A correspondent writes to us for information relative to the words which are placed at the head of this article. He says: “In the Old Charges I find the following expression: ‘A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Royal art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor, an irreligious libertine.’ Now the word ‘libertine’ is defined as a man of licentious habits of life, especially in relation to the other sex, and the epithet ‘irreligious’ seems therefore to be tautological in the sentence, while there seems to be some confusion of thought in thus closely connecting libertinisms of conduct with Atheism in belief. Can you explain the difficulty?”
The only difficulty arises from the excusable error of our correspondent in looking at the modern, and not at the antiquated meaning of “libertine.” A libertine now signifies, it is true, a profligate and licentious person, but originally it meant a freethinker, or Deist. Derived from the Latin “libertinus,” a man that was once a bondsman but who has been made free, it was metaphorically used to designate one who had been released, or who had released himself from the bonds of religious belief, and become in matters of faith a doubter or denier. ‑ Hence “a stupid Atheist” denoted, to use the language of the Psalmist, “the fool hath said in his heart there is no God,” while an “irreligious libertine” designated the man, who with a degree lean of unbelief, denies the, distinctive doctrines of revealed religion. And this meaning of the expression connects itself very appropriately with the succeeding paragraph of the Charge alluded to by our correspondent. “ But though in ancient times, Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that Country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.”
The expression “irreligious libertine,” alluding, as it does, to a scoffer at religious truths, is eminently suggestive of the religious character of our institution, which founded as it is, on the great doctrines of religion, cannot be properly appreciated by any one who doubts or denies their truth. ‑ Miscellany.
The Masonic Review. ‑ 1853