Absolution is God’s forgiveness of sins.
With absolution, Faust enters Heaven. Without it, he is condemned to Hell.
In the earlier Faust stories, God does not absolve Faust of his sins. He is claimed by the Devil, and torn to pieces before being cast into Hell; out of God’s sight for eternity.
This seems appropriate for the sixteenth century: if Faust can be seen as a warning about the dangers of stealing God’s powers, or of meddling in His plans in the pursuit of knowledge, then it is fit that Faust should be dammed. In earlier times, it may not have been conceived of that Faust could be forgiven his sins.
But after the seventeenth century, the battle seems to be being lost. In later Fausts, apologists might rationalize God’s forgiveness, and Faust is saved. In these versions, Faust’s dangerous and arrogant behaviour can be forgiven, in part because it is representative of a noble pursuit – the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual betterment in the image of God.
In the ensuing centuries, it seems that man has stepped out from God’s shadow, and faces Him. With no response, he turns away. The latter Fausts might be more about the tragic condition of solitary man, and less about Man’s place under God. God has been silent.
Todd sold his soul to the Devil, and the Devil came through. Todd repented. God forgave him. Is Todd off the hook with the Devil? (6 min.)
Roman Catholic Church
Absolution is pronounced by the Church. It is a part of the religious sacrament of penance and reconciliation. It begins with the sinner’s confession of their specific sins. The sinner or penitent, must be sincere in their confession and their desire to remove their sin, otherwise the process is empty and valueless, and the sinner’s sin is compounded.
The priest may then then assign a penance and offer absolution.
In the tale of Mary of Nijmegen, the penance given to her was to wear iron rings until they wore thin and fell off, indicating God’s forgiveness. In Goethe’s Faust, God intercedes and forgives Faust.
Traditional Latin Mass filmed on Easter Sunday in 1941 at Our Lady of Sorrows church in Chicago. The ceremonies of the Missa Solemnis or Solemn High Mass in full detail with narration by then-Mgr. Fulton J. Sheen (55 min.)
Prayer of Absolution
There are issues about the right of the Church to offer absolution, since it is recognized that man cannot know God’s intention, and cannot presume to offer absolution in His name.
The Church recognized this at the Council of Trent in the 16th century (about 30 years before the appearance of the first Faustbuch), but maintained that it had inherited the authority given directly by Jesus to the apostles, including Peter (John 20:19-23). Others say that it is a stretch to assume that the apostles also inherited the power to transmit the spirit, or that the Church shared in that authority for generations to come.
The Church’s authority thus comes from Jesus, and is transmitted to the priesthood through Peter, the foundation of the Catholic Church.
Absolution forgives the guilt associated with the penitent’s sins, and removes the eternal punishment (Hell) associated with mortal sins. As real damage may have been done, the penitent is still liable for punishment here on Earth, unless the Church applies an indulgence, which at times could be bought from various priests.
The Reformed traditions
Other non-Catholic churches generally don’t claim to have the God-given authority to grant absolution, or they may grant it for the general congregation, and not so much for specific and individual acts of confession. They leave that to God.