Mephistopheles and the Kingdom of God

Posted: 29th January 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

mephistopheles.jpgI’ve long been a proponent of the image of Satan as Mephistopheles, that is, the spirit of negation, a demonic character incapable of his own creative acts, but who instead parodies and mimics and distorts the creative work of God and the lives of men. It gives credence to God as the sole Creator and Satan as the chief Corrupter.

Goethe’s Faust was my primary introduction to Mephistopheles, not in literature, but rather the Romantic musical settings of Berlioz and Liszt. Liszt in particular nails the character in his Faust Symphony, in which the three movements depict the main characters of Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles.

Since Mephistopheles, Satan, the Spirit of Negation, is not capable of creating his own themes, he takes all of Faust’s themes from the first movement and mutilates them into ironical and diabolical distortions. Here Liszt’s mastery of thematic metamorphosis shows itself in its full power – therefore we may understand this movement as a modified recapitulation of the first one. The music is pushed to the very verge of atonality by use of high chromaticism, rhythmic leaps and fantastic scherzo-like sections. A modified version of Faust’s second and third themes then creates an infernal fugue. (Wikipedia)

symphoniefantastique.jpgThis movement was a key section of my senior thesis in college on the portrayal of the macabre and demonic in 19th century orchestral music. (For those truly interested, the introduction of the third movement of Faust is a marvelous parody of the introduction to the fifth movement of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, which also depicts the distortion of a lover’s beloved as she joins a witches’ sabbath. Berlioz’ overall use of musical parody, both of theme and form, to depict the demonic was pure genius.)

This view of Satan as Corrupter-not-Creator has been underscored by my recent reading of Kim Riddlebarger’s view of the dragon and beasts of Revelation as a counterfeit trinity that parodies the deity, death and resurrection of Christ in their attempt to deceive and apostatize the whole world in the end times.

Bryan recently commented to my questions about amillennialism vs. post-millennialism with a quote from Ligon Duncan who sees “a simultaneously increasing opposition to the kingdom growing alongside an ever advancing and expanding kingdom.” The image that comes to my mind is that, if the Kingdom of Heaven is ever advancing and expanding, then Satan’s kingdom must also advance and expand because it feeds on the fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven, poisoning wherever it can gain a hold, but always dependent on Creation for the substance of its negation.

Finally, like the eternal feminine (Ewigweibliche) of Goethe, Christ stands in for us as the incorruptible Divine, turning Mephistopheles back on himself and casting the seed of the serpent into eternal fire.

  1. Bryan says:

    Definitely some interesting thoughts, and it makes sense to me. I’ve sort of had a corrupter-not-creator view myself to a degree at least without recognizing it. It certainly makes sense of Gen 3, and other accounts. Though (it’s fairly obvious) I disagree at least with Riddlebarger’s temporal placement of the beast and false prophet, certainly I think that is what John is portraying in His imagery.