Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Six million people beneath your feet. Meticulously arranged and organized. Hundreds and hundreds of years of history. The Paris Catacombs are famous for being one of the most ominous and interesting sites below the city’s streets. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Catacombs and experiencing its allure, and I found myself curious about the nuances of the former mining tunnels.

Into the Past

The Catacombs of Paris came out of necessity. The Les Innocents cemetery was rancid and overflowing. The cemetery, which since the mid-12th century had been Paris’s primary burial site, was a home to remains dating back hundreds of years. To account for all the city’s dead, the church began to place the bones of the deceased within the cemetery walls. Galleries, they were called. It became a mass grave.

Things became complicated when the basement of the church began to collapse under the weight of the cemetery. This was in the late 18th century. Consider the amount of bodies that must have been amassed by then, as burials with the Les Innocents cemetery did not stop despite the overwhelming conditions. Mines and other subterranean areas within the city were put up for consideration as the situation became more and more desperate.

FullSizeRender(1).jpgThus began the moving of millions of bones into tunnels beneath the surface of the city. The transfer took two years. The cemetery at Les Innocents was not the only burial ground emptied, it was only the largest and most problematic. Bones from at least five cemeteries were exhumed and moved.

The Catacombs Today

When you walk through the Catacombs of Paris, you are experiencing the bones of revolutionaries and soldiers. The bones of the elite, of the peasants and workers. The bones of the sick and the bones of the deprived. All of them together, connected. Where else might you see such a gathering? A true city, and community, of the dead.


The arrangement of bones is fascinating. In the early 19th century, an effort was headed by the Paris Mine Inspection Service to transform the catacombs from a mere collection of the deceased into a mausoleum of sorts. Walls of femurs and skulls were constructed to contain the bones. Various patterns were used to compliment the dead. Traditional cemetery trappings were added to various sections of the tunnels, too: these included arches and inscriptions, as well as displays and memorials. It is truly a wonder seeing bones transformed into such beauty.

Since its renovation, the Catacombs have been open to the public. People have been witnessing the site for nearly two hundred years. Though it has been closed a few times due to vandalism, the Catacombs have endured through revolution, upheaval, and war. Of late, it has become an extremely popular tourist site, with lines stretching far away from its entrance in Montparnasse.

Through My Eyes

My experience in the Catacombs was hair-raising. Never before had I witnessed so much history in one compact space. “Stop! This is the Empire of the FullSizeRender(2).jpgDead” reads the entrance. And an empire it is, truly. There I was, walking through the lives of six million people. The empty eye sockets of skull atop skull staring me down. As an American, I almost felt out of place, like I was interrupting something profound. But there was nothing, only silence. The air in the cavern chilled me to my bones.

The attention to detail is astounding, almost haunting, as one display contained a heart shaped out of skulls, another a small diorama of buildings and other structures. Clever and beautiful, and quite utilitarian. You almost forget that you are underground, that there is an entire city bustling above your head. It almost humbles Paris: not only is it unique above the ground, but below as well. In a very different way, of course. It is quite literally a testament to the depth of such a city.

You may say that there are bones beneath every settlement, below every forest, every plain, every step, wherever you walk, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling of stacks and patterns of visible history: bodies of bones, an empire of the dead.

Posthumous Remorse

When you will sleep, O dusky beauty mine,
Beneath a monument fashioned of black marble,
When you will have for bedroom and mansion
Only a rain-swept vault and a hollow grave,

When the slab of stone, oppressing your frightened breast
And your flanks now supple with charming nonchalance,
Will keep your heart from beating, from wishing,
And your feet from running their adventurous course,

The tomb, confidant of my infinite dreams
(For the tomb will always understand the poet)
Through those long nights from which all sleep is banned, will say:

“What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan,
Not to have known why the dead weep?”
— And like remorse the worm will gnaw your skin.

 -Charles Baudelaire (translated by William Aggeler)






Does International Free Trade Promote Freemasonic Ideals? An Analysis of The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

Does International Free Trade Promote Freemasonic Ideals? An Analysis of The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

Often viewed as highly contentious, the rubric of free-trade involves numerous nuances that can be polarizing. Does international free trade promote Masonic ideals? Proponents of international free trade argue that treaties, such as The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), help to spread the value of freedom and reinforce the rule of law. Similarly, Freemasonry promotes freedom of thought, speech, and action for all Mankind, regardless of race, religion, or gender.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

In a globalized world, the United States is seeking to expand international free trade in a manner that  addresses 21st century issues. Described as “the cornerstone” of President Obama’s economic policy in the Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed U.S. treaty with eleven countries, including: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. According to the Brookings Institute, these nations together account for about one-third of all international trade.12countriesTPP
The TPP is intended to enhance trade and investment; promote innovation, economic growth and development; and support the creation of jobs. The proposed agreement began in 2005 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. Participating countries set the goal of wrapping up negotiations in 2012, but contentious issues created stumbling blocks in the areas of agriculture, intellectual property, services, and investments. The total GDP of the twelve countries involved with the TPP comprises 40 percent of global GDP, and the proposed benefits of the trade agreement are estimated at $295 billion annually.  

As the major proponent of the treaty, The Obama Administration has argued that the TPP will open up the United States to all kinds of new markets and business. Agribusiness is one area expected to see a large benefit from the TPP by allowing certain U.S. companies new avenues for the sale of their products. Moreover, the Obama Administration stated that the TPP will increase labor and environmental protections in the TPP countries and globally by forcing nations to meet the standards negotiated under the treaty, thereby essentially “leveling the playing field” for American businesses that must currently meet high levels of regulation in these areas.

As one of the primary goals in his trade agenda, President Obama advocated diligently for the implementation of the TLeaders_of_TPPPP. After seven years of negotiations, a final agreement was reached between the 12 countries on October 5, 2015.  The text of the agreement will have to be signed and ratified following the national procedures of each of the individual countries. 

Controversies Surrounding the TPP

The largest controversy surrounding the TPP is that was that it was being negotiated behind closed doors. The governments involved argue that such conditions are necessary in order to reach agreements, which involve complex issues related to multilateral trade and global investments. The U.S. government responded to complaints regarding the secrecy of ongoing investigations stating, “In order to reach agreements that each participating government can fully embrace, negotiators need to communicate with each other with a high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust.” In the interest of all governments involved, it has become routine practice for proposals and communications related to negotiated treaties to be kept confidential.  

Another issue regarding the TPP is whether it would actually improve labor conditions. In a document entitled, Broken Promises, Senator SenatorElizabethWarrenElizabeth Warren outlined ‘lack of enforcement’ as one of the major criticisms of free trade agreements.

“By now, we have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers. But this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren highlights that there have been widespread enforcement problems with the free trade agreements enacted in the past two decades. The U.S. State Department has written several reports revealed persistent inadequacies related to reducing child labor and enforcing labor rights in countries that have signed free trade agreements with the United States.

Yet another controversy involves legal issues surrounding the agreement. Leaked chapters of the TPP have intellectual property advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, concerned that the TPP over-extends copyright laws and fair use rules. Doctors Without Borders has voiced concern that the TPP could unfairly impact citizens in third world countries by making it more expensive to obtain generic drugs, thus restricting access to medicine for some of the poorest individuals world-wide.

FreemGeorgeWashingtonFreemasonasonry and Free Trade

Does free-trade promote Freemasonic ideals? According to the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, countries with the most trade freedom have higher per capita GDPs, lower incidences of hunger, lower rates of unemployment, and cleaner environments than countries at the bottom of the trade freedom scale.

Freemasonry stands as a global organization dedicated to improving the lives of all people through charity and brotherly love.Moreover, free trade among nations has been shown to promote peaceful international relations. When free-trade exists across political boundaries, the world becomes more integrated as individuals and companies interact.  As President George Washington wrote in 1791, Masonry was “founded in justice and benevolence,” and “the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.”


The Secretive Origins of the Poor Knights of Christ

Templar Seal 2

Seal of the Knights Templar

Since the days of the Crusades, mystery, legend and whispers of the supernatural have followed the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon throughout history. Formed in the ancient French city of Troyes in the early days of the twelfth century, the chivalric order became renowned throughout the medieval world on the basis of their military, architectural and financial prowess. This enigmatic brotherhood of warrior monks are known as the protectors of the pilgrim’s road to Jerusalem. While this would eventually become an important duty of the order, a closer examination of the available sources shows that the original 9 knights who undertook an expedition to the freshly conquered Holy Land set foot with an entirely different goal in mind.


The world of the First Crusade (AD 1096-1099) was awash with religious fervor and the scent of conquest was in the air.
Christian forces occupied the Holy Lands for the first time in 461 years and the lines of communication between Europe and the Middle East were being restored. The European crusaders encountered an Arabic world at the height of a prodigious Golden Age. The Abbasid Empire had established a society that thirsted after knowledge, commingling the poetic precepts of Islam with the mathematics, astronomy, music and philosophy of the Western Mediterranean to produce a flourishing esoteric culture.

It was this milieu that a man named Hugues De Payens, the future co-founder and first Grand Master of the Templar order, and Hugh, Count of Champagne, a later addition to the brotherhood, encountered when they took their first voyage to the Holy Land in AD 1104. Historical background is especially hard to find on Hugues de Payens. The limited documentation available tells us that he

Hugues de Payen 2

Artist’s impression of Hugues De Payens

could have been born no later than AD 1070 and that he came from the village of Payns, near the city of Troyes. Hugh, Count of Champagne was a descendant of French provincial nobility, his father being Theobald III, Count of Blois. Before he became a Templar Knight, the Count was known for granting the Cistercian Order the lands required to build Clairvaux Abbey. The original purpose of this first voyage is unknown but it is likely that they were going to reinforce the ill-fated crusaders of AD 1101 in their battles against the remaining Seljuq Turks, one of whom was a relation of the Count’s, Stephen II the Count of Blois. Something that he or his benefactor discovered while adventuring in remote Asia Minor must have intrigued Hugues De Payens for he returned to Jerusalem alone three years later on what seems like, with historical context, a reconnaissance mission. After completing this second expedition he returned to France only long enough to recruit the 8 other knights who would become the nucleus of the Poor Knights of Christ and of The Temple of Solomon. In AD 1119 these nine men set off on a covert conquest of Jerusalem, furnished with information that no ordinary pillagers were aware of; their prize was nothing less than the Ark of the Covenant itself.

Now of course there is no historical document extant today that explicitly states the aims of the budding secret society but by extracting the context of the history we do have we can put together the pieces of a rather interesting theory; the original aim of the Knights Templar was the recovery of the Ark of the Covenant from its hiding place in Jerusalem and while it was not found, something was discovered that allowed the Order to accumulate immense wealth and power. The Ark of the Covenant is described in the Bible as an object of unrivalled power. A gold plated box of acacia wood measuring two and a half cubits in length, one and a half cubits in width and breadth (52in×31in×31in) and said to contain the two Tablets of the Law inscribed by the finger of God himself, to which was added in later years a jar of manna and the Rod of Aaron. In the legends of the Old Testament it was said to have destroyed the walls at Jericho and to have parted the Jordan River. It was the source of power for the Tribes of Israel and was the nucleus of the Temple of Solomon, venerated above any other relic. The legend of the building of the Temple of Solomon insists that the sole purpose of the Temple was to serve as an ‘house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD’ (Chronicles 28-2) yet after the destruction of the First Temple it disappears entirely from history and literature.

Ark 2

The Ark of the Covenant

This much would have been well known to any Bible student, let alone the founder of the Knights Templar. What would have been unavailable to anyone who had not spent time in the Holy Land, however, was knowledge of the Shetiyyah, the foundation stone of the Temple of Solomon. Talmudic legend holds that when the First Temple was raised in the mid-900s BC, the Shetiyyah was the giant slab of natural rock that the Ark of the Covenant rested upon and served as the floor of the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of Solomon’s Temple. In later years the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built what is now the Dome of the Rock over the Shetiyyah, as it is from this rock that the prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. What the Christian forces likely did not know however was that there is a partly natural, partly man-made cave beneath the Shetiyyah stone. Known today as the Well of Souls, according to the Islamic legend it was formed during the aforementioned ascent of the Prophet, as the rock did not wish to part with so holy a presence. With the financial backing of the Count of Champagne, an inclination towards the

Shetiyyah 2

mystic side of the Christian faith and the ancient and reliable lust after buried treasure, Hugues De Payens could have plausibly paid, muscled or meandered his way into this secret. This information was in fact already in print in the form of an epigraphical work known as The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, attributed to the Biblical scribe and friend of the prophet Jeremiah, which was in wide circulation amongst the rabbinical circles throughout Jerusalem in the early twelfth century. By reading the chapter concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians we can see what drew the Templars to the Holy Land.

Speaking on the eve of the invasion, Baruch writes of the preparations of the angels:

‘And I saw him descend into the Holy of Holies, and take from there the veil, and holy ark, and the mercy seat, and the two tables, and the holy raiment of the priests, and the altar of incense, and the forty-eight precious stones, wherewith the priest was adorned and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. And he spoke to the earth with a loud voice: 

Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of mighty God,

And receive what I commit to you,

And guard them until the last times,

For the time comes when Jerusalem will also be delivered for a time,

Until it is said, until it is again restored for ever,

So that, when you are ordered, you may restore them,

So that strangers may not get possession of them.’

And the Earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up 

Baruch is quite obviously referencing the cave beneath the Shetiyyah and the entombing of objects of great religious significance and power within it. Although we cannot be sure exactly that it was on the strength of this legend alone that the Templars went to Jerusalem, in a cultural climate of obsession with the recovery and display of religious artifacts it is certainly plausible that such a story could have served as the impetus of the formation of the Templar band. Certainly the evidence of what they did upon arrival would suggest that the Templars had a very specific interest in what lay on the peak of Mount Moriah. Once in Jerusalem the small coterie of knights immediately sought the audience of King Baldwin II and demanded that the notoriously prickly king (he was known as Baldwin the Thorny) cede to them a portion of the former Al-Aqsa mosque that Baldwin had converted into his personal palace. Not just any part of the sprawling complex would do, the Templars required of the king the section of the mosque closest to the Dome of the Rock and the outbuildings surrounding it. Uncharacteristically, King Baldwin immediately acquiesced to their demands and allowed these nine unknown knights free reign over a portion of his palace. Whatever reasons they furnished Baldwin with must have been extremely persuasive, though none of them have made it down to us today. Publicly, the Knights advertised themselves as the protectors of the pilgrims and guardians of the coast road from Jaffa to Jerusalem however simple logic tells us that 9 knights are not going to protect much of anything over a distance of 50 miles. Not to mention the Knights of Saint John who were already doing the job of protecting the pilgrims long before the Templar Knights arrived. They vanished underground for the next seven years, laboring within and around the Dome of the Rock. During this period the knights lived, slept and worked tirelessly on their site like archaeologists driven by divine purpose. They rarely left the excavation and steadfastly refused to allow any outsiders to see their work. Some remains of their work can still be seen today. The Shetiyyah still bears medieval tool marks on its surface and a team of Israeli archaeologists operating in 1985 discovered what they identified as being a Templar built tunnel that would have led directly underneath the Dome of the Rock, though it had been sealed off some time ago. What it was, if anything, that the Templar Knights discovered hidden underneath Al-Aqsa is a long disputed question with no answer able to be historically verified, though some are more plausible than others. What is almost certain, unless the Knights were possessed of the highest degree of skill in self-control and secrecy, is that they did not find the Ark of the Covenant for if they had they absolutely would have used it. If the Order had discovered the actual Ark of the Covenant and this relic was as powerful as Biblical lore claims it to be (and even if it wasn’t) it would have been used as a symbol of righteous supremacy that could have even shaken the authority of the Holy Roman Church. Now, it is highly unlikely that the Templars would have spent seven years digging in the most archaeologically valuable site in the world and come away completely empty-handed. They certainly would have discovered the cave underneath the Shetiyyah referred to in the Apocalypse of Baruch and while the Ark of the Covenant may have been spirited away at some other time, there may have remained some priestly raiments, precious stones or holy vessels of the tabernacle.

In his book The Sign and the Seal, author Graham Hancock suggests the possibility that whatever was found related to lost or hidden knowledge of a specific form of architecture, perhaps even the techniques used by Solomon himself in the raising of the First Temple. After years spent working on an archaeological excavation of one of the most renowned buildings of the ancient world the Templars were sure to have learned something. After his seven year sojourn in the Levant, Hugh De Payens returned to France in AD 1126 to participate in the Council of Troyes, the meeting of the Church’s administration that would decide the fate of the fledgling order. De Payens was assisted in convincing the Church of the worth of the Knights Templar by the Cistercian abbot St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the very same monk to whom Hugh of Champagne had donated the lands of Clairvaux Abbey. After the successful conclusion of the Council in favor of giving the Templar Knights the full official backing of the Church a few interesting events took place. Beginning around AD 1130 what became known as Gothic architecture began sweeping medieval

Notre dame 2

Notre Dame, one of the most spectacular examples of Gothic architecture

Europe, beginning in France and spreading across the face of the Christian world. This movement was largely driven by the same Bernard of Clairvaux, who advocated that simplicity and geometry be venerated in the temples of Christianity. It is plausible that the Templars traded with Bernard some of the information discovered underneath Al-Aqsa in return for his support amongst the clergy. It is also likely that Bernard was involved with the mission the entire time, having known the Count of Champagne before the Order’s formation. Either way, Bernard would go on to become the most fervent supporter of the Templar knights within the Holy Roman Empire, using his position in the Church hierarchy to draw in previously unfathomable numbers of recruits, monetary donations and gifts of land. The Knights Templar would use their newly gained religious support to establish an empire that specialized in finance and the acquisition and development of real estate. Of their 20,000 members at the peak of their existence only 2000 of those were knights, the rest were administrators, laborers and clerks. They were responsible for the construction of the most sturdy and spectacular castles and fortifications in the Holy Land. They used a series of way stations along the pilgrim roads to create the world’s first system of international  banking whereby pilgrims would deposit gold at one location, be issued a chit detailing the amount that was held in deposit and withdrew the money as necessary at other Templar outposts along the road. Since there was never a serious risk of all accounts being withdrawn at once, the Templars were able to loan the money out at a profit and use it to purchase property all across Europe. They quickly became the wealthiest private organization in the world, rivaled in power only by the same Church that

Temple Church

The interior of Temple Church, London

had sanctioned them. In AD 1139, Pope Innocent II, whose candidacy had been enthusiastically supported by St. Bernard, granted the Templar Order the right to build their own churches. This right was exercised to the fullest extent with the building of exquisitely constructed houses of worship such as the Temple Church of London alongside their dramatic and imposing castles.

Eventually the Templar Order became too powerful for those in political power to rest easily and in AD 1307 the Templars of France were rounded up and arrested by the agents of King Phillip IV, a monarch deeply indebted to the Order. He was assisted in this effort by Pope Clement V, cooking up charges of the most profane heresy and tarnishing the good name of the Templars. Its last Grand Master, Jacques De Molay was burned at the stake in Paris in March of AD 1314. Its numerous properties were seized by the Church and divvied up amongst the Order’s rivals, namely the Order of Hospitallers. Their commanderies were thrown into disarray, some chapters were dissolved, others were absorbed by other Orders and presumably some Templars went their own way, establishing their traditions elsewhere in secret. There is evidence of their handiwork in places as far flung as the northern reaches of Scotland and the western mountains of Ethiopia. Much of their stonework remains intact today, attesting to an architecture that served a purpose higher than mere convenience and practicality.

Many authors, historians and Freemasons themselves have claimed that the remainder of the Templar Knights either filtered into or became Freemasonry. The quest after the Ark of the Covenant, which we must assume continued after the time of the first excavation and would have been adequately financed during the height of the Order in the 13th century has resoundingly Masonic overtones. Both organizations are intimately connected to the legend of Solomon’s Temple and the search for the Ark can be seen as a metaphor for the initiate’s path towards self-perfection, the secret of the Word of God being the goal in both cases. It would be irresponsible to assume that King Phillip was so thoroughly competent to have eliminated the entireity of the Order and it is unlikely that his influence extended far beyond the borders of France. At the time of their dissolution they had spent nearly 200 hundred years perfecting a form of craft masonry that was decades beyond its time and in some cases is still unmatched by modern methods. It is certainly not hard to imagine that a chivalric order made up of adept builders and stonemasons would have found friends amongst fraternal societies practicing the same set of skills, especially with Scottish Freemasonry beginning to flourish around the same time. In fact, because of the mysterious origins of both fraternities and the grandiose claims of later writers, the two organizations have become almost completely intertwined from a historical perspective.  Whatever the case may be, the strange and fascinating story of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon gives a glimpse of not only the possible origins of Freemasonry but also, hopefully, a spark of inspiration and a sense of wonder for the mysteries of the world.

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Is Environmental Degradation a Sin? Pope Francis’ Revolutionary Manifesto on Climate Change

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, has become known as a radical agent of change since his election in March of 2013, especially with regard to environmentalism. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in 1936, Pope Francis hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before his ordination as a Catholic Priest in 1969, he held some unusual jobs, including chemical technician and nightclub bouncer, which may have given him a deeper appreciation for the common man and his travails.

SaintFrancisHis choice for papal name, Francis, speaks to his deep respect and admiration to Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecology. Pope Francis’ radical changes to the Catholic Church, following a period of decline in public opinion and membership, reflects the legend surrounding Saint Francis. While praying at an ancient church at San Damiano, Saint Francis heard the voice of Christ saying, “Francis, repair my church.” As the first Jesuit Pope, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, it may be less than a surprise that his approach to leading the Catholic Church is different than that of his predecessors. To declare, however, that environmental degradation is a sin is a truly revolutionary step in the eyes of many people around the world.

The Jesuit Approach

The Jesuit Order, also referred to as the Society of Jesus, was founded in the 1530s by Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius, a Basque soldier who experienced spiritual transformation at the age of 33 after being severely jesuit-emblem
wounded in battle, formed a brotherhood of himself and six other companions with a dedication to service of God whatever the sacrifice. Dedicated scholars devoted to knowledge and learning, Jesuits have served the Catholic Church for centuries and have taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Jesuits are the largest order in the Catholic Church, and the leader of the Jesuits is referred to as the “the Black Pope” for his distinctive black attire and his perceived power. The Order’s structure is of a military-style and ethos, and the Jesuit troops are known for their willingness to go wherever and whenever needed to do their duty to God and humanity. In the 1960s, the Order decisively shifted their focus toward an emphasis of working on social justice, a sentiment echoed in the writings of Pope Francis.

The Pope’s Environmental Manifesto: Laudato Si

In June of 2015, Pope Francis released a revolutionary manifesto, an encyclical of 184 pages, entitled “Laudato Si,” translated as “Praise Be To You.” With the Subtitle of “On Care for Our Common Home,” the document represents a compilation of work and a collaboration of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars and previous popes. One member involved in the creation of the document, the U.N. Assistant Secretary for Climate Change, Janos Pasztor, described the unique nature of the encyclical by stating: “We have a situation here in which science and religion are totally aligned.” A revolutionary concept, indeed, in our polarized society and world.

pope-francis-laudato-si-artworkThe earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.

  • Pope Francis, “Laudato Si”

The Pope calls for all countries to adopt a circular model of production, known as sustainable development, which is capable of preserving resources for present and future generations. Additionally, he emphatically affirms that science has reached a consensus that the planet is experiencing “a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and an increase of extreme weather events.  

While he acknowledges that other factors are affecting the planet, such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, and the solar cycle, Pope Francis argues that primary blame can be attributed to human activity. He writes, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecLaudato-Si-quote-3osystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Sin and the Catholic Church

What constitutes a sin? Sin has been defined as an “offense against reason, truth, and right conscience” and “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI provided this direction on the theology of sin stating:  “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Pope Francis’ environmental treatise states that the destruction of the environment is not merely a sin, but it is the major sin of our time. The destruction of the planet is “our sin” and the Pope delivers a shocking condemnation on the current public inaction to deal with environmental issues. Pope Francis decries humanity’s reckless behavior in terms of a heedless worship of technology, compulsive consumerism, and an addiction to fossil fuels. Selfish behavior has pushed our planet to a perilous “breaking point,” and Pope Francis warns that “doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”

Ecology, Values, and Freemasonry

Pope Francis’ decisive statement on climate change shifts the focus from a question of science to a question of values. He argues that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences, with the mPope_Francis_address_to_Congressost dire predictions for the poorest of the world. In his manifesto, Pope Francis calls on humanity to collectively acknowledge a “sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

Freemasonry shares this important lesson and teaches its members to regard all of humanity as a brotherhood under God. When an individual treats each of his fellows as an equal, the application of this lesson of moral rectitude brings an increase in harmony and peace to our conflicted planet. Masons are obliged to exercise brotherly love for all humanity.

As Pope Francis writes, rich or poor, we are all children of the same Creator with each person deserving support and protection. Freemasonry instructs that we are all stewards of the earth: placed here to protect and cherish the great gift of our natural world. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the theology of sin, we should all realize our shared responsibility to take care of each other and the planet.