PASCAL: Pensées [Numbers 416, 418, 425, 430, 434-435, 463, 491, 525-531, 538, 543, 547, 553, 556, 564, 571, 586, 598]

Pensées by Pascal

416 – Greatness and Wretchedness

  • Wretchedness is deduced from greatness and vice versa. The more one proves the greatness of man, the more one proves the wretchedness of man. The greater the fall from greatness, the more wretched we are. Man is wretched, but he is great because he knows he is wretched.

418 – Greatness and Wretchedness

  • It is dangerous to show a man his wretchedness without showing him his greatness and vice versa. It is even more dangerous to keep a man ignorant of both his wretchedness and greatness. It is advantageous to show him both his wretchedness and his greatness. Men must not think that they are on a level with either beasts or angels, but must be aware of both sides of their natures.

425 – The man without faith cannot know the true good, or justice.

  • All men seek happiness; only the means by which men seek happiness differ. The man who avoids war, and the man who seeks war, both seek happiness, but by different means.
  • No one without faith has ever reached happiness. All complain.
  • Experience ought to teach us that we can never reach happiness by our own efforts, but we nevertheless hope that this time will be different.
  • The desire for happiness and the inability to attain it suggests that men were once happy, but now only emptiness pervades man where happiness dwelt. He attempts to fill this void with external things, but nothing satisfies him. This void can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object – God.
  • The true good – happiness, God – must be such as all can possess it at once without diminution or envy, and which no one can lose against his will; for all possess this desire, as it is natural to men.

“No resemblance is ever so perfect that there is not some slight difference; and hence we expect that our hope will not be deceived on this occasion as before. And thus, while the present never satisfies us, experience dupes us and, from misfortune to misfortune, leads us to death, their eternal crown.”

430 – The beginning, after having explained the incomprehensibility

  • A true religion must explain the great source of our wretchedness and the great source of our greatness.
  • The true religion must convince men that there is a god in order to make men happy. Our sole evil is to be separated from God. We are full of ignorance, which keeps us from knowing God. We ought to love God. Lusts turn us away from God. It must teach us remedies for our opposition towards God. Only the Christian religion fulfills these tasks.
  • The philosophers who proffer that the true good lies within us are mistaken. Man’s pride is not cured by placing him on a level with God [Some would argue that pride is a virtue, not a vice, something to be encouraged, not discouraged]. Nor are man’s carnal appetites satisfied by declaring the true good to be pleasure. Christianity cures man of his pride and lust.
  • Man was not capable of remaining in his original state of glory without falling into pride. Man, wishing to be the source of his own happiness, withdrew from God; and therefore God abandoned him. Now, everything torments or tempts man, everything domineers over man, either subduing him by strength or fascinating him by charms, which an even more awful tyranny than strength.
  • There remains a feeble instinct of the happiness of man’s former state.
  • The remedy of all our ills is to understand that the truth and the good are not to be found within one’s own self. The chief ills are pride, which removes us from God, and lusts, which bind us to the earth.
  • Not all that is incomprehensible ceases to exist. Infinite number is incomprehensible, yet it exists. God is incomprehensible, yet He exists.
  • God has not made himself manifest because he has willed to abandon those people who do not want happiness. He is manifest to those who seek him, he is not manifest to those who do not seek him.

“Christianity teaches us our good, our duties, the weakness which turns us from them, the cause of this weakness, the remedies which can cure it, and the means of obtaining these remedies?”

“I am she who formed you, and who alone can teach you what you are. But you are now no longer in the state in which I formed you. I created man holy, innocent, perfect. I filled him with light and intelligence. I communicated to him my glory and my wonders. The eye of man saw then the majesty of God. He was not then in the darkness which blinds him, nor subject to mortality and the woes which afflict him. But he has not been able to sustain so great glory without falling into pride. He wanted to make himself his own centre and independent of my help. He withdrew himself from my rule; and, on his making himself equal to me by the desire of finding his happiness in himself, I abandoned him to himself. And setting in revolt the creatures that were subject to him, I made them his enemies; so that man is now become like the brutes and so estranged from me that there scarce remains to him a dim vision of his Author. So far has all his knowledge been extinguished or disturbed! The senses, independent of reason, and often the masters of reason, have led him into pursuit of pleasure. All creatures either torment or tempt him, and domineer over him, either subduing him by their strength, or fascinating him by their charms, a tyranny more awful and more imperious.”

“He is willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart, He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not.”

In thought 430, Pascal argues that the Christian religion is the only religion capable of leading men to happiness, which consists in communion with God. The argument that our original nature is one of complete happiness is similar to Aristophanes’ argument about love in Plato’s symposium. Men have a vague remembrance of the happiness of their original state and vainly attempt to recapture this feeling by chasing after the wrong things – pleasures, wealth, glory, etc. True happiness consists in communion with God.

In this thought, Pascal also provides a cause of man’s fall from grace. He writes that men became too proud, they wished to become their own source of happiness and to become independent of God, thinking themselves to be Gods because of their complete and utter happiness. Thus, because men sought to abandon God, God abandoned men. Now, everything tyrannizes over men. Some things subdue men by strength, other fascinate men by charms, which is a far more awful tyranny.

434 – Skeptical Arguments

  • There is no certainty of truth without faith.
  • The skeptics argue that no one knows whether our waking life is not another dream state. We often dream that we are dreaming.
  • One must either side with the dogmatists or the skeptics.
  • Pascal argues that there is no true skeptic. It is absurd to doubt that we exist. [similar to Descartes’ cogito ergo sum] Thus, man must be a dogmatist – i.e. believing things based upon faith rather than certain proof. Man is a monster, a chaos, a contradiction. Nature confutes the skeptics, and reason confutes the dogmatists.
  • Know that you are a paradox.
  • If man were never corrupt, then he would enjoy happiness and truth with assurance; if man were always corrupt, then he would have no idea of truth or happiness.
  • We have an idea of happiness that we cannot reach.
  • We are incapable of certain truth and absolute ignorance.
  • We have fallen from a state of perfection.
  • There is nothing that shocks our reason and offends our sense of justice more than the transference of sin from an ancestor to posterity. But without this mystery of the transference of sin, man’s nature would be incomprehensible.
  • We cannot know ourselves by exerting our reasoning faculty – it’s too weak. We must submit our reason to dogmatism to know ourselves.
  • In the state of grace, man is like God. In the state of corruption, man is like beasts.

“Who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former?”

“What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!”

In thought 434, Pascal discusses the obscure nature of man. Pascal demonstrates that man was once in a state of absolute happiness and capable of ascertaining certain truth but fell from such a state. He writes that man has ideas of happiness and truth, which proves that he once knew them. However, in the current state of affairs, the feebleness of man’s reason thwarts him from attaining certain truth, but the intuitive nature of man thwarts him from existing as a complete skeptic.

Pascal argues that the nature of man can only be explained by the Scriptural account of original sin, and the transmission of that sin to posterity. Although the idea of holding an infant without a will culpable for a sin that his distant ancestors committed offends our sense of justice, this idea is necessary to explain our fallen condition.

435 – Original Sin

  • Without the knowledge of original sin, man would succumb to either pride or sloth – the origins of all sins – because he would either rejoice in the sense of his past state of greatness or be despondent at the thought of his present feeble condition.

463 – Philosophers

  • Philosophers who desire to establish themselves in the esteem of other men are horrible.

491 – True Religion

  • “The true religion must have as a characteristic the obligation to love God. This is very just, and yet no other religion has commanded this; ours has done so. It must also be aware of human lust and weakness; ours is so. It must have adduced remedies for this; one is prayer. No other religion has asked of God to love and follow Him.”

525 – Greatness and Humility

  • A feeling of pure greatness is not the state of man, nor is a feeling of pure insignificance. Man must progress from humility to greatness. Man must feel humbled by penitence, not by nature. Man must feel great by grace, not by merit.

526 – Misery and Pride

  • “Misery induces despair, pride induces presumption. The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his misery by the greatness of the remedy which he required.” [The remedy is the sacrifice of a god-man]

527 – Jesus as the Middle Way

  • “The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.”

528 – Jesus

  • “Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.”

529 – Degradation and Holiness

  • “Not a degradation which renders us incapable of good, nor a holiness exempt from evil.”

530 – Dual Nature of Man

  • “A person told me one day that on coming from confession he felt great joy and confidence. Another told me that he remained in fear. Whereupon I thought that these two together would make one good man, and that each was wanting in that he had not the feeling of the other. The same often happens in other things.”

531 – Reckoning

  • He who receives the most will need to repay the most on the day of reckoning.

538 – Pride and Humility

  • “With how little pride does a Christian believe himself united to God! With how little humiliation does he place himself on a level with the worms of earth!
  • ‑‑A glorious manner to welcome life and death, good and evil!”

543 – Preface

  • The proofs of God are so remote form the reasoning of men that they make little impression. If they persuade men, then it is only for a moment, and the man will soon fear he was mistaken an hour after hearing the demonstrative proofs.
  • What we find with our curiosity, we lose with our pride.

547 – Jesus as Mediator

  • Only through the mediation of Jesus Christ can we know God. The prophecies prove Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, Scripture, and original sin, we cannot absolutely prove God, nor teach morality and justice.
  • Jesus is the Savior of our wretchedness; and thus makes known to us our own wretchedness. We can only know God by knowing our faults and iniquities.

553 – The Mystery of Jesus

  • The Agony in the Garden – Jesus passes the night alone in contemplation of his impending fate in the Garden of Gethsemane. His followers fell asleep.
  • Jesus fears death, but when he knows that it is the will of God, he accepts it.
  • Jesus does not perceive enmity in Judas, but rather God’s order; and thus he welcomes Judas as his friend.
  • Jesus tears himself away from his disciples to suffer his agony as we must tear away from our nearest and dearest to imitate him.
  • Physicians do not heal, for all will at last die. God heals us and makes us immortal.
  • Endure bodily slavery, for God will deliver your soul from servitude.

556 – Fundamentals of Christianity

  • The whole aim of things should be to establish a great religion; for religion explains the nature of men and teaches men the doctrines of justice and morality.
  • Some revile Christianity because they misunderstand it. They mistakenly believe that Christianity merely consists in the worship of a powerful and eternal God; this is deism, not Christianity.
  • Christianity consists in the mystery of Jesus, who has united the human and divine natures, and has redeemed men from the corruption of sin to reconcile them to God.
  • Two truths of Christianity: there is a God whom men can know, and there is a corruption in the nature of men which renders them unworthy of God.
  • He who knows God without knowing his own wretchedness falls into pride. Those who know their own wretchedness without knowing that Jesus can redeem them from their corruption fall into despair. Men must know their own wretchedness and that Jesus redeems them from their corrupted state so that they can enter god’s presence.
  • We cannot know Jesus Christ without both knowing our own wretchedness and God.
  • The world does not exist to instruct men of God. Otherwise indisputable marks of God’s divinity would shine forth everywhere. It exists by Jesus, for Jesus, and to teach men their corruption and redemption.
  • All things indicate that God hides himself from those who do not wish to find him, and reveals himself to those who do seek him.

“The God of Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths, or of the order of the elements; that is the view of heathens and Epicureans. He is not merely a God who exercises His providence over the life and fortunes of men, to bestow on those who worship Him a long and happy life. That was the portion of the Jews. But the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.”

564 – Prophecies

  • The prophecies, miracles and proofs of Christianity are not absolutely convincing, nor are they entirely unreasonable. It is grace, not reason, which induces men to follow Christianity. It is lust or malice, not reason, which induces men not to follow Christianity.

571 – Scripture

  • The prophecies were entrusted with the Jews because they are a carnal people. Only they would misunderstand the promises of abundance to be bodily goods, not spiritual goods; and thus, they would zealously preserve the prophecies, as they did. If they recognized the spiritual promises in the Scriptures, then they would not have guarded the Scriptures as ardently, and they would perhaps have been lost.

586 – Wretchedness and Divinity

  • “If there were no obscurity, man would not be sensible of his corruption; if there were no light, man would not hope for a remedy. Thus, it is not only fair, but advantageous to us, that God be partly hidden and partly revealed; since it is equally dangerous to man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing God.”

598 – Islam and Christianity

  • The truths of clear passages require us to revere the obscure passages as mysteries. The truths of clear passages in Scripture are plain. The clear passages of Mohammed are ridiculous. Thus, we cannot put the Islamic Quran on par with the Holy Scriptures.

Pascal does not reference exact passages to prove his assertion. To me, this argument fails because it relies on opinion rather than objective fact. Pascal believes that the clear passages of Mohammed are ridiculous. Muslims believe that they are evident truths.

Pensées by Pascal

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