Monday, December 07, 2009
Excerpt from Pascal's "Provincial Letters: #2"
Shall I describe for you the situation of the church in the midst of these different views? I think of it like a man who, leaving his native country to travel abroad, encounters robbers who would him so severely that they leave him half dead. He sends for three doctors who are resident in the neighborhood. The first, after probing his wounds, pronounces them to be mortal and tells him that only God can restore him. The second, wishing to flatter him, assures him that he has sufficient strength to reach home and insults the first for opposing his opinion and threatens to ruin him. When the unfortunate patient sees the third physician approach, he stretches out his hands to welcome him as the one who will decide the dispute.
This physician, upon looking at his wounds and learning of the opinions already given, agrees with the second and together they turn upon the first with contempt. They now form the strongest party. The patient infers from this that the third physician agrees with the second, and on asking him the question, assures him most positively that he has enough strength for the proposed journey. But the wounded man, expatiating upon his weakness, asks how he came to this conclusion.
"Why, you still have legs, and legs are the means which according to the nature of things, are sufficient for the purpose of walking."
The wounded traveler replies, "That may be, but have I all the strength required for using them? They really seem useless to me in my present weakened condition."
"Certainly they are," replies the physician, "and you will never be able to walk unless God gives you some extraordinary assistance to sustain and guide you."
"What then," says the sick man, "have I not sufficient strength in myself to be able to walk?"
"Oh no, far from it."
"Then you have a different opinion from your friend respecting my real condition."
"I must admit, I have."
What do you suppose the wounded man would say to all this? He would certainly complain of the strange procedure and of the ambiguous language of the third physician. He scolds him for agreeing with the second, when in fact he is of a contrary opinion, although they appear to agree and drive away the first in doing so. When he tries his strength and finds that he is only weak, he gets rid of them both. He then recalls the first one, who puts him under his care, follows his advice, and asks God for strength which he knows he needs. His petitions are heard, and eventually he reaches home in peace.
Posted by John Zahl at 7:39 PM