GOD OWES US NOTHING: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism by Leszek Kolakowski

GOD OWES US NOTHING: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A provocative critique of the Jansenist movement and of its celebrated proponent Blaise Pascal, from internationally renowned scholar Kolakowski (The Alienation of Reason, 1968, etc.; Committee on Social Thought/Univ. of Chicago). Jansenism, the powerful 17th-century heresy condemned by Rome, has often been called the Catholic form of Calvinism. Inspired by the writings of Bishop Cornelius Jansen of Utrecht, the Jansenists claimed to be orthodox disciples of St. Augustine and taught that salvation was gratuitous in a way that ruled out any human co"peration. Since those whom God had freely predestined would inevitably be saved, Jesus Christ died only for the elect; all others would be justly condemned to eternal torments, irrespective of whether they were good or bad, including unbaptized babies. Human nature was totally corrupted by sin, especially original sin. Kolakowski gives us a detailed account, with copious quotations, both of St. Augustine and of the positions of Jansen and his followers, and he guides us through the central questions of the debate. He devotes the second half of his study to the writings of Pascal, whose profound pessimism he sees as embodying the Jansenists' world-denying ideals. The arts, free intellectual inquiry, and even hugging one's children had no place in what Kolakowski calls Pascal's religion of unhappiness. The author rarely refers to other studies of this great controversy. He is surely being malicious when he holds that Rome's rejection of Jansenism was a compromise with the world and a de facto abandonment of the Church's tradition, since he presents the latter in an overly Augustinian form, choosing to ignore, for example, the Eastern Fathers, Aquinas, and the basic doctrine that the human person, endowed with free will, is made in the image of God. Brilliantly cynical presentation of an unpopular but still influential religious outlook.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago