Pascal: The gospel humbles & exalts

Pensees[The gospel] teaches the righteous that it raises them even to a participation in divinity itself; that in this lofty state they still carry the source of all corruption, which renders them during all their life subject to error, misery, death, and sin; and it proclaims to the most ungodly that they are capable of the grace of their Redeemer. So making those tremble whom it justifies, and consoling those whom it condemns, religion so justly tempers fear with hope through that double capacity of grace and sin, common to all, that it humbles infinitely more than reason alone can do, but without despair; and it exalts infinitely more than natural pride, but without inflating; thus making it evident that alone being exempt from error and vice, it alone fulfills the duty of instructing and correcting men.

Who then can refuse to believe and adore this heavenly light? For is it not clearer than day that we perceive within ourselves ineffaceable marks of excellence? And is it not equally true that we experience every hour the results of our deplorable condition? What does this chaos and monstrous confusion proclaim to us but the truth of these two states, with a voice so powerful that it is impossible to resist it?

–Pascal, Pensées, 123.

Self-love hates truth

The nature of self-love and of this human Ego is to love self only and consider self only. But what will man do? He cannot prevent this object that he loves from being full of faults and wants. He wants to be great, and he sees himself small. He wants to be happy, and he sees himself miserable. He wants to be perfect, and sees himself full of imperfections. He wants to be the object of love and esteem among men, and he sees that his faults merit only their hatred and contempt. This embarrassment in which he finds himself produces in him the most unrighteous and criminal passion that can be imagined; for he conceives a mortal enmity against that truth which reproves him, and which convinces him of his faults. He would annihilate it, but, unable to destroy it in its essence, he destroys it as far as possible in his own knowledge and in that of others; that is to say, he devotes all his attention to hiding his faults both from others and from himself, and he cannot endure either that others should point them out to him, or that they should see them.

. . . Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He does not wish any one to tell him the truth; he avoids telling it to others, and all these dispositions, so removed from justice and reason, have a natural root in his heart. -Blaise Pascal, Pensées, #100

What Pascal called self-love and Ego, the Scriptures call pride. He offers no references but consider a few of the biblical proofs:

  1. Precisely because we hate attention being drawn to our imperfections, Proverbs is replete with appeals for us to receive discipline and instruction (Prov 1:7-8; 3:11; 6:23; 12:1; 17:10; 19:20).
  2. The natural desire to hide our faults from ourselves(!) and others explains the scarcity of confession in Christian fellowship, in spite of the commands and characterizations we find in Scripture (Prov 28:13; James 5:16; 1Jn 1:9 cf. Mark 1:5; Acts 19:18). Confession is the mortification of ego.
  3. Man’s desire to annihilate the truth is epitomized in the world’s hatred of Christ (Jn 7:7; 8:40ff).

Overcoming our aversion to truth is a conversion miracle out of which Christian fellowship flows (1Jn 1:6-7). Apart from this new life, Pensees #101 is axiomatic:

I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.

%d bloggers like this: