Pensées "The Eternal Silence Of These Infinite Spaces Terrifies Me"

Blaise Pascal

"The Eternal Silence Of These Infinite Spaces Terrifies Me"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Pascal, a French author and religious thinker, is known for his defenses of the religious reform movement known as Jansenism, named for Cornelius Jansen, who taught the doctrines of original sin, irresistible grace, and man's helplessness before God; in many ways the sect he founded resembled Calvinism. Before his conversion to Jansenism, Pascal was chiefly interested in mathematics; he invented a calculating-machine, did work in probability theory, and is believed by some to have originated the system of calculus. After his religious conversion, he gave most of his attention to theology. His writings are notable for objectivity and rationality, insight, and a graceful style which is at times ironic. Pensées (Thoughts) is probably his best-known work today. Found among his belongings after his death, it was considered too unorthodox for publication and did not see the light of print in its entirety until 1844. A collection of religious thoughts and observations, Pensées is actually the accumulated notes for an Apologia, or justification, of the Christian religion–a book which Pascal had intended to write. In Section III of Pensées, Pascal takes up the subject of eternity and man's relationship to it. Beginning with the ironic comment that "Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true," he considers the man who is concerned only with the things of this life. He feels there must be some strange confusion in man's nature that allows him so to concern himself with daily trifles and at the same time remain indifferent to things of vastly greater importance:

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.
. . .
. . . That passion may not harm us, let us act as if we had only eight hours to live.
If we ought to devote eight hours of life, we ought to devote a hundred years.
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? . . .
The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.