1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Illuminati

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ILLUMINATI (Lat. illuminare), a designation in use from the 15th century, and applied to, or assumed by, enthusiasts of types distinct from each other, according as the “light” claimed was viewed as directly communicated from a higher source, or as due to a clarified and exalted condition of the human intelligence. To the former class belong the alumbrados of Spain. Menendez Pelayo first finds the name about 1492 (in the form aluminados, 1498), but traces them back to a Gnostic origin, and thinks their views were promoted in Spain through influences from Italy. One of their earliest leaders, born in Salamanca, a labourer’s daughter, known as La Beata de Piedrahita, came under the notice of the Inquisition in 1511, as claiming to hold colloquies with our Lord and the Virgin; having high patrons, no decision was taken against her (Los Heterodoxos Españoles, 1881, lib. v.). Ignatius Loyola, while studying at Salamanca (1527) was brought before an ecclesiastical commission on a charge of sympathy with the alumbrados, but escaped with an admonition. Others were not so fortunate. In 1529 a congregation of unlettered adherents at Toledo was visited with scourging and imprisonment. Greater rigours followed, and for about a century the alumbrados afforded many victims to the Inquisition, especially at Cordova. The movement (under the name of Illuminés) seems to have reached France from Seville in 1623, and attained some proportions in Picardy when joined (1634) by Pierre Guérin, curé of Saint-Georges de Roye, whose followers, known as Guérinets, were suppressed in 1635 (Hermant, Hist. des hérésies, 1717). Another and obscure body of Illuminés came to light in the south of France in 1722, and appears to have lingered till 1794, having affinities with those known contemporaneously in this country as “French Prophets,” an offshoot of the Camisards. Of different class were the so-called Illuminati, better known as Rosicrucians, who claimed to originate in 1422, but rose into notice in 1537; a secret society, combining with the mysteries of alchemy the possession of esoteric principles of religion. Their positions are embodied in three anonymous treatises of 1614 (Richard et Giraud, Dict. de la théol. cath.). A short-lived movement of republican freethought, to whose adherents the name Illuminati was given, was founded on May-day 1776 by Adam Weishaupt (d. 1830), professor of Canon Law at Ingolstadt, an ex-Jesuit. The chosen title of this Order or Society was Perfectibilists (Perfektibilisten). Its members, pledged to obedience to their superiors, were divided into three main classes; the first including “novices,” “minervals” and “lesser illuminati”; the second consisting of freemasons, “ordinary,” “Scottish” and “Scottish knights”; the third or “mystery” class comprising two grades of “priest” and “regent” and of “magus” and “king.” Relations with masonic lodges were established at Munich and Freising in 1780. The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent, but its total numbers never seem to have exceeded two thousand. The scheme had its attraction for literary men, such as Goethe and Herder, and even for the reigning dukes of Gotha and Weimar. Internal rupture preceded its downfall, which was effected by an edict of the Bavarian government in 1785. Later, the title Illuminati was given to the French Martinists, founded in 1754 by Martinez Pasqualis, and to their imitators, the Russian Martinists, headed about 1790 by Professor Schwartz of Moscow; both were Cabalists and allegorists, imbibing ideas from Jakob Boehme and Emmanuel Swedenborg (Bergier, Dict. de théol.).

See (especially for details of the movement of Weishaupt,) P. Tschackert, in Hauck’s Realencyklopädie (1901).  (A. Go.*)