In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night


     We have seen that Pascal calls not only Rome but reason itself before the tribunal of God. Expressly before the tribunal of God, and not that of reason, as some other philosophers known to him - they were not, indeed, many - had done before him, and do to this day. Pascal was no scholar, and his knowledge of historical philosophy was derived almost entirely from Montaigne. But, though he admired Montaigne, and paid him all honour, yet he knew very well that it was useless to appeal to reason against reason; for once make reason the supreme arbitrator, and it will not willingly decide against itself, but will always pronounce itself in the right.

     But how are we to understand God's verdict on reason? Of what does this verdict consist, and what does it give us? Reason gives us assurance, certainty, strength; judgments which are clear and distinct, solid and definite. Can we hope, if we deny and depose reason, to achieve greater stability and certainty? Undoubtedly, if this were the case, we should all willingly follow Pascal. He would be accessible to us, approachable, comprehensible. But the Last Judgment in no Wise resembles the judgments to which we are accustomed on earth; and the decrees of the supreme tribunal in no wise resemble the decrees of earthly tribunals, just as heavenly truth in no wise resembles earthly truth. The wisest philosopher and the most unlettered artisan are equally well acquainted with earthly truth, it is always of one and the same identity, for this law is the prime, invariable certainty on which not only our thought, but our very existence is based. The essence of truth is its stability and immutability. "On aime la sécurité, on aime que le pape soit infaillible en la foi, et que les docteurs graves le soient dans les moeurs, afin d'avoir son assurance." ("Men like certainty. They like the Pope to be infallible in faith, and grave doctors to be infallible in morals, in order to have certainty.") Nothing is more esteemed on earth than this certainty, this security. And this esteem was taught to man by reason; it is reason which furnishes him with those assurances and certitudes which enable him to live quietly and sleep in peace. Let us not forget that the earthly keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to St. Peter and his successors just because St. Peter was able to sleep, and had slept, while God, incarnate among men, was preparing to die upon the cross.

     But Christ's agony is not yet finished. It is going on, it will last until the end of the world. "One must not sleep", Pascal tells us. No one must sleep. No one must seek security and certainty. "S'il ne fallait rien faire que pour le certain, on ne devrait rien faire pour la religion; car elle n'est pas certaine." ("If one were to do nothing except for certainty, then one would have to do nothing for religion, for it is not certain.") Such words can come only from one who has made it his task, not to draw his fellows towards religion, but to turn them from it. One might think that there had been some mistake here, some misunderstanding, that Pascal said something different from what he meant. But no; there is no mistake, for in another place Pascal says the same thing even more strongly and decisively. "Nous brûlons de désir de trouver une assiette ferme et une dernière base constante, pour y édifier une tour qui s'élève a l'infini. Mais tout notre fondement craque et la terre s'ouvre jusqu'aux abîmes. Ne cherchons donc point d'assurance et de fermeté." ("We burn with longing to find some firm stance, some ultimate, unshakable basis, on which we may build the tower that can reach up to infinity. But all our foundations crack and earth opens to the abyss. THEREFORE LET US NOT SEEK CERTAINTY OR SECURITY.")

     This is what a man feels, sees, and hears who has decided, or rather who has been condemned, not to sleep until the sufferings of Christ are ended, which will not be until the end of the world. Such are the commandments, such the truths revealed to him. But can one call this truth? For the fundamental attributes of truth are its "certainty" and "security". A truth which is not certain or secure is a contradictio in adjecto, for these are precisely the tokens by which one recognizes a lie. A lie is never constant to itself; it is now one thing, now another. Then has Pascal come to worship and to reject truth?

     It had to be so, since the defeat of reason gave him so great occasion for triumph. We have heard him say: "How I love to see this proud reason humiliated and begging for mercy!" And he it was who had the audacity to recommend to men, as a means of attaining the truth, to deny reason utterly. These are the words which caused such a stir and aroused indignation: "Cela vous fera croire et vous abêtira." ("That will make you believe and will stupefy you.") Many efforts have been made to mitigate the import of these words, but none have been successful, and none is really necessary. We have abandoned once and for all the idea of appraising Pascal "historically". We do not judge him. We do not think that we "know" more or are wiser than he, and that therefore we have the right to accept only that part of his writing which tallies best with the level of knowledge of our own day. This pride, this superiority, could only be justified as long as we held Hegel's point of view, and sought in history the traces of a "development". Then the men of the past would be arraigned before us; and we, the men of the present, would be their judges, dispassionately executing the commands of eternal and invariable reason, which renders account to none. But Pascal refuses to recognize reason as lawgiver over him. He does not admit our right to judge, he summons us to appear with him before the tribunal of the Almighty. And our self-assurance, the self-assurance of men who have come into the world after him, disturbs him not at all, any more than the fact that we are living, and that he is dead.

     His voice, severe and imperious, comes to us from beyond the grave, where his soul, unappeased on earth, has found shelter. Our most incontestable, our firmest and most obvious truths, those "veritates aeternae" as Descartes loved to call them before Pascal's day; those "reasonable truths" as Leibniz called them later, and after him other lawful guardians of the inherited ideas of the Renaissance, even to our own day - these never weighed with Pascal in his lifetime. We may be sure that they weigh with him less than ever today; for Pascal, beyond the grave, is assuredly much more free and more daring than when, alive and among the living, he summoned Rome, reason, man, and the universe before the tribunal of Almighty God.

     Rome and reason ordain it: therefore it must not be done; such is Pascal's "logic". Such, too, was Tertullian's position in an earlier age. As though he had foreseen Pascal, he wrote: "Crucifixus est Dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est. Et mortuus est Dei filius; prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est. Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile est." [Son of God was crucified; there is no shame in it because it is shameful. And Son of God died; this is so because it is absurd. And he resuscitated; this is certain because it is impossible - AK.] That is: "One need not be ashamed when reason says a thing is shameful; where reason declares it absurd, then truth will appear, and where reason proves it completely impossible, there and there alone, is complete certainty found." Thus spoke Tertullian in his life-time nearly two thousand years ago. Do you think that Tertullian, dead, has abjured his words, and that he believes now that when reason decides "this is shameful", we must be ashamed; that when reason decides "this is absurd", we must discard it; when, finally, reason has decided "this thing is impossible", we have to fold our arms. Do you think that Descartes, Leibniz, and their master Aristotle still uphold their "eternal truths" to this day, and that their logic proves itself as incontrovertible before God as it was before man?

     It will be said that all this is fantastic in the extreme; men who are long dead cannot be confronted with one another; neither Pascal and Tertullian nor Descartes and Leibniz are defending any cause now; if they had one to defend, it would have to be down here, and history, which after all is native to this earth, absolutely refuses to be dragged up to heaven.

     All this may be true; it passes, that is, for true today, among men. But, I must remind you again, we decided with Pascal to carry our differences before another court. We are no longer judged by reason with its "permitted", "forbidden", "shameful", and all its other laws and principles. We have put ourselves in the dock, and the laws and principles with us. We have admitted the dead to equal right with the living; judgment no longer belongs to man. It may be that we shall not hear the verdict: Pascal has told us that there will be neither certainty nor security; perhaps there will be no justice either. All these earthly treasures must go. That which will be revealed to you there will "make you believe and will stupefy you." ("Cela vous fera croire et vous abêtira.")

     Will you still follow Pascal, or is your patience exhausted and do you prefer to pass on to other masters who will be more comprehensible and less exacting? Expect no mercy or indulgence from Pascal. He is infinitely cruel to himself, and infinitely cruel to others. If you want to go searching in his company, he will take you with him, but he tells you beforehand that your search will bring you no joy. "Je n'approuve que ceux qui cherchent en gémissant." ("I approve those only who seek with lamentation.") His truths, or what he calls his truths, are hard, painful, remorseless. He brings with him no relief, no consolation. He kills every kind of consolation. Directly man pauses to rest and collect himself, Pascal is there with his disquiet: you must not pause, you must not rest, you must march on, march without ceasing; you are tired, you are worn out; that is just as it should be; you must be tired; you must be utterly exhausted. "Il est bon d'être lassé et fatigué par l'inutile recherche du vrai bien, afin de tendre les bras au libérateur." ("It is good to be tired and exhausted by the fruitless search for true good, that you may stretch out your arms to the liberator.") God Himself exacts it, according to Pascal. "La plus cruelle guerre que Dieu puisse faire aux hommes en cette vie est de les laisser sans cette guerre qu'il est venu apporter." ("The most cruel war that God can wage with man on this earth, is to leave him without that war which He came to bring.") "'Je suis venu apporter la guerre,' dit-il, 'et pour instruire de cette guerre; je suis venu apporter le fer et le feu.' Avant lui le monde vivait dans cette fausse paix." ("'I came to bring war', He said, 'and to teach that war; I came to bring fire and sword.' Before Him the world was living in a false peace.")

     This is Pascal's teaching, or rather this is how he translates what he heard at the tribunal of God. He discards all that is dear to man. Men love security - he accepts instability; men love solid earth - he chooses the abyss; men appreciate inward peace before all things - and he exalts wars and struggles; men long for rest - he promises weariness, weariness without end; men pursue clear, distinct truths - and he shuffles all the cards, confuses everything, and changes earthly life into horrible chaos. What does he want? He has already told us. No one must sleep.

Orphus system

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