Monday, August 17, 2009

Night of Fire

On November 23, 1654, the great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal underwent a profound mystical religious experience, which he related (perhaps) to no one else during his lifetime. He wrote it as "la nuit de feu" (night of fire), that is, the night of his spiritual awakening, far supassing in importance his earlier conversion dating to 1646. He was a Jansenist, not a Puritan, although the strong Augustinian piety of Jansenism overlaps in many respects with Puritan spirituality. His Provincial Letters and Pensées are testimonies to a powerful supernatural event that completely changed his life, and the nature of this event, while still shrouded in some mystery, only became evident some time after his death on August 19, 1662, when a servant of his was going through his personal items and found that his doublet was bulkier than it should have been, leading to the discovery that something was sewn into the lining. It was a parchment that came to be known as the "Memorial," a handwritten account of that memorable night of fire. For eight years after the event, Pascal told no one, but having written an original and a copy of this Memorial, took the trouble to sew the copy into the lining of every doublet that he bought thereafter. There is some variation among the last lines between the original and the copy, but here is the text of Pascal's famous parchment.

The year of grace 1654,

Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology.
Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.
From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,


GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day's exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen.

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