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Pascal, "Marques de la véritable Religion"

An essay ("The mark of true religion") by this French man of letters.  You can read the original here.

True religion should have as a mark the obligation of loving God.  This is quite right.  And nevertheless no other religion makes this an order apart from our own.  True religion should also recognize the concupiscence of man and the powerlessness with which he strives on his own to acquire virtue; it should provide man with remedies, of which prayer is the most important.  Our religion has done all that; and no other has ever asked God to love and follow it

A religion makes itself true by having come to know our true nature because one cannot separate the knowledge of the true nature of man from the knowledge of his true good, his true virtue, or of true religion.  True religion should have come to know the greatness and baseness of man and the reasons for both one and the other.  What other religion apart from the Christian faith has known these things?  Other religions, like those of the pagans, are more popular because they consist exclusively of an outward appearance; but they are not made for able and talented people.  A purely intellectual religion would be in line with such able and talented people, yet it would not serve the populace.  Only the Christian faith is made for everyone, a mix of the external and internal.  It elevates the populace internally and lowers the able and the magnificent externally; it is not perfect without both of these elements.  Because the populace needs to understand the spirit of the law, and the able and talented need to submit their minds to the law by practicing that which may be deemed the external element.   

We are hateful; reason convinces us so, for no other religion apart from Christianity proposes that we hate ourselves.  No other religion can then be received by those who know that they are worthy of nothing but hate.  No other religion apart from the Christian faith knows that man is the most excellent of creatures and at the same time the most miserable.  Those who know full well the reality of their excellence consider those base sentiments that man naturally has of himself to be cowardice and ingratitude.  And those others who know full well how effective this baseness is have dismissed with laughable arrogance the sentiments of greatness which are equally natural to man.  No religion apart from ours teaches that man is born into sin.  No sect of philosophers says it.  None, therefore, has said the truth.

Since God is hidden every religion which does not aver that God is hidden is not true.  And every religion which does not engage reason is not instructive.  Our religion does all that.  This religion that consists of the belief that man has fallen from a state of glory and communication with God into a state of sadness, of penitence, and a distancing from God, yet in the end will be redeemed by a Messiah who was bound to come, has always been on earth.  All things have happened and this has subsisted because this is all things.  For God wished for a sacred people to arise whom He would separate from all other nations, from whose enemies He would deliver to safety and put in a place of rest, and to whom He would make this promise and come into the world for this purpose.  And through His prophets He predicted the time and manner of His coming.    

And nevertheless, so as to confirm the hope of His chosen people through all of time, He has always allowed them to see images and figures and never left them without assurances of His power and His wish for their salvation.  For in the creation of man, Adam was both witness to this and the depositary of the promise of the Savior who was to be born from woman.  And although mankind was still so recently removed from this creation so as not to be able to forget it or mankind's fall, or the promise that God had made to man of a Redeemer, nevertheless even in this first epoch of the world mankind allowed themselves to be carried away by all sorts of disorders and abuses.  They were some saints, however, such as Enoch, Lamech and others who waited with patience for the Christ promised since the beginning of the world.  Then God sent Noah who bore witness to the utmost degree to the malice of man.  And He saved him by drowning the entire world in a miracle which He deemed sufficient and by the power which He possessed to save the world, and the desire which He possessed to do so, and to have born from woman Him whom He had promised.   

This miracle was sufficient to confirm the hope of mankind.  And this memory being fresh enough among them, God made His promises to Abraham who was surrounded by idolaters, and taught him the mystery of the Messiah which He was to send.  At the time of Isaac and Jacob the abomination was spread across the world.  But the Saints lived in faith.  And Jacob, as he lay dying, blessing his children, cried out in a spasm of joy that made him interrupt his discourse: I have awaited, O Lord, Thy promised Savior (Genesis 49:18). 

The Egyptians were infected by idolatry and magic; the very people of God were being carried away by their examples.  But nevertheless Moses and others saw what they did not see, and adored Him, gazing at the eternal goods which He was preparing for them.  The Greeks and Romans subsequently let false gods reign; poets concocted various theologies; and philosophers were split into a million different sects.  Nonetheless, at the heart of Judea there always remained some chosen men who predicted the coming of the Messiah known only to them.  The end of this period came at last; and since that time, although we have seen the rise of countless schisms and heresies, the overthrow of countless governments, and countless changes in all things, this Church who adores Him who has always been adored has subsisted without interruption.  And what is admirable and incomparable and completely divine is that this religion which has always endured has also always been in combat.  A thousand times was it on the brink of universal destruction; and every time it reached that state, God raised it again through extraordinary displays of His power.  This is what is surprising, and may it remain without bending or yielding beneath the willfulness of tyrants.   

Governments would perish if we did not often bend our laws when needed.  But religion has never suffered this nor of it has ever made any use.  Here too do we need accommodations, or what we call miracles.  It is not strange that in bending these laws we preserve them, yet this is not the same as maintaining them.  For sooner or later they will perish entirely; no law has lasted fifteen hundred years.  But religion has always been maintained and is inflexible.  This is divine.

In this way the Messiah has always been believed.  The tradition of Adam was still new in Noah and in Moses.  The prophets have since predicted Him, always while also predicting other things whose occurrence from time to time before man's eyes has marked the truthfulness of their mission, and, consequently, the truthfulness of their promises regarding the Messiah.  They told us that the law they obeyed was simply to wait for the law of the Messiah; that until then it would be perpetual but that the other law would last for all of eternity; that therefore their law or that of the Messiah from whom the law was promised would always be on earth.  And indeed it has always endured.  And Jesus Christ came in accordance with all the predicted circumstances.  He completed miracles and His apostles converted the pagans, and with these prophecies accomplished, the Messiah has been proven for ever and always.

The only religion contrary to nature in the state in which it is, which combats all our pleasures and which seems initially contrary to common sense is the only one which has always been there.  The entire conduct of things should have as an aim the establishment and the greatness of religion: men should have within themselves sentiments in conformity with that which religion teaches us.  And, in the end, religion should be so much the aim and the center towards which all things tend that he who shall learn his principles from it, can also derive reason and all of the nature of man in particular, as well as all of the conduct of the world in general.

It is on this basis that the impious intercede to blaspheme the Christian faith, because they do not know it well at all.  They believe that it simply consists of the adoration of a God considered great, powerful and eternal; what is properly termed deism is as distant from Christianity as atheism, which is its exact opposite.  And from there they conclude that this religion is not true because if it were, then God would have to manifest Himself to man through proofs so tangible that it would be impossible for anyone to mistake Him.  But those who come to whatever conclusions they wish against deism will not have come to any conclusions against the Christian faith, which recognizes that, owing to sin, God does not show Himself to man with all the evidence at His disposal, and which consists more specifically in the mystery of the Redeemer who, unifying in Himself the two natures, divine and human, has removed man from the corruption of sin so as to reconcile him with God in His divine person.

Thus the Christian faith teaches men both truths, and that there is one God for whom they are capable and there is one corruption in nature that renders them unworthy.  It is as important to men to know both of these points; and it is equally dangerous to men to know God without knowing their own misery, and to know their own misery without knowing the Redeemer who can heal them from it.  Knowledge of only one of these truths results either in the pride of philosophers who know God but not their own misery, or the despair of atheists who know their own misery but nothing of the Redeemer.

And so, as it is equally necessary for man to know both of these points, it is also from the grace of God that we have come to know them.  The Christian faith does so; this is precisely of what it consists.  May we look at the order of the world on this matter and may we see whether all things do not tend towards the establishment of the two main points of this religion.

If a man is not filled with pride, with ambition, with concupiscence, with weakness, with misery and with injustice, this man is then quite blind.  And if, in recognizing that he is so batten, he does not desire to be delivered into salvation from these things, what can we say of a man so lacking in reason?  How could he possibly not hold in esteem a religion that knows the flaws of man so well, and how could he not long for truth from a religion that promises him such desirable remedies?

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