by Timothy Tindal-Robertson
A Christian Appraisal of Freemasonry
by Walton Hannah
Sixteenth edition with new Foreword,
(first published in 1952),
Augustine Publishing Co., Devon.
Available from The Angelus Press (#5039), $10.00.
Continuously in print since its first publication in 1952, there were signs from its inception that this was a very unusual book destined, in its own mysterious way, to work on unseen through succeeding decades like a leaven within the Church of England and the Grand Lodge of England itself, until now, well over 35 years later, its full effect as originally intended by the author is at last gradually beginning to come to fruition.
So this is a review not merely about the contents of a book which were remarkable enough at the time of its publication, but equally and even more interestingly, about its quite extraordinary subsequent after-life and development, a process initiated by the book itself and which today is working on into the Establishment in England more positively and successfully than ever before.
I never met Hannah myself, and neither his personal records nor his unique Masonic library, with books both for and against the Craft, have come down to us, so I am unable to relate how it was that he came to undertake this remarkable work. But it is certainly true to state that in the whole English-speaking world, to this day Darkness Visible is the only book written by a clergyman of the Church of England which deals exclusively and conclusively with the question of whether or not Masonry is a religion and, as such, whether it is compatible with Christianity. This observation is in fact itself the conclusion of a lengthy tribute which Stephen Knight paid to the unique character of Hannah's work in the pages of his own wide-ranging, informative and best-selling critique of Freemasonry published in 1983—The Brotherhood.
It was in January 1951 that Hannah first aired the whole question: "Should a Christian be a Freemason?" in an article under that title which was published in Theology, an academic magazine produced under the auspices of the SPCK and edited at that time by Canon Alec Vidler, who was chaplain to King George VI. Predictably this caused a considerable stir in the Establishment in England, since both the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, were members of the Craft, along with a considerable portion of the clergy and hierarchy of the Church of England. For the very first time a voice had been raised loud and clear within the Church of England questioning in the name of Christ the hitherto unchallenged belief that membership of the Lodge was entirely compatible with one's profession of Christianity.
When the subject was discussed in the Church of England Assembly of June 1951, the cardinal issue of compatibility was side-stepped under pressure from the influential Masonic lobby, which repeatedly asserted that a non-Mason could not presume to comment on the Craft with authority. By a skillful maneuver, any discussion of the theological arguments raised by Hannah was preempted, and the Assembly of the Church of England was thereby prevented from subjecting the beliefs and practices of Freemasonry to its scrutiny.
Far from being defeated at seeing his efforts aborted from the very outset, it was this immediate silencing of his just enquiries which drove Hannah to writing a book to prove, first of all, that it is perfectly possible for a non-Mason to find out the truth about Freemasonry, and secondly, that even in respectable English Freemasonry there was much to cause practicing Christians legitimate cause for concern.
And so, as Hannah writes in his Preface to the 10th edition in 1962, "Darkness Visible made its story appearance in a fierce controversy that was taken up in the secular as well as the religious press." Hannah had a friend in high editorial circles in Fleet Street, a man who was willing to take risks. When the book came out in June 1952, it was splashed in broad headlines right across the center page of a national Sunday paper, procuring instant dismissal for the editor responsible for this bold stroke, but at the same time assuring the work an irreversible launch.
All this is now so much dust and history, but the residual truth which lies at the heart of Hannah's book has never died. On the contrary, it has slowly and steadily grown in stature and influence in proportion as it has gained increasing recognition for the irrefutable testimony which it constitutes.
Hannah wrote the book, as he himself explains on pages 18-19, to substantiate his conviction that "for a Christian to pledge himself to a religious or quasi-religious organization which offers prayers and worship to God which deliberately exclude the name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name only is salvation to be found, is apostolic. I am also quite aware that there are many Christians, and even archbishops, who are also Masons who do not see it in that light, either because they do not take their ritual very seriously, or because they allow other considerations such as the good works, benevolence, and moral uprightness of the Craft to outweigh the clearly pagan implications of its formulæ..."
The first part of the book has a series of brief chapters with highly penetrating assessments on the different aspects of Freemasonry which give rise to contention: the sources for a study of Masonry; the Masonic oaths, or Solemn Obligations, as they are termed in the ritual; an analysis of whether Masonry is a religion, which includes some objections of particular gravity for any practicing Christian; the implications of membership of the Lodge by the clergy; the questions of benevolence, brothers and tolerance; and a summary of the ecclesiastical condemnations pronounced against Freemasonry by the principal Churches throughout the world.
To read Darkness Visible is, in a way, to give yourself a vicarious form of Masonic initiation! This was precisely the author's object. By laying open the rituals in their entirety before the public gaze, he showed that any person can be properly informed as to their nature and contents, whether Mason or non-Mason, and hence the Christian reader of Darkness Visible will find in the book all the information that is required to enable him to form an objective judgment on the whole question of the compatibility or non-compatibility of Masonry with Christianity.
There are also several valuable Appendices: one on variations in Scottish, Irish and American Workings; another on Christ-less Masonic services in Christian churches; and, in a further appendix on other Masonic degrees in England, Ireland and America, the author shows clearly that American Masonry basically follows the British system as outlined above.
All the foregoing explains why Hannah's uniquely critical exposé of Freemasonry as a non-Christian and anti-Christian organization should be of especial interest to Christians of all denominations, and not just in England but equally in America and, indeed, wherever the influence of the English-speaking world has extended. For in every case the English-speaking presence has been accompanied by the deplorable power and influence of Freemasonry to de-Christianize society—that same organization which used to assert unchallenged and with such complete self-assurance, until the dramatic changes inaugurated by the publication of Hannah's book, that it was in fact the very prop and pillar of Christianity throughout the English-speaking countries of the world.
In March 1965, the author and his book were featured in a BBC TV documentary which was seen by over twelve million viewers and the producer, James Dewar, wrote a best-selling account of the program entitled The Unlocked Secret. This was the first time that the general public had been able to see what goes on behind the doors of the Lodge, since various parts of the ritual were enacted in front of the cameras, with assistance from Hannah.
The following year Hannah died in Montreal, age 54. He had been born in 1912 in Sussex, England, the third of four sons born to William Hannah and his wife, Annie Brand, who came from Cleveland, Ohio. In 1955 he had resigned from the Church of England to become a Catholic, and he then entered the Beda College at Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained priest in 1958, and the following year was posted to Montreal, Canada, where he ran a live telephone-in program for the Catholic Enquiry Forum.
It is not the purpose of this reviewer to pass any personal judgment on Hannah's book or its subject. That is not needed, the evidence speaks for itself; it is there for anyone who wants to examine it for himself, and it is for each reader to form his own opinion about it. But as the publisher of Hannah's celebrated work for twenty-five years, I would like to include a brief testimony of my own, which is not without its significance. In all these years that Darkness Visible has been continuously in print, we have never received a single letter of complaint or criticism against the book from any Freemason or Masonic authority. On the contrary, we have some many thousands of copes direct to individual Masons, as well as to the official Masonic publishers, A. Lewis & Co. These, too, are facts which speak for themselves.
Let Hannah have the last word. At the end of his commentary on the ritual, he says: "No Church that has seriously investigated the religious teachings of Freemasonry has ever yet failed to condemn it" (p. 78).
In conclusion, in Darkness Visible, we have a truly remarkable book about a subject which is so sensitive that it sparked off such a furious debate when originally published; which despite being so summarily contested and rejected has nevertheless remained continuously in print for over thirty-five years which has been a the center of probably the only documentary on Freemasonry ever to be shown on the BBC, in a film which was seen by over twelve million viewed; which was praised, some thirty years after its original publication, in another best-selling exposé of Freemasonry, as being still the only work available which deals conclusively with the issue of whether or not Masonry is a religion; and which has won from both the Church of England and the Grand Lodge of the Freemasons an acknowledgment that the author's account of the rituals was both "accurate" and "a grave embarrassment to Freemasonry and a very powerful basis for its critics."