Study Guide

Doctor Faustus Religion

By Christopher Marlowe


Act 1, Scene 1

If we say that we have no sin,
We deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.
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! (1.1.41-47)

Shmoop calls this the Doris Day doctrine. But here's the thing. Faustus doesn't just think that mankind is predestined to sin, and is therefore headed to hell. He also thinks that, because of this, studying religion has no point. This tells us that Faustus is not interested in knowledge for its own sake—only for how it can benefit him. But the joke's on Faustus, because if he had studied religion, he probably wouldn't be in this predicament.

Act 1, Scene 3

For, when we hear one rack the name of God,
Abjure the Scriptures and his Savior Christ,
We fly in hope to get his glorious soul;
Nor will we come unless he use such means
Whereby he is in danger to be damned. (1.3.45-49)

The idea that swearing—taking God's name in vain, or cursing God—draws devils around you who will to try to win your soul for the Dark Side, is not a new one. In fact, it dates back to medieval times (no, not the restaurant). Back then, folks thought that a person always opens a space in his heart for the devil when he sins, but by swearing, he announces it to the world, basically advertising to evil spirits that his soul is theirs for the taking.

Act 2, Scene 1

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, but where we are is hell,
And where hell is, there must we ever be. (2.1.118-120)

Ever read Paradise Lost? In that piece, Satan declares, "Myself am hell." Like that declaration, Mephistopheles's description moves close to defining hell not as a place, but as a state of the soul. Those souls that are separated from God by their sins are in hell no matter what physical place they are in. It's everywhere.


Stay, Mephistopheles, and tell me
What good will my soul do thy lord?
Enlarge his kingdom.
Is that the reason why he tempts us thus?
Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris. (2.1.38-41)

Mephistopheles's Latin response to Faustus's question translates into "to the unhappy it is a comfort to have had company in misery." (In other words, "misery loves company.") This is basically a warning from Mephistopheles to Faustus to turn back from his intended course of action, since it implies that hell is miserable. But Faustus ignores it. He's really good at ignoring people.

Act 2, Scene 3

But think'st thou heaven is such a glorious thing?
I tell thee, Faustus, it is not half so fair
As thou, or any man that breathe on earth.
How prov'st thou that?
'Twas made for man; then he's more excellent. (2.3.5-9)

Maybe we're missing something here, but why does it necessarily follow that heaven must be less beautiful than man just because it was made for him? This is probably an example of the twisted logic the devils often use to get a hold on Faustus's soul. Of course it totally works. See, Faustus? You should've stayed in school.


Now tell me who made the world?
I will not.
Sweet Mephistopheles, tell me.
Move me not, Faustus.
Villain, have I not bound thee to tell me anything?
Ay, that is not against our kingdom;
This is. Thou art damned; think thou of hell.
Think, Faustus, upon God that made the world. (2.3.66-74)

Why is the answer to Faustus's question so threatening to Mephistopheles? Maybe because the answer—that God made the world—is just too good. After all, if God made the world, then God must be awesome, and Mephistopheles only wants to talk about the bad stuff. Acknowledging the goodness of god would threaten Mephistopheles and Lucifer's hold upon Faustus's soul.

Act 3, Scene 1
Pope Adrian and Bruno

Pope Julius did abuse the Church's rights,
And therefore none of his decrees can stand.
Is not all power on earth bestowed on us?
And therefore, though we would, we cannot err. (3.1.149-151)

Bruno has claimed that one of Pope Adrian's predecessors, Julius, recognized the Holy Roman Emperor as his lord, which is so not cool in Adrian's book. But in his response, Adrian contradicts himself, which doesn't make his argument look so sound. First, he says that Julius's decrees were invalid because he gave the Church too much power. Then he's all, "the papal office is infallible" (unable to make a mistake). But wait—if the papal office is infallible, how could Pope Julius's decrees have been invalid? This guy, like Faustus, could have used a logic class or two.

Behold this silver belt whereto is fixed
Seven golden seals, fast sealed with seven seals,
In token of our seven-fold power from heaven,
To bind or loose, lock fast, condemn or judge.
Resign or seal, or what so pleaseth us.
Then he and thou and all the world shall stoop,
Or be assured of our dreadful curse
To light as heavy as the pains of hell. (3.1.153-160)

Pope Adrian's Catholic Church believed that Jesus gave the Pope the power to save and condemn souls. That means that, when it comes down to it, the decision to either forgive a sinner or kick him out of the Church altogether (a practice called excommunication) was with the Pope. To gain the Pope's forgiveness, folks would buy indulgences, or forgiveness for sins. Many folks felt that this practice amounted to nothing more than people buying their tickets to heaven, to put it bluntly, and this practice was one of the main things that members of the Protestant Reformation objected to when it came to the Catholic Church. This passage shows the Pope using the power to save or condemn souls in just the way the Reformation claimed it did—to gain power, and make all the world "stoop."

Lord Cardinals of France and Padua,
Go forthwith to our holy consistory
And read amongst the statutes decretal
What, by the holy council held at Trent,
The sacred synod hath decreed for him
That doth assume the papal government
Without election and a true consent. (3.1.102-108)

Here, Pope Adrian charges his cardinals with determining a punishment for Bruno, a Saxon man who has been declared pope by the German emperor. The Council of Trent was a meeting of bishops and cardinals that occurred every once in a while between 1545 and 1563 as a response to the challenges of the Reformation. Throughout the medieval period, the Catholic Church had all kinds of problems, the most common of which were divisions within the Church that occurred when people couldn't agree upon a Pope. The character of Bruno is supposed to be the product of one such a division.

Act 3, Scene 2

Please it, your Holiness, I think it be some ghost crept out of purgatory and now is come unto your Holiness for his pardon.
It may be so.
Go then; command our priests to sing a dirge
To lay the fury of this same troublesome ghost.
        [Exit an Attendant. The Pope crosses himself.]
How now! Must every bit be spiced with a cross? (3.2.80-86)

The Pope and his cronies just keep getting more and more ridiculous. In this passage, they believe that the invisible Faustus is a soul that's come out of Purgatory to haunt them all. And this mention of Purgatory is yet another reminder of the rather negative view Protestants held of the Catholic Church. Many Protestants believed that Purgatory didn't exist. It was just as absurd to them as the other rituals the Pope and Archbishop participate in here—exorcism and crossing oneself. Faustus can't resist mocking the Pope for these habits and beliefs.