Blaise Pascal/Letters

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Blaise Pascal by Blaise Pascal, translated by Mary Louise Booth
Letters of Pascal (Lettres Provinciales)

LETTERS OF PASCAL


I

From Pascal to His Sister Jacqueline

January 26, 1648.

My Dear Sister,

WE have received your letters. I intended to reply to the first that you wrote me more than four months since, but my indisposition and some other things prevented me. Since then I have not been in a condition to write, either on account of my illness, for want of leisure, or for some other reason. I have few hours of leisure and health together; I shall however endeavor to finish this letter without forcing myself; I know not whether it will be long or short. My principal design is to make you understand the truth of the visit which you know of, in which I hoped to have wherewith to satisfy you and to reply to your last letters. I can commence with nothing else than the expression of the pleasure which they have given me; I have received satisfactions so sensible from them that I cannot tell them to you by word of mouth. I entreat you to believe that, though I may not have written to you, there has not been an hour in which you have not been present to me, in which I have not made wishes for the continuation of the great designs with which Heaven has inspired you.[1] I have felt new transports of joy at all the letters which bore testimony of it, and I have been delighted to see the continuance of it without your receiving any news on our part. This has made me judge that there was a more than human support, since there was no need of human means to sustain it. I should be glad nevertheless to contribute something to it; but I have none of the capacities necessary for that purpose. My weakness is so great that, if I should undertake it, I should do an act of temerity rather than of charity, and I should have a right to fear for us both the calamity that menaces the blind led by the blind. I have felt my incapacity incomparably more since the visits which are in question; and far from having brought back enough of light for others, I have brought nothing but confusion and trouble for myself, which God alone can calm, and in which I shall work with care, but without impatience and disquietude, knowing well that both would remove me from it. I repeat that God alone can calm it, and that I shall work for this, since I find nothing but occasions for making it spring up and increase in those from whom I had expected its dissipation; so that, seeing myself reduced to myself alone, it remains to me only to pray to God that he may bless it with success. For this I shall have need of the aid of scholars and disinterested persons: the first will not afford it; I seek no longer but for the latter; and hence I desire infinitely to see you, for letters are long, inconvenient, and almost useless on such occasions. Nevertheless I will write you something of it.

The first time I saw M. Rebours,[2] I made myself known to him and was received with as much civility as I could wish. This was due to my father, since I received it on his account. After the first compliments, I asked permission to see him again from time to time; he granted it to me: thus I was at liberty to see him, so that I do not account this first sight as a visit, since it was only the permission for such. I was there for some time, and among other conversation, I told him with my usual frankness and naïveté, that we had seen their books and those of their adversaries, which was sufficient to make him understand that we were of their sentiments. He expressed some pleasure at this. I then told him that I thought that many things could be demonstrated upon the mere principles of common-sense that their adversaries said were contrary to it, and that well-directed reasoning led to a belief in them, although it was necessary to believe in them without the aid of reasoning. These were my own words, in which I think there was not wherewith to wound the most severe modesty. But as you know that all actions may have two sources, and that such language might proceed from a principle of vanity and of confidence in reasoning, this suspicion, which was increased by the knowledge that he had of my studies in geometry, sufficed to make him find this language strange, and he expressed it to me by a repartee so full of humility and gentleness that it would doubtless have confounded the pride that he wished to refute. Still I endeavored to make him understand my motive; but my justification increased his suspicions and he took my excuses for obstinacy. I acknowledge that his discourse was so beautiful that if I had been in the state in which he believed me, he would have drawn me from it; but as I did not think myself in this disease, I opposed the remedy which he presented me; but he insisted on it the more, the more I seemed to evade it, because he took my refusal for obstinacy; and the more he strove to continue, the more my thanks testified to him that I did not consider it necessary; so that the whole of this interview passed in this equivocation and in an embarrassment which continued in all the rest, and which could not be unravelled. I shall not relate the others word for word, since it would not be necessary to my purpose; I shall only tell you in substance the purport of what was said on them, or rather, the principle of their restraint.

But I entreat you before all things to draw no conclusions from what I write, for things may escape me without sufficient precision; and this may cause some suspicion to spring up in you as disadvantageous as unjust. For indeed, after having reflected on it carefully, I find in it only an obscurity which it would be difficult and dangerous to decide, and for myself, I suspend my judgment entirely, as much from my weakness as from my want of knowledge.

Letter from Pascal and His Sister Jacqueline to their Sister, Madame Perier

April 1, 1648.

We do not know whether this letter will be interminable, like the rest, but we know that we would gladly write to you without end. We have here the letter of M. de Saint-Cyran, de la Vocation, lately published without approbation or privilege, which has shocked many. We are reading it; we will send it afterwards to you. We should be glad to know your opinion of it, and that of my father. It takes high ground.

We have several times begun to write to you, but I have been deterred from it by the example and the speeches, or, if you like, the rebuffs of which you know; but, since we have been enlightened upon the matter as much as possible, I believe that it is necessary to use some circumspection in it, and if there are occasions in which we ought not to speak of these things, we may now dispense with them; for we do not doubt each other, and as we are, as it were, mutually assured that we have, in all these discourses, nothing but the glory of God for our object, and scarcely any communication outside of ourselves, I do not see that we should have any scruple, so long as he shall give us these sentiments. If we add to these considerations that of the union which nature has made between us, and to this last that which grace has made, I think that, far from finding a prohibition, we shall find an obligation to it; for I find that our happiness has been so great in being united in the latter way that we ought to unite to acknowledge and to rejoice at it. For it must be confessed that it is properly since this time (which M. de Saint-Cyran wishes should be called the commencement of life), that we should consider ourselves as truly related, and that it has pleased God to join us in his new world by the spirit, as he had done in the terrestrial world by the flesh.

We beg you that there may not be a day in which you do not revolve this in memory, and often acknowledge the way which God has used in this conjunction, in which he has not only made us brothers of each other, but children of the same father; for you know that my father has foreseen us all, and, as it were, conceived us in this design. It is in this that we should marvel, that God has given us both the type and the reality of this union; for, as we have often said among ourselves, corporeal things are nothing but an image of spiritual, and God has represented invisible things in the visible. This thought is so general and so useful that we ought not to let much time pass without thinking of it with attention. We have discoursed particularly enough of the relation of these two sorts of things, for which reason we shall not speak of it here; for it is too long to write, and too beautiful not to have remained in your memory, and, what is more, is absolutely necessary according to my opinion. For, as our sins hold us wrapped in things corporeal and terrestrial, and as these are not only the penalty of our sins, but also the occasion of committing new ones, and the cause of the first, it is necessary that we should make use of the same position into which we have fallen to raise us from our overthrow. For this reason, we should use carefully the advantage which the goodness of God bestows upon us in having always before our eyes an image of the good that we have lost, and in surrounding us in the very captivity to which his justice has reduced us, with so many objects that serve to us as an ever-present lesson.

So that we should consider ourselves as criminals in a prison filled with images of their liberator, and instructions necessary to escape from their bondage; but it must be acknowledged that we cannot perceive these sacred characters without a supernatural light; for as all things speak of God to those who know him, and as they reveal him to all those who love him, these same things conceal him from all those who know him not. Thus it is seen, that in the darkness of the world men follow them in a brutal blindness, and cling to them, and make of them the final end of their desires, which they cannot do without sacrilege, for there is nothing but God that should be the final end, as he alone is the principle. For whatever resemblance created nature may have to its Creator, and although the most trifling things, and the smallest and the vilest portions of the world represent at least by their unity the perfect unity that is found only in God, we cannot legitimately bear to them sovereign respect, since there is nothing so abominable in the eyes of God and man as idolatry, because it renders to the creature the honor that is due to none but the Creator. The Scripture is full of the vengeance that God executes on all those who have been guilty of it, and the first commandment of the Decalogue, which includes all the rest, prohibits above everything the adoration of his images. But as he is much more jealous of our affections than our respect, it is evident that there is no crime more injurious or more detestable to him than to bestow sovereign love upon created things, although they represent him.

This is why those to whom God has made known these great truths ought to use these images to enjoy that which they represent, and not remain eternally in that carnal and Judaical blindness which causes the type to be taken for the reality. And those whom God, by regeneration, has drawn freely from sin (which is the veritable nothingness, since it is opposed to God, who is the veritable being) to give them a place in his Church, which is his real temple, after having drawn them freely from nothingness to the point of their creation, in order to give them a place in the universe, have a double obligation to honor him and serve him; since as created beings they should remain in the order of created beings, and not profane the place that they fill, and as Christians they should aspire without ceasing to render themselves worthy to form part of the body of Jesus Christ. But as whilst the created things that compose the world acquit themselves of their obligation by remaining within a limited perfection, because the perfection of the world is also limited, the children of God should set no bounds to their purity and their perfection, because they form part of a body wholly divine, and infinitely perfect; as it is evident that Jesus Christ does not limit the commandment of perfection, and that he proposes it to us as a model wherein it exists infinite when he says: "Be ye also perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Thus it is a very prejudicial and very common error among Christians, and even among those who make a profession of piety, to persuade themselves that there may be a degree of perfection in which they can be with assurance, and which it is not necessary to pass, since there is none at which it will not be wrong to stop, and from which we can only avoid falling by mounting still higher.

3

Letter from Pascal and His Sister Jacqueline to their Sister, Madame Perier

Paris, November 5, afternoon, 1648.

My dear Sister,

Your letter has recalled to us a misunderstanding of which we had lost recollection, so absolutely had it passed from us. The somewhat too diffuse explanations that we have received have brought to light the general and former subject of our complaints, and the satisfaction that we have given has softened the harshness which my father had conceived for them. We said what you had already said, without knowing that you had said it, and then we excused verbally what you had afterwards excused in writing, without knowing that you had done so; and we knew not what you had done until after we had acted ourselves; for as we have hidden nothing from my father, he has revealed every thing, and thus cured all our suspicions. You know how much such troubles disturb the peace of the family both within and without, and what need we have in these junctures of the warnings which you have given us a little too late.

We have some to give you on the subject of your own. The first is in respect to what you say, that we have instructed you as to what you should write to us. 1*. I do not remember to have spoken to you of it, so that this was a novelty to me; and, besides, even though this were true, I should fear that you had not retained this humanly, if you had not forgotten the person of whom you learned it to remember only God, who alone could have truly instructed you in it. If you remember it as a good thing, you cannot think to hold it from any other, since neither you nor the others can learn it except from God alone. For, although in this kind of gratitude, we do not stop at the men whom we address as though they were the authors of the good that we receive through their means, this nevertheless forms a partial opposition to the views of God, and chiefly in the persons who are not entirely divested of the carnal impressions which make them consider as the source of good the objects that transmit it.

Not that we ought not to remember those persons from whom we have received any instructions, when these persons have been authorized to make them, as fathers, bishops, and confessors, because they are the masters of whom others are the disciples. But as to us, it is different; for as the angel refused the adoration of a holy servant like himself, we tell you, in entreating you no longer to use these terms of human gratitude, to refrain from paying us such compliments, since we are disciples like yourself.

The second is in respect to what you say of its being unnecessary to repeat these things to us, since we know them perfectly already; which causes us to fear that you do not distinguish clearly enough here between the things of which you speak and those of which the world speaks, since it is doubtless quite enough to have learned the latter once and retained them well to be no further instructed in them, while it does not suffice to have comprehended once those of the other kind and to have known them well, that is, by the internal impulse of God, to preserve the knowledge of them in the same degree, although we may retain the memory. Not that we may not remember and as easily retain an epistle of St. Paul as a book of Virgil; but the knowledge that we acquire in this manner, as well as its continuation, is only an effect of memory, while to understand this secret language, unknown to those who are not of Heaven, it is necessary that the same grace, which alone can give the first knowledge of it, shall continue and render it ever present by retracing it without ceasing in the hearts of the faithful to keep it constantly existing there; as God continually renews their beatitude in the blessed, which is an effect and a consequence of grace; as likewise the Church holds that the Father perpetually produces the Son and maintains the eternity of this essence by an effusion of his substance, which is without interruption as well as without end.

Thus the continuation of the justice of the faithful is nothing else than the continuation of the infusion of grace, and not a single grace that subsists continually; and this it is that teaches us perfectly our perpetual dependence on the mercy of God, since if he suspends the course of it ever so slightly, barrenness necessarily becomes the result. In this necessity, it is easy to see that it is necessary to make new efforts continually to acquire this continual newness of spirit, since we can only preserve the former grace by the acquisition of a new grace, and since otherwise we shall lose what we think to retain, as those who wish to shut in the light shut in nothing but darkness. Thus we should watch unceasingly to purify the interior, which is constantly sullied by new spots while retaining the old ones, since without this assiduous renovation we shall be incapable of receiving that new wine that cannot be put into old bottles.

For this reason you should not fear to place before our eyes the things which we have in our memory, and which it is necessary to cause to enter into the heart, since it is unquestionable that your discourse can better serve as the instrument of grace than can the impression of it that remains in our memory, since grace is especially accorded to prayer, and since this charity that you have had for us is among those prayers that ought never to be interrupted. Thus we never should refuse to read or to hear holy things, however common or well-known they may be; for our memory as well as the instructions which it contains, is only an inanimate and Judaical body without the spirit that should vivify them. And it often happens that God avails himself of these exterior means to make them understood and to leave so much the less food for the vanity of men when they thus receive grace in themselves. Thus, a book or a sermon, however common it may be, brings much more profit to him who hears or reads it with better disposition than does the excellence of the most elevated discourses which usually bring more pleasure than instruction; and it is sometimes seen that those who listen as they ought, although ignorant and almost stupid, are touched by the simple name of God and the words that menace them with hell, although these may be all that they comprehend and although they knew it as well before.

The third is in respect to what you say about only writing things to make us understand that you share the same feeling. We have equally to praise and to thank you on this subject; we praise you for your perseverance and thank you for the testimony that you give us of it. We had already drawn this confession from M. Périer, and the things that we induced him to say had assured us of it: we can only tell you how much we are pleased by representing to you the joy which you would receive if you should hear the same thing of us.

We have nothing in particular to tell you, except touching the design of your house.[3] We know that M. Périer is too earnest in what he undertakes to fully think of two things at once, and that the entire design is of such magnitude that, in order to complete it, he must remain a long time without thinking of any thing else. We know, too, that his project is only for a part of the building; but this, besides being only too large alone, engages for the completion of the rest as soon as there shall be no farther obstacles to it, however determined he may be to the contrary, especially if he employs the time in building that it would take to undeceive him of the secret pleasure that he finds in it. Thus we have counselled him to build much less than he intended, and only what is actually necessary, although according to the same design, in order that he may not have cause to become absorbed in it, nor yet deprive himself of the opportunity of doing so. We entreat you to think seriously of it, and to resolve to counsel him likewise, lest it may happen that he may be far more prudent and bestow much more care and pains in the building of an earthly house than he is obliged to bestow on that mystic tower, of which you know St. Augustine speaks in one of his letters, which he has promised to finish in his conversations. Adieu. B. P.—J. P.

Postscript of Jacqueline.—I hope shortly to write you the particulars of my own affair, of which I shall send you the details; meanwhile, pray to God for the result.

If you know any pious soul, let him pray to God for me also.[4]

4

Letter to Madame Perier and Her Husband,[5] on the Death of M. Pascal, Pere

October 17, 1651.

As you are both now informed of our common misfortune, and as the letter which we commenced has given you some consolation by the recital of the happy circumstances that accompanied the subject of our affliction, I cannot refuse to you those which remain in my mind, and which I pray God to give me, and to recall to me several which we formerly received from his grace, and which have been newly given to us by our friends on this occasion.

I know not now where my first letter ended. My sister sent it away without noticing that it was not finished. It only seems to me that it contained in substance some particulars of the conduct of God over life and sickness, which I would repeat to you here, so deeply are they engraven in my heart, and so solid is the consolation that they bring me, if you could not have seen them yourselves in the preceding letter, and if my sister did not intend to make to you a more exact recital of them at her earliest convenience. I shall, therefore, only speak to you here of the conclusion which I draw from them, which is that, except those who are interested by the feelings of nature, there is not a Christian who should not rejoice at it.

Upon this great foundation, I shall commence what I have to say to you by a remark that is very consoling to those who have sufficient liberty of spirit to conceive it in the midst of grief. It is that we should seek consolation in our ills, not in ourselves, not in men, not in any thing that is created; but in God. And the reason is, that all creatures are not the first cause of the accidents that we call evils; but that the providence of God being the only and veritable cause, the arbiter and the sovereign of them, it is indubitable that we must resort directly to the source, and go back to the origin to find a solid alleviation. If we follow this precept, and if we regard this event, not as an effect of chance, not as a fatal necessity of nature, not as the play of the elements and parts of which man is composed (for God has not abandoned his elect to caprice and chance), but as a result indispensable, inevitable, just, holy, useful to the good of the Church, and to the exaltation of the name and the greatness of God, of a decree of his providence conceived from all eternity to be executed in the plenitude of its time in such a year, such a day, such an hour, such a place, such a manner; and, in short, that all that has happened has been from all time foreknown and foreordained of God; if, I say, through a transport of grace, we regard this accident, not in itself and apart from God, but apart from itself, and in the inmost part of the will of God, in the justice of his decree, in the order of his providence, which is the true cause of it, without which it would not have happened, through which alone it has happened, and in the manner in which it has happened; we shall adore in humble silence the impenetrable loftiness of his secrets, we shall venerate the sanctity of his decrees, we shall bless the acts of his providence, and, uniting our will to that of God himself, we shall wish with him, in him, and for him, the thing that he has willed in us and for us from all eternity.

Let us regard it, then, in this manner, and let us practice this precept, which I learned of a great man in the time of our deepest affliction, that there is no consolation except in truth alone. It is certain that Socrates and Seneca have nothing consolatory on such an occasion as this. They have been in the error that has blinded all men in the beginning: they have all taken death as natural to man; and all the discourses which they have founded upon this false principle are so futile that they only serve to demonstrate by their inutility how weak man is in general, since the most elevated productions of the greatest among men are so weak and puerile. It is not the same with Jesus Christ, it is not thus in the canonical books: the truth is there revealed, and consolation is also as infallibly joined with it as it is infallibly separated from error.

Let us, then, consider death in the truth which the Holy Spirit has taught us. We have this admirable advantage, of knowing that death is really and actually a penalty of sin imposed on man in order to expiate his crime, necessary to man to purge him from sin; that it is the only one that can deliver the soul from the concupiscence of the members, without which saints come not into the world. We know that life, and the life of Christians, is a continual sacrifice, that can only be completed by death; we know that as Jesus Christ, being in the world, regarded and offered himself to God as a sacrifice, and a veritable victim; as his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his presence in the Eucharist, and his eternal seat at the right hand, are only a sole and single sacrifice; we know that what has been accomplished in Jesus Christ should be accomplished also in all his members.

Let us, then, consider life as a sacrifice; and let the accidents of life make no impression upon the minds of Christians, except in proportion as they interrupt or accomplish this sacrifice. Let us only call that evil which renders the victim of God the victim of the devil, but let us call that good which renders the victim of the devil in Adam the victim of God; and by this rule let us examine the nature of death.

For this consideration it is necessary to have recourse to the person of Jesus Christ, for all that is in men is abominable, and as God looks upon men only through the mediator Jesus Christ, men should also look neither upon others nor themselves except mediately through Jesus Christ. For if we do not take this course, we shall find in ourselves nothing but veritable misfortunes, or abominable pleasures; but if we regard all things in Jesus Christ, we shall find full consolation, full satisfaction, and full edification.

Let us, then, consider death in Jesus Christ, and not without Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ it is horrible, detestable, the horror of nature. In Jesus Christ it is altogether different; it is benignant, holy, the joy of the faithful. Every thing is sweet in Jesus Christ, even to death: and this is why he suffered and died to sanctify death and suffering; and, in common with God and man, he has been all that was great, and all that was abject, in order to sanctify in himself all things except sin, and to be the model of every condition.

To consider the nature of death, and of death in Jesus Christ, it is necessary to see what rank it holds in his continual and uninterrupted sacrifice, and for this to remark that in sacrifices the most important part is the death of the victim. The oblation and sanctification which precede are the details; but the accomplishment is the death, in which, by the annihilation of life, the creature renders to God all the homage of which it is capable, in annihilating itself before the face of his majesty, and in adoring his sovereign existence, which alone exists in reality. It is true that there is another part, after the death of the victim, without which its death would be useless, that is, God's acceptance of the sacrifice. This is what is said in the Scripture: Et odoratus est Dominus suavitatem. "And the Lord smelled a sweet sacrifice." This it is that really consummates the oblation; but it is rather an action of God towards the creature than of the creature towards God, and does not hinder the last act of the creature from being death.

All these things have been accomplished in Jesus Christ. In entering the world, he offered himself: Obtulit semetipsum per Spiritum Sanctum. Ingrediens mundum, dixit: Hostiam noluisti…Tunc dixi: Ecce venio. In capite, etc. "Through the Eternal Spirit he offered himself. When He cometh into the world, he saith, sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not. Then said I, Lo, I come." This is his oblation. His sanctification was immediate upon his oblation. This sacrifice lasted all his life, and was accomplished by his death. "Ought he not to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" "Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." But "in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong cries and tears unto him that was able to save, he was heard in that he feared: "and God raised him from the dead, and sent him his glory, prefigured formerly by the fire from heaven that fell upon the victim to burn and consume his body, and to make it live the spiritual life of glory. This is what Jesus Christ has obtained, and what has been accomplished through his resurrection.

Thus this sacrifice being perfected by the death of Christ, and consummated even in his body by his resurrection, in which the image of sinful flesh was absorbed by glory, Jesus Christ had wholly finished his part; it remained only that the sacrifice should be accepted of God, that, as the smoke ascended and carried the odor to the throne of God, thus Jesus Christ was, in this state of perfect immolation, offered, carried to, and accepted at the throne of God himself: and this it is that has been accomplished in the ascension, in which he mounted on high and by his own power and by the power of his Holy Spirit, which surrounded him on every side, was carried away; as the smoke of the victims, the emblem of Jesus Christ, was carried on high by the air that sustained it, the type of the Holy Spirit: and the Acts of the Apostles indicate to us expressly that he was received up into heaven, in order to assure us that this holy sacrifice accomplished on earth was welcome and acceptable to God, and was received into the bosom of God, to shine in glory through ages upon ages.

This is the state of things as regards our sovereign Lord. Let us consider them now in ourselves. From the moment we enter the Church, which is the world of the Faithful and especially of the elect, into which Jesus Christ entered at the moment of his incarnation by a privilege peculiar to the only Son of God, we are offered and sacrificed. This sacrifice is continued by life and completed at death, in which the soul truly quitting all vices, and the love of the world, with the contagion of which it is always infected throughout life, achieves its immolation and is received into the bosom of God.

Let us not grieve then like the heathen who have no hope. We did not lose our father at the moment of his death: we lost him, so to say, when he entered the Church through baptism. From that time, he belonged to God; his life was devoted to God; his actions regarded the world only for God. In his death, he became totally separated from sin, and it was at that moment that he was accepted by God, and that his sacrifice received its accomplishment and its consummation. He has performed therefore what he had vowed: he has finished the work that God had given him to do; he has accomplished the only thing for which he was created. The will of God is accomplished in him, and his will is absorbed in God. Let not our will then separate what God has joined together; and let us stifle or moderate, by the understanding of truth, the feelings of a corrupt and fallen nature which has only false images, and which troubles by its illusions the sanctity of the feelings which truth and the Gospel should give us.

Let us then no longer look upon death like the heathen, but like Christians, that is with hope, as St. Paul commands, since this is the especial privilege of Christians. Let us no longer regard a corpse as putrid carrion because deceitful nature figures it thus; but as the inviolable and eternal temple of the Holy Spirit, as faith teaches. For we know that sainted bodies are inhabited by the Holy Spirit until the resurrection, which will be caused by virtue of this spirit which dwells in them for this effect. It is for this reason that we honor the relics of the dead, and it was on this true principle that the Eucharist was formerly placed in the mouth of the dead, since, as it was known that they were the temple of the Holy Spirit, it was believed that they also merited to be united to this holy sacrament. But the Church has changed this custom, not in order that these bodies shall not be holy, but for the reason that the Eucharist being the bread of life and of the living, it ought not to be given to the dead.

Let us no longer regard a man as having ceased to live although nature suggests it; but as beginning to live, as truth assures. Let us no longer regard his soul as perished and reduced to nothingness, but as quickened and united to the sovereign life; and let us thus correct, by attention to these truths, the sentiments of error so deeply imprinted in ourselves and those emotions of honor so natural to mankind.

To subdue this dread more effectually, it is necessary fully to comprehend its origin; and to paint it to you in a few words, I am forced to tell you in general what is the source of all vice and all sin. This I have learned from two very great and holy personages. The truth covered by this mystery is that God has created man with two loves, the one for God, the other for himself; but with this law, that the love for God shall be infinite, that is without any other limits than God himself; and that the love for self shall be finite and relating to God.

Man in this state not only loves himself without sin, but could not do otherwise than love himself without sin.

Since, sin being come, man has lost the first of these loves; and the love for himself being left alone in this great soul capable of an infinite love, this self-love has extended and overflowed in the empty space which the love of God has quitted; and thus he loves himself alone, and all things for himself, that is, infinitely. This is the origin of self-love. It was natural to Adam and just in his innocence; but it became criminal and immoderate after his sin.

Here is the source of this love, and the cause of its defect and of its excess. It is the same with the passion of ruling, of indolence, and others. The application is easy. Let us come to our single subject. The dread of death was natural to innocent Adam, because, his life being pleasing to God, it must have been pleasing to man: and death was terrible when it ended a life conformed to the will of God. Since, man having sinned, his life has become corrupt, his body and soul enemies to each other, and both to God. This horrible change having infected so holy a life, the love of life has nevertheless remained; and the dread of death being equally felt, that which was just in Adam is unjust and criminal in us.

Such is the origin of the dread of death and the cause of its faultiness. Let us then illumine the error of nature by the light of faith. The dread of death is natural, but it is in the state of innocence; death in truth is terrible, but it is when it puts an end to a pure life. It was just to hate it when it separated a holy soul from a holy body; but it is just to love it when it separates a holy soul from an impure body.

It was just to flee it, when it broke the peace between the body and the soul; but not when it calms the irreconcilable dissension between them. In short, when it afflicted an innocent body, when it took away from the body the liberty of honoring God, when it separated from the soul a body submissive to and co-operative with its will, when it put an end to all the good of which man is capable, it was just to abhor it; but when it puts an end to an impure life, when it takes away from the body the liberty of sinning, when it delivers the soul from a powerful rebel that contradicts all the motives for its salvation, it is very unjust to preserve the same feelings.

Let us not therefore relinquish this love for life which nature has given us, since we have received it from God; but let this be for the same life for which God has given it to us and not for a contrary object. In consenting to the love that Adam had for his innocent life and that Jesus Christ himself had for his own, let us bring ourselves to hate a life contrary to that which Jesus Christ has loved, and only to fear the death which Jesus Christ has feared, which comes to a body pleasing to God; but not to fear a death that, punishing a guilty body, and purging a vicious body, ought to give us quite contrary feelings, if we have any thing of faith, of hope, and of charity.

It is one of the great principles of Christianity that every thing that happened to Jesus Christ should take place in the soul and the body of each Christian: that as Jesus Christ suffered during his mortal life, died to this mortal life, was raised to a new life, ascended to heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; so the body and soul should suffer, die, be raised from the dead, ascend to heaven, and sit at the right hand of God. All these things are accomplished in the soul during life, but not in the body. The soul suffers and dies to sin in penitence and in baptism; the soul is raised again to a new life in the same baptism; the soul quits the earth and ascends to heaven at death, and takes its seat at the right hand of God at the time that he appoints. None of these things happen to the body during this life; but the same things befall it afterwards. For at death the body dies to its mortal life; at the judgment it will rise to a new life; after the judgment, it will ascend to heaven and will sit at the right hand of God. Thus the same things happen to the body and the soul, but at different times; and the changes of the body come only when those of the soul are accomplished, that is at the hour of death: so that death is the consummation of the beatitude of the soul and the commencement of the beatitude of the body.

These are the admirable ways of the wisdom of God for the salvation of his saints, and St. Augustine teaches us on this subject, that God has arranged them in this wise for fear that if the body of man should die and rise again forever at baptism, men would only enter into the obedience of the Gospel through the love of life; whilst the grandeur of faith shines forth far more when it tends to immortality through the shades of death.

This is, certainly, our belief and the faith that we profess, and I believe that there is in this more than is needed to aid your consolations by my small efforts. I should not undertake to carry you this aid of myself; but as these are only repetitions of what I have learned, I give them with assurance, praying God to bless these seeds, and to give them growth, for without him we can do nothing, and his most holy words will not take root in us, as he himself has said. It is not that I wish that you should be without feeling; the blow is too sensible; it would be even insupportable without supernatural aid. It is not therefore right that we should be without grief, like the angels who have no sentiment of nature; neither is it right that we should be without consolation, like the heathen who have no sentiment of grace: but it is right that we should be afflicted and soled like Christians, and that the consolations of grace should overcome the feelings of nature; that we should say with the apostles: "We are afflicted but not cast down," in order that grace may not only be in us but victorious in us; that thus, in sanctifying the name of our Father, his will may be made ours; that his grace may reign and prevail over nature, and that our afflictions may be as the substance of a sacrifice which his grace perfects and annihilates for the glory of God; and that these individual sacrifices may honor and precede the universal sacrifice wherein all nature should be perfected by the power of Jesus Christ. Thus we derive advantage from our own imperfections, since they serve as material for this sacrifice; for it is the aim of true Christians to profit by their own imperfections, because "all things work together for good to the elect."

And if we pay close attention to this, we shall find great advantages for our edification, in considering the thing truly as we said just now. For, since it is true that the death of the body is only the type of that of the soul, and since we build upon the principle that in this chance we have all possible reason to hope for its sure salvation, it is certain that if we cannot arrest the progress of grief, we should derive this benefit, that since the death of the body is so terrible that it causes in us such emotions, that of the soul ought to cause in us those far more inconsolable. God sends us the first, God turns away the second. Let us then consider the greatness of our blessings in the greatness of our ills, and let the excess of our grief be in proportion to that of our joy.

There is nothing that can moderate it, except the fear that he may languish for some time in the pains which are destined to purge the remains of the sin of this life, and we ought carefully to apply ourselves to appease the anger of God towards him. Prayer and sacrifices are a sovereign remedy for his pains. But I have learned of a holy man in our affliction that one of the most solid and useful charities towards the dead is to do the things that they would command were they still in the world, to practise the holy advice which they have given us, and put ourselves, for their sakes, in the condition in which they would wish us at present. By this practice, we shall in some sort revive them in ourselves, since their counsels are still living and acting within us; and as heresiarchs are punished in the other life for the sins into which they have drawn their votaries, in whom their venom is still living, so the dead are recompensed, exclusive of their own merit, for those to whom they have given succession by their counsels and their example.

Let us strive then with all our power to revive him in us before God; and let us console ourselves in the union of our hearts, in which it seems to me that he still lives, and that our reunion in some sort restores to us his presence, as Jesus Christ makes himself present in the assembly of his faithful.

I pray God to form and to maintain these sentiments in us, and to continue those which it appears to me he has given me, of having more tenderness than ever for you and for my sister; for it seems to me that the love that we had for my father ought not to be lost, and that we should make a division of it among ourselves, and that we should chiefly inherit the affection which he bore to us, to love each other still more cordially if possible.

I pray God to strengthen us in these resolutions, and in this hope I entreat you to permit me to give you a counsel which indeed you could take without me; but I shall not refrain from giving it. It is that after having found grounds of consolation for him, we shall not come to lack them for ourselves by dwelling upon the need and the utility that we shall have of his presence.

It is I who am the most interested in it. If I had lost him six years ago, I should have lost myself, and although I believe my necessity of him at present to be less absolute, I know that he would still have been necessary to me ten years and useful all my life. But we should hope that God having ordered it in such a time, such a place and such a manner, it is doubtless the most expedient for his glory and for our salvation.

However strange this may appear, I believe that we should regard all events in the same manner, and that, however sinister they may appear to us, we should hope that God would draw from them a source of joy to us if we will but intrust the direction of them to him. We know of persons of condition who have feared the death of relatives which God has perhaps averted at their prayer, who have caused or been the occasion of so much misery that there was reason to wish that the prayers had not been granted.

Man is assuredly too weak to judge soundly of the result of future things. Let us therefore hope in God, and let us not weary ourselves by rash and indiscreet forecasts. Let us commit ourselves then to God for the direction of our lives, and that grief may not prevail within us.

St. Augustine teaches us that there is in every man a serpent, an Eve and an Adam. The serpent is the senses and our nature, the Eve is the concupiscible appetite, and the Adam is the reason. Nature tempts us continually, concupiscible appetite often fills us with desires, but the sin is not consummated if reason does not consent. Let the serpent and the Eve therefore act if we cannot hinder it; but let us pray to God that his grace may so strengthen our Adam that he may remain victorious; and that Jesus Christ may be the conqueror over him and may reign eternally in us. Amen.

5

Extract from a Letter of M. Pascal to M. Perier

Paris, Friday, June 6, 1653

I have just received your letter, inclosing that of my sister, which I have not had leisure to read, and moreover believe that this would be useless.

My sister made her profession yesterday, Thursday, the 5th of June, 1653. It was impossible for me to delay her: the Messieurs of Port Royal feared that a slight delay might bring on a greater one, and wished to hasten it for the reason that they hope ere long to put her in office; and consequently, it was necessary to hasten, because for this several years of profession are needed. This is the way they paid me. In fine, I could not, etc.

6

Extract from a Letter to Madame Perier, upon the Projected Marriage of Mademoiselle Jacqueline Perier

1659.

In general, their advice was that you could in no way, without mortally wounding charity and your conscience, and rendering yourself guilty of one of the greatest crimes, pledge a child of her age and innocence, and even of her piety, to the most perilous and lowest of the conditions of Christianity. That indeed, according to the world, the affair had no difficulty, and she was to conclude it without hesitation; but that according to God, she had less difficulty in it, and she was to reject it without hesitation, because the condition of an advantageous marriage is as desirable in the opinion of the world as it is vile and prejudicial in the sight of God. That not knowing to what she may be called, nor whether her temperament may not be so tranquil that she can support her virginity with piety, it were little to know the value of it to pledge her to lose this good so desirable to every one in himself, and so desirable to fathers and mothers for their children, since as they can no longer desire it for themselves, it is in them that they should strive to render to God what they have lost in general for other causes than for God.

Besides, that husbands, although rich and wise in the opinion of the world, are in truth complete pagans in the sight of God; so that the last words of these gentlemen are that to pledge a child to an ordinary man is a species of homicide and a deicide as it were in their own persons.

7

Note from Pascal to the Marchioness de Sable

December, 1660.

Although I am much embarrassed, I can no longer defer rendering you a thousand thanks for having procured me the acquaintance of M. Menjot; for it is doubtless to you, Madame, that I owe it; and as I esteemed him highly already from the things which my sister had told me of him, I cannot tell you with how much joy I have received the favor which he has wished to render me. It is only necessary to read his letter to see how much intellect and judgment he possesses; and although I may not be capable of understanding the depth of the matters which he treats in his book, I will tell you, nevertheless, Madame, that I have learned much from the manner in which he reconciles in a few words the immateriality of the soul with the power of matter to change its functions and to cause delirium. I am very impatient to have the honor to converse with you on it.

8

Fragment of a Letter to M. Perier

1661.

You give me pleasure by sending me all the details of your controversies, and chiefly because you are interested therein; for I imagine that you do not imitate our controversialists of this country, who avail themselves so badly, at least so it seems to me, of the advantage which God offers them of suffering something for the establishment of his truths. For, if this were for the establishment of their truths, they would not act differently; and it seems that they are ignorant that the same Providence that has inspired some with light, has refused it to others; and it seems that in laboring to persuade them of it they are serving another God than the one who permits the obstacles that oppose their progress. They think to render service to God by murmuring against the hindrances, as if this were another power that should excite their piety, and another that should give vigor to those who oppose them.

This is what comes of self-will. When we wish by our own efforts that something shall succeed, we become irritated with obstacles, because we feel in these hindrances that the motive that makes us act has not placed them there, and we find things in them which the self-will that makes us act has not formed there.

But when God inspires our actions, we never feel any thing outside that does not come from the same principle that causes us to act; there is no opposition in the motive that impels us; the same motive power which leads us to act, leads others to resist us, or permits them at least; so that as we find no difference in this, and as it is not our own will that combats external events, but the same will that produces the good and permits the evil, this uniformity does not trouble the peace of the soul, and is one of the best tokens that we are acting by the will of God, since it is much more certain that God permits the evil, however great it may be, than that God causes the good in us (and not some secret motive), however great it may appear to us; so that in order really to perceive whether it is God that makes us act, it is much better to test ourselves by our deportment without than by our motives within, since if we only examine ourselves within, although we may find nothing but good there, we cannot assure ourselves that this good comes truly from God. But when we examine ourselves without, that is when we consider whether we suffer external hindrances with patience, this signifies that there is a uniformity of will between the motive power that inspires our passions and the one that permits the resistance to them; and as there is no doubt that it is God who permits the one, we have a right humbly to hope that it is God who produces the other.

But what! we act as if it were our mission to make truth triumph whilst it is only our mission to combat for it. The desire to conquer is so natural that when it is covered by the desire of making the truth triumph, we often take the one for the other, and think that we are seeking the glory of God when in truth we are seeking our own. It seems to me that the way in which we support these hindrances is the surest token of it, for in fine if we wish only the order established by God, it is certain that we wish the triumph of his justice as much as that of his mercy, and that when it does not come of our negligence, we shall be in an equal mood, whether the truth be known or whether it be combated, since in the one the mercy of God triumphs, and in the other, his justice.

Pater juste, mundus te non cognovit. Righteous father, the world has not known thee. Upon which St. Augustine says that it is through his justice that the world has not known him. Let us pray, labor, and rejoice evermore, as St. Paul says.

If you had reproved me in my first faults, I should not have been guilty of this, and should have been moderate. But I shall not suppress this any more than the other; you can suppress it yourself if you wish. I could not refrain, so angry am I against those who insist absolutely that the truth shall be believed when they demonstrate it, which Jesus Christ did not do in his created humanity. It is a mockery, and it seems to me treating…I am grieved on account of the malady of M. de Laporte. I assure you that I honor him with all my heart I, etc.

9

Letter to Madame Perier

(Addressed: A Mademoiselle Périer la Conseillère.)

Rouen, Saturday, the last of January, 1643.

My Dear Sister,

I doubt not that you have been greatly troubled at the length of time in which you have received no news from these parts. But I think that you must have suspected that the journey of the Elus has been the cause, as in fact it was. Had it not been for this, I should not have failed to write to you oftener. I have to tell you that Messieurs the commissioners being at Gizors, my father made me take a tour to Paris, where I found a letter which you had written, in which you say that you are surprised that I reproach you that you do not write often enough, and in which you tell me that you write to Rouen once every week. It is very certain, if this is so, that the letters are lost, for I do not receive one once in three weeks. On my return to Rouen, I found a letter from M. Périer, who writes that you are ill. He does not write whether your sickness is dangerous or whether you are better; and an unusual length of time has passed since without having received any letter, so that we are in an anxiety from which I pray you to relieve us as soon as possible; but I think the prayer I make you will be useless, for before you shall have received this letter, I hope that we shall have received letters from you or from M. Périer. The department is finished, God be praised. If I knew of any thing new, I would let you know it. I am, my dear sister, etc.

Postscript in the handwriting of Etienne Pascal, the father: "My dear daughter will excuse me if I do not write to her as I wished, having no leisure for it; for I have never been in a tenth part the perplexity that I am at present. I could not be more so without being overwhelmed; for the last four months I have not been in bed six times before two o'clock in the morning.

"I lately commenced a jesting letter upon the subject of your last, concerning the marriage of M. Desjeux, but I have never had leisure to finish it. For news, the daughter of M. de Paris, maître des comptes, the wife of M. de Neufirlle, also maître des comptes, is dead, as well as the daughter of Belair, the wife of young Lambert. Your little boy slept here last night. He is very well, thank God.

"I am ever your true and affectionate friend,

"Pascal."

Your very humble and affectionate servant and brother,

Pascal.

10

Note from Pascal to his sister, Madame Perier

(Superscribed, To Mademoiselle Perier, at Clermont, in Auvergne.)

My Dear Sister,

I do not believe that it is quite right that you should be vexed; for, if you are not so because we have forgotten you, then you ought not to be at all. I tell you no news, for there is too much that is general, and there must always be too much that is private. I should have much to tell you that happens in complete secrecy, but I regard it as useless to send it to you; all that I pray you is, to mingle acts of grace with the prayers which you make for me, and which I entreat you to multiply at this time. I carried your letter myself with the aid of God, in order that it might be forwarded to Madame de Maubuisson. They gave me a little book, in which this sentence was written with the hand.[6] I know not whether it is in the little book of sentences, but it is beautiful. I am so much hurried that I can say no more. Do not fail in your fasts. Adieu.

11

Letters to Mademoiselle de Roannez[7]


i

1656.

In order to answer all the points upon which you address me, and, indeed, to write, although my time is limited.

I am delighted that you like the book of M. de Laval,[8] and the Meditations on Grace; I draw from this important conclusions for what I desire.

I send the details of this condemnation which had frightened[9] you: it is nothing at all, thank God, and it is a miracle that nothing worse is done, since the enemies of truth have the power and the will to oppress him. Perhaps you are of those who merit not to be abandoned by God, and removed from an undeserving world, and he is assured that you will serve the Church by your prayers, if the Church has served you by hers. For it is the Church that merits with Jesus Christ, who is inseparable from her, the conversion of all those who are not in the truth; and it is in turn these converted persons who succor the mother who has delivered them. I praise with all my heart the little zeal that I have recognized in your letter for the union with the pope. The body is not more living without the head, than the head without the body. Whoever separates himself from the one or the other is no longer of the body, and belongs no more to Jesus Christ. I know not whether there are persons in the Church more attached to this unity of body than those that you call ours. We know that all the virtues, martyrdom, the austerities and all good works are useless out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church, which is the pope. I will never separate myself from his communion, at least I pray God to give me this grace, without which I should be lost forever.

I make to you a sort of profession of faith, and I know not wherefore; but I would neither efface it nor commence it again.

M. Du Gas has spoken to me this morning of your letter with as much astonishment and joy as it is possible to have: he knows not where you have taken what he has reported to me of your words; he has said to me surprising things, that no longer surprise me so much. I begin to accustom myself to you and to the grace that God gives you, and nevertheless I avow to you that it is to me always new, as it is always new in reality.

For it is a continual flow of graces that the Scripture compares to a river, and to the light which the sun continually emits from itself, and is always new, so that if it ceased an instant to emit them, all that we have received would disappear, and we should remain in darkness.

He has said to me that he had begun a response to you, and that he would transcribe it to render it more legible, and that, at the same time, he would extend it. But he has just sent it to me with a little note, wherein he informs me that he has been able neither to transcribe it nor to extend it; this makes me think that it will be ill-written. But I am a witness of his want of leisure, and of his desire that he had leisure for your sake.

I take part in the joy that the affair of the…[10] will afford you, for I see clearly that you are interested for the Church: you are indeed under obligations to her. For sixteen hundred years she has groaned for you. It is time to groan for her and for us altogether, and to give her all that remains to us of life, since Jesus Christ has assumed life only to lose it for her and for us.


ii

October, 1656.

It seems to me that you take sufficient interest in the miracle to send you particular notice that its verification is consummated by the Church, as you will see by the sentence of the grand vicar.

There are so few persons to whom God would manifest himself by these extraordinary acts, that we ought indeed to profit by these occasions, since he does not leave the secrecy of the nature that covers him but to excite our faith to serve him with so much the more ardor as we know him with the more certainty.

If God discovered himself continually to men, there would be no merit in believing him; and, if he never discovered himself, there would be little faith. But he conceals himself ordinarily and discovers himself rarely to those whom he wishes to engage in his service. This strange secrecy, in which God is impenetrably withdrawn from the sight of men, is a great lesson to betake ourselves to solitude far from the sight of men. He remained concealed under the veil of the nature that covers him till the Incarnation; and when it was necessary that he should appear, he concealed himself still the more in covering himself with humanity. He was much more recognizable when he was invisible than when he rendered himself visible. And in fine, when he wished to fulfil the promise that he made to his apostles to remain with men until his final coming, he chose to remain in the strangest and most obscure secret of all, which are the species of the Eucharist. It is this sacrament that St. John calls in the Apocalypse a concealed manner; and I believe that Isaiah saw it in that state, when he said in the spirit of prophecy: Truly thou art a God concealed. This is the last secrecy wherein he can be. The veil of nature that covers God has been penetrated by some of the unbelieving, who, as St, Paul says, have recognized an invisible God in visible nature. Heretical Christians have recognized him through his humanity and adored Jesus Christ God and man. But to recognize him under the species of bread is peculiar to Catholics alone: none but us are thus enlightened by God. We may add to these considerations the secrecy of the spirit of God concealed still in the Scripture. For there are two perfect senses, the literal and the mystical; and the Jews, stopping at the one, do not even think that there is another, and take no thought for searching it out, just as the impious, seeing natural effects, attribute them to nature, without thinking that there is another author, and, as the Jews, seeing a perfect man in Jesus Christ, have not thought to seek in him another nature: We had not thought that it was he, again says Isaiah: and just as, in fine, the heretics, seeing the perfect appearances of bread in the Eucharist, do not think to see it in another substance. All things cover some mystery; all things have veils that cover God. Christians ought to recognize him in every thing. Temporal afflictions cover eternal goods to which they lead. Temporal joys cover eternal ills that they cause. Let us pray God to make us recognize and serve him in every thing; let us give him countless thanks that, having concealed himself in all things for others, he has discovered himself in all things and in so many ways for us.


iii

I know not how you have taken the loss of your letters. I could wish indeed that you may have taken it as you ought. It is time to begin to judge of what is good or bad by the will of God, who can be neither unjust nor blind, and not by our own, which is always full of malice and error. If you have had these sentiments, I shall be greatly pleased, inasmuch as you will have received consolation for a more valid reason than that which I have to communicate to you, which is that I hope that they are found again. That of the 5th has already been brought to me; and although it is not the most important (for that of M. du Gas is more so), nevertheless this makes me hope to recover the other.

I know not why you complain that I have written nothing for you,—I do not separate you two, and continually think of both. You see plainly that my other letters, and this also, refer sufficiently to you. In truth, I cannot refrain from telling you that I could wish to be infallible in my judgments; you would not be badly off if that were the case, for I am very much pleased with you; but my judgment is nothing. I say this with reference to the manner in which I see you speak of that good persecuted friar, and of what * * * does. I am not surprised to see M. N. interested in the matter, I am accustomed to his zeal, but yours is wholly new; this new language is usually the product of a new heart. Jesus Christ has given in the Church this sign whereby to recognize those who have faith,—that they shall speak a new language; and in fact the renewal of thoughts and desires causes that of discourse. What you say of days passed in solitude, and the consolation afforded you by reading, are things that M. N. will be extremely happy to know when I shall make him acquainted with them, and my sister also. These certainly are new things, but they must be unceasingly renewed, for this newness, which cannot be displeasing to God as the old man cannot be pleasing to him, is different from earthly novelties, inasmuch as worldly things, however new they may be, grow old as they endure; whilst this new spirit is renewed the more, the longer it endures. Our old man perishes, says St. Paul, and is renewed day by day, and will be perfectly new only in eternity, when shall be sung without ceasing that new song of which David speaks in the Psalms; that is the song that springs from the new spirit of love.

I will tell you for news, of what concerns these two persons, that I clearly perceive their zeal does not grow cold; this surprises me, for it is much more rare to see continuation in piety than to see entrance upon it. I have them always in mind, especially her of the miracle, because there is something in her case more extraordinary, although the other may be also very extraordinary and almost without example. It is certain that the graces conferred by God in this life are the measure of the glory prepared by him for the other. Thus when I foresee the end and crown of this work by the commencements that appear in pious persons, I feel a veneration that overcomes me with respect towards those whom he seems to have chosen for his elect. I confess to you that it seems to me that I see them already on one of those thrones where those who shall have left all will judge the world with Jesus Christ, according to the promise that he has made. But when I come to think that these same persons may fall, and be on the contrary, of the unfortunate number of the judged, and that there will be so many of them who will fall from glory and leave to others by their negligence the crown that God had offered them, I cannot bear the thought; and the distress that I should feel in seeing them in this eternal state of misery, after having imagined them with so much reason in the other state, makes me turn my mind from the idea and recur to God in order to pray him not to abandon the weak creatures that he has acquired, and to say to him for the two persons whom you know what the Church says to-day with St. Paul: O Lord, do thou complete that work which thou thyself hast commenced. St. Paul often regarded himself in these two states, and it is what makes him say elsewhere: I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest when I have preached to others, I myself be a castaway. I end therefore with these words of Job: I have always feared the Lord like the waves of a raging sea and swollen to engulf me. And elsewhere: Happy is the man that feareth always!


iv

It is very certain that separation never takes place without pain. We do not feel our bond when we voluntarily follow the object that leads us, as St. Augustine says; but when we begin to resist and draw back, we suffer; the bond stretches and suffers violence; and this bond is our body, which is broken but by death. Our Lord has said that since the coming of John the Baptist, that is, since his coming in each of the faithful, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by storm. Before we are touched by the spirit we feel nothing but the burden of concupiscence that presses us to the earth. When God draws us on high, these two opposing efforts cause that violence which he alone can enable us to overcome. But we can do all things, says St. Leon, with him, without whom we can do nothing. We must then resolve to endure this warfare all our lives; for here there is no peace. Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, as Scripture says, the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; so it may be said that this warfare which appears hard to men is peace with God, for it is the peace which Jesus Christ himself has brought us. Yet it will not be perfected until the body shall be destroyed; and this it is which makes us wish for death, while we nevertheless cheerfully endure life for the love of him who has suffered both life and death for us, and who is able to give us more than we can ask or think, as says St. Paul in the Epistle of to-day.


v

God be praised, I have no more fears for you, but am full of hope! These are consoling words indeed of Jesus Christ: To him that hath shall be given. By this promise, those who have received much have the right to hope for more, and those who have received extraordinarily should hope extraordinarily. I try as much as I can to let nothing distress me, and to take every thing that happens as for the best. I believe that this is a duty, and that we sin in not doing so. For, in short, the reason why sins are sins is only because they are contrary to the will of God: and the essence of sin thus consisting in having a will opposed to that which we know to be of God, it is plain, it appears to me, that when he discovers his will to us by events, it would be a sin not to conform ourselves to it. I have learned that in every thing that happens there is something worthy of admiration, since the will of God is manifest in it. I praise him with all my heart for the continuation of his favors, for I see plainly that they do not diminish.

The affair of * * * does not go on very well: it is a thing that makes those tremble who are truly the children of God to see the persecution which is in preparation, not only against individuals (this would be little) but against the Truth. To speak truly, God is indeed abandoned. It appears to me that this is a time in which the service that we render him is very pleasing to him. He desires that we should judge of grace by nature, and thus we may be allowed to suppose that as a prince driven from his country by his subjects feels extreme tenderness for those who remain faithful to him amidst the public revolt, in the same manner, God looks with especial favor upon those who are at this time defending the purity of religion and morals, so warmly assailed. But there is this difference between the kings of the earth and the King of kings, that the princes do not render their subjects faithful, but find them so; whilst God never finds men other than unfaithful, and renders them faithful when they are so. So that while the kings of the earth are under signal obligations to those who adhere to their allegiance, it happens, on the contrary, that those who subsist in the service of God are themselves infinitely indebted to him. Let us continue then to praise him for this grace, if he has bestowed it upon us, for which we shall praise him throughout eternity, and let us pray that he may give us still more of it, and that he may look with pity upon us and upon the whole Church, outside of which there is nothing but malediction.

I am interested in the victim of persecution of whom you speak. I see plainly that God has reserved to himself some hidden servants, as he said to Elijah. I pray him that we may be of the number, and that in spirit, in sincerity, and in truth.


vi

Whatever may come of the affair of * * *, enough, thank God, has already been done to draw an admirable advantage torn it against these accursed precepts. There is need that those who have taken any part in this should render great thanks to God, and that their relatives and friends should pray to God for them that they may not fall from the great happiness and honor which he has bestowed on them. All the honors of the world are but the image of this; this alone is solid and real, and nevertheless it is useless without the right frame of heart. It is not bodily austerities nor mental exercises, but good impulses of the heart, which are of merit and which sustain the sufferings of the body and the mind. For in short two things are necessary for sanctification—sufferings and joys. St. Paul says that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. This should console those who experience tribulation, since, being warned that the path to heaven which they seek is filled with it, they should rejoice at meeting tokens that they are in the right way. But these very sufferings are not without joys, and are never surmounted but by pleasure. For as those who forsake God to return to the world do it only because they find more enjoyment in the pleasures of the world than in those of a union with God, and because this conquering charm leads them away and, making them repent of their first choice, renders them penitents of the devil, according to the saying of Tertullian; so none would ever quit the pleasures of the world to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, did he not find more enjoyment in contempt, in poverty, in destitution, and in the scorn of men, than in the delights of sin. And thus, says Tertullian, it must not he supposed that the Christian's life is a life of sadness. We forsake pleasures only for others which are greater. Pray without ceasing, says St. Paul, in every thing give thanks, rejoice evermore. It is the joy of having found God that is the principle of the sorrow of having offended him, and of the whole change of life. He that finds a treasure in a field, according to Jesus Christ, has such joy that he goes directly and sells all that he has to purchase the field. The people of the world know nothing of this joy, which the world can neither give nor take away, as is said by Jesus Christ. The blessed have this joy without sorrow; the people of the world have their sorrows without this joy, and Christians have this joy mingled with the sorrow of having pursued other pleasures and the fear of losing it by the allurements of these same pleasures which tempt us without ceasing. And thus we should labor unceasingly to cherish this joy which moderates our fear, and to preserve this fear which preserves our joy, so that on feeling ourselves too much carried away by the one we may incline towards the other, and thus remain poised between the two. In the day of prosperity he joyful; but in the day of adversity consider, says the Scripture, and so it shall be till the promise of Jesus Christ shall be accomplished in us that our joy shall be full. Let us not then be cast down by sadness, nor believe that piety consists only in bitterness without consolation. The true piety, which is found perfect only in heaven, is so full of satisfactions that it overflows with them in its beginning, its progress, and its consummation. Its light is so shining that it is reflected on all about it; and if there is sadness mingled with it, especially at the outset, this comes from ourselves and not from virtue; for it is not the effect of the piety that is springing up in us, but of the impiety that still is there. Remove the impiety and the joy will be unalloyed. Let us not ascribe this then to devotion, but to ourselves and seek relief from it only through our correction.


vii

I am very glad of the hope which you give me of the success of the affair which you fear may make you vain. There is something to fear in any case; for, were it successful, I should fear from it that evil sorrow of which St. Paul says that it leads to death, instead of that different one that leads to life.

It is certain that the matter was a thorny one, and that, if the person should be extricated from it, the result would give reason for some vanity, were it not that we had entreated it of God, and should therefore believe the good that comes of it his work. But if it should not succeed well, we ought not therefore to fall into despondency, for the same reason that having prayed to God in the affair, it is evident that he has taken it into his own hand; thus he must be regarded as the author of all good and of all evil, with the exception of sin. Thereupon I would repeat to the person the passage of Scripture to which I have before referred: In the day of prosperity rejoice, but in the day of adversity consider. Nevertheless, I must say to you in respect to the other person whom you know, who sends word that she has many things on her mind that trouble her, that I am very sorry to see her in this state. I am deeply grieved at her troubles, and should be glad to be able to relieve them; I entreat her not to anticipate the future, and to remember that, as our Lord has said, Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The past ought not to trouble us, since we have only to feel regret for our faults; but the future ought to concern us still less, since it is wholly beyond our control, and since perhaps we may not reach it at all. The present is the only time that is truly our own, and this we ought to employ according to the will of God. It is in this that our thoughts ought chiefly to be centred. Yet the world is so restless that men scarcely ever think of the present life and of the moment in which they are living, but of that in which they will live. In this manner we are always living in the future, and never in the present. Our Lord has willed that our foresight should not extend beyond the present day. These are the bounds within which we must keep both for our safety and for our own repose. For in truth, the Christian precepts are those fullest of consolation, exceeding, I affirm, the maxims of the world.

I also foresee many troubles, both for that person, for others, and for myself. But I pray to God, when I find myself absorbed in these forebodings, to restrain me within my prescribed course. I call myself to an account, and I find that I am neglecting to do many things that I ought at present, in order to escape from useless thoughts of the future on which, far from being obliged to dwell, it is on the contrary my duty not to dwell at all. It is only for want of not understanding how to know and study the present that we undertake to study the future. What I say here, I say for myself, and not for that person who has assuredly more virtue and reflection than I; but I show him my defect to hinder him from falling into it: we sometimes correct ourselves better by the sight of evil than by the example of good; and it is well to accustom ourselves to profit by evil, since this is so common while goodness is so rare.


viii

I pity the person whom you know in the disquietude in which I know she is, and in which I am not surprised to see her. It is a little day of judgment which cannot come without a universal emotion of the person, as the general judgment will cause a general emotion in the world, those excepted who shall have already judged themselves, as she pretends to have done. This temporal suffering would guarantee her from the eternal, through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, who has endured it and rendered it his own; this it is that should console her. Our yoke is also his own; without this it would be insupportable.

Take my yoke upon you, says he. It is not our yoke; it is his, and he also bears it. Know, says he, that my yoke is easy and light. It is light only to him and to his divine power. I would say to her that she should remember that these disquietudes come not from the good that is springing up in her, but from the evil which is still remaining and must be continually diminished; that she must do like a child that is being torn by robbers from the arms of its mother who will not let it go; for it should not charge the mother that fondly holds it back with the violence that it suffers, but its unjust ravishers. The whole office of Advent is well fitted to give courage to the weak; these words of Scripture: Take courage, ye fearful and unbelieving, behold, your Redeemer cometh, are often repeated there, and in the vesper service of to-day it is said: "Take courage and fear not; for your God shall come to save and deliver you."

ix

Your letter has given me the greatest joy. I confess that I was beginning to fear or at least to be astonished. I know not what was the beginning of the trouble of which you speak; but I know that trouble must come. I was reading the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark. I was thinking of writing you; and I will tell you therefore what I found in it. Jesus Christ is there addressing a solemn discourse to his disciples on his second coming; and as whatever happens to the Church happens also to each individual Christian, it is certain that this whole chapter predicts the state of each person in whom on conversion the old man is destroyed, as well as that of the whole universe which shall be destroyed to give place to a new heaven and a new earth, as the Scripture says. And thus I should think that the overthrow of the reprobate temple, which prefigures the overthrow of the reprobate man within us, and of which it is said that there shall not be one stone left upon another, indicates that no passion of the old man shall remain;[11] and these fierce contentions, bot civil and domestic, represent so well the internal conflicts experienced by those who give themselves up to God, that nothing can be better depicted.

But very striking are these words: When ye shall see the abomination of desolation in the holy place, let not him that is on the house-top go into the house. It seems to me that this perfectly predicts the times in which we live, in which moral corruption is in the houses of sanctity and in the books of theologians and ecclesiastics, in which we should least expect it. We must shun such disorder; and woe to those with child and to those that give suck in those days, that is to those that are held back by worldly ties! The words of a sainted woman are applicable here: "We are not to consider whether we are called to quit the world, but solely whether we are called to remain in it, as we should not deliberate whether we were called to fly a house infected with plague or on fire."

This chapter of the Evangelist, which I should like to read with you entire, concludes with an exhortation to watch and pray in order to shun all these misfortunes, and in truth, it is proper indeed that when the danger is continual the prayer should be continual also.

For this purpose I send the prayers which were asked of me; it is now three an the afternoon. Since your departure, a miracle has been performed upon a nun of Pontoise, who, without leaving her convent, has been cured of an extraordinary headache by an act of devotion to the holy Thorn. I will tell you more about it another time. But I must quote to you, in respect to this, an excellent saying of St. Augustine, very consoling to certain persons, that those alone really see miracles whom the miracles benefit; for they are not seen at all if they do not benefit.

I am under obligations that I cannot sufficiently express for the present which you have made me; I did not know what it could be, for I unfolded it before reading your letter, and I afterwards repented for not having rendered to it at first the respect that was due to it. It is a truth that the Holy Spirit reposes invisibly in the relics of those who have died in the grace of God, until they shall appear visibly in the resurrection, and this it is that renders the relics of the saints so worthy of veneration. For God never abandons his own, even in the sepulchre in which their bodies, though dead to the eyes of men, are more than ever living in the sight of God, since sin is no more in them; whilst it constantly resides in them during life, at least in its root, for the fruits of sin are not always in them; and this fatal root, which is inseparable from them in life, causes it to be forbidden us during life to honor them, since they are rather worthy of detestation. It is for this that death becomes necessary to mortify entirely this fatal root, and this it is that renders it desirable. But it is of no use to tell you what you know so well; it would be better to tell it to the other persons of whom you speak, but they would not listen to it.

12

Letter from Pascal to Queen Christina, on Sending
her the Arithmetical Machine, 1650

Madame,

If I had as much health as zeal, I should go myself to present to Your Majesty a work of several years which I dare offer you from so far; and I should not suffer any other hands than mine to have the honor of bearing it to the feet of the greatest princess in the world. This work, Madame, is a machine for making arithmetical calculations without pen or counters. Your Majesty is not ignorant of the cost of time and pains of new productions, above all when the inventors wish to bring them themselves to their highest perfection; this is why it would be useless to say how much I have laboured upon this one, and I cannot better express myself than by saying that I have devoted myself to it with as much ardor as though I had foreseen that it would one day appear before so august a person. But, Madame, if this honor has not been the veritable motive of my work, it will be at least its recompense; and I shall esteem myself too happy if, after so many vigils, it can give Your Majesty a few moments' satisfaction. I shall not importune Your Majesty with the details of the parts which compose this machine; if you have any curiosity in respect to it, you can satisfy yourself in a discourse which I have addressed to M de Bourdelot; in which I have sketched in a few words the whole history of this work, the object of its invention, the occasion that led to its investigation, the utility of its applications, the difficulty of its execution, the degree of its progress, the success of its accomplishment, and the rules for its use. I shall therefore only speak here of the motive that led me to offer it to Your Majesty, which I consider as the consummation and happiest fortune of its destiny. I know, Madame, that I may be suspected of having sought honor in presenting it to Your Majesty, since it can pass only for something extraordinary when it is seen that it is addressed to you: and that whilst it should only be offered to you through the consideration of its excellence, it will be judged that it is excellent for the sole reason that it is offered to you. It is not this hope, however, that has inspired me with such a design. It is too great, Madame, to have any other object than Your Majesty yourself. What has really determined me to this is the union that I find in your sacred person of two things that equally overwhelm me with admiration and respect—which are, sovereign authority and solid science; for I have an especial veneration for those who are elevated to the supreme degree either of power or of knowledge. The latter may, if I am not mistaken, as well as the former, pass for sovereigns. The same gradations are found in genius as in condition; and the power of kings over their subjects is, it seems to me, only an image of the power of minds over inferior minds, over whom they exercise the right of persuasion, which is with them what the right of command is in political government. This second empire even appears to me of an order so much the more elevated, as minds are of an order more elevated than bodies; and so much the more just, as it can be shared and preserved only by merit, whilst the other can be shared and preserved by birth and fortune. It must be acknowledged then that each of these empires is great in itself; but, Madame, let Your Majesty, who is not wounded by it, permit me to say, the one without the other appears to me defective. However powerful a monarch may be, something is wanting to his glory if he has not pre-eminence of mind; and however enlightened a subject may be, his condition is always lowered by dependence. Men who naturally desire what is most perfect, have hitherto continually aspired to meet this sovereign par excellence. All kings and scholars have hitherto been but faint outlines of it, only half performing their endeavor; this masterpiece has been reserved for our own times. And that this great marvel might appear accompanied with all possible subjects of wonder, the position that men could not attain is filled by a youthful queen, in whom are found combined the advantage of experience with the tenderness of youth; the leisure of study with the occupation of royal birth, and the eminence of science with the feebleness of sex. It is Your Majesty, Madame, that furnishes to the world this unique example that was wanting to it. You it is in whom power is dispensed by the light of science, and science exalted by the lustre of authority. It is from this marvellous union that, as Your Majesty sees nothing beneath your power, you also see nothing above your mind, and that you will be the admiration of every age. Reign then, incomparable princess, in a manner wholly new; let your genius subdue every thing that is not submissive to your arms; reign by right of birth during a long course of years over so many triumphant provinces; but reign continually by the force of your merit over the whole extent of the earth. As for me, not having been born under the former of your empires, I wish all the world to know that I glory in living under the latter; and it is to bear witness to this that I dare to raise my eyes to my queen, in giving her this first proof of my dependence.

This, Madame, is what leads me to make to Your Majesty this present, although unworthy of you. My weakness has not checked my ambition. I have figured to myself that although the name alone of Your Majesty seems to put away from you every thing that is disproportioned to your greatness, you will not however reject every thing that is inferior to yourself; as your greatness would thus be without homage and your glory without praise. You will be contented to receive a great mental effort, without exacting that it should be the effort of a mind as great as your own. It is by this condescension that you will deign to enter into communication with the rest of mankind; and all these joint considerations make me protest, with all the submission of which one of the greatest admirers of your heroic qualities is capable, that I desire nothing with so much ardor as to be able to be adopted, Madame, by Your Majesty, as your most humble, most obedient, and most faithful servant.

Blaise Pascal.

  1. An allusion to the design of Jacqueline to become a nun.
  2. One of the confessors of Port-Royal.
  3. A country house built by M. Périer, which is still standing, at Bienassis, near the gates of Clermont.—Faugère.
  4. This last sentence is in the handwriting of Pascal; usually Jacqueline wrote under the dictation of her brother.—W.
  5. Fragments of this letter have figured in a great number of the editions of Pascal, under the title of: Thoughts upon Death, extracted from a letter written by M. Pascal upon the subject of the Death of his father. M. Cousin, upon this indication, sought for and found the letter, such as we publish it here.—W.
  6. It is wanting here.―W.
  7. Charlotte Gouffier de Roannez, sister of the duke of this name, the friend of Pascal, and one of the editors of the Thoughts.
  8. Pseudonym under which the Duke de Luynes published different works of piety, among others, Sentences drawn from Holy Scripture and the Fathers.―W.
  9. The allusion is probably to the censure of the Sorbonne against Arnauld, in 1656.―W.
  10. In the manuscript of the Oratory: of the Nuns.―Faugère.
  11. The two MSS. of the Bibliothéque Imp. say: "no passion in us."―Faugère.