Freemasons

   Founded in England in the early years of the 17th century, the Order of Freemasons promoted ideals of the brotherhood of men irrespective of economic and political station (women were not admitted to lodges), social welfare, religious toleration, and the primacy of human reason. Members were enjoined, however, to observe the legal norms of the lands in which they lived. The first Masonic Lodge in Vienna was “At the Three Cannons,” founded in 1742. Emperor Francis I (1708–1765), the husband of Empress Maria Theresa, was among the first members. Some of the most important progressives of the Austrian Enlightenment were Freemasons. Ignaz von Born (1742–1791), a Bohemian nobleman, who was a published mineralogist and geologist, was the guiding force of the lodge “True Harmony,” where he, and others like him, promoted scientific and technical education. Among the most active supporters of these efforts was Josef von Sonnenfels (1733–1813), at times often a close advisor to Emperor Joseph II. Leopold Mozart (1719–1787), the father of the great composer, was also associated with “True Harmony.”
   Though Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself belonged to another lodge, “Benevolence,” he apparently admired Born enough to use him as the model for the noble humanitarian Sarastro in his The Magic Flute (1791). A strain from Mozart’s masonic music is the basis of the melody of today’s Austrian national anthem. The influence of the Freemasons waned in the Habsburg lands during the French Revolution and the conservative reaction that followed. The Catholic church especially frowned heavily on programmatic religious toleration. Freemasonry was banned, only to be relegalized after the liberal-inspired Revolutions of 1848. After the Ausgleich of 1867, Freemasons in the Austrian lands vigorously supported policies that advanced the general welfare, such as classes in household management and more extensive public education, construction of student residences, appropriate custodial conditions for prison inmates, Boy Scouting, and the like. Leading political figures in the social politics of the First Austrian Republic, such as Julius Tandler, were Freemasons. Masons played an important role in the crisis-ridden years of the First Republic, getting needy children to Holland after the war where they could be fed and housed safely and arranging for endangered youngsters to flee to England after the Anschluss of 1938. Banned once again by the Nazi regime in Austria, Freemasons also participated actively in the Austrian resistance movements between 1938 and 1945. In July 1945, they regained legal status once again, marking the event with the opening of a new lodge, “Humanity Reborn.”

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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