Book Review: Pensées by Blaise Pascal (Part Three) (Four Stars)

Book Review: Pensées by Blaise Pascal (Part Three)

Four Stars

“True nature being lost, everything becomes its own nature; and the true good being lost, everything becomes its own true good.” ¶ 426

A significant effort on the part of a troubled Catholic in 17th century France. at odds with his church, especially the Society of Jesus, on one hand and the secular humanists, such as Voltaire and Montaigne, on the other. That he carried his manuscript sewed inside his coat is indicative of how heretical he knew his Jansenist thoughts to be. (The Jansenists were condemned by Pope Innocent IX in 1653.)

“Nature confutes the sceptics, and reason confutes the dogmatists.” ¶ 430

I have reviewed the opening sections of this tome in two previous reviews, here and here. This review will examine the rest of the book and summarize my thoughts. Without a doubt, Pascal was an original and creative thinker, one of the first mathematicians worthy of the term. He was also an orthodox Christian, whatever the Catholic hierarchy of that day thought of him.

“We must love a being who is in us, and is not ourselves.” ¶ 485

Therefore, much of his sections on Fundamentals, Perpetuity, Typology, Prophecies, Proofs of Jesus Christ, and Miracles will be only of interest to students of theology. His last section, however, Polemical Fragments is a hodge-podge of thoughts on a variety of topics which strata yield the occasional gem of a quote, as follows (referenced by their paragraph within the larger work):

¶ 832. “As it is certain that these are exceptions to the rule, our judgment must though strict, be just.”

¶ 860. “The Church is in an excellent state, when it is sustained by God only.”

¶ 861. “Faith embraces many truths which seem to contradict each other. The source of all heresies is the exclusion of some of these truths.”

¶ 863. “Truth is so more obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

¶ 875. “God does not perform miracles in the ordinary conduct of the Church.”

¶ 894. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Concerning this text, my primary criticism is that, even in the 1950s, few could have read all the Latin and Greek quotes. Fortunately, nearly half were Biblical citations, easy enough to obtain an English translation.

“There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners, who believe themselves righteous.” ¶ 533

As I said in my opening review, Pascal is worth reading in his own words if only because the great mass of humanity regularly misrepresent his famous “wager.” (I was among them.) He did not say one should gamble on believing that God exists because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but that you should gamble on investigating whether God exists because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. A difference in far more than semantics.

“We cannot know Jesus Christ without knowing at the same time both God and our own wretchedness.” ¶ 555