Founded on 6/24/1773
The Grand Orient de France (GODF) is the largest of several Masonic organizations in France and is the oldest in Continental Europe (as it was formed out of an older Grand Lodge of France in 1773, and briefly absorbed the rump of the older body in 1799, allowing it to date its foundation to 1728 or 1733). It is generally considered to be the mother lodge of traditional Liberal, or Continental Freemasonry.
In 1777, the Grand Orient de France recognised the antiquity of the Lodge of Perfect Equality, said to have been formed in 1688. This, if it actually existed at that time, was a military lodge attached to the Earl of Granard's Royal Irish Regiment, formed by Charles II of England in Saint-Germain in 1661, just before his return to England. The regiment remained loyal to the Stuarts, and did not return to France until after the fall of Limerick in 1689. They returned to barracks in Saint-Germain in 1698, surviving to become the 92nd Infantry Regiment after the revolution. With these dates in mind, modern scholars usually regard the 1688 lodge as a folk tale.
An English Lodge is also said to have been founded at Dunkirk in 1721. Another "first Lodge" was organised by exiled Jacobites under the Earl of Derwentwater in Paris about 1725. A lodge was documented at the Louis d'Argent in the Rue des Boucheries, Paris, in 1732. These were English-speaking lodges that happened to be in France. There was also a French lodge listed in the 1723 minutes of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. Meeting at Solomon's Temple, in Hemmings Row (then off St. Martin's Lane in London) the Master was Jean Theophile Desaguliers, then Deputy Grand Master and effective governor of the craft in England. In a list of members, mostly having French names, James Anderson, who compiled the first printed constitutions, is listed as "Jaques Anderson maitre et arts".
The first "deputisations" of lodges in France by the London Grand Lodge occurred in 1732, and the Grand Orient now dates its foundation from 1733, when there started to be a recognisable Grand Lodge of France. It was in 1743 that the English Grand Lodge of France became a French phenomenon, with Louis, Count of Clermont becoming Grand Master until his death in 1771. Shortly after his death, a schism occurred, with the larger party becoming the Grand Orient de France in 1773. The ritual of the new Grand Lodge followed that of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.
By the time of the French Revolution, there were some 1250 Masonic Lodges in the country.
The Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs was a prominent lodge attached to the Grand Orient de France that was particularly influential in organising French support for the American Revolution and later in the intellectual ferment that preceded the French Revolution. Benjamin Franklin was a member of this Lodge when he was serving as liaison in Paris.
Some notable French revolutionaries were Freemasons, including Marquis de Lafayette, Marquis de Condorcet, Mirabeau, Georges Danton, the Duke of Orléans, and Hébert.
Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, a leader of the Liberal Aristocracy, was the Grand Master of the Grand Orient at the time of the French Revolution. In some parts of France, the Jacobin Clubs were continuances of Masonic lodges from the Ancien Régime, and according to historian Alan Forrest "some early clubs, indeed, took over both the premises and much of the membership of masonic lodges, before rebadging themselves in the new idiom of the revolution."
The Catholic Encyclopedia alleges that the Masonic book La Franc-Maçonnerie, écrasée in 1746 predicted the program of the French Revolution, and claims to quote documents of the Grand Orient of France where Freemasonry claims credit for the French Revolution. However, the New Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967 says that modern historians see Freemasonry's role in the French Revolution as exaggerated.
In 1804 it merged with the rival Grand Lodge, the Rite Ecossais.
In France Napoleon III established a dictatorship over official French Freemasonry, appointing first Prince Lucien Murat and later Marshal Magnan to closely supervise Freemasonry and suppress any hints of opposition to the regime.
The Paris Commune
According to the Marxist author Ernest Belfort Bax, Freemasons had a considerable involvement in the Paris Commune after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at reconciling the Commune with the French Government.
Schism with the United Grand Lodge of England
In 1877, at the instigation of the Protestant pastor Frédéric Desmons, it allowed those who had no belief in a supreme being to be admitted. The United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) and related Lodges regarded belief in the Supreme Being as a Masonic Landmark.
It was this decision that has been the root cause of the schism between the Grand Orient (and those lodges that followed it), and the rest of Freemasonry. It is a schism in Freemasonry which continues to this day. It is argued that the definition is ambiguous, that Anderson's Landmarks are his own collection and interpretation of the historical landmarks, and that changes in both interpretation and practice have occurred before and since.
The decision was not universally approved in France. By 1894 many lodges had split off in protest and formed the Grande Loge de France (GLdF) In 1910, a few members of the Grand Orient, wishing to re-introduce the concept of God the Great Architect, brought back the Rectified Scottish Rite from Switzerland. In the resulting friction with the national body, they amalgamated with the English lodge of Bordeaux to produce, in 1913, a third grand lodge, la Grande Loge Nationale Indépendante et Régulière pour la France et les Colonies françaises, now the Grande Loge Nationale Française.