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Reviews221 Pascal's Lettres Provinciales: The Motif and Practice of Fragmentation, by Louis A. MacKenzie, Jr.; ? & 135 pp. Birmingham, Alabama: Summa Publications, 1988, $24.95. In spite of their much-vaunted status as a "masterpiece of satire," Pascal's Lettres Provinciales constitutes a remarkably inaccessible text for those not intimately acquainted with the religious history of seventeenth-century France. As Louis MacKenzie notes in his introduction to this new and important study, the Provinciales have tended "to send many modern readers scurrying for the Pensées" (p. ix). I must admit that I was initially somewhat alarmed by Professor MacKenzie's statement in his preface that he intended to examine the Provinciales "from the point of view of a reader of literature" (p. x). More than one recent modernist "reading" of the Pensées has proved to be a fairly ill-disguised attempt to divest that text of its polemical and theological content. How, I wondered, could the Provinciales possibly survive such radical surgery on the part of a "reader of literature"? My fears proved completely unfounded. Professor MacKenzie, always in control of the historical parameters of his chosen text, has given us a study of the Provinciales which is wonderfully animated by a passion for the linguistic dimensions of religious polemics. The Jesuits' attempt to democratize the whole Catholic scheme of salvation was from its inception bound on a collision course with the "narrow way" of the neo-Augustinians of Port-Royal. In a fascinating opening chapter, Louis MacKenzie argues that the Jesuits' objectives were essentially demographic, a policy of attempting to serve "the greatest possible number of souls." To this end, the sacrament of penance and the Mass itself were to be rendered more palatable by being treated as "divisible or quantifiable entities" (p. 12). One might, said the Molinists, fulfill the obligation to hear Mass more quickly by going into a church where one could catch the Gospel, Consecration, and Communion ofMasses goingon at the same time. This numerological mindset— also implicit in the Jesuit approach to confession, simony, and vengeance—is for MacKenzie the "fundamental feature of the morality Pascal qualifies as modern, aberrant and pernicious" (p. 18). In chapter 2, "Magic Words and Powerful Speech Acts," MacKenzie applies the notion of fragmentation to Pascal's exposé of Jesuit violence to linguistic convention. Via a series of striking analyses, he renders the difficult and elusive doctrines ofpouvoir prochain and grâce suffisante intelligible even to those of us who thought we grasped their subdeties. At the heart of the chapter stands the highly interesting theory thatJesuit linguistic strategy can be seen as aiming at investing the words "Port-Royal" with the taint of heresy. In chapter 3, the author proves a sure guide through the complicated maze of Pascal's counter- 222Philosophy and Literature fragmentational strategies. "Although the outcome ... of Montalte's theatrical and picaresque effort is never in doubt," MacKenzie very apdy observes, "Pascal takes his readers through the choreography of his agent's analyses in such a way that they are encouraged to participate in the discovery process" (p. 64). MacKenzie's final chapter demonstrates the extent to which his approach to the Provinciales is firmly grounded in an understanding of Pascal's neoAugustinian theology. Pascal, he argues, does not simply view Molinist disruptions of language as an abstract intellectual problem. For the future apologist of Christianity, they represent a concerted assault on the truth, a break with the absolute authority of Scripture and tradition. As MacKenzie sees it, Pascal seeks ultimately to rehabilitate the notion that human language is adequate to express the truths of Christianity. This idea, of course, will emerge as a central theme of the Pensées. MacKenzie brings his study to a close with the hypothesis that Pascal's ultimate goal in the Provinciales is nothing less than a "complete shrinking of the gap" which separatesJesuit discourse from a discourse which is authentically Catholic, "a complete reconstruction of that which had been fragmented" (p. 113). As MacKenzie sees it, Pascal offers his text, "the external manifestation ... of an internal and heartfelt motif of charity," as the means by which the perverters of Catholic unity may be brought to see the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 221-222
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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