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Bavarian Illuminati - Background

Founded in 1776, shortly before the American Revolution, the Bavarian Illuminati are considered by some to be the forerunners of the Communist movement. That great European movement in the direction of the secularization of thought to which the expressive term, the Aufkldrung or Enlightenment, has been applied, and which reached its apogee in the latter half of the eighteenth century, encountered a stubborn opposition in southern Germany in the electorate of Bavaria. The pivot of Bavarian politics, particularly from the beginning of the sixteenth century, had been the alliance which had been effected between the clerical party and the civil power. The counter reformation which followed in the wake of the Lutheran movement was able to claim the field in Bavaria without the necessity of a combat.

In the third quarter of the eighteenth century Bavaria was a land where sacerdotalism reigned supreme. Religious houses flourished in abundance; the number of priests and nuns was incredibly large. So easy were the ways of life in that fertile country that a lack of seriousness and intensity of feeling among the masses flung open the door for superstitious practices which made the popular religion little better than gross fetichism. So-called "miraculous" images were commonly paraded through the streets; innumerable statues and sacred relics were exposed to the gaze of crowds of the faithful; the patronage of the saints was assiduouslysolicited. Among the educated there was a widespread conviction that the piety of the people was ignorant and that their trustful attitude made them the prey of many impostors.

The degree of power to which the representatives of the Society of Jesus had been able to attain in Bavaria was all but absolute. Members of the order were the confessors and preceptors of the electors; hence they had a direct influence upon the policies of government. The censorship of religion had fallen into their eager hands, to the extent that some of the parishes even were compelled to recognize their authority and power. To exterminate all Protestant influence and to render the Catholic establishment complete, they had taken possession of the instruments of public education.

There was, however, a relatively small group of cultivated people in Bavaria who, despite the clerical oppression and bigotry from which they suffered, had contrived to share in the liberalizing spirit of the larger world. The censorship exerted by the Jesuits had found no adequate means to guard against the broadening influences of travel or of contact with travelers from other lands, or even to prevent the introduction of all contraband journals and books. The effect of the former had been to create a humiliating and galling sense of inferiority on the part of liberal-minded Bavarians, while the latter had served to stimulate a thirst for the new knowledge which the rationalism of the age made available. To this small group of discontented and ambitious spirits the ancient faith had ceased to be satisfactory, and the burden of clericalism had become insufferable.

German Freemasonry was far from being in a wholesome and promising condition when the order of the Illuminati emerged. From its introduction into that country sometime within the second quarter of the eighteenth century, it had developed two general types; vis., English Freemasonry and the French high grades. The former was generally disposed to be content with simple organizations. Its lodges were little more than secret clubs whose members had their signs of recognition and their simple rituals, and whose ideals were represented by the terms fraternity and cooperation. The latter developed an excess of ceremonies and " mysteries ", and thus opened thedoor for the introduction of impostures of every sort. Visionaries and charlatans flocked to the French lodges, and alchemy and thaumaturgy found in their secret quarters a veritable hot-house for their culture.

The University of Ingolstadt, established in 1472, was destined to become a rallying point for these radical tendencies. With the accession of Maximilian Joseph as elector, in 1745, the breath of a new life soon stirred within its walls. Measures were adopted promptly by the latter looking to the restoration of the prestige of the university through the modernization of its life.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:59 ZULU