The Provincial Letters of Pascal, a series of eighteen letters written under the pseudonym Louis de Montalte, were addressed to the Jesuits and were a defence of the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld from Port-Royal-des-Champs. He was a friend of Pascal who had been condemned by the Sorbonne in Paris for having heretical views. The Letters claimed to inform someone living outside Paris (in the provinces) about the theological debates at the Sorbonne and, more widely, in the Catholic Church in France. Pascal began writing them on January 23rd 1656 and it was today, on March 24th,1657, that the final one was published. Although they were condemned by Pope Alexander II and ordered to be shredded and burnt by the French King Louis XIV, they were deeply damaging to the Jesuits.
The Jesuits were not actually members of the Sorbonne and therefore were not officially involved in Arnauld's censure; so it is not immediately clear why Pascal, in the course of writing the letters, devoted so much energy to criticizing the Jesuits. He may have blamed their influence in Rome and their political connections with the monarchy in France for Arnauld's censure. He perceived that a lax, secular Jesuit morality had an undue influence on those who held political and ecclesiastical power in France. The Letters rely on satire and ridicule as much as on logic or argument to persuade readers of the justice of Arnauld's cause and of the unsustainable nature of his critics' objections.
The success of the letters reflects more the style of Pascals writing than the substance of the debate. Pascal had been forced underground while writing them. This 'persecution' affects the tone of his writing and he combines the fervour of a convert with the wit and polish of a man of the world. He often used mockery and satire to drive home his points, particularly in attacking casuistry, a rhetorical method often used by Jesuit theologians. This clever style meant that, quite apart from their religious influence, the Provincial Letters were popular as a literary work. The letters also influenced the prose of later French writers like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Translated widely the letters became powerful weapons in the hands of the enemies of Jesuits elsewhere. They were first translated into English in 1657, with the rather long title of Les Provinciales, or the Mystery of Jesuitisme, discovered in certain letters written upon occasion of the present differences at Sorbonne between the jansenists and the molinists.