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Pensees (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1995
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
About the Author
Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont in 1623, the son of a government official. During his short life he left his mark on mathematics, physics, religious controversy and literature. A convert to Jansenism, he engaged with gusto in a controversy with the Jesuits, which gave rise to his Lettres Provincialeson which, with the Pensées, his literary fame chiefly rests. A remarkable stylist, he is regarded by many as the greatest of French prose artists. He died, after a long illness, in 1662.
Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer was born in 1921 and was Tutor in French at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. His publications are Studies in Self-Interest (1963), Rabelais and the Franciscans (1965), Three Conteurs of the Sixteenth Century (1966), Rabelais (1967), A. J. de Rancé, Abbot of La Trappe (1974), Pascal (1980), Conversion (1980), Letters of A. J. de Rancé (1984), Rancé and the Trappist Legacy (1985) and Correspondance de Rancé (1993). He has also translated Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet and Salammbo and Pascal’s The Provincial Letters for the Penguin Classics.
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One downfall is the writer didn’t include a table of contents in the beginning
Having read him, I know now that the quote and wager just mentoned, though only snippets, do summarize his brilliance and his beauty. Like few others, Pascal fuses head and heart in his defense of Christianity. His ability is likely due to his brilliant mind that on November 23, 1654, from 10:30 PM to 12:30 AM encountered God in a mysterious, mystical experience that he could only describe with the one-word epitaph: "Fire."
For the rest of his brief life (he died at age 39), the fire in his soul and the genius of his mind merged in the "writing" of "Pensees." I place "writing" in quotation marks because Pascal's early death never allowed him to finish "Pensees." What we have is akin to his outline (though 325 pages in length!). Imagine if he had actually finished it. Pascal, ever the absent-minded professor, would have a thought run through his mind, write it down, cut it in a strip, and splice it in with other similar subject headings.
It's helpful to understand this before reading "Pensee" for what you find is brilliant disorder--an incomplete sentence here, half a thought there, then long and insightful paragraphs here. In other words, you do need to wade through the unusual design of the book, but in the wading you will find oceans of depth that flood both your heart and your head with passion and reason to love and know God.
Pascal's "real world" arguments for God are the most rationally and personally compelling ones that I have ever read. Pascal honestly faces the reality that we see God only in part and that by evidence alone, whether of reason or nature or both, we might just as well conclude that there is no God (the atheists), or that He is not loving, or not powerful, or that He is disinterested (Deism), or dispassionate (the Greek philosophers). He then explains that God reveals enough in nature to cause us to perceive His existence and to perceive that we are finite and fallen. Nature, according to Pascal, points more to the Mediator--Christ--the One who reveals the hidden God as a God of holiness and love, and the One who reveals us as God's prodigal children who need to come home.
Reviewer: Dr. Robert W. Kellemen is the author of "Soul Physicians: A Theology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," "Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction," and the forthcoming "Sacred Companions: A History of Soul Care and Spiritual Direction."