I read the paragraph below on a blog:
“Over 300 years ago, King Louis XIV of France asked Pascal, the great philosopher of his day, to give him proof of the existence of
miracles. Without hesitation, Pascal answered, “Why, the Jews, your Majesty. The Jews.” History does not tell us the king’s reaction to this proof, but we do know exactly what Pascal meant by his answer, because he explained it clearly in his masterwork, Pensees. He states that the fact that the Jewish people had survived even to his day was proof enough for him that miracles occur.”
I wondered if there was truth to this story: it seemed a bit too tidy. I posted my question to a Yahoo group on Louis XIV, and the wonderful Gary McCollim, a Sun Court historian, posted this reply:
I do not know whether the king and Pascal ever had such a conversation. However, I can add a few facts to help us decide whether the two men ever met. Andre Le Gall‘s biography of Pascal mentions no such meeting.
Pascal died in August 1662 when Louis XIV was about to turn 24 years old.
Pascal converted to Jansenism in 1647. Jansenism was condemned by the papacy on several occasions starting in 1653.
There was a lot of debate over whether what the Pope condemned was actually in the ideas of Jansenius or among the beliefs of the Jansenists. Louis XIV hated the Jansenists because he saw them as schismatics and promoters of disorder. He says in his memoires that Cardinal Mazarin told him to crush the Jansenists. Louis saw them as part of the Fronde rebellion because they supported Cardinal de Retz against the crown.
Pascal would publish 18 Provincial Letters under a pseudonym between 1656 and 1658, These letters were condemned by the Church and the crown in 1658. The letters were a defense of Jansenism against the so-called attacks of the Church.
Pascal became convinced that miracles do indeed take place in 1657 when his niece was cured of a painful eye infection after touching what was believed to be a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns.
In order to resolve the situation in 1661, the clergy of France with the help of the faculty of the University of Paris came up with a formluary that asked the signatories to sign supporting the Pope’s condemnation of five suspected tenets of Jansenism. Pascal at first opposed signing such a document because it would make the signers appear to agree that these states were in fact part of the Jansenist doctrine, but he later relented.
Did Louis XIV ever meet Pascal? It does not appear to be likely, bur it is difficult to prove a negative.
I am, as always, impressed by Gary’s scholarship. He is a fastidious and careful historian; his factual record helps separate fact from fancy.
Do I think Louis XIV met Pascal? Unlikely, yes, and even more unlikely that they would have had the conversation cited, in my view.