Feast of Blaise Pascal (August 19)   3 comments

Above:  Blaise Pascal

Image in the Public Domain

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BLAISE PASCAL (JUNE 19, 1623-AUGUST 19, 1662)

French Roman Catholic Scientist, Mathematician, and Theologian

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Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

–Blaise Pascal

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Blaise Pascal was a brilliant man accustomed to physical suffering; he would have benefited from modern medicine, had he lived in contemporary times.  Pascal was also an influential philosopher who influenced Existentialists.  Our saint was also a faithful Roman Catholic who often found himself stuck between the Church and the truth, as he understood it.

Pascal was a native of Clermont-Ferrand, France.  He, born on June 19, 1623, lost his mother, Antoinette Bégon, to death in 1626.  Our saint’s father, Étienne Pascal, was a mathematician.  Étienne moved the family to Paris in 1631.  He, an attentive father, supervised his children’s education.  In 1639 Étienne the intendant at Rouen.

Young Blaise demonstrated his great mathematical ability.  His Essai pour les coniques (1640) attracted so much positive attention that René Descartes became jealous.  Our saint was also an inventor.  Between 1642 and 1644 he invented and built a sort of calculator for his father to use at work.

The Pascals were devout Roman Catholics.  Nevertheless, they had frequently substituted decency, courtesy, and ethics for inner religion.  Pascal had at least two spiritual turning points–in 1646 and 1654.  The illness of his father (d. 1651) led our saint to perceive the need to turn away from the world and fully toward God.  Meanwhile Pascal built up his scientific reputation by testing theories of Galileo Galilei (in 1646) and conducting experiments regarding vacuums (in 1647-1648).  [Explanatory note:  The existence of vacuums was a theological problem for Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  According to approved theology, there could be no such thing as a vacuum because God is everywhere.  This argument assumed, of course, that God consists of matter.  Bad theology has often been the enemy of good science and engineering.]  Pascal’s weak constitution caused occasional delays in scientific research, but he focused on science intensely until 1654.

A profound religious experience one night in November 1654 led Pascal to do what he perceived he needed to do eight years prior:  turn completely to God.  From the final stage of our saint’s life emerged Les Provinciales (1656-1657) and the Penseés (1657-1658).  Pascal, who struggled with his ego for much of his life, immersed himself in the devotional life and in service to God in the poor–of Paris, in particular.  His writings concerned themes such as grace and the love of God.  Morality, he concluded, was inseparable from spirituality.

In some ways Pascal was on the same side as the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church; in other ways, not.  He objected to the Church’s heavy hand in cracking down on Jansenism, the Catholic counterpart to Calvinism.  That Pascal’s sister Jacqueline (d. October 1661), a nun, was a Jansenist, certainly influenced his opinion.  He encouraged Jansenists not to cave into pressure from Rome, until Jacqueline died.  Pascal also condemned the Jesuits in strong terms, pointing to laxism and sophistry.

At the end of his life Pascal was quite ill, as well as spiritually and emotionally distressed.  He spent his last weeks in the home of his sister Gilberte.  Our saint died in Paris on August 19, 1662.  He was 39 years old.

Pascal puts most of us who are older than 39 years old to shame.  He puts me to shame.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESCHEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness:

You have shown us the splendor of creation in the work of your servant Blaise Pascal.

Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory,

and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness

of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 28:5-6 or Hosea 14:5-8 or 2 Chronicles 20:20-21

Psalm 96

Philippians 4:8-9 or Ephesians 5:18b-20

Matthew 13:44-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 61

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3 responses to “Feast of Blaise Pascal (August 19)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of St. Justin de Jacobis and Blessed Michael Ghebre (July 14) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Francois Mauriac (September 1) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. good to know about him…

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