Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date



This thesis explains Pascal's concept of Christian­ity, showing how it developed during the course of his life until it attained the conviction expressed in the Pensees.

It starts with the events of his life, taken from the accounts of two people related closely to him. His style is then analyzed, showing how it was influenced by the quarrel of the Jansenist and Jesuit sects to produce the polemic Lettres Provinciales and the reasons for the change of style before the Pensees. The importance of his style is stressed, because he fixed the French lan­guage and is perhaps the greatest stylist in French literature.

His life is then re-examined, with the emphasis now on the development of his faith. This entails an explanation of the doctrines of the sects within the Catholic Church at that time, and reaches the conclusion that Pascal, contrary to most accepted theories, was not a Jansenist; he was a Christian in the broadest sense, not limited by narrow doctrines of sects. This viewpoint is apparent in the Pensees, of which the Jacques Chevalier edition is used as in my opinion it clarifies better than the Brunschvigg edition the scattered notes left after Pascal's death.

Pascal's plan was to demonstrate first the misery and weakness of mankind, then to touch on man's potential happiness and strength. This potential implies the possibility of God's existence. Pascal therefore follows this part of the Pensees with his well-known argument of the wager. He recommends the wager for God not only to freethinkers but to philosophers. Pascal's dislike of the philosophers' God is explained, concluding with a plea for the use of the heart, rather than the reason, to find God.

Pascal departs from the New Testament teaching in minor ways but is most striking in his insistence on the evils of self-love and love of others. This radical departure from the teaching of Christianity is explained by his idea of God. To Pascal, it seems that God has withdrawn from a world unworthy of Him. The values of that world, them, are an illusion because man had created his own conventions and justice in which God plays no part. The logical answer would seem to be to withdraw from the world, but Pascal's high ideals led him to live in the world while obeying God's standards.

Pascal has often been described as a mystic because of his vision of God, as a precursor of existentialism. These two ideas are discussed and rejected. Neither is Pascal a pessimist, another widely-held theory. He demands that man reform his life without any delay or compromise because man, corrupted by original sin, is doomed unless he changes his ways before it is too late. His standards may seem impossibly high, but they are standards essential for the salvation of man’s world.

This is the reason for writing this thesis.

Document Type




Degree Name

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Julian Eugene White Jr.

Second Committee Member

Patricia Murphy

Third Committee Member

Claude-Marie Senninger