Alumbrados (Illuminati)

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Name given to the adherents of a Spanish pseudo-mysticism of the 16th century and deriving from their claim to act always under the immediate illumination of the Holy Spirit. The name was first so used in a letter from a Franciscan friar to Cardinal ximÉnez de cisneros in 1494. The movement itself was but a recurrence of the bizarre parody of true mysticism that is never long absent from the Church in the world. Proximately, its sources would most probably be found in the voluntarism of medieval Teutonic theology and in the Averroistic strains of Arabian mysticism, as well as in a Reformation anticlericalism. The movement was confined mostly to the Dioceses of Cadiz and Seville. Its doctrines, which are known in later times chiefly in the form of opinions condemned by the Inquisition in 1623, seem to have infected all classes of people.

The basic flaw in the teaching of the Alumbrados lay in the exaggerated importance they attached to mental prayer. They held that mental prayer is commanded by divine law and that in it all other precepts are fulfilled. Thus not even attendance at Mass, obligations arising from charity, or obedience to lawful authority must be allowed to impede the existence of mental prayer. This devotion was described simply as the recollection of God's presence, in which there is no discursive movement of the mind, no meditation properly so called, and no reflection on mental images such as the Sacred Passion or humanity. It is by the practice of this quietistic prayer of nothingness that the soul arrives at a state of perfection in which its faculties are so submerged that the soul can no longer act. To one constituted in this highest degree of spirituality, there comes the ravishment of the Spirit, so that in ecstasy the soul sees the divine essence, beholds the Blessed Trinity even as the elect in heaven. When this beatifying vision has been achieved, all the properties of beatitude logically follow. The soul is freed from the weakness of wounded nature; it is rendered impeccable; it is, in short, consciously confirmed in grace. Thus elevated, a man does not act as of himself; willingly or unwillingly he is moved by the illumination of the Spirit.

In the moral order, such principles could lead only to catastrophe. The investigations of the Inquisition provide a sordid account of the grossest carnal sins indulged in by the "perfect" under the guise of "communications of the Holy Spirit and divine love between souls." As a result of these shocking disclosures, it is not surprising that the Inquisition's judgment of the type of mysticism practiced by the Alumbrados was extremely unfavorable. Certainly the hypercritical attitude of some of the theologians of the next century toward even true spirituality was a result in no small degree of the aberrations of the Alumbrados.

Bibliography: p. pourrat, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 13.2:155254. f. cayrÉ, Manual of Patrology and History of Theology, tr. h. howitt, 2 v. (Paris 193640) 2:790. r. a. knox, Enthusiasm (New York 1950; repr. 1961) 241242. v. beltrÁn de heredia, "La Beata de Piedrahita no fué alumbrada," Ciencia tomista 63 (1942) 294311.

[t. k. connolly]