A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Illuminati

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ILLUMINATI, or ILLUMINEES, i. e. the enlightened, a term in the primitive church applied to such as had been instructed and baptized, but has since been adopted by different sects and parties. Such a sect appeared in Spain in 1575. They were charged with maintaining, that mental prayer and contemplation had so intimately united them to God, that they were arrived to such a state of perfection, as to stand in no need of good works, or the sacraments of the church; and that they might commit the grossest crimes without sin.

After the suppression of the Illuminati in Spain, there appeared a denomination in France, which took the same name. It is said they maintained, that one Anthony Buckuet, a friar, had a system of belief and practice revealed to him, which exceeded every thing christianity had yet been acquainted with: that, by this method, persons might, in a short time, arrive at the same degrees of perfection and glory, to which the saints and the blessed Virgin have attained; and this improvement might be carried on, till our actions became divine, and our minds wholly given up to the influence of the Almighty. They said further, that none of the doctors of the church knew any thing of religion; that St. Peter and St. Paul were well meaning men, but knew nothing of devotion; that the whole church lay in darkness and unbelief ; that every one was at liberty to follow the suggestions of his conscience; that God regarded nothing but himself; and that, within ten years, their doctrine would be received all over the world; that there would be no more occasion for priests, monks, and other religious distinctions.

But the modern Illuminees are said to be a secret society, founded in 1776, by Dr. Adam Weishaupt, professor of canon law in the university of Ingoldstadt; a man of learning and genius, of great activity and insinuating address. He is charged with aiming at the same object that Voltaire, Diderot, and others had attempted some years before, namely, the abolition of christianity, and the establishment of a philosophical infidelity.

The mysteries of this sect arc asserted to be comprehended in the following summary.

Liberty and equality are the essential rights that man in his original and primitive perfection received from nature. Property struck the first blow at equality; political societies or governments were the first oppressors of liberty; the supporters of governments and property are the religious and civil laws; therefore to reinstate man in his primitive rites of equality and liberty they begin by destroying these. And it is asserted, that the society have executed, to an alarming degree, its plan for exterminating christianity and destroying government and social order. The means of effecting this was the French revolution, which was in a great measure brought about by the secret influence of this society, and extended over the greater part of Europe. This afforded the French philosophers the opportunity of disseminating their infidel principles among the lower classes of society.

The society of the Illuminati, says the Abbe Barruel, is divided into two grand classes, and each of them is again subdivided into lesser degrees, proportionate to the progress of the adepts.

The first class is that of preparation, which contains four degrees; those of novice, of minerval, of minor Illuminee, and major Illuminee. Some intermediate degrees belong to this class. The second class is that of the mysteries, and this is subdivided into the greater and less mysteries. The latter comprehend the priesthood and administration of the sect, or the degrees of priests, of regents, and of princes.

In the greater mysteries are comprised the two degrees of magi, or philosophers, and of the man king. The elect of the latter compose the council and dregree of Areopagites.

In all these classes, and in every degree, there is a part of the utmost consequence, and which is common to all the brethren. It is that employment known in the society's code of laws, by the appellation of brother insinuator, or recruiter. The whole strength of the sect depends on this part; for it is this which furnishes members for the different degrees. The insinuators, or recruiters of this society, are sent by their superiours to different towns and provinces, and to distant countries. They are directed carefully to conceal their being Illuminees, and to make the knowledge of human nature their particular study. One of the professors of Illuminism gives the following instruction relating to this kind of science: "The novice must be attentive to trifles, for in frivolous occurrences a man is indolent, and makes no effort to act a part, so that his real character is then acting alone." This assiduous and long continued study of men, enables the possessor of such knowledge to act with men, and by his knowledge of their characters to influence their conduct. For such reasons, this study is continued during the whole progress through the order.

The object of the Illuminees is said to be, to enlist in every country such as have frequently declared themselves discontented with the usual institutions; to acquire the direction of education, of church management, of the professional chair, and of the pulpit; to bring their opinions into fashion by every art, and to spread them among young people, by the help of young writers; to get under their influence reading and debating societies, reviewers, booksellers, and post-masters; journalists, or editors of news-papers, and other periodical works; and to insinuate some of their fraternity into all offices of instruction, honour, profit, and influence, in literary, civil, and religious institutions. It is reported to be one of their established maxims, that "the end sanctifies the means."

Men of high reputation in Great Britain, and on the continent of Europe, have given ample testimony of their belief in the accounts which are given of Illuminism. Bishop Porteus, in his charge to the clergy of his diocess, in the years 1798 and 1799, has the following passage: "It now appears from undoubted evidence, collected from the most authentic sources, and produced about the same time, by two different authors, of different countries and religions, and writing without the least concert or communication with each other, that there have in fact subsisted in the heart of Europe certain sects of men, distinguished by various fanciful names, and various mysterious rites and ceremonies, but all concurring in one common object, namely, the gradual overthrow, not merely of all religion, but of all civil government and social order throughout the world."

The Chevalier Von Hamelberg, in the Prussian service, translated the work of professor Robison into German, and presented it to his sovereign, who expressed the highest approbation of his performance.

On the other hand, the histories of the Abbe Barruel and professor Robison have been called in question by men of learning and extensive information. In particular, the celebrated Gregoire, in his Histoire Des Sectes Religieuses, gives a very different account of the Illuminati. He supposes, that the project of Weishaupt and his co-operaters was at first praise-worthy. It, said he, "embraced the plan of diffusing light, union, charity, and tolerance; of abolishing the slavery of the peasantry, the feudal rights, and all those privileges, which in elevating one portion of the community degraded the other; of disseminating instruction among the people, of causing merit to triumph, of establishing individual and political liberty, and gradually and without a shock, of meliorating the social order."

Our author admits, however, that the society was too little rigid with regard to those it admitted. "It is not," says he, "rare in every society to find men who, not being animated with its spirit, counteract its operations; and that of the Illuminees had such men. If they had been only negative members in that way they were injurious. Every thing, which has the air of mystery, awakens suspicion, and favours calumny, and calumny exhausted itself with regard to the invisible society. As soon as the alarm was sounded, it was spread abroad, that this society, numerous, and of high repute, had no other aim than to monopolize all the lucrative and honourable posts; to extinguish the torch of truth, to overturn all government and to destroy all religion."[1]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. For farther accounts of this society the reader is referred to Barruel's Memoirs of Jacobinism, Prof. Robinson's Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments in Europe, and Gregoire's Histoire Des Sectes Religieuses.