Pascal: The Emergence of Genius

Pascal: The Emergence of Genius

Pascal: The Emergence of Genius

Pascal: The Emergence of Genius

Excerpt

by C. S. Duthie

Today, especially in philosophical and religious circles, a new interest is discernible in Pascal and his thought. At the turn of the century his interpreters most congenial to the English-speaking world were men like Vinet, the Swiss Protestant, and Laberthonnière, the French Catholic. There was a reason for this. The prevailing climate of thought made it almost inevitable that Pascal should be read and studied selectively. It was Pascal the Christian layman, Pascal exposing the Jesuits, Pascal the evangelical mystic, Pascal with the impirieux besoin du vrai (commanding need for the truth), Pascal the unconscious Protestant fighting authoritarian religion -- it was this edited Pascal, for the most part, who fascinated. Thus the vindication of miracle and the doctrine of original sin was not considered important and was rarely seen as part, and integral part at that, of his larger endeavour to present to his age a non-scholastic, Biblical type of theology. To take but one example, John Oman's fine essay on Pascal in his book The Problem of Faith and Freedom suffers from this kind of selectiveness.

The modern Christian thinker may be tempted to be selective in another way and to seek to grasp Pascal by the aid of Kierkegaard and that general movement to which we give the name existentialism. He ought, however, to be saved from any gross mishandling of Pascal by the fact that half a century of the most painstaking scholarship has now made a balanced estimate more easy to form. Our own intense pre-occupation with the problems with which Pascal wrestled, such as the nature of man, the source of authority in religion, the biddenness of God, the relation between faith and reason, ought to help rather than hinder a proper appreciation of the positive results he reached. The Pascal literature of France is immense in its extent and is likely to grow. If we cite the names of Brunschvicg, Boutroux, Strowski, Chevalier, Tourneur, Lafuma, we but mention the more distinguished of a large company of pascalisants. Something of the wealth of this writing, as of the heavy debt which French thought in many areas owes . . .

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