“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all.”
“who needs god? man can fend for himself.” so stated reason, the philosophy that captured the imagination of seventeenth-century France. its champions, voltaire and descartes, among others, tried to model a vision of the world governed entirely by reason.
French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal, though raised in the heyday of Enlightenment thought, found reason inadequate: “The last step of reason is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond she”. concluded, “the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all”, a statement that soon became the main critique of rationalism and the starting point for a defense of the Christian faith that still influences today. people.
Pascal’s mother died when he was 3 years old, and his father moved the family from Clermont-Ferrand, France, to Paris, where he homeschooled Blaise and his sister. By the age of 10, Pascal was doing original experiments in mathematics and physical science. To help his father, who was a tax collector, he invented the first calculating device (some call it the first “computer”).
With this latest invention, he made a name for himself (at 19!) and began his rich and diverse scientific career. he tested the theories of galileo and torricelli (who discovered the principles of the barometer), culminating in his famous law of hydraulics, which states that pressure on the surface of a fluid is transmitted equally to all points in a fluid. he added important articles on vacuum, the weight and density of air, and the arithmetic triangle. he developed probability theory, which is still used today. he invented the syringe, the hydraulic lift, and is credited with inventing the wristwatch and laying out the first bus route in paris. It is said that Pascal was embarrassed by his multi-talents.
“night of fire”
Meanwhile, Pascal was exploring the spiritual world, which was undergoing a revolution across Europe. As Pietism flourished in Germany and Wesleyan Holiness spread in England, Catholic France was feeling the effects of Jansenism, a form of Augustinianism that taught predestination and divine grace, rather than good works, as vital to salvation.
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in 1646 pascal came into contact with jansenism and introduced it to his sister, jacqueline, who eventually entered the convent of port-royal, a center of jansenism. Pascal, however, continued to struggle spiritually: he wrestled with the dichotomy between the world and god.
Then on November 23, 1654, Paschal experienced a “definitive conversion” during a vision of the crucifixion:
“from about half past ten at night to about half past twelve… fire… god of abraham, the god of isaac, the god of jacob, and not of the philosophers and sages. certainty .certainty.feeling.joy.peace.”
He recorded the experience (called a “mé;morial”) on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him for the rest of his life, sewn inside his coat. He began a lifelong association with Port-Royal, though he, unlike his sister, never became a “loner”.
passion for Christ
His best works are not only masterpieces of French prose, but excellent defenses of the Christian faith.
Les Provinciales, 18 essays regarded as brilliant irony and satire, attacked the Jesuits and defended the Jansenists’ demand for a return to morality and Augustine’s belief in divine grace. the catholic church placed the provincials on the index, condemning it but unable to quell the controversy it aroused.
Thoughts, a collection of Pascal’s “thoughts” intended to be presented as a Christian apology, was published after his death. in it, he portrayed humanity as suspended between misery and happiness, and helpless without god. people try to avoid the abyss by engaging in distractions. Pascal denounced the idea that only reason and science can lead a person to God. Only by experiencing Christ can people know God.
belief comes from the “heart”, which for Pascal was not only feeling and feeling but the intuition that understands without having to use reason. And God’s grace makes it happen: “Don’t be surprised to see simple people who believe without arguments. God makes them love him and hate themselves. He inclines their hearts to believe. We will never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith.” unless god touches our hearts, and we will believe as soon as he does.”
in the pensées, pascal also presents his famous argument in favor of faith: the wager. Since reason cannot give absolute certainty, he argued, each person must risk believing in something. When it comes to the Christian faith, he said, a wise person gambles because, “If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing.”
voltaire and other academics denounced pascal as a sad fanatic. Sad or not, he lived most of his life with a frail body, and his many illnesses finally took their toll at age 39.