Front Page Titles (by Subject) THOUGHTS ON MAHOMET AND ON CHINA. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
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THOUGHTS ON MAHOMET AND ON CHINA. - 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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THE foundation of our faith.—The heathen religion has no foundation at the present day. We are told that it once had such a foundation by the voice of the oracles, but what are the books which certify this? Are they worthy of credence on account of the virtue of their writers, have they been kept with such care that we may feel certain none have tampered with them?
The Mahomedan religion has for its foundation the Koran and Mahomet. But was this prophet, who was to be the last hope of the world, foretold? What mark has he that every other man has not who chooses to call himself prophet? What miracles does he himself tell us that he wrought? What mystery has he taught? Even according to his own tradition, what was the morality, what the happiness he offered?
The Jewish religion must be differently regarded in the tradition of the sacred books and in the tradition of the people. Its morality and happiness are ridiculous in the tradition of the people, but admirable in that of their saints. The foundation is admirable, it is the most ancient book in the world, and the most authentic, and whereas Mahomet, in order to ensure the lasting existence of his book forbade men to read it, Moses with the same object commanded everyone to read his. And it is the same with all religions, for the Christianity of the sacred books is quite different to that of the casuists.
Our religion is so divine that another divine religion is only the foundation of it.
The difference between Jesus Christ and Mahomet.—Mahomet was not foretold; Jesus Christ was foretold.
Mahomet that he slew; Jesus Christ that he caused his own to be slain.
Mahomet forbade reading; the Apostles ordered it.
In fact the two systems are so contrary that if Mahomet took the way, humanly speaking, to succeed, Jesus Christ took, humanly speaking, the way to perish. And instead of concluding from Mahomet’s success that Jesus Christ might well have succeeded, we should rather say that since Mahomet succeeded, Jesus Christ ought to have perished.
The Psalms are chanted throughout all the world.
Who renders testimony to Mahomet? Himself. Jesus Christ wills that his testimony to himself should be of no avail.
The quality of witnesses demands that they should exist always and everywhere, and the wretch stands alone.
The falsity of other religions.—Mahomet had no authority. His reasons ought to be most cogent, having nothing but their own force.
What does he say then in order to make us believe him?
Any man can do what Mahomet did, for he wrought no miracles, he was confirmed by no prophecies. No man can do what Jesus Christ did.
Against Mahomet.—The Koran is not more of Mahomet than the Gospel is of Saint Matthew, for it is cited by many authors from age to age. Even its very enemies, Celsus and Porphyry, never disavowed it.
The Koran says that Saint Matthew was an honest man. Therefore Mahomet was a false prophet for calling honest men wicked, or for not admitting what they have said of Jesus Christ.
It is not by the obscurities in Mahomet which may be interpreted in a mysterious sense, that I would have him judged, but in what he speaks clearly, as of his paradise, and the rest, he is ridiculous. And because what is clear is so absurd, it is not just to take his obscurities for mysteries.
It is not the same with the Scripture. It may be admitted that in it are obscurities as strange as those of Mahomet, but much is admirably clear, and prophecies are manifestly fulfilled. The cases are not the same. We must not confound and compare things which only resemble each other in their obscurity, and not in that clearness, which should induce us to reverence the obscurities.
Suppose two persons tell foolish stories, one whose words have a two-fold sense, understood only by his own followers, the other which has only the one sense, a stranger not being in the secret, who hears them both speak in this manner, would pass on them a like judgment. But if afterwards in the rest of their conversation one speak with the tongue of angels, and the other mere wearisome common-places, he will judge that the one spoke in mysteries and not the other; the one having sufficiently shown that he was incapable of absurdity, and capable of being mysterious, the other that he is incapable of mystery, and capable of absurdity.
The Old Testament is a cipher.
History of China.—I believe those histories only, whose witnesses let themselves be slaughtered.
It is not a question of seeing this in bulk. I say there is in it a something to blind and something to enlighten.
In this one word I destroy all your reasoning. “But China obscures,” you say, and I answer, “China obscures, but there is light to be found; seek it.”
Thus all that you say makes for one of these designs, and not at all against the other. So this serves, and does no harm.
We must then look at this in detail, the papers must be laid on the table.
Against the history of China, the historians of Mexico. The five suns, of which the last is but eight hundred years old.
[P. 115.]The fragments collected in this chapter are here placed by Molinier according to the plan which Pascal had traced out for his work, in which after he had laid the various philosophical systems before his supposed unbeliever, he brought forward for examination the other religions.
[P. 115, l. 22.]forbade men to read it. It is not known whence Pascal obtained this statement, which is a complete mistake.
[P. 116, l. 19.]Jesus Christ wills that his testimony to himself should be of no avail. John v. 31. “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”
[P. 117, l. 1.]The Koran says that Saint Matthew. The Koran does not name Saint Matthew, but says in general terms that Mahomet regarded the apostles of Jesus as holy.
[P. 117, l. 32.]whose witnesses let themselves be slaughtered. After this Pascal had written, but erased the words “which of the two is most to be blamed, Moses or China?” and these aid us in the explanation of this enigmatic passage. The Jesuits had established themselves in China at the end of the sixteenth century, and when Pascal wrote their missions were in a flourishing state. They had studied the language, history, and literature of China. But the difficulty presented itself of reconciling the cosmogony and chronology of the Bible with those of the Chinese sages. It is probable that this passage was inspired by a private conversation with some one who had read letters from a missionary, for no book on the subject appears to have existed in Pascal’s day.
[P. 118, l. 7.]The five suns, etc. Montaigne, from whom this is taken, Essais, l. iii. ch. iv., probably borrowed it from some Spanish book now forgotten.