When Pascal wrote down the contents of his final revelation, from the night of Nov. 23, 1654, nearly the first sentence was this: “‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Joseph,” not of philosophers and scholars.” One way to think about the God of the philosophers is to think that He is the God about whose positive properties one can argue and, generally speaking, the God whom one can come to know through reason. In short, the God of the philosophers is the God towards whose existence the traditional scholastic arguments are directed. If that is what Pascal means by the God of the philosophers, then this first line of his revelation seems to suggest that the God of the Old Testament is not like that. In some sense, in other words, we cannot know about him positively. Instead, God is essentially (at least at times) a hidden God. The idea of a hidden God occurs explicitly in various places throughout the Pensées.
Philosophers reading Pascal tend not to pay too much attention to this aspect of his work, as far as I can tell. Whenever I see philosophers talk about Pascal they give a quick presentation of the wager, point out that the argument is susceptible to a variety of criticisms, and then move on. Maybe I just haven’t been reading the interesting folks. But the notion of the hidden God seems crucial to me in Pascal.
I don’t claim this as any great news. I suspect that even if philosophers aren’t paying attention to this aspect of Pascal’s work, 17th century French historians and literary scholars are very familiar with it. When a friend of mine in that area asked recently what I found interesting about Pascal, and I told her that I thought his notion of a hidden God was important, she just laughed. “That’s like saying that the thing you find most interesting in Plato,” she said, “is this fascinating character called Socrates.” Still, I haven’t found any interesting discussions of the hidden God in Pascal. I have some ideas about what might be going on here, and am in particular interested in two relations: first between God’s hiddenness in Pascal and Luther’s theology of the cross, and second between both of these and the necessary withdrawal of being in Heidegger. (The relation between all of these and apophatic theology more generally is a bigger topic.) But I won’t try to say more about any of that here. What I’d really like, instead, is suggestions about interesting things to read in the area. Anyone???