In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night|
The most astonishing characteristic of Pascal's philosophy (that philosophy which is so unlike what commonly passes for truth among men) is the effort that he makes to free himself from reason. Bound though he was by Port Royal and the theological tradition which interpreted the Biblical legend of the Fall in Hellenistic fashion, conscientiously though he tried to give universal validity to all his statements (that is to say, to justify them before the tribunal of reason), yet his essential thought always breaks through the train of reasoning, like a sharp dissonance, as behooves an apologist who took for starting-point the fact that divine truth, like human truth, can be found in the "laws" to which all the "hateful egos" must absolutely submit. Even in the famous wager in which Pascal undertakes to prove mathematically that reason compels a man to have faith, even in this so scientifically constructed argument, Pascal, as though suddenly forgetting his design, pronounces the words which have scandalized so many: "Naturally this will make you believe and will brutalize you." And when his imaginary interlocutor replies: "That is what I fear", Pascal replies with a calm and tranquil look, as though it were quite natural: "Why? What have you to lose? What do you lose by giving up reason?" If someone else had said this, one would shrug one's shoulders and laugh. It is obvious that the man is an imbecile and a fool.
But it is not for nothing that Pascal's "brutalize" and "what have you to lose?" provoke so much alarm among our contemporaries, half drowsed and bewitched as they are by the charm of modern theories of knowledge. For in these words, as in Pandora's box, are contained all possible absurdities, and consequently, as we think, all horror. Open the box and suddenly all these non pudet, quia pudendum est, prorsus credibile quia ineptum, certum quia impossibile, will escape into the light of day, and with them the human "egos" which reason had kept in submission and silence, all those egos which Pascal himself feared and hated so greatly. Nevertheless Pascal apotolmâi kai legei (dared and spoke): he forgot all the terrors and threatening calamity and said what stands written. More accurately, he did not forget but defy them. No matter how much reason tried to pacify him, it was of no avail. Neither its praises nor its blame affected him. Whether it was what Plato called anamnesis or what we today contemptuously refer to as atavism; in any case, Pascal remembered the Biblical story of the Fall, and then reason's magic lost its power over him. Now he no longer fears, as others do, as he himself feared but recently, to pass as a fool; he laughs at virtue which is its own reward and at its faithful subjects the inhabitants of the stable. Remember how he recoiled from that single immaterial truth proclaimed by the Renaissance, his hatred for Descartes, and his contempt for the summum bonum of the ancient philosophers...
There is only one way to escape all these things: to renounce the veritates aeternae, the fruits of the tree of knowledge; to "brutalize" oneself, to believe in none of reason's promises; to flee the light, for light illuminates the lie; to love shadows: "Qu'on ne nous reproche pas le manque de clarté, car nous en faisons profession." ("Do not reproach us with lack or clarity, for we make it our profession.") Inspired by the Biblical revelation Pascal has created a peculiar "theory of knowledge" which is completely contradictory to our idea of the essence of truth. The first axiom of knowledge is: any normal man can see the truth if it is pointed out to him. Pascal, for whom the Bible is the principle source of knowledge, declares: "On n'entend rien aux ouvrages de Dieu si on ne prend pour principe qu'il a voulu aveugler les uns et éclairer les autres." ("One cannot understand the works of God, unless one takes it as a principle that He has elected to make some blind and to enlighten others.") Port Royal, of course, wanted to omit the word "voulu". I think that in the whole history of philosophy no one has ever dared to proclaim a "principle" more mortifying to our reason, and Pascal himself hardly went further in audacity except perhaps when speaking of the summum bonum of the philosophers and of the horses who realized the Stoic ideal in their stable. The fundamental condition of the possibility of human knowledge consists in the fact that truth can be perceived by any normal man. Descartes had thus formulated it: God neither can nor wishes to cheat. Pascal, on the other hand, maintains that God both can be and wishes to be a cheat. Sometimes, to certain people, He reveals the truth; but He deliberately blinds the greater number of them in order that they should not perceive the truth.
Who is right, Pascal or Descartes? Here is that hateful question again, which has already caused us so much difficulty: how are we to decide, or who is to decide for us where the truth lies? We can no longer inquire of reason, neither can we, like Descartes, address ourselves to morality; morality tells us that it would be unworthy of God to deceive man; but Pascal has told us the right place for morality is in the stable. We despair, and Pascal triumphs. That was just what he wanted. Drunk with joy, he can cry: "Humiliez-vous, raison impuissante; taisez-vous, nature imbécile; apprenez que l'homme passe infiniment l'homme et entendez de votre maître votre condition véritable que vous ignorez." ("Therefore let impotent reason be humbled, foolish nature be silent! Learn that man infinitely surpasses man, and hear from your master your true condition of which you are ignorant.") This is what Pascal wanted. He felt that "this fine, corrupt reason has corrupted all things", and that man's only chance of salvation lay in freeing himself from it. So long as reason remains that by which nos laudabiles vel vituperabiles sumus, so long shall we find in the praises of reason our summum bonum and our summum malum in its blame, and we shall not be able to free ourselves from our desperate situation. "La raison a beau crier, elle ne peut mettre le prix aux choses." ("Reason may say what it likes, it cannot fix the value of things.")
Reason creates out of her own truths an enchanted realm of lies. We are all living as though under a spell and we feel it; yet we fear the awakening more than anything in the world. And, blinded by God, or more properly speaking, by the "truths" which our ancestor plucked from the forbidden tree, we look on our efforts to remain in this sleep as the natural activity of our souls. We look upon those who help us to sleep, who lull us and glorify our sleep, as our natural friends and benefactors; while those who try to awaken us we look upon as our worst enemies, aye, as malefactors. We do not want to think and we do not want to study for ourselves, for we do not want to see true reality. That is why a man will prefer anything to solitude. He lives for his fellow-dreamers, in the hope that the "common dream" (Pascal did not hesitate to speak of these "common dreams") will help still more to strengthen his assurance of the reality of illusions. Consequently men hate Revelation above all things, for Revelation is an awakening, a liberation from the chains forged by "immaterial" truths to which the descendants of fallen Adam have grown so accustomed that life would be inconceivable to them without these chains. Philosophy sees the supreme good in a sleep which nothing can trouble, that is, a sleep without dream-faces. That is why it is so careful to get rid of the incomprehensible, the enigmatic, and the mysterious; and avoids so anxiously those questions to which it has already made answer.
Pascal, on the other hand, sees in the inexplicable and incomprehensible nature of our surroundings the promise of a better existence, and every effort to simplify or to reduce the unknown to the known seems to him blasphemy. Remember what he said in his Pensées on the most various questions. No matter what the subject, it is plucked apart, torn asunder, loses all meaning and all internal unity: if Cleopatra's nose had been a little shorter the history of the world would have been changed; our justice is bounded by a brook, on the one side of the brook one is not allowed to kill, on the other side it is permitted; kings and judges are as futile as their subjects and prisoners, etc. And these are not just witty epigrams, the roots go down into the depths of his spirit. Pascal is really convinced, he "sees" that the history of the world is governed by tiny chances. Even if he lived today, when every one takes Hegel's point of view and sees world history as the development of the spirit, he would not deny his words, and if he and Hegel are anywhere confronted with one another (this is a hypothesis which we have admitted to be possible), then can we not be certain that the Supreme Judge will find more "penetration" in Pascal's one brief sentence than in all Hegel's fat volumes?
Is this unintelligible and repulsive to you? Yet, if you want to be one with Pascal, you have no alternative but to "brutalize" yourself and continually to repeat his incantation:
"Humiliez-vous, raison impuissante; taisez-vous, nature imbécile." ("Humble yourself, impotent reason; be silent, foolish nature.") Our veritates aeternae are ignored before the supreme tribunal. It is there that Pascal derives the understanding and authority to turn his back on impotent reason and foolish nature. Hear what he has to say:
It is obvious that the thought which lies at the back of this passage will not be counted by men as one of those eternal truths that are communicated to each and all by the light of reason. Pascal knows this well. He himself stresses the point that nothing can antagonize our reason and conscience more than the mystery of the Fall and of original sin. Original sin presents itself to us as an incarnation of all that we look upon as immoral, shameful, absurd, and impossible; yet Pascal declares that the greatest truth lies just there. Like Tertullian or Luther, he plainly sees all the pudet, ineptum and impossibile which make up the Bible story; and yet Pascal declares: Non pudet, prorsus credibile est... and so forth down to the final word, the triumphant certum. Pascal's "conversion" is this very affirmation; the paper which he carried sewn into his garment proves it to us. In this paper he definitely separates himself from the Hellenic truths: "Dieu d'Abraham, Dieu d'Isaac, Dieu de Jacob - non des philosophes et des savants" ("God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob - not God of the philosophers and wise men"): thus does he express, in his brief, hastily scribbled words, the result at which he had arrived.
"Chose étonnante cependant, que le mystère le plus éloigné de notre connaissance, qui est celui de la transmission du péché, soit une chose sans laquelle nous ne pouvons avoir aucune connaissance de nous-mêmes! Car il n'y a rien qui choque plus notre raison que de dire que le péché du premier homme ait rendu coupables ceux qui, étant si éloignés de cette source, semblent incapables d'y participer. Cet écoulement ne nous paraît pas seulement impossible, il nous semble même très injuste ; car qu'y a-t-il de plus contraire aux règles de notre misérable justice que de damner éternellement un enfant incapable de volonté, pour un péché où il paraît avoir si peu de part, qu'il est commis six mille ans avant qu'il fût un être ? Certainement, rien ne nous heurte plus rudement que cette doctrine ; et cependant, sans ce mystère, le plus incomprehensible de tous, nous sommes incompréhensibles à nous-mêmes. Le noeud de notre condition prend ses replis dans cette abîme ; de sorte que l'homme est plus inconcevable sans ce mystère que ce mystère n'est inconcevable à l'homme."
("Nevertheless it is an astonishing thing that the mystery which is farthest removed from our understanding, that is to say the transmission of sin, is one of the things without which we can have no understanding of ourselves! For there is nothing more shocking to our reason than saying that the sin of the first man made all those who came after him guilty, although they are so far distant from the origin of it that they seem incapable of having participated in it. This inheritance seems to us not only impossible, but also most unjust; for what can there be more contrary to our miserable apprehension of justice than to damn eternally a child who is incapable of free will, for a sin in which he can have no part and which took place six thousand years before he came into being? And yet without this most incomprehensible of all mysteries we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The kernel of our being is to be found in this abyss; so that man is even more incomprehensible without this mystery than this mystery is to man.")
Here we have again the same "abyss", the same inextricable knot of irreconcilable contradictions. Everything is contained in it: the terrible words: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? the tears of joy, the doubts and the certainty. And above it all there is a single insane and passionate wish - the wish to forget the whole world, to forget everything except God; to forget laws, rules, the eternal and immaterial truths which philosophy has declared to be our summum bonum; to endure all physical and even moral sufferings in order to reach the end. "Éternellement en joie pour un jour d'exercice sur la terre." ("Eternal joy for a day of trial here on earth.") The liberty forfeited by Adam and God's first blessing must be given back to the "hateful ego". And beside these great gifts of the Creator our earthly virtues and our "eternal truths" are as naught.