A Brief Timeline of Faust

A Brief Timeline of Faust

1440 Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. Rise of literacy.
1453 Revival of Greek learning (fall of Constantinople). Renaissance.
1480 The historical Georg Faust is believed to have been born in 1480 in Knittlingen.
1483-1487 Georg Helmstetter enrolled at Heidelberg University and got his Master’s Degree in philosophy in 1487. He practiced astrology and alchemy.
1517 Martin Luther begins the Protestant Reformation in Wittenberg.
1540 The historical Faust is said to have died.
1543 Copernicus shows that Earth is not the centre of God’s Universe (‘beginning of the scientific revolution’).
1575 The Wolfenbüttel manuscript version of Faust.
1584 Giordano Bruno further discredits the Christian doctrine of the heavens (he is executed in 1600).
1587 The chapbook Historia von Johann D. Fausten published in Frankfurt am Main by Johann Spies.
1588 (1587-1592?) Likely printing of the chapbook’s English translation, The Historie of the damnable life, and deserved death of Doctor John Faustus by ‘P.F.’
1588-1592 Christopher Marlowe’s drama Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.
1650 (1650s to 1780s) Age of Enlightenment/Age of Reason. Decline of superstition.
1687 Newton’s Principia – ‘the close of the beginning of the scientific revolution.’
1790 The first publication of a version of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust.
1808 Goethe published Faust. Eine Tragödie.
1832 Goethe’s Faust II published shortly after his death in that year.

The Pre-Death Thoughts of Faust

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874 – 1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher.

Following is an excerpt of Berdayaev’s thoughts on Christianity, Faust, Goethe, Spengeler and the end of Western Civilization:


The Pre-Death Thoughts of Faust (1922 – #59)

The fate of Faust — is the fate of European culture. The soul of Faust — is the soul of Western Europe. This soul was full of stormy, of endless strivings. In it there was an exceptional dynamism, unknown to the soul of antiquity, to the Greek soul. In its youth, in the era of the Renaissance, and still earlier, in the Renaissance of the Middle Ages, the soul of Faust sought passionately for truth, they fell in love with Gretchen and for the realisation of his endless human aspirations it entered into a pact with Mephistopheles, with the evil spirit of the earth. And the Faustian soul was gradually corroded by the Mephistophelean principle. Its powers began to wane. What ended the endless strivings of the Faustian soul, to what did they lead? The Faustian soul led to the draining of swamps, to the engineering art, to a material arranging of the earth and to a material mastery over the world. Thus we find spoken towards the conclusion of the second part of Faust:

Ein Sumpf zieht am Gebirge hin,
Verpestet alles schon Errungene;
Den faulen Pfuhl auch abzuziehn,
Das letzte waer das Hoechsterrungene,
Eroeffn ich Raeume vielen Millionen,
Nicht sicher zwar,
doch taetig-frei zu wohnen.

Nigh the mountain a swamp doth stretch,
Pollutes there every advancement;
To drain off the foul pool,
Would be the utmost highest achievement,
I’d open up space for many a million,
Not indeed secure, but active-free to be.

Pasted from <http://www.berdyaev.com/berdiaev/berd_lib/1922_059.html>

Christians are not allowed to practise magic….

Christians are not allowed to practise magic. It is forbidden in the Bible:

Exodus 22:18 King James Version (KJV):

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Leviticus 17:7:

So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

1 Timothy 4:1:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

2 Kings 17:14-17:

They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.

The morality play

[The first (sixteenth century) German Faust stories were morality plays. In Europe, the morality play evolved out of religious mystery plays, and though more secular, still presented an earnest moral teaching to the audience.

In England, not many years before Marlowe, the national switch from Catholicism to Protestantism meant that plays ceased to be supported by the church and were produced by companies of actors who were sponsored and protected by the nobility. Protection included some protection from censorship.]

From Wikipedia:

“The morality play is a genre of Medieval and early Tudor theatrical entertainment. In their own time, these plays were known as interludes, a broader term given to dramas with or without a moral. Morality plays are a type of allegory in which the protagonist is met by personifications of various moral attributes who try to prompt him to choose a Godly life over one of evil. The plays were most popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Having grown out of the religiously based mystery plays of the Middle Ages, they represented a shift towards a more secular base for European theatre.”

Pasted from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_play>

The road to hell is paved with good aphorisms

Faust always starts with good intentions – but where will he end up?

From Wikipedia:

‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions is a proverb or aphorism. An alternative form is “hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works”.

During negotiation, groups that are encouraged to understand the point of view of the other parties do worse than those whose perspective is not enlightened. The threat of punishment may worsen ethical behaviour rather than improve it. Studies of business ethics indicate that most wrongdoing is not due directly to wickedness but is performed by people who did not plan to err.’

Pasted from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentions>

“Most modern technologies have negative consequences that are both unavoidable and unpredictable. For example, almost all environmental problems, from chemical pollution to global warming, are the unexpected consequences of the application of modern technologies. Traffic congestion, deaths and injuries from car accidents, air pollution, and even global warming are unintended consequences of the invention and large scale adoption of the automobile. Hospital infections are the unexpected side-effect of antibiotic resistance, and even human overpopulation is the side-effect of various technological (i.e., agricultural and industrial) revolutions.”

Pasted from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unintended_consequences>

[You can see how the Faust legend is applied to Western Civilization and the modern idea and dependency on “progress”—in the hopes of something better, sooner, through the 14th-16th centuries of Faust, Europe decided that instead of focusing on the afterlife they should try to make life on Earth more endurable. To do that they put their faith into a God-less path of materialism & reason—science and technology. With that humanitarian resolve, they were forsaking God like Faust did. To be fair, they didn’t necessarily intend it that way (the same could be said about Faust). They also thought they might get closer to God by learning how things worked. There are many justifications for wanting God’s secret knowledge.

Like Goethe’s naive sorcerer’s apprentice, they stand a chance of screwing up badly. The more you progress, the more you have to progress to stay ahead of your mistakes. It becomes a race to progress faster so you can fix your mistakes before they catch up with you. Repentance is difficult.

By traditional Euro-Christian measure the material world is the home of the Devil, so from that perspective of the arc of European history, by turning away from God and putting faith into materialism, they have put their faith into the Devil, and there’s a Faustian chance that all progress will turn out be illusory and the path to failure and damnation.]

Summary of the original chapbook

The first Faust story we have dates from the mid-late sixteenth century Germany. Following is a link to an 1884 summary:

Summary of the original chapbook:


Zigzag journeys in northwest lands. The Rhine to the Arctic
by Butterworth, Hezekiah, 1839-1905. [from old catalog]

Published 1884.

2 Corinthians 12:

Paul the Apostle tells a story of a man who went up to heaven and heard secret things.

2 Corinthians 12:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise.

He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

…What Faust wouldn’t hope for that? Paul goes on to tell of being plagued by the Devil:

…there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me.

For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me.

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

Pasted from <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Corinthians%2012>

Spenglerian terms

Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936) was a German philosopher of history. He said that a civilisation was the end-state of culture, and wouldn’t last. He characterized Western civilization as Faustian:

From Wikipedia:

According to Spengler, the Western world is ending and we are witnessing the last last season—”winter time”—of the Faustian Civilization. In Spengler’s depiction, Western Man is a proud but tragic figure because, while he strives and creates, he secretly knows the actual goal will never be reached.

Pasted from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_the_West>

Spengler outlines different civilisations, with the Western one being Faustian. Both Faust and Western civilization are influenced by Magian and Apollonian civilizations – the latter especially so in the eighteenth century time of Goethe and his Faust, since the rediscovery of Greek literature which helped lead Europe from the Church to a secular, humanist society.

Spengler invests certain terms with unusual meanings not commonly encountered in everyday discourse.

Apollonian / Magian / Faustian These are Spengler’s terms for Classical, Arabian and Western civilisations respectively.

Apollonian Civilisation is focused around Ancient Greece and Rome. Spengler saw its world view as being characterised by appreciation for the beauty of the human body, and a preference for the local and the present moment.

Magian Civilisation includes the Jews from about 400BC, early Christians and various Arabian religions up to and including Islam. Its world feeling revolved around the concept of world as cavern, epitomised by the domed Mosque, and a preoccupation with essence. Spengler saw the development of this civilisation as being distorted by too influential presence of older cultures, the initial vigorous expansionary impulses of Islam being in part a reaction against this.

Faustian Civilisation began in Western Europe around the 10th century and according to Spengler such has been its expansionary power that by the 20th century it was covering the entire earth, with only a few Regions where Islam provides an alternative world view. The world feeling of Faustian civilisation is inspired by the concept of infinitely wide and profound space, the yearning towards distance and infinity.

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_the_West>

From The Decline of the West, Spengler on Goethe:

“Plato and Goethe stand for the philosophy of Becoming, Aristotle and Kant the philosophy of Being… Goethe’s notes and verse… must be regarded as the expression of a perfectly definite metaphysical doctrine. I would not have a single word changed of this: “The Godhead is effective in the living and not in the dead, in the becoming and the changing, not in the become and the set-fast; and therefore, similarly, the reason is concerned only to strive towards the divine through the becoming and the living, and the understanding only to make use of the become and the set-fast.(Letter to Eckermann)” This sentence comprises my entire philosophy.”

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_the_West>

A polymath is a person

…And Faust, too:

A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. In less formal terms, a polymath (or polymathic person) may simply be someone who is very knowledgeable. Most ancient scientists were polymaths by today’s standards.

The common term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. The concept emerged from the numerous great thinkers of that era who excelled in multiple fields of the arts and science, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Francis Bacon; the emergence of these thinkers was likewise attributed to the then rising notion in Renaissance Italy expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472): that “a man can do all things if he will.”

It embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans empowered, limitless in their capacities for development, and led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts. The term has since expanded from original usage and has been applied to other great thinkers before and after the Renaissance such as Aristotle, Johann Goethe, and Isaac Newton.

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymath>

Early Modern Europe

Early Modern Europe

The Renaissance saw a revival of classical learning, and a revival of ancient and medieval occult practices in particular. Renaissance magic revived the “occultist boom” of Late Antiquity, recovering texts treating Greco-Roman magic and Hermeticism as well as its continuations beyond antiquity in the form of the Kabbalah, alchemy and the medieval grimoires.

Renaissance scholarship gave rise to a Christian Kabbalah and later (in the Baroque period) to the Rosicrucian Brotherhood. The witch trials in Early Modern Europe are at least indirectly related to this revival of scholarly interest in the occult.

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_esotericism>