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Blaise Pascal (1623–1662).  Letters.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Letters to Mademoiselle de Roannez
 
 
I

1656.

  IN 1 order to answer all the points upon which you address me, and, indeed, to write, although my time is limited.
  1
  I am delighted that you like the book of M. de Laval, 2 and the Meditations on Grace; I draw from this important conclusions for what I desire.  3
  I send the details of this condemnation which had frightened 3 you: it is nothing at all, thank God, and it is a miracle that nothing worse is done, since the enemies of truth have the power and the will to oppress him. Perhaps you are of those who merit not to be abandoned by God, and removed from an undeserving world, and he is assured that you will serve the Church by your prayers, if the Church has served you by hers. For it is the Church that merits with Jesus Christ, who is inseparable from her, the conversion of all those who are not in the truth; and it is in turn these converted persons who succor the mother who has delivered them. I praise with all my heart the little zeal that I have recognized in your letter for the union with the pope. The body is not more living without the head, than the head without the body. Whoever separates himself from the one or the other is no longer of the body, and belongs no more to Jesus Christ. I know not whether there are persons in the Church more attached to this unity of body than those that you call ours. We know that all the virtues, martyrdom the austerities and all good works are useless out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church, which is the pope. I will never separate myself from his communion, at least I pray God to give me this grace, without which I should be lost forever.  4
  I make to you a sort of profession of faith, and I know not wherefore; but I would neither efface it nor commence it again.  5
  M. Du Gas has spoken to me this morning of your letter with as much astonishment and joy as it is possible to have: he knows not where you have taken what he has reported to me of your words; he has said to me surprising things, that no longer surprise me so much. I begin to accustom myself to you and to the grace that God gives you, and nevertheless I avow to you that it is to me always new, as it is always new in reality.  6
  For it is a continual flow of graces that the Scripture compares to a river, and to the light which the sun continually emits from itself, and is always new, so that if it ceased an instant to emit them, all that we have received would disappear, and we should remain in darkness.  7
  He has said to me that he had begun a response to you, and that he would transcribe it to render it more legible, and that, at the same time, he would extend it. But he has just sent it to me with a little note, wherein he informs me that he has been able neither to transcribe it nor to extend it; this makes me think that it will be ill-written. But I am a witness of his want of leisure, and of his desire that he had leisure for your sake.  8
  I take part in the joy that the affair of the…’ 4 will afford you, for I see clearly that you are interested for the Church: you are indeed under obligations to her. For sixteen hundred years she has groaned for you. It is time to groan for her and for us altogether, and to give her all that remains to us of life, since Jesus Christ has assumed life only to lose it for her and for us.  9
 
II

OCTOBER, 1656.

  IT seems to me that you take sufficient interest in the miracle to send you particular notice that its verification is consummated by the Church, as you will see by the sentence of the grand vicar.
  10
  There are so few persons to whom God would manifest himself by these extraordinary acts, that we ought indeed to profit by these occasions, since he does not leave the secrecy of the nature that covers him but to excite our faith to serve him with so much the more ardor as we know him with the more certainty.  11
  If God discovered himself continually to men, there would be no merit in believing him; and, if he never discovered himself, there would be little faith. But he conceals himself ordinarily and discovers himself rarely to those whom he wishes to engage in his service. This strange secrecy, in which God is impenetrably withdrawn from the sight of men, is a great lesson to betake ourselves to solitude far from the sight of men. He remained concealed under the veil of the nature that covers him till the Incarnation; and when it was necessary that he should appear, he concealed himself still the more in covering himself with humanity. He was much more recognizable when he was invisible than when he rendered himself visible. And in fine, when he wished to fulfil the promise that he made to his apostles to remain with men until his final coming, he chose to remain in the strangest and most obscure secret of all, which are the species of the Eucharist. It is this sacrament that St. John calls in the Apoc-alypse a concealed manner; and I believe that Isaiah saw it in that state, when he said in the spirit of prophecy: Truly thou art a God concealed. This is the last secrecy wherein he can be. The veil of nature that covers God has been penetrated by some of the unbelieving, who, as St. Paul says, have recognized an invisible God in visible nature. Heretical Christians have recognized him through his humanity and adored Jesus Christ God and man. But to recognize him under the species of bread is peculiar to Catholics alone: none but us are thus enlightened by God. We may add to these considerations the secrecy of the spirit of God concealed still in the Scripture. For there are two perfect senses, the literal and the mystical; and the Jews, stopping at the one, do not even think that there is another, and take no thought for searching it out, just as the impious, seeing natural effects, attribute them to nature, without thinking that there is another author, and, as the Jews, seeing a ‘ perfect man in Jesus Christ, have not thought to seek in , him another nature: We had not thought that it was he, again says Isaiah: and just as, in fine, the heretics, seeing the perfect appearances of bread in the Eucharist, do not think to see it in another substance. All things cover some mystery; all things have veils that cover God. Christians ought to recognize him in every thing. Temporal afflictions cover eternal goods to which they lead. Temporal joys cover eternal ills that they cause. Let us pray God to make us recognize and serve him in every thing; let us give him countless thanks that, having concealed himself in all things for others, he has discovered himself in all things and in so many ways for us.  12
 
III


  I KNOW not how you have taken the loss of your letters. I could wish indeed that you may have taken it as you ought. It is time to begin to judge of what is good or bad by the will of God, who can be neither unjust nor blind, and not by our own, which is always full of malice and error. If you have , had these sentiments, I shall be greatly pleased, inasmuch as you will have received consolation for a more valid reason than that which I have to communicate to you, which is that I hope that they are found again. That of the 5th has already been brought to me; and although it is not the most important (for that of M. du Gas is more so), nevertheless this makes me hope to recover the other.
  13
  I know not why you complain that I have written nothing for you,—I do not separate you two, and continually think of both. You see plainly that my other letters, and this also, refer sufficiently to you. In truth, I cannot refrain from telling you that I could wish to be infallible in my judgments; you would not be badly off if that were the case, for I am very much pleased with you; but my judgment is nothing. I say this with reference to the manner in which I see you speak of that good persecuted friar, and of what … does. I am not surprised to see M. N. interested in the matter, I am accustomed to his zeal, but yours is wholly new; this new language is usually the product of a new heart. Jesus Christ has given in the Church this sign whereby to recognize those who have faith,—that they shall speak a new language—and in fact the renewal of thoughts and desires causes that of discourse. What you say of days passed in solitude, and the consolation afforded you by reading, are things that M. N. will he extremely happy to know when I shall make him acquainted with them, and my sister also. These certainly are new things, but they must be unceasingly renewed, for this newness, which cannot be displeasing to God as the old man cannot be pleasing to him, is different from earthly novelties, inasmuch as worldly things, however new they may be, grow old as they endure; whilst this new spirit is renewed the more, the longer it endures. Our old man perishes, says St. Paul, and is renewed day by day, and will be perfectly new only in eternity, when shall be sung without ceasing that new song of which David speaks in the Psalms; that is the song that springs from the new spirit of love.  14
  I will tell you for news, of what concerns these two persons, that I clearly perceive their zeal does not grow cold; this surprises me, for it is much more rare to see continuation in piety than to see entrance upon it. I have them always in mind, especially her of the miracle, because there is something in her case more extraordinary, although the other may be also very extraordinary and almost without example. It is certain that the graces conferred by God in this life are the measure of the glory prepared by him for the other. Thus when I foresee the end and crown of this work by the commencements that appear in pious persons, I feel a veneration that overcomes me with respect towards those whom he seems to have chosen for his elect. I confess to you that it seems to me that I see them already on one of those thrones where those who shall have left all will judge , the world with Jesus Christ, according to the promise that he has made. But when I come to think that these same persons may fall, and be on the contrary, of the unfortunate number of the judged, and that there will be so many of them who will fall from glory and leave to others by their negligence the crown that God had offered them, I cannot ,t i bear the thought; and the distress that I should feel in seeing them in this eternal state of misery, after having imagined them with so much reason in the other state, makes me turn my mind from the idea and recur to God in order to pray. him not to abandon the weak creatures that he has acquired, and to say to him for the two persons whom you know what the Church says to-day with St. Paul: O Lord, do thou complete that work which thou thyself hast commenced. St. Paul often regarded himself in these two states, and it is what makes him say elsewhere: I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest when I have preached to others, I myself be a castaway. I end therefore with these words of Job: I have always feared the Lord like the waves of a raging sea and swollen to engulf me. And elsewhere: Happy is the man that feareth always!  15
 
IV

  IT is very certain that separation never takes place without pain. We do not feel our bond when we voluntarily follow the object that leads us, as St. Augustine says; but when we begin to resist and draw back, we suffer; the bond stretches and suffers violence; and this bond is our body, which is broken but by death. Our Lord has said that since the com-ing of John the Baptist, that is, since his coming in each of the faithful, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by storm. Before we are touched by the spirit we feel nothing but the burden of concupiscence that presses us to the earth. When God draws us on high, these two opposing efforts cause that violence which he alone can enable us to overcome. But we can do all things, says St. Leon, with him, without whom we can do nothing. We must then resolve to endure this warfare all our lives; for here there is no peace. Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, as Scripture says, the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; so it may be said that this warfare which appears hard to men is peace with God, for it is the peace which Jesus Christ himself has brought us. Yet it will not be perfected until the body shall be destroyed; and this it is which makes us wish for death, while we nevertheless cheerfully endure life for the love of him who has suffered both life and death for us, and who is able to give us more than we can ask or think, as says St. Paul in the Epistle of to-day.
  16
 
V

  GOD be praised, I have no more fears for you, but am full of hope! These are consoling words indeed of Jesus Christ: To him that hath shall be given. By this promise, those who have received much have the right to hope for more, and those who have received extraordinarily should hope extraordinarily. I try as much as I can to let nothing distress me, and to take every thing that happens as for the best. I believe that this is a duty, and that we sin in not doing so. For, in short, the reason why sins are sins is only because they are contrary to the will of God: and the essence of sin thus consisting in having a will opposed to that which we know to be of God, it is plain, it appears to me, that when he discovers his will to us by events, it would be a sin not to conform ourselves to it. I have learned that in every thing that happens there is something worthy of admiration, since the will of God is manifest in it. I praise him with all my heart for the continuation of his favors, for I see plainly that they do not diminish.
  17
  The affair of … does not go on very well: it is a thing that makes those tremble who are truly the children of God to see the persecution which is in preparation, not only against individuals (this would be little) but against the Truth. To speak truly, God is indeed abandoned. It appears to me that this is a time in which the service that we render ‘ him i very pleasing to him. He desires that we should judge of grace by nature, and thus we may be allowed to suppose that as a prince driven from his country by his subjects feels extreme tenderness for those who remain faithful to him amidst the public revolt, in the same manner, God looks with especial favor upon those who are at this time defending the purity of religion and morals, so warmly assailed. But there is this difference between the kings of the earth and the King of kings, that the princes do not render their subjects faithful, but find them so; whilst God never finds men other than unfaithful, and renders them faithful when they are so. So that while the kings of the earth are under signal obligations to those who adhere to their allegiance, it happens, on the contrary, that those who subsist in the service of God are themselves infinitely indebted to him. Let us continue then to praise him for this , grace, if he has bestowed it upon us, for which we shall praise him throughout eternity, and let us pray that he may give us still more of it, and that he may look with pity upon us and upon the whole Church, outside of which there is nothing but malediction.  18
  I am interested in the victim of persecution of whom you speak. I see plainly that God has reserved to himself some hidden servants, as he said to Elijah. I pray him that we may be of the number, and that in spirit, in sincerity, and in truth.  19
 
VI

  WHATEVER may come of the affair of …, enough, thank God, has already been done to draw an admirable advantage from it against these accursed precepts. There is need that those who have taken any part in this should render great thanks to God and that their relatives and friends should pray to God for them that they may not fall from the great happiness and honor which he has bestowed on them. All the honors of the world are but the image of this; this alone is solid and real, and nevertheless it is useless without the right frame of heart. It is not bodily austerities nor mental exercises, but good impulses of the heart, which are of merit and which sustain the sufferings of the body and the mind. For in short two things are necessary for sanctification— sufferings and joys. St. Paul says that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. This should console those who experience tribulation, since, being warned that the path to heaven which they seek is filled with it, they should rejoice at meeting tokens that they are in the right way. But these very sufferings are not without joys, and are never surmounted but by pleasure. For as those who forsake God to return to the world do it only because they find more enjoyment in the pleasures of the world than in those of a union with God, and because this conquering charm leads them away and, making them repent of their first choice, renders them penitents of the devil, according to the saying of Tertullian; so none would ever quit the pleasures of the world to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, did he not find more enjoyment in contempt, in poverty, in destitution, and in the scorn of men, than in the delights of sin. And thus, says Tertullian, it must not be supposed that the Christian’s life is a life of sadness. We forsake pleasures only for others which are greater. Pray without ceasing, says St. Paul, in every thing give thanks, rejoice evermore. It is the joy of having found God that is the principle of the sorrow of having offended him, and of the whole change of life. He that finds a treasure in a field, according to Jesus Christ, has such joy that he goes directly and sells all that he has to purchase the field. The people of the world know nothing of this joy, which the world can neither give nor take away, as is said by Jesus Christ. The blessed have this joy without sorrow; the people of the world have their sorrows without this joy, and Christians have this joy mingled with the sorrow of having pursued other pleasures and the fear of losing it by the allurements of these same pleasures which tempt us without ceasing. And thus we should labor unceasingly to cherish this joy which moderates our fear, and to preserve this fear which preserves our joy, so that on feeling ourselves too much carried away by the one we may incline towards the other, and thus remain poised between the two. In the day of prosperity be joyful; but in the day of adversity consider, says the Scripture, and so it shall be till the promise of Jesus Christ shall be accomplished in us that our joy shall be full. Let us not then be cast down by sadness, nor believe that piety consists only in bitterness without consolation. The true piety, which is found perfect only in heaven, is so full of satisfactions that it overflows with them in its beginning, its progress, and its consummation. Its light is so shining that it is reflected on all about it; and if there is sadness mingled with it, especially at the outset, this comes from ourselves and not from virtue; for it is not the effect of the piety that is springing up in us, but of the impiety that still is there. Remove the impiety and the joy will be unalloyed. Let us not ascribe this then to devotion, but to ourselves and seek relief from it only through our correction.
  20
 
VII

  I AM very glad of the hope which you give me of the success of the affair which you fear may make you vain. There is something to fear in any case; for, were it successful, I should fear from it that evil sorrow of which St. Paul says that it leads to death, instead of that different one that leads to life.
  21
  It is certain that the matter was a thorny one, and that, hi/ if the person should be extricated from it, the result would give reason for some vanity, were it not that we had entreated it of God, and should therefore believe the good that comes of it his work. But if it should not succeed well, we ought not therefore to fall into despondency, for the same reason that having prayed to God in the affair, it is evident that he has taken it into his own hand; thus he must be regarded as the author of all good and of all evil, with the exception of sin. Thereupon I would repeat to the person the passage of Scripture to which I have before referred: In the day of prosperity rejoice, but in the day of adversity consider. Nevertheless, I must say to you in respect to the other person whom you know, who sends word that she has many things on her mind that trouble her, that I am very sorry to see her in this state. I am deeply grieved at her troubles, and should be glad to be able to relieve them; I entreat her not to anticipate the future, and to remember that, as our Lord has said, Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  22
  The past ought not to trouble us, since we have only to feel regret for our faults; but the future ought to concern us still less, since it is wholly beyond our control, and since perhaps we may not reach it at all. The present is the only time that is truly our own, and this we ought to employ according to the will of God. It is in this that our thoughts ought chiefly to be centred. Yet the world is so restless that men scarcely ever think of the present life and of the moment in which they are living, but of that in which they will live. In this manner we are always living in the future, and never in the present. Our Lord has willed that our foresight should not extend beyond the present day. These are the bounds within which we must keep both for our safety and for our own repose. For in truth, the Christian precepts are those fullest of consolation, exceeding, I affirm, the maxims of the world.  23
  I also foresee many troubles, both for that person, for others, and for myself. But I pray to God, when I find myself absorbed in these forebodings, to restrain me within my prescribed course. I call myself to an account, and I find that I am neglecting to do many things that I ought at present, in order to escape from useless thoughts. of the future on which, far from being obliged to dwell, it is on the contrary my duty not to dwell at all. It is only for want of not understanding how to know and study the present that we undertake to study the future. What I say here I say for myself, and not for that person who has assuredly more virtue and reflection than I; but I show him my defect to hinder him from falling into it: we sometimes correct ourselves better by the sight of evil than by the example of good; and it is well to accustom ourselves to profit by evil, since this is so common while goodness is so rare.  24
 
VIII

  I PITY the person whom you know in the disquietude in which I know she is, and in which I am not surprised to see her. It is a little day of judgment which cannot come without a universal emotion of the person, as the general judgment will cause a general emotion in the world, those excepted who shall have already judged themselves, as she pretends to have done. This temporal suffering would guarantee her from the eternal, through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, who has endured it and rendered it his own—this it is that should console her. Our yoke is also his own; without this it would be insupportable.
  25
  Take my yoke upon you, says he. It is not our yoke; it is his, and he also bears it. Know, says he, that my yoke is easy and light. It is light only to him and to his divine power. I would say to her that she should remember that these disquietudes come not from the good that is springing up in her, but from the evil which is still remaining and must be continually diminished; that she must do like a child that is being torn by robbers from the arms of its mother who will not let it go; for it should not charge the mother that fondly holds it back with the violence that it suffers, but its unjust ravishers. The whole office of Advent is well fitted to give courage to the weak; these words of Scripture: Take courage, ye fearful and unbelieving, behold, your Redeemer cometh, are often repeated there, and in the vesper service of to-day it is said: “Take courage and fear not; for your God shall come to save and deliver you.”  26
 
IX

  YOUR letter has given me the greatest joy. I confess that I was beginning to fear or at least to be astonished. I know not what was the beginning of the trouble of which you speak; but I know that trouble must come. I was reading the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark. I was thinking of writing you; and I will tell you therefore what I found in it. Jesus Christ is there addressing a solemn discourse to his disciples on his second coming; and as whatever happens to the Church happens also to each individual Christian, it is certain that this whole chapter predicts the state of each person in whom on conversion the old man is destroyed, as well as that of the whole universe which shall be destroyed to give place to a new heaven and a new earth, as the Scripture says. And thus I should think that the overthrow of the reprobate temple, which prefigures the overthrow of the reprobate man within us, and of which it is said that there shall not be one stone left upon another, indicates that no passion of the old man shall remain; 5 and these fierce contentions, both civil and domestic, represent so well the internal conflicts experienced by those who give themselves up to God, that nothing can be better depicted.
  27
  But very striking are these words: When ye shall see the abomination of desolation in the holy place, let not him that is on the house-top go into the house. It seems to me that this perfectly predicts the times in which we live, in which moral corruption is in the houses of sanctity and in the books of theologians and ecclesiastics, in which we should least expect it. We must shun such disorder; and woe to those with child and to those that give suck in those days, that is to those that are held back by worldly ties! The words of a sainted woman are applicable here: “ We are not to consider whether we are called to quit the world, but solely whether we are called to remain in it, as we should not deliberate whether we were called to fly a house infected with plague or on fire.”  28
  This chapter of the Evangelist, which I should like to read with you entire, concludes with an exhortation to watch and pray in order to shun all these misfortunes, and in truth, it is proper indeed that when the danger is continual the prayer should be continual also.  29
  For this purpose I send the prayers which were asked of me; it is now three in the afternoon. Since your departure, a miracle has been performed upon a nun of Pontoise, who, without leaving her convent, has been cured of an extraordinary headache by an act of devotion to the holy Thorn. I will tell you more about it another time. But I must quote to you, in respect to this, an excellent saying of St. Augustine, very consoling to certain persons, that those alone really see miracles whom the miracles benefit; for they are not seen at all if they do not benefit.  30
  I am under obligations that I cannot sufficiently express for the present which you have made me; I did not know what it could be, for I unfolded it before reading your letter, and I afterwards repented for not having rendered to it at first the respect that was due to it. It is a truth that the Holy Spirit reposes invisibly in the relics of those who have died in the grace of God, until they shall appear visibly in the resurrection, and this it is that renders the relics of the saints so worthy of veneration. For God never abandons his own, even in the sepulchre in which their bodies, though dead to the eyes of men, are more than ever living in the sight of God, since sin is no more in them; whilst it constantly resides in them during life, at least in its root, for the fruits of sin are not always in them; an this fatal root, which is inseparable from them in life, causes it to be forbidden us during life to honor them, since they are rather worthy of detestation. It is for this that death becomes necessary to mortify entirely this fatal root, and this it is that renders it desirable. But it is of no use to tell you what you know so well; it would be better to tell it to the other persons of whom you speak, but they would not listen to it.  31
 
Note 1. Charlotte Gouffier de Roannez, sister of the duke of this name, the friend of Pascal, and one of the editors of the Thoughts. [back]
Note 2. Pseudonym under which the Duke de Luynes published different works of piety, among others, Sentences drawn from Holy Scripture and the Fathers.—W. [back]
Note 3. The allusion is probably to the censure of the Sorbonne against Arnauld, in 1656.—W. [back]
Note 4. In the manuscript of the Oratory: of the Nuns.—Faugère. [back]
Note 5. The two MSS. of the Bibliothéque Imp. say: “no passion in us.”—Faugère.. [back]
 

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