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From Bulgakov to Goethe and Faust

“… who are you, then?
I am part of that power
which eternally wills evil
and eternally works good.”

Bulgakov begins The Master and Margarita with a quote from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Goethe was actually inspired by one Doctor Faust, a scholar in astrology and chemistry, a medical practitioner, who allegedly practiced blacks magic. Rumor had it that around Faust’s death in late 16th century, he had a pact with devil—which is more or less the very idea of Bulgakov’s novel.Needless to say Faust was repulsed by clergymen. This aversion explains who Faust is seen in European cultures (even today) as the archtype of the magician who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange of material and immaterial pleasures.

Goethe based himself on this historical character to create Faust. It starts in Heaven, the Devil is visiting God to talk to Him about one of his creations: the man Adam. To the Devil this is a contemptuous creation and he has objections both against man himself, as against God’s reasons to create him. God is convinced that man is basically good and he thinks man is able to stay on the straight and narrow path, but the Devil doubts it and he is convinced that he can lead mean, in the person of Faust, astray.

What good is the good if there is no evil?

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