Abstract Throughout Marlowe’s tragedy Doctor Faustus, the protagonist experiences the Bible and individual scriptural passages as uncannily divorced from their divine source, and therefore available to be comprehensively judged and dismissed from the vantage point of a sovereign subjectivity. This construction of the Bible is bound up with both the autonomy Faustus imagines for himself, and with his secular view of the world, in which entities possess their being in a self-contained and self-grounding manner, and are therefore available to his full comprehension and control. This article concludes by considering how we might account for the apparent convergence of Faustus’s construction of Scripture and modern theories of Protestant biblicism. i. introduction Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy Doctor Faustus begins with the eminent scholar seated alone in his study, surveying the various fields of learning he has mastered, and finding them all inadequate to his vaunting aspirations. Each academic discipline is represented on stage by a book from which he reads. He considers and then dismisses philosophy, medicine, and the law before turning to the study of divinity: When all is done, divinity is best. Jerome’s Bible, Faustus, view it well. [He reads] ‘Stipendium peccati mors est.’ Ha! ‘Stipendium’, etc. The reward of sin is death. That’s hard. [He reads] ‘Si pecasse negamus, fallimur Et nulla est in nobis veritas.’ If we say that we have no sin, We deceive ourselves, and there’s 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 Ostensibly, this monumental rejection is predicated on the reading of two decontextualised—and, in one case, truncated—scriptural verses, from Romans 6:23 and 1 John 1:8 respectively. Owing to the perverse way Faustus reads them, they appear to relegate humanity to damnation without any hope of redemption. In response to this summary of Scripture, Faustus consigns his Bible to the heap of discarded volumes embodying the academic disciplines he has mastered. At this point, he turns immediately to demonic magic, represented, like all the other bodies of learning, as books laid out before his eyes, and exclaims: ‘These metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly’ (1.1.51–52). In contrast to the fields of learning he has dismissed, magic is imagined by Faustus as granting him control of everything in the world: ‘All things that move between the quiet poles / Shall be at my command’ (1.1.58–59). This article argues that Faustus’ experience of Scripture serves, both in this opening scene and elsewhere, as an important but overlooked means through which he constructs a radically autonomous selfhood. Throughout much of the play, Faustus imagines himself a self-determining subject. One way he does this is to construe and experience the world in a manner free from religious concern. While never explicitly denying the existence of God, he consistently strives to experience the world—and centrally, for this article, the Bible—as sundered from their origin in God.2 Faustus experiences self and text as enclosed and autonomous, thereby replacing a view exemplified throughout the Christian tradition in which the reading of Scripture entails both a self and a text open to God. The uncanny, freestanding quality which we shall see Faustus ascribes to Scripture is inseparably bound up with the autonomy he imagines for himself. Indeed, the two are mutually constituting. Faustus’ aspirations for autonomy and domination have been viewed by generations of readers as epitomising the play’s modernity. Indeed, the story of Faustus, beyond just Marlowe’s version of it, is widely perceived as the archetypal narrative of modernity’s privileging of the individual’s drive for knowledge, freedom, and power.3 Cultural histories of modernity repeatedly register both the dangers of Faustian nonconformity, and celebrates Faustian striving. Citing Marlowe’s tragedy as one of the primary conduits of the enduring Faust legend, Marshall Berman states: ‘For as long as there has been a modern culture, the figure of Faust has been one of its culture heroes.’4 For Hans Blumenberg, Marlowe’s sorcerer is an embodiment of emerging attitudes to ‘theoretical curiosity … and of the progress of its vindication’.5 Such identifications of the play with modernity are bolstered by a widespread view of Marlowe as skeptical flouter of the religious mores of his time.6 Central here is Marlowe’s reputation as an atheist or religious skeptic—a reputation stemming from charges laid against him during his lifetime.7 As Chloe Kathleen Preedy puts it, ‘[e]levating Marlowe as the epitome of Elizabethan atheism, literary critics and intellectual historians have often placed his reported statements within a teleological framework that looks forward to modern secularism.’8 This image of Marlowe corresponds with the common construal of his drama as marking a secular break with the religious drama of the middle ages.9 So too does the fact that all his plays, with the exception of Doctor Faustus, treat religion skeptically as a political tool.10 The most fundamental way Doctor Faustus anticipates concepts of modernity and secularity formulated in our contemporary age, however, is in its depiction of Faustus’ aspiration to be a sovereign subject standing over and against a world reduced to object status and available to his instrumental designs.11 Notably, the play’s depiction of Faustus resonates with the phenomenological analyses laid out by Martin Heidegger and Charles Taylor, which focus on what they understand to be quintessentially modern forms of subjectivity and ways of being in the world. For both philosophers, modernity is characterised by ‘subjectivism’.12 This entails the world being valued primarily in terms of human interests and experienced as available for instrumental control. It also entails people experiencing themselves as autonomous, voluntaristic agents detached from the world and relating to it in a posture of mastery.13 Crucial for Heidegger is how the world and everything in it gets ‘set in place [gestellt]’ by the subject in modernity.14 For Heidegger then, as for Taylor, a mutually constitutive relationship binds subjectivism and objectification.15 They both associate this objectifying subjectivism with disenchantment: in this hegemonic view, the world is available for instrumentalisation, devoid of intrinsic meaning and no longer contained by or understandable in terms of a higher reality. In Doctor Faustus, such interlocking conceptions of self and world are not just apparent in Faustus’ rejection of the constraints of religion and morality, or in his ambitions for political power and control over all reaches of the physical world (1.1.80–101). They are also evident in his treatment of the Bible and the metaphysics of Scripture this treatment implies. The play explores what the Bible looks like to someone who strives to understand himself as autonomous and who views the world as a series of self-grounded entities. In this striving for secular autonomy, Faustus could, of course, not be farther removed from early modern Protestantism. And yet one of the prevailing ways our own period’s theologians and theorists of modernity understand the post-Reformation experience of the Bible is strikingly anticipated by critical aspects of Faustus’ engagement with Scripture. In the final section of this article, I will assess the significance of these strange parallels and explore what they tell us about the relationships between literature, theological discourse, and theories of modernity. ii. the talismanic bible Perhaps the most immediately obvious scene in which the Bible is experienced by Faustus as cut off from its divine origin is one which is at the same time apparently furthest from the play’s modernity. This is the scene in which he ritualistically deploys the Bible as part of his initial act of conjuring. In one of Marlowe’s additions to the account of Faustus provided in his principal source, The historie of the damnable life, and deserued death of Doctor Iohn Faustus (1592),16 the magician Valdes directs Faustus to use ‘[t]he Hebrew Psalter, and New Testament’, along with other books, in his first attempt to summon a devil (1.1.157). Faustus’ particular use of the Bible here represents a crucial break with an established practice. While usually met with the disapproval of religious authorities, throughout history Christians have used sacred words and objects, including the Bible, to bring about magical effects. Typically such practices, if done with the proper intent and religious devotion, were understood to be perfectly pious.17 Examples of pious magical uses of the Bible range from the sixteenth-century German magician Cornelius Agrippa, who deployed the Bible as ‘an inherently powerful text’,18 to people in seventeenth-century England who used Bibles as talismans by laying them on the heads of the sick.19 Despite declaring Agrippa one of his models (1.1.119),20 Faustus’ magical use of the Bible and sacred words is predicated not on devotion to their divine source, but to a rejection of God and decision to call upon diabolical powers to serve him. As a result, Faustus’ magical practice posits an uncannily intrinsic power for the Bible, that is, a power that can be drawn upon despite Faustus’ dismissal of the origin of this power. In his initial conjuring, also Faustus also invokes the Trinity, and inscribes ‘Jehovah’s name / Forward and backward anagrammatized’ in his conjuring circle, along with ‘[the] breviated names of holy saints’ (1.3.8, 16). As William Blackburn notes, Faustus here both invokes ‘as a source of power’ the name of Jehovah, while at the same time abjuring it by writing it backwards.21 Yet here too, as in the case of the Bible, the sacred name is treated as if it possesses inherent power even as the source of its power is renounced. Faustus’ ritual words and actions imply that Scripture and these sacred words are detachable from their origins, and are mere resources upon which the conjurer’s will works. Their power presumably derives from God, but in Faustus’ eyes they can be separated from God by a conjurer who has also broken with God, and subsequently used according to the conjurer’s autonomous will. Faustus’ instrumentalisation of the Bible here is only the most obvious instance in the play where his words and actions imply that Scripture possesses an uncanny autonomy from God. This article will focus on two other instances. The first occurs in the opening scene, discussed above. Here Faustus assesses and then dismisses the value of various fields of study, after which he decides that only magic will fulfill his ambitions. In this scene, he judges the value of theological study on the basis of a willful misreading of Scripture. He subsequently rejects Scripture, along with God. The second instance occurs when he is trying to sign the contract transferring his soul to Lucifer. At this moment, a miraculous biblical inscription appears on his arm, urging him to cease his damnable course. In both of these moments, Faustus’ words and actions ascribe to Scripture a bizarrely free-standing quality. iii. standing over the bible As has been mentioned, in the opening of the play Faustus confronts the Bible in solitude. Yet he is not just physically alone on stage. He is also isolated in a broader and more significant sense: his confrontation with Scripture occurs outside of any ecclesial community or mediation by liturgy or tradition, and he approaches the Bible from a subject-position of autonomous judgment. Rather than encountering the Bible as a vehicle for God’s communication and being open to its transformative effects, Faustus stands over an objectified and self-enclosed Bible. By approaching the Bible the way he does, and dismissing it comprehensively on the basis of his ostensibly autonomous will, Faustus implies that the Bible is fully available to his sovereign subjectivity. James Kearney argues that Faustus’ reading of Scripture should be viewed as a demonic version of the Christian tradition of transformative reading, characterised by a turn to evil rather than to good. Kearney identifies this traditional transformative experience with Augustine’s conversion through reading St Paul’s letters.22 Kearney additionally cites the account of the conversion of the early evangelical Thomas Bilney. In John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments Bilney is quoted as saying that his reading of Erasmus’ Latin translation of the New Testament ‘did so exhilarate my hart, beyng before wounded with the gilte of my sinnes … that euen immediately I semed vnto my selfe inwardly, to feele such a comfort and quietnes … that my brused bones lepte for ioye’.23 Kearney also refers to Luther’s joyful recognition through reading St Paul’s letter to the Romans that he was justified through faith in Christ and not good works. In such conversions brought about through reading Scripture, the reader encounters the Bible’s saving proclamation and, through this, experiences an inner transformation. Contrary to Kearney’s claim, however, Faustus’ reading is not transformative and is not a conversion. In stark contrast to Bilney, Faustus’ reading occurs within a posture of presumed mastery over a self-contained text. Faustus is not transformed by his reading—rather, he ‘transforms’ the text through a wilfully distorted reading. The transformative reading experienced by Augustine and Bilney on the one hand and Faustus’ dismissive reading on the other represent a contrast between the irruption of the divine and a foregone conclusion about the divine. Faustus’ rejection of the Bible and embrace of magic books stands as an emblematic, not a transformative, moment: it dramatises, or externalises, Faustus’ prior construction of reality, rather than being a response to a new reality.24 Faustus’ ‘placing’ of the Bible in the Heideggerian sense is apparent in his very first reference to the Bible as, specifically, ‘Jerome’s Bible’ (1.1.38). In keeping with Faustus’ fluency with elite learning, the reference to the Latin translation produced by St Jerome emphasises the scholarly context for Faustus’ engagement with Scripture. But it could also be seen to signal Faustus’ approach to Scripture as something contained by human agency. Edward Snow contends that the reference to Jerome suggests Faustus’ fascination with ‘the presumptuousness of human authorship, underscored by the rhythmic stress on the possessive “Jeromes”’.25 It is thus possible to detect in Faustus’ very first reference to Scripture his conception of it as always already contained by the human intellect and by human industry. Faustus’ ‘placing’ of the Bible—his wilful construction of it as a closed object available to his intellectual grasp—is in an important way connected to the codex form in which the Bible appears to him. Relative to other plays of the period, books in Doctor Faustus are conspicuously visible objects on stage.26 The distinctive way the play emphasises the materiality of the book performs a crucial role in figuring Faustus’ objectification of the Bible. In the opening scene, as has been mentioned, each rejected field of learning is represented by a book, as well as being represented verbally by Faustus’ reductive summary sketch. Faustus constructs these bodies of learning as determinate and self-contained entities so that he can master and therefore dismiss them: as Snow notes, each discipline is self-enclosed, so that Faustus’ ‘experience as a physician has no bearing on his experience as a philosopher, nor vice versa’.27 In reality, of course, any body of knowledge is nebulous, with obscure borders. Other bodies of knowledge shape it and interpenetrate it. Moreover, a body of knowledge cannot be reduced to its appearance at any one moment in time or in any one specific context.28 And yet strikingly each body of knowledge is performatively identified by Faustus as a single book. Snow notes that in the opening scene: ‘One art follows directly upon another, each beginning precisely where the last left off, each neatly condensed, predigested, and encapsulated within the covers of its own book.’29 Faustus imbues these representative volumes with a sense of enclosure and fixity, and, therefore, the sense that they can be mastered. The Bible in this opening scene is depicted as yet another of these representative volumes. The reduction of the various bodies of learning to physical books conditions the play’s subsequent depiction of the Bible, such that it too is emphasised as a graspable thing. Later in the play, Faustus approaches magic books in a way which repeats this logic: he once again conflates knowledge with the physical object of the codex. As Charlotte Scott observes, even when Faustus has secured magical power from the devil, he superfluously asks for books containing magical knowledge.30 She concludes that ‘[the book] remains the object through which his desires move. For Faustus all that is knowable is contained in the book. Perhaps more than this, the book is the only reasonable or performable idea of power available to the mind’s eye’.31 More specifically, it appears that to possess the determinate, spatially-bounded object of a book is for Faustus conflated with an immediate grasping of knowledge.32 If the Bible’s codex form is experienced by Faustus as facilitating his mastery of it, this experience can be productively contrasted with the experience of the Bible’s physical form in Augustine’s famous account of his conversion through Scripture reading in Confessions. If the book as object is for Faustus a means of circumscribing and subsuming the divine, for Augustine Scripture’s physical form is a means through which the divine is mediated and the self transformed. Immediately prior to his conversion, Augustine describes being in a garden in Milan in a state of intense spiritual anguish when he hears an unseen child’s voice in a neighbouring garden chanting ‘pick up and read, pick up and read’. Augustine resolves to open the copy of St Paul’s writings laying on a table near him and read whatever passage his eyes light on.33 The passage he reads is experienced as a transforming message to him from God. Augustine engages here in the practice of bibliomancy, that is, the practice of turning to random passages so as to gain divinely-given insight.34 This practice is made possible by the physical form of the codex. Augustine’s engagement with Scripture posits the Bible’s material form as a vehicle for providential action. God works through the codex form as well as through the individual textual passage. To be sure, Augustine’s conversion hinges on the reading of an isolated passage, just as Faustus’ rejection of the Bible involves the reading of isolated passages. Yet in Augustine the passage is construed not as a free-standing entity over which one stands and passes autonomous, voluntaristic judgment. Rather, it is the medium of communication from God—who stands beyond the scriptural text while working through it—and this communication overtakes and fulfills the self. The openness of the biblical text to God is mirrored in the openness of Augustine himself to divine action. For Faustus, in contrast, both the Bible as book and the self are enclosed and autonomous. The two scriptural encounters represented by Augustine and Faustus respectively posit a Bible open to providence and a Bible closed and available to mastery. iv. voluntarism and the ontology of the biblical text Faustus’ founding act of blasphemous dismissal at the play’s beginning is not only facilitated by his construction of all knowledge, including sacred teaching, as enclosed and fully masterable. It is also predicated on a misreading of Scripture in which, as is repeatedly commented upon, two biblical verses are flagrantly decontextualised. Just as Faustus implicitly constructs the Bible as a self-enclosed object through the subjective posture with which he initially approaches it, his act of misreading also projects a specific conception of the nature of the text contained within the Bible. Crucial here, we shall see, is the wilful nature of this misreading. At the play’s opening, when first assessing the value of theological study, Faustus turns to the Bible and ironically instructs himself to ‘view it well’ (1.1.38). Of course, he does the opposite, and this august biblical scholar apparently commits an astoundingly obvious error. He rejects divinity on the grounds that the Bible proclaims, without qualification, that ‘[t]he reward of sin is death’, and ‘If we say we have no sin, / We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. / Why then belike we must sin, / And so consequently die’ (1.1.41, 44–47). In ignoring the immediately subsequent verses promising salvation to those who repent in Christ—‘but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23) and ‘If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)35—Faustus commits an error that would have been evident to virtually everyone in the play’s original audience. Faustus’ distortion of Scripture’s content has been interpreted in various ways. For example, it has been argued that through his misreading the play registers the vulnerability of the biblical text to decontextualisation and thus to distorted interpretations, a phenomenon of heightened concern during the Reformation and post-Reformation eras.36 It has also been argued that Faustus’ error is an involuntary reflex of his despairing conviction about his own divinely-predestined reprobation, a conviction reflective of the Calvinist theology of Marlowe’s time.37 To be sure, the play may be seen to resonate in these historically specific ways. However, I contend that, given the obviousness of the misreading—Faustus ignores Christianity’s central doctrine of divine mercy to those who repent—the play also creates the sense that the misreading is wilful on Faustus’ part. Indeed, wilfulness is one of the defining features of Faustus’ character. For example, Faustus’ boasting during his first encounter with Mephistopheles exemplifies an irrational elevation of will. When proclaiming his dedication to the infernal powers, Faustus, referring to himself in the third person, announces, ‘This word “damnation” terrifies not him / For he confounds hell in Elysium. / His ghost be with the old philosophers!’ (1.3.59–61). Faustus’ performative statement is blatantly founded on an assertion of raw will: the innocuous afterlife of pagan belief will subsume the actual Christian nature of reality because Faustus wills it to be so.38 Faustus’ misreading of the Bible can also be interpreted as an act of pure will. Moreover, his act of misreading posits these biblical passages as isolated and self-grounding segments of text. This is because in order to wilfully distort Scripture as he does, he must implicitly unmoor these biblical texts from their origin in God and from the history of divine revelation. If removed from their sources, they can be experienced as self-contained chunks. Faustus, then, not only imagines his will to be autonomous; he also imagines the biblical verses upon which his will acts to be autonomous. A mutually-constituting relationship is here apparent. Faustus’ elevation of will to the basis upon which all things are evaluated is yet another way he cordons off God, and this cordoning off contributes to his encounter with Scripture as being a confrontation with text and only text. Faustus’ rejection of God is thus both reflected in and supported by his construing the Bible as an assemblage of discrete textual segments. This phenomenon is highlighted in one of the sections added in the later version of the play, designated by modern editors as the B-text. Mephistopheles exults at the end of the B-text, ‘I do confess it, Faustus, and rejoice, / ’Twas I that, when thou were 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’ (5.2.91–5). Here Mephistopheles credits himself for Faustus’ obvious misreading. Kearney briefly notes the presence of a pun here: Mephistopheles ‘damns’ Faustus by ‘damming’ his passage.39 But besides this pun there exists a powerful density of meaning in these lines. The word ‘passage’ denotes not only the process of passing through a text, but also a particular textual segment. Taking this polysemy into account, Mephistopheles not only dams and thereby damns Faustus’ movement (passage) through the text; in addition, Mephistopheles ‘damns’ the particular chunk of text in the sense that he arranges for a textual passage to play a role in Faustus’ damnation. But I would suggest that underlying this apparent crediting of Mephistopheles with Faustus’ damnation is Faustus’ peculiar phenomenology of the biblical text. In order for Scripture to function as a means of damnation in the way Mephistopheles indicates, it must be first experienced as an assemblage of isolated, freestanding segments, rather than being the vehicle through which God speaks as part of a living relationship. Once again, in Faustus’ experience of Scripture there is no recourse to God behind the text, or to the history of revelation—rather, the text signifies in an utterly self-enclosed fashion. v. groundless scripture Faustus’ tacit metaphysics of Scripture are also evident in his reception of the other primary example of biblical writing in the play: the supernatural inscription that appears on his arm while he is writing, in his own blood, the contract in which he bequeaths his soul to Lucifer in exchange for twenty-four years of demonic service. Immediately after writing the deed Faustus asks, ‘But what is this inscription on mine arm? “Homo, fuge!” Whither should I fly? If unto God, he’ll throw thee down to hell.— / My senses are deceived; here’s nothing writ.— / I see it plain. Here in this place is writ / “Homo, fuge!” Yet shall not Faustus fly’ (2.1.75–81). As editors and commentators point out, appearing on his arm is writing which echoes 1 Timothy 6:11: ‘But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness.’ If at the play’s beginning Faustus deliberately reads select scriptural passages in order to dismiss the study of divinity, now, in dramatic contrast, a scriptural passage breaks into his world. Rather than Scripture being wilfully positioned and presumed to be available for his capture, God’s word now bursts upon him. In response to Faustus’ shocked reaction, Mephistopheles tries to distract him to keep him on the course of damnation. But the way Faustus experiences this supernatural writing reveals that he is already mired in error. Faustus responds to this arm-writing as if it were a command without an origin. Startlingly, he does not consider the possibility that the text comes from Someone, and that this possibility requires more engagement and response than just his bare assent or rejection. Tragically, Faustus does not experience the exhortation that he fly as a manifestation of God’s loving care for him. Instead, he immediately rejects the possibility of turning to God, since he despairingly believes God will reject him. Of course, the very presence of the words, miraculous as they are, announce God’s care for him.40 Faustus’ anguished response to the supernatural writing—‘whither should I fly?’—has been read as an echo of Psalm 139:7–10,41 a scriptural passage lyrically portraying God’s presence not only in the heavens but also in the world’s depths and darkness, and, most poignantly, everywhere the self can go, spatially and temporally. If we hear in Faustus’ response an echo of the Psalm, Faustus might appear to be Bible-haunted in spite of himself, as less the autonomous self of his fantasies than as someone who is spoken by God’s word. Yet, even if we do not hear Faustus’ question as an explicit biblical allusion, the vision of God portrayed in this Psalm is worth raising because it provides such a powerful antithesis to Faustus’ conception of God. In Faustus’ tortured final moments the inescapability of divine judgment is a source of dread: ‘Mountains and hills, come, come and fall on me,’ Faustus pleads, ‘And hide me from the heavy wrath of God!’ (5.2.76–77). Faustus’ panicked desire to run ‘headlong’ into the earth or to be drawn into the ‘entrails of yon labouring cloud’ (5.2.79, 84) recalls Psalm 139’s expression of the omnipresence of God. In the Psalm, however, this omnipresence is a source of comfort: ‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I lie down in hell, thou art there. Let me take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Yet thither shall thine hand lead me, and thy right hand hold me’ (Psalm 139:7–10). We may be reminded here of Augustine’s paradoxical remark that God is ‘more inward than my most inward part’,42 which points to a relationship between self and God, and a notion of self and God, diametrically opposed to Faustus’. vi. modernity and the objectified bible The particular way Faustus’ subjectivism is bound up in his engagement with the Bible resembles a critique, widespread among twentieth- and twenty-first century theologians and intellectual historians, of changes to how the Bible is conceptualised in the Reformation and post-Reformation eras. It needs to be mentioned that the central features of these assessments have been convincingly refuted in recent years, notably in the work of Richard Muller. My point is not to endorse these assessments, but to study them as artefacts in their own right which reflect dominant views about the nature of modernity and its origins in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Below, we will consider how we might explain the close similarity between Faustus’ experience of the Bible and the experiences ascribed to early modern Protestantism by modern commentators, and then consider the significance of this parallel. First, however, I will lay out several arguments which contemporary theologians and intellectual historians have made about early modern developments in how the Bible is conceived, all of which strongly echo Faustus’ experience of the Bible. A notable example can be found in the modern theologian Karl Barth’s critique of Protestant scholasticism—that is, the systematising forms of Protestant theology that followed in the wake of the first generations of reformers. It is important to note that for Barth and other modern theologians the problematic approach to the Bible which emerges in Protestantism is paradoxically produced by something pious—a strong emphasis on the Bible’s objective status as inspired. Curiously, though, in Barth’s argument such a concentrated emphasis on the Bible’s divine origin ends up resulting in a similar picture to Faustus’ sundering of the Bible from its origin. Barth understands the particular form of emphasis placed on the inspired character of Scripture in early modern Protestantism to result in a process of objectification and, ultimately, in a subjective posture of mastery over the Bible. This process is characterised by a loss of ‘the mystery of the freedom of [the Word of God’s] presence both in the mouths of the biblical witnesses and also in our ears and hearts’, and an accompanying sense of the Bible as ‘a Word of God which can be grasped in human speech’.43 Human mastery over the word replaces a situation in which the human being is overtaken by the Word and made permeable to it. Barth understands this emergent view to place divine working within a ‘well-fenced circle’, and that this reduces the sacred text to ‘an instrument of human power’.44 This picture corresponds with Barth’s argument that emphasis on the Bible’s objective inspiredness means that Scripture becomes, as it does for Faustus, ‘separated from the free grace of God’ and ‘exposed to human inquiry brought under human control’.45 Along these lines, Barth castigated Protestant scholasticism for considering divine power to be a static, intrinsic attribute of Scripture, a property having no relationship to the spiritual state of its recipient.46 In this view, divine power is present in Scripture ‘just as the powers in nature are there’ in the natural world.47 In Barth’s account, the Bible thus becomes, as it was for Faustus, a resource available for human use. A similar argument is made by the theologian Theo Preiss, who contends that the early modern stress on the verbal inspiration of Scripture resulted in ‘a Word of God which a man can stick in his pocket and whose master he himself fundamentally is’.48 Commenting on Preiss, J.K.S. Reid writes that when the Bible is construed in this way, it becomes ‘a kind of talisman or totem … over which … men have jurisdiction’.49 Reid also writes that with seventeenth-century Protestant orthodoxy, the role previously played by Scripture within a dynamic economy of divine working gets replaced by a reification of Scripture resting on its intrinsic character as inspired. This results in the notion that Scripture is ‘self-contained’, and in the sense that the Spirit of God became ‘imprisoned within the covers of a book’.50 This objectifying sense of the Bible as a book obviously has an analogy in Faustus’ imagination. Also recalling Faustus’ experience of the Bible as a book is a recurring argument made by theologians in our own time about the significance of printing in early modernity. It has been contended that the emergence of printing in early modernity played an important role in this burgeoning objectification of Scripture and consequent sense of its full availability to the subject. Such arguments rely heavily on the work of Walter Ong, who argues that printing led to the experience of discourse as something spatialised—which he contrasts with the unfolding of language aurally—and consequently helped bring about a sense of the objectification and graspability of knowledge.51 Drawing on Ong, contemporary theologians have argued that the printing of Scripture in early modernity worked in lockstep with Protestant biblicism. This resulted in Scripture being posited as a fully available object rather than the mediation of God’s communication. For example, Peter Candler frames his claim about a new sense of the Bible’s graspability in the early modern period in terms of ‘the invention of the printing press’. He writes: ‘The possibility of sola scriptura is thus parasitic upon the new understanding of the Bible as a physical “thing” whose spatial limits are quite clearly defined, a thing which is always to hand, easily accessible.’52 With printing, Candler claims, texts in general, and most significantly the scriptural text, became separated from author and reader, and experienced as something ‘which can be consumed, ingested, and spat out’.53 John Milbank also sees the printed book of Scripture as closely tied to a new experience of the subject’s mastery over it: printing helped ‘ensure the illusion that the Bible is a discrete written foundational document fully open to individual perusal and judgement’.54 Many of these arguments about the early-modern Bible have been challenged, and I will not rehearse all the critiques here. I will merely raise the idea that the tendency of these modern theologians and intellectual historians to portray early-modern Protestant treatments of the Bible as objectifying depends in part on the elision of Protestantism’s emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s encounter with Scripture. Here, the Spirit was seen to both speak through the written word, and to work within the reader. As Calvin avows, [t]he same Spirit … who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded.’55 A similar point is made by William Tyndale: ‘the Scripture is nothing else but that which the Spirit of God hath spoken by the prophets and apostles, and cannot be understood but of the same Spirit’.56 Such an emphasis on the subjective dimension of the scriptural encounter is not unique to the first generations of reformers, as has often been assumed by those who do acknowledge it.57 Richard Muller shows that even the later Protestant scholastics retained the essential role played by the working of the Holy Spirit in the encounter with Scripture. Also emphasised in this encounter, Muller contends, was the reader’s inner, spiritual transformation. He writes that Protestant scholastic theologians ‘assume the subjective reality of the impact of the Word alongside of their objective doctrinal declarations’, and they do not reject a sense of ‘the personal and subjective power of the Word’.58 Muller notes that one of the most influential statements of Reformed faith, the Westminster Confession (1646), grounds the authority of Scripture not in its objective inspiredness but ‘on its nature as Word’ caught up in a process of inward working by the Holy Spirit.59 Typically in early-modern Protestantism, then, an autonomous subject does not stand over against an objectified text; instead, an objectively inspired text is at the same time the medium through which the Holy Spirit works within its recipient. Both text and recipient are open to the divine. Clearly, the twentieth- and twenty-first century theologians discussed here share a deep concern with how constructions of a mastering subject, along with reifying and objectifying experiences of the world, might be located in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. While such phenomena can be perceived in early-modern theology—at least at the level of certain isolated statements—these moments tend to be contained by larger frameworks of thought which problematise broad-brush depictions. One possible explanation for this approach to the past is that many of these modern theologians are committed to conceptions of the development of modernity, and to linear narratives of secularisation, in which the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stand as one of the most significant historical junctures. For example, Barth sees a ‘supranaturalistic’ view of inspiration, which he attributes to Protestant orthodoxy, as part of ‘the great process of secularisation on which post-Reformation Protestantism entered’.60 Similarly, Milbank understands the changing media forms through which the Bible has been transmitted—from scrolls, to codex, to print—as describing a movement into modernity: the advent of printing, Milbank contends, brings about an increasingly ‘“spatializing” approach … such that [the Bible] came to be seen more in terms of a closed rational unity, denying the priority of the event’.61 Such a view of printing is shared by Ong, Candler, and Catherine Pickstock, for whom, once again, modernity is in crucial ways consolidated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In underscoring these scholars’ commitment to a particular account of modernity, I am by no means rejecting all aspects of this account. I merely wish to highlight how commitment to this narrative results in an incomplete portrayal of the past, since certain phenomena are accentuated and counter-evidence tends to be ignored. Genre, Richard Muller contends, has played a crucial role in the persistent misreading of Protestant scholasticism. ‘[T]he genre of orthodox writings, namely, fully-developed theological system,’ Muller argues, encourages ‘emphasis on the objective authority of the [scriptural] text.’ That is, the particular kind of writing that constitutes the genre of systematic theology, which extends back into the high middle ages, predisposes the making of certain kinds of theological statements which, if taken in isolation, indicate a reductive and atomising view.62 It is only by looking at the full context of what these theologians are saying, Muller argues, that we avoid characterising them solely in light of these objectifying statements. Muller’s insight here confirms a conventional view that theological discourse at times tends towards positivistic statements that do violence to the richness and indeterminacy of religious experience. Significantly, this kind of experiential richness has come down to us as the particular preserve of literature. Yet the case of Doctor Faustus exemplifies the reverse of this expected picture. Marlowe’s play raises the possibility that only those like Faustus, who radically break with God and strive to be the fundamental agent who determines the nature of reality, could consistently exemplify the kinds of approaches to the Bible identified by modern theologians with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is significant that the presentation of the early-modern Bible laid out by Barth, Milbank, et al. accords in fundamental respects more with Marlowe’s Faustus—who explicitly adopts a subjectivity of autonomy and secularity—than it does with the theologians of Protestant scholasticism. As a result, we might consider how dogmatic theologians, for all their susceptibility to dry formalism, remain beholden to an ineluctable sense of the self’s, and the world’s, dependence on God. The case of Doctor Faustus suggests, by contrast, that imaginative writing might be more suited to such unqualified constructions of autonomy than the theological writing often inaccurately associated with them. REFERENCES 1 Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (A-Text), Doctor Faustus and Other Plays, ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 1.1.37–50. Throughout this article I will be citing the so-called A-text of Doctor Faustus (from the 1604 quarto) parenthetically within the body of the text. However, I will be engaging some of the significant differences found in the other major version, the B-text, which derives from the 1616 quarto. 2 In several places the play subtly hints at the absurdity of Faustus’ wilful bracketing of God. For example, his scoffing dismissal ‘divinity, adieu!’ punningly sends divinity ‘to God’, which perhaps raises for the audience a sense of the inescapability of God. Something similar is evoked slightly earlier during Faustus’ dismissal of philosophy. Referring to the mystery of being and non-being, he announces, ‘On kai me on, farewell!’ (1.1.12). In blithely dismissing the question of being, and with it the question of his own existence, the play indirectly hints at the absurdity of Faustus’ aspiration to autonomy. Finally, when he is trying to sign in blood the contract with which he formally bequeaths his soul to Lucifer, and his blood congeals and thus interrupts the proceedings, he asks himself in vexation: ‘Is not thy soul thine own?’ (2.1.68). Faustus’ striving for individual autonomy is consistently called into question, and shown to be fundamentally incongruous given the theological realities of the play. 3 See Evelyn Cobley, Temptations of Faust: The Logic of Fascism and Postmodern Archaeologies of Modernity (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), p. 7. 4 Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (London: Verso, 1982), p. 38. 5 Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), p. 381. 6 Examples of this reading include Harry Levin, The Overreacher: A Study of Christopher Marlowe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952) and David Riggs, The World of Christopher Marlowe (London: Faber, 2004). 7 Marlowe was accused of atheism and blasphemy by numerous people, including his associates Richard Baines and Thomas Kyd. Infamously, Marlowe’s murder was interpreted by the Puritan Thomas Beard as God’s judgment on his flagrant irreligion. These accusations are printed in Millar MacLure (ed.), Christopher Marlowe: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1979), pp. 32–8, 41–2. 8 Chloe Kathleen Preedy, Marlowe’s Literary Skepticism: Politic Religion and Post-Reformation Polemic (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), p. xv. 9 Paul Whitfield White, ‘Marlowe and the Politics of Religion’, in Patrick Cheney (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 70; John Parker, The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), p. viii. Another tradition of interpretation views Marlowe as essentially continuing this prior trajectory of religious drama, and reads Doctor Faustus as a religiously-sincere, latter-day morality play (Parker, Aesthetics of Antichrist, ibid.). For an overview of interpretations of Marlowe along this spectrum, see Bruce E. Brandt, ‘The Critical Backstory’, in Sara Munson Deats (ed.), Doctor Faustus: A Critical Guide (London: Continuum, 2010), p. 25. 10 See Preedy, Marlowe’s Literary Skepticism and White, ‘Marlowe and the Politics of Religion’. 11 It perhaps goes without saying that the epoch-making philosophy of René Descartes, most centrally his Meditations on First Philosophy, lies at the heart of any assessment of early modern developments in thinking about subjectivity—specifically, to the period’s elevation of the subject to a new level of autonomy, and its new way of prioritising a subject–object dualism. For overviews of these issues in the period, see Brian Cummings and Freya Sierhuis (eds), Passions and Subjectivity in Early Modern Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013) and Udo Thiel, The Early Modern Subject: Self-Consciousness and Personal Identity from Descartes to Hume (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 12 The term is used in the English translation of Martin Heidegger’s ‘The Age of the World-Picture’, in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Garland, 1977), pp. 128, 133. 13 Heidegger, ‘The Age of the World-Picture’, and Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), Chapters 8 and 9. 14 Heidegger, ‘The Age of the World-Picture’, p. 127. 15Ibid., p. 128; Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. 160. 16 This is the translation of Johann Spies’ Historia von D. Johann Faust (1587). 17 Of course, such magic is to be distinguished from black magic aimed at evil ends. For discussions of the complex uses of Christian beliefs, rituals, and sacred objects in magical practice, see Frank Klaassen, The Transformations of Magic: Illicit Learned Magic in the Later Middle Ages and Renaissance (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013), pp. 115–55 and Don C. Skemer, Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), pp. 21–73, 84–9. 18 Klaassen, Transformations of Magic, p. 213. 19 David Cressy, ‘Books as Totems in Seventeenth-Century England and New England’, Journal of Library History 21.1 (1986) 98. The Bible was viewed as a sacred object by Christians in the early church (Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 238–9) and throughout the medieval and early modern periods (Skemer, Binding Words, pp. 116–20). 20 For Agrippa’s piety, see Klaassen, Transformations of Magic, p. 202. 21 William Blackburn, ‘“Heavenly Words”: Marlowe’s Faustus as a Renaissance Magician’, English Studies in Canada 4.1 (1978) 5. 22 James Kearney, The Incarnate Text: Imagining the Book in Reformation England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), pp. 143–9, 158. 23 Qtd in ibid., p. 144. 24 This narcissistic procedure, in which self is projected onto the world, is carried out in Faustus’ experience of magic. While Faustus talks about being ‘ravished’ by magic (1.1.112), this never happens: his experience of magic never involves him being seized by a power outside himself. Instead, his subjectivity is consistently defined in terms of his posture of domination, of seeking mastery over objects. This is also the case during his famous conjuring of Helen of Troy’s image at the end of the play. Despite his lyrical description of erotic self-dissolution during their kiss (‘Her lips suck forth my soul. See where it flies!’ (5.1.93)), this remains a willed and highly controlled experience, designed to help him temporarily forget his impending damnation. It is, paradoxically, a willed and self-generated experience of self-transcendence. 25 Edward Snow, ‘Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and the Ends of Desire’, in Alvin Kernan (ed.), Two Renaissance Mythmakers: Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 76. 26 Kearney, Incarnate Text, p. 140. 27 Snow, ‘Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and the Ends of Desire’, p. 79. 28 As Snow points out, Faustus’ purported quotation of Aristotle, used in his dismissal of philosophy, is actually taken from the Protestant educational reformer Petrus Ramus. Significantly, in Marlowe’s play The Massacre at Paris (1593), the Guise refers to Ramus as a ‘flat dichotomast’ who ‘didst never sound anything to the depth’ (qtd in ibid., p. 76). 29Ibid., p. 79. 30 Charlotte Scott, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Book (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 170. See Doctor Faustus, 2.1.157–77. 31 Scott, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Book, p. 171. 32 Faustus appears to experience magic itself in similar terms, that is, as comprehensive power and knowledge available in contained, and therefore masterable, form. As Ian McAdam notes, the bad angel describes magic to Faustus using imagery simultaneously connoting enclosure and full plenitude (The Irony of Identity: Self and Imagination in the Drama of Christopher Marlowe (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999), p. 125): ‘Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art / Wherein all nature’s treasury is contained’ (1.1.76–7). This idea is powerfully embodied in the magic book given to Faustus by Mephistopheles, which appears to contain every conceivable spell (2.1.164–77). As an object, this book contains an ‘infinite compendiousness in compactness’ (Sarah Wall-Randell, ‘Doctor Faustus and the Printer’s Devil’, Studies in English Literature 48.2 (2008) 266). 33 St Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 152–3. 34 For accounts of this practice, see Pieter van der Horst, ‘Sortes: Sacred Books as Instant Oracles in Late Antiquity’, in L.V. Rutgers et al. (eds), The Use of Sacred Books in the Ancient World (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), pp. 143–73; Cressy, ‘Books as Totems’, pp. 99–101. 35 All quotations from the Bible are taken from the Geneva translation. 36 Kearney, Incarnate Text, pp. 152–7; Anthony Dawson, ‘Props, Pleasure, and Idolatry’, in Anthony B. Dawson and Paul Yachnin, The Culture of Playgoing in Shakespeare’s England: A Collaborative Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 147. 37 Riggs, World of Christopher Marlowe, p. 240; Lars Engle, ‘Marlowe and the Self’, in Emily C. Bartels and Emma Smith (eds), Christopher Marlowe in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 204–5. 38 A few lines later, he implicitly contradicts this claim of the non-threat of hell while retaining the sense of his will’s supremacy. After hearing Mephistopheles’ candid disclosure of the anguish of hell, Faustus remarks, ‘What, is great Mephistopheles so passionate / For being deprived of the joys of heaven? / Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude / And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess’ (1.3.84–87). Like Milton’s Satan’s claim about the mind making heaven of hell or hell of heaven, Faustus proclaims the power of sheer will to found experience. 39 Kearney, Incarnate Text, p. 268, note 55. 40 While the supernatural inscription on Faustus’ arm is found in the English Faust Book, Marlowe invents Faustus’ bizarre reaction to this apparition. 41 Johannes Birringer, Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ and ‘Tamburlaine’: Theological and Theatrical Perspectives (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1984), p. 179; Judith Weil, Christopher Marlowe: Merlin’s Prophet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 62; James H. Sims, Dramatic Uses of Biblical Allusions in Marlowe and Shakespeare (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1966), p. 25. 42 Augustine, Confessions, p. 43. 43 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 1.2, ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (London: T&T Clark, 2004), p. 518. 44Ibid., pp. 519, 525. 45Ibid., pp. 522–3. 46 Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1, p. 124. 47Ibid. 48 Qtd in J.K.S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture: A Study of the Reformation and Post-Reformation Understanding of the Bible (London: Methuen, 1957), p. 50. 49Ibid., p. 50. 50Ibid., pp. 83–4. For a critique of Reid’s arguments here, see Richard A. Muller, Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, vol. 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), pp. 182–3. 51 Walter J. Ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. 307–14. 52 Peter M. Candler, Jr, Theology, Rhetoric, Manuduction, Or Reading Scripture Together on the Path to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 15. Candler is indebted to the interpretation of printing laid out in Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 50. 53 Candler, Theology, Rhetoric, Manuduction, p. 74. 54 John Milbank, ‘On “Thomistic Kaballah”’, Modern Theology 27.1 (2010) 184. 55 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (London: SCM, 1960), p. 79. 56 William Tyndale, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, in Thomas Russell (ed.), The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith, vol. 1 (London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1831), p. 125. 57 As Richard Muller summarises, ‘[m]ost contemporary theologians and historians have emphasised the discontinuity between the dynamic and seemingly “existential” declarations of the Reformers concerning the Word of God and the generally static, objective doctrine of the orthodox concerning Scripture as Word’ (Holy Scripture, p. 78). 58Ibid., p. 78. 59Ibid., p. 89. 60 Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 522. 61 Milbank, ‘On “Thomistic Kaballah”’, 184. For a similar treatment of the Reformation Bible as reifying, see Milbank, The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), p. 61. A link between printing and Weberian rationalisation is made by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 379. 62 Muller, Holy Scripture, p. 78. On the role of genre and polemical context in encouraging an emphasis on Scripture’s objective authority, see also ibid., pp. 99, 116. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 3, 2018
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