1902 Encyclopedia > Illuminati


ILLUMINATI, or " Enlightened," is a title which at different times has been given to, or assumed by, various sects or orders of mystics, on the ground of the superior knowledge of God and of divine things which they claimed. Among these may be mentioned that of the Spanish "Ahombrados" or "Alumbrados," which arose about the year 1520, and which before its final disappearance about a century later afforded numerous victims to the Inquisition, especially at Cordova. Ignatius Loyola, while a student at Salamanca (1527), was tried by an ecclesiastical com-mission for alleged sympathy with its views, but was acquitted with an admonition. Under the name of Illumines a similar sect appeared in Picardy in 1623, and afterwards entered into close relations with the Guerinets or followers of Pierre Guerin; but by its anti-nomianism it soon provoked repressive measures, to which it finally succumbed in 1635. The history of another sect of Illumines, which appeared in the south of France about 1722, is very obscure, but it is said to have subsisted until 1794. The title of Illuminati has often been popularly bestowed also on Eosicrucians, Martinists, and Sweden-borgians; but one of the most recent as well as most important applications of this elastic word has been to denote a secret society, or semi-political semi-religious order, which made some stir in Germany, especially in the southern and Catholic portions of it, from 1776 to 1784. It was founded on May 1, 1776, by Adam Weishaupt, professor of canon law at Ingolstadt, and an ex-Jesuit, and set before it as its general purpose the discouragement of tyranny, superstition, and ignorance, and the furtherance of the cause of reason, freedom, and virtue. The name originally assumed for the order was the Society of the Perfectibilists (Gesellschaft der Perfectibilisten). Politi-cally its tendencies were republican, and in religion it was free-thinking, having a distinct aversion to Christian ritual and Christian dogmas alike. The entire subserviency of its members (who on admission were pledged to blind obedience to the orders of their superiors) was secured by a strict system of secret confessions and monthly reports, checked by mutual espionage. Beginning with a narrow circle of disciples carefully chosen from among his own students, Weishaupt gradually extended his propaganda from Ingolstadt to Eichstädt, Freising, Munich, and else-where, special attention being given to the enlistment of young men of wealth, rank, and social importance. As the order increased in numbers its organization naturally became more complicated, and was ultimately considerably influenced by the intimate relations which were established with masonic lodges at Munich and Freising in 1780. About the same time an important impulse was given to its prosperity in middle and northern Germany by the ambition and energy of a newly acquired member, Baron Adolf von Knigge, who had his headquarters at Frankf ort-on-the-Main. It was to him that the society was indebted for the extremely elaborate constitution (never, however, actually realized) according to which the entire membership was divided into three great classes, in the first of which were to be included the "novices," the "minervals," and the "lesser illuminati," while the second consisted of "free-masons " (" ordinary," " Scotch," and " Scotch knights "), and the third or " mystery class " was subdivided into the two grades of priests and regents and of magus and king. Each member of the order had given him a special name, generally classical, by which alone he was referred to in official communications; all correspondence was con-ducted in cipher; to increase the mystification, towns and provinces were invested with new and altogether arbitrary designations. At its period of greatest development the order included in its operations a very wide area, extending from Italy to Denmark, and from Warsaw to Paris; at no time, however, do its numbers appear to have exceeded two thousand. Its aims and method, which, as plainly appears in portions of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, were somewhat in accordance with the taste of the period, met with more or less sympathy and approval from Goethe himself and from Herder, from the grand-dukes Ernest II. of Gotha and Karl August of Weimar, as well as from other persons of influence and repute (Bode, Nicolai). A rupture which took place between Weishaupt and Knigge in 1784 greatly accelerated the public expression of a counter feeling of suspicion and dislike which had been slowly gathering strength, and in 1785 the Bavarian Government issued an edict which proved fatal to the order. Many of its members were imprisoned or compelled to leave their homes; Weishaupt himself was deprived of his chair and banished the kingdom.
See Grosse Absichten des Ordens der Illuminaten (with Appen-dices, Munich, 1786); and Weishaupt's Vollständige Geschichte der Verfolgung der Illuminaten (1787), and Kurze Rechtfertigung meiner Absichten (1787).


Perthes, Das Deutsche Staatsleben vor der Revolution, p. 262.

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