Blaise Pascal: A Thousand Sparks of Truth


Those who know Pascal best have characterized him as a brilliant intellect, mathematician, scientist, philosopher, inventor, mystic, and theologian. His intellect was so remarkable that Os Guinness, who read his works “almost every year for nearly thirty years,” pictures him as one who “showers a thousand sparks of truth into the darkened thinking of our times.” What is it about Pascal that would capture the hearts of Malcolm Muggeridge (A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky), Dr. Douglas Groothuis (completed his doctoral dissertation on Pascal at the University of Oregon), Dr. Peter Kreeft (Professor of Philosophy at Boston College), Dr. James M. Houston (DPhil, Oxford University and one of the founders of Regent College, Vancouver), Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer (Tutor in French at Christ Church, Oxford and translator of Pascal’s Pensées from French), Morris G. Bishop (PhD, Cornell University and author of Pascal: The Life of Genius), and millions of others for almost four centuries?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). By studying Pascal’s life and his great apologetic work, Pensées (Thoughts), you will have the opportunity to see a man who loved God with all of his heart and was, as Guinness claimed, “one of the most brilliant persuaders in human history” (apologist for the Christian faith).

Before you make your final decision about investigating Pascal, consider the wisdom and experience behind Dr. Peter Kreeft’s words:

What does it feel like to read Pascal? What happens when you read Pascal? Let me tell you. It is like a roller coaster or like an Irish country road or like an underwater cave; you don’t know what to expect. Something new and striking lurks around every corner. Suddenly, without warning, an arrow pierces your heart. You instantly become very, very quiet. You stop breathing. Time stands still. You listen, really listen. To your heart. Pascal no longer speaks from the page of a book, or from history, from the past. It is exactly as if you are haunted, possessed by his ghost. And you know, you just absolutely know, you have touched Truth.

As you make your own search for truth in this life, Kreeft offers this observation: “Every pensée (thought), every word in every pensée, is a cobblestone in the road leading to the same Christ, a sign pointing to the same home” (Kreeft). Along the way, as each foot lands on one of Pascal’s cobblestones, it is predicted that, “sooner or later, you will reach the place where your shoes must come off, for you will discover that you are on holy ground” (modified from Os Guinness).

Blaise Pascal

Click on the chapters below to download.

Blaise Pascal, Part 1: Introduction

Blaise Pascal, Part 2: Night of Fire

Blaise Pascal, Part 3: Introduction to the Pensées

Blaise Pascal, Part 4: Against Indifference

Blaise Pascal, Part 5: On Vanity

Blaise Pascal, Part 6: On Diversion

Blaise Pascal, Part 7: Wretchedness

Blaise Pascal, Part 8: Doubt

Blaise Pascal, Part 9: Pascal’s Wager

Blaise Pascal, Part 10: Conclusion

Pascal’s Pensées – A Recommended Translation

by John L. Musselman

Anyone approaching the life, work, and thought of Blaise Pascal for the first time soon discovers the numerous translators and publishers of his Pensées (Thoughts). In 1966, Oxford scholar and translator, A.J. Krailsheimer, noted that, “at present there are more than half a dozen different arrangements of the Pensées on sale, and the number is not likely to diminish.”1 Consequently, given the variety of numbering systems and classifications as well as translations, it is likely that some would appreciate a studied recommendation rather than spending time searching for a sound, readable translation.

My Recommendation

Pensées, translated by A.J. Krailsheimer (available in print and digital formats). Krailsheimer was Tutor in French at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. Dr. Peter Kreeft agrees: “You should drink Pascal straight, and buy Krailsheimer’s translation of the complete Pensées (Penguin).”2 His 21-page Introduction is excellent and includes a brief bio of Pascal’s life.

Reasons for Recommendation

    1. First, you should be aware that “a variety of numbering systems and classifications have been used for the Pensées. The two most prominent numbering systems are those of Brunschvicg (used in the Harvard Classics and Great Books editions) and Lafuma (used in the Penguin classic edition). The latter recreates Pascal’s original intention concerning the first 382 fragments, originally arranged in bundles of notes.”3
    2. Krailsheimer uses the numbering system that is based on the copy of Pascal’s original table of contents. This is the newer Lafuma enumeration, published after scholars realized that the copy of the original actually reflect Pascal’s own arrangement of the Pensées. “Louis Lafuma…produced four editions following the order of the Copy, and containing in addition all other authentic fragments known from other sources.”4
    3. In addition to using the Lafuma enumeration, Krailsheimer provides the numbering system for the older Brunschvicg edition, published in 1897. At the end of each Pensée, note the number in parentheses. This is the reference to the Brunschvicg edition. While Krailsheimer’s translation (Penguin) cross-references to the Brunschvicg edition, I have yet to see a Brunschvicg edition that cross-references to the Lafuma enumeration.
    4. Krailsheimer’s edition is well-organized and captures Pascal’s original intent.

1 A.J. Krailsheimer, Pensées (New York: Penguin Books, 1966), p. 27.

2 Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 18.

3 Douglas Groothuis, On Pascal (United States: Wadsworth, 2003), p. 37.

4 Krailsheimer, p. 27.

Additional Reading

A Brief Bio of Blaise Pascal by Frank W. Boreham

Selected Bibliography

Bishop, Morris. Pascal: The Life of Genius. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company in collaboration with Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Blaise Pascal. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.

Groothuis, Douglas. On Pascal. United States: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, Inc., 2003.

               . Philosophy in Seven Sentences. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Hutchins, Robert Maynard., ed. Great Books of the Western World. 54 vols. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.

Kreeft, Peter. Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.

Muggeridge, Malcolm. A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dotoevsky. Pennsylvania: The Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation, 2002.

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Translated by A.J. Krailsheimer. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Houston, James M., ed. The Mind on Fire: Faith for the Skeptical and Indifferent. Colorado Springs: Victor, 2006.