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Suppression of the Illuminati

Flushed with a sense of their growing influence and power, the Bavarian Illuminati for some time past had been guilty of extremely imprudent utterances which had excited the public mind. A spirit of boasting which led the members to profess the exercise of a controlling influence in civil affairs, together with less guarded expressions respecting the extreme religious and political ideals of the order, served to arouse public suspicion. To this extent the Bavarian Illuminati had themselves to blame for the ruin of the order.

Carl Theodore, successor to Maximilian Joseph, as Elector Palatinate had been ruler of the provinces of the Rhine since 1742. When he became duke of Upper and Lower Bavaria in 1777, he had established a reputation as a liberal-minded sovereign. The first two years of his rule in Bavaria gave promise of a tolerant reign; but reactionaries, in the persons of his confessor, the ex-Jesuit Frank, a certain Baron Lippert, who was devoted to the cause of ultramontanism, and the duchess dowager of Bavaria and sister of the duke, Maria Anna, worked upon his spirit and easily persuaded the well-meaning but weakwilled monarch to reverse his former policy and come to the defence of the cause of clericalism.

Early in October, 1783, the duchess dowager, Maria Anna, was made the recipient of a document that contained detailed accusations against the Illuminati of Bavaria, charging them with holding such vicious moral and religious sentiments as that life should be controlled by passion rather than reason, that suicide is justifiable, that one may poison one's enemies, and that religion should be regarded as nonsense and patriotism as puerility. Finally, and much more seriously from the particular point of view of the duchess, the Bavarian Illuminati were accused of being in the service of the government of Austria, whose efforts at the time to extend its hegemony over Bavaria had created considerable tension in the latter country.

On June 22, 1784, Carl Theodore launched the first of his edicts against all communities, societies, and brotherhoods in his lands which had been established without due authorization of law and the confirmation of the sovereign. Having surrendered himself completely to the spirit of reaction, and spurred by reports of the covert disobedience of the order which his entourage spread before him, the Bavarian monarch, on March 2 of 1785, issued another edict that specifically designated the Illuminati as one of the branches of Freemasonry, all of which were severely upbraided for their failure to yield implicit obedience to the will of the sovereign as expressed in the previous edict, and a new ban, more definite and sweeping in its terms than the former, was thereby proclaimed.

Weishaupt particularly, from his place of security in a neighboring country, lifted his voice whatever might happen to his associates. Weishaupt was well out of harm's way when the inquiry began in his home city. He brought lasting discredit upon himself by resorting to precipitate flight two weeks before the proclamation of the second ban. It is evident that he saw the storm gathering, and was resolved to put himself beyond personal danger.

Judicial inquiries were inaugurated, beginning at Ingolstadt. Measures of government, all aimed at nothing short of the complete suppression and annihilation of the order, followed one another in rapid succession. Officers and soldiers in the army were required to come forward and confess their relations with the Illuminati, under promise of immunity if ready and hearty in their response, but under pain of disgrace, cassation, or other punishment if refractory. Members and officers of consular boards were subjected to similar regulations. Officers of state and holders of ecclesiastical benefices who were found to have connections with the order were summarily dismissed from their posts. Professors in universities and teachers in the public schools suffered a like fate. Students who were recognized as adepts were dismissed, and in some cases were banished from the country.

As a system the order was shattered, but its supporters were not wholly silenced. By the admissions of its leaders, the system of the Illuminati had the appearance of an organization devoted to the overthrow of religion and the state, a band of poisoners and forgers, an association of men of disgusting morals and depraved tastes.

Although the Order of the Illuminati was dead, the world had yet to reckon with its specter. So intense and widespread was the fear which the order engendered, so clearly did the traditionalists of the age see in its clientele the welding together into a secret machine of war of the most mischievous and dangerous of those elements which were discontented with the prevailing establishments of religion and civil government, that it was impossible that its shadow should pass immediately.

The emergence of the order had attracted public attention so abruptly and sharply, and its downfall had been so violent and so swift, that public opinion lacked time to adjust itself to the facts, in the case. In Bavaria, particularly, the enemies of the order were unable to persuade themselves that the machinations of the Illuminati could safely be regarded as wholly of the past.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:52:00 ZULU