In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night|
Indeed, Pascal takes great pains to prove to us that the "ego" is hateful; yet in reality he puts forth all his powers to defend it against the pretensions of the immaterial and eternal truths. His nail-studded belt is only a weapon in this battle, so are his illness and the abyss which his admirers would like to eliminate from his biography. One may say with some certainty that Pascal would have remained the Pascal of the Provinciales had it not been for the abyss. So long as a man feels the solid earth beneath his feet, he will not risk defying reason and morality. Only exceptional conditions of being can free us from the immaterial and eternal truths which rule the world. Only a "madman" declares war on this rule. Remember the "experience" of our contemporary Nietzsche who begged the gods for "madness", since he had to kill the law, or, to use his own words, to announce to Rome and the world that he was "beyond good and evil".
Only now can we understand the hatred which Pascal cherished towards Stoicism and Pelagianism, and at the same time we can see what drew him to St. Augustine, and past St.. Augustine to St. Paul, past St. Paul to what Paul found in certain passages of Isaiah, and in the Biblical story of the Fall. The same question which had confronted Luther a century earlier, presents itself to Pascal: Whence does salvation come to man? From his works, that is to say, from his submission to eternal laws; or from a mysterious force which, in the no less mysterious language of the theologians, is called the Grace of God? Luther's problem shook Europe and the whole Christian world. At that time it seemed that problems could no longer arise, that history had already long ago solved them all, had put an end to every problem that man could raise. Pelagius had been condemned a thousand years ago, Augustine was universally regarded as an incontestable authority.
What more could one desire? But in reality, as I said, the victory lay not with Augustine but with Pelagius; the world had agreed to exist without God, but it could not exist without "law"; it might respect St. Paul and Holy Scripture, but it had to live according to Stoic morality and Pelagian doctrine. This came out very clearly in the famous dispute on free will between Erasmus and Luther. Erasmus, with his peculiar subtlety and perspicacity, suddenly confronted Luther, in his famous diatribe, De libero arbitrio, with this terrible dilemma: if good works (that is to say, a life conforming to the laws of reason and morality) cannot save us, if we can only be saved by the grace of God, who at His own caprice and pleasure gives this grace to one and denies it another, then where is justice? Who then will trouble to lead a good life? How can one justify a God whose very principle is arbitrary caprice? Erasmus did not want to argue against the Bible or St. Paul. Like every one else, he condemned Pelagius and upheld Augustine's doctrine of grace, but he could not admit the monstrous notion that God is "beyond good and evil"; that our free will, our willingness to submit to law, would not be weighed in the balances before the supreme tribunal; that, in fact, man has no defence before God, not even that of Justice. Thus spoke Erasmus, and all men thought, and nearly all men still think, with him. One might even simply say: all men.
Luther replied to Erasmus's "diatribe" with his most powerful and terrible book, De servo arbitrio. In this book - a rare event in a dispute - Luther makes no effort to weaken his adversary's argument; he rather does all he can to strengthen it. He underlines the "senselessness" of St. Paul's doctrine of grace more deeply still. It is Luther who utters the sentiments of unequaled temerity:
The "senselessness" and "injustice" struck fear into Erasmus. To Luther, on the contrary, as these words show they were a source of inspiration. Erasmus's opposition kindled in Luther the courage to speak out where he had formerly been silent. Luther, like Pascal, had his "abyss"; like Pascal he had fenced himself off from it for years with his "chair"; and his chair was "law". And his deepest and most terrifying experience was undoubtedly the sudden discovery that the law does not save, that it is no more than a slender spider's web, which has been temporarily spun across the mouth of the abyss to hide perdition. Luther was a monk, he had taken and conscientiously fulfilled the difficult monastic vows, in the hope that his "good works" would save his soul. But then, as he tells us himself, he suddenly realized that in taking those vows he had offended against the will of God and damned his soul eternally. This fact, this "experience", is so extraordinary, so unlike what generally happens to men, that many refuse to believe it, or else interpret it in such a fashion as to "reconcile" it with the usual view of man's inner life.
"Hic est fidei summus gradus, credere illum esse clementem qui tam paucos salvat, tam multos damnat; credere justum qui sua voluntate nos necessario damnabiles facit, ut videatur, referente Erasmo, delectari cruciatibus miserorum et odio potius quam amore dignus. Si igitur possem ulla ratione camprehendere, quomodo is Deus misericors et justus est, qui tantam iram et iniquitatem ostendit, non esset opus fide."
("It is the supreme expression of faith to think Him merciful who saves so few, and condemns so many; to think Him just, who of His own will has made us of necessity damnable, so that, as Erasmus says, it seems that He takes pleasure in the tortures of the unfortunate, and is worthy rather of hatred than of love. If by any reason I could understand how this God, who shows so much evil and wrath, could be merciful, then I should have no need for faith.")
But one can - nay, one must - believe Luther. We have no right to reject an unusual experience, even though it does not agree with our a priori notions. I have already shown that Nietzsche underwent a similar experience, and from it he derived the idea of his "beyond good and evil", which is simply a modernized translation of Luther's sola fide. And unless we are much mistaken, St. Paul's vision on the road to Damascus was another instance of the same thing. To St. Paul, who was persecuting Christ in the name of the "law", it became suddenly clear that "the law entered that the offense might abound" (hina pleonasêi to paraptôma). Oh, how precious are these "sudden" findings, and how little does philosophy know how to make use of them, thanks to its traditional methods and its fear of the irrational "ego"! It is difficult to realize the shock that a man experiences when he makes such a "discovery", and still harder to understand how he can go on living. Law and laws are the framework of the world; Horace, we may remember, declared with the Stoics: si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae; Hegel, too, boasts of being equal in courage to the pagan philosophers, and of remaining indifferent though the skies should fall on him.
But this is just what happened: the laws which upheld the skies crashed, also the laws which upheld courage and the pagan virtues. And are these virtues really virtues? Was not St. Augustine right to say: virtutes gentium potius vitia sunt. Horace and Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and our contemporary Hegel, were not at all virtuous men, worthy of our imitation. They should all repeat with Luther his confession, the terrible interpretation which he gives of his monastic vow: "Ecce, Deus, tibi voveo impietatem et blasphemiam per totam meam vitam." ("Behold, my God, I vow to Thee impiety and blasphemy all my life long.") Submission to the law is the beginning of all impiety. And the height of impiety is the deification of the laws, of those "eternal and immaterial truths dependent on a single truth", of which latter Pascal has spoken to us.
But, we shall be told, in the Bible there were also laws; Moses brought the tables down from Sinai; what are they there for? Let Luther speak again; he will tell us what Pascal heard at the supreme tribunal whither he carried his appeal against Rome and the world:
Such is the law and such the fate of that which the philosophers hold to be truth, eternal and immaterial and therefore ultimate and divine. And now Luther's conclusion: "Ideo quando disputandum est de justicia, vita et salute aeterna omnino removenda est ex oculis lex, quasi nunquam fuerit aut futura sit, sed prorsus nihil est." ("Therefore when we argue of eternal justice, eternal life, and eternal salvation, we must altogether turn our eyes away from the law, as though it had never been and would never be, but were nothing at all.") I cannot, unfortunately, quote all that Luther says in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, on St. Paul's words, lex propter transgressionem apposita est.
"Deus est Deus humilium, oppressorum, desperatorum et eorum, qui prorsus in nihilo redacti sunt, ejusque natura est exaltare humiles, cibare esurientes, illuminare caecos, miseros et afflictos consolare, peccatores justificare, mortuos vivificare, desperatos et damnatos salvare, etc. Est enim creator omnipotens ex nihilo faciens omnia. Ad hoc autem suum naturale et proprium opus non sinit eum pervenire nocentissima pestis illa, opinio justiciae, quae non vult esse peccatrix, immunda, miser et damnata, sed justa, sancta etc. Ideo oportet Deum adhibere malleum istum, legem scilicet, quae frangat, contundat, conterat et prorsus ad nihilum reducat hanc belluam cum sua vana fiducia, sapientia, justitia, potentia, ut tandem suo malo discat perditam et damnatam."
("God is the God of the humbled and oppressed, of the despairing and of those who are utterly destitute; it is His nature to exalt the humble, to feed the hungry, to give light to them that sit in darkness, to console the poor and afflicted, to justify sinners, to raise up the dead, to save the despairing and the damned. For verily He is the Almighty Creator who has made all things out of nothing. But He is prevented from accomplishing His own natural functions by that most malignant of all pests, the imagination of righteousness, which will not allow that it is a sinner, unclean, miserable and damned, but will be holy, justified. Therefore God must bring that hammer, the law, to crush it, this monster, break it, smash it, and utterly grind it to powder, with its vain confidence, its wisdom, righteousness and power, till at last it learns from its own ruin that it is lost and damned.")
All his fight against Rome, in its unexampled tenacity, was a fight against the "law", against the "immaterial and eternal truths" which Catholicism could never renounce even after the condemnation of Pelagius. He himself knew better than his adversaries whither he was being led. He saw clearly that an abyss was opening beneath his feet which threatened to engulf him and the whole world. He knew as well as they that "the law" was the foundation of everything. And he wrote: "Nec ego ausim ita legem appellare, sed putarem esse summam blaspemiam in Deum, nisi Paulus prius hoc fecisset." ("And I should not have dared to describe the law thus, I should have thought it the supreme blasphemy towards God, if St. Paul had not done so before me.") But St. Paul himself was no less frightened by his discovery; he would not have dared to say what he did, had he not in his turn leant upon the prophet Isaiah, whose boldness terrified as much as it attracted him. St. Paul says: Isaiah dared to say, (Hêsaias de apotolmâi kai legei): "I was found by those who did not seek me, I manifested myself to those who did not inquire after me." How can one accept such audacious words? God, God Himself violates the supreme law of justice: He manifests Himself to those who do not inquire after Him, He is found by those who do not seek Him. Can one then exchange the God of the philosophers, the single, immaterial truth, for such a God as this? And was not the Renaissance right which turned from the God of the Bible, and Descartes who in fulfillment of the behests of his time tried to "dispense with God"? And is Pascal not an apostate, a traitor to all humanity, who summoned mankind before the tribunal of the Almighty? Where lies the truth? Which must we prefer?