The Devils of Loudun Page 24

For the purposes of enlightenment and liberation, a too exclusive union with the Spirit is no less unsatisfactory than a too exclusive union with the Father in world-obliterating ecstasy, or with the Son in outward works and inward imaginings and emotions. Where union with the Spirit is sought to the exclusion of the other unions, we find the thought-patterns of occultism, the behaviour-patterns of psychics and sensitives. Sensitives are persons who have been born with, or have acquired, the knack of being conscious of events taking place on those subliminal levels, where the embodied mind loses its individuality and there is a merging with the psychic medium (to use a physical metaphor), out of which the personal self has been crystallized. Within this medium are many other crystallizations, each one with its blurred edges, its melting and interpenetrating boundaries. Some of these crystallizations are the minds of other embodied beings; others, the ‘psychic factors’ which survive bodily death. Some, no doubt, are the idea-patterns, created by suffering, enjoying and reflecting individuals and persisting, as objects of possible experience, ‘out there’ in the psychic medium. And, finally, yet others of these crystallizations may be non-human entities, beneficent, malicious or merely alien. Foredoomed to failure are all those who aim exclusively at union with the Spirit. If they ignore the call to union with the Son through works, if they forget that the final end of human life is the liberating and transfiguring knowledge of the Father, in whom we have our being, they will never reach their goal. For them, there will be no union with the Spirit; there will be a mere merging with spirit, with every Tom, Dick and Harry of a psychic world, most of whose inhabitants are no nearer to enlightenment than we are, while some may actually be more impenetrable to the Light than the most opaque of incarnate beings.

Obscurely, we know who we really are. Hence our grief at having to seem to be what we are not, and hence the passionate desire to overstep the limits of this imprisoning ego. The only liberating self-transcendence is through selflessness and docility to inspiration (in other words, union with the Son and the Holy Spirit) into the consciousness of that union with the Father in which, without knowing it, we have always lived. But liberating self-transcendence is easier to describe than to achieve. For those who are deterred by the difficulties of the ascending road, there are other, less arduous alternatives. Self-transcendence is by no means invariably upwards. Indeed, in most cases, it is an escape either downwards into a state below that of personality, or else horizontally into something wider than the ego, but not higher, not essentially other. We are for ever trying to mitigate the effects of the collective Fall into insulated selfhood by another, strictly private fall into animality and mental derangement, or by some more or less creditable self-dispersion into art or science, into politics, a hobby or a job. Needless to say, these substitutes for upward self-transcendence, these escapes into subhuman or merely human surrogates for Grace, are unsatisfactory at the best and, at the worst, disastrous.1


The Provincial Letters take rank among the most consummate masterpieces of literary art. What precision, what verbal elegance, what a pregnant lucidity! And what delicate sarcasm, what an urbane ferocity! The pleasure we derive from Pascal’s performance is apt to blind us to the fact that, in the squabble between Jesuits and Jansenists, our incomparable virtuoso was fighting for what, in the main, was the worse cause. That the Jesuits finally triumphed over the Jansenists was certainly no unmixed blessing. But at least it was less of a curse than would have been, in all probability, the triumph of Pascal’s party. Committed to the Jansenist doctrine of predestined damnation for almost everyone and to the Jansenist ethic of unbending puritanism, the Church might easily have become an instrument of almost unmitigated evil. As it actually turned out, the Jesuits prevailed. In doctrine, the extravagances of Jansenist Augustinianism were tempered by a dose of semi-Pelagian common sense. (At other periods the extravagances of Pelagianism—those of Helvétius, for example, those of J. B. Watson and Lysenko in our own day—have had to be tempered by appropriate doses of semi-Augustinian common sense.) In practice rigorism gave place to a more indulgent attitude. This more indulgent attitude was justified by a casuistry whose aim was always to prove that what looked like a mortal sin was in fact venial; and this casuistry was rationalized in terms of the theory of Probabilism, by means of which the multiplicity of authoritative opinions was used in order to give the sinner the benefit of every possible doubt. To the rigid and all too consistent Pascal, Probabilism seemed utterly immoral. For us, the theory and the kind of casuistry it justified possess one enormous merit: between them they reduce to absurdity the hideous doctrine of everlasting damnation. A hell, from which one can be saved by a quibble that would carry no weight with a police magistrate, cannot be taken very seriously. The intention of the Jesuit casuists and moral philosophers was, by leniency, to keep even the worldliest and most sinful men and women within the bounds of the Church and thereby to strengthen the organization as a whole and their own order in particular. To some extent they achieved this intended end. But at the same time they achieved a considerable schism within the fold and, implicitly, a reductio ad absurdum of one of orthodox Christianity’s cardinal doctrines—the doctrine of infinite punishment for finite offences. The rapid spread, from 1650 onwards, of deism, ‘free thought’ and atheism was an end-product of many co-operating causes. Among those causes were Jesuit casuistry, Jesuit Probabilism and those Provincial Letters in which, with unsurpassable artistic skill, Pascal ferociously caricatured them.

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