Table of Contents
- The Beginnings of Bolivar
- The Change of Character
- His Attitude towards Religion Personally and Politically (1828-1830)
- His Spiritual Testimony
Freemasonry is one of Europe’s oldest institutions, although the exact date of its foundation is not known. Historians claim that freemasonry possibly comes from the stonemasons, the oldest documents that refers to the masons date back to the 1390s. Freemasonry is a pseudo religious/social fraternity. The ideals that are held by the institution of Freemasonry are those of Political Liberalism, Relativist Philosophy, a touch of anticlericalism, religious indifference, Jacobinism, personal study, social betterment and self-improvement. Although the Lodge upholds no dogma as absolute truth, the Masonic Lodge requires their members to adhere to one dogma which is the belief in a Higher Power. The Lodge does not discriminate religions and holds them all as equally fulfilling in the eyes of “The Great Architect of the Universe”. The lodge as well holds certain, those that are previously stated that masons are encouraged to hold.
Freemasonry historically has had some influence in the course and development of politics as many of its members were part of intellectual circles, nobility and men in high positions of the military. Notable examples of members of Freemasonry are George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, founding fathers of the United States of America, Voltaire and the Marquis of Lafayette, notable characters that worked towards the French Revolution and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Father of Italy. Masonic ideals, since many of its members participated in important historical events, are found in most of the resulting government/change of each revolution. In the times of the Age of Enlightenment, were the membership of the society was growing at a rapid pace, Masonic Lodges were seen as meeting places for political discussions as many of the members shared ideals and held similar beliefs. The policies and ideals that tend to come from regimes that were initiated by people from masonic influences tend to be either indifferent to religion personally and politically and in many cases anticlerical.
Simón José Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios Ponte y Blanco, was a South American nobleman and General that liberated the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador and Panamá. He fought against the Spanish Crown which was known as the Catholic Monarchy. This and his close alliance to Freemasonry during the war led him to be known as a mason in between royalist circles, which was not a compliment to him. This investigation will look at Bolivar’s life and answer the dilemma of whether he was a freemason or not, by examining not only his actions and letters, but as well the policies he enacted concerning the subject matter.
The Beginnings of Bolivar
Simon Bolivar was born the 24th of July 1783 to a Noble family of Basque origins. During his early childhood he was at the care of a nanny, but as time it was tradition for Noble Families he was then given a mentor. Originally, he was mentored by a man called Miguel Jose Sanz but after a few discrepancies with him he changed mentors. Bolivar’s next mentor would be Simon Rodriguez, who was an extravagant Liberal, a man of deep revolutionary fervour and as well, separatist ones. Bolivar’s mission would be pin pointed to begin here. He was fed by his mentor, philosophers of the likes of Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu, with Rousseau being his personal favourite. Bolivar was in fact so influenced by Rousseau that one of his Liberal Biographers, Colombian Jules Mancini, notes the following.
“The influence of Rousseau on the youth that carried out the South American influence was as effective and lasting as it exerted on the men of the French Revolution ... He will never say enough to what extent it has had consequences on the formation of the modern world on the 'Historical phenomenon' that was Rousseau.'
Bolivar’s ideals at that moment were summed up by the following creed “rebellion over authority, anarchy over order, rationalism against religion, abstract thought over organic tradition.” The doctrine and moral principles that were being taught to Bolivar was best described by Gral. Jose de Sucre when talking about Rodriguez, he described them as “French Behaviour (Francesada).” Indeed, Bolivar was a Liberal. According to Marius André, Simon Rodriguez thought he found in Bolivar his Rousseau due to that fact he was quite like him not only in beliefs but as well in character. Rodriguez described him as a “Tropical Rousseau”. Following that, as most liberals and other enlightenment figures did at the time, in the year 1803, Simon Bolivar was initiated in the French rite in the Masonic Lodge of Cadiz, Spain. He quickly rose to the rank of Master Mason in his own lodge. Masonry and Liberalism were complementary to each other in the thoughts of Bolivar at the time, this would lead to his famous Monte Sacro Oath which showcased in fullness all of that.
Not long after his oath, Bolivar returned to Hispanic America where he allied with further likeminded people, such as Francisco de Miranda, where now he became an “indigenist”. He was now a total revolutionary, deeply devoted to the ideas of Jacobitism and Masonry. From 1810-1821 he was more than an Enlightened Classical Liberal, he was a liberal ahead of his time. He espoused ideals that resounded with those of the likes of Marx and Lenin. He declared war on the Catholic King, the Catholic Church and most importantly his people’s religion. Bolivar elevated his anticlericalism to French Revolutionary levels. By doing this he immediately made himself an ally of the Liberal-Masons.
The Change of Character
The Revolutionary experience in Colombia and Venezuela would prove rather impactful and life changing for Bolivar. Not only was there war outside, but there was war internally on his side. Constant anarchy and libertinism replaced peace and order in places where justice ruled. Slowly, because of what he saw he would start turning away from his juvenile beliefs. Officially this change occurs the 13th of June 1821 where for the first time this is clearly visible. In June 1821 Bolivar in a letter to General Francisco de Paula Santander, would visibly, officially and publicly declare an opinion contrary to the liberal doctrines. Which were so intertwined with the lodges, that he used to proudly espouse along with his comrades in South America. Then came the first official condemnation of French Revolutionary ideal of egalitarianism, which put him in opposition immediately with the Masonic Lodges who were at the time extremely Jacobin. And lastly, we see a whole change of style in the ideals of Bolivar, in the letter to General Francisco de Paula Santander, declares the following:
“I believe that the Government of the Republic, should be founded on our customs, our religion and our inclinations, and ultimately on our origin and history.”
Bolivar dropped his liberalism and masonry in favour of the type of conservatism of a reactionary style. Historian Victor Andrés Belaúnde said that there were two Bolivars who were “not only different, but as well were in opposition to each other.” Bolivar wanted to save the Republic using the principles of the reaction, making war against revolution. This drastic change in politics led to a whole change in him spiritually speaking, Bolivar officially dropped his masonry and becomes a practicing Catholic again. The same Bolivar which acclaimed Rousseau, sentiments of Anticlericalism and the separation of Church and State of his masonic peers, directed to the Congress of Gran Colombia and ordered that they protect “the holy faith that THEY profess” and hailed such faith as the salvation of Colombia. His experience with the Revolutionary Movement led him to find the old traditions of his history, whether it was the institutional heritage of the Hispanic Monarchy or the Catholic Faith which forged the lands of which he was born.
His conversion was sincere, clearly visible is this from his private letters in which he showed enthusiasm for having the clergy receive him lovingly and wishes to make the Catholic, Roman and Apostolic religion the vital strength of the Republic. It was not enough for him to become a Conservative, rather he had to become extremely religious and strongly antiliberal. Bolivar was decisively convinced that Liberal Democracy was not the way to go for South America. He constantly called for an absolute government that would have the necessary authority to provide freedom, order and prosperity. Bolivar, accepted the insults of despot, tyrant and of dictator with no problem.
His Treatment of Masons</h2>As he radically changed in character and became more and more conservative, he put himself at odds with the Jacobin masonic elites of the time. His opposition, led by the liberal-mason General Santander, started trying to boycott him. This led to the infamous exchange of the 8th of October 1828 of letters between Bolivar and General Francisco de Paula Santander in which he said the following on those who frequented the Lodges:
“Damn the Freemasons and such charlatan philosophers…They will be treated as deserved.”
This letter, historians note was a blow to his ex-allies and comrades that fought along him during the Wars of Independence. Bolivar was not finished with controversial statements and much later, to be precise a month later, having accredited enough information on the masons from his experience, he would decree his infamous “Decree on Secret Societies” to be executed as law in the Republic of Gran Colombia. Bolivar’s dislike of masonry is not unfounded. French General, Peru de Lacroix remarked that according to Bolivar the lodges were infested with “fanatics, deceivers and fools.” For Bolivar getting rid of these people was necessary as to establish order in his Republic that was on the verge of Anarchy. The Decree goes as follows:
“Article 1. All societies or secret confraternities, regardless of the denomination of each one, are prohibited in Colombia.
Article 2. The Governors of the provinces, by themselves or through the Chiefs of Police of the Cantons, will dissolve and impede the meetings of the secret societies, ascertaining carefully if there are any in their respective provinces…”
Once this decree was put into force, historian Victor Andrés Belaúnde mentioned that during his presidency there was no masonic influence in the governments of Venezuela and Colombia. Because of the decree, relationships between the Lodges and Bolivar became extremely tense, to the point where they started plotting against him and his close relatives. Belaunde argued that masonry got its revenge on Bolivar by assassinating his “dauphin”, Marshal Jose Antonio Sucre, the 4th of October 1830 in Berruecos. Bolivar’s hate for secret societies thus would reach its peak at this point. This period of his in history, one can see a total break between he and the liberal-masons of his time. Victor Belaunde’s accounts shows us that there was a visible conflict going on between the Lodges and Bolivar, which further supports the idea that he was not a liberal-mason as claimed.
It is worthy of mention, that Bolivar’s hatred of secret societies was not just based on political reasons or petty discrepancies between the lodges and him. Rather, they were as well founded on solid Catholic Doctrine on the questions of secret societies. Bolivar explicitly followed what was said by Pope Clement XII in ‘In Eminentis Apostolatus’, which claimed masonry was bad for the civil order and salvation of souls and by Pope Leo XII in the 1825 Constitution ‘Quo Graviora” in which membership to freemasonry is condemned perpetually by the Church. Bolivar saw Masonry as an adversary not only to him, but to the Catholic Religion he professed. Wanting to preserve such institution led the way towards many of the policies he would decree concerning the treatments and rights Freemasonry and other secret societies of the sort would have in the Republics which he liberated.
His Attitude towards Religion Personally and Politically (1828-1830)
Bolivar pursued a strongly conservative-reactionary religious policy during the period denoted as “The Dictatorship”. Though officially his first religious move was in 1821, when he swore his presidential oath on the Constitution of Cucuta which declared Catholicism the sole and only religion of the state. Bolivar’s attitude towards religion kept improving and bettering, the next change came in 1825, where in a letter to María Antonia Bolívar he would say the following;
'I am very happy that the clergy are waiting for me impatiently as you say. You can assure them that I will protect the religion until I die.'
In 1828, once the period known as the Dictatorship starts, Bolivar starts enacting fervently, policies that are favorable to the Church and completely against the French Revolutionary ideals of Jacobinism and anticlericalism. In public statements to the people of the Gran Colombia and its congress, most of his ideas on what and how he wants to act on religion are revealed. In the 27th of August 1828, he says the following in a speech:
“Colombians! I force myself to strictly obey your legitimate wishes; I will protect your sacred religion as the faith of all Colombians and the code of the good.'
Bolivar shows here that he is ready to act himself against anything that goes against their religion. These threats of protecting the religion were to included secret societies as enemies of the church, reflecting his hostility towards them with this public statement. On Monasteries, religion in the public sphere and as well religious education he writes to Fr. Justiniano Gutierrez in October 1828:
'I take the greatest interest in the restoration of religion and the monastic orders that contribute so much to the civilization of this country and, what is more, that they work incessantly to prevent the propagation of the principles that are destroying us and that finally they manage not only to destroy the religion, but also the living ones, as happened in the revolution of France ... without the conscience of the religion, morality has no basis.'
Bolivar’s letter gives us a huge insight into what he thought the relationship between the state and the church should be like, such vision further distanced him from the anticlerical and Jacobin liberal-mason opposition. As a result, Bolivar starts going after those places in which the Catholic Faith is being attacked by the institutions, which included freemasonry, that were established in the countries he liberated. To the Venezuelan Congress he reminds them faithfully that the Constitution and the Senate declared that the State Religion is the “Religion of Jesus”. In Bogota he starts closing certain universities courses because they teach values that are contrary to the Catholic Faith which he swore to uphold and protect as it is the state religion of the Republic. He replaced those courses with Catholic ones. From looking at these policies they furthermore suggest he has completely distanced himself from the Anticlerical freemasons.
Bolivar, foments missionary works around the republic. He decrees the act of teaching them the faith to the natives. Bolivar as well castigated acts of public blasphemy, in his words he “would not suffer my father to blaspheme Our Lady.” The greatest example of that is his exchange with an ex-religious at a community reunion in the locality of Cipaquirá. His Policies overall were completely favorable towards the Church and an extreme departure from those that were called for by the liberal-masons of his time, as noted by the Archbishop of Popayan and much later historian, Victor Andrés Belaúnde. At this point, Bolivar’s actions clearly show a man who stands against the principles of the masons, showing zero adherence to them. From the sources, both from the church’s perspective (the Archbishop of Popayan) and the secular perspective (Belaúnde), they show a balanced outlook of Bolivar. Both sources agree that he was just a Catholic man doing what a Traditionalist Catholic of his age would have. Connecting this to the focus of masonry in the question, his actions do not reflect a man who belonged to South American Freemasonry.
His Spiritual Testimony
It is often argued by detractors of Bolivar that he was not sincere in his faith. Some claim that his defense Catholicism came from the principle of getting the people on his side. Claims that actions came from the fully material is not unfounded, he was a radical anticlerical and liberal and for him to change his ways so drastically lead many to believe that he was deceiving all those around him for the sake of popular support.
Bolivar, though did become a staunch catholic after he left his revolutionary spirit slowly from the periods of 1828-1829. The Archbishop of Caracas noted that he was not an exemplary Christian, but he had a massive respect for the religion and was devout and sincere in his faith. The Archbishop would point out the fact of him constantly attending religious services and public acts not acting as a representative of the state, rather as a layman. He would attend Mass constantly and try making it to Sunday Mass as much as possible. It was noted that Bolivar had a special devotion to the Virgin Mary, with him commending himself to her anytime he was in danger or in battle according to catholic historian Ramon Vinke. The sources provided here which all look at Bolivar from the perspective of the Catholic Church, not only at the time but as well expressed through modern day historians, Bolivar’s conversion was indeed one of good faith with no malintent behind it.
Bolivar after leaving freemasonry in 1821 went to die as an unrepentant Christian, by looking at his spiritual testament written not long before his death, he claims to be not only a Christian but does a profession of the Christian Faith as taught by the Catholic Church. From his testament:
'In the name of Almighty God. I, Simón Bolívar ... being seriously ill, but in my full and complete judgment, memory and natural understanding, believing and confessing as I firmly believe and confess the high and sovereign mystery of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three different people and one true God, and in all the other mysteries that our Holy Mother Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes, teaches and teaches, under whose belief I have lived and I protest to live to the death as a faithful Christian catholic ... under divine invocation, I do, grant and order my will in the following way… I entrust my soul to God Our Lord, who from nothing created and the body to the land from which it was formed…”
This solemn confession clearly addresses the fact that he was not a mason. Examining some key words from the source, such as “one true God”. Bolivar has rejected the notion of that all religions are equal. The source which explicitly emanates from him provides an excellent outlook of his person, showing firstly good faith in the Church and lastly shows that his doctrines professed are completely different to the ones held by the Freemasons.
By examining his life through the sources to answer the question. It is quite clear that Bolivar belonged to Freemasonry, though only up to a certain point. As agreed by both liberal historians such as Peru Lacroix and conservative ones such a Belaunde, “El Libertador” can only be shown to be a freemason until 1821 where he officially showed discrepancies and a severing of ties with the society. As noted by catholic sources and as well secular ones, in the end he renounced all his juvenile liberal-masonic beliefs and embraced the life of a devout catholic along with reactionary/conservative positions regarding the social and political life of his country. He advocated for anything that was for the Church and neglected and attacked anything that would be harmful to the material and spiritual state of Roman Catholicism in the life of Gran Colombia as proven by his letters. He castigated blasphemy, he banned secret societies, instated Catholicism as the sole religion of the state with protections of it, he denounced the ideas of political liberalism and the principles of the enlightenment. To answer the question, Bolivar’s action only show that he dwelled with freemasonry at a young age and that’s about it, his latter actions would show a radical shift and show that he was a Catholic in a war against Masonry in his country.