Friday, June 2, 2017

The Gravest Contradictions and Their Resolution: Pascal

Saint Ananias and Saint Paul


It is amusing to think that there are people in the world who, having renounced the laws of God and nature, have created their own laws which they observe exactly, as, for example, the soldiers of Mahomet, thieves, heretics, etc. The logicians behave exactly the same way.
It seems that their licence must be without any bounds or barriers because they have transgressed so many which are very just and very sacred. Pascal's Pensées, ed. Martin Turnell, New York: Harper and Row, 1962, 205 (393 [Brunschvicg]), p. 91.

Sinners absolved without penance; righteous men sanctified without charity; all Christians without the grace of Jesus Christ, God without power over men's wills, a predestination without mystery, a redemption without certainty! 797 (884), p. 289.

Incomprehensible that God exists, and incomprehensible that he does not exist; that the soul is in the body, that we have no soul; that the world was created, that it was not created, etc.; that original sin exists, and that it does not exist. 325 (230), p. 129.


The infinite distance between bodies and minds symbolises the infinitely more infinite distance between minds and charity; for charity is supernatural.
The blaze of fame has no attraction for people who are engaged in intellectual pursuits.
The greatness of men of intellect is invisible to kings, to the rich, to captains, to all those who are great according to the flesh.
The greatness of wisdom, which is nothing if it does not come from God, is invisible to the sensual and to the men of intellect. They belong to three different orders
The great geniuses have their empire, their spendour, their greatness, their victory, their glamour, and have no need of greatness according to the flesh with which they have no connection. They are seen not with eyes, but with minds; it is sufficient.
The saints have their empire, their splendour, their victory, their glamour; and have no need of material or intellectual greatness with which they have no connection, for they neither add nor take away anything. They are seen by God and the angels, and not by bodies or inquisitive minds: God is sufficient for them.
Archimedes, without any outward show, would be held in the same veneration. He did not stage any visible battles, but he made his discoveries available to all minds. O how he burst upon men's minds!
Jesus Christ, without possessions and without any outward display of knowledge, stands in his order of holiness. He made no discoveries; he did not reign; but he was humble, patient, holy, holy, holy unto God, terrible to devils, and without sin. O with what great pomp and vast magnificence he came in the eyes of the heart, which perceives wisdom!
It would have been pointless for Archimedes, prince though he was, to play the prince in his mathematical works.
It would have been pointless for Our Lord Jesus Christ to come as a king, in order that his reign of holiness should dazzle; but he certainly came with splendour which belongs to his order!
It is quite ridiculous to take offence at the lowliness of Jesus Christ, as though his lowliness were of the same order as the greatness which he came to reveal. When we consider the greatness that he showed in his life, in his Passion, in his obscurity, in his death, in the choice of his disciples, in their desertion, in his secret resurrection, and the rest, we shall see that it is so great that there is no reason to be scandalised by a lowliness which is not there.
But there are some who are only impressed by worldly greatness, as though there were no spiritual greatness; and others who only admire spiritual greatness, as though there were no other forms of greatness which stand infinitely higher in the order of wisdom.
All bodies, the firmament, the stars, the earth and its kingdoms, are not equal to the least among minds, for the mind knows it all and itself; and bodies, nothing.
From all the bodies put together we should not be able to extract one little thought: it is impossible and belongs to another order. From all the bodies and minds we should not be able to extract a single spark of true charity: it is impossible and belongs to another order which is supernatural. 585, (793), pp. 215-216.

Man is obviously made in order to think; it is the whole of his dignity and his merit, and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with oneself, and with one's author and one's end.
What do people think about? Never about that; but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., fighting, becoming king without thinking what it means to be king, and to be a man. 226 (146), pp. 95-96.

We not only do not know God except through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ. We only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Except in Jesus Christ, we do not know the meaning of our life or our death, or God or ourselves.
Thus without Scripture, which has only Jesus Christ for its object, we know nothing and see only darkness and confusion in the nature of God and in nature itself. 602 (548), p. 219.

P.S. An interesting historical detail of the "The infinite distance between bodies and minds..." frament is its relation to Descartes. Pascal wrote of the same idea of the hierarchy of orders in a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden just two years after Descartes death as a guest in Queen Christina's court. Thus the note in my French copy of the Pensées: "Les idées que Pascal développe dans ce fragment constituent l'aboutissement d'une réflexion dont les premiers linéaments se trouvent dans la lettre qu'il écrivait en juin 1652 á la reine Christine de Suède: 'J'ai une vénération toute particuliére pour ceux qui sont élevés au suprême degré ou de puissance, ou de connaissance. Les derniers peuvent, si je ne me trompe, aussi bien que les premiers, passer pour des sourverains. Les mêmes degrés se rencontrent entre les génies qu'entre les conditions; et le pouvoir des rois sur leurs sujets n'est, ce me semble, qu'une image du pouvoir des esprits sur les esprits qui leur sont inférieurs, sur lesquels ils exercent le droit de persuader, qui est parmi eux ce que le droit de commander est dans le gouvernement politique. Ce second empire me paraît même d'un ordre d'autant plus élevé que lest esprits sont d'un ordre plus élevé que les corps, et d'autant plus équitable qu'il ne peut être départi et conservé que par le mérite, au lieu que l'autre le peut être par la naissance ou par la fortune.'" Pensées, Pascal, Guern ed., Gallimard, 1977, note to fragment 290 (793), n1, p. 583.
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