JEAN-BAPTISTE WILLERMOZ AND THE C.B.C.S.

by

Mike Restivo (Sar Ignatius, Initiatèur Libre)


Jean-Baptiste Willermoz was born at Lyons, France, on July 10th, 1730. His father, Claude Cathrin Willermoz, was a haberdasher. J.B. Willermoz was educated at the Trinity School of Lyons. He opened his own silk business in 1754.

From 1750, when he was 20, Willermoz had been a Freemason. In 1752, he was appointed Worshipful Master of his Lodge. In 1753, he founded the lLodge “La Parfaite Amitié”/“The Perfect Friendship”, of which he is elected Master on St. John’s Day, June 24, 1753. In 1756, this Lodge joins the Mother Lodge of Lyons. Its charter of regularisation by the Grand Lodge of France is dated Nov. 21, 1756.

On May 4, 1760, the Worshipful Masters of the Lodge “L’Amité”/“Friendship” comprised of 20 members and “La Parfaite Amitié”, of 30 members and “Les Vrais Amis”/“True Friends”, of 12 members, set up, with the approval of the Grand Lodge of France, A Provincial Mother Lodge called “Grand Loge des Maîtres Réguliers de Lyon”/“Grand Lodge of Regular Masters of Lyons”. Willermoz is Provincial Grand Master from 1762 to 1763 and thereafter becomes Keeper of the Seals and Archivist. In 1763, he founds the “Souverain Chapitre des Chevaliers de L”Aigle Noir - Rose-Croix”/“Sovereign Chapter of Knights of the Black Eagle - Rose-Croix”.

In May of 1767, Willermoz undertakes a journey to Paris, where he meets Bacon de la Chevalerie, Deputy Grand Master of the Elus Cohen. He is initiated by Martinez himself in Verailles, France. In 1772, Willermoz learnes of the existence of a German Masonic Order called the “Rite of the Strict Templar Observance”. On Dec. 14, 1772, Willermoz applies by letter for affiliation. He receives an answer dated March 18, 1773 from Count Weiler. The Duke of Brunswick replaces Baron von Hund at the head of the Rite of the Strict Observance. From Aug. 11 to 13, 1772, Count Weiler is in Lyons, where he has come to personally establish a Strict Observance Lodge called “Loge Ecossaise Rectifiée ‘La Bienfaisance’”/“Scottish Rectified Lodge ‘Beneficence’”.

In Dec. 1777, three years after the death of Martiez de Pasqually, Rudolphe Salzmann, “Master of the Novices of the Directoire of Strasbourg” arrives in Lyons, where he is received as Elu-Cohen. We know that at the time, the Order of Elus-Cohen was suffering from internal dissentions and from a lack of leadership. Like many other sincere members, Willermoz can see that the Order was doomed and he is anxious to preserve all that can be saved. With the help of Saltzmann, and with the approval of Bacon de la Chevalerie, Willermoz conceives the project of implimenting the Secret Doctrine of the Elus-Cohen in the Rite of the Strict Observance. This he planned to do by adding to the classes of the Strict Observance, a higher class, called “La Profession”/“The Profession”, called such because its members would be “professed”, that is under chivilric vows. It contained two Degrees of “Le Chevalier”/“Knight” and “Le Profès”/“Professed”, in which the doctrine of the Elus-Cohen would be transmitted, thus alleviating the disparition of the Réau-Croix. It was not the intention to implant the operations of the Elus-Cohen in the Strict Observance.

A general meeting called the Convent of Gaul was held from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10, 1778 in Lyons, at the instigation of Willermoz. It was decided to reform the Auvergne Province of the Strict Observance and the French Templars took the name of “Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte”/“Knights Benefisant of the Holy City”, commonly referred to as “C.B.C.S.” from the French name. It was absorbed into the “Scottish Rectified Rite” as follows:

1st Degree - Apprentice

2nd Degree - Fellowcraft

3rd Degree - Master

4th Degree - Maître Ecossais/Scotch Master

5th Degree - Ecuyer Novice/Squire Novice

6th Degree - C.B.C.S.

7th Degree - Chevalier-Profès/Professed Knight

8th Degree - Chevalier-Grand Profès/Grand Professed Knight

After this reformation, Willermoz decided that it would be right to carry this action into the bosom of the Mother branch, the German Strict Observance. It was with this initiative in mind, that he went to the Convent of Wilhemsbad in 1782. He found supporters of his plan in the Princes Ferdinand of Brunswick and Charles of Hesse, but found stiff opposition on the part of the Illuminati of Bavaria (founded by Adam Weishaupt) and met the hostility of Francois de Chefdebien de Saint-Amand, representative of the Order of the Pilalethes, and also resistance from Savalette de Lange. After heated arguments, Willermoz and his supporters won the day, and succeeded in having the title of C.B.C.S. adopted by all members of the inner Order. A comitte was formed under Willermoz to prepare the high degree rituals and those of the secret degrees of the Profession. This work was well advanced, when the French Revolution interrupted Willermoz’ task. The “Rectified” temples of the C.B.C.S. and the temples of the Elus-Cohen still active, had to suspend their works. The brethren were dispersed by the events in France of the period.

After the Revolution, in 1806, the C.B.C.S. became active again in France and they soon joined the Grand Orient with which the Strict Observance had friendly relations. We have seen that the Elus-cohen had not officially resumed their Work. Their last Grand Master, Sebastian de las Casaa, had the archives of the Order handed over to the Philalethes. In 1806 moreover, Bacon de la Chevalerie, “Deputy Grand Master of the Norther Hemisphere”, sat in this capacity in the Grand College of Rites of the Grand Orient of France. He tried to obtain the authorization to re-organize the Order of Elus-Cohen within the Grand Orient, but was refused. The Rite of Knights Beneficent passes into Switzerland when the Directoire of Burgandy transmits its powers to the Directoire of Helvetia. It is from this Swiss Jurisdiction, now headed by the Grand Priory of Helvetia, that the C.B.C.S. will be re-activated in France after World War II. On May 5, 1824, Jean-Baptist Willermoz died at Lyons.


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