Monday 23 October 2023

Sublimitas et Miseria Hominis On the 4th Centenary of the Birth of Blaise Pascal - Pope Francis

Sublimitas et Miseria Hominis: 
On the 4th Centenary of the Birth of Blaise Pascal
Pope Francis
ISBN 9781784697686
CTS Booklet DO967

I picked up this volume to read as part of Father Mark Goring’s Saint Mark’s School of Reading. It is not the first papal document we have read together. Father mark provided some supplemental links before we began this read. One was a brief online biography of Pascal, the other was a document of quotes from him works. Both proved to be great resources prior to beginning this volumes.

The description of this volume is:

“Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter honours Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century scholar. It highlights his contributions to maths, philosophy, and spirituality, urging readers to emulate his charity, truth-seeking, and love. The letter reminds us of life’s impermanence and the eternal joy that awaits.

This Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Blaise Pascal. A renowned figure from the 17th century, Blaise Pascal made significant contributions to mathematics, philosophy, and spirituality. Pope Francis reflects on Pascal's life and teachings, focusing on his mystical experience, defence of the Jansenists, and emphasis on reason and faith.

This letter emphasises Pascal's deep commitment to charity and love for others, highlighting the importance of these virtues in the Christian faith. Pope Francis encourages readers to follow Pascal's example in seeking truth, embracing conversion, and practising charity. He reminds us that life is transient and that eternal joy awaits those who strive for it.

Overall, this Apostolic Letter serves as a tribute to Blaise Pascal's legacy, offering spiritual guidance and insights into the life of a remarkable thinker, and providing inspiration for the faithful to integrate his teachings into their lives.

“Pascal was concerned to make people realise that “God and truth are inseparable”, yet he also knew that belief is possible only by the grace of God, embraced by a heart that is free. Through faith he had personally encountered “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, not the God of the philosophers and the learned”, and had acknowledged Jesus Christ as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). For this reason…everyone who wishes to persevere in seeking truth – a never-ending task in this life – should listen to Blaise Pascal, a man of prodigious intelligence who insisted that apart from the aspiration to love, no truth is worthwhile.” (SMH 11).””

The chapters in this work are:

Sublimitas et Miseria Hominis 
A Man In Love With Christ, Who Speaks To Everyone 
Faith, Love And Freedom 
An Outstanding Scientific Mind 
The Philosophers 
The Human Condition 
Conversion: The Visit Of The Lord 
The Order Of The Heart And Its Reasons For Believing 
Pascal. Controversy And Charity

I highlighted a few passages my first time through the booklet. Some of them were:

“From childhood, Pascal devoted his life to the pursuit of truth. By the use of reason, he sought its traces in the fields of mathematics, geometry, physics and philosophy, making remarkable discoveries and attaining great fame even at an early age. Yet he was not content with those achievements. In a century of great advances in many fields of science, accompanied by a growing spirit of philosophical and religious scepticism, Blaise Pascal proved to be a tireless seeker of truth, a “restless” spirit, open to ever new and greater horizons.”

“For this reason, I believe that it is fitting to describe Pascal as a man marked by a fundamental attitude of awe and openness to all reality. Openness to other dimensions of knowledge and life, openness to others, openness to society.”

“I am pleased that on this, the fourth centenary of his birth, God’s providence grants me this opportunity to pay homage to Pascal, and to recall those aspects of his life and thought that I deem helpful to encourage Christians in our day, and their contemporaries of good will, in the pursuit of authentic happiness.”

“For this reason, I would suggest that everyone who wishes to persevere in seeking truth–a never-ending task in this life–should listen to Blaise Pascal, a man of prodigious intelligence who insisted that apart from the aspiration to love, no truth is worthwhile. “We make truth itself into an idol, for truth apart from charity is not God, but his image; it is an idol which must in no way be loved or worshipped”. [8]”

“Many of Pascal’s writings are steeped in the language of philosophy. This is especially true of his Pensées, the collection of fragments, published posthumously, that are his notes and sketches for a philosophy inspired by a theological concern.”

“In reflecting on Pascal’s Pensées, we constantly encounter, in one way or another, this fundamental principle: “reality is superior to ideas”. Pascal teaches us to keep our distance from “various means of masking reality”, from “angelic forms of purity” to “intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom”. [24] Nothing is more dangerous than a disembodied reason:”

“[And there emerge] from the depths of his soul ennui, melancholy, sadness, chagrin, spite, despair”. [31] Diversion fails to satisfy, much less fulfil, our great desire for life and happiness. This is something that all of us know quite well.”

“After applying his extraordinary intelligence to the study of the human condition, the sacred Scriptures and the Church’s tradition, Pascal now presents himself with childlike simplicity as a humble witness of the Gospel.”

“Pascal, as a lay Christian, savoured the joy of the Gospel, with which the Spirit wishes to heal and make fruitful “every aspect of humanity” and to bring “all men and women together at table in God’s Kingdom”.”

“May the brilliant work of Blaise Pascal and the example of his life, so profoundly immersed in Jesus Christ, help us to persevere to the end on the path of truth, conversion and charity. For this life passes away in a moment: “Everlasting joy in return for a single day’s effort on earth”.”

I hope those few quotes will give you a feel for this document. It is a good read. I am glad I picked up the CTS edition. I know it is available at the Vatican site. But I really enjoy the CTS versions of this and other Vatican documents. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

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