In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night


     Jesus' agony will last until the end of the world, and therefore there must be no more sleep during all that time. One can say this, for one can say anything, but can a man set himself such a task, and is he able to fulfill it? If he cannot, have these words any actual meaning? Like Macbeth, Pascal would fain "murder sleep"; worse still, he seems to demand that all mankind should associate itself with him in this horrid task. Human reason declares unhesitatingly that Pascal's demands are unreasonable and impossible of execution. And one cannot do otherwise than bow before reason. Pascal himself teaches us. "La raison nous commande bien plus impérieusement que le maître; car, en désobéissant à l'un, on est malheureux, et en désobéissant à l'autre, on est un sot." ("Reason commands us far more imperiously than a master; for, in disobeying the one we are wretched, and in disobeying the other we are fools.") How, then, can we refuse to obey reason? And who will dare do so? Peter the apostle, when Jesus asked him to stay with him to assuage his sufferings, had not the strength to conquer sleep. Peter slept while Jesus prayed: "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me!" while he cried: "Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem." [My soul is sad unto death - AK.] When Jesus was seized by the soldiers and dragged before his merciless judges Peter went on sleeping; for it was only in sleep that a man could have denied his God thrice in one night. And yet He who knew that Peter must sleep, and in his sleep deny his God, still named him His vicar on earth, and gave him the earthly keys of heaven. Thus, according to the inscrutable will of the Creator, his vicar on earth can be none other than he who is able to sleep as soundly as Peter, who has relied so entirely on his reason, that he does not awake even when, in an evil dream, he denies his God.

     It seems that this was really so, and such was Pascal's thought both when he wrote his Provincial Letters, and when he was making the notes for the "Apology for Christianity" which have come down to us as Pensées (Thoughts). This, we think, is why Arnaud, Nicole, and the other recluses of Port Royal who published his book after his death felt obliged to abridge, change, and omit so much; this thought - monstrous according to human conceptions - would have been all too evident in the notes which he left, that the Last Judgment which awaits us will be in heaven and not on earth, and that therefore man may not sleep, no man may ever sleep. Neither Arnaud, nor Nicole, nor Jansen himself, if he had been alive at this time, could have endured this thought. For Pascal himself it was clearly an intolerable burden. He alternately rejected and accepted it, without ever being able to abandon it entirely. If we turn to St. Augustine, we shall convince ourselves that he too, in spite of his veneration for St. Paul, dared not believe in God directly. For he says, and constantly repeats: "Ego vero evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae (ecclesiae) commoveret auctoritas." [In fact, I would not have believed the Good News, had it not been for the authority of the Catholic Church which moved me to faith - AK.]

     Man cannot and dares not look at the world through his own eyes; he needs "collective" eyes, the support, the authority of his neighbour. Man accepts more easily what is strange and even obnoxious to him, if all others accept it, than what is near and dear to him, if they reject it. And St. Augustine, we know, was the father of fides implicita, of the doctrine by which a man need not himself commune direct with heavenly truth, but has only to observe those principles declared by the Church to be true. If we translate the term "fides implicita" into the language of common sense, it means that man has the right, nay is compelled, to sleep while the God-head travails in agony. This is the unequivocal command of reason, which none may disobey. In other words, the curiosity of man becomes inopportune beyond certain limits. Aristotle formulated this thought in his famous dictum: To accept nothing without proof is the sign of a lack of philosophical education.

     Indeed, it is only a philosophically uneducated man, or a man without his share of common sense, who will continue to seek and to question indefinitely. It is obvious that if one once begins to ask in this way, one can never reach the final answer. But - and this is equally obvious - since we ask only in order to get an answer, we must know when it is time to stop asking. We must be ready, at a given moment, to consent to this renunciation and submit our individual liberty (a dangerous and absolutely unnecessary thing) to some person, institution, or stable principle. In this respect, as in many others, St. Augustine remained faithful to the tradition of Greek philosophy. He simply replaced the general principle or principles, the sum of which, to the ancient world, constituted reason, by the idea of the Church, which from his point of view was as infallible as reason was to the ancients. But the theoretical and practical significance of the idea of the Church and of that of reason were essentially the same. Reason guaranteed the ancients the same security and sufficiency, the same right to sleep, which the Middle Ages found in the Catholic Church. This "historic" importance of St. Augustine is determined, to a great extent, by the desire and power which he possessed of establishing below those courts which are, or which appear to be, so strong that the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (People seldom think of heaven; so that many, even among the believers, find earth a more congenial place than might have been supposed.) St. Augustine would never have cried with Pascal: Ad tuum, Domine, tribunal appello, and Port Royal, as we have seen, omitted this phrase. Port Royal would only have dared, at the utmost, to appeal against the judgment of Rome, to the next Ecumenical Council. To appeal to God would surely have been to attack the "unity" of the Church. That is precisely what Luther did. When he, like Pascal, suddenly saw with his own eyes that the earthly keys of the heavenly kingdom were in the hands of him who had thrice denied his God, and when, horrified at his discovery, he turned his eyes from earth and sought for truth in heaven, it ended with his breaking completely with the Church.

     Luther, like Jansen and Pascal, regularly appealed to St. Augustine. Neither Luther, nor Jansen, nor Pascal, was quite entitled to do this. St. Augustine disputed with Pelagius, and obtained his condemnation. But when it appeared that the Church, like every other human institution, could not exist without that Greek morality which Pelagius preached, then St. Augustine undertook to defend those very theses which he had just so brilliantly defeated. Pascal, in appealing to the tribunal of God, thus went much further than seemed necessary to his friends at Port Royal; the true Pascal, as we now see him, was for these Jansenists perhaps more dangerous than the Jesuits, or Pelagius himself. For a man who asks nothing of the world, who wants nothing, fears nothing, whom no authority can intimidate, whose thought respects no consideration and conforms to no standard - where may the thought of such a man end? today we have grown used to Pascal, we all read him from childhood, we learn extracts from his Pensées by heart. Who does not know his "thinking reed"? who has not heard: "At the last a little earth is thrown on our heads, and that is all for ever"? and who has not enjoyed his witty paradox about the history of the world and Cleopatra's nose, and so forth? We listen to these as though they were just harmless remarks, acute and entertaining; and after hearing them we could go on living and sleeping as quietly as after any other pleasant words. We forgive the "sublime misanthrope" anything, and it is probably this heedlessness of ours which has enabled "intelligent" history to preserve the works of Pascal for us, although they are far from harmonizing with the "lofty" ends which it has set itself. History "knows" that men will not see what they are not called upon to see, even if it is shown them.

     Pascal himself says so, with the frankness natural to a man who fears nothing, and expects nothing of the world: "Le monde juge bien des choses, car il est dans l'ignorance naturelle, qui est la vraie sagesse de l'homme." ("The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance, which is man's true wisdom.") And, it seems, we have no way of fighting against this natural ignorance which is the true earthly wisdom. "Ce n'est point ici pays de la vérité: elle erre inconnue parmi les hommes." ("This is not the land of truth, which wanders unrecognized among men.") Let truth show itself today, undisguised, to mankind, it would not be recognized; for, according to those criteria of truth, to the sum, that is, of all the signs which we believe to distinguish truth from falsehood, we shall be obliged to acclaim it as falsehood. Above all, we shall be convinced that it is not only useless, but positively harmful to mankind.

     It is the same with nearly all the truths discovered by Pascal after he had appealed from the tribunal of this world and of Rome to that of God, and learned there that man must not sleep until the end of the world. All these truths are harmful, dangerous, exceptionally terrifying and destructive. It is for this reason, I repeat, that they were so severely censured at Port Royal. Port Royal, and even the indomitable Arnaud, were convinced that truths should be useful and not harmful. I will admit that Pascal himself was convinced of the same. But Pascal set no great store by his convictions, as he set very little store by almost anything (this "almost", alas, spares no one, not even Pascal), that is dear to man. And this capacity to sacrifice his own human convictions like those of others, is perhaps one of the most inexplicable features of his philosophy; of which incidentally, we should probably have remained in ignorance if, instead of the disordered notes which compose his Pensées, we possessed his completed book as planned, the "Apology for Christianity". For the Apology was to defend God before man, and had, consequently, to recognize human reason as the last instance. If, then, he had completed his work, Pascal would only have been able to say what is acceptable to man and his reason. Even in the fragmentary Pensées, Pascal mentions from time to time the sovereign rights of reason, and hastens to express his loyalty to it; he is afraid of appearing a fool in the eyes of his neighbours and himself. But this submission is only formal. In the depths of his soul, Pascal despises and hates this autocrat, and is only thinking of how he can shake off the yoke of the detested tyrant, to whom all his contemporaries, even the great Descartes, so willingly bowed the knee. "Que j'aime à voir cette superbe raison humiliée et suppliante !" ("How I love to see this proud reason humiliated and begging for mercy!") Pascal thought only of how to humiliate our proud and self-confident reason; how to deprive it of the power to judge God and man. Every one thought, in the words of the Pelagians, that it had been given to reason to dictate laws, quibus nos (and not only we, but God Himself) laudabiles vel vituperabiles sumus. [by which we are either praised or castigated - AK.] Pascal scorns its praise and remains indifferent to its blame. "La raison a beau crier, elle ne peut mettre prix aux choses." ("Reason can blather all it wants, it cannot fix the value of things.")

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