Faust, Dante, and Changing Human Consciousness

Both Goethe's Faust and Dante's Divine Comedy are works of grand cosmological proportions, taking us through realms of heaven and hell populated by mythological, magical, historical, and angelic beings, evoking ancient and future times. The central theme, however -- the situation of the human being in relation to the cosmos -- is painted with strikingly different colors. Why would Dante call his epic work a comedy, whereas Goethe's dramatic poem is a tragedy? What constitutes Faust's character, and how does he differ from Dante the pilgrim? How could the two protagonists choose guides as diametrically opposite as Virgil and Mephisto?

Roughly 450 years had passed from the creation of the Divine Comedy until Goethe began his work on Faust, and human consciousness had undergone some significant transformations. Dante the pilgrim undertakes his ascent from the Inferno through the Purgatorio to the Paradiso with the firm conviction that the world and everything within it is created and upheld by divine powers, that the order and structure of the universe is a direct expression of God. In fact, this is more than conviction or belief; it is an unquestioned certainty which has not yet been undermined by doubt. Human beings could err and make mistakes, their personal imagination could be so warped and distorted as to form a hellish fixation, but they had a secure place in an ordered and meaningful world.

In The Banquet Dante describes this order which is based on the Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology. To its nine planetary spheres the Scholastics had added the Empyrean Heaven as the tenth sphere which was the most divine realm, the abode of the Supreme Deity. By assimilating Ptolemy's system to Christian iconography and symbolism, Dante wove together a vast panoply . This background provided a fixed and firm place for every creature and thing in the cosmic hierarchy. Positioned between Heaven and Hell, the human being was held securely, like a baby in the cradle.

From the cosmic perspective of such a world view, earthly tribulations ultimately dissolve as impermanent and transitory stages of the soul's journey back to a reunification with the Absolute. What seems tragic from a human perspective is embedded in the Divine Comedy, the all-encompassing Love of God. Although one rarely laughs when reading Dante's work, and the stark pictures of the Inferno are disconcerting and startling, the state of pure bliss and joy evoked in the Paradiso which is attainable with earnest striving, gives confidence in the basic goodness of creation, and is the direction of the gaze of human earthly existence.

When such a system becomes habitual and static, any change causes a disruption of the whole structure. Once the frozen conventions began to thaw, their stability simply melted away. By Goethe's time human consciousness had adopted a rational, scientific attitude, based on intellectual evaluation of observable facts, at the expense of imaginative vision. Copernicus and Kepler, Galileo and Newton were the heralds of a new world view which caused Dante's secure edifice to topple like a house of cards. The earth is not the center of the universe, but moves around the sun, like other planets. There is no limited and fixed number of spheres, in fact the universe is infinite. God and angelic hierarchies become more and more objects of philosophical debate, separate and removed from the physical world. Thus, Goethe's Faust finds himself in a fundamentally different situation from Dante's pilgrim.

Goethe's dramatic poem starts in Heaven, and Faust's immortal soul is saved; hardly a tragic ending. However, it is the course of human earthly life which is the focus of the drama and which has indeed tragic proportions. Faust has often been called the archetypal modern individual, plagued by doubt, insecurity, and fear of an ultimately meaningless existence. But the story of Faust's passionate striving for knowledge and experience is not only serious; it includes comedy and satire, music and poetry, and is essentially universal in its scope.

After a short "Dedication", Part I opens with the "Prelude in the Theater", reminiscent of Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage". Together with the "Prologue in Heaven", these prefaces to the play form a distancing frame of reference. The solemn "Dedication" by Goethe the poet, written almost 25 years after he first started to work on the subject, sets the tone for the play's fantastic character, evoking memories of old friends lost or dead, arising "out of the mist and murk" of the past. The more light-hearted "Prelude in the Theater" reminds us that a play is about to begin; right before our eyes and ears, the director, the poet, and the jester discuss how we, the audience, should best be entertained. It is not an altogether flattering picture that reflects back to us -- the poet calls us "motley throng", the director's chief interest is our money, and the jester knows what will satisfy us:

Colorful changing scenes and little sense,
Much error, mixed with just a grain of truth -
That's the best drink for such an audience,
They'll be refreshed and edified.

But when the director calls for action, he sums up what will be offered:

Thus on these narrow boards you'll seem
To explore the entire creation's scheme -
And with swift steps, yet wise and slow
From heaven, through the world, right down to hell you'll go!

And this is the course of Part I: from the Prologue in Heaven to the state of Faust's soul after he has ruined Gretchen's life and has to leave her in prison, to be executed.

The important theme of polarity thus introduced, which weaves throughout both parts, is taken up again with the appearance of Mephisto in Heaven. After the magnificent songs of the archangels praising God and the heavenly hosts, Mephisto's cynicism forms a sharp and jarring contrast It is utterly impossible to imagine a hellish creature in Dante's Empyrean Heaven. Equally, the two opposing worldviews expressed by God and Mephisto would have been simply unthinkable at Dante's time. In Goethe's drama God is not so much a theologian or a Christian God as an exponent of Goethe's deep conviction of the positive workings of the universe, of the basic goodness of nature's eternal becoming. Likewise, Mephisto is less of an archetypal personification of the Devil but seems more like an exaggeration of human weaknesses and aberrations. In Goethe's cosmology where the realm of becoming is a constant weaving between polar forces, Mephisto is simply necessary to keep things running; he calls himself the "spirit of perpetual negation", but also knows that he is

Part of that Power which would
Do evil constantly, and constantly does good.

He continuously seeks to destroy the light and the created world, but he knows his attempts are futile.

The Something, this coarse world, this mess,
Stands in the way of Nothingness,
And despite all I've undertaken,
This solid lump cannot be shaken --

he complains. Faust will later call him a "strange son of chaos", archenemy of "the ever-stirring, wholesome energy of life", and advises him to find an occupation less doomed for failure:

So in cold rage you raise in vain
Your clenched satanic fist. Why, you
Strange son of chaos! think again,
And think for something else to do!

The Divine Comedy begins in Hell, a frightening, gruesome place, and ends in Heaven -- the realm of ecstasy and eternal bliss. While today we may prefer to see these sites as inner states, stages of transformation of the individual, one can rightfully assume that the reader at Dante's time believed in Heaven and Hell as fully real, actual locations. They were part of the one world view shared by every Christian -- that is, every individual in the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. This universality of the Christian faith had been shattered by the time of the Enlightenment, and there were different churches, sects, occult groups, free-thinkers, philosophers, not unlike today. Thus, the "Prologue in Heaven" does not reflect a universally accepted vision but Goethe's own. In the dialogue between God and Mephisto there is no mention of sin, evil, or eternal damnation, and with this beginning scene Goethe makes it quite clear that Faust's soul is in no danger to fall prey to the devil. "Man errs as long as he strives", declares God who knows his creations very well. The tragic proportions of human existence lie entirely in earthly life between birth and death. The opening scene of the play proper finds Faust in a state of inner hell and agony, of utter despair, isolation, and loneliness. His famous monologue voices the archetypal longing of the modern human being for knowledge and truth, a consciousness tormented by insecurity and doubt:

And I see all our search for knowledge is vain,
And this burns my heart with bitter pain.

Although he is a highly educated professor and even teaches others, the four academic sciences of philosophy, law, medicine, and theology offer no answer to his fundamental questions.

To grant me a vision of Nature's forces
That bind the world, all its seeds and sources
And innermost life -- all this I shall see,
And stop peddling in words that mean nothing to me.

Turning to magic he conjures up the Earth Spirit but is unable to bear the vision. Humiliated and utterly defeated, he turns to poison to end his life, but is saved by the bells ringing in Easter morning; a choir of angels conjures up memories of his childhood: "Now my tears flow, I love the earth once more!"

Many a modern human may have gone through such intense agony, trying to make sense of a world fragmented into countless special disciplines. The divinely inspired order of the universe, unquestioned in Dante's time, has become a matter of belief and thus uncertainty. "I can hear the message, but believe no longer" is Faust's response to the angelic song about the Risen Christ. Faust's inner state of despair and frustration looks like the hopelessly stuck situation of the shades Dante meets in the Inferno, but there is a difference. The people who ended up in Hell are there because they stubbornly refused to learn life's lessons, they are stuck in a self-created prison cell beyond which they cannot see. It is thus a personal limitation, not the human condition as an existential problem, such as Faust's "hellish" situation. All his studies and academic pursuits have only brought him to the realization that "I know I know nothing", and this tortures him to a degree that he wants to do away with his life:

Time not to shrink from the dark cavern where
Our fancy damns itself to its own tortured fate;
Time to approach the narrow gate
Ringed by the eternal flames of hell's despair;
Time to step gladly over this great brink,
And if it is the void, into the void to sink!

Seeking death seems to him an act of heroic courage, a chance to prove "That by his noble deeds a man is deified". He does not fear "divine judgment" or "causeless nothingness"; rather, he is plagued by the doubt whether human existence can ever provide a clear answer as to which one is correct. The one decisive act then, the one act of freedom left to the human being, is that of suicide; an act which would have filled Dante with horror, because he knew that it would result in eternal damnation.

As in several other parts of his monologue, Faust reveals here his hubris, his megalomaniacial sense of selfimportance which constantly alters with feelings of worthlessness. When the Earth Spirit rejects him with the words: "You match the spirit you can comprehend. I am not he", Faust exclaims: "I, made in God's image, and not even like you!". And in the next instance, he feels to be no more than a worm or dust. If he has experienced moments of sublime ecstasy, as a human bound to earth he was unable to sustain them.

The spirit's noblest moments, rare and high,
Are choked by matter's alien obtrusion,
And rich with this world's goods, we cry
Scorn on those better things as mere illusion...
Imagination, once a flight sublime
That soared in hope beyond the swirl of time,
Now, as each joy is drowned beyond redress,
Sinks down inside us into pettiness.

While Dante the pilgrim displays an essentially humble disposition, striving to purify his soul from weaknesses and selfish passions, eager to learn what is good and noble, Faust has a more complex and conflicting character. Seeking ultimate knowledge and understanding, longing to soar to new shores and to "the heaven's end", there is nothing moderate or modest about him. He desires extremes, not willing or able to enjoy any one mood for long.

Oh if some wings would raise me, if somehow
I could follow its curcuit through the air!

he exclaims, only to declare a moment later:

Oh, how soon the stream runs dry,
And in what parching thirst again we lie!
How often this has happened to me!

He explains his character to Wagner, his "famulus" or assistant, a particularly dry and pedantic fellow who often seems like a parody of Faust with his eagerness to imitate his master. Wagner does not know passion; content with the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, his soul does not feel the deep existential pain of somebody seeking to experience truth. With clear insight into the fundamental problem which tears him apart, Faust tells Wagner:

Only one of our needs is known to you;
You must not learn the other, oh beware!
In me there are two souls, alas, and their
Division tears my life in two.
One loves the world, it clutches her, it binds
Itself to her, clinging with furious lust;
The other longs to soar beyond the dust
Into the realm of high ancestral minds.

He yearns for a synthesis of the sense-perceptible and the spiritual world, where philosophical speculation and tangible reality are united in a new, hightened experience. As Schiller wrote to Goethe after having read the Urfaust manuscript: the main theme of the play is "the duality of human nature and the vain attempt to unite the divine and the physical in man".

Faust's wish for a magic cloak "to carry me away to some far place, some land untold" will soon be fulfilled with Mephisto's help who makes his appearance when Faust, seemingly in a more patient mood than during the previous scenes, attempts to find a better translation for the opening lines of the Book of John.

The choice of Mephisto as a guide and companion also indicates the change in human consciousness since Dante's time. Where Virgil is a fatherly mentor whose sole aim is to educate his pupil towards a fuller realization of his affinity with the Beautiful, the True, and the Good, Mephisto plainly desires Faust's destruction. While Dante the pilgrim treats his guide with veneration and humility, Faust more often than not expresses his contempt in Mephisto's company. It has been pointed out that Mephisto is Faust's Double or Shadow, personifying his repressed and unacceptable qualities. In this role, he is hardly fit to instill the fear of eternal damnation in Faust; he is more like a constant tormentor, forever spoiling the pleasures he promises.

Mephisto's initial appearances mirror the duality of Faust's soul: the first time he wears the black garb of a travelling scholar, a distorted image of Faust's yearning for knowledge. He had entered Faust's study in the guise of a black poodle, but Faust soon notices that he did not let in an ordinary animal:

Is it real? Is it a dream or not?
How long and broad my poodle has got!
He heaves himself upright:
This is no dog, if I trust my sight!

He uses some magical spells to discover what "hybrid half-brood of hell" he has brought in, but only his mention of the Holy Trinity finally reveals "the quintessence of the cur". Although dressed as a medieval wandering student, Mephisto cannot fool Faust as to his true identity. Right away, Faust calls him "Lord of the Flies, Destroyer, Liar"; nevertheless, he is invited to come again. Faust shows no fear, but somehow overestimates his power over his hellish visitor. Because of the sign of the Pentagram on the door sill, the devil is unable to cross it. But Faust's delight in having caught such a prize is rather shortlived; Mephisto has more tricks up his sleeve than Faust gives him credit for. Instead of being trapped as a prisoner, the devil soon is free, after some helping spirits lull Faust to sleep.

When Mephisto returns, he is dressed as a young nobleman,

In scarlet, with gold trimmings, cloak
Of good stiff silk, and in my hat
The usual cock's feather,

appealing to Faust's earthly desires by suggesting to show him "what the good life can be". Faust cannot be tempted by such superficial pleasures; the conflict between the divine spirit he experiences within and the squallor, triviality, and frustration of earthly life is too great. "Earth's a prison", and Faust curses every part of it:

A curse first on the high pretenses
Of our own intellectual pride!
A curse on our deluded senses
That keep life's surface beautified!
A curse upon our dreams of fame,
Of honour and a lasting name!...
I curse the nectar of the grape,
I curse love's sweet transcendent call,
My curse on faith! My curse on hope!
My curse on patience above all!

Dante readily accepts earthly existence as a transitory stage on the way to eternal happiness and complete selfrealization. Where else than on earth can the soul learn and grow? He accepts the guides who will lead him to the ultimate goal of the human being: to be at one with Divine Love and Infinite Goodness. This is a direct experience for Dante, and from the vantage point of his true vision he can say

O senseless cares of mortals, how deceiving
are syllogistic reasonings that bring
your wings to flight so low, to earthly things!
One studied law and one the Aphorisms
of the physicians; one was set on priesthood
and one, through force or fraud, on rulership;...
while I, delivered from our servitude
to all these things, was in the hight of heaven
with Beatrice, so gloriously welcomed (Par. XI, 1-12)

This vision transcends the capacities of intellectuals and academics, but was fully reachable for Dante. It is a mystical experience of unity:

In its profundity I saw -- ingathered
and bound by love into one single volume --
what, in the universe, seems separate, scattered;
substances, accidents, and dispositions
as if conjoined -- in such a way that what
I tell is only rudimentary.

Where ordinary consciousness discriminates the many, the seer experiences the One, all-encompassing, all-embracing Beingness:

Eternal light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You: Self-knowing,
Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!

This vision, however, is not simply given to Dante. He attains to it only after his long and arduous journey through Hell and Purgatory. In order to go through the necessary transformation and purification willingly -- one has to engage a tremendous amount of will to pit against life-long habits -- the objective truth of the goal one strives for must be absolutely certain. One may reach the goal or one may fall short, but there is no question about its existence and reality.

By Goethe's time faith had changed into belief which is impossible for someone like Faust who wants to know. Doubting Heaven means doubting Hell too, and all that is left to Faust, that concerns him, is the earthly realm. True to his earlier statement of not fearing hell or devil, or the loss of his soul (eternal life), he "dares the devil" by suggesting the famous wager.

Poor devil! What can you offer me?
A mind like yours, how can it comprehend
A human spirit's high activity?

is Faust's answer to Mephisto's promises of unseen and unknown pleasures. Denying spirit that he is, opposed to creativity, he must lack the imagination that could only lift Faust's soul. Certain of the null effect Mephisto's illusions will have on him, and uncon-cerned about life after death anyway, Faust offers:

If ever to the moment I shall say:
Beautiful moment, do not pass away!
Then you may forge your chains to bind me,
Then I will put my life behind me,
Then let them hear my death-knell toll.
Then from your labors you'll be free,
The clock may stop, the clock-hands fall,
And time come to an end for me!

and he adds:

This bet, which I may lose
Is no bravado. I must be pursuing
My purpose: once I stand still, I shall be
A slave -- yours or no matter whose.

This mirrors the bet Mephisto had proposed to God in Heaven, and it turns out that he is doing exactly what God wanted:

Man is too apt to sink into mere satisfaction,
A total standstill is his constant wish:
Therefore your company, busily devilish,
Serves well to stimulate him into action.

With these words, God had given Mephisto permission to try and lead Faust astray, and when Faust now promises ceaseless striving, rejecting complacency and ease, both he and the devil are only following God's plan. But if the wager is nothing more than a juxtaposition of empty earthly pleasures with empty threats of Hell, what is its meaning? Is it only an important dramatic device? I think in his innermost heart, Faust is yearning for a vision such as Dante's, and his intention is to use Mephisto in order to reach this total experience, a moment of absolute wholeness. For Faust, as indeed for Goethe, the path towards such unity has nothing to do with transcendent or metaphysical realms but begins with earthly life itself.

If you want to stride into the infinite
Just go, in the finite, in every direction.

Goethe wrote in a gnomic couplet.

The tragedy of human life then is not so much our ignorance of the secrets of the universe and the meaning of human existence; at least, it is not only this. Our confusion is caused by our own myopia and does not exist on God's level. Dante's vision has not been withdrawn from humanity, not even temporarily. It is simply hidden to the eyes of the intellect which can only separate and distinguish between parts. While an important and necessary achievement of the human mind, the intellect needs to be complemented by soul qualities which lead again to harmony and undivided unity, like intuitive thinking.

In view of the following part of the drama I would say that it is the ignorance of the consequences of our actions which is truly tragic. Faust does not consciously seek to destroy Gretchen, poison her mother, or kill her brother. Hardly any human being would consciously strive to become an evil villain, intent to hurt others. And yet, we hurt one another all the time, with the difference between an unkind word and a painful blow being only a matter of degree. The cosmic outlook of Dante's Comedy has been shifted by Goethe's time to an earthly perspective which gave rise to individualism. Having lost the intuitive connection with the Divine, the individual has equally lost the connection with the Other.

There is no question about Faust's responsibility for Gretchen's infanticide, madness, and execution; however, the restrictions of narrow-minded bourgeois morality, of a tight class-structure, can be seen to play at least an equal part. Upon their first meeting, Faust calls her "young lady", and soon gets Mephisto to put a casket filled with precious jewels into her room. However, belonging to a family of simple peasants, she is forbidden by law to wear such extravagant finery. Faust's flatteries and grandiouse compliments about her wisdom only make her aware of her "poor conversation"; a formal education simply was not available to a girl of her social standing. Although uneducated, Gretchen is not stupid, and she must have clearly known that a liaison with Faust could never end in a happy marriage. But her love is so absolute that nothing else counts. In her room at the spinning wheel, she declares the extent of her passion and desire:

My body's on fire
With wanting him so;
Oh when shall I hold him
And never let go

And kiss him at last
As I long to do,
And swoon on his kisses
And die there too!

Her compulsion is as overpowering as Faust's. For the love of her life, she is ready to die; but she could not have imagined what it means to live in humiliation and shame, an outcast of society, abandoned by family and friends. The vicious gossip at the well about a young girl who had gotten pregnant without being married, and her public disgrace, gives Gretchen the first intimation of her own downfall.

The next scene dramatically hightens the sense for impending disaster. Gretchen prays at the shrine of the Mater Dolorosa, and the intensity of her despair is truly heartbreaking:

Wherever I go, wherever,
It never stops, just never;
Oh how it hurts and aches!
When I'm alone, I'm crying,
I cry as if I'm dying,
I cry as my heart breaks. ...
Help! Save me from shame and death! -- Oh thou
Who art full of sorrows, thou
Most holy Virgin, bow
Thy face in mercy to my anguish now!

Clearly, she knows that she is pregnant.

It also seems quite certain that by now Faust's passion has cooled off considerably, and that he is not a frequent visitor any more. But when her brother publicly calls her a whore and a slut, and foretells that she will be shunned "like a plague-infected corpse", it breaks her apart. Faust kills Valentine in a duel, which makes him a fugitive and further turns public opinion against Gretchen.

In the Cathedral, Gretchen's remorse and shame are powerfully externalized by the alternating voices of the choir singing the Dies Irae sequence of the Mass for the Dead and an evil spirit who tortures her conscience by reminding her of her mother's death (at Faust's bidding, she had administered a sleeping potion to allow their love-making).

The final scene finds Gretchen in prison, arrested for having drowned her new-born baby, and facing execution. She has visions and is hallucinating; at first she mistakes Faust, who comes to rescue her with Mephisto's help, for her executioner. Once she recognizes him, though, her mind becomes crystal clear -- she refuses to escape and appeals to God's mercy. She instinctively knows Mephisto's identity and recoils from him in horror:

What's that? It came out of the floor of my prison!
It's him! It's him! Send him away!
He can't come! this place is sacred today!
He wants me!

To Faust, she only says:

"Heinrich, you frighten me"

(a rather pale translation of the German "mir graust's vor dir"). While Mephisto wants to claim her soul as condemned, a voice from heaven proclaims: "She is redeemed!"

How could anybody not experience the deepest compassion for Gretchen and her tragic fate. However, I feel that it diminishes her character if we only see her as a poor, helpless victim, the plaything of a manipulative male. And we would have to see her thus, if we put all the blame on Faust. She knew the intensity of her love, and she knew the risk she was taking, at least to some extent. I would even venture to say that Faust's abandonment alone would not have destroyed her. She followed the intuitions of her heart, but the conventions of a bigot society did not allow her to. Why did she have to be ashamed for being pregnant? Why did she feel compelled to murder her infant if not because she was mercilessly judged and cast out by her neighbors and friends, even her brother? Goethe himself had a longtime lower-class mistress, Christiane Wulpius. The society he moved in would not have spent a single breath in reproaching him had he deserted her, as Faust deserted Gretchen. In fact, this was not only accepted, but expected behavior of a "gentleman". When he finally married her, it caused an outrage which Goethe, never one to care much about conventions, would simply ignore. Such double standards and dishonest morality wear but a thin guise of respectability and stand in stark contrast to Gretchen's integrity.

The full realization of his responsibility for Gretchen's fate, and his failed attempt to save her live, seem to have genuinely shaken Faust. In fact, Goethe felt that these horrors had so "completely paralyzed" and "annihilated" his protagonist, that he had to be born again after his moral and psychological collapse, a theme which will be repeated several times in Part II. Thus, he goes through a period of sleep and forgetfulness, to begin a new existence, as it were. Nature spirits, under the guidance of Ariel, undertake the task of healing him, to "restore him to the holy light".

Tiny elves with souls propitious
Haste to help where help they can;
Be he blameless, be he vicious,
They lament the luckless man.

Invigorated and refreshed, Faust promises "to seek the highest life for which I strive". In response to questions about Faust's punishment, Goethe wrote to Eckermann that he would not submit Faust's case to human judges; "everything is compassion and the most profound pity". These feelings come to a radiant culmination in the last scene of Part II, the ascent of Faust's "immortal part" to Heaven. In an upward-spiralling movement, his soul rises through realms of angelic beings, undergoing transformation and metamorphosis:

Glad we're receiving now
Him as a chrysalis,
Thereby achieving now
Pledge of angelic bliss.
Loosen all earthly flakes
That cling around him;
Fair and great now he wakes,
Divine life has crowned him.

The climax of this ascent is the appearance of the Mater Gloriosa, the Eternal Feminine, a symbol for love, forgiveness, and grace. The only lines spoken by the Madonna appoint Gretchen as Faust's guide towards the ultimate union with the Divine:

Come, rise to higher spheres! Conduct him!
If he feels thee, he'll go thy way.

The ecstatic prayer with which Gretchen addresses the Glorious Mother is movingly reminiscent of her earlier prayer of despair in the shrine of the Mater Dolorosa.

Bend, oh bend now,
Matchless, attend Thou,
Thy radiance spend now,
Look on my bliss in charity.
My early lover,
His troubles over,
Comes back to me.

Praised by angelic hosts and other spirits in a variety of allegories and images, Eternal Love is the essential point of focus of the whole scene. The sacred place is a "refuge of love and grace", instilling "endless ecstatic fire, glow of pure love's desire"; even floods and lightning-bolts are interpreted as "heralds of love". Love is not an attribute, a quality of the divine creative forces, but is a fundametal condition, beyond the polarities of good and bad, right or wrong. God and Love are synonymous as the dynamic, moving power of the universe. Faust's ceaseless striving during his earthly existence does not reach perfection, he does not turn into a faultless, ideal human being. Rather, his striving is itself a form of love, less perfect and pure than its absolute manifestation, but complementary to it. The dynamic tension in Faust's soul leads to 'enhancement' (Steigerung), a process Goethe also observed and described in his studies of plant-metamorphosis. Rather than through linear progression, the soul advances in a spiral movement, oscillating between extreme contraction and expansion, repeating the same movement on a higher level or octave. It is Faust's passionate search which is akin to Love, not Wagner's lukewarm complacency. For us actors on the earthly stage, it is preferable to be active. Faust may not have earned the all-forgiving grace he meets in the end, but in the actuality of Love sin and error simply have no place.

In harmony with alchemical and mystical symbolism, Goethe represents the nature of unconditional Love as feminine. The song of the Chorus Mysticus concludes the poem:

All of mere transient date
As symbol showeth;
Here the inadequate
To fullness groweth;
All past the humanly
Wrought here in love;
The Eternal Feminine
Draws us above.

The glorious mother, the reappearance of Gretchen, and even the nature of Faust's immortal soul are different aspects of all-sustaining Love and divine Grace. The last scene of Part II is highly reminiscent of the final Cantos of the Paradiso, and Gretchen as Faust's guide through heavenly realms plays a similar role as Beatrice. However, it is a person of flesh and blood who carries the action of Part I. While we can assume that the Beatrice who guided him through the Paradiso was not any less real for Dante than her (former) living counterpart, Faust's passion and indeed love is only ignited and consumed by a real, alive person. Again, the focus is the realm of the earthly, sense-perceptible world. The vision of Dante's Imaginations has dimmed and faded by Goethe's time when humanity had turned its gaze fully toward the phenomena.

Truly great literary works point to the future, to something not yet visible in contemporary culture. A new dynamic begins to rise to the surface. Homer's Odyssey predicts the decline of the Heroic Code, and Dante celebrates the freedom of the individual about 150 years before the Renaissance. In Faust, Goethe describes realities of soul and spirit which are hidden to a superficial, materialistic outlook. According to Goethe's world view, it is only through the activity of the human being that nature and spirit, mind and matter can be united.

When the sound, healthy nature of man works as a whole, when he feels himself at one with the world as a great, beautiful, worthy whole, when this harmonious feeling of well-being gives him a pure free delight, then might the Universe, could it consciously feel, deeming itself at the goal, cry out for very joy, and be lost in admiration of the climax of its own development and organization,

he wrote in his book on Winckelmann. Today, we may feel inclined to call such a view anthropocentric and interpret it as an undue elevation of "man". But this is not what Goethe meant. He points to the fact that the laws which govern nature and the created universe manifest only in human consciousness, through human thinking. A simple example might help to illustrate this: the numbers one, two, three, etcetera do not contain the concepts of halfness and doubleness; not even the concept of counting is given to mere sense-perception. My cat is unable to count seven sardines and divide them into two piles of three and a half each. Only human thinking can do this, and in this sense Goethe speaks of the human being as completing the work of nature. Modern science prides itself of "objective" investigation, totally discounting the role of human thinking in the simplest act of perception. Goethe's worldview points to an as yet largely unrealized step in the evolution of consciousness: to recognize human experience as the starting point of cognition. Instead of being a spectator who formulates theories about the relationships of external facts, the human being is a co-creator, participating in and completing nature's creation through the act of cognition. Instead of only considering distinctly separate parts, Goethe's view emphasizes the connection to the whole, the underlying unity of the cosmos.

Regarding the role of ecology, Theodore Roszak asks: "will it be brave enough to revolutionize the sciences as a whole? If that step is taken, it will not be a matter of further research, but of transformed consciousness". It is my conviction that the Goethean world view, if seriously taken up, will lead to such a transformation.