Monday, November 21, 2011

Sloth, Faustian Flip-Flops, and Temptation

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

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor John Faustus said a few sensible things in last week's excerpts:
"..."MEPHIST. Ay, that is not against our kingdom; but this is. Think thou on hell, Faustus, for thou art damned.

"FAUSTUS. Think, Faustus, upon God that made the world....

"...FAUSTUS. Ay, go, accursed spirit, to ugly hell! 'Tis thou hast damn'd distressed Faustus' soul. Is't not too late?..."

"FAUSTUS. Ah, Christ, my Saviour, Seek to save104 distressed Faustus' soul!..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Like I said last week: Christopher Marlowe is no theologian. His "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" is a rip-roaring good drama, in my opinion: which is partly why I'm coming back to it each Monday.

Let's see: where was I?

Faustus, Fear, and the Boys From Below

Faustus had said "Christ, my Saviour," and gotten LUCIFER, BELZEBUB, and MEPHISTOPHILIS, instead.

After dialog that reminded me of "The Godfather" (1972), Faustus did a sharp about-face: and promised to be a thoroughly bad man.

Even granting the presence of the boys from below: that 'repentance' of Faustus seems to have been rather shallow, at best. Or maybe Faustus was so fearful, that he couldn't think straight. I put a few points about reason, repentance, and sin, under last week's Background.

Moving on.

Sloth and Soliloquies

After that little declaration of allegiance, Marlowe's Lucifer trotted out what I called the Seven Deadly Sins floor show. Marlowe got the names right, pretty much. I put terms used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866, under the ones with different names:
  • Pride
  • Covetousness
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth
    (Sloth or acedia)
  • Lechery
Compared to Shakespeare's soliloquies, Marlowe's seven deadly sins don't have much to say. Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" thing, for example, keeps going for 276 words.

Marlowe's Lust only gets 30 words. Gluttony hogs most of the lines for that revue, with 105 words; Sloth has 47:
I am Sloth. I was begotten on a sunny bank, where I have
lain ever since; and you have done me great injury to bring me
from thence: let me be carried thither again by Gluttony and
Lechery. I'll not speak another word for a king's ransom....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
I think it's pretty clear that Sloth is - slothful. Lazy. Just what you'd expect, from a character with a name like "Sloth."

Definition Time!

  • Noun
    1. A disinclination to work or exert yourself
    2. Any of several slow-moving arboreal mammals of South America and Central America
      • They hang from branches back downward and feed on leaves and fruits
    3. Apathy and inactivity in the practice of virtue
    (Princeton's WordNet)

Sloth, Acedia, and the American Work Ethic

The first definition of "sloth" had me concerned a few years ago, when I was acutely aware of not having gotten as much done at my job as I liked. A priest assured me that he'd never met an American who had a problem with low productivity. (August 16, 2009) This country has its problems: but laziness isn't one of them, in my opinion. Except by our own arguably-exaggerated standards. And that's another topic.

Definition number three is pretty close to what the Catechism has to say about sloth:
"ACEDIA: A less common synonym for sloth, one of the seven "capital" sins (1866). See Sloth.

"CAPITAL SINS: Sins which engender other sins and vices. They are traditionally numbered as seven: pride, covetousness, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, and sloth (1866).

"SLOTH: A culpable lack of physical or spiritual effort; acedia or laziness. One of the capital sins (1866, 2094, 2733)."
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Having "a culpable lack of physical ... spiritual effort" is still pretty close to the Anglo-American idea of "sloth," but discussions I found in the Catechism about sloth and/or acedia were mostly about prayer and our attitude toward God. (More, under "Background," near the end of this post.)

"All Manner of Delight," and Faustus Flip-Flops Again?

Maybe Marlowe's seven deadly sins revue sounded more enticing, back when Elizabethan English was the latest dialect. Or, maybe not, considering how Faustus reacted to Glutony's little speech:
"...FAUSTUS. No, I'll see thee hanged: thou wilt eat up all my victuals...."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
Faustus doesn't seem to show enthusiasm for any of the seven deadly sins. So how come he says this after they leave?
"...LUCIFER. Now, Faustus, how dost thou like this?

"FAUSTUS. O, this feeds my soul!

"LUCIFER. Tut, Faustus, in hell is all manner of delight.

"FAUSTUS. O, might I see hell, and return again,
How happy were I then!...
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
I don't know why there's that apparent disconnect between Faustus's reaction to the seven personified deadly sins, and his professed desire to see Hell. That won't stop me from making a few guesses. Maybe:
  1. The actor was supposed to 'act eager'
    • Or something
  2. It's a dramatization of the vacillating desires of Doctor Faustus
  3. Marlowe didn't finish editing that part of the play
  4. Something else is going on
The way Faustus has been flip-flopping about his deal with Mephistopheles, guess number two might be right.

Temptation, Hell, and Real Estate Fraud

I don't think LUCIFER's claim, that "in hell is all manner of delight" is an altogether accurate statement. Which isn't the same as thinking that temptations are disgusting at first glance:
"...discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a 'delight to the eyes' and desirable,154 when in reality its fruit is death...." (Catechism, 2847)
Then there's Genesis 3:6. It's sort of like real estate fraud. And no, I do not think that owning property is Satanic, or that everybody who buys, sells, or deals in, real estate is doing something wrong.

Moving on.

I remember reading jokes about 'Rainbow Acres,' or 'El Mirage Estates,' quite a few decades back. Times were different then, and quite a few folks wanted to buy land: and had the credit to do so. Some of them were - imprudent.1

That was then, this is now, and I discovered that today's emphasis is on things like mortgage fraud and a variation of the Nigerian scam. And that's almost another topic. I put some links under "More background," below.

Bottom line? Temptations are tempting because there's some sort of attraction: an immediate pleasure; something "...pleasing to the eyes,...desirable..." (Genesis 3:6)

But, in my opinion, even if 'it feels so good,' walking away from God is a really, really, bad idea.

About Halfway Through Marlowe's "...Faustus"

I did a quick page count, and see that I'm roughly halfway through "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." So far, I've been having fun with the play. I think it helps that I didn't expect Christopher Marlowe to display much in the line of profound theological insights.

I've been able to enjoy the story: and all those opportunities to see what the Church teaches about the serious topics touched on in the play.

As for whether or not Marlowe was really leading some sort of secret life? He really doesn't seem to have been a 'closet Catholic.' (Footnote 1 (November 14, 2011)) I may get back to the 'conspiracy theory' side of Marlowe and Faustus. Or, not.

Next week, I see I'll be reading CHORUS saying things like "...Did mount himself to scale Olympus' top...." Those Elizabethans do seem to have liked their shout-outs for the classics.

Sort of like today's dramatists dropping something about sustainable development or environmental awareness into a script. Then there's Captain Planet - and I'm getting seriously off-topic.

I'll probably skip ahead, to where Faustus takes a trip to Rome. Now, that might be interesting.

Other posts in this series:
Related posts:
  • Acedia
    • A form of depression due to
      • Lax ascetical practice
      • Decreasing vigilance
      • Carelessness of heart
    • Presumption "opens the gate" for acedia
    • Acedia "is the reverse of presumption"
    (Catechism, 2733, 2755)
  • Hell
    (Catechism, 1033-1037)
    • Exists
    • Its chief punishment is eternal separation from God
      (Catechism, 1035)
    • "God predestines no one to go to hell...."
    • To enter Hell
      • "...a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary..."
        • "and persistence in it until the end...."
      (Catechism, 1037)
  • Prayer and
    • "Our dullness and laziness"
    • "Humble, trusting, and persevering love"
    (Catechism, 2742)
  • Sloth as one of the capital sins
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866)
  • Temptation
    • Tempting God
      • Testing God's
        • Goodness
        • Almighty power
      • By
        • Word
        • Deed
      • Bad idea
        (Catechism, 2119)
    • Discerning between trials, and temptations
      (Catechism, 2847)
    • Help for resisting temptation
      • Fortitude
        (Catechism, 1808)
      • The Sign of the Cross
        (Catechism, 2157)
      • Practicing
        • Self-knowledge
        • Ascesis
          • Self-denial
          • Self-restraint
        • Obedience to God's commandments
        • Exercise of the moral virtues
        • Fidelity to prayer
        (Catechism, 2340)
      • Avoiding idolatry
        • Idolatry is divinizing that what is not God
        (Catechism, 2113)
      • "Lead us not into temptation"
        (Catechism, 2846-2849)
    • Temptation in prayer
      • Lack of
        • Faith
        • The disposition of a humble heart
      • Acedia/sloth
        (Catechism, 2732-2733)
      • Summarized
        (Catechism, 2753-2755)
    • Prayer and avoiding temptation
      (Catechism, 2612)
    • Temptation of Jesus
      (Catechism, 538-540, 566)
  • Ways to sin against God
    • Indifference...
    • Ingratitude...
    • Lukewarmness...
    • "Acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness"
    • Hatred of God...
    (Catechism, 2094)
More background:
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

1 Some of the 'wonderful bargains' were outright frauds: there was no land, or the seller had no legal rights to the property. Other deals were a bit more clever. The proud new owner might discover that the property was:
  • Inaccessible
    • Except by helicopter
    • Because the seller hadn't bothered to include streets in the 'development'
  • A total of 10 acres
    • In 100 1/10 acre plots
      • Scattered across several southwestern states
    • One yard wide, by 48,400 yards long
Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration: but I remember reading about quite a few folks discovering that their "secluded" Florida estate was in the middle of a swamp; or that reaching the "desert paradise" they bought involved a long hike over rough ground.


Brigid said...

Something missing: "I put a few points reason, repentance, and sin"

Missing article: "I put terms used in Catechism"

A plural for a singular: "Faustus don't seem to show"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


For someone whose cradle tongue is supposed to be English, I sure have trouble with definite article. That, and the rest, found and fixed. Thanks!

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