Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart

By Wetsel, David | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart


Wetsel, David, The Catholic Historical Review


Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart. By Marvin R. O'Connell. [Library of Religious Biography] (Grand Rapids, Michigan:William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1997. Pp. xxi, 210. $16.00 paperback.)

Of the introductory biographical studies of the life and works of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) that have appeared in English in recent years, Marvin O'Connell's Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart is among the best. It is probably the most readable.

Whereas most of Pascal's recent English-speaking biographers have sought to stress his "modernity," Father O'Connell's new study solidly anchors Pascal's life and works in the context of post-Tridentine Catholic history and theology. Nowhere in the book: does O'Connell do this better than in his insightful analysis of the text known as the Memorial (Chapter 5,"The Night of Fire").

Modernists, always anxious to portray Pascal as on the verge of falling into religious doubt, have again and again returned to a specific line in the Memorial: Mon Dieu, me quitterez-vous? Que je n'en sois pas separe eternellement" ("My God, will you leave me? Let me not be separated from Him eternally"). Whereas the modernists see this line as a cri d'angoisse bordering on despair, O'Connell ever so justly describes it as a "sacramental cri de coeur only a Catholic would have written,'' and identifies it as "a word for word translation from the prayer said just before the reception of Communion at Mass" (p. 101).'

Much scholarly ink has also been spilled over the significance of Pascal's final words before his death: "Que Dieu ne m'abandonne jamais!" How, it has been asked, could the author of the Myst&re de Jesus have been so terrified by the approach of death? Once again, O'Connell puts the line into its sacramental context by reminding us that these words were pronounced at the moment Pere Beurrier,"in accord with custom, gave the final blessing with the ciborium containing the sacred Hosts" (p. 190). O'Connell makes these words,"May God never abandon me," the title of his final chapter. This account of Pascal's final three years constitutes an admirable synthesis of biography and of analysis of key passages drawn from the Pensees and other late writings. …

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