Pascal, Blaise

Pascal, Blaise

one of the most remarkable of men; sublime in his virtuous life; eloquent in his defense of the truth; wonderful in his vast acquisitions; remarkable for his genius; one, in short, associated with all that is splendid in the highest order of talent, and all that is bright and pure in the practice of holiness. Boyle characterizes him as "one of the sublimest spirits in the world." Locke calls him the "prodigy of poets;" and why should he not be called a prodigy? It is certainly not a very common thing to meet in the same mind in perfect harmony, as we see in Pascal's, the reasoning powers of a great mathematician and the imagination of a great poet — the genial warm- heartedness of a philanthropist and the playful satire of a comedian — the condensed energy of an orator and the profound and conscientious deliberations of a philosopher; or to find the canvas on which were wrought out these prodigies of genius ever aglow with the well ordered contrasts, the graceful variety, and the rich coloring of a painter of human life and manners. Blaise Pascal was born June 19, 1623, at Clermont, in Auvergne. His family was one of considerable influence in the province, several of his ancestors having held high offices in the government of France; and his father was at the time president of the Court of Aids in Auvergne. Blaise evinced in his early childhood an inquisitiveness of mind and a penetrating acuteness far above the average standard of boys. As he was deprived of his mother when only three years of age, his father, who was an eminent mathematician, and associated much with men of learning and science, undertook the sole charge of his son's education, and to that end settled in Paris. For the purpose of concentrating all the boy's efforts upon languages, his father kept out of his reach all books treating the subject of mathematics, for which he had early evinced a decided taste; and it is recorded that by his own unaided speculations, drawing the diagrams with charcoal upon the floor, he made some progress in geometry. One account represents him as having thus mastered the first thirty-two propositions of the first book of Euclid's Elements, when his father suddenly surprised him in his studies, and was so moved by the boy's attainments that he no further thwarted him in the pursuit of mathematical investigations; and Blaise made such rapid progress that at the age of sixteen he composed a treatise on Conic Sections which displayed an extraordinary effort of mind, and evinced a strength of reasoning and knowledge of science fully equal to anything that had appeared. It extorted the almost incredulous admiration of his contemporary, Des Cartes. But this was not the only extraordinary performance of Blaise Pascal. In his nineteenth year he invented an ingenious machine for making arithmetical calculations, which excited the admiration of his times; and afterwards, at the age of twenty-four years, the conjecture of Torricelli that the atmosphere had weight, and that this quality might account for effects before ascribed to the horror of a vacuum, led him to institute many able and successful experiments on. this subject; Which confirmed the truth of Torricelli's idea, and established his own scientific reputation. The results of these labors were collected into two essays, which appeared after his death, On the Equilibrium of Liquids, and On the Weight of the Atmosphere. Unfortunately Pascal's health gave way before his unwearied activity; from the age of eighteen the never passed a day without suffering.

Being forbidden all work by his doctor she threw himself into the vortex of the world's pleasures. But towards the end of the year 1647 he changed his course of living. He had for some time been seriously thinking of the nature and obligations of Christianity, and of the necessity of devoting himself supremely to the service of God. His associations now tended to deepen his seriousness. His father having accepted an office at Rouen, Blaise was there brought much into intercourse with a distinguished Jansenist preacher, abbe Guillebert, but a man of great eloquence, a great master of ascetic theology, by whom, and other members of the same rigid sect, as well as by the writings of Arnauld, St. Cyran, and Nicole, Blaise Pascal's mind received a decidedly religious turn; and he finally determined to abandon all scientific study, and diverted his great mind entirely to objects of religious contemplation. He studied the Holy Scriptures, diligently examined the subject of their inspiration, and after a patient investigation became fully convinced of their truth, and of the necessity of believing all that they reveal. He used often to say, "in the Scriptures, whatever is an object of faith need not be an object of reason." Indeed. he knew exactly how to distinguish between the claims of faith and of reason. The conviction of Pascal may therefore with propriety be cited among the most striking and satisfactory examples of the deep submission of the most powerful intellects to the truths of revelation; while it may also be numbered with other illustrious exceptions to the reproach that the high cultivation of mathematical science is little favorable to piety. It is no fair objection to the value of his example that Pascal, under the nervous excitation of bodily disease, fell into many absurd excesses of fanaticism; that he practiced the most rigid abstinence from all worldly enjoyments, and wore next his skin a cincture of iron studded with points, which he struck with his elbow into his flesh as a punishment to himself whenever any sinful thought obtruded itself into his mind. Such things may be ascribed to the inherent weakness of our corporeal nature, to some of the ordinary caprices of human disposition, or to the imaginative delusions attendant upon a particular state of bodily health; but they detract nothing from the soundness of the anterior investigation which had led a pure and unclouded reason like that of Pascal to embrace the doctrines of revelation, by a process analogous to that which had conducted him to the discovery of abstract truth. The death of his father, and his sister Jacqueline's withdrawal to Port-Royal, confirmed his deep religious tendencies, and it is to this period that we owe his magnificent though unfinished Pensees, which have extorted the- admiration even of his unbelieving and therefore unsympathizing critics. Having fully identified himself with the Jansenist party, he was induced in 1654 to take up his residence at Port-Royal, although not as a member of the body, and there he resided till his death, entirely given up to prayer and practices of mortification.

It may be counted a curious exemplification of the anomalous conditions of the human mind, that while Pascal was immersed in his superstitious observances he published his famous "Provincial Letters," in which, under the name of Louis de Montalto, he assailed the morality of the Jesuits with equal wit and argumentative acumen. He was induced to write this work by his adoption of the opinions of the Jansenists, whose principal exponent, the learned Arnauld (q.v.),was about to be condemned by the Sorbonne. There was every danger that the world, which did not trouble itself to read the obscure discussions of theologians, would abide by the judgment of the Sorbonne, and hold the Jesuits to have gained the cause. Pascal changed the order of battle. He addressed himself to the public; appealed from authority to common-sense, declaring that it was easier to find monks than reasons. Then, for the first time, men of the world. and women too, were constituted judges of great questions. The necessity of making one's self read and understood by such a tribunal was no small task; but Pascal disposed of it so happily that it made a chef d'euvre of Les Lettres Provinciales. They were not hastily composed — the author was often employed twenty days on a single letter; one (the eighteenth) he wrote over more than thirteen times; and all, after being written, he transmitted to Arnauld and Nicole to be carefully revised and corrected. We shall not stop to speak of the literary merits of the work — they have been universally acknowledged. The most distinguished Freich critics unite in pronouncing it a perfect model of taste and style, which has exerted a powerful influence on the literature of succeeding times. Those of other countries who are acquainted with it unite in bearing the same testimony; all agree that it is a masterpiece of the most wonderful acuteness and subtilty of genius, united with the keenest satire and the most delicate wit; an example of the precision of mathematical reasoning joined with the most convincing and persuasive eloquence. The more we study it as a literary work, the more must we be ready to adopt the language of Boileau, that "nothing surpasses it in ancient or modern times" ("Pascal surpasse tout ce qui l'a precede, ousuivi," see Rogers in Edinb. Rev. Jan. 1847). These famous letters. (eighteen in number, not reckoning the nineteenth, which is a fragment, and the twentieth, which is by Lemaistre) are written, as if to a provincial friend, on the absorbing controversial topic of the day. The first three are devoted to let vindication of Arnauld, and the demonstration of the identity of his doctrine with that of St. Augustine. But it was to the later letters that the collection owed both its contemporary popularity and its abiding fame. In these Pascal addresses himself to the casuistry and to the directorial system of Arnauld's great antagonists, the Jesuits; and in a strain of humorous irony which has seldom been surpassed he holds up to ridicule their imputed laxity of principle on the obligation of restitution, on simony, on probable opinions, on directing the intention, on equivocation, and mental reservation, etc.

The Jesuits and their friends loudly complain of the unfairness of the "Provincial Letters," and represent them as in great part the work of a special pleader. The quotations, with the exception of those from Escobar, were confessedly supplied by Pascal's friends. It is charged that many of the authors cited are not Jesuits at all; that many of the opinions ridiculed and reprobated as opinions of the Jesuit order had in reality been formally repudiated and condemned in the society; that many of the extracts are garbled and distorted; that it treats as if designed for the pulpit and as mantrals for teaching works which in reality were meant but as private directions of the judgment of the confessor; and that, in almost all cases, statements, facts, and circumstances are withheld which would modify, if not entirely remove, their objectionable tendency. SEE JESUITS. There seems, however, to be loud ground for such complaint, and the frequent replies which have been made to this charge would hardly afford us an excuse for taking space here to consider this appeal. In all his exposures Pascal deals only with the maxims, and not with persons. There is nowhere the appearance of vindictiveness over a vanquished foe.' If there be at times an indignation rising to the tone of awful majesty, there is mingled with it a philanthropy most tender and heartfelt; "he would take these men to his bosom and reform them, while he consigns their impious doctrines to destruction." What he says to the unsuspicious monk, when taking leave of him, is the expression of his benevolent soul to all the Jesuits: "Open your eyes at length, my dear father, and if the other errors of your casuists have made no impression on you, let these last, by their very extravagance, compel you to abandon them. This is what I desire from the very bottom of my heart for your sake, and for the sake of our doctors; and my prayer to God is that he would vouchsafe to convince them how false the light must be that has guided them to such precipices; my fervent prayer is that he would fill their hearts with that he of himself from, which they have dared to give man dispensation." What he uttered on his death-bed was the real motive which prompted him in all his controversies: "As one about to give an account of all his actions, I declare that all my conscience gives me no trouble on the score of my Provincial Letters; in the composition of that work I was influenced by no bad motive, but solely by regard to the glory of God and the vindication of truth, and not in the least by any passion or personal feeling against the Jesuits." Ye we do not wonder that the Jesuits charge Pascal with malice. For these letters were the handwriting on the wall against them, and the people interpreted it, "Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting.' All the efforts made to suppress the letters, which had been speedily translated into the Latin, the Spanish and the Italian languages, and had been widely spread among all the nations of Europe, served only to promote their popularity. Though they were censured at Rome, and burned by the hangman at Paris, yet they circulated freely everywhere, and their principles acquired much credit and authority among the people, and took deep root in their minds. The Society of Jesus itself felt the attacks beyond any one's calculation. From the moment of the publication of the "Provincial Letters" the order degenerated, the necessary consequence of a full discovery of its principles. It hastened to its dissolution.; and if the "Provincial Letters" were not the means of the extinction of the Jesuitical brotherhood, they certainly accelerated its doom. Of course it was some time before public opinion was thoroughly aroused and the Jesuits were brought low. But the final blow came at last. In 1759 they were expelled from Portugal, in 1764 from France, in 1767 from Spain, and on July 21, 1773, they were suppressed by. the papal bull. SEE JESUITS. If we judge of eloquence by such effects, then the "Provincial Letters" were truly eloquent. Ironical and vehement by turns, Pascal climbed to the very climax of eloquence. Sometimes he reminds us of the satire of the Dialogues of Plato; sometimes of the Philippics of Demosthenes and Cicero. Voltaire calls him the first French satirist, and says: "The first comedies of Moliere have not more salt than the first Lettres Provinciales; Bossuet has nothing more sublime than the last" (Siecle de. Louis XIV, ch. 37). "Pascal," says Hallam, by his 'Provincial Letters,' did more to ruin the name of Jesuit than all the controversies of Protestaritism, or all the fulminations of the Parliament of Paris. He has accumulated so long a list of scandalous decisions, and dwelt upon them with so much wit and spirit, and yet with so serious a severity, that the order of Loyola became a byword with mankind." The "Provincial Letters" were, however, only a pastime with Pascal. His great and favorite labors were of weightier matters. He desired purity in Christendom, and his heart longed for the strengthening of Christ's kingdom in the earth. In silence he prepared the materials for a great work, which death prevented him from accomplishing. Yet the scattered fragments which remain are sufficient to insure for their author the admiration of posterity. Persuaded that there was need of a work on the evidences of the Christian religion, he aimed in his Pensees to show the necessity of a divine revelation, and to prove the truth, reality, and advantage of the Christian religion. He proposed to demonstrate the evangelical system by the Cartesian method, He undertook to establish the religion of prophecy and (if miracle by the most severe logical induction. He summoned reason to lead thelway to those elevated region? of thought in which she must resign her charge to the guidance of faith and adoration. From a review of the relations and analogies between the nature of man and the revelation of God was to be wrought out a chain of internal evidences linking indissolubly together those primary verities which our consciousness attests and those ultimate verities which Christianity discloses. Des Cartes had demonstrated the existence of God. Pascal wished to go much farther than his master, and taking by the hand a doubting, indiffereint reader, to seat him, docile and faithful, at the feet of religion. A pupil of Montaigne, filled with his spirit and his style, and the heir of St. Cyran, whose gloomy doctrine had been transmitted to him by Singlin and Sacy, he combined these two influences in the most remarkable manner. By a bold manoeuvre he attempted to turn the skepticism of the first, master against rational metaphysics to the advantage of the faith of the second. For him, then there is neither reason, justice, truth, nor natural law. Human nature is deeply corrupted by its original fall. Grace is the only resource, faith the only refuge for reason convinced of its own impotence. Small and incomplete as is the work, it is a mine of profound thought and evangelical piety which deserves to be explored. The ideas and sentiments, though partially evolved and imperfectly developed, display an intellect of surprising energy and expansion, a richness and novelty of illustration, a depth and pregnancy truly admirable — all expressed in a style terse and simple, and abounding with examples of that seretie eloquence which becomes the philosopher and the Christian. Of course the unqualified approbation of the Protestant is not expected for these Pensees. There are sentiments foreignand repugnant to the Protestant, arising from that system of faith in which Pascal was educated, and which, notwithstanding his high regard for Scripture authority, exerted an influence over him — sentiments on the subject of miracles, the character of the Church and some of its ceremonies, auricular confession, and the benefit of that extravagant austerity and voluntary suffering of which he was so painful an example at the close of his life. Neither can the Protestant be perfectly satisfied with the very dark view of human life which he presents. Addison has wisely pointed out our way of escape from Pascal's extreme in the. one direction and the world's escape in the opposite extreme, when he says: "To consider the world as a dungeon, and the whole human race as-so many criminals doomed to execution, is an idea of an enthusiast; to suppose the world to be a seat of delight, where were to expect nothing but pleasure, is the dream of a Sybarite." Waiving all these blemishes, in the Protestant's view, the thoughts even in their unfinished state must-be-recognized as constituting the most effectual perhaps of all the succors by which uninspired man has relieved the human mind from the heavy burden of religious skepticism. Dr. Vinet, in his work, Studies on Pascal (referred to below), thus comments on Pascal's ability as a Christian apologist:

"He comprehended, he explained that it was not in the head, but in the heart of man, that the belligerent parties could meet to treat of peace; and he inaugurated, or, rather, he drew from the Gospel, and laid before us, under the form which was proper to his genius land suitable to his time, that beautiful doctrine of the knowledge and the comprehension of divine truths by the heart which is the dominant thou lit and the key of his apologetics. The heart! the intuition, the internal consciousess of religious truth laid hold lupon immediately as first principles are a bold and sublime proposiition, which one much greater than Pascal had professed before him — 'Believe my word, or else believe the works which I do.' Truth has its titles in itself; it is its own proof to itself; it demonstrates itself by showing itself. And the heart is the mirror of the truth. But this mirror, badly placed, does not reflect the light until a divine hand has turned it towards the sun. The heart requires to be inclined; that in us which receives:tie truth, that in us which knows, believes, loves, is not the heart such as it is, it is the heart inclined, and in the first instance the heart humbled, the heart offerings itself by humiliation to inspiration, as Pascal himself expresses it. Pascal here announces the advent, proclaims the authority, pleasures the empire of the Holy Spirit; Christianity coisidered as 'existing man is the testimony the reign of the Holy Spirit. The divine and the human meet here in a glorious and ineffable unity.", Of Pascal as a writer, Dr. Vinet says:

"Pascal has not treated, has scarcely even touched tiny subject without having in some sort rendered it a forbidden subject to all men, besides. The most accomplished, after him, seem reduced to come near him; so closely does his thought grasp the object, so closely does his expression grasp his thought." "The notes of Voltaire" [to Pascal's "Thoughts"], Hallam. tells us, '"though always intended to detract, are sometimes unanswerable, but their splendor of Pascal's eloquence absslutely annihilites, in effect on the general reader, even this antagonist." The weakly frame of Pascal was reduced to premature old age by infirmities which were aggravated by his ascetic habits. But he bore his trials with exemplary patience, and died in Paris, Aug. 19, 1662, while yet a young man. The gentle and holy spirit of Blaise Pascal then returned to him who gave it, leaving to the world a name which will ever live as the representative of splendid talents united to self-denying benevolence and ardent piety. Pascal's life was written elaborately by his sister, Madame Perier, and afforded the materials for an able and interesting article in the Dictionary of Bayle. His OEuvres were collected and published in 5 vols. 8vo, 1779, well edited by the abbe Bossut. They were reprinted (Paris, 1819, 5 vols. 8vo), with an essay by M. Francois, "Sur les meilleurs ouvrages ecrits en prose dans la langue Frangaise." As we are writing, a new edition of Pascal's works is preparing by M. Molinier for Messrs. Lemerre's collection. His Pensees sun a Religion, et sur quelques autres Sujets, being unfinished, were published, with suppressions and nmodfications, in 1669; but their fill value was only learned from the complete edition which was published. by Faugere at the instance of M. Cousin (Paris. 1844, 2 vols. 8vo). It has the fault of reproducing Pascal in his first drafts, many of which he would himself have cast aside. Since then have appeared the following editions worthv of mention here: Pensees de Pascal, publies dans leur textes authentique, avec uns Commentaire, suivi d'une etude litteraire, par E. Havet (Paris, 1852); Pensees de'Pascal, suivant le plan delauteur, dapres les textes originau avec les additions, et les variantes de Port-Royal, par J. M. Frantin (2d ed. ibid. 1853); Pensees de Pascal, disposees selon un plan .nouveau. Edition complete d'apres les derniers travaux critiques, avec des Notes, un Index, et une Preface, par J. F. Astid (Lausanne, 1856, 2 vols. 24mo). This is considered the best of all the editions. It was inspired by St. Beuve. Another good edition is entitled Pensees de Pascal. Edition viarniorum d'apres le texte du MS. autographe, par Charles Lauandre (ibid. 1861, 18mo). ,Of all Pascal's works, the Lettres Provencales have been the most frequently reprinted. Thev were translated into Latin in the lifetime of Pascal by Nicole, under the pseudonym of a German professor, "Wilhelm Wendroc;" and an edition in four languages appeared at'Cologne in 1684. See Recueil de plusieurs pieces pour servir a histoire de Port-Royal (Utrecht, 1740); Memoires pour servir. a l'Histoire de Port-Royal et de la Mere Angelique (ibid. 1742);: Nicole, Eloge de Pascal; Bouiller, Sentiments de Ml. sur la Critique des Pensees de Pascal (1741 and 1753); Vie intfressant des Religieuses dePort-Royal (1751); Condorcet, Eloge de Pascal (1776); Voltaire, Remarques sur les Pensses de Pascal (Geneva, 1778); Bossut (Abbd), Discours sur la Vie. et les (Euvres de Pascal (1779 and 1781, 5 vols.); Baillet, Vie de Des Cartes, pt. ii, p. 330; Chateaubriand, Genie du Christianisnme. pt. 3, bk. 2, ch. vi (Paris, 1802); Dumesnil, Eloge de, Pascal (ibid. 1813); Raymond, Eloge de Pascal, avec Notes (Lyons, 1816); Monnier, Essai sur Pascal (Paris, 1822); Villemain, Pascal comn7e ecrivain et comme moraliste [Discours et Maelanges] (ibid. 1823); Cousin, Journal des Savants (ibid. 1839), p. 554; also, Bibliothque 'de 'l Ecole de Chartres (ibid. 1842); also, Sur la necessite'd'une nouvelle Edition des Penses. Rapport a Academie Francaise (ibid. 1842; reprinted with a new preface, ibid. 1843); Bordas-Demoulin, Eloge de Pascal; Concours de l'Academie (ibid. 1842); Faugere, Eloge de Pascal; Concours de l'A cademzie (ibid. 1842); Villemain,-Rapport sur le Concours (ibid. 1842); Saint Beuve, Port-Royal (ibid. 1842), vol. ii and 3:bk. iii; Nodier, Bulletin du Bibliophile (ibid. 1843), p. 107, 108; Flottes (Abbd), Etudes sur Pascal (Montpellier, 18434-5, 8vo); Vilet, Etudes sur Blaise Pascal (ibid. 184447, 8vo; Engl. transl. Jdinb. 1859, 12mo); Nisard, Litterature Francaise; Influence de Des Cartes sur Pascal (ibid. 1844), vol. ii, ch. iv; Revue des Deux Mondes, Du Scepticisme de Pascal (1844- 45; March 15, 1865); Thomas. De Pascali. an vere Scepticusfuerit? (These, 1844); Martin, l'Histoire de France; Cousin, Jacqueline Pascal (Paris, 1845); Ldlut (Dr.), De l'Amulette de Pascal, Etudes sous le Rapport de la Sanct de ce grande honomme a son genie (ibid. 1845); Faugere, Lettres, Opuscules, etc., de Madame Perier, etc. (ibid. 1845); Edinb. Rev. Jan. 1847, art. vii; Collet, 'ait inedit de la Vie de Pascal (Paris, 1848, 8vo); Lescoeur, De la Methode Philosophique de Pascal (1850); Recolin, Apologetique de Pascal (Montauban, 1850); Maynard (Abbe), Pascal, sa Vie et son Caractere, ses ecrits et son genie (1850, 2 vols. 8vo); Chavannes, Revue de Theologie [S. Role de l'autorite dans les Pensdes] (1850), vol. 8; Astid, Revue Chritienne La Methode apologetique de Pascal pent seule reverser les arguments de J. J. Rousseau] (1854). Villdmain, Revue Chretienne [art. sur l'Edition des les Pensees par Astie] (1857); Rambert, Pascal, Bibliotheque Universelle de Genive [L'Apologetique de Pascal a fait son temps] (1858); Navylle,: Reponse; Scherer, Quelques Questions d'Apologetique a propos de l'Article de Rambert et de Ernest Naville, in the Nouvelle Revue Thiol. (Strasburg, 1858), vol. ii; Pressense, Deuxs recentes Discussions sur l'Apologie de Pascal (reponse a Scherer), in the Revue Chretienne (Paris, 1858); Gerusez,jLitterature Franfaise; — Reuchlin, Pascal's Leben (Stuttgard, 1840); Neander, Ueber die Geschichtliche Bedeutung der Pensees Pascal's fur die Religionsphilosophie insbesondere (Berlin, 1847); Weingarten, Pascal als Apologet des Christenthums (Leips. 1863); Drevdorf, Pascal, sein Leben u. seine danpfe (Leips. 1870); Eeklin, Pascal (Basle. 1870); Nourisson, Tableau des Progres de la Pensde ilumaine (2d ed. Paris, 1859, 12mo), p. 437 sq.; Stephen, Lectures on the History of France (Lond. 1857, 2 vols. 8vo), 2:165 sq.; Jervis, Hist of the Church of France (ibid. 1872, 2 vols. 8vo), 1:420 sq., 428 sq.; Demogeot, Hist. de la Litterature Francaise; Bridge, Hist. of French Literature (Phila. 1874, 12mo), p. 171 sq.; Meomechet, Litterature Moderne, vol. iii; Morell, Hist. of Modern Philosophy, p. 196, 197; Christian Remembrancer, July, 1852; Kitto, Journ. of Sacred Lit. vol. iii; Princeton Rev. Jan. 1854, art. iii; Aleth. Qu. vol. 12; Brit. and For. Ev. Rev. Jan. 1863, art. 7; Biblical Repertory, 1838, p. 170 sq.; Gdrusez, Essai deHistoire litteraire; Bridges, France under Richelieu and Coltert, lect. 4; Racine, Hist. Ecclesiastique, 12:127 sq.; Ranke, Hist. of the Papacy; vol. 2; Zeitschr fur hist. Theologie, 1872, vol. 4,. art. 1; North British Rev. Nov. 1861, art. 1.

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