1590s, plural of Latin illuminatus "enlightened" (in figurative sense), past participle of illuminare "light up, make light, illuminate" (see illumination). Originally a name applied to a 16c. Spanish sect (the Alumbrados), then to other sects on the continent; since 1797 used as a translation of German Illuminaten, name of a secret society founded 1776 in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, (repressed there 1785) and holding deistic and republican principles; hence used generally of free-thinkers and sarcastically of those professing intellectual enlightenment (1816). Related: Illuminatism; illuminatist.
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