For all that, the school at Port-Royal was closed in 1661, and the remaining solitaires and nuns were forced to sign a document to mark their submission to the Roman Catholic Church; this prompted Pascal to write the Écrit sur la signature du formulaire (Tract on the signing of the formulary), urging Port-Royalists not to sign. In it he reiterated the defence of Jansenism which is found in the Lettres provinciales, distinguishing between fact and faith or law in matters of religion. Councils, Fathers of the Church and popes are infallible on matters of faith, but not on matters of fact, and Pascal contends that the identification of Jansenism with heresy is a matter of fact, not law. The Écrit was never published because Nicole and Arnauld contradicted Pascal’s advice. After a stormy altercation with them, Pascal renounced all further engagement in religious controversy. Instead he devoted his final months of life to the poor of the part of Paris in which he lived, not only making over all his worldly goods to them, but also organizing what was in effect the world’s first omnibus service, which carried passengers from one part of Paris to another for a fixed fare.

Throughout his short life, he had never enjoyed long periods of good health; he died on 19 August 1662 after a protracted and painful illness, and his final days were marked by his own deep piety and his desire to fulfil his religious duties to the last.

4 Works posthumously published

Although Pascal was well known to the European scientific community in his lifetime, few of his works were published. His last foray into the world of mathematics – the solution to a set of problems concerning the nature of the cycloid – was in fact circulated anonymously as a competition in 1658, although its author was sufficiently well-known for the Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huyghens (1629-95) to write to Pascal about it in the following year. After Pascal’s death some mathematicians (including Leibniz) had access to his scientific papers, but these did not all appear in print until much later.

Pascal’s religious writings, however, were posthumously edited by his family and friends; the Pensées and other short works appeared in 1670, and the Entretien avec M. de Saci in 1728. The original edition of the Pensées was both an abridgment and a reworking of Pascal’s papers, only part of which had been put in order by him; since the mid-nineteenth century various attempts have been made to reconstruct the manuscript as it was left by Pascal, culminating in Louis Lafuma’s edition of 1952 which is now taken to be standard. More recently still Pol Ernst has been able not only to reconstruct the pages which were cut up by Pascal himself when he decided to arrange the fragments into thematic groups, but also to establish the date of composition of the major part of the project (1656-8). This recent scholarship has permitted a (somewhat conjectural) chronological ordering of the Pensées to be published and has opened up new possibilities for their interpretation.

5 Mathematical philosophy