Five Insights About Death and Dying from Pascal

One of history’s great mathematicians, Blaise Pascal also wrote intensely on Christianity, for many years in defense of a rigorist form of Catholicism called Jansenism and against the Jesuits. He experienced what he called his “definitive conversion in 1654, at the age of thirty-one, when he discovered “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of philosophers and men of science.” His most famous book, Pensees, was made up after his death from notes he’d written for a defense of Christianity. Perhaps the most famous entry is “The heart has reasons of which reason itself is unaware.” Pascal lived in 1623 to 1162. These insights are taken from Pensees.

 

Diversion, the Way We Avoid Thinking of Death

Misery: The only thing which consoles us in our troubles is diversion, and yet it is the greatest trouble of all. For it is chiefly that which prevents us from thinking of ourselves, and which makes us lose [time] imperceptibly. Without it, we should be afflicted with ennui, and this ennui would drive us to seek a more effectual means of escape. But diversion beguiles us, and brings us at last insensibly to our death.

Diversion: As men have been unable to cure death, misery, ignorance, they have bethought themselves to ignore them, so as to be happy.

The Martyrs’ Example

The examples of the noble deaths of the Lacedæmonians and others scarce touch us. For what good is it to us? But the example of the death of the martyrs touches us; for they are “our members.” We have a common tie with them. Their resolution can form ours, not only by example, but because it has perhaps deserved ours. There is nothing of this in the examples of the heathen. We have no tie with them; as we do not become rich by seeing a stranger who is so, but in fact by seeing a father or a husband who is so.

Death’s Appeal

Such is the sweetness of glory that we love whatsoever object to which it is attached, even death.

Immortality, Heaven, and Hell

The immortality of the soul is a thing which concerns us so potently and touches us so deeply, that a man who is indifferent to the knowledge of religion must be dead to all feeling. All our thoughts and actions should follow such different lines, according as there will be a hope of eternal blessings or no, that it is impossible to take any step with sense or judgment except with regard to the consideration of this point, which should be our ultimate object.

Between us, and Heaven or Hell, there is only life, of all things in the world the most frail.

Awaiting Death, and Jesus

Thus I stretch out my arms to my Deliverer, who, predicted during four thousand years, is come on earth to suffer and die for me in the time and manner foretold. By His grace, I await death in peace, in the hope of being eternally united with Him. Meanwhile I live in joy, whether among the blessings it may please Him to bestow on me, or the troubles which He sends for my good, and which, by His example, He has taught me to bear.

 

The text of the Pensees, with an introduction by T. S. Eliot, can be found online here. For the other entries in the “Five Insights” series, see here.

Written By
More from The Editors

Five Insights on Death and Dying From G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton was what we would call a major public intellectual....
Read More