The Existential Doctrine of Man in Pascal -- By: Edwin C. Deibler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 127:506 (Apr 1970)
Article: The Existential Doctrine of Man in Pascal
Author: Edwin C. Deibler

The Existential Doctrine of Man in Pascal

Edwin C. Deibler

[Edwin C. Deibler, Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

It would be impossible in the space of an article of this length to touch upon the several existential aspects in the thought of Blaise Pascal. This acknowledged precursor of modern Existentialism, this many-sided genius, this humble and devout Christian was intensely existential in much that he thought and wrote. Perhaps because it seems so relevant to current theological trends, because his views seems so biblical and therefore so true, because it strikes such a resonant chord in my own thinking, this writer is attracted most of all to the doctrine of man in Pascal. Undoubtedly this part of his thought occupied much of his time and became central for him. In a sense his entire apology, so finally Christ-centered, is an outgrowth of his concept of man. This may seem surprising in the light of his strong pro-Augustinian and anti-Pelagian position. Thoroughly committed to divine sovereignty to the point of double predestination as he was, he still grounds his thinking in his consideration of the greatness and misery of man.

I. Aspects of Pascal’s Life that Led to Existential Thinking

Part of the genius of existentialism is that a man’s thought reflects his life; even more, his life becomes his thoughts. True in a large degree in other existential thinkers, this was

supremely the case with Pascal. It will not be unimportant here to mention those details of his life which most tended to direct his brilliant mind in existential channels. Again, it is manifestly impossible to do more than touch upon a few of the most pertinent highlights in the space afforded.

Professor Cailliet summarizes his excellent little book, The Clue to Pascal, in the following brief statement: “Let the most strictly evangelical Protestants measure with a glance the abyss which separates them from the most holy, most intelligent, the least scholastic, and the most audacious Catholic student of the Bible, and the most reverent before the Sacred Word who ever lived under God’s great sky. Never was a Roman Catholic nearer evangelical Protestantism, nor farther away. In this supreme antinomy is summed up for us the secret of Pascal, and of his anguish1 (italics mine).

This was not the only antinomy in the life of our genius, but certainly one that serves well to point up the basic existential quality of his work.

Pascal’s ancestors lived in the Limagne valley in the town of Clarmont, whence issued the first crusade. His lineag...

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