The European Enlightenment

Blaise Pascal


Enlightenment Reader
John Milton
Paradise Lost Book V

Christianity Glossary
Typology
   Along with René Descartes, the other great mind that wrestled with the new universe opening up in the early European Enlightenment was Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and sometime theologian. The universe in the seventeenth century had expanded beyond human imagination. The century before introduced Europe to an entirely new continent, filled with a people no-one had ever heard of before, who had a history spanning centuries into the past, a history that would forever remain a mystery to the Europeans. They looked at fallen cities in Meso-America and gazed on stone stelae and books filled with a mysterious and indecipherable language and realized a wealth of human history lay beyond their grasp. The invention of the telescope multiplied worlds upon worlds: the moon, which had always been regarded as a kind of atmosphere, was in fact terrestrial, with mountains and plains. The planet Jupiter was itself surrounded by planets, little earths that did not orbit our larger earth. If all these neighbors were terrestrial, what might the stars themselves have orbiting about them? For the first time in human history, people began to speculate about the possibility of other forms of life, particularly human life, living on other earths orbiting other suns (Milton, in Paradise Lost , implies that this is a possibility). The microscope created universes within the miniscule; ordinary rainwater contained a world of animals, monsters, really, that teemed and multiplied and moved and carried on their lives below the notice of human beings for millennia. The Europeans gazed on all these wonders and were frightened; the universe opened up into an immense expanse of things hidden from human view and beyond human knowledge. The old order broke down: typology could no longer explain human history, for the Native Americans had a history hidden from European knowledge. What was God's plan for humanity if God was willing to let half the human race live apart from the rest of humanity? The old picture of the universe no longer held; rather, the universe expanded infinitely outward and infinitesmally downward.


Enlightenment Reader
Pensées 198, 199
   Pascal, born in 1623, confronted this brave new world head on, dealing directly with the skepticism these new discoveries engendered in European thinkers. His principal work, the Pensées (Thoughts) is a loose collection of occasional paragraphs written here and there concerning human knowledge, morals, and the new world humanity seemed to be launching into. Pensées 198 and 199 are the most famous descriptions of the new, frightening world Europeans found themselves in.

Richard Hooker



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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 1-22-98