Monday, December 5, 2011

Faust and Friars - Cursing God? - For the Pope?!

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

Marlowe's 'Faustus:' Why Bother?

Another Monday, another 'Marlowe's Faustus' post: which may seem like an odd topic for a blog called "A Catholic Citizen in America."

This blog is supposed to be about being a Catholic in America.

So why am I posting about what some Englishman wrote, long before this country existed?

For starters, I wanted to get reacquainted with Marlowe's adaptation of the Faust legend. It's one of those 'culturally significant' things.

"The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" helped bring the German story to the English-speaking world, where it became part of our culture. For example, I think some Mad scientists in the movies are a 20th-century take on Faust, and I've been over that before.

The Catholic Connection

Ever since Henry VIII decided to be a mini-pope, the English speaking world has 'known' things about the Church that are colorful, sensational, and wrong. Marlowe put a fair number of those beliefs in his "...Faustus."

It's the 'Catholic connection' that I'm mostly concerned with: particularly since I think American culture inherited quite a lot of England's store of misinformation.

Marlowe's England isn't 21st-century America, but there's a fairly straight path leading from Elizabethan England to the country I live in. I'll get back to that.

Faustus, Friars, and All That

Last week, I looked at:
  • How Marlowe got Faustus and Mephistopheles to Rome
  • Gluttonous friars in Marlowe's imagined city

Fictional Settings, Real Names

Rome was, and is, real enough. Marlowe's version isn't.

That's not a criticism. Marlowe's "...Faustus" is fiction. His Rome was essentially a fictional setting: a backdrop for his characters. Authors, playwrights, and directors routinely set their stories in real places: like Ironside's San Francisco, or New York Undercover.

I think it's a good idea to remember that their settings are fictional versions of real places: a combination of real and imagined elements.

Profligate Papists, Long-Winded Actors, and Action Movies

Marlowe gives his Elizabethan audience an earful about the extravagant lifestyle of those profligate papists. Which I take about as seriously as WWII-era depictions of Germans and Japanese in American movies. And that's almost another topic.

Long-winded actors seem to have been popular in Elizabethan theaters: like Hamlet's "To be, or not to be,--that is the question...."

About 200 words later, he says "...Be all my sins remember'd," and gets back to the business of driving Ophelia insane while racking up an impressive body count.

Tighten up the dialog, drop the soliloquies, add a few explosions, and you've got an action movie. And that's another topic.

The point is that Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" is downright wordy:
"...FAUSTUS. Well, I'm content to compass then some sport,
And by their folly make us merriment....
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")

Pranking the Pope

I'm skipping past quite a bit of that sort of thing, to where Faustus plays a practical joke on the (fictional) Pope:
"...POPE. My lord, here is a dainty dish was sent me from the Bishop of Milan.

"FAUSTUS. I thank you, sir.
[Snatches the dish.]

"POPE. How now! who's that which snatched the meat from me? will no man look?—My lord, this dish was sent me from the Cardinal of Florence....."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")

Sour Saints?

Individual Catholics may act as if 'thou shalt not smile' is part of the Decalogue, but that's not what the Church teaches. I've posted about 'sour saints' before.

Interior conversion, penance, repentance, and learning to control my desires, are all important. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1430, 1431, 1434, 2015)

So is joy and humor. (Catechism, 1676)

I think the action in this part of Marlowe's play is, essentially, funny. But I also think Moe Howard and the other Stooges are funny.

"The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" and The Three Stooges

Some of Stooges' films weren't theologically sound, but I'm not likely to do a detailed critique of of them. Seriously, who would see "Bedlam in Paradise" as anything more than 16 minutes of The Three Stooges?

I see slapstick elements in Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus." But the play doesn't read like a comic romp. I get the impression that "...Faustus" is entertainment that folks could take serously.

Back to Marlowe's Rome, a peeved pontiff, and far-fetched friars.

Mephistopheles, Faustus, and Cursing Friars

Under the impression that he's dealing with ghosts, the Pope has some friars come in.

Think 'Elizabethan Ghostbusters.'
"...MEPHIST. Nay, I know not: we shall be cursed with bell, book, and candle.

"FAUSTUS. How! bell, book, and candle,—candle, book, and bell,—
Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell!
Anon you shall hear a hog grunt, a calf bleat, and an ass bray,
Because it is Saint Peter's holiday.

"Re-enter all the FRIARS to sing the Dirge.

Come, brethren, let's about our business with good devotion.

"They sing.





"CURSED BE HE THAT TOOK AWAY HIS HOLINESS' WINE! maledicat Dominus? ['?' sic] Et omnes Sancti! Amen!..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
There's quite a bit going on here.

Elizabethan Theology?

Marlowe's audience knows that Doctor John Faustus is a living human being. They should realize that, anyway: yet more topics.

Mephistopheles is up to his old tricks, encouraging Faustus to think of himself as being a creature like the demon: "...we shall be cursed with bell, book, and candle...."

What's disturbing in this part of Marlowe's play is the "dirge," cursing Faustus and Mephistopheles. It's aimed partly at a person who is alive, and whose eternal destination isn't yet determined. As such, it's inappropriate: putting it mildly.

On the other hand, Marlowe's fictional Pope is under the impression that he's dealing with a "ghost." Which might, maybe, be approximately correct, in the case of Mephistopheles.

That's not the main problem, though.

Having a chorus of friars singing, "maledicat Dominus," and "et omnes Sancti" is - far-fetched, at best.

Marlowe, Latin, and Cursing God

I'm no Latin scholar, but I think "maledicat Dominus" translates as "curse the Lord." In the context of Marlowe's play, that's something Faustus might say.

But those friars, acting on the Pope's behest?

Here's what Marlowe has them say:
"...maledicat Dominus? ['?' sic] Et omnes Sancti! Amen!..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
"...curse the Lord ... And all the saints! Amen!..."
("The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus")
That's wrong. On at least two levels.
Sadly, I think a fair number of folks here think that saying "curse the Lord ... And all the saints! Amen!" is the sort of thing done by the 'Satanic' Catholic Church.1. A friend of mine insisted that the moon and sun revolve around Earth, because it says so in the Bible. That chapter's footone 3 discusses probabilities. I've discussed science, faith, and getting a grip, before. Fairly often.2

"Curse God and Die?!"

Some Americans believe every word in the Bible is literally true. Like Joshua 10:12-13.2

Sure, "curse God and die" is in the Bible. (Job 2:9) But Job said it was a bad idea. (Job 2:10) I think it is, too.

Cursing God on stage, as a line in a play, is one thing. In real life? I've got my particular judgment to think of. Death will have closed the books on my decisions, and I'll spend eternity in Heaven: or Hell. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1021-1022)

What my final destination is depends on whether I've accepted or rejected "the divine grace manifested in Christ." (Catechism, 1021) All things considered, cursing the Lord is a very bad idea.

Excommunications, Exorcisms, and Getting a Grip

As for the notion that the Pope would formally send someone to Hell - for a comparatively minor offense? That probably played well in post-Henry VIII England. It sounds like what some Americans believe about the Catholic Church, too.

The fact is, excommunication is as far as the Church goes with punishment. (Catechism, 1463)

Since Marlowe's make-believe Pope thought he was dealing with a "ghost," that "curse the Lord" "dirge" could be seen as an exorcism. Problem is, that's not how exorcisms work.

Not even close. (Catechism, 1237; 1673; Glossary, E; Also see Catechism, 517; 550) I've been over this before.3

We're Not English: Now

Here's where I get back to the idea that Marlowe's England isn't 21st-century America, and why I'm posting about "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" anyway.

America and England have a long history:
  • The United States of America started as a set of English colonies
  • The default language here is English
  • American culture was heavily influenced by English culture
    • No surprise, since the colonists were English
    • We're less 'English' now
      • But our roots show
America isn't the WASP nest it was several generations back, and that's another topic. The cultural baggage brought over by English colonists, and others, includes a fairly well-defined attitude toward 'those Catholics:'

(From Thomas Nast Portfolio, Ohio State University, used without permission.)

New Century, Old Assumptions

Granted, we're living in the 2000s. Thomas Nast spent most of his life in the 1800s. Jonathan Edwards wrote his famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in 1741.

Quite a bit has changed since "Sinners ... Angry God" helped set the spiritual tone over here. But I think American culture retains residue from beliefs and assumptions of earlier centuries.

Tolerance, Beliefs, and Fulton Sheen

On the whole, America has treated Catholics rather well. It's illegal to kill us. Which didn't keep Father James Coyle alive, back in the 'good old days,' and that's almost another topic. Topics.

Despite a cultural and legal history of comparative tolerance, I think there are rich veins of anti-Catholicism running under much of America's cultural landscape.

Thanks to this country's Protestant roots, and fallout from post-Reformation European politics, I think Fulton Sheen's observation is still true:
"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)

Fire, Brimstone, and Getting a Grip

It's been quite a while since I last heard about a 'fire and brimstone' preacher. I think that's a hopeful sign. Emotionally rousing as something like 'Brimstone Bill and his First Hallelujah Revival Touring Show' might be: I don't think scaring people silly is a good idea.

'Scaring' isn't the problem. It's 'scaring people silly' that I don't think is prudent. Fear, by itself, can be a good thing:
"The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
(Proverbs 9:10)
When an emotion like fear gets too strong, though, folks have trouble thinking straight:
Then there's the sort of malignant virtue that makes it hard to emulate the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14.

I try to have a calm, reasoned acknowledgement of my sins - without:
  • Trying to
    • Divert attention to 'that sinner over there'
    • Convince myself that sin
      • Isn't real
      • Doesn't matter
      • Can't be wrong, since it feels so right
    • Whatever
  • Panicking
That's no great virtue on my part. What the Church teaches about judging others - but not being stupid - is fairly clear:
"1 Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. 2 For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. ... There is no partiality with God. " (Romans 2:1-11)

"You hypocrite, 3 remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."
(Matthew 7:5)

"although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861)

The Faust Legend: 'Based on Real Events'

Stories about Faust first hit the press in 1587. Christopher Marlowe finished his "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" a little over ten years later, and the story's been resurfacing at intervals ever since.

That was about 150 years after Gutenberg (re)invented movable type: which poured oil on the troubled fires of European politics. Movable type made from clay had been invented in 1041, in China.4 But someone had invented bureaucracy in China long before that, which is another topic.5

And I'm not going to get distracted by comparing the Internet and the Gutenberg press.

Where was I? German legend. Faust. Right.

Like I said, the first printed retelling of Faust's story was a Faust chapbook, produced in 1587. It's been retold quite a few times since then, including:
  • Dr. Faust at Boxberg Castle
    (Germany, Bernhard Baader)
  • Dr. Faust's Hell-Master
    (Germany, Joh. Aug. Ernst Köhler)
  • Dr. Faust in Erfurt
    (Germany, J. G. Th. Grässe)
  • Dr. Faust and Melanchton in Wittenberg
    (Germany, J. G. Th. Grässe)
  • Dr. Faust in Anhalt
    (Germany, Ludwig Bechstein)
  • A Scholar Assigns Himself to the Devil
  • Selected musical works based on the Faust legend
    (from "Faust Legends," D. L. Ashliman, University of Pittsburgh)
John Faustus and all the other Fausts trace back, more or less, to a real person: Johann Georg Faust.6 Looks like stories 'based on real events' didn't start with television shockers.

Other posts in this series:
Somewhat-related posts:
"...Faustus" excerpts in these posts taken from:

1 As I've said before, folks can have odd ideas about what's real:
2 My faith doesn't require me to ignore facts and stop thinking, as I said at the start of this link list of posts about the Catholic Church and studying God's creation:
I take the Bible very seriously. But it's not a computer repair manual, or a science textbook:
3 I have nothing against movies as entertainment. But "The Exorcist" and "Scream Blacula Scream" aren't particularly good ways to study exorcism:
4 There's a pretty good introduction to Johannes Gutenberg's printing press, book printing, and movable type at:
5 Bureaucracies are okay: the Catholic Church uses a 'bureaucratic' system to stay organized.

Bureaucracies are quite efficient at dealing with tasks. Provided that:
  • The tasks don't
    • Change
    • Require innovative thought
  • The bureaucracy's environment doesn't change
Like I said, I think bureaucracies are okay. Provided that they're used by an authority that can change the rules, whether the bureaucrats like it or not.

My understanding is that China and civilizations growing around the east end of the Mediterranean Sea weren't all that far apart, technologically, until about 2,000 years back. Then China developed a bureaucracy. There's an interesting discussion about bureaucracies and China online:
6 Johann Georg Faust / Johannus Faustus was a real Renaissance man. Literally:
The article has enough cited references to be plausible.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

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.