All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. – Blaise Pascal
I’ve been reading your comments from yesterday’s Catch and watching us all stumble gracefully over one of my most favorite people who ever lived, and the fact that he lived 400 years ago, yet could have easily written his volume of work yesterday, gives his arguments even more credibility. To study the French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal is to find someone all tangled up in paradox. It is part of our baptism to be immersed in contradiction.
This is why I am going to spend another day with Pascal. I know many of you are struggling to believe, and yet no one I know of struggled as much as Pascal, and yet (and this is the most important thing of all about him) that did not stop him from believing.
For instance, “This is what I see, and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and everywhere I see nothing but obscurity. Nature offers me nothing that is not a matter of doubt and disquiet. If I saw no signs of a divinity, I would fix myself in denial. If I saw everywhere the marks of a Creator, I would repose peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny [Him], and too little to assure me, I am in a pitiful state, and I would wish a hundred times that if a God sustains nature it would reveal Him without ambiguity.”
To take the bull by the horns would be an understatement for Pascal, for he embraced so much of our miserable existence. “Picture a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death; each day some are strangled in the sight of the rest; those who remain see their own condition in that of their fellows, looking at one another with sorrow and without hope, each awaiting his turn. This is the picture of the condition of man.”
He expressed so well all the reasons not to believe, and yet he believed still, and in so doing, he refuted the arguments, not by reason, but by faith. This is why one of his most famous sayings is, Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas, “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.”
In the end it all comes down to the heart and the head.
Pascal had the heart of a believer and the mind of an atheist. This is why you have to love the man: he is both believer and skeptic at the same time. His existence was not an easy one.
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.”
This is why the note found posthumously sewn into the lining of Pascal’s coat is so significant.* His volumes of writing — some of the greatest prose and rhetoric known to man (you have to study Pascal in order to graduate from Harvard) — embraced the torment of human existence; yet, in the note found after his death, we find the simple faith experience of a child that drove it all. By embracing all of the major arguments for not believing in God, he refuted them by simply believing and embracing the contradiction. His head despaired; his heart rejoiced. No wonder he only lived to be 37.
His prose captured his rational reasonings; the note was evidence of what was in his heart all along.
Some of you may be familiar with a little of the theology of Campus Crusade for Christ. This is the organization that gave us The Four Spiritual Laws booklet as a means of simply and effectively sharing our faith with others. Later editions had a page in the back of the booklet about faith and feeling in which it taught that faith is more important than feeling. Faith is the engine that pulls the train. Pascal would not be a good Campus Crusader. For Pascal, feeling was eminently important, because it is in our feeling that faith is to be found. Faith doesn’t precede feeling; faith is feeling. Put the heart back in the front of the train. It’s the one that will do all the pulling.
“Man is but a reed, the most feeble (thing) in nature; but he is a thinking reed.” And in the fullness of time, Pascal would show that he is a feeling reed as well.
Two errors: 1. To take everything literally. 2. To take everything spiritually. – Blaise Pascal
*For those of you who missed yesterday’s Catch, here is what was found written on parchment and folded and sewn into the lining of Pascal’s coat, which he always wore:
It began, “The year of grace 1654. Monday, 23 November. From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past midnight…”
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
Not of the philosophers and intellectuals.
Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace.
The God of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your God will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything except God.
One finds oneself only by way of the directions taught
in the gospel.
The grandeur of the human soul.
Oh just Father, the world has not known you,
but I have known you.
Joy, joy… joy, tears of joy.