He is celebrated in the history of Freemasonry as the founder of the Order of Illuminati of Bavaria, among whom he adopted the characteristic or Order name of Spartacus. He was born in February 6, 1748, at Ingoldstadt, and was educated by the Jesuits, toward whom, however, he afterward exhibited the bitterest enmity, and was equally hated by them in return. In 1772 he became Extraordinary Professor of Law, and in 1775, Professor of Natural and Canon Law, at the University of Ingoldstadt. As the professorship of canon law had been hitherto held only by an ecclesiastic, his appointment gave great offense to the clergy. Weishaupt, whose views were cosmopolitan, and who knew and condemned the bigotry and superstitions of the Priests, established an opposing party in the University, consisting principally of young men whose confidence and friendship he had gained. They assembled in a private apartment, and there he discussed with them philosophic subjects, and sought to imbue them with a liberal spirit. This was the beginning of the Order of the Illuminati, or the Enlightened -a name he bestowed upon his disciples as a token of their advance in intelligence and moral progress.
At first, it was totally unconnected with Freemasonry, of which Order Weishaupt was not at that time a member. It was not until 1777 that he was initiated in the Lodge Theodore of Good Counsel, at Munich. Thenceforward, Weishaupt sought to incorporate his system into that of Freemasonry, so that tine latter might become subservient to his views and with the assistance of the Baron Knigge, who brought his active energies and genius to the aid of the cause, he succeeded in completing his system of Illuminism. But the clergy, and especially the Jesuits, who, although their Order had been abolished by the government, still secretly possessed great power, redoubled their efforts to destroy their opponent, and they at length succeeded. In 1784, all secret Associations were prohibited by a royal decree, and in the following year Weishaupt was deprived of his professorship and banished from the country. He repaired to Gotha, where he was kindly received by Duke Ernest, who made him a Counselor and gave him a pension.
There he remained until he died in 1811.
During his residence at Gotha he wrote and published many works, some on philosophical subjects and several in explanation and defense of Illuminism. Among the latter were A Picture of the Illuminati, 1786; A Complete History of the Persecutions of the Illuminati in Bavaria, 1786. Of this work only one volume was published; the second, though promised, never appeared. An Apology for the Illuminati, 1786; An Improved System of the Illuminati, 1787, and many others.
No man has ever been more abused and vilified than Weishaupt by the adversaries of Freemasonry. In such partisan writers as Barruel and Robinson we might expect to find libels against a Masonic reformer. But it is passing strange that Doctor Oliver should have permitted such a passage as the following to sully his pages (Landmarks u, page 26): "Weishaupt was a shameless libertine, who compassed the death of his sister-in-law to conceal his vices from the world and as he termed it, to preserve his honor."
To charges like these, founded only in the bitterness of his persecutors, Weishaupt has made the following reply; "The tenor of my life has been the opposite of everything that is vile; and no man can lay any such thing to my charge."
Indeed, his long continuance in an important religious professorship at Ingoldstadt, the warm affections of his pupils, and the patronage and protection, during the closing years of his life, of the virtuous and amiable Duke of Gotha, would seem to give some assurance that Weishaupt could not have been the monster that he has been painted by his adversaries.
Illuminism, it is true, had its abundant errors, and no one will regret its dissolution. But its founder had hoped by it to effect much good: that it was diverted from its original aim was the fault, not of him, but of some of his disciples; and their faults he was not reluctant to condemn in his writings.
His ambition was, Doctor Mackey believed, a virtuous one; that it failed was his, and perhaps the world's misfortune. He says, My general plan is good, though in the detail there may be faults. I had myself to create. In another situation, and in an active station in life, I should have been keenly occupied, and the founding of an Order would never have come into my head. But I would have executed mueh better things, if the government had not always opposed my exertions, and placed others in situations which suited my talents. It was the full conviction of this, and of what could be done, if every man were placed in the office for which he was fitted by nature, and a proper education, which first suggested to me the plan of Illuminism.
What he really wished Illuminism to be, we may judge from the instructions he gave as to the necessary qualifications of a candidate for initiation. They are as follows: Whoever does not close his ear to the lamentations of the miserable, nor his heart to gentle pity; whoever is the friend and brother of the unfortunate; whoever has a heart capable of love and friendship, whoever is steadfast in adversity, unwearied in the carrying out of whatever has been once engaged in, undaunted in the overcoming of difficulties; whoever does not mock and despise the weak; whose soul is susceptible of conceiving great designs, desirous of rising superior to all base motives, and of distinguishing itself by deeds of benevolence whoever shuns idleness whoever considers no knowledge as unessential which he may have the opportunity of acquiring, regarding the knowledge of mankind as his chief study; whoever, when truth and virtue are in question, despising the approbation of the multitude, is sufficiently courageous to follow the dictates of his own heart,-such a one is a proper candidate.
The Baron von Knigge, who, perhaps, of all men, best knew him, said of him that he was undeniably a man of genius, and a profound thinker; and that he was all the more an Catholic education, he had formed his mind by his own meditations, and the reading of good books. His heart, adds this companion of his labors and sharer of his secret thoughts, was excited by the most unselfish desire to do something great, and that would be worthy of mankind, and in the accomplishment of this he was deferred by no opposition and discouraged by no embarrassments. The truth is, Doctor Mackey says, that Weishaupt has been misunderstood by Masonic authors and slandered by un-Masonic writers. His success in the beginning as a reformer was due to his own honest desire to do good. His failure in the end was attributable to ecclesiastical persecution, and to the faults and follies of his disciples. The Master worked to elevate human nature; the Scholars, to degrade. Weishaupt's place in history should be among the unsuccessful reformers and not among the profligate adventurers. Worthy of admiration because, while subjected to the influences of a bigoted Rom.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry