His was a short, sick, spectacular life. He died before reaching 40, yet not before leaving an enduring mark. Blaise Pascal, born in France in 1623, was educated in Paris and started making contributions to geometry, physics, and mathematics at age 16. His fame and wealth accumulated quickly, as did his religious inclinations. In January, 1646 his father fell and broke his leg. His nurses were devout Catholics, and Pascal, after extended conversations with them, began taking his Catholic faith seriously. His reputation in the Paris scientific community grew by leaps, and the more he studied nature the more evidence he saw of the Creator. On November 23, 1654, while reading John 17, he personally encountered Jesus Christ and jotted his impressions on a parchment: “From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve, FIRE! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certitude. Feelings. Joy. Peace. This is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and the one whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ.”
Pascal sewed the paper inside his coat lining and often in moments of temptation slipped his hand over it to press its message into his heart. His life changed, and he began giving much of his money to the poor. His scientific studies, world famous to this day, became second to his spiritual pursuits.
His books display great craftsmanship of words, and even the infidel Voltaire remarked that Pascal’s writings were the first work of genius to appear in France. He became France’s Shakespeare, its Dante, its Plato, its Euclid. He designed the world’s first calculator, the first “bus” service, and paved the way for the invention of the barometer and the theories of probability.
As his health failed, Pascal wanted to leave behind a final work, a defense of the Christian faith, challenging atheists and agnostics with the evidences for Christianity. He began making notes, but his headaches worsened. He died, leaving nearly 1,000 fragments which were soon assembled into one of the classics of Christian literature, the Pensées.