In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night


     We are now face to face with the greatest difficulties which the history of human thought knows. Even the framing of the question, as I have said, seems inadmissible. Which must we prefer? As though "objective" truth took any account of better or worse! As though it depended on man to choose between God, the all-powerful creator, who by His own free will called up the universe out of nothing, and the "law", that eternal and immaterial principle from which the universe and all its inhabitants spring with that natural necessity with which all the theorems in mathematics follow from its definitions and axioms. Has human "better" and "worse" any significance in the face of objective truth? And then, if one may ask this question, who shall answer it? Aristotle and Descartes, or Isaiah and St. Paul? Thinkers of genius and inspired prophets are alike men, and one cannot hand over to them, individually or collectively, the power of settling the fate of creation. There have been a great many thinkers of genius and inspired prophets, and how can we be sure that they will agree on one solution? They will certainly not agree; worse, they have already disagreed. To come to an agreement we should have to abolish all this "better" and "worse", which has been the principle of all disagreement and strife (like all human "egos"), and submit ourselves to the impersonal and dispassionate principle which stands above "better" and "worse", and at the same time has that absolute power which ensures it obedience in saecula saeculorum, even from the most recalcitrant entity. This is the way which the philosophers have chosen, and of course not without "sufficient reason". The praises and threats of reason had forced them completely to forget the existence of the Lord.

     Pascal's case is quite different. He was not allowed to choose any more than were Isaiah or St. Paul. And he had no "sufficient reason" for his decision. At a certain moment, a force, an incomprehensible shock drove him in exactly the opposite direction to that favoured by men. And this shock, strangely enough, was nothing like what this word usually designates; and if we want to understand the "direction", we must forget the meaning formerly attached to that word. Let us call to mind what has been told us by Pascal's biographers and those who had some insight into his life, about his terrible, senseless illness, and his equally terrible and senseless abyss. His Jansenist directors themselves tried to heal him of his malady and to hide the abyss from him.

     It seems that Pascal's illness and abyss were this strange shock, the saving gift without which he would never have discovered the truth. Pascal might have repeated with Nietzsche: It is to my illness that I owe my philosophy. His Pensées are only a description of the abyss. The great miracle of miracles is accomplished before our eyes. Pascal grows accustomed to the abyss and begins to love it. The solid earth gives way beneath his feet, it is frightful, terrifying! He is without support, a precipice opens at his feet which threatens to engulf him, and in horror at inescapable destruction he cries in agony: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" It seems that all is finished. And indeed, something has ended, but something has also begun. New and incomprehensible forces manifest themselves, new revelations break through. Solid support fails, it is impossible to walk as of old, therefore one must fly. Obviously the old immaterial truths, which a thousand years of human thought have welded into a compact whole, will not only not help a man in this case, but will hinder him more than anything else. They, these veritates aeternae, continue to repeat inexorably: that man of his very nature should walk and not fly, should incline towards earth and not towards heaven, and that there is and can be no good to be found where anguish and terror reign. And as the most terrible thing is violation of the "law" and disobedience to the sovereign autocrat reason, qua nos laudabiles vel vituperabiles sumus; we must give up these audacious attempts, and submit ourselves humbly to the inevitable, make a virtue of this humility, and see this virtue as our "supreme good". Man's supreme achievement is submission to the laws of reason and reason-born morality. God himself asks submission and obedience of man, first and last.

     And Pascal is one of those few elect for ever incomprehensible to all but all men, who have felt, or to whom it has been given to feel, that submission is the beginning of all earthly horror and death. "The law entered that the offense might abound," says St. Paul; the law is only a hammer in God's hands that He may break man's assurance that living beings are ruled by eternal, immaterial, and sovereign principles. Or again: the law came when man, forgetful of good and evil, gathered and tasted its fruits - those innumerable "pudet" and "ineptum", "impossibile" which sustain the edifice of our knowledge. The light of knowledge, unknown before the Fall, brought man his limitation by showing him the pretended limits of the possible and the impossible, of what can and cannot be; the mysterious beginning and the inevitable end. While there was not "light" there was no limitation; everything was possible, everything was "very good," as it is written in the Bible; there were beginnings but no end, and the word "inevitability" had as little meaning as the word "liberty" has today. The light brought shame of paradisiacal nakedness with it, and fear of earthly death. It is impossible to "explain" all this to men. All explanations throw light, and light shows us precisely the things from which we wish to be delivered, against which we try to struggle. Descartes sought for the clear and the distinct, the old philosophers deified reason, and we all wish for clarity and follow reason which unveils every mystery save one - the existence of an abyss beneath our feet. Even Pascal's companions at Port Royal refused to accept the Biblical story of the Fall in all its mysterious fullness. They thought - and Pascal himself sometimes speaks in the same strain - that the sin of the first man did not lie in his eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

     That was not an unfortunate, but, on the contrary, a fortunate occurrence, for knowledge is the summum bonum, the best thing in the world. The misfortune only arose because God had taken it into His head to forbid man to touch that particular tree. The original sin was Adam's disobedience. For God, like man, like those ideal conceptions morality and reason, which man has invented, can forgive anything except disobedience. So that if God had forbidden man to eat plums or pears, and had been disobeyed, the consequences would have been the same - illness, suffering, and finally death. And the seed of Adam would have answered for their disobedience as they are doing today. This is the usual interpretation of the Fall, since the Bible got into the hands of men educated in the Hellenic tradition. They want to see in God the "absolute" and "immaterial" principle which, like all the principles that we know, punishes automatically, therefore inexorably, any attempt by any living creature to refuse of its own free will to follow the laws which He has laid down. Thus the Bible is interpreted to this day, in spite of Isaiah's flaming words and St. Paul's inspired epistles. This need not surprise us. When reason came into the world through Adam's transgression, and became the interpreter of the Bible, it necessarily substituted its own truths for the strange truths of revelation. For even a revelation must be "reasonable". God Himself bows to the verdicts of reason, and finds in its approval His summum bonum.

Orphus system

   home    intro    texts    links    biblio ToC