Justice is a philosophical, moral, legal and social concept inherent in all human organisations. Every group has its own idea of the rules that need to be respected in order to live together as harmoniously as possible. Such rules may be justified religiously or philosophically and may differ from one culture to another, although some rules are common to all cultures (such as the prohibition of incest, murder and theft, which anthropology has shown to be universal). Since justice is a concept inherent to the existence of any social body, it is omnipresent in human societies, whether explicitly or implicitly. Freemasonry, as a human society, could not ignore the notion of justice. Justice will therefore be considered and dealt with in two ways: as a moral principle, it will be presented to its members for reflection through the content of some of its degrees; as a concrete legal principle, it will be embodied in the various forms of Masonic Justice instituted within Masonic Lodges and Bodies.

Justice as a moral virtue

Freemasonry aims to offer its members a path to moral and spiritual improvement through the practice of its initiatory rites. Justice is therefore one of its constant concerns. Most frequently, in the majority of degrees, we find injunctions to practise virtue and to act in accordance with morality. But some degrees explicitly mention justice.

Among the Craft degrees, the only Masonic Rite to make justice an explicit theme of the reception ceremony is the Rectified Scottish Rite. After receiving the Light, the new Entered Apprentice discovers the word Justice, at the same time as the Brothers' swords are pointed at him. The Worshipful Master then explains to him that the Freemason must always follow the path of Justice and that the swords pointed at him are merely the symbol of the remorse that would assail him if he failed in his duty of Justice. But the harshness of this Justice is tempered by Clemency, which is then presented to the Neophyte, exhorting him to moderation when judging his fellow men. By joining Clemency to Justice, the Rectified Scottish Rite echoes the meaning of the biblical Hebrew word Tsedakah, which means both Justice and Benevolence.

Still in the Craft degrees, Justice appears in the opening ritual of the Rite of Misraim (known as the Rite of Venice 1788) and the Ancient Oriental Rite of Memphis, only this time in conjunction with Truth. The Temple in which Freemasons labour is referred to as the Temple of Truth-Justice, these two terms alluding to the mythological figure of the goddess Maat, symbolised in Freemasonry by the Rule. 

The theme of Justice is most frequently addressed in the higher degrees. It is the central theme in the Elect Master degrees, also known as the Degrees of Vengeance (9th, 10th and 11th degrees of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Secret Elect of the French Rite, etc.): these degrees relate the mission of the Masters elected to pursue Hiram's murderers and punish them for their crime. Freemasons in these degrees are being encouraged to go beyond a sense of vindictiveness to discover Justice.

Justice is also a dominant theme in the Kadosh, the 30th degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, which is also an Elect Degree. The backdrop to this grade is the tragic end of the Order of the Temple, and the Knight Kadosh is called upon to defend Justice against all forms of oppression.

The 7th degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite introduces us to another aspect of Justice. Its title is Provost and Judge, and the legend of this degree explains that, in order to re-establish order and Justice among the builders of the Temple, Solomon created the class of Harodim, holders of the Golden Key that opened the coffer containing Hiram's heart. This degree emphasises the need for Justice in the community of Masons and symbolically links it with the qualities with which Hiram was endowed.

And it is in the same sense that Justice appears in the 31st degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander. The duties of this administrative degree are "to ensure that no Brother [...] deviates from the duties imposed upon him; to prevent contraventions of the laws of Masonry; and to work for the repression of abuses" (Instruction of the 31st degree). The password for this grade is actually Justice, to which the answer is Equity.

By reminding us that some have the mission of ensuring that justice reigns among Freemasons, the 7th and 31st degrees of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite naturally lead us to talk about Masonic Justice from a very concrete point of view.

Masonic Justice 

Unless falling into angelism, Freemasonry necessarily had to adopt some form of internal justice, like any other constituted group. Prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717 (or more likely 1721), Lodges were independent and dealt with disciplinary matters internally. This meant they could sanction or even exclude a member without recourse to any outside authority.

With the creation of the Grand Lodge, the internal justice of the Lodge was preserved, but with a possibility of recourse to the provincial quarterly assemblies or to the annual assembly of the Grand Lodge. Similarly, if no arbitration could be found within the Lodge, the case could be submitted to the quarterly assembly or the annual Grand Lodge, and an ad hoc committee was formed. But no permanent instance embodied Masonic Justice.

This very simple kind of procedure, which reflects the pragmatic and essentially jurisprudential nature of Anglo-Saxon law, was adopted by the Grand Lodges that were being established in Europe in the 18th century. But it soon proved unsatisfactory in Latin countries such as France, where Roman law is much more restrictive and rigid. 

In France, for example, the Grand Orient de France fixed in 1773 that disputes would be dealt with by the Chamber of Paris or the Chamber of Provinces (depending on the geographical location of the Lodge or Lodges concerned), and that financial matters would be handled by the Administrative Chamber. In both cases, the Grand Master's Council acted as a Chamber of Appeal or Cassation. But all these instances were also responsible for running the Grand Orient, and had no exclusive judicial function.

In 1805, and again in 1826, the system was clarified, defining categories of infractions and proposing different procedures if Brothers from outside the Grand Orient were involved. But no permanent instance was created, the appeal mechanisms remaining the various Chambers of the Order.

As early as 1854, a Masonic judicial power distinct from the legislative and executive powers was introduced, and in 1884 the foundations were laid for the four-tier system that is still in use within the Grand Orient of France: the Family Council within the Lodge, the Regional Fraternal Jury, the Jury of Appeal, and finally the Supreme Chamber of Masonic Justice functioning as a court of cassation. It would be tedious to detail the entire system, which today constitutes the eighth book of the Regulations of the Grand Orient de France, with no less than ten titles and forty articles. But this system, which corresponds to French juridism, is undoubtedly the most complex that Masonic Bodies have ever produced.

By way of comparison, the Grand Orient of Belgium has adopted a much simpler judicial system. Justice is exercised by the "Chambre du Milieu", i.e. the assembly of the Masters of the Lodge. The accused Brother, the Officers of the Lodge and the Grand Orator of the Grand Orient are entitled to appeal to a Masonic Court of Appeal, made up of seven judges chosen by lot from a list including two delegates from each Lodge. 

There is therefore no Masonic Justice per se. Ultimately, the way in which justice is exercised within a Masonic Organisation depends essentially on the legal culture of the country in which it is located.

November 22, 2023 — Ion Rajalescu