Blaise Pascal was born on this day in 1623. He was a polymath, excelling at everything he attempted. He was a mathematician who laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities, a physicist, an inventor, and a devoted religious philosopher.
In the Christian community, he is known and loved for a collection of his thoughts that were published after his death known as simply, Pensées, or “thoughts”. These were just the preliminary ideas that he had planned on compiling as a work on Christian apologetics. Unfortunately, he died before its completion.
Pascal suffered tremendously for most of his short life, his brain being found to be riddled with lesions in a post-mortem autopsy. It is believed that he had both stomach and brain cancers. Despite such tremendous pain and frustration, he was devoted to Christ. His thoughts reveal not an abstract faith, but a deep and well-reasoned one.
My favorite is the following: it was discovered after his death in 1662 written on a piece of paper that had been sewn into his coat jacket.
“In the year of the Lord 1654
Monday, November 23
From about half-past ten in the evening
until half-past twelve.
‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’ not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
‘Thy God shall be my God.’
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
‘O righteous Father, the world had not known thee, but I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have cut myself off from him.
They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.
‘My God wilt thou forsake me?’
Let me not be cut off from him for ever!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
I have cut myself off from him, shunned him, denied him, crucified him.
Let me never be cut off from him!
He can only be kept by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Sweet and total renunciation.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director.
Everlasting joy in return for one day’s effort on earth.
I will not forget thy word. Amen.”
Below are some more of my favorites. Also, Peter Kreeft’s Christianity for Modern Pagans provides a great commentary on them. I highly recommend reading both books together.
“Knowing God without knowing our wretchedness leads to pride. Knowing our wretchedness without knowing God leads to despair. Knowing Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in him we find both God and our wretchedness.”
“No religion except ours has taught that man is born in sin; none of the philosophical sects has admitted it; none therefore has spoken the truth”
“When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which precedes and will succeed it—memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis (remembrance of a guest who tarried but a day)—the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this place and time allotted to me?”
“To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.”
“The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.”
“If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous . . . There are two equally dangerous extremes: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”
“God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will.”
“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. but even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.”
More resources: On Pascal (Wadsworth Philosophers) by Douglas Groothuis