Front Page Titles (by Subject) GENERAL INTRODUCTION. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
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GENERAL INTRODUCTION. - Blaise Pascal, The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal 
The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal, translated from the text of M. Auguste Molinier by C. Kegan Paul (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901).
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LET them at least learn what is the Religion they assail, before they assail it. If this religion claimed to have a clear view of God, and to possess it openly and unveiled, then to say that we see nothing in the world which manifests him with this clearness would be to assail it. But since on the contrary it affirms that men are in darkness and estranged from God, that he has hidden himself from their knowledge, that the very name he has given himself in the Scriptures is Deus absconditus; and if indeed it aims equally at establishing these two points, that God has set in the Church evident notes to enable those who seek him in sincerity to recognise him, and that he has nevertheless so concealed them that he can only be perceived by those who seek him with their whole hearts; what advantages it them, when, in their professed neglect of the search after truth, they declare that nothing reveals it to them? For the very obscurity in which they are, and for which they blame the Church, does but establish one of the points which she maintains, without affecting the other, and far from destroying, establishes her doctrine.
In order to assail it they ought to urge that they have sought everywhere with all their strength, and even in that which the Church proposes for their instruction, but without avail. Did they thus speak, they would indeed assail one of her claims. But I hope here to show that no rational person can thus speak, and I am even bold to say that no one has ever done so. We know well enough how men of this temper behave. They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction, when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of Scripture, and have talked with some Ecclesiastic on the truths of the faith. Whereupon they boast that they have in vain consulted books and men. But indeed I will tell them what I have often said, that such carelessness is intolerable. We are not here dealing with the light interest of a stranger, that we should thus treat it; but with that which concerns ourselves and our all.
The immortality of the soul is a matter of so great moment to us, it touches us so deeply, that we must have lost all feeling if we are careless of the truth about it. Our every action and our every thought must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal blessings for which to hope, that it is impossible to take a single step with sense or judgment, save in view of that point which ought to be our end and aim.
Thus our first interest and our first duty is to gain light on this subject, whereon our whole conduct depends. Therefore among unbelievers, I make a vast difference between those who labour with all their power to gain instruction, and those who live without taking trouble or thought for it.
I can have nothing but compassion for all who sincerely lament their doubt, who look upon it as the worst of evils, and who, sparing no pains to escape it, find in that endeavour their principal and most serious occupation.
But as for those who pass their life without thought of the ultimate goal of life, who, solely because they do not find within themselves the light of conviction, neglect to seek it elsewhere and to examine thoroughly whether the opinion in question be among those which are popularly received with credulous simplicity, or among those which, although in themselves obscure, have yet a solid and indestructible basis,—of those, I say, my thoughts are very different.
This neglect of a matter in which themselves are concerned, their eternity, and their all, makes me angry rather than compassionate; it astonishes and terrifies me, it is to me something monstrous. I do not say this out of the pious zeal of a spiritual devotion. I mean on the contrary that such a feeling should spring from principles of human interest and self-love; and for this we need see no more than what is seen by the least enlightened persons.
We need no great elevation of soul to understand that here is no true and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are but vanity, our evils infinite, and lastly that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly and within a few years place us in the dread alternative of being for ever either annihilated or wretched.
Nothing is more real than this, nothing more terrible. Brave it out as we may, that is yet the end which awaits the fairest life in the world. Let us reflect on this, and then say if it be not certain that there is no good in this life save in the hope of another, that we are happy only in proportion as we approach it, and that as there is no more sorrow for those who have an entire assurance of eternity, so there is no happiness for those who have not a ray of its light.
Assuredly then it is a great evil thus to be in doubt, but it is at least an indispensable duty to seek when we are in such doubt; he therefore who doubts and yet seeks not is at once thoroughly unhappy and thoroughly unfair. And if at the same time he be easy and content, profess to be so, and in fact pride himself thereon; if even it be this very condition of doubt which forms the subject of his joy and boasting, I have no terms in which to describe a creature so extravagant.
Whence come such feelings? What delight can we find in the expectation of nothing but unavailing misery? What cause of boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness? How can such an argument as the following occur to a reasoning man?
“I know not who has sent me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am; I am terribly ignorant of every thing; I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, nor even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, yet is as ignorant of itself as of all beside. I see those dreadful spaces of the universe which close me in, and I find myself fixed in one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am set in this place rather than elsewhere, nor why this moment of time given me for life is assigned to this point rather than another of the whole Eternity which was before me or which shall be after me. I see nothing but infinities on every side, which close me round as an atom, and as a shadow which endures but for an instant and returns no more. I know only that I must shortly die, but what I know the least is this very death which I cannot avoid.
“As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go; only this I know, that on departing this world, I shall either fall for ever into nothingness, or into the hands of an offended God, without knowing which of these two conditions shall eternally be my lot. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty; from all which I conclude that I ought to pass all the days of my life without thought of searching for what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some ray of light in my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor stir a foot to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are troubled with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to make trial of the grand event, and allow myself to be led softly on to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future condition.”
Who would wish to have for his friend a man who should thus speak; who would choose him rather than another for advice in business; who would turn to him in sorrow? And indeed to what use in life could we put him?
In truth, it is the glory of Religion to have for enemies men so unreasoning, whose opposition is so little dangerous to her, that it the rather serves to establish her truths. For the Christian faith goes mainly to the establishment of these two points, the corruption of nature, and the Redemption by Jesus Christ. Now I maintain that if these men serve not to demonstrate the truth of Redemption by the holiness of their morals, they at least serve admirably to show the corruption of nature by sentiments so unnatural.
Nothing is so important to man as his condition, nothing so formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural there should be men indifferent to the loss of their being, and to the peril of an endless woe. They are quite other men in regard to all else; they fear the veriest trifles, they foresee them, they feel them; and the very man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office or for some imaginary insult to his honour, is the same who, without disquiet and without emotion, knows that he must lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in one and the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to the meanest, and this strange insensibility to the greatest matters. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural drowsiness, which denotes as its cause an all powerful force.
There must be a strange revolution in the nature of man, before he can glory at being in a state to which it seems incredible that any should attain. Experience however has shown me a large number of such men, a surprising fact did we not know that the greater part of those who meddle with the matter are not as a fact what they declare themselves. They are people who have been told that the manners of good society consist in such daring. This they call shaking off the yoke, this they try to imitate. Yet it would not be difficult to convince them how much they deceive themselves in thus seeking esteem. Not so is it acquired, even among those men of the world who judge wisely, and who know that the only way of worldly success is to show ourselves honourable, faithful, of sound judgment, and capable of useful service to a friend; because by nature men love only what may prove useful to them. Now in what way does it advantage us to hear a man say he has at last shaken off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches his actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct and accountable for it only to himself. Does he think that thus he has brought us to have henceforward confidence in him, and to look to him for comfort, counsel and succour in every need of life? Do they think to delight us when they declare that they hold our soul to be but a little wind or smoke, nay, when they tell us so in a tone of proud content? Is this a thing to assert gaily, and not rather to say sadly as the saddest thing in all the world?
Did they think on it seriously, they would see that this is so great a mistake, so contrary to good sense, so opposed to honourable conduct, so remote in every respect from that good breeding at which they aim, that they would choose rather to restore than to corrupt those who might have any inclination to follow them. And indeed if they are obliged to give an account of their opinions, and of the reasons they have for doubts about Religion, they will say things so weak and base, as rather to persuade the contrary. It was once happily said to such an one, “If you continue to talk thus you will really make me a Christian.” And the speaker was right, for who would not be horrified at entertaining opinions in which he would have such despicable persons as his associates!
Thus those who only feign these opinions would be very unhappy were they to put force on their natural disposition in order to make themselves the most inconsequent of men. If, in their inmost hearts, they are troubled at their lack of light, let them not dissemble: the avowal will bring no shame; the only shame is to be shameless. Nothing betrays so much weakness of mind as not to apprehend the misfortune of a man without God, nothing is so sure a token of an evil disposition of heart as not to desire the truth of eternal promises, nothing is more cowardly than to fight against God. Let them therefore leave these impieties to persons who are so ill-bred as to be really capable of them, let them at least be men of honour if they cannot be Christians, and lastly, let them recognise that there are but two classes of men who can be called reasonable; those who serve God with their whole heart because they know him, or those who seek him with their whole heart because they know him not.
But as for those who live without knowing him and without seeking him, they judge themselves to deserve their own care so little, that they are not worthy the care of others, and it needs all the charity of the Religion they despise, not to despise them so utterly as to abandon them to their madness. But since this Religion obliges us to look on them, while they are in this life, as always capable of illuminating grace, and to believe that in a short while they may be more full of faith than ourselves, while we on the other hand may fall into the blindness which now is theirs, we ought to do for them what we would they should do for us were we in their place, and to entreat them to take pity on themselves and advance at least a few steps, if perchance they may find the light. Let them give to reading these words a few of the hours which otherwise they spend so unprofitably: with whatever aversion they set about it they may perhaps gain something; at least they cannot be great losers. But if any bring to the task perfect sincerity and a true desire to meet with truth, I despair not of their satisfaction, nor of their being convinced of so divine a Religion by the proofs which I have here gathered up, and have set forth in somewhat the following order . . .
Before entering upon the proofs of the Christian Religion, I find it necessary to set forth the unfairness of men who live indifferent to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.
Among all their errors this doubtless is the one which most proves them to be fools and blind, and in which it is most easy to confound them by the first gleam of common sense, and by our natural feelings.
For it is not to be doubted that this life endures but for an instant, that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature, and that thus all our actions and all our thoughts must take such different courses according to the state of that eternity, as to render it impossible to take a single step with sense and judgment, save in view of that point which ought to be our end and aim.
Nothing is more clear than this, and therefore by all principles of reason the conduct of men is most unreasonable if they do not alter their course. Hence we may judge concerning those who live without thinking of the ultimate goal of life, who allow themselves to be guided by their inclinations and their pleasures without thought or disquiet, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning their minds from it, consider only how they may make themselves happy for the moment.
Yet this eternity exists; and death the gate of eternity, which threatens them every hour, must in a short while infallibly reduce them to the dread necessity of being through eternity either nothing or miserable, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.
This is a doubt which has terrible consequences. They are in danger of an eternity of misery, and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they care not to examine whether this is one of those opinions which men in general receive with a too credulous facility, or among those which, themselves obscure, have yet a solid though concealed foundation. Thus they know not whether the matter be true or false, nor if the proofs be strong or weak. They have them before their eyes, they refuse to look at them, and in that ignorance they choose to do all that will bring them into this misfortune if it exist, to wait for death to verify it, and to be in the meantime thoroughly satisfied with their state, openly avowing and even making boast of it. Can we think seriously on the importance of this matter without being revolted at conduct so extravagant?
Such rest in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who live in it ought to be made aware of its extravagance and stupidity, by having it revealed to them, that they may be confounded by the sight of their own folly. For this is how men reason when they choose to live ignorant of what they are and do not seek to be enlightened. “I know not,” say they.
[P. 3.]General Introduction. In this are apparently two drafts of the same preface, the second beginning with the paragraph “Before entering,” p. 9, l. 15. M. Faugère was the first to recognize the true character of this sketch, which has borne various titles. The Port Royal edition called it: “Against the Indifference of Atheists;” Condorcet headed it: “On the Need of Concern for the Proofs of a Future Life;” Bossut: “On the Need of a Study of Religion.” See note on p. 61.
[P. 3, l. 9.]Deus absconditus. Is. xlv. 15. Vere tu es Deus absconditus, Deus Israel salvator.