Summary and Analysis
Act V: Mountain-Gorges, Forest, Cliff, Wilderness
A chorus of holy men, among whom are Pater Ecstaticus, Pater Profundis, and Pater Seraphicus, sing the praises of Heaven. A host of angels enters, bearing the immortal remains of Faust. Other angelic choirs join in the singing. They are joined by the spirits of children who died in innocence at birth, and by three famous penitent women from the Bible, Magna Peccatrix, Mulier Samaritana, and Maria Aegyptica, who prepare the way for the entrance of Una Poenitentium, once called Gretchen. Doctor Marianus chants the praises of the Blessed Virgin, the Queen of Heaven. The Penitent who was formerly Gretchen expresses her ecstasy that Faust has been saved. The Mater Gloriosa calls upon Gretchen and Faust to rise to the higher sphere. Doctor Marianus prostrates himself in adoration of the Virgin and the salvation which her grace brings. The scene closes as a Mystical Chorus chants a hymn which says that all things are symbols of the great Eternal Reality and that through love the spirit of Eternal Womanhood leads mankind to Truth and Salvation.
Although there are many elements of Catholic religious symbolism in this scene, they were adopted by Goethe only because he saw in them a means to give tangible expression to his beliefs, and do not demonstrate his adherence to orthodox Christianity.
The three holy fathers in the first chorus represent three saints who manifested in their lives different aspects of Faust's longing for oneness with the universe. The spirits of the children who died at birth achieved salvation because of their experience, whereas Faust has been saved as a result of the heightened knowledge and insight gained through great experience. The presence of all these figures in the place to which Faust's soul is brought, indicates that striving for union with the ultimate is part of the essential character of all life, and is the basis from which immortality arises.
The angels who bring in Faust's soul reveal that he has not yet attained Salvation. Now that he has been liberated from sin, however, he will commence his purification and will free himself from the remaining traces of his earthly existence. He will be reborn, in a sense, like the spirits of the innocent children, and with them will rise to the higher levels of Salvation. Doctor Marianus is the leader of the community of holy men, and on earth was a teacher of the doctrine and meaning of the Blessed Virgin. The three penitent women pray to the Virgin in behalf of Gretchen, just as the children are praying for Faust, and Gretchen is praying for Faust. This indicates that Salvation is most surely gained by altruistic concern for others, which is also the message of Faust's great project in behalf of humanity.
All the inhabitants of Heaven seem joined together in a single harmonious adoration of the central glory represented by the Virgin, and all are in a state of motion in which the universal law of action is fulfilled. The striving which characterized Faust's life will be continued, but in another sphere and another form. He will be led and helped in his new journey toward beatitude by Gretchen, just as she helped him in Part One to participate in life's joys for the first time, and together they will reach a new summit of bliss in adoration and union with the spirit of the cosmos.
In the drama's final lines, the Mystical Chorus explains that all things are merely symbols of the eternal verity, that the earthly reflects the heavenly, and that in Heaven the unattainable becomes possible for the souls of the blessed. The Eternal Womanhood which is the spirit of the Mater Gloriosa is a symbol of the divine love and forgiveness that nurtures all man's acts and accomplishments and which inspires his spiritual development, and the creative principle that gives meaning and function to all elements of the universe.
The poetic expression of these metaphysical ideas in the final scene sums up the philosophical meaning of Goethe's powerful drama. It indicates that Faust has been admitted to Heaven because of his positive spiritual attitude and his constant striving, rather than any moral evaluation and weighing of his life. The drama has also demonstrated the delusions and tragedies that are caused by living in association with evil, negation, and frustration, through Faust's unhappy experiences while under the influence of Mephistopheles. The final message of Faust is that life's purpose is to live; that is, only through acceptance of life and continued effort to maintain life is one able to find immortality. Faust was victorious over Mephisto because, despite his errors and frustrations, he never lost his faith in life's essence and continued, in the face of adversity, to search for something higher than himself which alone could give his existence meaning.