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Prefatory miniature from a moralised Bible of “God as architect of the world”, folio I verso, Paris ca. 1220–1230. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum 1′ 1½” × 8¼”. Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna 2554. God shapes the universe with the aid of a compass. Within the perfect circle already created are the spherical sun and moon and the unformed matter that will become the earth once God applies the same geometric principles to it. A view of the earth influenced by Ancient Greek Geometry and icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)


As I wrote on 24 March 2015, the Church is a human institution. However, Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure, is considered by most Christians as the son of God. Jesus was a Jew who lived in Palestine, then occupied by Rome. He is a prophet in the Muslim world, but Christians usually think of him as the Son of God made flesh to redeem humankind. Most Christians believe in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. God is their redeemer. He took away the Original Sin.

The Human Condition

According to the Bible, we are mortals because Adam and Eve disobeyed God the Father, or the Trinity. They ate the forbidden fruit, which means that they made love. Their making love is the original sin and Christians are expected to atone for this sin. Christians therefore baptize newborns so they are absolved of the original sin. Baptism predates Christianity and, more importantly, Jesus is called the Saviour.

Jesus had many followers

During his short life, Jesus, the son of God, told parables that touched his followers who grew more and more numerous. After his death, they starting calling themselves Christians. In the image featured above, taken from an illuminated manuscript, a Bible moralisée, God the father is depicted as the architect of the world, literally. It is believed that we owe God (the Trinity) the creation of the world: Die Schöpfung, as in the title of Joseph Haydn‘s oratorio, composed in London, England.

The Heritage: Music, the Arts, Literature, etc.

Moreover, think of the cultural heritage: feasts, Christmas and Easter, a multitude of works of art, including Books of Hours, music, literature rooted in the Bible: thousands of works. Dante‘s (c. 1265–1321) Divine Comedy and John Milton‘s[i] (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) Paradise Lost are major representatives of texts emanating from the Bible.

Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticello

Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticello

A Revolution

Humble as he was, the son of a carpenter, Jesus started a revolution, one of the most important revolutions ever. Contrary to the Jewish Bible, the New Testament does not preach retaliation: the lex talionis (retaliate). Yet the New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament from which Christians have borrowed extensively to tell the story of Man. Telling the story of Man is the purpose of texts such as the Bible and the Qur’an. They are aetiological texts.

Religions and Worshipping

Although Christ is not the founder of a Church, many among humans are Christians and go to church on Sundays. They practice a religion. It is normal to worship and gather with other worshippers. We are social beings, so we get together. As for  worshipping, it may bring serenity and hope where there is fear and despair. Voltaire stated that: “To believe in God is impossible; not to believe in Him is absurd.” (Brainy Quotes). Voltaire also said that if God did not exist, we would invent Him.

Moreover, think of the cultural heritage: feasts, Christmas and Easter, a multitude of works of art, including Books of Hours, music, literature rooted in the Bible: thousands of works. Dante‘s (c. 1265–1321) Divine Comedy and John Milton‘s[i] (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) Paradise Lost are major representatives of texts emanating from the Bible.

Jansenism, defended by Pascal, was condemned as was casuistry (used by Jesuits).

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (Photo credit, Wikipedia)

The Provincial Letters (1656 – 57)

We will now look at the divisions of the Lettres provinciales, the Provincial Letters. I will send examples and Related Articles in another post. My computer is too slow. I have to give it a rest. The Lettres provinciales contains two parts. From Chapters 1 to 10, it features a dialogue between a naïve polemicist and Jesuits. It then becomes a narrative.

1. Methods

  • Probabilisme

Pascal was an expert at calculating odds. He developed the probability theory with Pierre de Fermat.[2] Probabilism is a method Pascal would understand. It is probable that if one priest will not absolve a sin, another priest will. (Chapters 5 & 6)

  • Direction d’Intention: The Goal justifies the Means

This is Machiavellian. If the goal is a worthy cause, the means used to achieve this good are acceptable. The sin has been removed. (Chapters 7 & 8)

  • Dévotion aisée, ambiguity and restriction mentale

The Jesuit explains that it is easy to love God. First, pray to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, one can get out of trouble by being ambiguous (the distinction between grâce suffisante and grâce efficace is difficult to understand or ambiguous). Be ambiguous. As well, one can lie yet say the truth but giving part of an answer aloud and saying the rest to himself or herself. Question: Were you at her house yesterday? Answer: No, I was not at her house yesterday morning. (Chapter 9)

  • The Morality of Casuists

There is no for real penance for sins committed to be absolved. We need simply be contrite or regret our actions. (Chapter 10).

2. The Polemicist defends himself

Pascal (under his pseudonym) is accused of slander (calomnie) and deception  (imposture). (Chapters 10 & 11) Pascal’s character answers that he has to ridicule the errors of his adversaries and to generalize. (Chapter 12) The accusations he is subjected to confirm the casuists’ extreme permissibility, such as homicide, (Chapters 13 & 14) and slander (15 & 16).

3. Conclusion

Père Annat, a Jesuit and the confessor to the king of France, has been following the debate. Once again grace is discussed as are the five points in JanseniusAugustinus the Pope condemned. Pascal and Père Annat are both of the opinion that these points could be attacked but they agree that the Augustinus (1640) should not be looked upon as the work of Jansenius. In the Provinciales, Pascal is not attacking Jansenism as much as he is attacking casuistry.

In other words, it is unlikely that Pascal would not have defended his friends at Port-Royal on grounds other than the depraved conduct of casuists, which brings the matter to a close and makes him the winner if a winner there is. Casuistry went into disrepute. The death of his sister Jacqueline also brought an end to Pascal’s polemics (Chapters 17 & 18).


Pascal was a beautiful human being. Chateaubriand called him an “effrayant génie,”  (Génie du Christianisme; a frightening genius). T. S. Eliot described him as “a man of the world among ascetics, and an ascetic among men of the world.” (See Pascal, Wikipedia.) Pascal was humble, good and I detect a sense of humour. He discredited casuistry with extreme finesse. The beauty of the text is in the way it is written. Pascal weighs every word.

As you know, his father needed a calculator, so he quickly invented one. He then created public transportation: the carrosse à cinq sols FR, the fine-penny horse-drawn carriage. There were lines and a schedule. He and his dear friend the Duc de Roannez set up the system in 1661 and it worked for seventeen years. The service was discontinued temporarily but would return. Pascal died in 1662, aged 39.

Sources and Resources

Lettres provinciales, PDF (texte intégral) FR
Provincial Letters, PDF (complete text) EN


[1] Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[2] The pioneer was Gerolamo Cardano, a 16th-century Italian mathematician

Die Schöpfung (The Creation), an excerpt

Port-Royal Abbey, Paris

Port-Royal Abbey, Paris (Wiki)

© Micheline Walker
27 March 2015