by Giuliano Di Bernardo
THE TEMPTATION TO GO BEYOND RELIGION
I have shown the reasons why Freemasonry cannot be interpreted as a religion. Within Freemasonry, however, there are those who advocate an interpretation that tends to take the religious interpretation to extremes. This is the mystical interpretation, to which I will devote the following pages.
To characterize mysticism, it is important to distinguish between mysticism that is expressed in the Hellenistic world and mysticism that arises within the major religions, regarding Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism.
In the Greek world, mysticism developed along two distinct orientations: ritual and intellectual. Mystery religions, which originated in the East and later spread to the West, aimed to establish an intimate, deep, and permanent union between the deity and the initiates through sacred ceremonies, which, characterized by dances, orgies, and exciting drinks, created a state of exaltation called ecstasy. Among the most important mystery cults are those of Mithra, Attes, Osiris and Isis, and Adonis, as well as those called Eleusinian, Orphic, and Pythagorean.
The other mystical orientation, which characterizes the Hellenic world, is the intellectual one, which finds its most accomplished expression in Plato. In fact, according to Plato, liberation from the evils of the earthly world is not attainable through rites or sacred cults or expiatory practices, but rather, through contemplation. Since Plato’s philosophy has become the benchmark of different Western mystical traditions, it is necessary to exhibit it at least regarding his conception of reality, which finds expression in the myth of the cave. According to Plato, those deprived of philosophy resemble prisoners in a cave, who, being bound, can only look in one direction. They have a fire behind their backs and a wall in front of them. Between them and the wall there is nothing, so all they see are nothing but their own shadows that are cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Obviously, they regard these shadows as if they were real. Someone manages to escape from the cave and, for the first time in the sunlight, sees real things. Thus, he realizes that, until that moment, he had been deceived by the shadows in the cave, which he had mistakenly regarded as real.
The description of the cave expresses Plato’s conception of a reality truer than that of the senses. The world that appears to us is comparable to shadows cast on the wall and is therefore illusion, while reality is given by all that is unchanging, above time and the becoming of things, consisting of the eternal ideas.
The theory of ideas, along with the dualism of soul and body, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and its transmigration come to Plato from the Orphic-Pythagorean tradition (which derives, in turn, from the philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads of Hinduism) but are reworked by him in a systematic and original way.
The most influential representative of the mystical developments of this philosophy is Plotinus, who argues that the anxiety of the divine can be satisfied by participating in its mode of being and thus in its bliss. Man’s only worthy goal is communion with the One. Man’s soul achieves the highest perfection when it is united with the One and lives its immortal life in him. In the Enneads, Plotinus expounds the “method of contemplation,” believed to be the only means of reaching the Absolute and identifying with it. Man must rid himself of matter through asceticism and perfect his soul through philosophy thus preparing himself for the contemplation of the One. Ecstasy consists in the experience, temporary but infinitely dense with joy, of one’s adherence to the One. Immersion in the One empties the soul of all restraint and recollection, even of self-remembrance, to make possible a new and ineffable experience, which is the mystical experience. For Plotinus, the One, though transcendent, is in the deepest center of the soul. To reach it, one must gather oneself into oneself to the point of living exclusively in it. Man finds in himself the Absolute, the One, the Being. This conjunction of man with divinity is not an act of discursive reason: man does not know the One, but grasps it with a momentum, which is a seeing without seeing, an understanding without understanding, it is ecstasy.
With this reflection, we enter the analysis of mysticism within the major religions, with regard to Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism. This limitation, from which follows the exclusion of Eastern philosophies, such as, for example, Hinduism and Buddhism, is made necessary by the need to make mysticism a unified discourse. Indeed, only by staying within the framework of Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism is it possible to find biblical roots that, despite theological diversity, present a common foundation. Therefore, the inclusion of the major Eastern religions would entail a complexity of investigation that, with respect to the purposes of this work, would be too onerous without, moreover, substantially altering the theses argued.
Mysticism, in Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism, has some common features. The first concerns man’s passivity to the deity and the special relationship man establishes with it. Indeed, in all three religions, preparatory exercises for asceticism are given, consisting of silence, prayer, recollection, and concentration. Such propaedeutics are followed by the itinerary that man must travel to reach the fullness of union with divinity. This path is described as purification, liberation, annihilation, progressive stripping, and death. The relationship with divinity, expressed in terms of union, fusion, and divinization, is made possible by that exit from self which Plotinus defined as ecstasy and which represents the separation of the soul from the body and immersion in divinity. Ecstasy is followed by the slowing down of bodily activities (anesthesia, trance) and sometimes by phenomena such as levitation, stigmata, and the like.
Mystical experience is, by its very nature, ineffable and incommunicable. From this follows a paradoxical situation: mysticism is negation of history within history. While, on the one hand, it seeks to transcend history, on the other hand from history it draws its language to define itself even vis-à-vis those religions of which it is an integral part. The consequence of this is that, alongside the claim of ineffability and incommunicability, the mystic often elaborates and expresses complex interpretations of his own experience, giving rise to so-called “mystical theology.” To avoid this contradiction and to define the sublimity of one’s experience, the mystic has no words at his disposal: the only appropriate language would be the silence of contemplation, which constitutes, in truth, the essence of all authentic mysticism. If mysticism is ineffable, then it is silence, for only through silence is its other requirement of incommunicability fulfilled. If the mystic speaks, then he communicates. If it communicates, then it expresses the ineffable which is, by its very nature, inexpressible and thus falls into contradiction. Mysticism, from its most primitive manifestations, has been unable (perhaps unable) to resolve this paradox.
This contradiction becomes even stronger if mysticism is compared with monotheistic and prophetic religions. Here it finds an insuperable limit precisely in certain essential principles, such as belief in the one creator god, the revelation of the Holy Scriptures, and eschatology. The doctrine of creation excludes the existence of a second deity, who has the same dignity as God and who performs, in the mystical path, an intermediary function between man and God. Belief in a revelation, entrusted to the Bible (Jewish and Christian) and the Qur’an, represents the original and normative moment, never repudiated by the mystical experience. But the greatest limitation of mysticism is given by eschatology understood as the final perspective of history: the attempt to evade history by anticipating its conclusions is regarded as an act of presumption, since only God has the task of putting an end to the historical path of humanity. It is precisely here that the paradox of mysticism reappears. Consider Paul, who feels torn between the desire to be loosed from the body in order to be with Christ, and the need to remain in the flesh in order to perform apostolic service.
Outside of religions, mysticism developed following the fortunes of Neoplatonism mainly through the works of Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. Following the closure of the Platonic Academy by order of Justinian, mysticism survives in the philosophical doctrines of Scotus Eurygena, Avicenna, Averroes and in Meister Eckart. It regains vigor with the philosophers who came together in the new Platonic Academy, such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Jacob Böhme, all the way to Fichte, Schelling, Goethe, and other philosophers, who, however, while advocating the possibility on the part of man to reach the divine by following the paths of intuition, never take mysticism to its extreme consequences.
Mystical experience is a very complex phenomenon that finds on the historical level, many, and varied manifestations. It is not my task to follow these developments but, rather, to highlight their common features on the theoretical level.
The first characteristic concerns the belief in the possibility of a path to divinity based on intuition or revelation, as opposed to the senses and reason believed to be the source of all illusion. Such faith starts from the belief that there is a reality, which lies behind the world of appearances, that is discovered by an intuitive, non-discursive act. Only mystical knowledge is true knowledge. All other knowledge (including even scientific knowledge), when compared with it, is ignorance.
The second characteristic of mysticism concerns the belief in the unity of all things, which is the foundation of monism in philosophy and pantheism in religion. We owe to Parmenides the idea that the universe is one and indivisible, while what appear to be its parts are nothing but illusions. Thus, the conception of a reality, other than that which comes to us from the world of the senses, which is unique, indivisible and immutable, makes its way into Western thought.
The third characteristic is the denial of the reality of time: the distinction between past and future is illusory. It is a consequence of the previous characteristic, according to which everything is one and the one is immutable. If one were to admit the reality of time, then one would deny the unity and immutability of things. Therefore, if man wants to rise to the Absolute, he must learn to step out of history.
The fourth characteristic concerns the denial of the distinction between good and evil and is a consequence of the denial of the reality of time. This does not mean, however, that evil becomes good, but that evil simply does not exist. It belongs to that world of the senses that we must rid ourselves of if we want to access the Absolute. Thus, we come to affirm that, in the world of appearance and the senses, there is both good and evil and their mutual conflict, but that, in the real and unchanging world, there is only the mystical good to which evil is not opposed because in it evil does not exist.
The fifth characteristic is the ineffability and incommunicability of mystical experience, which are at the origin of the paradox of mysticism that I have discussed in the previous pages.
The combination of all these characteristics represents mysticism understood as a “worldview.” However, mysticism can also be discussed in another sense, namely as an “attitude of wisdom” to be taken towards life. Bertrand Russell, in this regard, expresses himself as follows, “The possibility of universal love and joy in all that exists is of supreme importance for the conduct and happiness of life, and it gives inestimable value to mystical emotion, apart from the belief one can build on it. But if we are not to be led into false beliefs, it is necessary to understand exactly what mystical emotion reveals. It reveals a possibility of human nature: the possibility of a nobler, happier, and freer life than is in any other way attainable. But it reveals nothing about the human world or about the nature of the universe in general. Good and evil, and even the highest good that mysticism finds everywhere, are the reflection of our emotions on things, not part of the substance of things as they are in themselves” (in Mysticism and Logic).
The English philosopher, while rejecting mysticism understood as a worldview, nevertheless considers it an essential prerequisite for leading a nobler, happier, and wiser life. Mysticism, thus understood, enables man to perfect himself in the exercise of goodness, but without adhering to a conception (the mystical one) that is, among other things, the negation of human reason. I will return to such a notion of mysticism when I examine it in its relation to Masonic thought.
Having outlined the general characteristics of mysticism, I find it necessary to dwell on the work of René Guénon not only for its intrinsic value, but also and especially for the influence it has had and continues to have in certain Masonic circles. My reflections are based on the following work, Études sur la Franc-maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage, tomes I-II, Éditions Traditionnelles, 1964-65, Paris.
First, it is important to qualify Guénon’s work philosophically, that is, to make explicit the tradition of thought within which it is situated. It is my belief that this tradition is that of mysticism. To justify it, I will compare Guénon’s thought with the five characteristics of mysticism outlined earlier. The first characteristic – the belief in the possibility of a path to divinity based on intuition as opposed to reason and the senses – is the main foundation of Guénon’s thought. According to Guénon, the supreme reality is given by the world of eternal ideas, of which the things that appear are merely reflections. Man’s highest activity consists in the intuition of such ideas, which is possible only by going beyond reason. Guénon’s adherence to Plato’s doctrine of ideas and contemplation is evident.
The second characteristic – the belief in the unity of all things – finds expression in the following passage: “One of the reasons for being [of initiatory organizations] is to allow the passage beyond that [traditional] form to rise from diversity to unity”. Here Guénon finds Parmenides and Plotinus.
The third characteristic – the denial of the reality of time – emerges in Guénon when he states, “It can be said in truth that … there is no historical origin, since the real origin is situated in a world to which the conditions of time and place that define historical facts as such do not apply”. Here we find Plato and Parmenides, among others. Note that when Guénon speaks of real origin, he is referring to a supra-rational, supra-sensible, metaphysical reality.
The fourth characteristic – the denial of the distinction between good and evil – is a consequence of the previous characteristic, so if the third is true, then the fourth is also true.
The fifth characteristic – ineffability and incommunicability – runs throughout Guénon’s work. To explicate it, the following passage is sufficient: “The initiatory secret is such because it cannot not be, consisting essentially in the ‘inexpressible,’ which, by consequence, is the ‘incommunicable'”.
As can easily be seen, the five characteristics of mysticism are fully found in Guénon’s work, so that it is justified to say that he is a mystic and that his thought is essentially mystical. However, this is not to deny that his work has peculiarities that qualify it in an original way and that, in some respects, differentiate it from other forms of mysticism.
Guénon’s is a precise philosophical conception inspired by Plato, Plotinus, the Gnosticism of the early Christian centuries, certain aspects of Scholasticism and the great Eastern philosophical schools (in particular, the Vedas and the Upanishads of Hinduism). These notions are far from new, and yet they are reworked by Guénon within a very particular conceptual framework.
The starting point of Guénon’s reflection consists in the Platonic distinction between the world of eternal ideas and the world of reason and the senses. This distinction is translated into the duality “non-human/human”, where the “non-human” represents metaphysics, intuition, real knowledge, pure intellectuality, while the “human” expresses reason, philosophy, sensory experience, science, and history. The “non-human” is timeless, eternal, unchanging, while the “human” is subject to the becoming of time and history. From this it follows that the development of time brings nothing essential to the human because the essential is the principles of metaphysics, which are immutable. Here, then, metaphysics occupies a central place in Guénon’s thought.
The world of the “non-human,” characterized by metaphysics, is contrasted with the world of the “human”, at the apex of which are science and philosophy, both expressions of discursive reason. Since true knowledge is the eternal and unchanging knowledge of metaphysics, all other knowledge, including even scientific knowledge, is to be understood as a semblance and degeneration of the true one.
These considerations, when referred to man, stand to mean that man has a “non-human”, divine, sacred origin, which is characterized by pure intellectuality, metaphysical knowledge, transcendence, the eternal and the immutable, the inexpressible (ineffable) and the incommunicable. From such “non-human” origins, man descends “vertically” toward the “human,” which is expressed by reason, philosophy, and history. The transition from the “non-human” to the “human” is a first and fundamental loss, a fall, a spiritual darkening. From the first “human” state, the primordial one, there follows a further degeneration that takes place in a “horizontal” sense, until it reaches its peak in the age in which we live. It is rational forces that take over from pure intellectuality and intuition, while philosophical reflection replaces metaphysical knowledge, immanence from transcendence, the individual from the universal.
At the origin of the “human” is the “primordial state,” which is followed, by gradual and progressive degeneration, by other states. The departure from the primordial state entails the loss of the sacredness that constituted it and the consequent emergence of the distinctions between sacred and profane, between tradition and anti-tradition, between initiation and anti-initiation. However, there has always existed a bond that has united the primordial state with the successive states: it is given by tradition, authentic and orthodox, always kept alive by the Great Initiates.
The purpose of initiation is to restore the primordial state by means of a path back in time: this is the Initiatory Way. One thus travels the entire Initiatory Way, at the end of which there is the initiatory secret that is ineffable and incommunicable.
Guénon is concerned with Freemasonry because, as he says, in the Western world, among the initiatory organizations that can claim an authentic traditional filiation is Freemasonry, which is characterized by symbolic and ritual methods.
Guénon, while on the one hand recognizing Freemasonry’s authentic filiation, also identifies in it the dangers of a complete degeneration of metaphysical principles.
At the origin of the Masonic tradition, he says, is precisely metaphysics, which is understood as “Perfect Gnosis”, the “Integral Knowledge” (the Heavenly Paradise). Following a process of spiritual degeneration and obscuration, there was a “vertical” fall into the primordial state (the Earthly Paradise or Center of the World). Spiritual degeneration continued with the loss of the primordial state, and so, from stage to stage and progressively, Freemasonry moved further and further away from Integral Knowledge, until it reached its present state of crisis. Guénon here applies, to express the process of spiritual obscuration, the “non-human”/”human” distinction to which the “vertical”/”horizontal” duality corresponds. We can say, in other words, that the Masonic tradition has gradually but ceaselessly moved away from the primordial tradition. In the transition from one state to another, there has been a “loss,” beginning with the loss of the Perfect Gnosis (a state typical of the “non-human”) which is followed by the loss of the primordial state. What was lost was replaced by something that was to remedy it, which, in turn, was lost, thus necessitating other replacements. And so on until the present day. In this process of repeated losses, the tradition has never been interrupted: in all ages there have always existed Great Initiates who have transmitted to other Initiates the Truths of which they were repositories. Thus, the esoteric initiatory tradition has not suffered interruptions or leaps. Different, however, is the situation of the exoteric (secular) traditions, for which there has been an irretrievable loss of metaphysical truths, so that, in the present cycle of humanity, there is no hope of regaining them.
Freemasonry, therefore, has the fundamental task of retracing this path of spiritual obscuration backwards, to return, passing through numerous stages, to the primordial state (horizontal path), and from there rise to the Perfect Gnosis (vertical path). This backward path is the Initiatory Way, which, in Freemasonry, takes special forms and modes.
After rigorously delineating the scope of what is Masonic, Guénon formulates its principles, taking up and applying to the case the notions already outlined in his general initiatory conception.
A first feature of the Initiatory Way is the implementation in it of both the “little mysteries”. which return the Mason to the primordial state (horizontal path), and the “great mysteries,” which raise him to the Perfect Gnosis (vertical path). All Masons, at the time of their initiation, place themselves in the same starting line, but there are only a few chosen ones (the Grand Initiates) who succeed in reaching Perfect Gnosis. All others are placed at different points along the initiatory path, based on their subjective traits and their ability to relate to metaphysical principles.
Another characteristic consists of initiatory degrees. This means that every initiation necessarily rests on many successive stages, to which as many degrees correspond. Guénon is convinced that all these stages can and must always be traced back to the three degrees of the Order (Apprentice, Companion, Master), which correspond to the threefold mission of Freemasons, consisting in seeking first, then possessing and finally being able to spread the Light.
Great importance is attached by Guénon to symbolism, which not only has a divine origin but also performs the function of connecting human states with non-human and metaphysical states.
Guénon’s thought presents a clear and defined central core and a set of aspects that denote gaps, ambiguities, and generality. Any judgment on it must consider the global frame of reference, otherwise one runs the risk of falling into misunderstandings and misinterpretations. This is the main error that some of Guénon’s followers in Freemasonry incur, who, by partially considering his work, contribute to making it even more difficult and obscure. In fact, in Freemasonry, there are those who, after adhering to Guénon’s mystical conception, claim: a) Freemasonry is not philosophy, and b) Freemasonry is a method. Since these positions descend from a reductive interpretation of Guénon’s thought, I devote the following reflections to them.
The statement that “Freemasonry is not philosophy” can be arrived at from two different points of view. The first can be expressed as follows: since the Initiatory Way is given by what man in fact subjectively experiences, Freemasonry is not philosophy. I completely agree. Experience is not philosophy. Experience and philosophy (which is a reflection on experience) are on two distinct planes but are also closely connected. Those who hold the above view manage to see only the plane of experience and fail to realize that experience can be spoken of only through language (the data of experience does not speak for itself). To deny language (and philosophy, which is a form of its expression) is to give up talking about experience. If by reality we mean, in the Masonic specific, the initiatory Way, then one way to talk about it is philosophically, and this is the way that Guénon himself favors. Indeed, not only do certain philosophical doctrines enter his writings, but also and above all the same philosophical language he uses to express his own initiatory conception. To deny Freemasonry a philosophical foundation is to deny the possibility of talking about it. One falls into this error by considering Guénon’s work not as a whole but only partially, that is, by denying validity to the ideal and philosophical plane.
This misunderstanding of Guénon’s work is also reached by another route, which, like the previous one, is incapable of grasping it in its generality. This position can be summarized as follows: the true and authentic foundation of Freemasonry is the metaphysical (the expression of intuition and supra-rational knowledge); since philosophy (the expression of discursive reason) is a degeneration of metaphysical knowledge, it cannot characterize the true conception of Freemasonry, which is metaphysical. Those who hold this view are inspired by Guénon’s distinction between the “non-human” and the “human” and attribute to Freemasonry only the characteristics of the “non-human” (such as eternal and immutable truths) while judging the characteristics of the “human” (such as reason and philosophy) as negative. Here, too, Guénon’s thought is misunderstood. It is true that he speaks of the “human” (and thus philosophy) as a degeneration of the “non-human,” however, he does not think that the “human” is negative, as some of his interpreters do. Guénon, in truth, considers the “human” (with all its specifications) as a necessary condition for returning to the “non-human”: there can never be reacquisition of the eternal truths of metaphysics (vertical path characterized by the great mysteries) if first the initiate has not already traveled the “human” path (horizontal path characterized by the small mysteries). Therefore, philosophy, reason, history, and science, as representations of the “human”, have a positive value. In Guénon’s conception, Freemasonry is founded on both the “non-human” and the “human”, although the latter is in an inferior and subordinate position to the former.
From the above interpretative errors, there also follows a negative judgment on books that purport to speak philosophically about Freemasonry: they would be human, indeed too human. Those who assert this would like real books on Freemasonry to talk about the “non-human”. But is this possible? If the “non-human” is characterized by the initiatory secret that is, by its nature, ineffable and incommunicable, then no book can speak of it. Not even Guénon succeeded in writing books on the “non-human”, and he failed to do so for the simple reason that no man can write such books. Not only the newly initiated Freemason, but not even the Grand Initiate who has come into the presence of the perfect Gnosis, for it is not expressible and communicable. Guénon’s books are, therefore, “human” books using philosophy and discursive reason, in the same way that I am writing this Lecture on Freemasonry. Of the absolute Truths of Perfect Gnosis no one can speak, not even Guénon, because there is silence around them.
Another mistake that certain interpreters and followers of Guénon incur is to define Freemasonry exclusively as a “method.” Again, Guénon’s work is considered not as a whole, but only partially. This position can be summarized as follows. The Mason, after receiving initiation, is initiated on the Initiatory Way, which he travels according to his own subjective possibilities. Since this Way is experienced, that is, experienced subjectively and effectively, Freemasonry has only the task of teaching how to walk it. Since such teaching consists of a set of prescriptions, Freemasonry is a “method.” Those who hold this position fail to realize that the Initiatory Way is not an end, but that, instead, it is projected toward knowledge of the eternal truths of metaphysics and that it is precisely metaphysics that gives meaning to the initiatory method. By prescinding, therefore, from metaphysics one operates the absolutization of the method, that is, one believes that the method, and only the method, can provide the Mason with everything he needs to walk the Initiatory Way.
It is evident that, on the part of such reductive interpreters, there is difficulty in correctly understanding the nature and function of the method, which, as Wittgenstein puts it, is like a ladder that, after use, can be thrown down. By this is meant to emphasize the instrumental character of the method: the method (the ladder) is constructed to attain knowledge of something: the external world, mental states, Perfect Gnosis, etc. Rather, it is precisely the kind of knowledge to be attained that constitutes the criterion by which the method is constructed. Thus, for example, the scientific method arises from the need to investigate the external world from a certain notion of science (the one developed by Galileo, which is based on both “sensible experiences” and “necessary demonstrations”), without which that method would be meaningless. The same is true of the Masonic method, which can be practiced only on the condition of knowing what conception of Freemasonry one is inspired by. As far as Guénon is concerned, there is no doubt: since the Initiatory Way must tend toward metaphysics, it is precisely metaphysics that constitutes the foundation on which to build the Masonic method. To return to the metaphor of the ladder, we say that it must necessarily be leaning against something (against a wall, a tree, metaphysics, etc.). Without such support, it would not stand. Those Masons who define Freemasonry simply as a method claim to hold the ladder up but without any support. No one has ever succeeded.
The results we have reached so far make it possible to establish a comparison between the conception of Freemasonry outlined by Guénon and the conception of Freemasonry as it has been formed in its recent developments (from 1717 to the present day), based on Constitutions and “Declarations”. I will make such a comparison by calling Guénon’s conception “metaphysical” and my proposed conception “regulativist”.
The main reason why Guénon’s conception is not acceptable in Freemasonry concerns the devaluation of autonomous historical events in favor of metaphysical interpretation. Freemasonry, like Christianity, is immersed in history and draws from history the values to be made the principles of ethical refinement. The great historical events have significance in themselves for Freemasonry as bearers of universal values. For Guénon’s conception of Freemasonry, all this is meaningless: the only meaning to which he recognizes validity is that which goes beyond autonomous historical facts, and which constitutes precisely the metaphysical interpretation.
To argue that the “human” prevails over the “non-human” is not to share a conception based on a materialistic and atheistic type of immanentism, since the “human” is oriented by the transcendent, which represents the horizon within which meaning is conferred on human moral actions. It is precisely the transcendent that justifies and grounds morality, as I have argued in previous Lectures.
The way of conceiving the relationship between the profane world and the initiatory world, understood separately, leads Guénon to demand from man an entirely unnatural attitude. Man is born into the profane world and receives his education from it, from childhood to the later stages up to mature age. It is the secular world that, from the very first moments of his existence, penetrates his consciousness and shapes him. How is it possible, therefore, to separate from it completely? This request is humanly unattainable: those who wanted to implement it would have to leave profanity while continuing to live in it. The paradox of mysticism recurs here, albeit in other guises. The regulativist conception, for all the reasons that justify it, rejects such a separation, and therefore builds a bridge between the profane world and the initiatory world. Man is born profane and becomes initiated, developing to the fullest his positive qualities (goodness, justice, tolerance, solidarity, etc.) that already exist in the profane world. Freemasonry has, therefore, as I have already highlighted, a profane part, consisting of the fundamental notions of freedom, tolerance, brotherhood and transcendence, and a specific part, consisting of the initiatory secret. It is only in this way that the Freemason, by perfecting himself, can also improve humanity.
We are faced with two conceptions of Freemasonry. Which one is the true one? On the ideal level, both can make the claim to be true since each conception of man (philosophical anthropology), expressing a particular point of view about man, is true. Only by choosing and adopting a particular viewpoint can we make a judgment of truth, expediency, usefulness, or otherwise. Thus, if we define Freemasonry as that conception founded on metaphysical interpretation that lies beyond historical fact, then Guénon’s proposal is undoubtedly true and, consequently, the regulativist one is false. If, on the other hand, we base Freemasonry on the autonomy of historical facts and on the official documents (such as the Constitutions and Declarations, etc.) that its thought has elaborated, then the regulativist Freemasonry is true and, consequently, Guénon’s metaphysical one is false.
Can the two conceptions of Freemasonry be integrated? According to my thesis of “non-exclusive regulativism”, the regulativist conception, expressing the necessary minimal requirement for membership in Freemasonry, can also be integrated with other conceptions. On the basis of this philosophical thesis, we could argue that the Freemason can integrate his ethical ideal with the faith of a religion. Does the same argument apply to Guénon’s metaphysical conception? Before answering, we must rephrase the question in general: is the minimal requirement of membership in Freemasonry integrable with anything else? Or is integrability possible only by meeting certain conditions? It is my belief that integrability is not possible in general but only under certain conditions. From this it follows that the regulativist conception of Freemasonry is integrable only with other conceptions that meet its conditions of integrability. The most important condition concerns the common foundation: the regulativist conception is integrable with another conception if, and only if, a common foundation exists between the two conceptions. Comparison between the regulativist conception and Guénon’s metaphysical conception clearly showed that there is not a single common ground between them: instead, they are independent and alternative. It is not possible, therefore, to integrate one with the other. The Mason will have to make, consistently, a choice in favor of one or the other. If he tried, despite everything, to combine the two conceptions, taking a little from one and a little from the other, he would create the most absurd confusion and Freemasonry would be everything and the opposite of everything. The integration of the minimal requirement of membership in Freemasonry is, conversely, possible with religions, since Freemasonry and religions are found to share, albeit partially, some fundamental elements, such as, for example, the importance attached to history and morality.