Intro. Biographical Sketch of Blaise Pascal Pt.1
Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician, is perhaps one of the most exciting figures that the seventeenth century world produced. A thorough discussion of Christian church history would not be complete without mention of this prominent Roman Catholic thinker. Marvin O’Connell, lecturer and author from the University of Notre Dame, agrees that the study of Pascal’s life and thought is valuable, “And what of Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest luminaries of France’s grand siècle, the scientist and poet and religious zealot, whose random thoughts—his pensees—have intrigued thoughtful people ever since.” The range of individuals who confess affection for Pascal is extensive. Pascal’s influence extends to those who are active in the scientific community, persons who hold a fascination with mathematics, those who are part of the Roman Catholic community, and also individuals who hold true to a Protestant persuasion.
Another reason why the life and thought of Blaise Pascal intrigues the mind is due to the era in which Pascal lived. The seventeenth century was thriving with individuals and movements that have come to shape today’s society in many ways. A prominent political figure in France during the lifetime of Blaise Pascal was Cardinal Richelieu, who with his aggressive political agenda became the creator of the modern French state. The great rationalist philosopher Renee Descartes was also a major figurehead during the seventeenth century in the area of mathematics and philosophy, and would have some slight involvement in the life of Blaise Pascal. It also must be remembered that Pascal lived within the continuing aftermath of the Protestant Reformation as well as living within the framework of the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. Blaise Pascal lived in an era of time where much instability, yet golden opportunity reigned.
Though there were certainly numerous matters of great interest happening during the seventeenth century, the focus of this essay will be directed to the life and thought of Blaise Pascal. There is much ground to be covered and will be done in three parts. The first will center on the personal life of Blaise Pascal with a detailed description of important events that happened in his life. The second will then turn to discuss the background of Pascal’s theological thought and convictions. This section will prove to be somewhat less extensive due to the depth of his thought; there is simply not enough time to exhaust his theological convictions. With this information in mind, the final section of this essay will seek to apply what can be learned from Blaise Pascal’s life and thought. Blaise Pascal has held major influence over many modern thinkers and religious advocates, which proves to make a study such as this very worthwhile.
The Life of Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal was born on June 19, 1623 in Clermont, Auvergne, France to his proud father and mother, Etienne and Antoinette Pascal. Blaise was one of four children, but unfortunately, only three of the four survived. Along with his sisters, Gilberte and Jacqueline, the Pascal family lived in the complete enjoyment of one another’s company. However, just three years after the birth of Blaise Pascal, his mother, Antoinette, died leaving Etienne to raise three children. The loss of Antoinette Pascal was a terrible experience, but the family of four continued to progress and grew extraordinary close over the following decades. This intimate relationship of the Pascal family would prove to be a crutch for Blaise throughout his life and would be where he found the most security. However, this tight bond that the Pascal family forged with one another would slowly begin to deteriorate over time. Eventually, Etienne Pascal succumbs to the reality of death, Blaise’s older sister, Gilberte, would leave the home to marry, and his younger sister Jacqueline, would eventually leave the security of the Pascal household to pursue a life of devotion as a nun at Port-Royal Abby in Paris, France.
Part 2 and following will post soon…
1. All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
2. All historical references are taken from O’Connell, Marvin R. Blaise Pascal Reasons of the Heart. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997.