Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pascal's Pensées (Introduction Retake)

Pascal's Pensées
Introduction Retake

There were a couple things I haven't addressed yet that were contained in the introduction. Although, the last post was a good summary/preview of Blaise Pascal and his life, there is still much more to be said.

Pascal's first conversion had happened in 1646, when he was 23. After Blaise' father had broken his hip (an often fatal tragedy at the time) and miraculously recovered. This experience led not only Pascal, but also most of his family to believe in God due to the extreme influence of Pascal Sr.'s doctors (who were Jansenists) and the witness of the Holy Spirit at work in the healing process. His father died four years after his healing (in 1650).

After his father's miracle, Pascal began to write concerning theology for the next year or so. But, in 1648 he depressed into a "worldly period" until 1654.

His sister, Jacqueline, became a Jansenist nun at Port-Royal. Growing chronically sick, Pascal seemed frustrated with the convent for taking so much of Jacqueline's (inadvertence) money stating that Port-Royal "had begun to smell like a cult."

At 29, Pascal had a taste of poverty and began a pursuit of the life of a bachelor. "During visits to his sister at Port-Royal in 1654, he displayed contempt for affairs of the world but was not drawn to God."

Pascal's second conversion fell eight years later (1654), when Pascal was 31.

I had previously quoted, "... in 1654 occurs what is called his 'second conversion,' but which might be called his conversion simply. He made a note of his mystical experience, which he kept always about him, and which was found, after his death, sewn into the coat which he was wearing. The experience occurred on 23 November, 1654, and there is no reason to doubt its genuineness unless we choose to deny all mystical experience...."

On that night between 10:30 and 12:30, Pascal had a vision and immediately recorded what he saw in a brief note to himself: "Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars..." The note concluded with Psalm 119:16, "I will not forget they word. Amen." This letter is now known as the Memorial.

Pascal became re-inspired to write on philosophical and theological matters. Starting with a two-week retreat at Port-Royal in 1655, the next four years were contained many trips between this convent and one in Paris. Immediately after his vision and during these travels, Pascal wrote the Provincial Letters (criticizing casuistry used by many Catholics, including Jesuits). Following these, he started his Pensées (thoughts).

"The plan of what we call the Pensées formed itself about 1660 [Pascal was 37]. The completed book was to have been a carefully constructed defence of Christianity, a true Apology..."

"... He who reads this book will observe at once its fragmentary nature; but only after some study will perceive that the fragmentariness lies in the expression more than in the thought. The 'thoughts' cannot be detached from each other and quoted as if each were complete in itself...."

Pascal died in 1662 at the age of 39. Even though he was unable to finish his Apologie de la religion Chrétienne ("Defense of the Christian Religion") himself, his scribbles were later published as Pascal's Pensées ("Pascal's Thoughts").

One of this apologie's main strategies is to use the contradictory philosophies of skepticism and stoicism in order to bring the unbeliever to such despair and confusion that he would embrace God. In Pensées, Pascal surveys many philosophical paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life, meaning and vanity--seemingly arriving at no real conclusions besides humility and grace. Combining these, he proclaims Pascal's Wager.

*An  event that occurred during Pascal's time at the convents was "the miracle of the Holy Thorn: a thorn reputed to have been preserved from the Crown of Our Lord was pressed upon an ulcer which quickly healed.... It probably led him [Pascal] to assign a place to miracles, in his study of faith..." This miracle had happened at Port-Royal (his sister's convent) and Pascal may have believed in it. Truly, the glorification of the thorn should have been ignored as it would have been the faith in God and gift of the Holy Spirit that actually brought the healing about.

**Pascal was also a notable mathematician and physicist.

***Most of these quotes are from T. S. Eliot's introduction.

<-Intro-The Memorial-"God-Shaped Vacuum"->

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1 comment:

  1. I would also like to add that much of the time between Pascal's conversions really reminds me of the time C. S. Lewis spent as an atheist (even though Lewis' time was longer). They both searched for something and realized that it could only point to God/Christ. ... Hopefully I'll get around to typing up that article sometime!!!