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Pascal's Pensées Kindle Edition
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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Pascal, a mathematical genius and devout Christian, confronts them face-to-face. The conversation is fascinating!
Enjoyed the intro by TS Elliott. Explains that Pascal grew up working to understand the way things work, like Maxwell. Comments on the battle Pascal is fighting in his writing with Montaigne. Montaigne is the doubter in Everyman, even Pascal. The mathematical genius unites with the passionate believer to create a work 'that belongs to the history of humanity'.
As he notes, 'it must be remembered that he counts as one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians of all time'.
- T. S. Eliot
I. Thoughts On Mind And On Style
II. The Misery Of Man Without God
III. Of The Necessity Of The Wager
IV. Of The Means Of Belief
V. Justice And The Reason Of Effects
VI. The Philosophers
VII. Morality And Doctrine
VIII. The Fundamentals Of The Christian Religion
XI. The Prophecies
XII. Proofs Of Jesus Christ
XIII. The Miracles
XIV. Appendix: Polemical Fragments
Pascal's writing sounds current to the modern ear, since the scientific world that was planted then is now in full bloom. He is writing to his contemporaries, especially the devotees of scientific rationalism. It helps to place him in his context. Descartes and Galileo are alive, Newton is born when Pascal is 20.
The amazing power of mathematical science is sweeping the intellectual world. Pascal is a mathematical genius from childhood. He grows up in this fascinating new world and is a player. Young, smart, friends with the leading lights of France, theatre, parties, rich, finding his place with the prominent mathematicians of Europe, life is good.
His sister becomes a nun. More, she converts to Jansenism, a Calvinistic form of Catholicism. Strict, moral, serious, disciplined and studious. She attempts to convert him. He listens and is moved, but not very far. He becomes sick. A doctor spends time treating him. He is a Jansenist. More listening. One day he experiences a mental firestorm. He dedicates himself without reservation to the Christian God.
His memory and breadth of reading is prodigious. He was believed to have memorized the Bible. He quotes from most of the books of the Bible in these notes. Also, ancient authors such as Livy, Cicero, Augustine, Horace, Josephus, Philo, Eusebius, Thomas Aquinas, etc. His goal is the persuade the reader of the divine inspiration of the Bible and that the Christian faith is the truth from God
He presents Daniel's prophesy concerning the seventy weeks of years and the appearance of the messiah and the destruction of the temple as a proof of Jesus as the messiah and confirmation of Bible truth. He explains Daniel's prophesies on the march of the world powers and the fulfillment in history.
This is just one of dozens that he uses to convince the reader.
He also expresses how this knowledge affects him . . .
"Jesus Christ for told as to the time and the state of the world. The ruler taken from the thigh and the forth monarchy. How lucky we are to see this light amidst this darkness! How fine it is to see, with the eyes of faith, Darius and Cyrus, Alexander, Cyrus and Romans."
These refer to the historical fulfillment of Daniel's prophecies. Pascal's analysis Daniel's prophesy of the kings of the north and south is amazing. The historical research must gave taken months.
Pascal comments that the prophecies are the strongest proof of Jesus Christ. Over a thousand years and spread by the Jews all around the world in advance. Clearly the work of God!
He notes: "proofs of Jesus Christ. - Jesus Christ said a great things so simply, that it seems as though he had not thought them great; and yet so clearly that we easily see what he thought of them. This clearness, joined to this simplicity, is wonderful."
A comment of deep meditation.
Pascal's understanding of the role of "proof" in belief is fascinating. Especially since as a mathematician he uses 'proof' as a fundamental tool in scientific discoveries. -
"There are three sources of belief: reason, custom, inspiration. The Christian religion, which alone has reason, does not acknowledge as her true children those who believe without inspiration. It is not that she excludes reason and custom. On the contrary, the mind must be open to proofs, must be confirmed by custom, and offer itself in humbleness to inspirations, which alone can produce a true and saving effect." -
Proof is a part of Christian belief but not all. Human belief is deeper than intellectual analysis.
Pascal analyzes the interplay of external and internal devotion. . .
"It is superstition to put one's hope in formalities; but it is pride to be unwilling to submit to them." Superstition meant foolishness or unfounded belief.
"The external must be joined to the internal to obtain anything from God, that is to say we must kneel, pray with the lips, etc., in order that proud man, who would not submit himself to God, may be now subject to the creature. To expect help from these externals his superstition; to refuse to join them to the internal is pride."
Decarte seen as father of modern philosophy. Pascal met him and analyzed his work. Concludes -
''I cannot forgive Descartes. In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God. But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God.''
Decarte laid bricks in the road to 'materialism' - no spiritual reality exists. Nevertheless -
''The nature of man is wholly natural, omne animal.
There is nothing he may not make natural; there is nothing natural he may not lose.''
This use of paradoxical contrasts is a wonderful teaching tool!
(from the Proverbs?)
Pascal is a treasure.
Some think helped Newton find calculus.
Wilberforce studied him for hours and became a believer.
Malcom Muggeridge loved him.
Tocqueville studied him his entire life, over and over.
Anyone who reads Pascal - and gets the sense of it - will never be poor again!
This is taken from the 1958 edition published as a Dutton paperback. It does include an excellent introduction to Pascal and this book by T. S. Eliot.
Pascal is most famous as a scientist, but as with many famous scientists of that era, he was deeply religious and was a defender of his faith. This book was his attempt at a Christian apologetic. He has two main objects, to prove that man is nothing without God, and also to prove by the scriptures that Jesus is the redeemer of mankind.
This was not a finished work, but is mainly his notes that were compiled after his death. As a result, sometimes it reads a little disjointed with some incomplete thoughts and some jumping around.
Overall, he had some profound thoughts mixed with things I would consider trivial. He had obvious Catholic biases (he was French), and spent some time defending Catholic dogmas like transubstantiation. I found this to be an interesting work, but nothing that I would want to re-read for its great wisdom.
I recommend to those that want to read this work to consider another edition that has hyperlinks. In a work like this, I find the end notes to be useful (this edition did have useful end notes, but they were hard to get to).