Blaise Pascal – Ecrits On Grace, Extracts
These writings of Blaise Pascal on grace and predestination give a clear and useful exposition of Jansenist theology, especially the extract from the second ecrit on the doctrine of St. Augustine. They also indicate some Jansenist attempt to respond to objections based on some of the statements of the Council of Trent on grace. They are taken from an appendix in Pascal and Theology by Jan Miel, 1969, John Hopkins Press
From the I Ecrit.
If, then, one asks why men are saved or damned, one can say in a sense that it is because God wills it, and in a sense that it is because men will it.
But it is a question of ascertaining which of these two wills, namely, the will of God or the will of man, is master, is dominant, is the source, principle, and cause of the other.
It is a question of knowing whether the will of man is the cause of the will of God, or the will of God the cause of the will of man. And the one which will be dominant and master of the other will be considered as in some sort unique; not that it is so, but because it includes the cooperation of the subordinate will. And the action will be attributed to this first will and not to the other. This is not to say that the action cannot also’ be attributed in a sense to the subordinate will: but it is properly attributed only to the master will, as its principle. For the subordinate will is such that one can say in a sense that the action proceeds from it, since it cooperates in it, and in a sense that the action does not proceed from it, since it does not originate the action; but the primary will is such that one can well say of it that the action proceeds from it, but one cannot at all say that the action does not proceed from it.
From the II Ecrit.
THE DOCTRINE OF ST. AUGUSTINE
St. Augustine distinguishes two states of men, before and after sin, and has two opinions appropriate to these two states.
Before the Sin of Adam
God created the first man, and in him all human nature.
He created him just, sound, strong.
Without any concupiscence.
With a free will equally flexible toward good and evil.
Desiring his beatitude, unable not to desire it.
God could not create any man with the absolute purpose of damning him.
God did not create men with the absolute purpose of saving them.
God created men with a conditional intention of saving them all generally if they observed His injunctions.
If not, of treating them as would a master, that is, of damning them or granting them mercy according to His own pleasure.
Innocent man, issuing from the hands of God, although strong and sound and just, could not observe the commandments without God’s grace.
God could not with justice impose injunctions on Adam and innocent men without giving them the grace necessary to carry them out.
If men at their creation had not had a grace sufficient and necessary to observe the injunctions, they would not have sinned in transgressing them.
God gave to Adam a sufficient grace, that is, one beyond which no other was needed in order to carry out the injunctions and remain in a just state. By means of which he could persevere or not persevere according to his own pleasure.
So that his free will, as master of this sufficient grace, could render it efficacious or useless, according to his pleasure.
God left and allowed to Adam’s free will the good or bad use of this grace.
If Adam by means of this grace had persevered, he would have merited glory, that is, being eternally established in grace without danger of ever sinning: as the Angels merited it by the merit of a similar grace.
And each of his descendants would have been born in justice with a sufficient grace similar to his, by which he in turn would have been able to persevere or not, according to his pleasure, and to merit, or not, eternal glory like Adam.
Adam, tempted by the Devil, succumbed to temptation, rebelled against God, broke His commands, wished to be independent of God and equal to Him.
Since Adam had sinned and rendered himself worthy of eternal death,
to punish his rebellion
God left him in the love of creatures.
And his will, which before was not in any way drawn to-ward creatures by any concupiscence, was now filled with concupiscence, sown there by the Devil, not by God.
Concupiscence thus arose in his bodily parts and stimulated and delighted his will in evil, and darkness filled his mind so that his will, previously indifferent toward good and evil, not delighted or stimulated one way or the other, but without any anticipatory appetite of its own, following what it knew to be best suited to its happiness, this will now fell under the spell of the concupiscence that arose in his bodily parts. And Adam’s mind, so strong, so just, so enlightened, was darkened and in ignorance.
Since this sin passed from Adam to all his posterity, which partook of his corruption like the fruit that issues from a bad seed, all men sprung from Adam are born into ignorance and concupiscence, guilty of the sin of Adam and worthy of eternal death.
The free will remained flexible toward good and toward evil but with this difference: while in Adam it had no attraction toward evil, and it was enough for it to know what was good in order to be able to proceed to it, now it has through concupiscence a sweetness and a delight in evil so powerful that it proceeds to it infallibly as to its good, and it chooses evil voluntarily and quite freely and joyfully as the object in which it senses its beatitude.
All men in this corrupt mass being equally worthy of eternal death and the wrath of God, God could with justice abandon them all without mercy to damnation.
And yet it pleases God to choose, elect, and discern from this equally corrupt mass, in which he sees only demerit, a number of men of each sex, age, condition, complexion, from every country and time, in short, of all sorts.
God has distinguished His Elect from the others, for reasons unknown to men and to Angels, by pure mercy, without any merit involved.
The Elect of God form a sum total which is sometimes called “world” because they are scattered throughout the world, sometimes called “all” because they form a totality, sometimes called “many” because they are many to each other, sometimes called “few” because they are few in proportion to the totality of the abandoned.
The abandoned form a totality which is called “world,” “all,” “many,” and never “few.”
God, through an absolute and irrevocable will, willed to save His Elect with a purely gratuitous goodness; He abandoned the others to their evil desires, to which He could with perfect justice abandon all men.
In order to save His Elect, God sent Jesus Christ to satisfy His justice and merit from His mercy the grace of Redemption, the medicinal grace, the grace of Jesus Christ, which is nothing other than a sweetness and a delight in the Law of God sown in the heart by the Holy Spirit; this grace, which not merely equals but even surpasses the strength of concupiscence of the flesh, fills the will with a greater delight in good than concupiscence offers it in evil, and so the free will, charmed more by the sweetness and the pleasures which the Holy Spirit inspires in it than by the attractions of sin, chooses infallibly and of itself the Law of God, by this sole reason that it finds greater satisfaction in it and feels that in it lies its beatitude and felicity.
So that those to whom it pleases God to grant this grace bring themselves by their own free will infallibly to prefer God to creatures. And that is why one may equally well say either that the free will moves of itself by means of this grace because it does in effect move itself, or that this grace moves the free will because whenever it is given the free will does so move infallibly.
And those to whom it pleases God to give this grace to the end of their lives persevere infallibly in this preference and so, choosing by their own will right up to their death to fulfill the Law rather than to violate it, because they feel greater satisfaction in so doing, they do merit glory both by the help of this grace, which overcame concupiscence, and by their own choice and the movement of their free will, which moved of itself voluntarily and freely.
And all those to whom this grace is not given, or is not given up to the end, remain so stimulated and charmed by their concupiscence that they infallibly prefer sinning to not sinning, for the reason that they find greater satisfaction in it.
And thus, dying in sin, they merit eternal death, since they chose evil with their own free will.
So that men are saved or damned according as to whether it has pleased God to choose them as recipients of this grace from out of the corrupt mass of men, in which He could with justice abandon them all.
All men being for their part equally guilty before God’s discernment of them.
From the II Ecrit.
The commandments are possible to the just. And yet who does not see that the word “power” [implied in “possible”] is so vague that it includes all sorts of ideas. For indeed, if one says a thing is “within our power” when we do it when we wish to, which is a very natural and familiar way of speaking, does it not follow that it is within our power, in this sense, to keep the commandments and to change our will, since as soon as we will something not only does it happen but there is contradiction if it does not happen? But if one says a thing is “within our power” only when it is within a power we call “proximate,” in this sense we no longer have this power except when it is given by God. Thus this proposition of St. Augustine’s is Catholic in the first sense and Pelagian in the second.
From the III Ecrit.
It seems, then, that God abandons only because He has been abandoned, and that man abandons only because he has been abandoned; thus it is absurd to conclude that according to St. Augustine God is never first to abandon simply because he has said that God is not the first to abandon; both are true together, that He is the first and is not the first to abandon [man], given the different ways of abandoning.
From the III Ecrit.
He is now the slave of delight; that which most delights him attracts him infallibly: which is so clear a principle, both to common sense and in St. Augustine, that one cannot deny it without renouncing one as well as the other.
For what is more clear than this proposition, that one does always what delights one the most? Since this is no different than saying that one does always what pleases one most, that is, one wants always what pleases one, that is, one wants al-ways what one wants; and in the state to which our soul is now reduced, it is inconceivable that it want anything other than what it pleases it to want, that is, than what delights it most. And let us not think we can be subtle and say that the will, to show its power, will sometimes choose what pleases it least; for then it will simply please it more to show its power than to want the good it gives up, so that when it attempts to flee what pleases it, it is only in order to do what pleases it, since it is impossible that it should want anything but what it pleases it to want.
From the III Ecrit.
And so you see to what extent this proximate power is contrary both to common sense and to the dictums of St. Augustine, besides being ridiculous in itself and not to be seriously propounded; for since man changes all the time and can never remain in the same state, therefore in the measure that he attached himself to, or detached himself from, the things of this world (which it is always in his power to do more or less, though not entirely), it would be necessary for this delectation of grace, which establishes him in the proximate power, to change all the time in accordance with man’s inconstancy, and (what it would be monstrous to say of grace) it would have to increase in proportion to his attachment to the world, and diminish its force in proportion to his detachment from the world.
From the III Ecrit.
Is it not obvious that it is the opinion not only of St, Augustine but of the entire Church without exception, even of the one who seems to be urging the contrary view on you, that one never has the assurance that he will persevere, and even the most just are not exempt from the fear [of not persevering], and nothing would so destroy justice as the destruction of that fear; and yet how is that fear supposed to subsist in the just when they are assured they have always the proximate power of prayer, and that the Gospels, moreover, assure them that they will always obtain what they ask with justice?
Can there be anything so contrary to common sense and to truth? Not only their fear would be destroyed, but also their hope, for since one doesn’t hope for things of which one is certain, they will not hope for the continuation of this help since it is certain; nor will they have hope of obtaining what they ask as that also is certain. So what will be the object of their hope, except perhaps themselves, of whom they will hope for the good use of a power of which they are assured?
From the III Ecrit.
It is true that God has put himself in the obligation to give [his aid] to those who ask it; and that is why it is never refused. But no one should think he can twist the meaning of this by saying that he can ask for perseverance in prayer and thus obtain it; and thus that by asking in the present moment for the grace of prayer in some future moment, one will obtain it, and thus one can be assured of perseverance: that is simply to play with words. For God gives to those who ask, not to those who have asked, and that is why one must persevere in asking in order to obtain; for it is not enough to ask with a pure mind today for continence for tomorrow, for if subsequently one descends into impurity, who should not see that this change of heart destroys the effect of the earlier prayer, and that to have continence tomorrow, one must not cease to ask for it. And thus, if in the present moment one asks for the gift of prayer for the following moment, isn’t it obvious that one will not obtain it unless one continues to ask it? Now to say that one will have the spirit of prayer in the following mo-ment if one prays in the following moment, isn’t this the same as to say that one will have it if one has it, and so simply to play with words?
From the IV Ecrit.
1. The first step will be to examine the terms of the proposition to see what meaning we naturally take to be the one they express.
2. The second, to examine which of two meanings the Fathers and the Council meant, by examining the purpose they had in making the decision.
3. And the third will be to examine the rest of their discourse and the other passages from the Fathers and the Council which clarify it, in order to determine the true meaning.
From the IV Ecrit.
And if there is any need to clarify by examples a thing already so clear, is it not true that it is not impossible for men to make war? And yet it is not always in the power of all men to do so.
And it is not impossible for a royal prince to become king, and yet it is not always fully within the power of royal princes to do so.
It is not impossible for men to live to the age of sixty, and yet it is not fully within the power of all men to reach that age, or even to assure themselves of a single moment of life.
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)