Converging and Convincing Proof of God: Blaise Pascal, Our Lost Glory and the Need for God
fire on the altar could only be of one kind. It had to be a fire, not of self-love, but a fire of charity, a fire of the love of God.
"The will of man is divided between two principles: cupidity and charity," Pascal wrote. "Cupidity makes use of God and delights in the world, while charity does just the opposite." (Pensée, 148)
It was one of two choices that lay at the center of man: self-love or charity. And this fundamental choice led to subsidiary questions: Were we made only for earth, or for heaven? Are we creatures only of time, or are we made for eternity? Are we made to be worms of nature, or Lords of glory? But all these questions were answerable by answering the first, most fundamental question: self-love or charity.
It was apparent to Pascal that reason's strength failed in providing an answer.
The best he could come up with was his famous "wager." Perhaps, Pascal argued, we are made for eternity, for heaven, for God. Perhaps not. Reason is inadequate to tell. But reason could say that it was the better bet to throw away all this short life in the gamble that eternity was true. Gamble seventy or eighty years of life for the prospect of eternity seemed a good bet.
Ultimately, the reasoning is laughable. In the standard act of contrition we pray that we are sorry because we dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because our sins offend the all good God. Confession based on a bet does not even make it to the level of attrition. One is not invited into the house of the Lord by hedging bets. "Lord, I'm sorry . . . because it is a good bet," does not make the cut.
Pascal, a man of intense spirituality, knew this. The weakness of the "wager" argument was intentional. What Pascal wanted to communicate according to Aidan Nichols was that looking to reason for guidance beyond this point was fruitless. Reason only left us "staring into the yawning hold of its failure." The "wager" argument "symbolizes a crisis, but the resolution of the crisis is not blind faith (or passional self-determination) but intellectual day."
The "intellectual day," however, is not ours to give to ourselves; it is procured by a turn to God in faith in an act of will moved by grace. To accept the grace of faith requires the jettisoning of pride and concupiscence, and a turning toward God. Shed of pride and of concupiscence, one will hear God say: "Only I can make you understand what you are." (Pensée, 149)
Pascal realized that we are more than superficial reason of the mind, what, were we to use the insights of the medieval thinkers, we might call ratio. He realized that there was a deeper, more fundamental reason, which he called the reason of the heart, what, in the terms of the medieval thinkers, we might identify as intellectus.
"For the nub of Pascal's thought," observes Aidan Nichols, "is found in just such an awareness of the contrasts in existence, above all the contrast between human greatness and human misery, presented by Pascal as the most important of all antinomies. The paradox of reality is not incapable of resolution: but its resolution is found only by moving into another order of investigation, the order of charity, or of the reasons of the heart."
It was on November 23, 1654, Pascal himself, using the order of reason, stumbled upon this interior temple with its cold altar and its trace of ashes, and, by faith was able to relight its fires and entered into the order of charity. He had a marvelous event of grace, a conversion.
"The heart has its reason of which the reason knows nothing," Pascal famously wrote in Pensée 423. Pascal had left, without abandoning, the order of the mind. But he had entered, in a manner which enriched the order of the mind immeasurably, the order of charity.
The experience of that day transformed his life, and he documented its significance in a paper scrap known as his "Memorial" which he sewed into the lining of his jacket, and was found upon him at the time of his death:
"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob," not of philosophers and scholars.
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ."
Reason, with a little bit of tough interior cliff hanging, will bring you to the cold altar and the destroyed temple in your innermost. But it stops there. Only the fire of charity, moved by grace and the act of faith, can light the sacred precinct of the soul and warm the altar stone, and restore man to his glory.
Only God can restore man's greatness. Without God, man is doomed to misery, to "an extraordinary uncertainty of judgment," to living an insoluble "enigma," one which leads to despair. There is only one way out of this despair: God.
Pray that the fires be lit. But pray not to that false Baal of self-love to light the fires, for he will not answer. Pray, rather, to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, who is himself Love. For it is He, the one and only God, whose fire will light the altar in your soul, and make you whole. (1 Kings 18:38)
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: existence of God, proofs of God, Pensees, Pascal, Reasons of the heart, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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