Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont-Ferrand in 1623. As a boy he showed precocious talents for mathematics and invention, and even designed an early calculating machine. At the age of thirty-one, while staying at the abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs, he had a visionary experience which he tried to describe on a piece of paper headed FIRE:
Certainty, Certainty. Feeling, Joy, Peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
Deum meum et Deum vostrum.
Oblivion of the world and of everything excepting God.
He is found solely by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Just Father, the world does not know You, but I know You.
Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy.
The epiphany changed his life. He sewed the piece of paper into his clothes so that he could carry it everywhere, and from then on devoted his time to theological writing and to the notes that became the Pensees. He did not have long for this work. At thirty-nine, he died from a brain hemorrhage.
- Sarah Bakewell, How to Live, p. 141-42