He was a man of pure reason. And when his father died and left him a fortune, he reasoned that a more comfortable life would better suit his pursuits. He took an extravagant home and filled it with servants. He bought a luxurious carriage pulled by a team of four expensive stallions. He took joy in himself and his promising life.
Inevitably, he surrounded himself with intellectuals who fed his pride, who listened to his theories. Libertines. Free in thought and free in morals. With them he chased the “Saphos” of Paris. Together they reveled in the freedoms permitted by a life of skepticism and doubt. He took to reading Montaigne and carried in his coat a copy of his Essays.
On a violently stormy evening in 1654, he was traveling by carriage through Neuilly-sur-Seine. As the horses started across the narrow bridge, a terrific bolt of lightning struck nearby and the team spooked and crashed into each other in fright. As if guided by an unseen master, they uniformly took to the right and the carriage tipped on two wheels. Just as the horses leaped over the low barrier and plunged towards the water, the carriage slammed down onto its side and the reins broke. The car lay precariously teetering halfway over the edge of the bridge. He looked down into the swirling river and fainted, asleep to the world for nearly six hours.
When the scientist, mathematician, inventor – the man of pure reason – died on August 19th, 1662, in his coat was found not a copy of Montaigne’s Essays, but instead a little parchment describing the vision that Blaise Pascal had during his blackout. The vision that led him to abandon his belief in reason and, like Paul sixteen centuries before, to instead wager his soul on faith.