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Monday, June 3, 2019

WHERE HAVE ALL the MONASTERIES GONE? Freemasonry and the Fall of Catholic Europe

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Umbria, not Montecasino; the true cradle of Western Monasticism

In tourist brochures, Umbria is called the “green heart” of Italy - the only region[1] without a coast, and the exact geographic centre of the country. Though the most tourists usually hear about Umbria is about St. Francis, his was in fact a late revival; the roots of Catholic mystical spirituality go much deeper into Umbrian history.


Umbria was first evangelised in the 4th – 6th centuries by groups of Syrian hermit-saints who came out of their desert solitudes to take up residence about 40 miles from here in Spoleto and the surrounding areas – all still at the time very firmly under the jurisdiction of the Old Empire[2]. While the Emperor Julian the Apostate was busy persecuting Christians in Rome and trying to re-establish the worship of the old gods, remote and rural Umbria was being transformed into a land of levitating, wonder-working, Christ-worshipping, desert-mystic saints.

It is the untold story of the origins of what we now call Western monasticism; St. Benedict did not make it up himself but, having been born a few hours walk to one of these Desert Father-style monasteries in the mountains, learned it from St. Spes, a Christian refugee from Monophysite persecution in Syria.

As has been said many times, Benedict’s Rule was a key factor in rescuing and transforming civilised life as the old Empire crumbled. From his time on, cenobitic[3] monasticism – primarily a movement of the laity, not the clergy – in its various forms was the driving force behind the Christianisation of the residents of the Old Empire and its transition into a trans-national Christian civilisation. It was religious monks, not secular parish priests, who gave the Faith to the masses in the post-imperial centuries.

Umbria, as one of the great centres of this movement, became crowded with monks, and many of the towns that are still inhabited were founded or had their populations increase by the faithful who came to live close to their spiritual guides. But if you drive through the Umbrian countryside now, except in rare cases, you will see only the buildings survive, often depressingly turned into boutique “agritourismo” hotels.

This place is cradle of an ancient tradition of eremitical monastic life, in which monks lived either alone or in small groups. There are still hundreds of little medieval stone holy places dotted throughout the region, usually consisting of a small house, big enough to accommodate at most two or three, and a church. These are often now maintained by the state for their historical importance, and are especially revered and remembered by the people in the mountain areas. The one thing missing is the monks and nuns.

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Where did the monks go?

Most North American visitors to Italy marvel at the presence – apparently unapologetic – of Catholicism everywhere in this country. He sees crucifixes in post offices, churches and shrines everywhere, towns and streets named after saints he’s never heard of, priests and nuns running about Rome, Florence and Naples in cassocks and (at least, after the modern fashion) habits, and the meticulous care taken by the state to preserve statues and frescoes and various ancient artistic treasures of the patrimony of the Catholic Church. This, thinks the man raised in a 200 year-old nation, is the real thing. And he’s right, up to a point.

But context is everything, and the historical context most North Americans grew up in – an aggressively secularised, post-Protestant, Freemasonic-influenced and above all young culture much of whose history has been carefully retconned – cannot inform him of the reality. It is difficult to notice an absence, and our traveler will probably not ask a question that would be of immediate concern to – say – a time travelling visitor from the 12th century: what happened to all the monasteries?

An informed Catholic might assume that the monastic life died here in the 1960s for the same reason it did in the US and Canada, and again he would be partly right. But he probably won’t know why the Vatican II asteroid was able to do such a thorough job of wiping out the monastic foundations of Europe. In reality the monastic scene of 1965 wasn’t nearly as thriving as he might imagine, and Vatican II was only the most recent – and smallest – of a multi-century asteroid bombardment.

A clash of civilisations,[4] not a conspiracy theory

In a word, it was the “Enlightenment” philosophies and related “anticlerical” trends among the ruling classes influenced by them, heavily proselytised by the wealthy and influential Freemasonic sect. These rulers following the trendy new ideology started the war of the state on monastic life nearly two centuries before Vatican II was even a gleam in a French Dominican’s eye.

Like the devil in that movie, one of the greatest tricks the Freemasons ever pulled was to convince their vassal states, at least in the English-speaking nations, that they don’t exist. Or at least, aren’t up to what they freely admitted being up to as recently as 80 years ago. So enmeshed in the narrative that they helped to craft are most Anglos now that the Freemasonic influence has been all but written out of the political and cultural picture, leaving those who try to warn about it relegated to the world of conspiracy theorists of dubious mental stability. If you try to talk to an American, Canadian, Australian or Brit about the danger they pose, you will get a reaction as though you are talking about a secret invasion of space aliens.

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But the Italian memory – and Italian historical education – is not yet so deplorable, and most Italians have a more realistic understanding of the goals of the “craft,” whichever side they are on themselves. One of the reasons for this is that the founding of their country, as a modern, secular “nation state,” is only barely outside living memory. It is generally acknowledged here that Garibaldi’s Risorgimento – the forcible unification of the various sovereign states of the Italian peninsula, including the thousand year-old Papal States – was not only led by open members of the Lodge, but a key part of the larger Freemasonic goal for a dechristianised Europe.

In essence, the destruction of the monastic life in Europe came out of a clash between two entirely opposed metaphysical worldviews that is the background motivation for nearly all the history of the last 250 years. One, the ancient concept that human society serves a primarily spiritual function and the other the novel theory that the state is entirely man-made, exclusively for natural, material ends, untethered from God or His purposes for man. In other words, the “secular state” we know today. That clash in the Anglo world has been over for centuries, but in much of Europe, and Italy especially because of the presence of the centre of Catholicism in Rome, is still being to some degree waged openly.

Anglo visitors to Italian cities and outside observers of the condition of the Church in this country are often shocked by the frankness of the presence of active Communist parties[5]; posters everywhere for Communist Party candidates during election cycles, Communist party members of parliament and mayors, rallies for the “LGBT” movement that prominently feature hammer and sickle flags, and, most depressingly, large and influential segments of the Church at high levels plainly deeply embedded in and advocting for Freemasonry’s evil offspring.

masonic pyramidThe corruption of civic and ecclesiastical life by Freemasonry – including its involvement in the creation and promotion of Socialism and Communism – is plain, open and acknowledged here and no one would think of denying it or calling it a “conspiracy theory”.

 Recently, (significantly, after the most recent national election that saw the overthrow of the leftist parliamentary hegemony) police in Sicily and Calabria went on the offensive. Investigations, that are ongoing, that included seizure of secret membership lists have shown 193 lodge members – 122 of whom were in the Grand Orient of Italy (GOI), the oldest and largest that boasts Giuseppe Garibaldi as a past Grand Master – involved in mafia and mafia-related crimes. A 2017 report for a parliamentary anti-mafia commission found, “If it cannot be said that the Mafia and Freemasonry are a unity, what is certain is that between the two organizations ‘there are certainly relations’ and that Freemasonry has not fielded robust antibodies to counteract the infiltration of the Mafia and 'ndrangheta[6] in the lodges.”

The report said these organised crime/Freemason groups had infiltrated municipal governments, health care and banks, and were “legitimizing requests for intervention to change the course of processes and imposing silence.”[7].

“The Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian 'ndrangheta from time immemorial constantly nourish and cultivate an accentuated interest in Freemasonry,” the report said. The GOI responded by complaining that the investigation was a return to “fascist” attitudes in government and said that the members implicated constituted only 1% of the membership.  

 Pope Leo XIII[8] described the Freemasonic sect, saying it is “dedicated to the overthrow of the whole religious order of the world which Christian teaching has produced, and the substitution of a new state of things… based on the principles and laws of pure Naturalism.[9]” Edmund Cahill SJ in his 1931 book “Framework of a Christian State,” [10] said, “Freemasonry is today the central enemy of the Church and of every Catholic government and Catholic institution in the world.”

Freemasonry… implies or aims at the elimination of all religious organisation and the establishing of a type of human liberty and equality which are inconsistent not only with th eordinary arrangement of society, but even with the supreme authority of a personal God, distinct from man himself,” Cahill continues. 

“Freemasonry supplies the key, and at least a partial explanation of the extraordinary progress of the spirit of infidelity, irreligion and revolt against lawful authority which as characterised the history of the European races during the past two centuries. The constantly recurring revolutions, political upheavals, assasinations, and religious persecutions which loom so large in the modern history of Europe and America have been, for the most part, the work of Freemasonry. The network of secret societies – irreleigious, anarchical and communistic, which now almost cover the face of the globe are practically modelled upon and inspired by Freemasonry, and are in larrge measure controlled by it.”

While Freemasons make grandiose claims of connections to ancient Egyptian or Greek religion and sciences, the reality is that it was born in England in the late 17th or early 18th century as a result of the Protestant revolution and the growing influence of the post-Protestant “Englightenment” philosophies that were popular among the ruling and business classes in Britain at the time, particularly Deism, Naturalism and Rationalism. It is not a coincidence that these are the principles that have been universally adopted in all the nations of the western world.

The destruction of the monastic life had to happen first

Most of us have heard of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, but not as widely remembered is that, starting just before the French Revolution and then throughout the 19th century, the monastic life was almost completely wiped out by Europe’s new brand of “Enlightened” secular rulers. Across Europe, with the spread of these Enlightenment/Freemasonic principles, hostility to Catholic religion grew among a ruling class growing increasingly enamoured of the new ideology of “Enlightened absolutism.”[11]

18th century European ruling classes were flattered by Enlightenment philosophies that told them they were the ones destined to improve mankind by abolishing the dark superstitions of the ancient Catholic Faith. As Frederick the Great of Prussia put it, “My principal occupation is to combat ignorance and prejudice ... to enlighten minds, cultivate morality, and to make people as happy as it suits human nature, and as the means at my disposal permit.[12]

This article appears in the June 15th Remnant Newspaper. Catch Part II in the next issue--Subscribe Today!
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This hostility found its expression in aggression against contemplative monasticism, the purest manifestation of purely religious Catholicism. By 1800, the nominally Catholic rulers of Austria, Bavaria and Prussia were powerful enough to pressure the pope to agree to the suppression of monastic foundations and mendicant orders.

These new modern men of the Enlightenment looked upon the Church both as a political rival for their dreams of total dominance and a ready source of cash and property to be confiscated, or “secularised,” as it was more politely put. This reorganisation of civilisation was characterised by state seizure and closure of the thousands of European monasteries, outlawing of monastic vows, the abolition of monastic and mendicant orders, the liquidation of their lands and possessions (often to generate cash to finance wars).

State confiscation of monasteries started in earnest for Protestant rulers in northern Germany following the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 30 Years War in 1648[13]. From there the idea caught on among the nominally Catholic rulers that you could obtain quite a bit of monastic land and cash, and at the same time whittle away the political power of the clergy, if you just declared it was yours and ordered the monks to get lost.

Secularisation also entailed the annexation to the State of episcopal principalities[14] and temporal dominions held by churchmen, the nationalisation of parochial life, dioceses and seminaries, the rewriting of seminary education and preaching to be based on Rationalistic and Materialistic, Enlightenment ideologies, abolishing “dogmatic” or religious content.

Of special interest to these princes were the strictly contemplative foundations – accused of being “useless” – whose property would never be passed on to an heir at an abbot’s death, which meant that monastic wealth was never redistributed and tended only to grow through the centuries. These often presented a vexingly stable, wealthy and immovable political obstacle to an englightened prince’s worldly ambitions – in a real sense functioning as miniature independent states, subject to the Roman Pontiff and effectively outside his jurisdiction.

Thus the arbitrary suppression of monastic houses – often at gun-point[15] – marked a new phase of the conflict between “Church and State,” in which rulers began to insist that although “private religion” of individual belief could be tolerated – for a time, and to varying degrees – and some “useful” Church institutions could be allowed to function to benefit the state, the Church as a whole could have no voice in governance. It means, in essence, that this was the time of the overthrow of Christ as King of nations.

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Incalculable losses

By the middle of the 19th century, between the Protestants and the “enlightened” secularisers, monastic life was effectively dead in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Ireland and Wales, France, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain[16], Sweden and Switzerland, and was under severe pressure in Romania and Russia. It is impossible to know how many monastic foundations were destroyed altogether, nor to ever tally the damage done to local economies, including to the countless thousands of dependent agricultural and skilled artisan tenants thrown out of work and homes.

With many of the medieval buildings being demolished by their new private owners, the losses of architectural treasures will never be fully known, but the monastic treasures also included libraries of ancient and medieval manuscripts that were confiscated and redistributed, and often lost in the process.

Bavarian book-thief-in-chief, Bonapartist, Freemason and aggressive proselytiser of the Revolution, Baron Johann Christoph von Aretin, described monks desperately attempting to hide manuscripts in their habits and under their beds.

Aretin had reached Benediktbeuern, after Tegernsee his first truly major prize. Founded around 740 at the foot of the Bavarian Alps by St. Boniface, Benediktbeuern possessed an important scriptorium in the Middle Ages, its library was among the most important in German-speaking Europe… [T]he abbot, Karl Klocker, had already been harassed into silence, if not submission, by the secularization commissar Von Ockel the month before, and the library had even been sealed the preceding November…”

Aretin “selected” 7000 volumes, and the monks were forced to build the wooden boxes to transport their books to the Court Library in Munich. The remaining 12,000 volumes and documents stayed in Benediktbeuern until they were were auctioned in 1839, when the monastery was confiscated by the Bavarian military.

Some monasteries survived, and some communities were eventually able to re-occupy their houses and take up their breviaries again, but the damage had been done, and the deeply spiritual, thousand-year civilisation they had helped to create had been definitively conquered by the 1870s.

Klostersturm: “Secularisation” of “idle” monastics, a trendy new fad for the modern ruler

Among the earliest of these national suppressions, that provided something of a template for later justifications, was the “Edict on Idle Institutions” promulgated by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, in 1780. It dissolved many contemplative monasteries and a good many “active” orders in Habsburg Lands[17] and “reverted” all their property to the state – which was, effectively, the person of the Emperor.

Joseph, who fancied himself a defender of Catholicism (but was fascinated by Freemasonry and an admirer of Voltaire) wanted to separate the Church from the papacy and subordinate it to the state, a goal that has occupied rulers ever since. He nationalised seminaries, introducing a curriculum based on Rationalism and forced bishops to swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor. His nationalised church, including clergy salaries, was funded largely from the sale of confiscated monastic land.

About 1/3 (700) of the monasteries under Joseph’s jurisdiction were closed and religious were reduced from 65,000 to 27,000[18]. Monasteries that were allowed to continue to exist – or under Joseph’s successors to re-occupy their monasteries – had their lands confiscated, removing their means of support.

Joseph’s laws on religion – he issued 10,000 of them – suppressed Jesuits, Camaldolese (Benedictine hermits), Franciscans, Carmelites, Carthusians, Poor Clares, Benedictines, Cistercians, Dominicans, Paulists and Premonstratensians as well as lay tertiary organisations, confraternities and hermitages. The survivors had their revenues confiscated and channeled into a single state “Religion Fund”. All the charitable and pastoral work previously done by these institutions was now regulated and distributed by the state. All special Masses and privileged altars, processions, pilgrimages, and devotions were abolished or state-run.

Ultimately these immensely influential changes helped to spread the Enlightenment doctrines into the wider Church throughout Europe. As the Catholic Encyclopedia put it: “The fermentation [of secular Liberalism] within the ranks of the clergy of southwest Germany and Austria until after the middle of the nineteenth century came from the Liberal ideas imbibed at this time.” Joseph’s programme of state seminary studies “is to this day the groundwork of the curriculum in the Catholic theological faculties of Germany and Austria.”

In other words, we can thank Joseph II for much of the theological corruption of the Church, particularly in the German speaking countries, we see around us to this day.

Stay tuned for Part II – Napoleon and the Original “New Paradigm”: The Church for the Enlightened State


[1] The Italian equivalent of a US state or Canadian province.

[2] Though the Goth Odoacer (a nominal Arian) was going to overthrow the Western Emperor about ten minutes later (AD 476), establishing himself as “King of Italy,” nominally under the suzerainty of the Eastern Emperor in Constantinople.

[3] Monastic life is roughly divided into two types, eremitical and cenobitic, that is, groups of monks living, working and praying as a community in a common set of buildings. Even this was not Benedict’s invention, but came from a later development of Egyptian eremeticism (cf. St. Pachomius), especially as it was adapted to the cultural and climatic conditions of Europe. Eremitical life nearly died out in the Latin Church but survives today as a much more common part of life in the Eastern Churches.

[4] One might call them rival civilisational conceptual frameworks but it’s a bit of a mouthful.

[5] The discrediting of the “Red Menace” and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (a Catholic) in the US was a deliberate, orchestrated media campaign – “A red under every bed” became joke. But it was a smokescreen so successful that most Americans believe there never was a Communist infiltration into the US government, even in the face of declassified documents confirming McCarthy’s worst fears.   

[6] A Calabrian branch of the crime sindicates, powerful since the 1990s.

[7] It is somewhat cynically held by many Italians that there is no department of government that is so corrupted by Mafia and Freemasonic influence as the anti-Mafia commissions, but perhaps there is hope that the new government – made up largely of outsiders to the immemorial political clubs – will make changes.

[8] The fastest way to dispell the “Freemasons are harmless” doctrine among faithful Catholics is to encourage them to read Humanum Genus, Leo’s 1884 encyclical, and then invite them to compare what the pope warned of with the current situation.

[9] “Naturalism” in 18th century philosophy is the complete rejection and contempt of the supernatural, including faith, grace and the sacraments, and the elimination of all reference to an afterlife.

[10] Reprinted by Roman Catholic Books, Fort Collins, CO

[11] It is one of the “black legends” promulgated by the anticlericals that medieval kings were “absolute monarchs” who abused their power, but the concept of absolute monarchy did not exist until the early modern period, promoted by the new ideologies. Catholic monarchs are restrained by divine and human law.

[12]The Metaphysics of World Order: A Synthesis of Philosophy, Theology, and Politics” Nicolas Laos, 2015, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon.

[13] Those who wonder where the modern world got the idea for its “World Wars” would benefit from a little reading about this catastrophic consequence of Luther’s revolt. Until 1918 it topped the charts for humanity’s most deadly wars and involved 194 states, in the territories of Austria, Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Russia and Switzerland.

[14] A remnant of the feudal ages where bishops and abbots held territories as feudal lords. One of the last of these was held by Josef Cardinal Mindszenty who, under the pre-Communist Hungarian constitution was the legal head of state.

[15] The internet has haunting photos from 1903 of the monks being paraded, in their habits, out of their monastery of La Grande Chartreuse, flanked by what looks at first like an honour guard of mounted and armed police officers. The expulsions were opposed by local people who protested openly and even spent nights, armed with farm implements, guarding the entrances to monasteries under threat from the government.

[16] The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the horror of the suppressions in the south of Spain in the mid-19th centuy where “the expulsion of religious sometimes took the appearance of a popular insurrection: convents were pillaged and burned, religious were massacred.” 

[17] More or less synonymous with modern Austria, though including effective rule of parts of Hungary, the Netherlands and Italy.

[18] In a tale that sounds depressingly familiar, Joseph, the first “Enlightenment” Habsburg Emperor, also secularised marriage, reduced the number of holy days and introduced a “simplified” form of the Mass and Divine Office.

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Last modified on Monday, June 3, 2019
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.