Intro. Biographical Sketch of Blaise Pascal Pt.3
Perhaps the best way to grasp the theological nature of Blaise Pascal’s thought would be to start with a description of what theological system influenced Pascal the most; the theological conviction described as Jansenism. This system was developed by Cornelius Jansen in partnership with Jean-Ambrose Duvergier de Hauranne who were both devoted to the study of the early church fathers, and specifically to studying the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo. It was under the influence of this early church patriarch that Jansenism emerged. Jansenism can be described as an Augustinian Roman Catholic conviction in which God’s complete sovereignty is elevated along with the recognition of humanity’s sinful depravity. Jansenist thinking advocated that God is absolutely sovereign in choosing those who are his elect to receive life from an abundance of humanity who does not deserve eternal salvation due to their sinfulness. Pascal believed this conviction to be true:
“The will is depraved. No religion except our own has taught that man is born sinful, no philosophical sect has said so, so none has told the truth. How hollow and foul is the heart of man! It is clearly evident that man though grace is made like unto God and shares his divinity, and without grace he is treated like the beasts of the field.”
In many ways, Pascal’s commitment to Augustinian theology is clearly reminiscent Protestant convictions, but Pascal clearly maintained loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. Pascal believed that the Roman Catholic Church was the true church in which, apart from, salvation does not happen. Pascal also maintained a Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation in regards to the Lord’s Supper. Even more, to support his high view of the Roman Church, Pascal even speaks of his loyalty to the Pope in which he states that, “I will never separate myself from his communion, or rather I pray God to keep me in it; without it I would perish forever.” Pascal’s Jansenist theology was a hybrid of Augustinian soteriology and traditional Roman Catholic practice forged together in one package. An understanding of Pascal’s theological conviction is necessary, as it proves why the historical study of Blaise Pascal is important to many traditions.
It would be wise to also note Pascal’s fascination with the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus. Though Pascal was committed to advocating a biblical view of Christianity, he is a perfect example of someone who found a glimpse truth within a false belief system. Pascal in turn, used the truth he discovered to advance the truth of Christianity. From Epictetus, Pascal argued that one can glean valuable insight pertaining to the ultimate governing of the universe by a God who is perfectly just. Pascal notes, “God governs all things with justice,” and therefore one must “submit oneself to God with a good heart and strive to conform one’s will to the very great wisdom with which God directs all things.” For Pascal, possessing knowledge of God’s absolute justice and control proved to be a major comfort throughout the duration of the many heartbreaking situations that he faced in his lifetime. Pascal concluded on the matter, “Never say, ‘I have lost this or that’; say rather, ‘I have returned this or that which was never really mine.’ Do not say, ‘My son has died or my wife has dies.’ Say rather, ‘I have given them back again.’” Perhaps, then, Pascal has much to teach his readers concerning maturity in one’s thinking. To be able to recognize truth when it presents itself, even if within the framework of a false worldview, is a valuable asset for anyone to possess. Also, to conclude that God has ultimate control over life’s pleasures and trials, and to trust in that, is a place that provides the most comfort; a place anyone would do well to strive for. Thus, the thought of Blaise Pascal reaches much deeper than what is presented above, but this information is sufficient for a descent introduction. The remaining section will conclude this essay with a brief discussion of what readers should gather after reading material covering the life and thought of Blaise Pascal.
Application with Closing Remarks
Conceivably, one of the most important aspects of conducting historical research is to ask how the information should be applied to modern readers, and specifically to modern Christianity. In regards to the study of Blaise Pascal there are a couple of practical applications to be made in the life of a Christian. Primarily, Blaise Pascal was deeply intellectual but ultimately realized the importance of the heart. For Pascal, it was indeed a great importance to possess intellectual knowledge of God, but intellectualism is not enough. Just as Pascal’s “night of fire” suggests, intellectual knowledge coupled with an intimately personal knowledge of God is of the utmost importance. This thought is reminiscent of the truth that is taught in the Gospel of John, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”Another valuable application to glean from Blaise Pascal is his view of God’s sovereignty. Pascal lived in an era with much turmoil and horrific events, several of which the church was responsible. The French mathematician also faced numerous personal trials in his life in which he attributed to the sovereign control of God. Pascal understood that in the face of adversity that God, through Christ, would prevail to bring an end for His glory. Pascal lived this truth in his personal life, as well as the public. As with any human being, what one truly believes will be made known in the midst of tribulation. Blaise Pascal humbled himself and trusted in the God of his salvation; something that modern Christians should seek to duplicate. Blaise Pascal will continue to be a central figure in the study of the development of Christianity in the seventeenth century, and also for the development of Christian thought in the future. To deny Blaise Pascal’s importance to history would be to abandon one of history’s most fascinating individuals who had an attractive heart and an energetic mind. It would benefit any historian of Christian history well to consider the life and thought of Blaise Pascal.
1. All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.
2. All historical references and quotes from the Pascal family are taken from O’Connell, Marvin R. Blaise Pascal Reasons of the Heart. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997.