Historical People Who Practiced Servant Leadership: Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)





Even as a boy Pascal's intellectual gifts were apparent. His father, Etiene Pascal, a French tax collector and respected man of culture, took responsibility for educating Blaise and his two sisters. By age sixteen Blaise had written a treatise on the mathematical theory of conic sections. Two years later he had created a calculating machine, which, even today, is considered the conceptual basis for the computer. As a mathematician he worked on the calculus of probability. His experiments on atmospheric pressure proved the basis for the modern barometer. He invented the syringe. As a scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal is a luminary figure in the age of the Renaissance.

Pascal's Pensees (Thoughts) reflect his wide range of inquisitive interests, including his deep concern about mankind's relationship to God. Like Augustine, he longed for the City of God, but corruption in both the church and state in his time meant that citizenship in this life required certain discipline and conditions. On two occasions Pascal experienced a spiritual conversion. The first, in 1646, was his intellectual awareness of God. He described his second conversion experience, on November 23, 1654, as a night of fire. Writing about what happened that night, his words are filled with awe, ecstasy and wonder:


      • Certitude,
      • Joy,
      • Peace,
      • Grandeur of the human soul,
      • Fount of living water,
      • This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent,
      • Jesus Christ,
      • Let me never be separated from him,
      • May I not forget your words. Amen.

Pascal's conversion experience was life-changing. As a scientist, he realized that intellectual curiosity did not answer the deeper needs of the human spirit. Confronted with the life of the mind in a universe without limits, Pascal faced the choice an empty soul or Christ. He chose Jesus Christ.

Pascal foresaw that science led to "man's quest for power, not truth," as noted twentieth century British scholar, Malcolm Muggeridge observed. As a brilliant scientist Pascal understood and practiced the methods of scientific discovery, but learned from personal experience to avoid the pretensions of science. "What a vast distance there is between knowing God and loving Him," Pascal said.

Pascal, as an intellectual leader, served humanity by reminding us that science alone was not enough to satisfy our curiosity and purpose in living. We find our purpose and fulfillment in a loving, personal relationship with Christ.


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