Pascal, Blaise°

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

PASCAL, BLAISE°

PASCAL, BLAISE ° (1623–1662), French religious philosopher, writer, and scientist. Pascal, an ardent Christian, was a member of the austere Catholic group known as the Jansenists. He is famous for his Pensées sur la religion (1670), fragments intended to form part of an Apologie de la religion chrétienne. An authoritative modern edition is that published in 1908–14 by the Jewish scholar Léon *Brunschvicg. In the Pensées, Pascal sought to convince the unbeliever of the existence of God and the superiority of the Christian religion by showing that only through God and Jesus could man surmount the misery of the human condition and understand the mystery of his own dual nature. His proofs and arguments include the biblical prophecies and the survival and role of the Jewish people. He studied the Bible closely and found himself drawn to talmudic and midrashic literature in order to penetrate the deeper message of the prophecies. He quoted the Midrash, the Talmud, and Maimonides, though he had only secondhand access to the sources through the medieval Pugio Fidei of the Spanish Dominican, Raymond *Martini.

Meditation on the Bible led Pascal to ponder the role of the Jewish people. Just as he saw the Hebrew prophets as the harbingers of Christianity, so he saw Israel as a symbolic forerunner of the Messiah, its survival bearing witness to the divine scheme of salvation. Thus Israel was both glorious and lowly: glorious as God's elect, lowly because of its rejection of Jesus. But Pascal did not content himself with this traditional Christian view of the Jewish people. He delved deeper and was impressed by the loyalty of the Jews to their religion. He admired Jewish law for its strictness, its perfection, and its durability. He also noted the unique bond of brotherhood which links Jews. He marveled even more at a phenomenon "without precedent or equal in the world": that Jews love deeply, unreservedly, to the point of martyrdom, the book in which their leader, Moses, chastised them for their ingratitude to God, predicting their downfall and dispersal among the nations. This loyalty to religion, against their own "honor," exists, in Pascal's view, only among the Jews.

While Pascal admired the faithfulness and obstinate survival of the Jews, he rejected the "excessive formalism" of Jewish law, and condemned the Jews for their lack of spirituality and for their blindness to Christian truth; but equally, he condemned "unspiritual" Christians. Ardently desiring a purified spiritual religion for Jews and Christians alike, Pascal wrote: "The Messiah, according to unspiritual Jews, must be a great temporal prince. Christ, according to unspiritual Christians, came to exempt us from loving God… Neither view represents Christianity or Judaism. True Jews and true Christians have always waited for a Messiah who would make them love God, and, through this love alone, triumph over their enemies."

bibliography:

J. Mesnard, Pascal, his Life and Works (1952); M.V. Hay, The Prejudices of Pascal… (1962); Lovsky, in: Cahiers Sioniens, 5 (1951), 355–66; L. Goldmann, Le Dieu Caché (1955); C. Lehrmann, L'Elément juif dans la littérature française, 1 (19602), 120–5.

[Lionel Cohen]