the free will to believe, according to Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), marble by Augustin Pajou (1785) exhibited at the Louvre, in Paris.

“Pascal and the Christian proposal”, by Pierre Manent, Grasset, 428 p., €24, digital €17.

If the new book by Pierre Manent were only a synthesis of the religious thought of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the firmness, the depth of analysis and style that the philosopher manifests there would be enough to place him very high in the abundant literature that it continues to generate. But Pascal and the Christian proposal is, at the same time, quite another thing.

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More than a knowledge, it is a ” assistance “a “support”that the author of Location of France (DDB, 2015) picks up from Pascal; it is, he writes in the foreword,“use the force of stronger than oneself to ask the most personal question”. Confession is not part of Pierre Manent’s register: this question will not be defined other than on the level of ideas. The intimate momentum from which it proceeds will nevertheless never cease to haunt the text, giving it its tone, its rhythm, its somewhat anguished urgency, its ardor.

For, in this vindicated Catholic, to reconstitute the architecture of Pascal’s argumentation, whose Thoughts are a brilliant and inexhaustible draft but forever scattered, amounts to confronting the progressive disappearance in our societies of this “Christian proposal” which Pascal, according to him, formulated in the purest and most powerful way. “We have become supremely indifferent to we-don’t-know-what”, he wrote. We should at least know again what. See, in their fullness, this ” experience “ and this ” knowledge “ that Christianity seems to him to bring, and “which are entirely his own”.

The weapon of reason

It is this property, this uniqueness, that he seeks in Pascal. “Completely New Opportunity” opened by the “God of Abraham”this God who, in the Torah, speaks, makes himself close, calls, faith is an answer whose Thoughts want to reactivate desire. Pascal reasons, oh how much, and with what genius, but he knows that reason does not play the main role here. “It’s not about proving anything, but (…) to inflame the desirous expectation of infinity”, writes Manent. Reason is an instrument, or more precisely a weapon: Pascal bombards the skeptic with arguments, but in order to awaken, on the ruins of the reasons he had for refusing himself to God, his free will, that no argument can suffice. to trigger.

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Now, atheism, that is to say the confinement of this will within itself, the separation from the infinite, is the natural movement of humanity. For Pascal, summarizes Manent, “the original phenomenon, on which everything depends, is the disposition of the will with which we are born, (…) which makes each me ceaselessly demands that the world be at his service”. And yet, whatever one does, this self is lost. Pascal, always: “The last act is bloody, however beautiful the comedy in all the rest. We finally throw earth on the head, and there you have it forever. » Infinite love for a finite self has no other way out than this “earth on the head”. Except, hammer them Thoughts, that which God, in Abraham and then in Jesus Christ, came to offer to humanity. Only a God can save us: that is all of Christianity.

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