“A tireless seeker of the truth,” that was how Pope Francis described Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist and philosopher born 400 years ago today. The Pope has dedicated an Apostolic Letter to him, stressing his scientific brilliance, concern for the poor, and relentless search for God. A key theme of Pope Francis’ letter is the “brilliant and inquisitive mind” of Pascal. The Pope stressed that Pascal used his intellectual gifts to wrestle with “the questions that troubled his age,” inventing, for example, the “five-penny coaches” system, the world’s first public transport network.
The Holy Father goes on to praise Pascal — who, aged 31, underwent a conversion experience he referred to as the “Night of Fire” — for his nuanced understanding of the role of reason in religious belief. On the one hand, the Pope says, Pascal argued for the “reasonableness of faith in God”; on the other, precisely because of his own intellectual prowess, he also recognised reason’s limits, and stressed the importance of responding with faith to God’s call. A final theme to emerge from the letter is Pascal’s attention to those less well-off than himself. The Pope quotes Pascal’s words on his deathbed: “If the physicians tell the truth, and God grants that I recover from this sickness, I am resolved to have no other work or occupation for the rest of my life except to serve the poor.”
“It is moving,” Pope Francis writes, “to realize that in the last days of his life, so great a genius as Blaise Pascal saw nothing more pressing than the need to devote his energies to works of mercy.”
The Pope’s Apostolic Letter can be accessed online: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/