In Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe builds a dramatic poem around the basis of human strengths and weaknesses, two traits exemplified by Goethe through his main character, Johann Faust. Throughout his life, Faust becomes knowledgeable in math, science, and the Holy Scripture, yet desires to find happiness as a result of his persistent struggle for power. Faust seeks not power through knowledge, but power resultant from knowledge achieved through transcendence. Infinitely, it is this desire that is the downfall of Faust; he sacrifices his beliefs and morals to his pursuit of ultimate knowledge, and, in doing so, he becomes detached from reality. Through his ignorance of the surrounding humanity, Faust becomes obliterated by emptiness. During the time period of the poem?s setting, Christians and society considered this type of greedy pursuit to be immoral and unjust, and thus, many Christian elements play key roles in Goethe?s interpretation of the legendary figure. Through allusions to religious archetypes, along with symbolic Christian principles, the ?tragedy? of Faust shows the lifelong struggle of a man who longs for transcendence and the world, yet, remains imprisoned by his own mind.
Throughout Faust, basic elements of the Christian faith are seen within its composition. In Christianity, the number three is considered to be a harmony with the Divine, and its use throughout the play helps to create the religious overtone. The most basic of Christian fundamentals, the Trinity, shows the existence of God embodied in three persons: God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit. In the scene in the study, it is the Trinity that lets Mephistopheles into the study, but will not let him leave. The physical representation of God traps the Devil into the room, and as a result, forces him to trick Faust in order to leave. When Mephistopheles says that ?Three in One, and One in Three? is ?illusion and not truth,? he is mocking the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The belief that God can simultaneously be three people within one body is one of the most controversial aspects of the Christian belief, and Mephistopheles delights in pointing this idiosyncrasy out. Along the same lines, the pact made between the Devil and Faust also shows this idea of the number three in that both sides place three stipulations on their side of the bargain. During the same scene, Faust must invite Mephistopheles into his study three times in order to symbolize his willingness to become involved in the evil the spirit represents, and thus consecrate his choice of desire over religious belief. Perhaps the reason for this is not only in mockery of the Christian perception, but it is also a representation of three being the perfect number, because it typifies the beginning, middle, and end.
Along the lines of this religious theme are the specific roles the characters represent. Mephistopheles is the Devil, and this is explained during the Prologue to Heaven, at which time the Devil bargains with God for the soul of Faust. The character of Gretchen is more complicated, due to her sudden character change in the middle of the text. Initially, she is portrayed as sweet and innocent, therefore paralleling to the Virgin Mary, yet, in the later scenes, after she is corrupted by Faust?s immorality, she parallels to Eve. The Virgin Mary is perceived in Christianity as the mother of mankind and thus the pure woman who makes man?s salvation possible. Eve, on the other hand, is the fallen woman; the archetype of man?s suffering. When taking these two ideas into account, it is revealed that the character of Faust is a polarization of each of these two facets, and thus, the core of a complex being living within a net of polarities can be seen.
Although Faust turns from his religious principles, in the end, he still receives Salvation. In the Prologue to Heaven, God tells the Devil that he has faith in Faust standing by his belief in the Divine Principles. Yet when the Devil bargains with Faust, the plot turns toward a downward spiral. Initially, Faust is seen with Mephistopheles as his companion and servant, but the reality is that Faust is merely a puppet of Mephistopheles, and in turn, it is revealed that Faust has been the true servant all along. Throughout the twenty-four years of this ?Faustian Bargain,? it can still be seen that Faust is continually striving for excellence. Through his heroic striving for knowledge and power, God sees that he is still worthy of salvation, and the archangels carry him to Heaven. The Redemption of Faust reveals that Christian overtone is so powerful that it can conquer evil, assert eternity, and ultimately, lead a tranquility of the soul.
Thus, it can be concluded that Goethe?s Faust embodies aspects of Christian principles in its composition. Through the symbolism of events and physical objects, along with the paralleling of characters to Christian archetypes, the play exonerates a Christian overtone. Through Goethe’s description of Faust’s search for truth,meaning, and how he renounced his faith then repented, show that the drama is more than just the story of Faust’s promised salvation, it is the celebration of heroic ideals deep-rooted in religious principalities.