In the preface to a book that presents eight of his interviews, just out in bookstores, Francis has lifted the veil on a couple of rather interestig things.
At a certain point the pope writes:
“Sometimes in my interviewers I have noted – even in those who say they are very far from the faith – great intelligence and erudition. And even, in some cases, the capacity to let themselves be touched by the ‘touch’ of Pascal. This moves me, and I treasure it greatly.”
The first is in reality more a confirmation than a revelation. It is his affectionate esteem for Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the newspaper “la Repubblica.” He is, in fact, the interviewer “very far from the faith” to whom Francis is referring.
The two meet once or twice a year, at Santa Marta, and it is almost always the pope who invites his friend. The conversation takes place without Scalfari recording any of it. And in the following days he publishes an account, adhering to the following criteria as he explained once to the Foreign Press of Rome, reporting these words that he said to the pope at the end of the first conversation:
“I will reconstruct the account of the dialogue in such a way that it can be understood by all. Some things you have said to me I will not report. And some of the things I will attribute to you, you did not say them, but I will put them there so that the reader may understand who you are.”
The effect of this liberty of transcription is that Scalfari has confidently attributed to Francis not a few “revolutions,” the latest of which is the abolition of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Without the pope ever having felt it his duty to correct or deny anything.
The second thing on which Francis has lifted the veil concerns the 17th-century French mathematician, philosopher, and man of faith Blaise Pascal. The pope writes that he appreciates how Scalfari has let himself “be touched by the ‘touch’ of Pascal.”
In effect, during their last conversation, this past summer, Scalfari had asked the pope to beatify Pascal, in addition to lifting the excommunication from the other great philosopher of the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza, passionately arguing for both of these requests.
But while Francis let the Spinoza idea drop, on Pascal he said he agreed, in these words as reported by Scalfari:
“You, dear friend, are perfectly right in this case: I too think that he deserves beatification. I intend to find out what needs to be done and ask for the opinion of members of the Vatican offices dedicated to such questions, together with my personal and positive conviction.”
Whether these words will be followed by deeds remains to be seen. But it would make quite a splash if the one to beatify Pascal – who wrote against the Jesuits that masterpiece which is “Les Provinciales” – should be none other than the first Jesuit pope in history.
“Les Provinciales,” in fact, are letters that Pascal wrote to a friend to tell him about the conversations he had with Jesuit fathers, whose casuistry and laxity in moral theology he brought under withering fire.
The following is a passage taken from the sixth letter, dated April 10, 1656.
It is from centuries ago, but still topical.
“PERSONS DO NOT SIN NOW, THOUGH THEY WOULD HAVE SINNED FORMERLY”
by Blaise Pascal
“Reverend father,” said I, “how happy the world is in having such men as you for its masters! I never knew the reason why you took such pains to establish that a single doctor, if a grave one, might render an opinion probable, and that the contrary might be so too, and that one may choose any side one pleases, even though he does not believe it to be the right side, and all with such a safe conscience, that the confessor who should refuse him absolution on the faith of the casuists would be in a state of damnation. But I see now that a single casuist may make new rules of morality at his discretion and dispose, according to his fancy, of everything pertaining to the regulation of manners.”
“What you have now said,” rejoined the father, “would require to be modified a little. Pay attention now, while I explain our method, and you will observe the progress of a new opinion, from its birth to its maturity. First, the grave doctor who invented it exhibits it to the world, casting it abroad like seed, that it may take root. In this state it is very feeble; it requires time gradually to ripen. This accounts for Diana, who has introduced a great many of these opinions, saying: ‘I advance this opinion; but as it is new, I give it time to come to maturity — relinquo tempori maturandum.’ Thus in a few years it becomes insensibly consolidated; and, after a considerable time, it is sanctioned by the tacit approbation of the Church, according to the grand maxim of Father Bauny, ‘that if an opinion has been advanced by some casuist, and has not been impugned by the Church, it is a sign that she approves of it.’”
“Indeed, father!” cried I, “why, on this principle the Church would approve of all the abuses which she tolerates, and all the errors in all the books which she does not censure!”
“Dispute the point with Father Bauny,” he replied. “I am merely quoting his words, and you begin to quarrel with me. There is no disputing with facts, sir. Well, as I was saying, when time has thus matured an opinion, it thenceforth becomes completely probable and safe. Hence the learned Caramuel, in dedicating his Fundamental Theology to Diana, declares that this great Diana has rendered many opinions probable which were not so before — quae antea non erant, and that, therefore, in following them, persons do not sin now, though they would have sinned formerly — jam non peccant, licet ante peccaverint.”
“Truly, father,” I observed, “it must be worth one’s while living in the neighbourhood of your doctors. Why, of two individuals who do the same actions, he that knows nothing about their doctrine sins, while he that knows it does no sin. It seems, then, that their doctrine possesses at once an edifying and a justifying virtue! The law of God, according to St. Paul, made transgressors; but this law of yours makes nearly all of us innocent. I beseech you, my dear sir, let me know all about it. I will not leave you till you have told me all the maxims which your casuists have established.”
“Alas!” the monk exclaimed, “our main object, no doubt, should have been to establish no other maxims than those of the Gospel in all their strictness: and it is easy to see, from the Rules for the regulation of our manners, that, if we tolerate some degree of relaxation in others, it is rather out of complaisance than through design. The truth is, sir, we are forced to it. Men have arrived at such a pitch of corruption nowadays that, unable to make them come to us, we must e’en go to them, otherwise they would cast us off altogether; and, what is worse, they would become perfect castaways. It is to retain such characters as these that our casuists have taken under consideration the vices to which people of various conditions are most addicted, with the view of laying down maxims which, while they cannot be said to violate the truth, are so gentle that he must be a very impracticable subject indeed who is not pleased with them. The grand project of our Society, for the good of religion, is never to repulse any one, let him be what he may, and so avoid driving people to despair. They have got maxims, therefore, for all sorts of persons; for beneficiaries, for priests, for monks; for gentlemen, for servants; for rich men, for commercial men; for people in embarrassed or indigent circumstances; for devout women, and women that are not devout; for married people, and irregular people. In short, nothing has escaped their foresight.”