Friday, September 23, 2011

Doctor Faustus, Benefit/Cost Ratios, and Fulton Sheen

New post about Marlowe's
"The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" each Monday

Another day, another post about Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." Again, I've put a 'what I've written so far' link list near the end of this post.1

Here's where I left Marlowe's "...Faustus" yesterday:
"...Had I as many souls as there be stars,
I'd give them all for Mephistophilis.
By him I'll be great emperor of the world,...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
This is just after Faustus got a quite Catholic description of Hell - and by implication, some pretty good advice - from Mephistopheles. The learned doctor is alone at the moment, and talking to himself: a fairly common occurrence in Elizabethan drama. "To be, or not to be," and all that.2

Benefit/Cost Ratios and Doctor Faustus

Faustus seems to have forgotten all about Mark 8:36. That's where the benefit/cost ratio of losing your life while gaining the whole world is mentioned. It's a bad tradeoff, by the way. My opinion.

Why does Marlowe have Faustus willing to trade his soul for power over the world? Possible explanations include:
  1. "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" would have
    1. Ended very early
      • And folks would have wanted their money back
    2. Needed a new title
      • "The Big Oopsie of Doctor Faustus?"
      • "Doctor Faustus and the Unsuitable Assistant?"
      • "The Close Call of Doctor Faustus?"
      • "The Repentance of Doctor Faustus?"
    3. Not been nearly as famous
  2. Christopher Marlowe
    1. Didn't want to frustrate patrons of the theater
      • And theater owners
    2. Had a message of import to impart, that was
      • Important
      • But not impartial
My guess is that Marlowe had 'all of the above' in mind when he wrote "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus:" And I strongly suspect that #2B was a fairly high priority.

Exit Faustus, Enter Wagner and Clown

After Faustus talks to himself about being Emperor of the world, he leaves the stage. Maybe Wagner and Clown are comic relief.

"Clown?!" That's the character's name. Subtle, this play ain't. Not entirely, anyway.

Here's a sample of their dialog:
"...WAGNER. Alas, poor slave! see how poverty jesteth in his nakedness!
the villain is bare and out of service, and so hungry, that I know
he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton,
though it were blood-raw.

"CLOWN. How! my soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though
'twere blood-raw! not so, good friend: by'r lady,67 I had need
have it well roasted, and good sauce to it, if I pay so dear....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")

Clown, Comic Relief, and a Vision Statement

Wagner and Clown's dialog may be comic relief. It also gives a sort of reprise of Faustus' 'vision statement.' Clown seems willing to sell out for less than Faustus - but he's following the same principles as the learned doctor.

Clown seems to be an ignorant lout. An American television drama would have him speaking with a southern redneck accent. And that's another topic.

Clown also says "by'r lady," or "by our Lady," a phrase that's distinctly Catholic in origin. Maybe Marlowe's trying to show that Catholics who survived Henry and Elizabeth's purges3 are social outcasts. Or something. Or maybe not.

Baliol, Belcher, and Long-Range Planning

Wagner comes off as having a better education than Clown, but he shows the same deficiencies in long-range planning:
"...WAGNER. Well, I will cause two devils presently to fetch thee
away.-Baliol and Belcher!

"CLOWN. Let your Baliol and your Belcher come here, and I'll
knock them, they were never so knocked since they were devils:
say I should kill one of them, what would folks say? 'Do ye see
yonder tall fellow in the round slop?73 he has killed the devil.'
So I should be called Kill-devil all the parish over.

"Enter two DEVILS; and the CLOWN runs up and down crying.

"WAGNER. Baliol and Belcher, - spirits, away!
[Exeunt DEVILS.]...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
"Baliol?" "Belcher?" Here's what one chap said the names meant: "Doubtless facetiously invented names; 'Baliol' quasi a Scotch form of Belial, and 'Belcher' = Spitfire." (A. W. Ward (1887)4 "Belial" is Satan, sort of.5 Wagner seems to have friends in low places.

Doctor Faustus, Despair, and Rationalization

After Wagner, Clown, and assorted demons depart, we get back to Doctor Faustus. He's in his study. Talking to himself. Again.
"...Now, Faustus, must
Thou needs be damn'd, and canst thou not be sav'd:
What boots it, then, to think of God or heaven?
Away with such vain fancies, and despair;
Despair in God, and trust in Belzebub:
Now go not backward; no, Faustus, be resolute:
Why waver'st thou? O, something soundeth in mine ears,
'Abjure this magic, turn to God again!
Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again.
To God? he loves thee not
The god thou serv'st is thine own appetite,
Wherein is fix'd the love of Belzebub:
To him I'll build an altar and a church,
And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus") [emphasis mine]
Despite the 'stiff upper lip' advice Faustus gave to Mephistopheles, he seems to be:
  1. Having second thoughts
  2. Trying to rationalize his decision
  3. Giving Good Angel and Bad Angel more lines
  4. Discussing
    • Damnation
    • Decisions
    • Despair
  5. All of the above
  6. None of the above
If that list looks like something from a pop quiz: Like I said yesterday, I'm a recovering English teacher.

Advice: Good and Otherwise

Never mind. Good Angel and Evil Angel are back:
"...GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, leave that execrable art.

"FAUSTUS. Contrition, prayer, repentance—what of them?

"GOOD ANGEL. O, they are means to bring thee unto heaven!

"EVIL ANGEL. Rather illusions, fruits of lunacy, That make men foolish that do trust them most.

"GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, think of heaven and heavenly things.

"EVIL ANGEL. No, Faustus; think of honour and of76 wealth.
"[Exeunt ANGELS.]..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
First of all, despair is something the Catholic Church doesn't approve of.6 Man, it's like we got rules against EVERYTHING!! Not true, and that's yet another topic.

Good Angel has some pretty good advice, responding to Faustus' query about contrition, prayer, and repentance. I think so, anyway.

More to the point, here's a start on what the Catholic Church has to say about that trio of ideas:
  • Contrition
    • "Sorrow of the soul..."
      • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1451
    • "Perfect" contrition, a gift of God
    • "Imperfect" contrition, also a gift of God
  • Prayer
    • Is a battle
    • Doesn't guarantee immediate results
    • Can be done anywhere, any time
  • Repentance
    • Part of our mission
      • Catechism, 981
    • Necessary for forgiveness
      • Catechism, 982)
I put excerpts from the Catechism in this post's footnotes.7

Then there's Good Angel's advice to "think of heaven and heavenly things." Reminds me of this recommendation:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 6"
(Phillippians 4:8)

Evil Angel's 'Up-to-Date' Attitude

Evil Angel's evaluation of contrition, prayer, and repentance, that they're "illusions, fruits of lunacy, that make men foolish that do trust them most," sound familiar. It's the sort of 'intelligent' attitude maintained by some of today's wannabe philosophers. I've mentioned 'up-to-date' ideas and Elizabethan England before.

Evil Angel's parting line, "No, Faustus; think of honour and of76 wealth," seems to have taken hold of Faustus. The doctor gets downright delusional in his next speech.

Which I may get around to in tomorrow's post.

Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe, and Fulton Sheen

Do I think that Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" is a chauvinist anti-Catholic rant? Let's look at what the word means:
  • Rant
    • Noun
      • A loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion
      • Pompous or pretentious talk or writing
    • Verb
      • Talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner
    (Princeton's WordNet)
I could claim that any play with characters named Good Angel, Evil Angel, and Clown, is pretentious - and preposterous. Folks just don't write stuff like that these days. Not if they expect to be taken seriously by mainstream 21st century Western culture.

Hating the (Imagined) Catholic Church, and Fulton Sheen

Marlowe wrote "...Faustus" around the end of the 16th century, though: and literary conventions were different then.

I don't think "...Faustus" is a rant.

Anti-Catholic? Maybe. There's Doctor Faustus insisting that Mephistopheles dress up as a Franciscan friar.

But would Marlowe have Good Angel, and Mephistopheles, reflecting a Catholic world view: if he'd intended "...Faustus" as an attack on the Catholic Church?

I think that's possible:
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen, Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)
More posts in this series:Other related posts:
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

1 Today's link list of posts and headings. It helps me keep track of what I've already said about Marlowe's Faustus, and other subjects that run, stroll, or stumble across my mind along the way:
2 I've mentioned Hamlet, and feudal Europe's legal system, before:
3 Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had good - expedient, anyway - reasons for setting up a sort of mini-pope in England. The Church wouldn't do what Henry wanted! Imagine!! Catholics in England weren't properly appreciative of Henry and Elizabeth's changes. These resources may give an idea of what was going down, four centuries back.
4 The English language has changed a bit in the last four centuries. Or the last century, for that matter:
5 Background on "Belial:"
  • "Belial"
    Encyclopedia, via New Advent, (1907)
  • 2 Corinthians 6:15
    • The Latin-alphabet translation is "Beliar" now
      • 'Tomayto, tomahto'
6 The Catholic Church doesn't approve of despair. Here's part of what the Church says about:
  • Despair
    • Is a bad idea
      "In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them:
      "Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair.333"
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 844)
    • Despair and
      • Hope
        "The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:

        "By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice—for the Lord is faithful to his promises—and to his mercy."
        (Catechism, 2091)
      • Illness:
        "Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him."
        (Catechism, 1501)
      • Institutions:
        "Every institution is inspired, at least implicitly, by a vision of man and his destiny, from which it derives the point of reference for its judgment, its hierarchy of values, its line of conduct. Most societies have formed their institutions in the recognition of a certain preeminence of man over things. Only the divinely revealed religion has clearly recognized man's origin and destiny in God, the Creator and Redeemer. The Church invites political authorities to measure their judgments and decisions against this inspired truth about God and man:
        "Societies not recognizing this vision or rejecting it in the name of their independence from God are brought to seek their criteria and goal in themselves or to borrow them from some ideology. Since they do not admit that one can defend an objective criterion of good and evil, they arrogate to themselves an explicit or implicit totalitarian power over man and his destiny, as history shows.51"
        (Catechism, 2244)
      • Suicide
        "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives."
        (Catechism, 2283)
7 Contrition, prayer, and repentance, Catholic style:
  • Contrition
    • "Sorrow of the soul..."
      "Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is 'sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.'50"
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1451)
    • "Perfect" contrition, a gift of God
      "When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called 'perfect' (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51"
      (Catechism, 1452)
    • "Imperfect" contrition, also a gift of God
      "The contrition called 'imperfect' (or 'attrition') is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.52"
      (Catechism, 1453)
  • Prayer
    • Is a battle
      "Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The 'spiritual battle' of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer."
      (Catechism, 2725)
    • Doesn't guarantee immediate results
      "Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have "great possessions,"15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance."
      (Catechism, 2728)
    • Can be done anywhere, any time
      ""Pray constantly . . . always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father."33 St. Paul adds, "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance making supplication for all the saints."34 For "we have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing."35 This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer.

      "It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise.36 Our time is in the hands of God:
      "It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, . . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking.37"
      (Catechism, 2742-2743)
  • Repentance
    • Part of our mission
      "After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles 'so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.'526 The apostles and their successors carry out this 'ministry of reconciliation,' not only by announcing to men God's forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:527
      "[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit's action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.528"
      (Catechism, 981)
    • Necessary for forgiveness
      "There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. 'There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.'529 Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.530"
      (Catechism, 982)


Brigid said...

Forgetting to superscript footnotes in quotes seems to be a habit: "by'r lady,67 I had need"

Again: "round slop?73 he has killed the devil."

Yep: "honour and of76 wealth"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


That's how the original online document is formatted - which looks odd, I'll grant. I generally don't re-format material like this, so - well, it'll just stay looking odd.

Maybe I could cut them out entirely.

Something to think about.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.