Many years ago I was giving lectures on the subject of Judaism and Masonic Symbology and a Rabbi asked me when Freemasonry was born.
I answered that I think it’s impossible to know precisely the birth of the initiatory Institution hidden in the symbolic representations of Freemasonry; on the other hand we can certainly establish when this re-velation (veiled twice) of the Mysteries occurred.
In 1717 Freemasonry officially freed itself from the influences of the Rosicrucian mysticism from which the 3rd degree, equivalent to the initiatory Masterhood, was taken. The Master mason «on earth» of the universal initiatory spirit, symbolically called Master Hiram.
The abandoning of the initiatory-spiritual path co-occur with the commitment that masonry put into the fight for Human, liberal and democratic Rights which were suffocated by the interests of the monarchic and theocratic sovereignties.
In this situation Freemasonry took more and more the aspect of an exoterical initiatory Institution. It was a political and moral associative power that defended the physical and exterior common Wellbeing. In other words, it took care of the social welfare and the right to it, rather than the inner substance of men. There isn’t any critical spirit in this statement because like a wise man said: “it is difficult to think about God with an empty belly”.
If this ‘profane’ interest was socially a good thing in a way, such as for the French and American revolutions, on the other hand, when time and emergencies went by, the strong push to the ‘exteriorization’ caused in Freemasonry an «epicurean» degeneration; therefore masons ended up by paying more and more attention to ‘their own interests’ rather than social Rights.
Today an action of intellectual and speculative regeneration is desirable. A ‘good retirement’ from mundane things to remember the true origins and the true motives of the initiatory Institution that should go back to being an initiatory School rather than an Association of men. In order to achieve this, though, masons should acknowledge their first fundamental sin; that is to have fallen into a formal initiatory conceit that is only the shadow of the ancient ‘initiatory Reality’, together with the impetuous waves of dialectic which is as useless as wasteful.
But talking about Dante…
Dante was a member of the ‘Fedeli d’Amore’ which was a group of conspiring poets (cit. Nardini: Dante and the Fedeli d’Amore).
Dante condemned to hell the pontiff of the Church of Rome; he was the “lawless shepherd” who carried out “the foul deed” of selling the Templars because of their wealth to the king of France Philip the Handsome; he also lined up the scattered ‘Militia of Christ’ in the huge celestial amphitheater.
““Beatrice drew me, hushed and bent on speaking
And told me, “Look with wonder on those robed
In white – how countless is that congregation! …”
(Par. x x x 127-129)
The Fedeli d’Amore hid the principle of their soul in the shape of a woman.
It was said about them: "these poets of love are all Ghibellins, they are all in love with women who look so similar to each other that you’d think it’s the same woman and they (the women, Note of the Translator) covered by the same symbolism."
At the time of Dante (the Fedeli d’Amore still exist) other members were: Guido Guinizzelli, chief of the literary school, Guido Cavalcanti, Cino da Pistoia, Francesco da Barberino and Cecco d’Ascoli (who ended up to the stake as an heretic), Guido Orlandi and Gianni Alfani. They all ‘conjured’ against a corrupt Church that they called the savage she-wolf of Rome.
They lived for the sake of the virgin «Sophia», the holy Wisdom that led man from the earth to heaven and from death to life.
The initiates identified in the «rose» the spiritual Wisdom, namely the Mother Sophia (philo-sophia, theo-sophia, etc.)
“To praise the beauty of the rose meant for those poets to exalt the virtues of the secret wisdom that led to God.”.
The Templars were the bearers of the message: “Roman de la Rose” which is linked with Dante’s “white rose” that concluded his initiatory journey in the three kingdoms beyond death.
Woman for the Fedeli d’Amore was the equivalent of the mystic rose of the Sufis and the symbol of the secret Doctrine.
She could be called Mona Lisa or Mona Teresa or any other name; the name was only a way to exalt the values of the secret wisdom without causing the angry reaction of the papal power; the latter didn’t want to hear about wisdom or inner path.
The reason was that “if everyone was able to talk to God by himself” the idea of indispensability of their religious would disappear and the usefulness of the Church as well; up to that point it had the place of the celestial Sophia as an intermediary between man and heaven.