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Question

Hello, Father Angelo.

I have a question that I ask myself as a Catholic about two figures I met while studying philosophy. They are Pascal and Erasmus of Rotterdam. What is the Church’s judgment on these two thinkers?

It may seem like a trivial question to you, but I’m very interested in the subject.

Thank you.

God bless you


Answer

Dearest,

1. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) and Blaise Pascal (1623-1652) are two figures that emerge within their centuries and are distinctly different from each other.

2. On Erasmus the judgment is more critical.

Dutch by birth, he studied in Paris and was ordained a priest in 1492.

He came to Italy and stayed for a long time in Florence, Padua, Venice and Rome.

Here, in Rome, he left the priesthood.

Initially he encouraged Luther, but then openly took a stand against him in the work entitled De libero arbitrio.

In his favour there is a just reaction to the decadent scholasticism of his time and his (belated) criticism of Luther. 

3. The historians Bihlmeier and Tüechle write about him:

“Of the German humanists, the one who stands out above all by far is Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), renowned for his multifaceted knowledge, for the richness of his literary production and the great reputation he met not only in scholarly circles, but also courts of leading ecclesiastics and laity from all over Europe.

He was an excellent Grecist and an elegant Latinist; his contemporaries celebrated him as a prince in the realm of science.

His ideal is Christian humanism. 

Certainly his aspiration to free theology from the sclerotic formalism of decadent scholasticism by bringing it back to the sources of faith, Sacred Scripture and the Fathers, is worthy of praise; with his edition of the New Testament in the original language and numerous editions of patristic works he acquired an outstanding merit.

But he could not be the guide for a true renewal of the Church, since he was not sufficiently imbued with an unshakeable and profound faith.

His conception shunned dogmatic formulations, was permeated with pragmatistic relativism, and thus his philosophia Christi did not go much further than a Stoic moralism.

In particular, then with his brilliant and corrosive satire against ecclesiastical people and institutions (especially in his writings Moriae Encomium ie Stultitiae laus of 1509 and in Colloquia familiaria of 1518)  he contributed considerably to demolish their reputation and thus prepare the ground for the religious revolution (Protestantism, writer’s note); even in the early years of the Lutheran reform he held an equivocal and uncertain demeanor. His personal character presents several weaknesses ”(History of the Church, III, pp. 164-166).

4. We can say of Blaise Pascal that in some respects he had an itinerary opposite to that of Erasmus.

As a young man he was not a saintly person (but neither was he perverse).

At 31 years old, on November 23, 1654, he had a mystical vision that brought him out of the worldly crisis and brought him, after his conversion, to a very intense spiritual life.

The figure of Jesus Christ fascinated him, so much so that he wanted to write an Encyclopedia, an Apology of the Christian religion, which he could not compile due to premature death when he was 38 years old.

However, he left us his precious thoughts, which are acute notes on the figure of Jesus, truth and light of man.

He was a defender of the faith while maintaining balance against the Jansenists on the one hand and against the permissive on the other. On the latter front he violently attacked the Jesuit fathers in the famous provincial letters.

To the unbelievers he said that it is worth betting on God: “If you win, you gain everything. If you lose, you lose nothing ”(Pensées, 233).

However, he specified that the God he spoke to was not the God of philosophers, but that of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob. Above all the God revealed by Jesus, who is full of love and who wants to share his divine life with men.

One of his thoughts reads: “The God of Christians is not a God simply the author of geometric truths and the order of the elements, as the pagans and Epicureans thought. (…)

The God of Christians is a God of love and consolation, he is a God who fills the soul and heart he has taken possession of, he is a God who makes everyone feel internally his own misery and His infinite mercy, which unites with the depths of their soul, which floods it with humility, joy, confidence, love, which makes them unable to have any other purpose than Him” (Pensées 556). 

5. Someone said that Pascal was a mystic.

Of course, a mystical experience is not enough to say that a person is a mystic.

But that he was in love with Jesus Christ and that he wanted to live only for him, yes, this can be said.

Here is something of these two great personalities who have left their mark on the history of the Church.

I am especially happy to have talked about Pascal.

I wish you well, I entrust you to God and I bless you.

Father Angelo