Weishaupt, ruminating on what turn he should give to his Code of Illuminism, that its progress might be more subtle and infallible, expresses himself in the following terms, on the preparatory degrees which were to succeed to the novitiate of his pupils.
“I am thinking of establishing, in the next degree, a sort of an Academy of Literati. My design would include the study of the Ancients, and an application to the art of observing and drawing characters (even those of the living); and treatises and questions, proposed for public compositions, should form the occupations of our pupils.
I should wish, more especially, to make them spies over each other in particular, and overall in general. It is from this class that I would select those who have shown the greatest aptness for the Mysteries. My determination, in short, is, that in this degree they shall labor at the discovery and extirpation of prejudices. Every pupil (for example) shall declare, at least once a month, all those which he may have discovered in himself; which may have been his principal one, and how far he has been able to get the better of it.”
Ever influenced by a bitter hatred against the Jesuits, he does not blush to say—”I mean that this declaration shall be among us, what confession was among them.” Her was, however, unfortunate in his application; for in the Order of the Jesuits, no superior could ever hear the confessions of the Inferiors; and thus their very institutes rendered impossible the horrid abuse, under which Weishaupt affected to cloak the abominable breach of confidence with respect to his pupils, when he says, “by these means I shall discern those who show dispositions for certain special Doctrines relative to Government or to Religion.”
The statutes of their Minerval degree are drawn up with a little more circumspection, and simply declare, “that the Order in that degree wishes to be considered only as a learned society or academy, consecrating its toils to form the hearts and minds of its young pupils both by example and precept.”
These are called the Brethren of Minerva, and are under the direction of the Major or Minor Illuminees. The academy properly so called is composed of ten,
twelve, and sometimes fifteen Minervals, under the direction and tuition of a Major Illuminee.
In the calendar of the Sect, the days on which the academy meets are called holy, and its sittings are generally held twice a month; always at the new moon.
The place where they meet is called, in their language, a Church. It must always be preceded by an anti-chamber, with a strong door armed with bolts, which is to be shut during the time of the meeting; and the whole apartment is to be so disposed, that it shall be impossible for intruders either to see or hear anything that is going forward.
At the commencement of each sitting, the President is always to read, and, after his fashion, comment on some chosen passages of the Bible, or Seneca, of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, or Confucius.
The care he takes to give to all these works the same weight and authority will be sufficient to make the pupils view the Bible in a similar light with the works of the Pagan Philosophers.
This lecture over, each pupil is questioned: “as to the books which he has read since the last meeting; on the observations or discoveries he may have made, and on his labors or services toward the progress of the Order.”
Nor are the studies and the books of which the Brethren are to give an account, left to their own choice. To each of these academies there is appropriated a particular library, whenever circumstances will permit, calculated to ensure the spirit of the Order; and this collection the Sect takes care to furnish.
By three different means, it is accomplished. First, by the money which the Brethren contribute; secondly, by the list of his own private Library, which is exacted from each candidate, who is obliged to furnish therefrom such books as may be required of him; the third means is derived from Weishaupt’s grand principle, that everything which is useful is an act of virtue.
Now as it would be very useful for the Order to get possession of those rare books and precious manuscripts which Princes, Nobles, and Religious Orders keep shut up among their archives or in their libraries; all Illuminees acting as librarians or archive-keepers are admonished, exhorted, and seriously pressed not to make any scruple of secretly stealing such books or manuscripts, and putting them into the possession of the Sect.
This is one of the most explicit lessons that Weishaupt gives to his adepts; at one time telling them not to make a case of conscience of giving to the Brethren what they may have belonged to the library of the Court; at another, sending a list of what should be stolen from that of the Carmes, he says, “all these would be of much greater use if they were in our hands.
What do those rascals do with all those books?”
Yet, notwithstanding the caution with which the founder as yet withholds certain books from the hands of the Minerval, it is clear from the very assortment of the libraries of the Order, that he does not hesitate at giving the pupils a certain number directly tending to the grand object, and particularly those which may create a contempt for religion.
He wishes much to see an impartial history of the Church, and he even proposes hereafter to publish one himself, or at least to contribute many articles toward such a work. He calls the attention of the young adepts to Sarpi, to Le Bret’s arsenal of calumnies, and in short to all that has been written against Religious Orders.
He had even put on the list those impious works which appeared under the name of Freret. He seemed to have forgotten for a moment his ordinary prudence; but, warned of it by Knigge, he corrected his error.
Many other books, however, were to be comprehended in the Minerval Library, which was to disguise the object of it; and it was one duty of the Presiding Illuminee to select such as would gradually direct his pupils to the grand object of the Sect; always remembering, that the most impious and seditious were reserved for the higher degrees. Should the President chance to find the System of Nature, Natural Polity, Helvetius on Man, or other such books, in the hands of his pupil, he was to avoid showing his pleasure or displeasure and leave them. 8 In short, it is in the Minerval schools that the teachers are in a particular manner to practice that great art of making the adepts rather as it was invented than learn the principles of the Order; because they will then, looking upon them as the offspring of their own genius, more strongly adhere to them.
There is yet another scheme in these schools for attaching the young adepts to the Order.
Every brother is, at his first reception, to declare to what art or science he means principally to apply, unless his station, genius, or particular circumstances, debar him from the literary career; in which latter case, pecuniary contributions are to be an equivalent for those services which his talents cannot contribute.
If the Brethren adopt literary pursuits, then the Order enters into engagements to furnish them with all possible assistance to forward their undertakings in the art or science on which they shall have determined; unless they should have chosen Theology or Jurisprudence, two sciences which the Order absolutely excerpts from any such agreement.
Their successor for the Minerval has a two-fold tendency.
On the one side, they serve to prove that the adept does not neglect the science he has determined on, as he is to give an annual account of the discoveries he has made, and of the authors from which he has made selections. On the other hand, the brethren following the same branches of study are desired to help him with all the means in their power. Should he meet with difficulties which he cannot solve, he may apply to his Superior, who will either solve them himself, or send them to other members of the Order, who, better versed in those sciences, and bound to enlighten their Brethren, will send the required solutions.
That his degree of Minveral may have all the appearances of a literary society, the Superiors annually propose some question for a public composition. The answers or dissertations are judged as in academies, and the discourse which obtains the prize is printed at the expense of the Order. The same advantages are held out to all adepts who wish to publish their works, provided they are not foreign to the views of the Founder.
They are sure to coincide with his intentions should they be of the nature of those which he calls pasquils, or such as would create mirth among the people at the expense
of the priesthood, and of religious truths; such as parodies on the Lamentations of Jeremiah, or burlesque imitations of the Prophets; in a word, all such satires as disposing the people to the grand object of the Sect.
The Minerval can give no better proofs than these of his progress. The Sect has booksellers who put these works into circulation, and the profits are transmitted to the coffers of the Order.
It is, however, to be observed, that should a Minerval, or any other of the Brethren, make a discovery in any art or lucrative science, he is obliged, under pain of being looked upon as a false Brother, to impart the secret to the Order, who will look upon itself as proprietor of such secrets should they have been discovered by a Brother after his admission among them.
Lest he should be unobserved when traveling, the Minerval is never to undertake any journey without previously informing his superiors, who will send him letters of recommendation for different Brethren on the road. He, in return, must carefully report everything that he shall discover during his travels, which may be to the advantage or disadvantage of the Order.
But we must not forget to mention, that during the academic sittings, the presiding Illuminee is at least once a month to take a review of the principal faults which he may have observed in any of his pupils.
He is to interrogate them concerning those which they may have observed themselves; “and it would be unpardonable neglect,” says the statutes, “should any pupil pretend that during the space of a whole month he had remarked nothing reprehensible. This would be a proof of the utmost negligence in the training of his mind to observation, and the Superior must not suffer it to pass without reprehension. He must also make his observations in such a manner as to excite their serious attention, and effectually to impress them with proper notions so that each on returning home shall be ready to put in practice his advice for the advantage of the Order.
Besides, the Superior is as much as possible to avoid letting a day pass without seeing his pupils, either he visiting them.
But what can be the object of such vigilance, such unremitting attention to the Minerval Academy? A single word from the adept who, under the inspection of Weishaupt, organized its laws, will explain the enigma. It is, to adopt Knigge’s expressions, by the works required of the young Academicians that the Order will be able to judge whether they are of that sort of stuff (that is to say of that turn of mind, susceptible of all the principles of Impiety and Anarchy) which is necessary for the higher degrees.
After all these labors, should the Minerval adept still retain any of what they call religionist inclinations, he will then receive the three first Masonic degrees, and in them, he may molder during the rest of his life in the insignificant study of all their hieroglyphics.
He will indeed still continue under the inspection of the Superiors of the Order; but he may rest assured, that he will always remain a Minerval, with a brevet of imbecility, on the registers of the Sect.
On the contrary, should he have shown a sufficient want of attachment to religion or to his Prince; should he enthusiastically imbibe the principles of Illuminism, he will certainly be promoted to higher degrees.
During his academical course the [paragraph continues] Sect has had unerring means of judging him; viz. by the questions he has solved (and which were put by the Order, not so much with a view of exercising his talents as of prying into his opinions), and by the statements delivered in by the Scrutators, of the impression made by the different principles which they had disseminated either in the shape of conversation, or by way of refutation, to try the young Minerval.
The questions which he has had to investigate during his course sometimes regarded the secret of the Sect; at others, the security of the adepts, and of the Superiors.
To envelop the chiefs in impenetrable darkness, and that their asylum may be proof against all attempts, death itself is to be divested of its horrors.
The Minerval must not finish his Academical course till he has shown how far such fears have lost their influence over him; he shall declare whether he is ready to submit to every torture, rather than give the least information concerning the Order; or even evade the temptation by poison or suicide.
A dissertation upon Cato, for example, will be given him as a task, and his management of it will show whether he is ready to fall by his own hand for the preservation of the Brethren. The patet exitus, or the exit is free, that is to say, that every man is free to leave this life at his pleasure, is one of those grand principles which must be advanced; it must be commented on and discussed by the young adept; and should any of those puerile ideas appear, which lead to believe in a God the avenger of suicide, he is not the man to be entrusted with the secret, and he shall be rejected.
Many other questions are proposed in order to convince the Sect of the principles of the Young Academician.
It must sound his opinions on the means it employs, and on those in which he may hereafter be instrumental. He will be ordered to discuss Weishaupt’s famous doctrine, that the end sanctifies the means; that is to say, that there are no means, not even theft, poison, homicide, or calumny, but are just and laudable when used for the attainment of objects which the Order may chuse to style just or holy.
After all this, the Minerval shall furnish some dissertation from which his opinions on Kings and Priests may be ascertained; but the presiding adept must carefully avoid compromising himself; he must not openly applaud the epigrams, sarcasm, or even blasphemies of his pupils; that must be left to the brethren visitors, who will insinuate and encourage them without ever hinting that they are in perfect unison with the mysteries of the Order.
He must not fail, however, to observe which of his pupils are the most zealous for such doctrines, and who complacently repeat this sarcasm or blasphemies; those, in short, who enthusiastically blend them in their Academical compositions.
This accomplished, they have run their Academic career, and are next promoted to the degree of Minor Illuminee.