Posts Tagged 'Goethe'

Recalled to Life

It is Easter’s Eve. Dr. Faust has passed the night in his study agonizing over his search for truth that has ended is such desolation. As morning dawns he mixes a deadly elixir with which he will end his life. Despair has prevailed. The light is extinguished; only the void remains. As Dr. Faust bravely raises the goblet of despair to his lips, he hears the choirs of heaven singing for joy: Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

(Faust, Part One, Goethe, transl. David Luke, Oxford, 1998)

FAUST. You gentle puissant choirs of heaven, why
Do you come seeking me? The dust is stronger!
Go, chant elsewhere to tenderer souls! For I
Can hear the message, but believe no longer.
Wonders are dear to faith, by it they live and die.
I cannot venture to those far-off spheres,
Their sweet evangel is not for my ears.
And yet – these strains, so long familiar, still
They call me back to life. There was time
Of quiet, solemn sabbaths when heaven’s kiss would fill
Me with its love’s descent, when a bell’s chime
Was deep mysterious music, and to pray
Was fervent ecstasy. I could not understand
The sweet desire that drove me far away
Out through the woods, over the meadowland:
There I would weep a thousand tears and feel
A whole world come to birth, my own yet real.
Those hymns would herald youthful games we played
To celebrate the spring. As I recall
That childhood, I am moved, my hand is stayed,
I cannot take this last and gravest step of all.
Oh sing, dear heaven-voices, as before!
Now my tears flow, I love the earth once more!

Dr. Faust is, but for a time, recalled to life.


The Maddening Search for Truth

As much as we Christians talk about the complimentary nature of faith and reason, we are still all to tethered to the post-Enlightenment ideal of certainty through reason. As we search for “the Truth” we expect all of our arguments to make perfect sense, so that logically each piece of the puzzle fits in nicely within a coherent whole. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that it doesn’t quite work out that way. Paradox is at the heart of our religion, and if you don’t believe that read a little G. K. Chesterton. He will paint a vivid picture for you on how paradox informs our faith at almost every turn. Of course, this should not be taken as a weakness of religion, for as Chesterton says (paraphrasing), “the belief in reason takes faith”. There are those who have faith and know it, and there are those who have faith and do not know it.

The search for “the Truth” when using reason alone (solo ratio!) can be a maddening experience. I suspect all who have read a good deal of philosophy, especially of the last 300 years, have had a glimpse into this terrible maelstrom of reason. Nothing expresses this madness quite like the words of Dr. Faust in the opening sequence of Goethe’s famous play (Faust – a wonderful translation by David Luke – Oxford University Press, 1998):

FAUST [sitting restlessly at his desk]

Well, that’s Philosophy I’ve read,
And Law and Medicine, and I fear
Theology too, from A to Z;
Hard studies all, that have cost me dear.
And so I sit, poor silly man,
No wiser now than when I began.
They call me Professor and Doctor, forsooth,
For misleading many an innocent youth
These last ten years now, I suppose,
Pulling them to and fro by the nose;
And I see all our search for knowledge is vain,
And this burns my heart with bitter pain.
I’ve more sense, to be sure, than the learned fools,
The masters and pastors, the scribes from the schools;
No scruples to plague me, no irksome doubt,
No hell-fire or devil to worry about –
Yet I take no pleasure in anything now;
For I know I know nothing, I wonder how
I can still keep up the pretense of teaching
Or bettering mankind with my empty preaching.

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