Quite discreet until then, the Inquisition was unleashed in Spain in 1492 and took up -- under the mantle of threatened faith -- a gigantic genocidal operation, principally directed against the Jews, whose systematic despoilation kept the coffers of the State from going bankrupt. The power that bestowed upon the Inquisition insignias of services rendered in the art of balancing the deficits of the kingdom, in which the Jews (in a certain way) financed the conquest of the American markets, brought down upon Spain the functionaries of the religious police, with whom Northern Europe had cancelled its contracts and whom the Italy of the Renaissance valued more beyond its borders than within them.
Italian Catholicism accommodated itself to pleasures sooner or later seized by redemption, remorse and contrition. Better than the Council of Trente, the hedonism of a country inclined to luxury and the passions erected a natural barrier against the incursions of Reformation Puritanism, of which the pre-Calvinist austerity of Savonarola had presented the enticing programme.
Still cramped within the old agrarian structures in which the taste for life and liberty was only marked out through the insurrections of the comuneros, several peasant revolts and the emerging richness of the great towns, Spain kept the heritage of the ascetic masochism of Priscillian and Dominique Guzman, the leader of an order of divine killers, the furor of which Loyola would soon revive by giving it a less brutal but more police-like turn.
In Spain the Inquisition would durably prevent -- with a zeal that was the envy of the German inquisitors -- the implantation of a Protestantism that it would not succeed in containing in Flanders, despite the frightening catacombs.
Nevertheless, the Inquisition would remain abashed at the time it discovered the existence of groups of people, apparently quite numerous, who had devoted themselves to the freedoms of love according to the routes of the ecstasy that, through strange references to the old Gnosticism and the Hebdomade, popular language situated in the seventh heaven.
Bataillon dates from 1512 the appearance of the qualifier alumbrado, applied to a Franciscan who was "illuminated by the darkess of Satan."
In Toledo, where the influence of heterodox Sufis of Islam was secretly perpetuated, the Inquisition hesitated to pursue Isabel de La Cruz, who had a reputation for holiness and around whom formed a group whose teachings recalled those of Marguerite Porete. One would have to wait until 23 September 1525 for the great inquisitor Manrique to promulgate an edict against the Alumbrados, no doubt under the cover of a campaign against the Protestants, with whom they could only be confused by some malignity of the Holy-Office. Arrested in 1529, Isabel de La Cruz was condemned to life imprisonment. One of her disciples, the priest Juan Lopez, would mount the pyre in Grenada one year later.
The chronicler Alfonso de Santa Cruz transcribed several articles from the accusatory notification for the trial at Toledo:
They say that the love of God in man is God. (... They) affirm that ecstasy or illumination leads to such perfection that men can no longer sin, neither mortally nor venally; that illumination frees and releases one from all authority; and that they need not render accounts to anyone, not even God, because they have put their trust in him (from whence comes their refusal of sacraments, prayers, and good works).
They call the Host a bit of pate; the cross a stick; and genuflection idolatry. They believe the annihilation of their own will to be a supreme glory (...). They deny Hell (...).
Far from weeping over the Passion of the Christ, they rejoice and enjoy all the pleasures during Holy Week. They affirm that the Father was incarnated as the Son and believe they speak with this God neither more nor less than with the Corregidor of Escalona. So as to remember Our Lady, they contemplate the visage of a woman instead of contemplating an image. They call the conjugal act union with God. The sect is centered around Isabel de La Cruz and a certain Father Alcazar.
At the same time, a group of Alumbrados developed around the beata [blessed one] Francisca Hernandez, who was originally from Canillas, near by Salamanque. Around 1519, her court consisted of young clergymen: Bernardino Tovar, the Franciscan Gil Lopez and the bachelor Antonio of Medrano, whose amorous relations with Francisca were denounced to the Inquisition, which condemned the lovers to live separately.
Relocated to Valladolid, Francisca first lived with Bernardino Tovar and then the financier Pedro Cazalla. In the tradition of the Homines Intelligentiae, she founded an occult center named Paradise, in which the refinements of love conferred Edenic innocence at the end of an initiation that intermixed chastity, libertinage and exclusive passion.
At the time of the trial, Antonio of Medrano declared that, since he had known Francisca, God had given him the grace to no longer experience carnal desires, with the result that he could sleep with a woman in the same bed without prejudicing his soul. On the other hand, Francisco Ortiz affirmed: "After having relations with her for around 20 days, I acquired more wisdom in Valladolid than I did studying in Paris for 20 years. Because it is not Paris, but Paradise, that can teach me such wisdom."
Francisca Hernandez seemed to have attained such a decree of holiness that continence was no longer necessary for her. The richest part of her teachings no doubt consisted in disencumbering her disciples and lovers from the feeling of guilt, which -- along with the fear of coming [jouir] -- formed a vicious circle in which love was poisoned. The theologian Melchior Cano would express the skillfully irreligious enterprise of Francisca in a formula of an astonishing modernity: "Remove fear and give assurance."
It was precisely on anguish and fear, the foundations of all religion, that the Inquisition would play to annihilate Alumbradism. Arrested in 1529, Francisca Hernandez and her follower, Maria Ramirez, denounced -- under the threat of torture and the quemadero -- Bernardino Tovar, her brother and fourteen other people. And, according to the will of the inquisitorial tribunal, they denounced them not as Alumbrados but as Lutherians, which does not lack piquancy, given the hatred of Luther and Calvin for the adepts of the Free-Spirit.
In many regions of Spain, the Alumbrados represented such a force that the Church did not dare to attack them directly and preferred to assimilate them with the Reformers, the condemnation of whom aroused fewer reservations. They were so numerous in Seville that the Inquisition would not intervene. "The major part of the town is infected," reported a letter of the times. "There is no Duchess or Marquise, no woman of high or low condition, whom one cannot reproach for some error of this heresy."
In the second half of the Sixteenth Century, a group of Alumbrados pushed imprudence as far as publicly contesting the Church's teachings. In 1578, a Dominican, Alonso de La Fuente -- who in Llerena in Estremadure blamed the Alumbrados in person -- was interrupted by a woman who said: "Padre, the life they lead is better than yours, and their doctrine is better, too." Her audacity, supported (in all probability) as a favorable opinion that was communally accepted in the region, would arouse the immediate reaction of the Inquisition. Arrested and subjected to torture, she confessed the names of her companions.
Their doctrine was expounded by eight members of the secular clergy. Fernando Alvarez and Father Chamizo recommended that the novices meditate on the wounds of the crucified Christ with such ardor that their faces become red, that they sweat, feel sorrow in their hearts, become nauseated, so as to culminate in an ecstasy in which, according to their expression, they "become liquified in the love of God." [Marguerite] Porete had spoken of the "annihilated soul" that announced the identification with God that Simon of Samaria called megale dynamis, while the Beghard John of Brunn evoked the identity of the pneuma and the sperma in the fusion that would leave him totaliter liquefactus.
Rendered impeccable by organic illumination, they acceded to the state of perfection and, permanently plunged into inward exaltation, they were founded in following their desires and rejecting the Church, its authority and its rites.
Beyond Alvarez and Chamizo, who was reproached for having initiated into celestial pleasure 34 people, the community at Llerena included Juan Garcia, a clergyman from Almendralejo and the bachelor Rodrigo Vasquez, a parish-priest in La Morea, who affirmed: "If the Turks govern and win Spain, it will be because each of them lives as he wants." The community also included Doctor Cristobal Mejia, a clergyman from Cazalla; a Franciscan from Valladolid, who was 63 years old; Pedro of Santa Maria; a parish-priest from Zafra, Francisca de Mesa, who, speaking of the Passion of the Christ, said: "What good is it to be preoccupied every day with the death of this man?"
In Zafra, where the adepts united around the widow Lari Gomez, a shoemaker, Juan Bernal, nourished the intention to present to the court a memoire in favor of the Alumbrados.
The group had existed for four years when the Bishop of Salamanque, Francisco de Soto, was charged by the inquest of 1578. When he died in Llerena, on 21 June of that same year, rumor accused the Alumbrados of having poisoned him. The majority would perish on the pyre.
Such was the context in which the mystical exaltation of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila took place. At first suspected of Alumbradism, both of them -- hastening to furnish proofs of their perfect submission to the Church -- channeled the carnal ecstasies that haloed them with a divine grace towards a morbid asceticism.
 M. Bataillon, Erasme et l'Espagne, Paris, 1937, p. 73. [Translator's note: Alumbrados can be translated by "Illuminati."]
 M. Menendes Pelayo, Historia de los heterodoxas espagnoles, Mardrid, 1929, p. 526.
 Ibid., p. 530.
 Translator's note: the Quemadero De Tablada was a place for executions, built in Seville in 1481.
 R. Vaneigem, op. cit., p. 193. [Translator's note: see R. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit (New York: 1994), p. 199.]
 Ibid., p. 194. [Translator's note: see R. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 200.]
(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! All footnotes by the author, except where noted.)