, especially that of Bourbons, which ruled both France and Spain at the time. In short, their influence was of such proportion that it made a project of a Republican Europe less likely to materialize. Therefore, the merchant elites of the City of London conspired via masonic lodges and secret societies to eradicate the Jesuits.

The merchant government of the Republic of Venice was the first European country to expel the Jesuits. This was part of a broader dispute between the Pope and the government of Venice and concerned land acquisitions.88 In 1605, the government of Venice placed limits on layman who sought to transfer land to the church and Pope Paul V immediately requested to revoke these laws or undergo excommunication and the imposition of an interdict. As the negotiations failed, the penalties went into effect. The Jesuits, who supported the Pope, were expelled from Venice and not allowed to return until 1657.89 Portugal, England's oldest ally, was the next country to get rid of the Jesuits. Portugal's Secretary of State and Freemason, José de Carvalho, Marquês de Pombal, was absolutely convinced, having been an ambassador to England, that England was prosperous because Jews engaged in trade and the Church was under the thumb of the State. His anti-Jesuit attitudes were additionally shaped by his chief advisor, a Jewish medical doctor, Antonio Ribeiro Sanches who had personal grievance against the Jesuits having been briefly persecuted by the Inquisition. Sanches later travelled across Europe, enrolled at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, where he studied under direction of the Dutch Calvinist humanist and physician of European fame, Herman Boerhaave. He later became a court physician in Russia attending to the members of the royal court including the Prussian princess Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, who later became an Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great. Sanches stayed in St Petersburg for the next 16 years being rewarded with the office of the State Councillor, but his engagement in conspiracies led to his brief imprisonment and departure from Russia in 1747.90 Sanchez settled in Paris for the next 36 years where he was asked by Freemason Denis Diderot, the editor of the Encyclopedié, to make contributions to his project. Antonio Sanches, who remained in correspondence with Marquês de Pombal, believed, just like the French philosophes, that there would be no social reform without the removal of the Jesuits.

Portugal's quarrel with the Jesuits began over an exchange of South American colonial territory with Spain. By a secret treaty signed in Madrid in 1750, Portugal relinquished to Spain the contested Colonia del Sacramento at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata in exchange for the Seven Reductions, the autonomous Jesuit missions which straddled the borders of present-day Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The native Guaraní, who lived in the Jesuit mission territories, were ordered to quit their country and settle across the Uruguay. The Guaraní rose in arms against the transfer starting the so-called Guarani War where the joint forces of Portuguese and Spanish soldiers murdered 1,511 Guarani.91 The Jesuits were forbidden to continue the local administration of their former missions and the Portuguese Jesuits were deported from South America. After the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, the Jesuits, especially Father Gabriel Malagrida, claimed that the earthquake was God's punishment for their attacks on the Catholic Church. Marquês de Pombal, looking to find a pretext for their expulsion, implicated the Jesuits in an attempted assassination of the king José I of Spain, on the grounds of the Jesuits' friendship with some of the supposed conspirators. In 1759, Marquês de Pombal expropriated the assets of the Jesuits and deported the Portuguese fathers to the Pontifical States. As for Father Malagrida, he was burned at stake on the trumped-up charges. The diplomatic relations with the Pope broke off. Marquês de Pombal, influenced by Antonio Sanches and the politics of the City of London, had then introduced a number of economic and financial reforms, including re-organisation of the navy, creation of the several companies and guilds to regulate every commercial activity and erection of Royal College of Nobleman in 1761. Marquês de Pombal ended the Limpeza de Sangue, the civil statutes which discriminated against New Christians, that is the Jews or Muslims who converted to Christianity, thus enabling the Jews to hold public offices.

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85 Una Birch (author), James Wasserman (ed.) Secret Societies: Illuminati, Freemasons and the French Revolution (Lake Worth, Florida: Ibis Press, 2007), p. 68 »

86 Une Loge Maçonnique d'avant 1769, p. 11 »

87 Birch, Secret Societies..., p. 70 »

88 Thomas Worcester, The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits (Cambridge University Press, 2008) »

89 See the exhaustive study of the conflict between the Republic of Saint Mark and Pope Paul V by William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of the Republican Liberty (Berkeley, 1968), pp. 253-54, 344-45, 386-87 »

90 José Luis Doria, Antonio Ribeiro Sanches, A Portuguese doctor in the 18th Century Europe”, Vesalius VII, 1, 27-35 2001 »

91 See Frederick J. Reiter, They Built Utopia (The Jesuit Missions in Paraguay 1610-1768) (Scripta Humanistica, 1995); The 1986 film The Mission is loosely based on these events. »