Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart

Article excerpt

Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart. By Marvin R. O'Connell. Library of Religious Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. xxi + 210 pp. $16.00 (paper).

The backbone of this book is the chronological life of Blaise Pascal, 1620-1651. The basic skeleton is shaped by chunky debates on Grace, Politics and Reformation. It is muscled out by detailed discussions of the French Church's internecine disagreements, intrigues and relationship to the State. Information about Pascal's family, intellectual endeavour and piety shape up the whole body. The sad thing is, I can't quite put my finger on why the overall effect did not make me feel I'd been introduced to a vivid, complex human being so much as a corpse.

Those who are only familiar with Pascal's famous wager from the Pensees: "I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true" (p. 187) will discover that there is far more to him. This is the intellect who developed mathematical theories of curve and cone, explored the nature of the vacuum and assisted his acquaintances by working out their gambling odds. He also invented the first mechanical calculator, initiated a public transport system for Paris and devoted most of his life to pious adoration of a community of nuns (several of whom were his relations).

The great central points of Pascal's life are his "illumination" around 1647 and his much greater mystical experience "la nuit de feu" on November 23rd 1654. The first conversion was from a well-to-do nominal adherence to Roman Catholicism to passionate fervour inspired by Jansen's posthumous Augustinus (1640). The "night of fire" was a visionary revelation which remained secret until after Pascal's death, only discovered in the form of two accounts sewn into his doublet. …

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