Short summary - The Provincial Letters - Blaise Pascal

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Provincial Letters
Blaise Pascal

These letters represent the author's polemic with the Jesuits, fierce persecutors of the supporters of the teachings of the Dutch theologian Jansenia, who contrasted the true believers with the rest of the mass of those who formally accept the church teachings. In France, the abbey of Port-Royal in Paris became the stronghold of Jansenism, within the walls of which Pascal spent several years.
Arguing against the Jesuits, the author primarily proceeds from common sense. The first topic of discussion is the doctrine of grace, or rather, the interpretation of this doctrine by the Jesuit fathers, representing the official point of view, and supporters of Jansenia. The Jesuits recognize that all people are endowed with prevailing grace, but in order to be able to act, they need effective grace, which God does not send to everyone. Jansenists, on the other hand, believe that every prevailing grace is effective in itself, but not everyone possesses it. So what's the difference? - the author asks, and immediately replies: "And it turns out that the difference with the Jansenists among them (the Jesuits) is exclusively at the level of terminology." Nevertheless, he goes to the theologian, an ardent opponent of the Jansenists, asks him the same question, and gets the following answer: the point is not whether grace is given to all or not to all, but that the Jansenists do not recognize that “the righteous have the ability to fulfill the commandments of God exactly as we understand it. " Where is it to worry about logic, or at least about common sense!The Jesuit Fathers are just as inconsistent in their discussion of the acts of sinners. After all, if active grace is a revelation from God, through which he expresses his will to us and prompts us to the desire to fulfill it, then what is the difference with the Jansenists, who also see grace as a gift of God? And in the fact that, according to the Jesuits, God sends down active grace to all people at every temptation; "If we did not have grace at work in every temptation to keep us from sinning, then whatever sin we commit, it cannot be imputed to us." The Jansenists maintain that sins committed without effective grace do not become less sinful as a result. In other words, the Jesuits justify everything by ignorance! However, it has long been known that ignorance does not absolve the offender from responsibility. And the author begins to ponder why the Jesuit Fathers resort to such a sophisticated casuistry. It turns out that the answer is simple: the Jesuits "have such a good opinion of themselves that they consider it useful and, as it were, necessary for the good of religion, so that their influence spread everywhere." To do this, they select casuists from among their midst who are ready to find a decent explanation for everything. So, if a person comes to them, wishing to return the unjustly acquired property, they will praise him and strengthen him in this godly deed; but if another person comes to them, who does not want to return anything, but wants to receive absolution, they will equally find reasons to give absolution to him. And so, “through such guidance, helpful and accommodating,” the Jesuits “stretch out their hands to the whole world. To justify their hypocrisy, they put forward the doctrine of probable opinions, which is that, on the basis of proper reasoning, a scientist can come to one conclusion or another, and the knower is free to follow the opinion that he likes best. “Thanks to your probable opinions, we have complete freedom of conscience,” the author notes mockingly. And how do casuists answer the questions asked to them? "We answer what is pleasant to us, or, rather, what is pleasant to those who ask us." Of course, with this approach, the Jesuits have to invent all sorts of tricks in order to evade the authority of the gospel. For example, the Scripture says, "Give alms from your abundance." But the casuists found a way to free rich people from the obligation to give alms by explaining the word “excess” in their own way: “What secular people put off in order to elevate their position and the position of their relatives is not called excess. Therefore, it is unlikely that there will ever be a surplus among secular people and even kings. " The Jesuits are just as hypocritical in drawing up rules "for people of all kinds," that is, for the clergy, nobility and the third estate. So, for example, they allow the service of mass by a priest who has fallen into the sin of wantonness, solely on the basis that if today with all the severity "to excommunicate the priests from the altar," literally there will be no one to serve mass. "Meanwhile, a large number of dinners serves to the greater glory of God and to greater benefit for the soul." The rules for servants are no less flexible. If, for example, a servant fulfills an “immoral commission” of his master, but does it “only for the temporary benefit of his own,” such a servant easily receives absolution. Theft of the owners' property is also justified "if other servants of the same rank receive more elsewhere." At the same time, the author mockingly notes that for some reason such argumentation does not work in court.
And here is how the Jesuit Fathers "combined the rules of the Gospel with the laws of light." “Do not repay evil for evil to anyone,” says Scripture. "From this it is clear that a military man can immediately begin to persecute the one who wounded him, true, not with the aim of repaying evil for evil, but in order to preserve his honor." In a similar way, they justify murder - the main thing is that there is no intention to harm the enemy, but only a desire to do good for oneself: "one should kill only when it is appropriate and there is a good probable opinion." "Where do such revelations come from?" - the author exclaims in confusion. And instantly he gets the answer: from "very special insights."
Theft is justified in the same peculiar way: "If you meet a thief who decides to rob a poor person, in order to divert him from this, you can point him to some rich person whom he can rob instead." Similar reasoning is contained in the work entitled "The Practice of Love for Neighbor" by one of the most authoritative Jesuits. "This love is really unusual," the author notes, "to save one from the loss to the detriment of the other." No less curious are the arguments of the Jesuits about people engaged in fortune-telling: should they return money to their clients or not? "Yes" if "the fortuneteller is ignorant of the witchcraft", "no" if he is "a skilled sorcerer and did everything he could to find out the truth." “In this way, you can force sorcerers to become knowledgeable and experienced in their art,” the author concludes. But his opponent sincerely asks: "Isn't it useful to know our rules?"
Next, the author brings no less curious reasoning from the book of the Jesuit father "The Sum of Sins": "Envy of the spiritual good of a neighbor is a mortal sin, but envy of a temporary good is only a forgivable sin", because temporary things are insignificant for the Lord and his angels ... Here is also the excuse of the seducer: "the girl owns her virginity as well as her body," and "can dispose of them at will."
A striking innovation is the teaching of "mental slips" that allow one to testify and take false oaths. It turns out that after you say aloud: “I swear I didn’t do it”, add quietly “today” or something like that, “in a word, give your speeches a turn that a skilled person would give them”.
Jesuits are no less briskly coping with church sacraments, which require mental and other efforts from the parishioner. For example, you can have two confessors - for ordinary sins and for the sin of murder; not to answer the question "is it a habit of sin" in which you repent. The confessor, however, only needs to ask whether the repentant hates sin in his soul, and, having received a “yes” in answer, take his word for it and give absolution. Sin should be avoided, but if circumstances draw you towards it, then the sin is excused. And, completely turning all ideas of decency upside down, the Jesuits exclude slander from the most heinous sins. “Slandering and attributing imaginary crimes in order to undermine the credibility of those who speak ill of us is only a forgivable sin,” they write. This teaching is so widely spread among the members of the order, the author notes, that anyone who dares to challenge it, they call "ignorant and impudent." And how many truly pious people fell victim to the slander of these unworthy teachers!
“Don't try to portray mentors anymore; you have neither moral nor mental abilities for this, "" leave the church alone, "the author urges his opponents. In response, the latter attack him with accusations of heresy. But what evidence do the outraged Jesuit Fathers provide? And here are the ones: the author is “from the members of Port-Royal”, the Abbey of Port-Royal is “declared heretical”, which means that the author is also a heretic. "Consequently," the author concludes, "the whole weight of this accusation falls not on me, but on Port Royal." And he again violently rushes into battle in defense of the faith that uplifts the human spirit: “God changes the heart of man, pouring out into his soul his heavenly sweetness, which, overcoming carnal pleasures, produces what a man, feeling, on the one hand, his mortality and his insignificance and contemplating, on the other hand, the greatness and eternity of God, receives aversion to the temptations of sin, which separate him from incorruptible good. Finding his highest joy in God, who attracts him to himself, he is steadily attracted to him himself, with a completely free feeling, completely voluntary. "