views updated


A term for any teaching concerning the illumina tion of the human mind; it is attributed to enthusiasts of two distinct types: those who have the "light" as a direct communication from a higher source; and those who possess "enlightenment" as a result of a clarified and exalted condition of the human reason.

Direct Illumination. To the first class belong various religious sects who claimed direct enlightenment by God, chiefly the Gnostics, the Alumbrados of Spain, and the Illuminés of France. Historically first among these was gnosticism, a generic name for a group of heretical religious movements that flourished during the early Christian centuries, all of whom commonly held that salvation comes through "enlightened knowledge," a knowledge that is secret and mysterious, based on direct revelation, and limited to a gifted elite.

Alumbrados. In 16th-century Spain, the adherents of illuminism were called Alumbrados. The name identifies a group of pseudo-mystic Spaniards who claimed to act always under illumination received directly and immediately from the Holy Spirit, and independently of the means of grace dispensed by the Church.

Illuminés. In 1623 there appeared in southern France what appeared to be a branch of the Alumbrados, under the name of Illuminés. The sect developed and gained proportion when it was joined in 1634 by Pierre Guérin, curé of Saint Georges de Roye. Under his strong influence, the group soon became known as the Guérinets. Both the Alumbrados and the Guérinets were suppressed by the middle of the 17th century.

In its broadest meaning, illuminism could further be applied to any and all groups or sects that claim the possession of an inner light by a select group of enlightened souls who have received the illumination as a revelation directly from God. Examples are the rosicrucians, who rose to public notice in 1537a sect that combined enlightened possession of esoteric principles of religion with the mysteries of alchemy; the Molinists, founded by Miguel de molinos in 1697; the French Martinists founded in 1754 by Martinez Pasqualis, as well as the Russian Martinists headed by Schwartz of Moscow about 1790. Both of these latter groups were cabalists and allegorists, and followers of the ideas of Jakob bÖhme and Emanuel swedenborg (see cabala).

Illumined Human Reason. Illuminism applies also, and more commonly, to those who possess enlightenment as a result of a clarified, purified, and exalted condition of the human reason. In this sense of the word, illuminism has two major historical applications, viz, the Enlightenment and the Illuminati.

The Enlightenment. First, both chronologically and influentially, is illuminism as referring to the intellectual and cultural movement more widely known as the en lightenment. Originating in England in 1688 at the close of the Glorious Revolution, it reached its violent climax in the French Revolution a century later. This illuminism enthroned reason and empowered it infallibly to judge, condemn, and banish all the nonreason of the past. Culture, religion, and government of the past was claimed to be unworthy of enlightened man and therefore had to be changed or abolished.

Such illuminism could neither exist, nor can it be understood, apart from the philosophical rationalism, empiricism, and mechanism that preceded it, nor isolated from the social and political evils of the later 17th and 18th centuries, from the progress of science, nor from the spirit of independence and rebellion against tradition and authority characteristic of Europeans since the 16th century. Philosophically it was an amalgam of empiricism, deism, rationalism, hedonism, utilitarian ism, relativism, antihistoricism, egoistic humanism, optimism, and a veneration of scienceall springing from nature and converging toward naturalism, with its emphasis on natural rights, natural society, and natural religion.

Illuminati. Again, illuminism is identified with a group of Bavarian enthusiasts, known as the Illuminati (Perfectibilists or Perfektibilisten ). Their main objective was to establish and propagate a new religion, and politically to establish a universal democratic republic that would follow the overthrow of existing government. The foundation of both was "enlightened reason," i.e., reason liberated from the dominating authority of Church and State. The group was founded by Adam Weishaupt on May 1, 1776. Weishaupt had been educated by the Jesuits, and became the first lay professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingolstadt.

Three factors in Weishaupt's background were manifest in his group: (1) his association and familiarity with Jesuit methods of education, organization, and discipline, although here he missed the essential point and actually made a caricature of Jesuit authority and obedience; (2) his association with, and knowledge of, freemasonry, which he used as a prototype for the structure and model for the degrees and ceremonials of his organization; and (3) the rationalism, free thought, naturalism, anticlericalism, egotistic humanism, and antitraditionalism, characteristic of the Enlightenment, which he imbibed from his contemporaries. His great goal, viz, a world where all men would be free and happy, was to be achieved by the establishment of a secret and highly organized Order of Illuminati. Weishaupt considered this end desirable enough to justify any and every means in its attainment.

Illuminist Ethics. From the above, it is immediately evident that illuminism includes a wide range of ethical theories, from divine illumination and passivism, to hedonism, utilitarianism, naturalism, humanism, altruism; and of these latter, some atheistic, some deistic; some associated with rationalism as a basis, some with empiricism; some optimistic, some pessimistic, some even nihilistic.

A detailed critique of illuminist ethics would entail a critique of each of the above-mentioned ethical theories. However, in any and all of them, one or more of the following truths that are fundamental to a discussion of morality have been overlooked or denied: (1) Man has a rational nature; i.e., he is a person endowed with reason and free will. Therefore, his moral judgments, like all other judgments, are either self-evident truths or are arrived at by reasoning; and he is personally responsible for his moral decisions and actions. (2) Man is saved by fulfilling his nature, i.e., by knowing and doing. Action without knowledge is unintelligent, and knowledge without action is sterile with regard to salvation. Salvation demands intelligence, faith, and good works. (3) By his nature, man is under moral obligation to obey the natu ral law. Man possesses natural rights, but he also has moral duties. (4) Although God does act within man, He has ordained that this action be through the instrumentality of the Church, and that normally His interior guidance of a soul is conditioned by His exterior guidance through the Church established by Jesus Christ, His Son. Thus, He "enlightens" human minds to accept what the Church teaches; He moves human wills to execute what the Church advises and commands.

See Also: enlightenment, philosophy of; synderesis; knowledge, theories of.

Bibliography: j. p. arendzen, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann et al., 16 v. (New York 190714) 6:59202. f. h. kruger, La Grande Encyclopédie 20:57374. a. schwarz, e. hegel and l. scheffczyk, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 1:105566. g. capone braga, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:124254. e. cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung (Tübingen 1932). g. bareille, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 7:75666. j. robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Governments of Europe Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies (2d ed. London 1797). v. stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati (Studies in History, Economics and Public Law Columbia University 82.1; New York 1918).

[m. w. hollenbach]

More From