Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE EXCELLENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
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THE EXCELLENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION. - 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 EXCELLENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
WHEN I see the blindness and the misery of man, when I survey the whole dumb Universe, and man without light, left to himself, and lost, as it were, in this corner of the Universe, not knowing who has placed him here, what he has come to do, what will become of him when he dies, and incapable of any knowledge whatever, I fall into terror like that of a man who, having been carried in his sleep to an island desert and terrible, should awake ignorant of his whereabouts and with no means of escape; and thereupon I wonder how those in so miserable a state do not fall into despair. I see other persons around me, of like nature, I ask them if they are better informed than I am, and they say they are not; and thereupon these miserable wanderers, having looked around them, and seen some objects pleasing to them, have given and attached themselves to these. As for me, I cannot attach myself to them, and considering how strongly appearances show that there is something else than what is visible to me, I have sought to discover whether this God have not left some impress of himself.
I see many contrary religions, and consequently all false but one. Each wishes to be believed on its own authority, and menaces the unbeliever, but I do not therefore believe them. Every one can say the same, and every one can call himself a prophet. But I see the Christian religion fulfilling prophecy, and that is what every one can not do.
Without this divine knowledge what could men do but either uplift themselves by that inward conviction of their past greatness still remaining to them, or be cast down in view of their present infirmity? For, not seeing the whole truth, they could not attain to perfect virtue. Some considering nature as incorrupt, others as incurable, they could not escape either pride or idleness, the two sources of all vice; since they cannot but either abandon themselves to it by cowardice, or escape it by pride. For if they were aware of the excellency of man, they were ignorant of his corruption, so that they very easily avoided idleness, but only to fall into pride. And if they recognized the infirmity of nature, they knew not its dignity, so that though they might easily avoid presumption, it was only to plunge into despair.
Thence come the various sects of the Stoics and Epicureans, the Dogmatists, Academicians, etc. The Christian religion alone has been able to cure these two distempers, not so as to drive out the one by the other according to the wisdom of the world, but so as to expel them both by the simplicity of the Gospel. For it teaches the righteous that it lifts them even to a participation of the divine nature; that in this exalted state they still bear within them the fountain of all corruption, which renders them during their whole life subject to error and misery, to death and sin; and at the same time it proclaims to the most wicked that they can receive the grace of their Redeemer. Thus making those tremble whom it justifies, and consoling those whom it condemns, religion so justly tempers fear with hope by means of that double capacity of grace and of sin which is common to all, that it abases infinitely more than reason alone, yet without despair; and exalts infinitely higher than natural pride, yet without puffing up: hereby proving that alone being exempt from error and vice, it alone has the office of instructing and of reforming men.
Who then can withhold credence and adoration to so divine a light? For it is clearer than day that we feel within ourselves indelible characters of goodness; and it is equally true that we experience every hour the effects of our deplorable condition. This chaos then, this monstrous confusion, does but proclaim the truth of these two states, with a voice so powerful that it cannot be resisted.
The Philosophers never prescribed feelings proper to these two states.
They inspired motions of simple greatness, and that is not the state of man.
They inspired motions of simple vileness, and that is not the state of man.
There must be motions of abasement, yet not from nature, but from penitence, not to rest in them, but to go onward to greatness. There must be motions of greatness, not from merit, but from grace, and after having passed through abasement.
This double nature of man is so evident that there are those who have imagined us to have two souls.
One single subject seemed to them incapable of so great and sudden variations from unmeasured pride to an horrible dejection of spirit.
All these contradictions which seemed to have taken me further from the knowledge of religion, are what most rapidly led me into truth.
Did we not know ourselves full of pride, ambition, lust, weakness, misery and injustice, we were indeed blind. And if knowing this we did not desire deliverance, what could be said of a man . . . What then can we feel but esteem for that Religion which is so well acquainted with the defects of man, and desire for the truth of a religion which promises remedies so precious.
The corruption of reason is shown by the number of differing and extravagant customs; it was necessary that truth should come in order that man should no longer live in himself.
Incomprehensible.—Not all that is incomprehensible is therefore non existent. Infinite number. An infinite space equal to a finite.
It is incredible that God should unite himself to us.—This consideration is drawn only from the view of our vileness. But if it be sincere, follow it as far as I have done, and recognise that we are in fact so vile as to make us by ourselves incapable of knowing whether his mercy may not render us capable of him. For I would know how this animal, who is aware of his weakness, has the right to measure the mercy of God and set to it bounds suggested by his fancy. He knows so little what God is that he does not even know what himself is, and troubled with the view of his own state, boldly declares that God cannot render man capable of communion with him.
But I would ask if God demands aught else from him than to know him and to love him, and why, since man is by nature capable of love and knowledge, he believes that God cannot make himself known and loved by him. He certainly knows at least that he is, and that he loves something. Therefore if he see anything in his darkness, and if among the things of earth he find any subject of his love, why, if God impart to him some ray of his essence, should he not be capable of knowing and of loving him in the manner in which it shall please him to communicate himself to us? There must be then an intolerable arrogance in these sort of arguments, though they seem founded on apparent humility, which is neither sincere nor reasonable, unless it makes us confess that not knowing of ourselves what we are, we can learn it from God alone.
For myself, I declare that so soon as the Christian religion reveals the principle that human nature is corrupt and fallen from God, my eyes are opened to see everywhere the characters of this truth: for nature is such that she everywhere indicates, both within man and without him, a God whom he has lost and a corrupt nature.
Whatever may be said, it must be conceded that the Christian religion has something astonishing in it. Perhaps someone will say: “This is because you were born in it.” It may be: then I stiffen myself against it by this very reason, for fear this prejudice should bias me; but although I am born in it I cannot but find it so.
The whole course of things must have for its object the establishment and the grandeur of Religion: that there should be implanted in men sentiments conformable to its precepts, and in a word, that it should be so completely the aim and the centre to which all things tend, that whoever understands its principles can give an explanation as of human nature in particular, so in general of the whole order of the world.
Our religion is wise and foolish. Wise, because it is the most learned, and the most founded on miracles, prophecies, etc. Foolish, because it is not all this which causes us to belong to it; this makes us indeed condemn those who are not of it, but is not the cause of belief in those who are. It is the cross that makes them believe, ne eracuata sit crux. And thus Saint Paul, who came with wisdom and signs, says that he came neither with wisdom nor with signs , for he came to convert. But those who come only to convince may say that they come with wisdom and with signs.
That religion, great as she is in miracles, with holy and blameless Fathers, learned and great witnesses, with martyrs and kings, as David, and Isaiah, a prince of the blood; great as she is in science, after having displayed all her miracles and all her wisdom, rejects it all, and says she has neither wisdom nor signs, but only the cross and foolishness.
For those, who by these signs and that wisdom have deserved your belief, and who have proved to you their character, declare to you that nothing of all this can change you, and render you capable of knowing and loving God, but the power of the foolishness of the cross without wisdom and signs, and not the signs without this power. Thus our Religion is foolish when we consider the effective cause, wise when we consider the wisdom which has prepared it.
How strange is Christianity! It enjoins man to acknowledge himself vile, even abominable, and enjoins him to aspire to be like God. Without such a counterpoise, this elevation would make him horribly vain, or that vileness would make him terribly abject.
Misery counsels despair, pride counsels presumption.
The incarnation shows man the greatness of his misery by the greatness of the remedy of which he stood in need.
Not a vileness such as renders us incapable of good, nor a holiness exempt from evil.
No doctrine is more suited to man than this; for it teaches him his double capacity of receiving and losing grace, because of the double peril to which he is always exposed, of despair and of pride.
No other religion has enjoined hate of self. No other religion then can be pleasing to those who hate themselves, and who seek a Being wholly to be loved. And these, if they had never heard of the religion of an humiliated God, would embrace it at once.
No other has recognised that man is of all creatures the most excellent. Some, having apprehended the reality of his excellence, have blamed as mean and ungrateful the low opinion which men naturally have of themselves, and others, well aware how real is this vileness, have treated with haughty ridicule those sentiments of greatness which are no less natural to man.
“Lift your eyes to God,” say these, “see him in whose image you are, who has made you to worship him. You can make yourselves like unto him; wisdom will equal you to him if you will follow it.” But others say: “Bend your eyes to the earth, poor worm that you are, and look upon the brutes your comrades.” What then will man become? Will he equal God or the brutes? What an awful gulf! What then shall we be? Who does not see from all this that man has gone astray, that he has fallen from his place, that he seeks it with disquiet, that he cannot regain it? And who shall direct him, since the greatest men have not availed?
What men could scarcely know by their greatest light, this Religion has taught to babes.
Other religions, as those of heathendom, are more popular since they consist only in externals, but they have no effect on the educated. A purely intellectual religion would be more adapted to the educated, but it would be of no use to the people. The Christian religion alone is fitted for all, being composed of externals and internals. It elevates the people to interior acts, it abases the proud to external rites, and it is not complete without both, for the people must understand the spirit which is in the letter, and the educated must submit their spirit to the letter.
Philosophers have consecrated vices in attributing them to God himself, Christians have consecrated virtues.
[P. 187, l. 18.]ne evacuata sit crux. 1 ad Cor. i. 17. ut non evacuetur crux Christi.
[P. 187, l. 20.]says that he came neither with wisdom nor with signs. See however 2 Cor. xii. 12. “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.”