P. Ph. Wolf: An Historical Account of the Order of the Illuminati in Bavaria
(Thanks to Joe Wäges for translating some of the biographical material on Wolf.)
Translated from German to English and printed in the short-lived periodical German museum (v.1: London, 1800, pp. 207-218, 296-305, 390-396), the following essay on the Bavarian Illuminati is a contemporary, apologetic account. It was written by Peter Philipp Wolf (1761-1808) and included in volume four of his history of the Jesuits: Allgemeine Geschichte der Jesuiten (1789-92).
Born in Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria, Wolf received his primary education in the Jesuit schools of Munich. His free spirit couldn’t endure theocentric pedantry for long, however, and he soon ran away. Penniless, after a brief stay in Strasbourg he had no choice but to return home. His parents wanted him to become a priest so they sent him to a boarding school in Weihenstephan; but after a short while, Wolf again escaped the clutches of the ecclesiastics. Later, in letter to his friend Lorenz von Westenrieder (1748-1829) (who was briefly a member of the Illuminati in 1779), he wrote: “I can confirm it by my own example how little education is good in the seminaries….rude manners, ascetic pride, monkish hypocrisy, [and] youthful conceit are the rocks on which can fail even the most promising young men.”
Wolf then apprenticed with the Munich bookseller and printer Johann Baptist Strobl [or Strobel] (1748-1805), but they didn’t get along. (Strobl was also briefly an Illuminatus prospectus; afterwards an opponent of the Order, and the government-sanctioned publisher of the famous Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens.) The relationship deteriorated to the point that Strobl accused Wolf of printing a libelous pamphlet against him. He pled his case before the authorities, and Wolf had to spend a year in jail.
Wolf’s first work, in 1784, Erzählungen zum Trost unglücklicher Menschen [Stories for the Comfort of the Unhappy], was ironically dedicated to Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803). The latter was once an Illuminatus but had joined under false pretenses, mistakenly thinking that Weishaupt’s Illuminati was a traditional (mystical) occult initiatory society. When he found out that the Illuminati sought perfection through reason alone, touted by the works of atheistic French philosophes, and denigrated the dogmatism of the Church, he left. What’s more, Eckartshausen, the court councillor of the Bavarian Secret Archives at Munich, would head the consolidation and editing for publication of the original documents of the Illuminati. Hence, he didn’t just become an opponent of his former Order, but was intimately involved in its suppression and persecution. Wolf takes him to task, below, for being “a most indefatigable apologist of the Jesuits.”
Eckartshausen was a staunch supporter of monarchism and the Catholic religion in particular. His works had a major influence upon the mystical, hermetic, theosophic-occult Naturalphilosophie of Romanticism. A succinct summary of Eckartshausen’s beliefs can be had in historian Paul Gottfried’s Conservative Millenarians: The Romantic Experience in Bavaria, Fordham University Press, 1979, p. 54:
Relying largely on cabalistic and occult literature to explain the relationship of spirit to matter, Eckartshausen constructed a pantheistic cosmology anticipating that of later romantic philosophers. He also predicted the emergence of a true Christian church at the end of days, striped of the earthly dross corrupting the institutional religion of his own age. The forerunners of this church were already present in those who could comprehend the “divine magic” at work in nature and history: to wit, the progressive spiritualization of the material world.
Eckartshausen was entirely unsystematic in the presentation of his theology, ranging rhapsodically and unselectively among such topics as alchemy, testimonies on hypnotic trances, clairvoyance, and esoteric interpretations of the Bible. His work can best be described as a grab bag of Rosicrucian whims and fancies; but, coming in the 1790s, it also teems with the yet unborn life of the romantic movement. The lyrical depiction of the new church of pantheism and divine love offered by Novalis, and the philosophies of nature and history elaborated by [Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph] Schelling and [Franz Xaver von] Baader and by other romantics can all be found adumbrated in the work of Eckartshausen and in his Bavarian Rosicrucian culture.
It’s not know if Wolf was a member of the Illuminati, however at precisely the time when the persecutions against the Illuminati were set into motion, Wolf suddenly shows up in Zurich. There he becomes friends with Illuminatus Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), starts apprenticing at the latter’s publisher (Orell, Gessner, and Füssli), becomes editor of Füssli’s Zurich newspaper (lasting nine years), meets with Friedrich Münter (1761-1830) (the head of the Copenhagen Illuminati, and the founder of a colony in Naples and Rome), and is given the idea to embark upon his history of the Jesuits by Franz Anton von Massenhausen (1758-1815) (an Areopagite and one of the five original members of May 1st 1776).
In any case, if Wolf wasn’t a member of the Illuminati, he definitely imbibed its principals. And, as will become apparent, Weishaupt et al. couldn’t have found a more skillful supporter among their own.
— Terry Melanson (February 23rd, 2010) [updated: Apr. 23, 2023]
An Historical Account of the Order of the Illuminati in Bavaria, of its Tendency, Progress, and Final Fate
(Extracted from Wolf’s History of the Jesuits) [Portraits and added descriptions are mine, along with identifying the proper names of the initiates mentioned. Original footnotes in Wolf.]
To give a new and useful turn to that general propensity to secret associations, which is so prevalent in the present century, at a time when the different systems by which these unions are connected, are either totally useless, or corrupt and dangerous to civil society, seems at least to be a very laudable undertaking. The history of the rise, propagation, and persecution of the order of the Illuminati deserves, therefore, to be numbered amongst the most remarkable of the present age.
Adam Weishaupt, professor of the canon-law and ecclesiastical history, at the university of Ingolstadt in Bavaria, undertook, three years after the abolition of the society of Jesus, to form a secret association amongst his friends and pupils. The principal object of this union clearly appears by the general statutes of the order. The society declares therein, for the satisfaction and security of its members, and in order to prevent all unfounded suspicions and doubts, that they do not mean to propagate principles, or to countenance actions detrimental to the state, the church, or morality, and that all their endeavours would exclusively concentrate to render the improvement of the moral character interesting and important to man ; to inspire humane and social sentiments; to counteract malicious designs ; to defend oppressed and suffering virtue against injustice; to effect the promotion of deserving persons, and to render useful, but occult, sciences more generally known.1
The instructions which Weishaupt gave to his fellow-labourers, or rather, the superiors of the society, arc truly noble and beautiful. “Observe [said he]2 with the greatest attention every subordinate member that is committed to your care. Watch them in those moments when they have been enticed by temptations to act differently from what they ought. This is the time when they must show how much they have improved. Observe your pupil, when he imagines himself unobserved; when neither thirst for applause, nor fear of censure, shame, nor punishment can have any influence on his actions. Commit your observations carefully to writing, and you will thereby gain infinite advantages to yourself and associates. Your passions, inclinations, and aversions must, however, have no influence upon your observations. Do not imagine a man to be thoroughly good, because he possesses an eminent good quality; nor think that he is a bad man, because a too visible spot stain his character. Many observers of man commit this mistake.
“Do not repose too much confidence upon the rich and powerful: their conversion is effected but slowly. Men of this station have too little knowledge of the misery and the wants of others, and at the same time think those of the inferior classes carry the prejudices of their situation along with them, and will absolutely consider themselves as the exclusive possessors of genuine merit.
“A good heart ought to be the chief recommendation to you in the choice of your associates, and to be cultivated by you with the greatest care. But never imagine it the property of him who boasts to possess it; like health, we are not sensible of it while we really enjoy it. He that does not shut his cars against the lamentations of the unhappy, nor his heart to compassion; he that is a friend and a brother to the sufferer; he that loves all creatures, he that does not crush knowingly a worm that creeps beneath his feet; he that has a heart for love and friendship, is firm in affliction, indefatigable in his. exertions to accomplish a good design which he has begun to pursue, and is not to be dismayed by difficulties; he that does not scorn his weaker brother; he whose soul is capable of forming great designs, and who burns to exalt himself above all mean self-interest, and to perform great acts of benevolence; he that is an enemy to idleness, slights no kind of knowledge which he has an opportunity of acquiring, but makes man the principal object of his studies; he that for the sake of truth can sacrifice the applause of the multitude, and has courage enough to obey the dictates of his heart:—this, man is fit for our society. By this model you must form your pupils, enlarge their souls, and avert their minds from trifling pursuits. A person that is addicted too much to trifles, has too narrow a compass of view, and cannot sufficiently disengage himself from inferior ties that bind his soul, to be of any use to us.
“Read with your pupils good books that are easily comprehended, and elate the soul. Converse frequently with them; yet not from the head, but from the heart. You must glow yourself, if you would have others warmed by your fire. Your discourse must, therefore, be lively; simplicity and innocence of heart must guide your conversation, when eloquence is wanting. You must learn the great art of exciting lively desires and strong resolutions. Your pupils ought to look impatiently for the time when they can accomplish these resolutions. You must let them see, that you are serious, that you are perfectly convinced yourself of the truth and goodness of the matter; that you are no speculator, but feel the truth of what you say. But take care not to let your actions contradict the principles you profess. Avoid all declamation, all dry moral sentences, and all subtle and useless metaphysics, which do not improve man. Your discourse must be obvious, clear, and interspersed with striking illustrations and examples. Apply your maxims always to particular cases, and point out their effect, utility, and importance.
“Your pupils must read, work, think, feel and act. Exercise yourself frequently with them. Acquaint them with the peculiar benefits which accrue from their respective occupations. We work with pleasure, if we see advantages before us, provided that our occupations be not rendered too difficult for us, nor the object of our exertions pointed out to us in a dry, inaccurate, and speculative manner. You will easily find out the defects of your associates; but you must treat everyone in a peculiar manner, in order to render the object attractive. We can persuade men to anything, provided we know how to avail ourselves of their predominant inclinations.
“The knowledge of man is the greatest and most important science. You ought, therefore, to take particular care to render it interesting to your pupils. A man that relishes this science, is not lost to our society. It will teach him to judge of and to guide others, as well as to deport himself in such a manner, as to acquire the good opinion of those that are connected with him. He learns prudence, watches over himself, and improves his understanding.
“Try at first only a few experiments with your pupils; propose to them in the course of conversation, easy questions calculated to teach them how to explore the human heart through the thickest veil of dissimulation. Your first questions must be easy, so as to render it possible for your pupils to solve them immediately. Knowing that it is extremely difficult to make of men what we wish them to be; you ought to miss no opportunity of propagating as many sound principles as possible. Yet we must observe that we cannot expect to succeed in our endeavours, if we attempt to improve mankind in the gross. He that wants to reform all, reforms none. Divide, therefore, this task with the members of your class, who may reside in the same neighbourhood with yourself. Select, one, two, at most, three Minervals, with whom you have the most credit and authority. Bestow all your care and diligence upon them. You certainly have done a great deed you have trained up three good men, during your life.
“Tell your pupils freely and candidly that the order solicits no person to join or to remain in it. We do not care whether we have many or few fellow-labourers, whether they be rich or poor, princes or tradesmen. We are least anxious to be joined by men of great property and rank; for they improve but seldom. They are, in general, prevented by their wealth and situation from being sensible how much one man wants the assistance of another; and for that reason very seldom are good men.
“Allure no one by vain hopes. Promise little, in order to be able to perform much. Raise the courage of the timid, and bridle the impetuosity of those that are too bold, by exciting apprehensions, and pointing out the dangers of too much precipitancy. The good man ought to be animated with hope, when he is persecuted by misfortune, and to entertain apprehensions, when he is fortunate.
“These maxims will enable you to become a good and safe guide to promising young men. Avail yourself of this advice, to increase the number of the good and elected; and, if ever your own happiness was dear to you, be firm in the resolution to concur with us, conformably to our instructions, in rescuing many thousand men that easily can and wish to be good, from the fatal necessity of becoming bad. Most men are bad only because the wicked, generally, have it in their power to promote or to injure their prosperity, and because this prevailing power of vice seems to leave virtue no other alternative but either to be silent, or to suffer, to cringe, or become a slave to this monster. You may believe us; for we know it from experience. Strip vice of its power, and invest virtue with its fatal ascendancy, and all the world will be good. Vice is so powerful, only because the virtuous are too inactive, or too rash and too violent in their proceedings; because they are not united, or suffer themselves to be divided; because they always console themselves with futurity, without preparing such a revolution; because they leave everything to time, and choose rather to submit to the ascendancy of the vicious, than to attack the empire of vice with vigour, &c. &c. &c.”
Weishaupt had, at first, no complete and regular system. His whole order resembled very much an academic institution. He endeavoured to guide his pupils by maxims, and was pretty successful. His young disciples improved with enthusiasm: they all used themselves to thinking, reading, and close investigation. But, notwithstanding, Weishaupt’s plan had a very material defect: he imagined himself to be capable of enlightening the world by the application of the same means which the Jesuits used to propagate ignorance. He introduced a servile and blind obedience of the inferiors to their superiors, caused the machine to be put in motion by invisible powers, and accustomed his pupils to observe each other, and to act the part of spies, under the pretext of improving in the knowledge of man. The Jesuits betrayed each other by means of auricular confession, secret informations, and of the regular correspondence of the subalterns with their superiors; and the head of the society, to whom, according to the institution of the order, all these confessions, secret informations, and letters were communicated, was thus informed of the defects and capacities of each individual member. Weishaupt pursued a similar plan, demanding an implicit obedience, and obliging the members of his association to watch one another, to ascertain the good and bad qualities of every individual, and to send the result of these observations to him as the invisible head of the society. It is obvious, and those that are acquainted with the institution of the Jesuits, will easily be convinced that such a regulation can be innocent, and produce good effects, only when the invisible superiors are honest men, when the order, in general, has no other but laudable and pure intentions, and uses only LAWFUL means to accomplish its purpose.
Weishaupt, undoubtedly, was an honest, penetrating, and judicious man, and his intention to promote mental illumination by means of a secret association, was certainly highly laudable, but the slavish obedience which he required of the subordinate members of his society, and the secret informations which he introduced, in imitation of the Jesuits, could not but deter an enlightened and reflecting man from joining such an association. It cannot, indeed, be denied, but that the close observation which these informations and similar occupations required, served to accustom young men to be attentive to themselves and to others, and enabled them early to acquire no indifferent skill in judging of men and their characters; but as soon as persons of mature years and accomplished men joined the association, this schoolboy-like method began to appear highly improper and intolerable.
Weishaupt’s great and noble plan, tending to enable virtue and wisdom to obtain by the safest and subtlest means, the victory over ignorance, and vice, to make the most important discoveries in all the departments of science, to form great and good men of the members of his order, and to insure to them the reward of their accomplishments even in this world; to protect them against persecution, misfortunes and oppression, and to forge fetters for all kinds of despotism — this plan had a powerful effect upon good men ; and it was but natural that the order of the Illuminati should have spread over all Germany in a short time, and that its members should have chiefly consisted of the greatest men of the age; of men whose names we need but mention, to prove that they never can have intended to accomplish villainous purposes; of men who could not be expected to suffer themselves to be led in the dark, and whom the superiors, if they really had bad designs, certainly would not have attempted to involve in a dangerous enterprize.3
This circumstance, however, perplexed the founder of the order very much. He had not yet laid down a regular system; the whole plan being still merely in contemplation. Nothing, as yet, existed but unconnected materials, out of which, in course of time, after long and repeated experience, a harmonious whole was to be constructed. The superior degrees of the order were indeed a masterpiece of penetration and sound judgment; yet they would not satisfy those that were intitled, either by their merits or intellectual acquirements, to demand, in consequence of the great expectations which they entertained of the object of the order, a deeper insight into its system. When Baron Knigge, an Illuminati known by the name of Philo, was appointed superior of the order, the edifice assumed a more regular form. The whole society was divided into three head classes, each of which contained two subdivisions. The seminary (Pflanzshule) comprising the Novices and Minervals, composed the first class. A general prospectus, containing an explanation of the chief objects of the order, and of the principal means which were used to attain them, was given to every member on his admission. If the candidate expressed a desire of being admitted into the order, he commenced his noviciate. In this quality he was made acquainted with no other member of the society but his instructor, who took all possible pains to find out whether the novice was fit for the order, endowed with proper capacities, susceptible, obedient, and attached to the objects of the association which were communicated to him. If he was found unfit to become a member of the order, he was dismissed; but if there appeared hopes of his being useful, he was received among the Minervals. In this capacity, he worked jointly with some other members, under the direction of the Minerval magistrate, was obliged to give every month an account of his progress, and to inform the superiors, by sealed letters, whether he was satisfied with his immediate instructor, and to inform him of his wishes, as well as of what he had done or could do for the common advantage of the order. He was promised to receive, and actually did obtain assistance in that particular branch of literature which he had chosen for his principal study. He was also assured of some future civil employment that should be proportionate to his progress, and of protection against oppression and unjust treatment. He was bound, in return, to collect, by order of his superiors, useful information in his literary department, to investigate and willingly to execute small tasks that should be prescribed to him. After some time, such a Minerval was raised to the class of Freemasons. If he had not sufficient capacities to be promoted to a higher degree, he continued a Freemason, and in that quality had no other employment than to decypher the hieroglyphics, and to perform other trifling labours. But if he was fit to be better employed, he was advanced to the inferior class of the Illuminati. In this class he was charged with the immediate direction of a few pupils, of whose conduct and progress he was bound to give a regular and accurate account; he received directions how to improve and to guide men, and hints which enabled him to get better acquainted with the system of the order. After being employed for some time in this quality, he was admitted to the superior class of the Illuminati, under the appellation of Scotch noviciate. In this class some thousand questions relative to the examination of the internal and external character of man, were put to him. It also was a task imposed upon the members of this class that they should enquire on their stated days of meeting, into the characters of the inferior Illuminati. Every Illuminati of the superior class had the inspection of some members of the inferior class. No one was to be promoted to the former, until his secret observers had answered all questions concerning him; and thus it was almost impossible that an undeserving member, or a person, the most secret recesses of whose heart were not known, could have attained a greater eminence in the order. The members of this class were also bound to report every month what offices and advantages in civil life they could procure through their influence, and what members they proposed to the order for promotion. This class held the register of promotion and directed the distribution of offices. The most accurate delineations of the external and internal qualities of the members of the order being deposited with the Illuminati of this class, they were enabled to judge for what post in the state every individual was best qualified. It was expected that by this regulation alone the most deserving would be promoted, that everyone would be employed in his proper place, and that thus more would be done for the public good than the most powerful monarchs can do.
The next decree comprised the class of the Scotch knights, or that of the directing Illuminati. Everyone who was promoted to this class, was obliged to enter into a covenant that he, henceforward, would remain faithful to the order, that he would not join any other secret society, nor abandon the association. The inferior Illuminati were the directors of the seminaries; but the Scotch knights directed the Freemasons of the three symbolic degrees. Their ritual contained hints for deciphering the masonic hieroglyphics, and an admonition diligently to reflect upon them, to enquire into their mystic sense, and to communicate their ideas relative to this subject to the superiors. Religion also belonged to the department of this class. The acuteness with which this subject was treated here as well as in the subsequent class of priests, does not deserve the malicious aspersions of those who accuse the Illuminati of a secret design to overturn religion. We rather can prove the contrary. The framers of this class never lost sight of the truth: that without positive religion neither human society can subsist, nor even the philosopher find peace of mind. Whoever knows the nature of modern Catholicism, will easily conceive why the Roman-catholic is most inclined to reject all positive religion, and to adopt pure Deism, as soon as he begins to be sensible of the deformity of the structure of the Roman church, which has been defaced in a most disgraceful manner by the cunning of the papal court: for the absurdity and baneful tendency of the tenets taught by the church of Rome, confound and terrify him so much (particularly if he be roused by a violent shock from the lethargy in which his reason was absorpt), that more than common knowledge and an experienced eye are required, to behold the majestic edifice in its original beauty, divested of the patchwork and the disgusting tinsel by which it has been defaced. It would be attended with far less difficulty to preserve a Roman Catholic against the danger of Deism, if the study of the Bible and of an impartial ecclesiastical history had not been rendered so uncommonly difficult in the Roman Catholic countries, to the present hour. In order to remedy this evil, the founders of the society of the Illuminati endeavoured to render the Christian religion more interesting, and to blend it with their system, by celebrating in the meetings of the Scotch knights the memory of its divine founder by simple and affecting rites, and by representing free-masonry as a select assemblage of better Christians. It was proved, in the class of the priests, that all the doctrines of our heavenly Saviour display the sublimest wisdom and goodness, and tend to accomplish an infinitely great and noble design, which was no other but that of the association of the Illuminati and of Freemasonry. The members of this class were also taught that our divine Redeemer chiefly aimed to restore men to their original dignity; to raise morality to the highest degree of perfection, by enlightening the human mind; to introduce a general moral government, and thus to induce everyone to be faithful to virtue, without compulsion, purely from a firm persuasion that virtue alone can make man happy ; to unite all men by one indissoluble bond of fraternal love; to abrogate all near relations which owe their existence to necessity, want, and the struggles against the corruption of mankind and immorality, by his endeavours to render the Illuminati capable of governing themselves, and consequently, to have no further occasion for artificial institutions, constitutions of government, positive laws, and the like. They further were taught, and it was proved by passages from Scripture, that genuine Christianity is no popular religion, but a system for the elected; that Jesus communicated the higher sense of his doctrine only to his most intimate disciples; that the latter had propagated this system among the primitive Christians by means of the disciplina arcani, taught it in the mystic schools of the Gnostics, Manichees, and Ophites, in a two-fold manner, namely, exoterically and esoterically; that it, at last, after many migrations, and concealed in hieroglyphics, had become the property of the order of the Freemasons. The occupations peculiar to this sacerdotal class were also in another respect, highly important, and promised, with regard to the sciences to which they were entirely devoted, to produce the most salutary effects.
We have already observed, that every pupil was obliged to bind himself to devote his studies to the investigation of some scientific branch. The sacerdotal class of each province, under the superintendance of its deacon, directed these literary researches. All sciences were divided into faculties. A priest was always to be at the head of such a faculty, and to keep a correct catalogue of the different subjects of his department, in which the most important new discoveries were to be recorded. If a member wanted information or assistance in any scientific undertaking, he was to apply to the superior, who, in case the catalogue afforded no clue to solve his query, was directed to order all the pupils employed in the same scientific branch, to collect and to work for their unknown brother. Thus the result of the instigations of some hundreds of indefatigable inquirers could be communicated to the petitioner without great difficulty. He could set out, in his literary researches, where literary men had concluded; found the materials collected and properly arranged; the weaker genius could become the instructor of a man of superior talents, and the order could gradually have obtained possession of the most valuable literary information, which would have been treasured up and dispensed to the world, as time, exigency, and circumstances might have required.
This sacerdotal class was succeeded by that of the governors, whose constitution contained the clearest and most definite instructions for the superiors of the other classes, for those of the Scotch knights, the provincials, inspectors, and national directors. Those that were promoted to this class, being intended to have the general direction of the whole order, care was taken that only those members that, after repeated and various trials, were found to be the most deserving, enlightened, and accomplished, should be received among the number of its members. Such men ought to have been entirely independent, and subject only to reason and truth. They ought not to have regarded themselves as machines or tools of unknown superiors, but should have boldly opposed them, if they should have taken it in their mind to execute, through these governors, dangerous plans. They were, therefore, absolved, on their reception into this class, from all their obligations to the superiors; even the written promise of secrecy which they had signed, the register of their character, and everything concerning their person, that was in hands of the superiors, and rendered them, in some degree, dependent on the latter, were returned to them. A governor, on being appointed to this important function, was told, “that he was now at full liberty, and that it was his duty to quit the society, and to go where his heart and understanding could find more satisfaction, it he should meet with a better association, a more appropriate regulation, a greater purity of designs, safer means of accomplishing them, a compass of activity more deserving of him, and to introduce this better regulation in the system of the Illuminati, if he should find the greater number of his present brethren averse from the existing rules of the society. The Illuminati were far from desiring to have a monopoly, but endeavoured to accomplish, for the benefit of the world at large, what no where was done in a better manner. If he should deem their labours useless, time-wasting, or, perhaps, dangerous, he was at full liberty, and bound by his civic duty to overturn the whole edifice by a public discovery, and to expose folly, imposition, and fraud to open shame and disgrace. But if, on the contrary, he was satisfied with their order, notwithstanding the defects attending all human institutions, his own zeal would induce him to continue a faithful fellow-labourer, and to contribute as much as possible to the greater perfection of their system, not from a desire of obliging them, but from an impulse to serve mankind.”
The last class contained the great mysteries. This class was in an unfinished state, and only delineated when the order was suppressed. The experience and the traditions of everything that, in the department of speculation, in the mysteries of religion and of higher philosophy, can be explored by man, and is important and sacred to the human race, would have been the object of the investigations of this class. Only twelve areopagites were to be members of this class, and one of the regents was always to supply the vacancy upon the decease or resignation of an areopagite.
This completed the structure of the order of the Illuminati.4 Although many parts of it might have undergone improvements and alterations; its basis, nevertheless, remained always the same. No unbiased man that examines the whole edifice, will, notwithstanding its visible defects, discover anything that would have proved detrimental to religion, social happiness, and morality. We can, on the contrary, safely maintain, that never an association existed that paid more care and attention to everything that can promote the happiness of the human race. The system of the order had, indeed, a very strong tinge of enthusiasm; but it is evident that it sprung from a noble and pure source.
However laudable this order was in many respects, yet it had several material defects in common with all other secret societies, which threatened to render it dangerous in process of time, particularly as it chiefly tended to improve morals, to reform civil society and to exercise an extensive influence on mankind. The secret societies of alchemists, and of all those that presume to find the philosopher’s-stone, can, generally speaking, never become equally dangerous. The latter societies, in general, consist chiefly of adventurers, or of people of a weak understanding. But an association of judicious, noble, and enlightened men may easily be misused by artful and unknown superiors, especially if the members of such a society be animated with an high degree of enthusiasm, which easily might have happened in process of time, notwithstanding all the precaution that was taken to prevent it.
The internal constitution, as we have stated, was not free from defects, which accelerated its ruin. The obstinacy and domineering language of the chiefs, the ambition of some subordinate members, who eagerly wished to have a share in the supreme government of the order, the imprudent haste with which some were promoted to higher degrees, before their rectitude was sufficiently tried, and the neglect which some more deserving associates experienced, disseminated discord and dissatisfaction among a society, whose existence and strength depended entirely on the good understanding and the mutual harmony of the individual members. The situation of the order was, besides, rendered extremely alarming by the admission of some young men who did not possess the gift of secrecy, and, without meaning any harm, boastingly betrayed secrets which ought not to have been divulged.
From that time the order of the Illuminati excited general attention. The public knew of its existence, but its constitution was still a mystery. This circumstance opened a spacious field for speculation; and whim, passion, fear, or pride drew a more or less dangerous picture of Illuminatism. The bigot beheld in the Illuminati only enemies of religion; the hypocrite represented them as foes to Christianity and civil government; and the splenetic regarded the members of this secret society as poisoners and assassins. Those that called them egotists, were the most moderate in their judgments.
All the ideas which the public entertained, at first, of the Illuminati, were founded merely on supposition. Some loud speakers were wanted, to change these suppositions into positive assertions; to supply the want of proofs by bold pretensions; to form general maxims from individual observations, and to raise the apprehensions, which several persons entertained, to general fear.
These speakers made their appearance in the year 1785, and their clamour produced a powerful effect on the nation. The artful sons of Ignatius [Jesuits], and the admirers of Zoroaster [Rosicrucians], united themselves firmly, in order to expel the Illuminati from Bavaria. They contrived to render this sect suspected to the people, by pretending that its members had spoken with disrespect of the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary at Alt-Oettingen, and designed to reduce Bavaria under the Austrian dominion. The latter assertion was supported by the publication of a list of the members of the order, containing, amongst others, the names of Count Cobenzel and Mr. de Sonnenfels, two Austrian ministers of state. Weak as the conclusion, inferred from this discovery, was, it was generally credited in Bavaria, and also made some impression abroad. But if it be considered that some Austrian ministers aided the persecution of the Illuminati as zealously as those that were devoted to the interest of Deux-pont, it must be evident that it was totally unfounded.
The discovery of this supposed treasonable connection was entirely accidental. Lanz, an eminent mathematician and natural philosopher, who introduced the electrical conductors in Bavaria, was struck dead by a flash of lightening near Ratisbon, while on a journey to Silesia, where he had some family affairs to settle. When his body was examined, a paper relative to the Illuminati, was found upon him, which in Bavaria occasioned scenes at which humanity shudders. The principal proof of the dangerous tendency of the order of the Illuminati having been deduced from this paper, in the first instance, we beg leave to subjoin a literal translation of it:
A Note found among the Papers of Mr. Lanz, who was killed by a Flash of Lightening.
- “You will oblige me very much, if you will have the goodness to collect all imperial mandates, relative to forest economy, as well as all instructions published for the use of foresters, game keepers, &c. &c.
- “Frequent, on your journey, as many lodges of freemasons as you possibly can; and for that purpose, take care to provide yourself with a certificate.
- “Be a careful observer of everything you ‘may see in the lodges to which you are admitted, taking particular notice (a) of the name of the lodge, and of the town in which it is established; (b) of the name of the master of the chair, of the two superintendants, and of those members that appear to have the most influence? (c) Inform yourself of the special system to which the lodge belongs? (d) how long it is established? (e) of the mode of government adopted by the superiors ? (f) Whether there be granted in it any degree superior to that of a master? (g) Whether it have any knowledge of the system of the Illuminati? (h) What notions its members have of our system, and what they, think of it? (i) What they think of the persecution of the Freemasons in Bavaria, and whom they suspect of being the principal cause of it? (k) What they think of R. and W. &c. &c?
- “I advise you not to let anyone know that you are an Illuminati, as this will enable you to discover with more facility the opinion which is entertained of our society.”
Previous to the discovery of this paper, the attention of the court having already been excited by secret hints of a conspiracy, tending to overturn the constitution of the country by means of dangerous machinations, it was no difficult task for the enemies of the Illuminati to alarm the court by such hints, especially when Utzschneider, Renner, Grünberger, and Cosandey, who had quitted the order, presented to the sovereign a secret denunciation, which was attested upon oath, stating : “That a wise prince, knowing his own interest, and being animated with a paternal care for the welfare of his subjects, never ought to suffer a sect to steal under the name of Freemasons into all countries: because they sowed the seeds of discord between parents and children, between the sovereign and his subjects, and the most intimate friends; because they introduced partiality into the most important concerns, into the courts of justice and all public institutions: the interest of the order being always preferred to the interest of the state, and the private advantage of a member of the society to the welfare of other persons; because they knew from experience that all Bavarian youths had been entirely corrupted by them; because irreligion, the most vicious manners, disobedience to the sovereign and their parents,5 and neglect of useful studies, were the almost general characteristics of their pupils; because it could easily be foreseen that this corruption of the rising generation would produce the most baneful consequences, which inevitably would make the sovereign suspect his subjects, the father his children, and one counsellor of state the other; because they had repeatedly been heard to declare, that no sovereign would be capable of protecting an Illuminati that should betray the society; and, finally, because they interfered in all state-affairs, whenever it was in their power, and created disturbances, as often as the interest of the order required it.”
How dishonestly, passionately and artfully these informers proceeded, appeared first when the government began to prosecute the Illuminati with the greatest rigour. Those that were decried as Atheists, proved upon close examination, to have only neglected to pray by the rosary, or to have eat meat on fast-days, or spoken of religious abuses as freely as other enlightened Roman Catholics. The Illuminati, who had been accused of having disseminated the seeds of rebellion, because they had dared to enquire after the motives from which several of their friends, whom they knew to be honest men, had been prosecuted and punished, were condemned without a previous regular trial, and expelled from their offices. Although a considerable number of original letters and other papers, belonging to the Illuminati, had been discovered, yet none of the specific crimes of which the order stood accused, could be proved.
The history of the prosecution of this order is highly remarkable. It cannot, indeed, be denied, but that the Bavarian government had the right to prohibit secret associations; we have however just reason to be surprized that the legislature, in this affair should behave in a most despotic manner, and that the whole process was carried on under the manifest influence of an exasperated party. A slight survey of the fate of the Illuminati is sufficient to prove this charge beyond contradiction.
The measures which the court thought proper to take, in order to appease the enraged populace, instigated by the Ex-Jesuits and their fanatic adherents, may be divided into four classes. Men of powerful families or connections, or such as were protected by posts of honour, conferred upon them by foreign princes, received no other punishment but a severe reprimand; others, who had dared to become members of the order, and to attempt to diffuse the knowledge of truth among their ignorant and superstitious countrymen, without being protected by powerful connections, were deprived of their places, and banished from Sancta Bavaria, a third class were transported ad insulas (banished to distant provinces); and a fourth class suffered confiscation of property, confinement, &c. &c. The following passage, which is literally extracted from one of the electoral decrees, published on that occasion, is too remarkable to be withheld from our readers: “His Electoral Highness would, indeed, have sufficient cause to proceed criminally against all persons suspected of Illuminatism; but is actuated by his PATERNAL CLEMENCY TO ADOPT GENTLER MEASURES.”—Benevolent as the sentiments of the late elector were, it cannot with any degree of sound judgment be believed that the enemies of the Illuminati, especially father Frank, his confessor, an Ex-Jesuit, and those who acted in concert with him, would have suffered him to deviate in the least from the path of strict justice, if any criminal act had been proved upon the collective body of the Illuminati. Hence it is but rational and just to conclude, that their enemies must have used the most flagrant exaggerations in their charges.
Adam Weishaupt, not known to the court as the founder of the order, when the persecution began, was treated as a criminal, because he applied for permission to use Bayle’s historical dictionary in his lectures on the history of philosophy. His request was rejected, and the miserable composition of Zabuesnek, a Jesuit, recommended to him in its room. He was, at the same time, ordered to make a public confession of the Roman Catholic creed, in the presence of the whole academic senate, and obliged to resign his office.
Weishaupt having retired to Ratisbon, [Johann Baptist] Fischer, an electoral counsellor and chief-justice of Ingolstadt, Baron Frauenberg [Maximilian Joseph Freiherr von Fraunberg], and the librarian Drexel [Anton Drexl], were the next that were persecuted. They were Weishaupt’s friends, and had paid him a visit at Ratisbon. Their enemies accused them of having dined upon meat on a fast day. Fischer was, besides, charged with having spoken at a public inn, in the presence of several persons, against the worship of saints, auricular confession, and the church-fasts. He was obliged to reply to these charges upon his oath, and deprived of his rank and office, although he proved his innocence.
Frauenberg was a student. His judges being incapable of proving any crime upon him with regard to Illuminatism, his landlord was interrogated, whether his lodger did eat meat on fast-days, what discourses he used to hold, how his conduct, in general, was, whether he ever had perceived anything suspicious in his behaviour, and whether he did go to hear mass on Sunday and fast-days? although the landlord’s deposition removed every shadow of criminality from Frauenberg; yet he was expelled from the university.
Baron Bartels [Johann Georg Barthel] met with the same fate. Their academic friends Baron Reischach, the two Barons Schleich, and Baron Aertin [Johann Adam Christoph Joseph Freiherr von Aretin], accompanying them part of their way from Ingolstadt, were also compelled, by an order of the court of Munich, to quit the university.
The librarian Drexel could not be convicted of a single crime as an Illuminati; he was therefore accused of Deism, because — he had transcribed a passage from [George Joachim] Zollikofer’s sermons on the dignity of man, into a book of miscellanies. He was found guilty of this charge, and expelled from his office.
Aug. 17, 1785, the privy council sent the following order to the magistrates of Munich: “Whereas Alderman von Delling is reported not only to have spoken disrespectfully of the electoral decree concerning his landlord Fischer, the late chief justice of Ingolstadt, but also to have received several publications of Winkopp and Milbiller,6 and communicated the same to other persons; the magistracy are hereby ordered to call this notorious Freethinker and Illuminati to an account for these offences, and to report the result of this examination to the Privy Council.”
Delling was examined, Aug. 22, and made the following declaration: “As for the first charge of which I stand accused, I cannot recollect to have used disrespectful expressions. The only charge that can be proved against me, is my having expressed some surprise at the unexpected expulsion of the chief justice Fischer from his office, and said, that I could not conceive how a man, whose character an intimate friendship had taught me to respect, should have been capable of committing crimes that could have obliged his Electoral Highness to inflict the severest punishments upon him, and to deprive him of his office. Thus, and no otherwise, have I expressed my opinion of this event; but never uttered a word that could render me suspected of having been wanting of the reverence and respect which every loyal subject owes to his Electoral Highness. I have declared, on the contrary, whenever this dismission was mentioned, that his Electoral Highness must have been compelled by very urgent reasons, which, at present, were unknown to the public, and by the clearest proofs of a great crime, committed by Fischer, to reduce a man that has a wife and a family, to poverty, to abandon him to his fate, and to the scorn and contempt of his fellow citizens. I am so firmly convinced to have made use of no other expressions, and, uttered no other opinion, that I can boldly face any person that presumes to report them otherwise, and charge him with calumny, until he proves his assertions, which he certainly will not be capable of doing. As for the second count, which charges me with having received and circulated Winkopp’s and Milbiller’s publications, I willingly confess to have bought and read Winkopp’s Zuschauer (Spectator). I had no reason to hesitate doing this, as I know of no electoral decree, prohibiting the purchase and perusal of this Magazine. Much less do I think to have given any reason for being suspected to approve everything that is contained in the said book of Winkopp, as nothing could be more unjust than to conclude, from its being in my possession, that I approve of and profess all the notions and principles of its author. At that rate I might as well be charged with being a follower of Stattler’s and Frolich’s philosophy, although these two men are diametrically different in their philosophical principles and tenets, because I possess the works of both.
“Having, however, learnt that his Electoral Highness is displeased with the said Magazine of Winkopp, which is the only publication of this author that I have bought; I shall discontinue reading it.
“Finally, I cannot but be astonished at having been represented to my sovereign as a notorious Freethinker and Illuminati, as I am conscious of having missed no opportunity to perform every duty that can be exacted from a Christian who finds a pleasure in professing the religion in which he has been educated. I do not deny having been a member of the order of Freemasons; but I must observe, that I was a member of that society at a time when I justly could suppose, that his Highness would tolerate a lodge in his country, like many other German princes. I was assured, on my reception, that all the principles of the order contain nothing that is inimical to religion, the state, or the sovereign; and I do solemnly protest never to have seen or heard, in the order, anything that is injurious to either, of which his Electoral Highness may convince himself, if he will order a rigorous enquiry to be made into the accusations that have been exhibited against the Freemasons from private motives and with a malicious design against the lodge. His Electoral Highness having last year declared by proclamation his sentiments relative to all secret societies, I have not hesitated to obey the commands of my sovereign, and to break off all connection with the Freemasons, conformably to the duties incumbent upon a loyal subject.”
It was expected this defence would be sufficient to exculpate Delling; but the Privy Council pronounced, two days after his examination, the following sentence : “The Alderman John Nepomuck von Delling, having not only criticised the electoral sentence against Fischer, the chief justice of Ingolstadt, but also dared to buy and to circulate Milbiller’s and Winkopp’s libels, he has rendered himself guilty of two highly criminal offences, the latter of which deserves to be punished with additional rigour, because it has been committed by a magistrate. He is, therefore, to be severely reprimanded, confined three days, and expelled from his office. Should he, in contempt of the electoral authority, attempt again to speak disrespectfully of the decrees of his Sovereign, or repeatedly buy or circulate prohibited books, he may expect to be punished more severely. The prohibited books, at present in his possession, are to be taken from him and destroyed. His house is also frequently to be searched, in future, on account of the suspicion which he has excited against himself.”
In order to deprive this unfortunate man entirely of all legal assistance, the court decreed, Oct. 17, as follows: “His Electoral Highness herewith confirms his resolution of the 14th of Aug. concerning Alderman von Delling, and declares, that he will receive no remonstrance in his behalf, neither from the magistrates nor any other persons whatever.”
The Counts Savioli [Conte di Savioli Corbelli] and Constanza [Costanzo di Costanzo], chamberlains to the Elector, met with a similar fate. Although they proved that they had broke off all connection with the Illuminati; yet they were banished to Italy, with the allowance of a small pension, which they enjoyed only for a short time.
Baron von Meggenhofen [Ferdinand Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Meggenhofen] was tried in an ignominious manner, and when no important charge could be proved against him, confined in the monastery of the Franciscans at Munich, in order to perform the spiritual exercises, and to be instructed in the Roman Catholic religion by a lecturer of the cloister.
Baron von Kern [Joseph Anton Quirin Franz Freiherr von Kern], vice-chancellor of the States of the country, one of the most excellent of men, was accused, when an Illuminati, of having purloined public records. He challenged the whole civil government of the country to enter upon the most rigorous investigation, the consequence of which was his obtaining a public and legal testimony of his innocence. It was, however, set aside, by means of secret cabals, and when the chancellorship, to which he had the nearest claim, became vacant, he was appointed only to an insignificant post, being threatened, at the same time, to be expelled from it, if ever he should render himself again suspected of Illuminatism.
Baron von Löwenthal [Felix Adam Freiherr von Löwenthal], chancellor to the council of state, Bermiller [Wolfgang Bermiller], inspector of the schools, and Graf, register to the council of state, were deprived of their functions, without being legally tried, merely because they were charged with Illuminatism, and banished from Amberg, where they resided.
Von Triva [Askanius Clemens Reichsgraf von Triva], a member of the council of state at Landshut, met with the same fate, because he had spoken ironically of the rosary.
Baron Bassus [Tommaso Francesco Maria de Bassus] had his Bavarian estates confiscated, and was summoned to repair from the Grisons to Munich, in order to exculpate himself. On his arrival at the capital, he was put under private arrest, until the sentence of the court should be known. But, though the committee, who were appointed to examine the charges exhibited against him, found him innocent, the privy council decreed, nevertheless, that he should be deprived of his dignity as an electoral chamberlain, and quit Munich forever.
Sentences of this kind, the numerous arrests, expulsions from office, and secret inquisitions, naturally spread terror and confusion through the country. However justly we may presume, that every government founds its decrees upon the existing laws; yet we do not believe (nor will posterity believe it) that this presumption can be justified in all instances, particularly if, as it was the case on the present occasion, the regular court of justice (the Aulic Council) is passed by, and the accused person tried, under the influence of an exasperated party, before an incompetent tribunal, such as the privy council undoubtedly was. When Lewis XIV. caused the Huguenots to be converted by compulsion, and the refractory to be extirpated by fire and sword, neither this dreaded monarch, nor Madame de Maintenon, nor Louvois, nor the Jesuit de la Chaise, did, perhaps, think that posterity would execrate such an infernal mode of converting. It is but a precarious security for the honour of any government, to compel the oppressed and injured subject by terror and acts of violence to be silent. Posterity will, sooner or later, powerfully raise its voice, and sit in judgment upon the crimes of former ages.
We should, however, be wanting in justice, were we to censure the Elector of Bavaria for the above-mentioned despotic proceedings, as he distinguished himself by universal benevolence and justice. A benevolent heart is, however, constantly exposed to the danger of being abused by people that want to accomplish private views. Easy as it is to prove secret societies dangerous, yet it is no less so to exaggerate the danger, and thus to render the apprehensions of the public greater and more general. The manner in which the Bavarian government was led to take notice of the Order of the Illuminati, was extremely well calculated to make a dreadful and deep impression. It is, therefore, easy to be conceived why, afterwards, when the accused, upon proper examination, were not found as criminal as their accusers clamorously maintained, the punishment, nevertheless, was not proportionate to the crime.
It is an unquestionable fact that, besides Utschneider and his associates, the Jesuits also took a very active part in these dreadful commotions. As soon as the consequences of secret societies became the subject of public conversation, the Jesuitical party availed themselves of this opportunity, to insinuate, that the Illuminati alone were guilty of the crimes of which the Jesuits had been accused for a long time. The first private accusers of the Illuminati having succeeded in exciting great malevolence against the whole order, the Jesuits found it very easy to encrease the terror which the novelty of these accusations had excited. Their furious harangues from the pulpits, their constant inflammatory discourses in all private meetings, the insidious hints which they threw out on every opportunity, were sufficient to encrease the suspicions and apprehensions of the people.
The secret artifices of the Jesuits were, however, not directed against the Illuminati alone; for they had to contend with all men of an enlightened understanding. They used the miserable bug-bear of Illuminatism only as a pretext for venting their fury against all those that were formidable to them, and counteracting the progress of mental illumination and philosophy, the most dreadful enemies of their society.
The apprehensions which the court entertained of the progress of Illuminatism, encreased daily; death and destruction was threatened to this society, and attempts were made to persuade the world that Europe swarmed with millions of Illuminati. The propagation of this opinion served the Jesuitical party as a pretext for subjugating human reason, which, at all times, was the most fatal enemy of the Jesuits. To be an amateur of polite literature was now sufficient to excite suspicion, and to ridicule the use of the rosary was enough to incur the punishment of a crime. No person now could speak with a friend in private, nor even visit public societies without incurring the suspicion of Illuminatism.
It is, however, not probable that the first informers against this association meant to occasion such a general persecution. They, perhaps, desired only to gratify their private resentment, and to oppress individuals who had put themselves in the way of their ambitious designs. But they did not consider that, by putting the machine of persecution in motion, all known and unknown Jesuits would arise and snatch at the opportunity of continuing its motion without much noise, and almost imperceptibly.
Although the first enemies of the Illuminati were not ashamed of persecuting them in the most furious manner, under the pretext of the dangerous tendency of their views and principles, yet those amongst them that were known to possess superior knowledge and learning, would have blushed at the idea of being known to posterity as persecutors of literary merit.
The Jesuits were, however, less refined in their principles, having accounted it highly meritorious, at all times, to harass by incessant persecutions all persons surpassing them in knowledge and learning. Before the Illuminati existed they distressed their antagonists by means of the bull Unigenitus, imputing the most criminal designs to all those that rejected it, and rendered them suspected as a traitorous set of men aiming at the overthrow of all order. Every crime that was committed in any part of the world was charged upon the Jansenists. If we may believe them, the States of North America rebelled against their mother country only because the destroyers of the French constitution aimed at a general revolt, and urged the total abolition of the order of the Jesuits, because every attempt of that kind would have been frustrated if their order had retained its power. Was it, therefore, not natural that a set of people, who used such artful means of reconciling the world to their order, should have eagerly seized at the opportunity which the Society of the Illuminati offered them for propagating and supporting their favourite idea, though at the expence of numerous innocent families!
The Jesuits made every possible exertion to avail themselves to the best advantage of the terror which Illuminatism had spread all over Bavaria, persecuting all people of superior talents with relentless fury, and putting all engines of artful hypocrisy in motion, in order to render the Illuminati, and all philosophers in general, suspected of a secret plot to overturn church and state — an artifice which they invariably put in practice from the beginning of their order to the present day, on every favourable opportunity. If we inquire into the history of their order, we find that they at all times imputed this criminal intention to the very persons that were least inclined to devise or execute plans of that complexion. These charges were, in general, exhibited only against those persons that by their learning or celebrity had gained an eminent degree of credit with their contemporaries, and thus put themselves in the way of the Jesuits, who incessantly aimed at the possession of an universal and exclusive dominion.
In order to accomplish their designs, these crafty deceivers alter the notions of all things, or rather apply the same denomination to subjects of a different nature. They impute to the philosophers, and all friends of sound reason of our age, what they charged upon the Lutherans at the time of the Reformation, and afterwards upon the Jansenists. “The philosophy of our age,” they say,7 “preaches disorder, rebellion, fanaticism, vengeance, calumny, oppression, and licentiousness; it corrupts the human heart, renders man vicious, rebellious, bold, and fool-hardy, and thus pretends to guide him to the sanctuary of higher knowledge. It inflames the passions, excites desires, and avails itself of man’s propensity to sensual pleasures, in order to render him licentious and extravagant. We need only look at the young philosophers, as they stile themselves, to be convinced that they distinguish themselves by impudence, arrogance, madness in their opinions, and insolence. In ancient times the most sober and intelligent part of the people were followers of philosophy, but in our time its defenders are fishwomen.” It requires a great deal of malice or ignorance to speak with so much impudence, and in such general terms, of modern philosophy. It is still more inexcusable to draw such a picture, and to leave it to the bye-standers to search for originals to it wherever they choose.
This is, however, the usual mode which Jesuitical cunning adopts. The Jesuits are wont to lay down general notions of all that is inimical to them, and leave it to passion and to the prejudices of men to make an arbitrary use of them. They avoid as much as possible publicly to avow the phantasms from which they deduce their general notions, because they can foresee that they would be convicted of imposition, were they to acknowledge the imaginary sources whence the ideas which they labour to circulate are derived. By representing all modern philosophers without discrimination as revolutionists, rebels, and riotous subjects, they gain an uncommon authority at the courts, with the great, and in private societies. They even contrive to interest the populace in their cause. Although the multitude, in general, cannot distinguish between illumination and darkness, wisdom and folly, yet they are imposed upon and seduced by the orations which are declaimed from the pulpits, in the Roman catholic parts of Germany, with all the fire of eloquence. The Jesuits are very cautious not to call the modern philosophers preachers of liberty, though they declaim with great zeal against them as scorners and enemies of religion, as infidels and heretics. In their harangues to the populace, they call the philosophers atheists; but when speaking to courtiers, instigators of the multitude. They complain in the pulpits of the decline of religion, and at the courts of rebellion and sedition.
But is the progress of knowledge and philosophy actually the direct cause of everything hurtful to religion and to the tranquillity of the country? The solution of this important query is obvious to everyone that, unbiased by prejudices, traces the course of political events. They are, in general, imputed to causes totally different from their natural sources, and the world at large is but too apt to mistake alterations, made in the usual course of things, for a total overthrow of the necessary laws of order.
Those that impute the French revolution to the progress of mental illumination, commit as great an historical error as those that maintain that the first representatives of the people were atheists. The first commotion originated with the people, and was owing to hunger and oppression; and it would be madness to bestow the appellation of philosophers upon those that appeared in a riotous manner before the assembly of the notables on the abrogation of the parliaments, and uttered threats against the intendants. It would be equally wrong to call the representatives of the people, and all the admirers of the first new French constitution, atheists, as it is notorious that the greater part of the French emigrants, who declaim so much against the decline of religion, openly deny the existence of God.
Such general and dreadful fermentations amongst the people are not occasioned by books, reading, and scientific illumination. The multitude read little; but they feel the pressure of tyranny; and this alone is the dreadful Illuminatism that produces the greatest part of the mischief which is falsely ascribed to philosophy.8 Corrupted systems of government are the principal, nay the only sources of all rebellions and revolutions. If we inquire into the causes of discontent which at present convulses many European states, we find, that but very little of it is owing to immorality and irreligion among the people at large.
This is, however, entirely overlooked by the panegyrists of despotism, whose encomiums on the abuse of the supreme power betray their ignorance, disgrace, and dishonesty. They care not to look into the annals of history, because they are sensible that they will meet with numerous facts that would expose the weakness of their miserable sophisms. They do not blush to maintain with an impudence and arrogance that deserves to be pitied, that the prosperity of nations depends entirely on the implicit belief in the Roman Catholic religion, and that religious tolerance and mild laws, founded on the broad basis of justice and humanity, are highly dangerous. Although they are not barefaced enough to preach this gross and absurd doctrine directly and without a veil, yet they labour in secret to establish it as a statistic truth, in order to be enabled, by the general fermentation which universal oppression naturally would produce, to execute their ambitious designs. With this intention they declaim loudly against the insolent arrogance of philosophers, and incessantly warn monarchs and princes against their pretended revolutionary designs. “A numerous crew of enemies to revealed religion” exclaims Eckartshausen,9 “does really exist. They are more dangerous to you than all foreign foes; their attacks are more dreadful, their blows more unerring, and their conquests more certain. You will not languish in the iron fetters of the conqueror, but you wilt be bound with moral chains, which will render you more miserable than a prisoner. You will, perhaps, be able to preserve some time longer the name of princes, but you may be certain that your enemies finally will expunge your memory so completely as if never a throne had existed. Do not wait for that fatal period, but counterwork the mine which they are digging to blow you up: it will be too late if you wait till the fire bursts out; you can extinguish it more safely whilst it is yet glowing in the embers. If you hesitate longer, you will in vain call your friends to your assistance; for the period will arrive, when they will be too weak to support you. Your body-guards will cease to protect you; they will become the ramparts of an unbridled multitude, governed no longer by laws, but by caprice. You call out for assistance, but no one will dare to approach you: for loyalty will be called a crime, and obedience vice. I am not without grounds for this my warning to you. All that I have been telling you is founded in public writings; you only need collect them carefully, and you will have the whole system of villany before you. Many pamphlets of a less alarming nature are indeed published, but they are only intended to prepare the people by degrees for more violent publications. If we reflect upon the designs of certain journalists, upon their criticisms, the poisonous malice with which they hold forth against everything connected with Christianity, we see clearly that their great plan tends to overturn religion, to annihilate faith, to expel all fear of the Supreme Being from the hearts of men, and to cut off all communication between heaven and earth. Their malice knows no limits; it is indefatigable. The object of their activity is to gain an uncontrolled dominion over the hearts and principles of men, and to render every human mind inaccessible to the voice of divine revelation. Their restless, enterprising spirit is an enemy to all dependance, and has no other object in view but to overturn all political constitutions, and their wishes will be satisfied only when they have secured to the multitude all executive and legislative power; for when they shall have established an universal equality of rank, humbled the majesty of sovereigns, and rendered their limited power subject to the caprices of a blind multitude; when an universal anarchy, and the evils arising there from, have chained the countries in fetters; then these self-created philosophers will avail themselves of the universal confusion and disorder, and thus call to the people—We, who alone are capable of enlightening your minds, are also alone able to govern you !—This, ye princes! will be the inevitable consequence of false illumination. It is sufficient to point out to you the danger in which you are, to make you sensible that your own safety requires that the liberty of the press should be limited, and the licentiousness of mercenary authors bridled.”
These are the notions which the Jesuits preach up at courts, and use as means of spreading fear and mistrust, whilst they are indefatigable in their exertions to effect the restoration of their order.10 They design to oppress, by the limitation of the liberty of the press, everything that might prove fatal to their system, and are far from being as anxious as they pretend, to preserve the tranquility of states, endeavouring only to subjugate reason, to promote their private interest, to persecute and distress all men of judgment and superior knowledge. The liberty of the press certainly may be abused; however, the benefits arising from the free exercise of it, greatly counterbalance its abuses; and there is not the least doubt but that German liberty would be reduced to nothing as soon as the liberty of the press should be totally abolished.
The Systeme de la Nature, attacked with uncommon acrimony, on every occasion, by Eckartshausen and all Jesuitical writers, is admired chiefly by those who, on the borders of the Rhine and in other places, protest against the introduction of the principles of the French revolution. The French citizen and peasant does not know this book; and those that presume to maintain that the execrable enormities that distinguish the French revolution, were produced chiefly by the principles spread by this and similar works, deserve the smile of pity.
If we examine the annals of history, we find that vice and irreligion were as predominant at the time when the Jesuits were the instructors of man in the Roman Catholic countries, and when no Systeme de la Nature existed, as they are at present; and if they could be sincere, they would confess that those who are entirely devoted to the interests of their society are by far more revengeful, implacable, and cruel to their enemies, than those whom they and their emissaries are pleased to call freethinkers, daring illuminati, and licentious philosophers. We have had frequent proofs in the course of the French revolution, that those very persons that agree with the Jesuits in their opinions relative to church and state, shewed themselves as the greatest barbarians, and that the non-juring priests were not satisfied with merely destroying the victims of their relentless fury, but delighted to see the father butchered upon the body of his son, and the mother in the arms of her daughter.
As for the popular commotions, which by the Jesuits and their friends are represented as the immediate consequences of modern philosophy and Illuminatism, it may fairly be asked, whether seditions and popular commotions were not more numerous during the Jesuitical epocha than they are at present? and whether the Jesuits themselves were not the principal promoters of rebellion? Did they not (to mention only one instance out of many) did they not dethrone a Portuguese prince, and by means of a convention of the states, which was entirely controlled by their influence, usurp an aristocratical sway over the kingdom? Did not Spain and France suffer numerous convulsions during the existence of their order? Have not several kings been assassinated in those countries where these ecclesiastics governed the people and the princes? How frequently did they publicly preach sedition from their pulpits and in their writings! how constantly teach and defend REGICIDE! and how strongly are we tempted to think, on examining the history of their order, that the greatest part of the evils, which by them are imputed to the pretended machinations of a junto of philosophers and illuminati, are effected by the Jesuits and their emissaries, for no other purpose than to enable them to excite an universal odium against all those who by their abilities and patriotism stand in the way of their own mischievous designs?
1 [Weishaupt, Johann Adam:] Vollständige Geschichte der Verfolgung der Illuminaten in Bayern, Vol. I. [Nürnberg 1786], p. 119. Sqq.
2 Ibid. p. 187. Sqq.
3 [Knigge, Adolf Frhr. von:] Philos endliche Erklärung und Antwort, auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen, die an ihn ergangen, seine Verbindung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten betreffend [Hannover 1788], p. 41.
4 This description of the system of the Illuminati is taken, almost literally, from the declaration of Baron Knigge, who, along with Weishaupt, was the chief founder of the order. The improved system which Weishaupt published some years ago, is, indeed, far more perfect; but as an historian, I am bound to represent the constitution of the order, in no other shape than in that which it had when it was suppressed.
5 The secret accuser Utzschneider, who charged the pupils of the Illuminati with disobedience to their patents, is the most ungrateful son that ever existed. His father, a poor, honest countryman, is shamefully suffered by this pretended defender of virtue and piety to starve, though himself is a man of property, but ashamed of the humble situation of his aged parent. Being invited, one time, to dine with a noble family at Munich, his host introduced his father, in order to soften the callous heart of the son, at which the latter was exasperated to such a degree, as to leave the house instantly, violently agitated by rage and shame.
6 Two men, whose learning and public spirit rendered them worthy of reward and not of persecution.
7 These are the very words with which Mr. von Eckhardhausen [Karl von Eckartshausen], a most indefatigable apologist of the Jesuits, defines modern philosophy, in a work intitled, Ueber die Gefahr, die den Thronen, den Staaten und dem Christenthume den gaenzlichen Verfall drohet … . It is singular to observe that tiro Ex-Jesuits, himself and the Abbé Barruel, are the principal authors who of late have exerted themselves to diffuse the erroneous notion that philosophy is dangerous to regular governments and the cause of Christianity.
8 England affords a striking proof of the truth of this assertion by the profound internal peace which she enjoys under the protection of wise laws, whilst almost every other European country is convulsed by the most dreadful fermentations. In vain have the emissaries of the French demagogues, assisted by some of Britannia’s own degenerated sons, put every engine of cunning and treachery in motion, to disseminate the seeds of disaffection in our happy island. Loyalty continues the order of the day, though there is no country in Europe where more mental illumination is in the possession of the middling classes: and undoubtedly will remain a distinguishing feature of happy Albion, whilst humanity and justice continue to be the main spring of her constitution.
9 Ueber die Gefahr, die den Thronen…, p. 34. u. f.
10 It is a fact of universal notoriety, that the Jesuits of late have made repeated attempts to establish themselves again in Germany. In a letter from Vienna, dated the 7th of December 1799, we are informed, that they in July of the same year dared publicly to avow their intention to re-establish their order under the denomination of the Society of the Faith of Jesus. Their superior, Nicholas Paccanari, presented on the 16th day of July, to the emperor, a petition relative to this newly-organized society, in which he expressly states, that his order is founded upon the principles established by Ignace de Loyola, and has the impudence to aver, that nothing but the imperial sanction to the public introduction of his society will be able to preserve religion, morality, and civil order from total ruin. Time only will shew how far certain machinations of a similar nature, conducted, in this and other European countries, by Ex-Jesuits and their emissaries, are connected with this and other attempts lately made by these crafty fathers in favour of their order.