Study Guide

Doctor Faustus Philosophical Viewpoints: Predestination

By Christopher Marlowe

Philosophical Viewpoints: Predestination


Why, then, belike we must sin
And so consequently die.
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this? Che serà, serà?
What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu! (1.1.42-46)

The way Faustus sees it, the Bible tells him that he is damned to hell no matter what he does (never mind the fact that he didn't read the whole thing). In a weird way, it makes sense then, that he rejects the study of theology. After all, wouldn't it be worthless if, no matter how much you study it, it doesn't buy you a ticket to heaven. And to be fair, however incomplete it is, Faustus's interpretation of these Bible verses comes close to the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination—that a man's fate as saved or damned is set in stone long before he's even born. The only difference is that here, Faustus doesn't think anyone can be saved.

Act 1, Scene 1

Jerome's Bible, Faustus; view it well.
[Reads] "Stipendium peccati mors est." Ha!
Stipendium, etc. The reward of sin is death. That's hard.
[Reads.] 'Si peccasse negamus, fallimur,
Et nulla est in nobis veritas.'
If we say that we have no sin,
We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. (1.1.36-42)

Here, Faustus reads lines from the Bible, specifically Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death," and 1 John 1:8. But Faustus isn't exactly being a thorough reader here. Romans 6:23 goes on to say, "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," while 1 John 1:8 reads, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Considering the fact that Faustus is such a renowned scholar, it's hard to believe that he doesn't know the rest of these lines. Maybe he's just already made his choice, so he's reading the Bible in a way that validates it. It's clever, sure, but it doesn't exactly help him in the end.

Act 1, Scene 3

Were he a stranger, not allied to me,
The danger of his soul would make me mourn.
But, come, let us go and inform the Rector.
It may be his grave counsel may reclaim him.
I fear me nothing will reclaim him now. (1.3.32-36)

The Scholars pretty much sum up the question that drives the rest of Doctor Faustus: can Faustus still be saved, or is his fate sealed the minute he decides to ditch theology in favor of magic? Second Scholar is an optimist, but First Scholar takes the exact same point of view that will later be voiced by the devils: Faustus's salvation ship has sailed.


Seeing Faustus hath incurred eternal death
By desperate thoughts against Jove's deity,
Say, he surrenders up to him his soul. (1.3.86-88)

Faustus's logic in surrendering his soul to the devil is similar to his thinking when he turned to magic: "I am already damned, so why not go whole hog?" In other words, Faustus has already blasphemed against God, and has therefore lost all hope of heaven. There's no turning back now.

Act 2, Scene 1

Now, Faustus, must thou needs be damned?
Canst thou not be saved?
What boots it, then, to think on God or heaven?
Away with such vain fancies, and despair.
Despair in God and trust in Beelzebub. (2.1.1-5)

Or maybe Faustus isn't quite convinced that he has zero hope of heaven. In this quote, he's still considering the possibility of salvation for himself. He seems almost desperate here, like he's clinging to one last hope, no matter how pathetic. But of course, he'll soon be distracted by the devils, so no matter.

"Faustus gives to thee his soul." O, there it stayed!
Why shouldst thou not? Is not thy soul thine own? (2.1.65-66)

The question of whether or not man's soul belongs to him is actually a question about Predestination in disguise. Does a man have free will to choose whom he'll serve, or does his soul already belong to God or the Devil from the moment he is born?

[...] Dost thou think that Faustus shall be damned?
Ay, of necessity, for here's the scroll
In which thou hast given thy soul to Lucifer. (2.1.124-126)

Here again, we see Faustus not quite convinced that his fate is sealed. Mephistopheles is all, um, dude, you wrote it down in your own blood. But Faustus gave his soul to Lucifer, which means it was a conscious choice. So if Faustus made that choice, what's to stop him from making a different choice later on? Backsies?

Act 2, Scene 3
Good and Bad Angels

Faustus, repent; yet God will pity thee.
Thou art a spirit; God cannot pity thee.
Who buzzeth in mine ears I am a spirit?
Be I a devil, yet God may pity me;
Yea, God will pity me, if I repent.
Ay, but Faustus never shall repent.
My heart is hardened; I cannot repent.
Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven. (2.3.12-18)

Well here's one theory of the way Predestination works, and one that doesn't deny the possibility of repentance and forgiveness. God will forgive the repentant, goes the theory, but only those who are predestined to repent will do so. Quite the Catch-22, eh? Faustus says his heart is "hardened," which means he cannot repent. A Calvinist would see this as evidence that he is indeed predestined for Hell. Well at least we got that cleared up.

Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just.
There's none but I have interest in the same. (2.3.85-86)

It's true that, in the theology of Christianity, Christ can't save the souls of those who have given up all hope for salvation. But it's not clear that Faustus has. Lucifer is being a bit sneaky here, using his words as a ruse to push Faustus over the edge so he'll seal his own fate.

Act 5, Scene 2

O thou bewitching fiend, 'twas thy temptation
Hath robbed me of eternal happiness.
I do confess it Faustus, and rejoice.
'Twas I that, when thou wert i'the way to heaven,
Dammed up thy passage. When thou took'st the book
To view the Scriptures, then I turned the leaves
And led thine eye. (5.2.92-96)

In a strange change of heart, Mephistopheles now takes the blame for Faustus's damnation. Did Faustus ever have a choice about his salvation? Or was Mephistopheles pulling the strings all along? This passage, like all the ones that came before it, leaves the answer unclear. P.S. Also notice the neat wordplay in line 94: Mephistopheles has "dammed up" Faustus's passage to heaven (as a beaver builds a dam), and this has damned him. Ba-dum ching.


Yet, Faustus, look up to heaven and remember mercy is infinite.
But Faustus' offence can ne'er be pardoned.
Yet, Faustus, call on God.
On God, whom Faustus hath abjured? On God, whom Faustus hath blasphemed? O my God, I would weep, but the devil draws in my tears. Gush forth blood instead of tears! Yea, life and soul! O, he stays my tongue! I would lift up my hands, but see, they hold 'em, they hold 'em.
Who, Faustus?
Why, Lucifer and Mephistopheles. O, gentlemen, I gave them my soul for my cunning! (5.2.39-41, 53-61)

Okay, so according to Dr. F, God can't pardon his sins. Yet in attempting to call on God, to weep tears of repentance, and to lift his hands to heaven, Faustus shows that he does believe in the possibility of forgiveness. It's just that he is unable to feel the true repentance that would set the forgiveness wheels in motion. Faustus also implies, however, that Mephistopheles and Lucifer have somehow trapped him.