Pascal’s Provincial Letters

Blaise Pascal (b. 1623) was what we would call a well-educated layperson, a French Catholic who identified with the Jansenists (rather than the Jesuits).  He wrote the Penesees, where you can find the now famous “Pascal’s Wager.”  I’m reading his Provincial Letters, in which he – with much irony, sarcasm, and humor – points out the absurdities of the Jesuit positions on grace and ethics, just to name two themes.  The grace debate was the sometimes equivocated distinction between efficacious grace and sufficient grace.  More on that later.  For now, here’s two blurbs to show Pascal’s wit and humor.  In the first, he’s talking about a public discussion on grace where the doctors have to speak then sit down.

“And are you obliged to speak for half an hour?”

“No, you can speak as little as you like.”

“But not as much as you like!”  I said.  “What an excellent rule for ignorant people!  What a good excuse for those who have nothing worthwhile to say!”

In the second blurb, he’s showing the absurdity of the Jesuit teaching of sufficient/efficient grace.

“Tell me, Father, is this grace given to all men sufficient?

“Yes,” he said.

“And yet it is of no effect without efficacious grace?”

“That is true,” he said.

“That means,” I said, “that all have enough grace, and all do not have enough; that this grace suffices, although it does not suffice; that it is sufficient in name and insufficient in fact.  Quite honestly, Father, this is a very subtle doctrine.  Has leaving the world made you forget what the word sufficient means?”

These quotes are taken from Letter II.

shane lems

sunnyside wa