Home  »  The World’s Wit and Humor  »  On Fasting

The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

On Fasting

From “Provincial Letters”

MY friend spoke with much concern, for he is seriously afflicted at these disorders. For my own part I applauded the excellence of Jesuitical policy, and went immediately to one of their best casuists, with whom I wished at this moment to renew a former acquaintance. Knowing how to proceed, I had no difficulty in introducing and conducting the subject. Retaining his attachment to me, he welcomed me with a thousand expressions of kindness, and after some desultory conversation, I took occasion to make an inquiry respecting fasting, for the purpose of leading insensibly to the particular object of my solicitude. I stated how difficult I felt it. He exhorted me to resist my own disinclinations; but I persisting in my complaints, he became compassionate, and began to frame some excuses for me. Many which he offered did not exactly accord with my taste, till at length he asked if I could not sleep without supper. “No,” said I; “in consequence of which I am obliged to breakfast at noon and to sup at night.” “I am very happy,” answered he, “that I have discovered an innocent method of relieving your anxiety; go, go, you are under no obligation to fast. However, do not depend on my word; come with me into the library.”

I went. “Here, here,” said he, taking up a book, “is your proof, and oh, what a noble one it is—furnished by Escobar!” “Who is Escobar?” “What, are you ignorant of the name of Escobar, of our society, who has compiled this moral theology from twenty-four of our fathers, who in his preface compares this book to ‘that of the Revelation, which was sealed with seven seals,’ and says that Christ delivered it thus sealed to the four, Suarez, Vasquez, Molina, and Valentia, in the presence of four-and-twenty Jesuits, who represent the four-and-twenty elders?” When he turned to the passage respecting fasting. “See, see!” he exclaimed: “‘Is he who cannot sleep without a supper obliged to fast? By no means.’ Are you now satisfied?” “Not entirely so,” replied I, “for I can fast pretty well by making a breakfast in the morning and a supper at night.” “Oho, then, look at what follows; there is not a single consideration omitted: ‘If a person can content himself with a breakfast in the morning and a supper at night’”—“That is exactly my case”—“‘he is not obliged to fast; for no one is under any obligation to disarrange the order of his meals.’” “Good reason!” “But,” continued he, “do you habitually drink much wine?” “No, father, I exceedingly dislike it.” “I said this,” added he, “simply to intimate that you might take it in the morning, or whenever you please without breaking your fast; and a glass of wine is always cheering.” “May a person, without breaking his fast, drink wine at any hour he pleases, and in considerable quantities?” “He may, and a dram too. I did not recollect the dram,” said he; “I must note it down in my memoranda.” “Truly this Escobar,” said I, “is a fine man.” “Oh,” rejoined he, “everybody admires him; he puts such lovely questions. Look again: ‘If a man doubt whether he be of age, is he obliged to fast? No. But suppose I should come of age to-night, at an hour after midnight, and to-morrow is to be a fast, should I be obliged to fast to-morrow? No; for you may eat as much as you please from twelve to one, because you would not yet have completed twenty-one years; and so, having a right to break your fast, you are not obliged to keep it.’” “Oh,” said I, “what an agreeable publication!” “Indeed it is—one is never tired of it. I pass whole days and nights in reading it: I can actually think of nothing else.”